The Future of Virtual Social Worlds

The current development of 2nd Gen social worlds seems to be moving in two very different directions.  Direction 1:  An updated-improved Second Life type experience, where the key is an open platform with the users/residents building most (if not all) of the in-world experience.  These will look a lot like SL, but faster, more robust, tablet-friendly…  They directly link to the existing SL model, with tweeks to enhance popularity, user numbers and also multiple revenue streams.  Key players here would be Sansar (by Linden Labs, the developers of Second Life) and Space.

Direction 2: New platforms driven by the ideal of social interaction in 3D, or the merging of virtual reality into social interaction.  This is less driven by the user creativity, and more driven by social interaction/”hanging out”.  These players would include High Fidelity (Rosedale, the original designer of Second Life) and Facebook (Zuckerberg’s team).  There is a lot more money in model 2, as this is also more complex but is also seen as the “next generation of social media”.

Note how both directions use the only robust, long-term example of social worlds, Second Life, as their model.  But they interpret very different futures—one on virtual world interaction, where much of the driving energy is based on digital landscape interaction; the other on social interaction with other people—or if you would things-places or people.

I would like a reaction paper on the following:

Take a minute to go think back through the Second Life material, and through your own experiences in SL.

IF someone was going to spend a couple of years and millions of USD$, what changes would be most attractive to drawing you in to use the APP—what would make a social virtual world attractive to you, a place for you to spend time, and for what purpose(s)?

You might want to go to YTube and look at the recent demos for these various platforms and see which ones, if any, you find more compelling than SL.  Remember that Facebook is gambling that within 3-5 years you will not be using your phone at all, but will be immersed in a virtual social APP.  When you have this first part done, go and look at the “Microsoft Future Productivity” video demo from 2015 at YTube= and see where this fits in.  I

should note that everything in the Microsoft video is around at least in beta form.  This will be your world in 2022 (or so)—what do you think of it?  How ready are you for it?


Part 1 [MODULE 7A-Virtual Worlds; MODULE 7AB SL Observations]

The division of virtual worlds into gaming vs. social is somewhat arbitrary, but i will argue that there are three major differences:

1) Second Life and most of the “new build” Social worlds [Space, Sansar and High Fidelity] are user-built.  Almost all items found in-world are constructed by residents, not by the owners of the world.  By contrast Gaming worlds are almost entirely constructed by the owners of the world, with resulting constraints on options to users.  If you want to, think of Second Life as being an expression of the Residents; gaming worlds such as Eve or WOW [World of Warcraft] are an expression of the owners of the world.

2) In-world economic systems in Social virtual worlds are largely user-user driven, with most economic transactions being of one user purchasing something from another user.  The owners of the world get revenue from a combination of land rental fees and micro-transaction fees from the in-world revenue system (think a bank in RL where you have your checking account).  Gaming worlds usually charge a fee to progress in the game or to play it at all (WOW for example).

3) Social virtual worlds do not have goals, and individuals don’t compete with each other to gain/win something—there are no challenges per se.  By contrast Gaming worlds are built on the concept of competition (hence ‘gaming’ worlds) so they tend to be programmatic, sequential and competitive.  They almost invariably have some storyline, which includes paths through which all players share.

What they have in common is the social aspect—all successful Gaming worlds have found that social interaction (and frequently cooperation) are central to the popularity of the APP, and the most durable have very strong social virtual communities which persist over long periods of time.  This can be seen in Pearce’s work on a group of players in the gaming world of Uru (think Myst) that migrated as a group to Second Life when Uru was closed [Pearce, Celia & Tom Boellstorff 2011 Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games].  The fact that this diaspora occurred is an indicator of how strong the social relationships in the supposedly fragile digital world can be.  Again, think back on the emotional impact of the Catfish episode we saw.

Look over the first Module (7A), a general one looking at some of the information on virtual worlds.  Then go through Module 7AB, which is basically a very short summary of the geographical research I did in Second Life several years ago.  Look at this data from the standpoint of a unique, long-term social digital world that has no gaming value or goals.

Social Media Impacts Part 2

We will now try to tie together the discussion points on social media to date.  One theme that is rapidly gaining traction (and also supporting data) is that social media has the potential to become an addictive behavior.  This is probably best argued in Nancy Colier’s 2016 The Power of OFF: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.  She labels this phenomena Technoholism, and notes that one of the more terrifying aspects of it’s potential is that fact that overuse of the social media is not only socially acceptable, but is condoned and in fact encouraged (especially in the U.S.).  Dialog about the negative negatives of over-dependence on social media, psychological or physiological dependencies do not get discussed.

.  This becomes critical when you look at the following stats from 2015:

“A recent study found that the average person spends approximately 12 hours per day looking at a screen, with digital media being the most ingested form.  The computer occupies more than 5 hours of our day, whit mobile devices coming in second at more than 2 hours per day.  And the numbers are rising quickly: it’s reported that a child born in 2013 will have spent a year of her life in front of a screen by the age of 7.” (Colier 2016: 24-5)

NOW take a look at the following short videos (all just 2-3 minutes each):

What are they worried about in terms of social media and their industry?  In your view is it over-reaction?

How does this video apply to you personally?

This video uses the same arguments and data as Colier does in her book in regards to technology addiction [technoholism].

How compelling are the arguments?

Do you see any evidence of these claims in yourself and your friends?

How does this video tie into the discussion about the attraction of controlling the presentation of self (asynchronous) as seen in Facebook or other social media—in contrast to live interaction or a phone call?

Watch these two related videos about smartphone::  and

How many of these impacts were you aware of prior to the videos?

Do these videos change the way you look at smartphones and social media usage?

We will be going over these questions tomorrow in hangouts so have some thoughts ready to share [Wed. 12:30]

The second point would be the global nature of the phenomena of social media.  If Miller is right, then we must separate the APP from the social use and impacts of the APP, which will vary dramatically from society to society.  Miller’s work on Trinidadian Facebook use is good case in point, as Americans have a very ethnocentric view of the social impacts of APPs.

The long-term impact of social media usage won’t probably be clearly seen for another 5-6 years, but some trends are already accepted.  One is that rather than the assumed growth of globalized social norms and values, the realities appears to be that social norms and values have become more compartmentalized.

Colier notes that accepting alternate viewpoints or interpretations is not as necessary today due to technology:

“Information syndrome, on the other hand, solidifies what we already believe, ensuring our “rightness” and thus making growth less likely or possible.  Accommodation is no longer necessary in the information age.  There is enough information for everyone to be “right” and maintain a barricaded system so that we don’t have to encounter disruption or contradiction… Technology allows us to instantly find the facts that support what we already believe.” (Colier 2016: 35)

It is possible that rather than a unifying force, social media may lead to us becoming more isolated in ever-smaller communities of people who mirror our likes and dislikes—innumerable  digital-only communities.