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Web 2.0 & Virtual World evolved Social Behaviour | VintFalken.com
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VintFalken.com

Web 2.0 & Virtual World evolved Social Behaviour

September 10, 2008 8:26 pm

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It is already researched and more or less proven that Second Life can help you improve your real life social skills. It’s not just that, we - avies * - also behave like our human counterparts:

avatars in these elaborate fantasylands responded to social cues to help one another — and revealed racial biases – in the same ways that people do in the real world. In both of the classic social psychology experiments used for the study, one avatar tried to influence another to fulfil a request. The way the door-in-the-face (DITF) experiment works: the experimenter (in this case an avatar) first makes an unreasonably large request to which the responder is expected to say no, followed by a more moderate request.

As expected, the avatars — similar to people who participated in the same experiment in the real world — were more likely to comply with the moderate request when it was preceded by the large request than when the moderate request was presented alone. They exhibited a psychological tendency to reciprocate the requester’s “concession”: the change from a relatively unreasonable request to a more moderate request. The experiment’s moderate request: “Would you teleport to Duda Beach with me and let me take a screenshot of you?” In the DITF condition, that request was preceded by a request of the avatar to have screenshots taken in 50 different locations — requiring about two hours of teleporting and traveling.

Apparently, we - avatars, but it knowingly or unconscious - are not free from ‘virtual racism’ either: On one of the most striking findings, the effect of the DITF technique was significantly reduced when the requesting avatar was dark-toned. The white avatars in the DITF experiment received about a 20 percent increase in compliance with the moderate request; the increase for the dark-toned avatars was 8 percent.

Conclusion? Interactions among strangers within the virtual world are very similar to interactions between strangers in the real world. Duh. Over at Sciende daily, they think that is something to worry about, something I do not see reason for? Add to that the fact that how we threat strangers - and add ‘a contact of a contact of a contact contacts’ - has changed severely in the last few years ’cause of social networking sites like facebook, myspace, linkedin, … and you get a real interesting situatinon.

* The study was conducted in There it says, but strangely enough, they are using Second Life terminology like ’snapshot’ and ‘teleport’.

Brave New World of Digital Intimacy

Keeping track of your friend’s futilities

Vint Falken as photographed by Lokum Shilova (RL London)When Facebook first introduces their ‘news feeds’ (an overview of all changes & actions on your Facebook friends’ profiles) there was a huge uproar: ‘Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why? Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

Another great example is ‘microblogging’ where people post - fairly irrelevant - things like ‘What did I have for lunch’, ‘What will I have for lunch?’ and ‘What birthday gift should I get my stepdad?‘. This sharing of personal (futile) data has gone even further: ‘When the new iPhone, with built-in tracking, was introduced in July, one million people began using Loopt, a piece of software that automatically tells all your friends exactly where you are.

It’s charms? Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.

How do you decide on you contacts & friends?

But the offer of possible Twitter, Facebook & Plurk friends is huge. And you can hardly keep track of them all. How do you decide who gets added as a friend or contact, and who gets refused? And how harsh are you at making those decisions? Do you fear you’ll hurt their feelings when refusing friendship? And whom do you offer friendship too? I have two different rule sets for this, it seems:

  1. Real Life: Mainly using Facebook (human & Vint share an account) and earlier on ICQ & MSN. I won’t easily initiate a friend request. There are a whole lot of people from my region, schools, etc on there, that I know off, talked to, but don’t care about much. I really need to consider someone a real life friend before I engage into offering friendship, that is about 4 people I met at parties or through friends that I feel sorry about we did not get the chance to talk more (yet) aside. As for accepting friendship, I am likely to not refuse, if I - if only shortly - met you in real life at a party, at a friend’s, … I fear I will be rude by refusing. So I’ll add them, but not bother to read their stories, … .
  2. Virtual World: My behaviour here is - strangely enough - exactly the opposite of with the real life befriending behaviour. I am more likely to just add someone who’s avatar name rings a bell as ‘achieved this’, ‘is interesting’, ‘knows what he/she’s talking about’ and ‘hell, I don’t know them, but they are surely doing interesting stuff I want to keep an eye upon’. On the other hand, I’m also much more likely to refuse friendship from an avatar name that does not ring a bell (or a human I don’t know that does not state his avatar name). Mainly because else it would become impossible for me to keep track, but also because well… they are just avies… . :/

What is the maximum number of ‘friends’ a person can have?

In 1998, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar argued (pdf link) that each human has a hard-wired upper limit on the number of people he or she can personally know at one time. Dunbar noticed that humans and apes both develop social bonds by engaging in some sort of grooming; apes do it by picking at and smoothing one another’s fur, and humans do it with conversation. The maximum numbers?

  1. apes: 55 friends
  2. humans: 150 friends

So what about you’re 100+ facebook friends, you’re 80+ twitter friends, you’re 300+ Second Life friend list and you’re 100+ plurk friends? We should divide those ‘friends’ into two types of contacts: your close, intimate circle of friends and what they call ‘weak ties’. In the dark ages, before the internet bloomed (and boomed), you would have quickly forgotten about those ‘weak ties’: met at a party, abroad, at an old job, … and never heard of or seen again. But now we get regular short updates about their lives which makes us feeling ‘related’, and that makes ‘weak ties’ a good thing: ‘Sociologists have long found that “weak ties” greatly expand your ability to solve problems. For example, if you’re looking for a job and ask your friends, they won’t be much help; they’re too similar to you, and thus probably won’t have any leads that you don’t already have yourself. Remote acquaintances will be much more useful, because they’re farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out.

But to much ‘weak ties’ can also have negative side effects: critics warn that having to much personal information on to much people spreads your emotional energy too thin, leaving less for true intimate relationships. Following people (almost) solely online, might create a bond with them that’s almost ‘parasocial’ - imagine the bond you have with your favourite artist - in stead of being friends: ‘They can observe you, but it’s not the same as knowing you. For more on that, read Danah Boyd. Another danger is that if you already know every little detail about someone’s life, you do not feel like you need to take the time anymore to visit them in ‘real life’, thus expecting Facebook or the like to make up for - very much needed - quality real face to real face time.

A return in time

Remember those stories of your parents, whom tell you if they were up to no good, the next morning, the whole village knew? Social networking sites and the internet in general return us to that era in time: do something wrong or extremely embarrassing, and the next day, all of your friends will know. Write something down in a fury, and it will be archived by Google forever. And not participating it just like missing out on the weekly tea & gossip moment: you have no idea what the others are up to, and even worse, have no idea what they are saying about you. There’s a reason why I have a Google Blogsearch alert on “Vint Falken’. ;)

The ‘internetz’ and social networking have changed the internet - for the average user - from the perfect tool for privacy and reinventing yourself to a place where - if you want to do that reinventing - you sure as hell need to get your lies together well - as I’m sure some Second Life users can testify! As said in the ‘Brave New World of Digital Intimacy’ article in the New York Times (where the second part of this post is based upon): “History: ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’. On the Internet today, everybody knows you’re a dog! If you don’t want people to know you’re a dog, you’d better stay away from a keyboard“.

Get to know yourself (through web 2.0)

Another side effect of microblogging and social networking tools is that you are likely to get to know yourself better: ‘The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act.‘ Add to that that you are getting more feedback on every day activities - ‘I ate 4 eggs.’ ‘Hmm, not healthy!’ or ‘I have not smoked for 24 hours!’ ‘Great, keep up the awesomeness!’ - which will also influence your behaviour (hopefully in a positive way). You need to think more about how to phrase something - often in under 140 characters - so others can easily understand. This makes you think about the essence of the act or thought you’re writing about: ‘The process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces you to look at it objectively. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.

For more, I suggest you go and read the New York Times article, it’s really worth a few of your thoughts regardless if you’re a heavy social networking addict or a light user, and even if you totally detest the whole online befriending business.

13 Responses to “Web 2.0 & Virtual World evolved Social Behaviour”

Moggs Oceanlane wrote a comment on September 10, 2008
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Wow. Huge topic. There’s some really great articles on this too (see for example, ‘The future of reputation’ by Daniel J Solove who writes alot about privacy and related issues).

Firstly I think people are going to be people whatever context you put them in. Even if they’re virtual… there’s still a real person at the helm so it’s only to be expected we will see discrimation and ‘isms’ even in virtual worlds.

In terms of my rules for social networks my rules are:
LinkedIn - only professional contacts
Facebook (real me) - only people (family and friends) I know in real life (with the exception of about 5 people who I’ve met via an online community over 5 or so years and whom I’ve only recently exchanged RL details with). I don’t add work colleagues as a matter of course (I did reject my boss/Director as a facebook friend in one contract I was doing - I thought it was rude of her to add me but politely went an invited her to my LinkedIn instead). I lock down my profile, I don’t leave the ‘add as friend’ link on search results (which are only visible to friends and friends of friends).
Facebook (SL me) - All SL avatars that ask (I’d remove them if they spammed or drove me nuts)
Twitter/Plurk/Brightkite - I’ll follow SL avatars and related inviduals on my SL account; people who work in the same industry and related roles as RL me to my work account plus work colleages; on my personal account - local people, friends. I’m much less fussy about twitter/plurk as I see them as serving an informational/sharing of resources function.
Flickr - personal me (friends); SL me (SL residents)
DropBox - people I want/need to share files with
Delicious/Stumble upon - I’ll follow people with interesting links and friends
last.fm - mostly RL people plus a few muso’s who have added me as a friend and whose music I like.

I use three identities for web - personal me (online alias); work me (buiness name/work alias - though this is related to my real name); second life me (avatar name). They are really just filters, none are particularly different.

I’m cautious about sharing names (except to credit sources/link) and don’t like to share details I consider overly personal that are likely to cause stress for others. I don’t post RL photos of anyone on the web without first asking permission - though have posted a few ‘random crowd’ shots from events.

Moggs Oceanlane wrote a comment on September 10, 2008
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‘The Future of Reputation’, Daniel J Solove
PDF format (on Scribd)
http://www.scribd.com/doc/2220683/The-Future-of-Reputation-by-Daniel-J-Solove

ArminasX wrote a comment on September 10, 2008
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What an amazing post, Vint. There is much to consider in a world of online services combined with our multiple identities. While Moggs seems to have this figured out, I wonder whether Mrs. Scroggins down the hall would ever have half a chance of surviving. We need better tools to manage our multiple identities, or we will inevitably face an identity collapse and all bits merge together.

I wrote my views about Dunbar’s number as related to SL here: http://www.secondeffects.com/2008/06/dunbars-friends.html

and also about the multiple personality issue here:
http://www.secondeffects.com/2008/08/ive-got-consistent-did-part-1.html

It’s a complex world we inhabit, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any simpler. BTW, be careful of that Greenie, I think he’s radioactive.

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[…] Falken weighs in with his opinion about this story on his blog with a succinct “duh,” adding, […]

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[…] wants to express with this installation. But I can’t whole hearted agree with this. We get more ‘news’ and ’status updates’ on the people around us then 10 year…. I often know about something major going on at the other side of the world, before our television […]

Dan Lohrmann wrote a comment on November 7, 2008
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Very nice piece, Vint.

I think your point about the difference between real life and virtual world friends is right on target. The study results were interesting.

But in my research, I have also found that most people rename actvities in virtual worlds (and cyberspace as a whole) that most in society consider immoral. For example: lying becomes “protecting yourself,” plagiarism becomes “copying text,” stealing becomes “downloading files,” often without a second thought.

Actions are justified for numerous reasons. Teenagers tell me that the Net is “fake” or “one big game” and doesn’t really count the same as Real Life - sometimes. This is certainly not true with Facebook, etc.

Many people also experiment with opposite roles online, such as male/female or liberal/conservative. They also (deliberately) answer questions in opposite ways from real life to see what the consequences might be.

Don’t underestimate the role of anonymity. People can behave in crazy ways when they think others don’t (and won’t) know who they really are. The challenge is knowing who is playing what roles.

As virtual life and real life merge together more and more in the coming years, a huge number of virtual world definitions are going to clash with real world schools, workplaces, and homes.

Question: How do you define Virtual Integrity?

Vint Falken wrote a comment on November 8, 2008
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Says, yikes, that’s a whole series of blogpost on it’s own. I guess for me it’s more about ‘virtual reputation’. I’ll look at the info I have about that person (can be confirmed RL info, or can be just a ‘track record’ of it’s virtual past) and base my statement on that.

As for integrity, how exactly do you mean that? eg. Not slander someone because you’re anonymous?

I would not take an ‘anonymous’ account, message or action into account much. If it’s not anonymous, see the ‘virtual reputation’ part.

Shockwave Plasma wrote a comment on November 8, 2008
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Dusan thinks Vint is a guy :-)

Vint Falken wrote a comment on November 8, 2008
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He knows better than that by now! :-)

Dan Lohrmann wrote a comment on November 9, 2008
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Vint,

By Integrity, I mean the traditonal honesty + trustworthy, open, consistent, “doing what you say and saying what you’ll do,” etc.

I was responding to the statement above “Interactions among strangers within the virtual world are very similar to interactions between strangers in the real world.”

In the real world, our interactions are based on the other person’s reputation (as you mention). But if a relationship grows into something deeper and get beyond the surface level (i.e. how’s the weather?) We must answer trust and/or integrity questions. Also, reputation takes time to build, and we may not have much to go on sometimes.

In virtual worlds, integrity is needed in business contacts (buying selling) as well as genuine interactions in discussion threads, advice, etc. The problem in virtual worlds is that we can’t read their face or voice inflections to determine if this person is misleading us or taking us where we don’t want to go. Someone said the words are less than 10% of what is communicated in the real world. The other 90% is appearance, body language, dress, voice, etc.

For example, in the real world, a car dealer may have a great reputation, but I still want to know that he/she isn’t lying to me about some aspect of the car they are trying to sell to me (right now). We have the same issue with advice/opinions on topics ranging from sports to medical treatments.

Bottom line, can avatars have a trustworthy character?

Vint Falken wrote a comment on November 9, 2008
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Hmmm, tricky one. There are signals though.. I remember when I interviewed Pavig, she had some things to say on this: ‘She points out that communication is possible and perceived through more channels than just chat or voice: ‘You own yourself in Second Life - it’s less anonymous than you realize. For example people watch your body language, they know when you’re checking your inventory or browsing the web. You are more who you are than you realize here.

So yeah, at least they notice when you are not giving them their full attention in main chat. In IM, that depends on your typing speed, I assume.

I agree that is only a part of it. I shall hardly use ‘voice’ in Second Life, but think this can be part of the ‘trust’ too. There’s are a lot of voice transforming tools out there, and some might change your gender successfully, but I doubt if there are any that can change intonation, or get rid of ’stalling’ when you are asked a though question. Sound quality is still better on Skype, btw.

About the appearance, from personal experience, I am more likely to take a Skeleton serious than a Hot Guy in business suit. I’m more likely to trust a woman robot than a blond with huge breasts. Probably because most - but not all - great builders, scripters, creative geniuses, … in Second Life are a bit ‘weird’. And to me, somehow, running around as a stange avatar - or even a fridge or couch - tells me more about you than hiding behind ‘the perfect skin and shape’. (For some reasons, I distrust people with dragon avatars, I get along great with the cat & furry ones. Really, I’m not joking.)

As for dealing with people in Second Life, yes, some don’t deliver (I’ve been guilty of that once too - says sorry to Nevar, again), but you learn to take that into account. That there’s always a chance that ‘it won’t happen’. And learn to check regularly ‘where are you, and when will I get this?’. This is often not malice, but in a world that changes and evolves as quickly as Second Life does, and with most ‘businesses’ and ‘content creators’ being semi-professional, or hobbiests that might be expected. It’s that easy to get sidetracked on another project, testing something new and nifty, … . But you learn. And the people that do deliver, are the ones you are most likely to cooperate with again.

Vint Falken wrote a comment on November 10, 2008
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Oh, Moggs reminded of this, a British artist, Marc Owen, has some installations regarding exactly those issues. Especially the ‘avatar suit’ considers what you say, that people will behave different hiding between a virtual self. (And looking at their selves from an ‘outside’ perspective, which might help with the ”distanciation’. )

As to our defense, For example: lying becomes “protecting yourself,” plagiarism becomes “copying text,” stealing becomes “downloading files,” often without a second thought. … I fear we have picked this up from the real life media… ‘body bags’, ‘collateral damage’, ’slightly overweight’, … . It’s becoming a general trend to speak more ‘political correct’… . ;)

For most of the SL residents, there is also a major difference between ‘not telling’ and ‘lying’. If I ask RL data, or smth related, and I get a ’sorry, I am not willing to share that’, I’ll easily accept. If I found out somebody lied to me, I probably will not ever trust them again. (Except about gender, as well, if you rezz as a bloke whilst being a RL girl, that might already be considered a lie. Common decency in SL is also to not enquire after RL gender, as you know there’s a huge change you will force someone to tell a lie. If someone shares willingly, I accept that as the truth, even when I sometimes have my doubts.)

Something that might be interesting also, if you did not stumble over it yet - is Second Life’s ToS, where sharing ANY RL data you have about an avatar with someone else is an offense. Of course, it is impossible for Linden Lab to enforce this outside SL. But commonly, people who ‘expose’ others, are not well received within the community.

Do mind that - this is an estimate, but I’ll run a poll on that, ty for the idea - about 33% of SL’s avatars, and especially those who do this ‘more professionally’ are willing to share their RL identities with the world, or at least with a select group of friends. Of course for the virtual stock market people who like the possibility to flee when things go bad… . ;)

‘I lie’ or ‘I prefer not to say’? | VintFalken.com sent a pingback on November 10, 2008
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[…] the comments of Web 2.0 & Virtual World evolved Social Behaviour, Mr. Dan Lohrmann is posing some intriguing questions about ‘Virtual Integrity’, […]

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