Random Identity

I took a brief trip to Second Life the other night, yet another web 2.0 trend that, like Facebook, sends my normally open-minded and curious instincts running for shelter. I’ve never been into gaming, and I obviously don’t use the internet in order to do things anonymously – my username is based on my real name just about everywhere. But I’m looking for any means possible to improve communication at my geographically diverse company, and to do it while reducing our carbon footprint. So that’s quite a challenge – how do we improve communication while cutting down on flying, when we have offices in Honolulu, Juneau and D.C., among other places?

So it struck me that Second Life, as a virtual meeting place, has, at the very least, potential that should be vetted. I have yet to do that vetting – I plan to give it a shot tonight by attending a virtual meeting with the Techsoup virtual community. On Wednesday, I created an account and figured out just enough about how Second Life works in order to get to the meeting later. Reactions:

Good:

  • Second Life supports voice, if you have a microphone and stereo speakers, and does it well enough that, if you’re conversing with someone who is, in the Virtual Reality, standing to your left, their voice will come from the left speaker.
  • It was easier than I thought it would be to move around and figure it all out. Your mileage might vary. It is, necessarily, a somewhat busy interface.

Bad:

  • You are not only advised to not use your real name, you can’t. The account creation process lets you create a first name (text input box) ad select a last name from about 25 in a drop down list. After being advised to “pick my name carefuly, it’s permanent, and can’t be changed”, I had little option to actually pick a name that I identified with or took seriously.
  • Big roots in the gaming community, obviously. The account creation process offers you ten avatars to choose from (avatars being the cartoon images that will represent you in the virtual world). Five female, five male – I was not going for the female impersonation thing, so that left me five. Of those, one (“Boy Next Door”) was fairly innocuous, although it looked about as much like me as Fred from “Scooby Doo” does. If I didn’t want to be Fred, my choices ranged from anthropomorphic fox people to what must be villains from the old “He-man, Master of the Universe” Saturday morning cartoon. Mind you, I was able to customize Fred’s appearance, and while I was shooting to make him look like me (I know, completely unclear on the concept here), as close as I could get resembled my punk rock days in the late seventies.

So, I’ll do a follow up post after I get to do what I set out to do, and evaluate Second Life as a virtual meeting place. But, already, I’m trying to imagine how I explain to the eighty or so Earthjustice Attorneys that step one is to pick a name like “John Vigaromney” that you’ll be known as, and step two is to decide whether you want to look like a furry animal or a grim reaper. Then determine whether the avatars will reduce any serious meeting on global warming or mountaintop protection strategies to jokes and hysterical laughter.

I’m really not looking for Second Life, but there’s a huge — and maybe critical — application for Supplemental Life, which lets online collaboration more intuitively replace travel.

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2 thoughts on “Random Identity

  1. Rosie de Fremery

    Thanks for this writeup. I also have been wondering about Second Life since there’s a bit of hubbub about nonprofit applications for it. Reducing one’s carbon footprint is a reason to at least explore it. But what would, say, your lawyers be doing in the environment? Conducting meetings? I agree that it would be hard to get them to take it seriously with the forced fake names and gamer avatars. And let’s not even go into what the women’s avatars are all about – needless to say they don’t represent us so well either.

    Even so, I’m going to check it out as well. I’ll report back with that I find.

  2. Seth Schneider

    Good write up. Your use case actually makes sense to me. And I can imagine a few others, such as groups who want to meet together but need anonymity. In fact, that’s probably the best use case. I wonder if anyone’s working on what you describe as Supplemental Life: a stripped down virtual meeting environment without all the gamer-ness of Second Life.

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