Friday, June 30, 2006

Social Network Research ethics

Further to my post addressing some of the concerns some participants have voiced, here's a link to a literature review document I have written about social network research ethics which covers some of the most recent thinking on the subject by leaders in the SNA field. Please note, this is for information ONLY. If anyone wishes to quote anything in the document, please contact me for permission.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Avatar-based marketing event in Second Life (Future Salon)

I wrote about it before on the Guardian gamesblog based upon an article (and podcast) from Harvard Business Review, and now there will be a talk on avatar-based marketing in Second Life. I, fortunately? unfortunately?, will be at a Flaming Lips/Massive Attack gig in Hyde Park so will miss it so if anyone's planning to attend please do let me know how it went. Similarly if there will be any posts of the transcript.

From the official release:
Marketing To Avatars Discussion In Second Life This Friday

Fellow Electric Sheepers Chris Carella/Satchmo Prototype and Giff Constable/Forseti Svarog both recently linked to a Harvard Business Review article called Avatar-Based Marketing by Paul Hemp.

This Friday at 12 PM PDT I’ll be in discussion on the topic (donning my me-based avatar) with Paul and some other peops at the virtual Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

From James/Hamlet Au’s New World Notes blog:

"“Avatar-based Marketing: What’s the future of Real Life Companies Marketing to Second Life Avatars?” Friday, June 23 at Noon, Second Life Time (i.e., PST), Berkman Island.

The author himself will also be there in avatar form as Hempman Richard. Event’s open to the public, but space is limited.

- Hempman Richard (aka Paul Hemp, Senior Editor, Harvard Business Review)
- Cristiano Midnight (SLUniverse/Snapzilla)
- SNOOPYbrown Zamboni (aka Jerry Paffendorf, Second Life Future Salon/Electric Sheep Company)
- Zero Grace (aka blogger Tony Walsh, Clickable Culture)
- Razor Rinkitink (aka Raz Schionning, Director of Web Services, American Apparel, with just-opened Second Life outlet)
- Hamlet Au (aka blogger Wagner James Au, New World Notes)

Direct portal to Berkman Island here.
IM Ansible Berkman to pre-reserve a spot.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Addressing concerns with this research

As some people may know, I've started the second wave of data collection towards the generation of a Second Life Social Network. I've been contacting people via IM, asking whether they would consider participating in the research. In response to emails and forum postings regarding the survey, I posted this up on the official Second Life forum thread where my research resides. I hope it will be of use to those people considering participating!

Hi all, and thanks very much for taking time to respond. I appreciate your concerns and thank you for bringing them to my attention. In particular, I'd like to address three areas: anonymity/confidentiality, the generation of avatar names and what potential benefit this research may have to the SL (Second Life) community (although I make no claims, just throwing it out there):

1. Anonymity/Confidentiality.
I have been asked by people I have approached for participation in Wave 2 of the SL Social Network survey who referred them to me. I have two answers to this: 1. I can't say because it would breach participants' rights to confidentiality as laid out in the survey and explicity stated in the call for pariticipation and 2. I simply can't without a substantial amount of work, as participants are coded anonymously. Determining such information would require me to sift through an extremely large dataset of avatar names and compare those with an encoded database of respondents.

I have had people contact me very concerned because they have been informed by others that they were the source of the referrals, but I have assured them (to the best of my ability) that this isn't possible for two reasons: 1) the anonymity protocol in place mentioned above and 2) current calls for participation are based upon previous waves of the survey, not the current one. I am not planning on collecting any more data based the information coming in from the current wave of the survey, which began in the second week of June. Furthermore, I was only able to access the Survey Wave 2 responses for the first time this morning.

I apologise for any serious concern this has caused any respondents, and hope that potential participants understand that I cannot tell them who they were referred by.

2. Generation of Avatar Names
As some have indicated, the development of a social network for SL is reliant upon generating a list of names whom respondents are friends with, and that's why it's such a large part of this research survey. If for whatever reason you don't feel comfortable doing this, please feel free to terminate your participation! The survey may not be for everyone!

So everything is clear, the outcome of this research is to have a map of communication patterns throughout the SL virtual community, and to do this I am relying upon existing social network methods for what is called ego-centric network social network analysis. This is usually conducted using sociometric surveys, i.e., by asking participants to list names of their friends and acquaintances, and rating their patterns of communication in order to determine how relatively "close" or "distant" they are from one another. In the end, this information is fed through an analysis programme and a social network diagram is output which visually describes the network of relationships in SL.

If you are curious about other social network research and methods, please explore the International Network for Social Network Analysis homepage, an association of which I am a member (

3. Possible benefits to the SL community
Social networks are interesting tools used to understand the pathways of communication - and potential gaps in knowledge - throughout a community. My purpose in doing such an analysis in SL is to understand how this process occurs in a unique virtual community, and to potentially inform people of how they may best get messages to different types of communities in-world, to help bridge knowledge-gaps, to help forge connections between other like-minded people, etc. As SL expands in population exponentially, it can be difficult to get a hold on the enormity of the community. Sometimes patterns emerge from social network diagrams which inform observers where and when social interaction is best achieved, where community is best-formed, and those groups which are best-able to engender community.

I make no claims that my current research will address all of these issues, but I hope that by mapping the social interaction patterns of SL I can contribute something to the community which benefits it in the long-term.

For more information on what social network research has contributed to other communities, here are a few links to SNA journals:
Social Networks:
Journal of Social Structure:

If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to get in touch via IM in-world, or via email :

Thanks very much!

Aleks Krotoski/Mynci Gorky

There have also been concerns raised that the results of this research will be distributed to marketing organisations. I assure you, this is in no way true! Social networks have been and are used in marketing arenas, but this is not the purpose of this research, nor is it its intended outcome. There are other cool things networks can tell us, including how community forms, and the best methods of encouraging its formation. These are some of the questions I'm interested in.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Computer Culture Reader: Abstract

I've been invited to submit a chapter for the book Computer Culture Reader, to be published by Cambridge Scholars Press in 2007. Here's an exerpt from the submitted abstract, based upon one population from my MSc research.


Aleks Krotoski, University of Surrey
Dr. Evanthia Lyons, University of Surrey
Dr. Julie Barnett, University of Surrey

Markus and Nurius (1986) define the self-concept as a complex and dynamic work-in-progress perpetually modified through the adoption and rejection of desired and undesired identities. The potential plurality of identity in online spaces should encourage users to enact an unlimited number of possible selves, yet the salient cultural constrictions which participants bring to virtual worlds affect those which they have at their disposal.

Arguably, the limitations of online experience have implications for the range of offline possible selves which users choose adopt or reject offline. Rather than being a space of freedom and self-expression, the culture of the internet may circumvent potential offline identity growth. This research aimed to unpick the offline cultural contributions to the online possible selves enacted by female residents of virtual communities, and what effects online culture is perceived to have in their offline lives.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

TV tonight: Does Happiness Live In Cyberspace?

Tonight's final episode of the BBC 2 series The Happiness Formula examines whether people can find happiness online. I am called upon to side with the Yes camp (demonstrating my evidence by taking presenter Mark Easton through 3D virtual world Second Life), while Robert Putnam takes the apparent opposing view. Here's the article that covers what'll be covered.

Aleks Krotoski, a video games expert, says the internet offers new possibilities: "These virtual spaces are capable of creating and engendering happiness between people.

"There's so much socially in these places now that it is no longer just a person sitting in front of the computer zoned out and going off into the nanosphere.

"It's about finding other people and interacting with them. It's very much about a place to go to events, meet people, to hang out, to do ridiculous things and just to chat."

Ms Krotoski argues that these games show how the internet could develop in the future.

"I can imagine that this kind of thing is what the internet is going to be like in the future. Instead of just being simple static pages, it will be like a 3-dimensional space.

"These aren't places that are just swords and sorcery and people wandering around with Orks. These are places that actually look very much like the real world."

Check it out at 7pm!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I am Cartman

I feel strangely good about this.

Which South Park kid are you most like?


You are just plain evil and heartless. Though you're sly, and you come up with brilliant schemes, you're pretty dumb and close minded. Other people hate you... screw them!

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As found in that cauldron of worthless surfing, MySpace.