Collaboration, Deep Thoughts, Virtual World Platforms

Looking Out from Virtual Worlds: Web is a Tool Not a Subject

As the Internet grows and networking seeps into all its darkest corners, social scientists, engineers and physical scientists are recognizing that the Web is becoming a “tool” for research rather than a “subject” and that virtual worlds have shifted from being, well, recursive and internally focused, to being valid platforms from which the real world can be studied.

Findings from the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago that happened this month found this to be conclusive. Mark Fellows of Michigan State University wrote,

Increasingly, the Web is moving beyond its use as an electronic “Yellow Pages” and online messaging platform to a virtual world where social interaction and communities can inform social science and its applications in the real world.

The group of researchers presented their findings in a meeting organized by Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University researcher and director of the university’s Environmental Science and Policy Program.

Poly sci professor Arthur Lupia found that virtual communities are “improving surveys and transforming social science.” Adam Henry, a doctoral fellow in the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University’s Center for International Development, measures social networks and “us(es) the virtual world to identify things that are going on in the real world rather than using the virtual world simply to look at the virtual world.”

Rounding out the discussions, William Bainbridge, program director for the National Science Foundation’s Human-Centered Computing Cluster, “contends that virtual worlds are excellent laboratories for observing and prototyping new social forms that can later be applied to the outside world.”

On which point I have some issues, but we’ll leave that to the accountants and anthropologists to sort out.

Read the abstract here.


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