Addressing concerns with this research
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):
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 (http://www.insna.org/).
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: http://www.insna.org/INSNA/sn_inf.html
Journal of Social Structure: http://www.cmu.edu/joss/
If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to get in touch via IM in-world, or via email : email@example.com
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.