Apps and Avatars:
Think for a second about a “free” app you use—whether it be Facebook, YouTube, whatever… At some point they have software coders and designers, a ton of expenses relating to digital storage, web development, customer service… If you’re using the “free app”, then who pays the bills?
This is the term MONETIZE—to come up with a way to make something generate money—to make it pay for itself (and show a profit). This is why there are banners and side-bar advertising in Facebook, pop-up adds in your video on YouTube, etc… These are all ways to pay the bills. More subtle is the collection of all your personal data—the infamous “big data” that is such a hot topic in biz tech circles. Many Apps, from the moment you clicked the “I agree” when you first downloaded the App, collect everything that you put on your device–texting, pics, checking websites, online purchases… You might only use the app to text or send pics (say Snapchat), but their data collection is going on all the time your phone/tablet/computer is on, not just when you’re using the app. This is “data mining” and it’s a very lucrative business. You see it in the very targeted adds you see.
This brings up the second concept, to COMMODIFY. This has been a ‘hot button’ topic here in Hawaii for generations, especially related to tourism. If you market “aloha”, but you do so to make sales, or get a tip, you have placed a cash value on both the term and the attached behavior and/or value. In fact the larger discussion of service tips and the fact that they have become largely involuntary in many industries in the U.S. is the same issue. If generosity is given cash value, are you being generous because you morally-socially should, or for the cash? Who decides? For social media Apps to be successful today they not only have to find out a way to monetize their service—but they also have to do so while making the App appear “free” to the end user.
But if they want to stay around they need persistent use and growth and this usually involves the commodification of behavior in some way. The more they can make the App a social necessity, the more ways to make money off of it—not only for them, but also for selected users. Miller talks about this with Facebook users who have made Facebook their business. This is a common pattern in Second Life, when commodification of a range of objects, behaviors, and other things have become a full-time job for a number of residents. The last two panels—the “like” button and like vs. want are views of this shaping of behavior by profit-driven companies.
Since you have already been wandering around Second Life, the VIRTUAL WORLDS concepts should be pretty obvious—though as we will see later, that can sometimes seem like the tip of a very large iceberg of hidden social identity and meanings. A real key concept to keep in mind both while wandering in Second Life, but also in the larger context of how you present yourself in social media such as Facebook or Instagram, would be that of the AVATAR. As we will see, the minute that you make communication asynchronous, you are in the business of ‘avatar-building’, as you are able to share how you are presented to the digital world—you have the ability to shape your image.