Business in Virtual Worlds, Identity and Expression, Serious games

Enterprise, Virtual Worlds and Transparency of Identity

Erica Driver, who is doing wonderful work at ThinkBalm in assessing and advocating for the use of virtual worlds, posted a policy and invited comment on the use of actual identities in order to participate in the idea-sharing, brainstorming, and general advocacy of the group.

Now, this issue has come up before, and I’ve blogged about it frequently. My main touch point is the connection of my own virtual identity with my actual one. When I was asked to appear on Metanomics there was a subtle pressure to use my real name – it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t required, but at the time I remember thinking “OK, wow….well, now I need to ‘connect’ my identities” and while I decided to do so I did it reluctantly.

Frankly, I thought there was a lot more I could learn by being, well, Dusan Writer. Making the connection to the ‘real me’ felt like it would cut off a pathway to thinking and exploration, although I wasn’t sure. In the end, I can fairly clearly say that while there are benefits to having the two connected, I lost out on something – I lost the ability to pursue the limits of virtual identity, to continue along a sort of creative path that became harder once the “me me” was part of the picture.

In any case, Erica posted the following on the LinkedIn ThinkBalm group:

“One of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community’s core values is transparency and openness and one way we accomplish this is by members using their real names on their profiles (which means in their posts here in this group), at community events, and on community work products (like issues of the ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Storytelling Series and community machinima projects).

Many immersive environments allow people to use names other than their real ones. This is perfectly appropriate when the technology is being used for entertainment. But it is problematic, for our purposes anyway, in the work context.”

Now, she doesn’t actually explain why it’s problematic. She just says it is, but I look forward to her explanation of what the problem is.

In any case, I thought I’d share my response to her post here:


As someone who runs a business and who is selling virtual worlds to enterprise, I understand the importance of reputation, transparency and trust. At the level of engagement we have with clients, working at senior executive levels whether with pharma or non-profits or the military or whoever, I know that their ability to make decisions on investments partly hinges on their ability to verify our reputation.

However, this issue has come up previously in ThinkBalm sessions and is something I feel fairly strongly enforces a set of values which does not, I believe, fit in with what I *thought* was the mission of the community – namely to explore ideas, approaches, tools and technologies towards their wider adoption. I’ve seen a sort of ‘peer pressure’ happen at ThinkBalm events as well, which makes me decidedly uncomfortable and while in some ways I respect that LinkedIn offers a different venue for sharing, we’re talking about the same community and the same potential for ideation and identification of best practices.

Virtual worlds (yeah, I’m still a hold out on calling it that, because much of the Web is immersive, as are games but that’s a side quibble) offer a rich range of cultural and creative expression. These are features that I point out to clients: moving past the “saves costs on meetings” value proposition, I personally position virtual worlds as a site for managing change and innovation. Most of my clients are looking to understand how to be innovative, how to look at old problems in new ways, and how to come to grips with the broader challenges posed by social media, collaborative tools, and globalization of talent.

Against this backdrop, virtual worlds have attracted talent that might not otherwise have a voice in ‘corporate America” or wherever. Those are the voices that can give us some of our more profound insight into how collaborative culture, creative communities, and the production of value outside of the walls of the enterprise are shaping and will continue to transform the world around us.

The insistence on linking avatar names to actual identities excludes these voices. I’d propose that there’s a lot to learn from someone like Scope Cleaver – his work on creating virtual environments as sites for social interaction and commerce have a lot of lessons for enterprise. He has worked with major schools and enterprises but would be excluded from ThinkBalm under this approach.

Or what about Grace McDunnough, who could talk about the use of virtual environments in ways that engage both community activity and multiple senses?

Or, I support the work of Bryn Oh, who has done the most incredible work using virtual worlds for storytelling, and which I show to clients as an example of the immersive training properties of virtual worlds, and the possibilities for creating deep and rich branding experiences.

Or what about others like them, who have arrived in virtual worlds for 1,000 reasons and may have found some talent, or have built some tool, or who have some sort of insight to share but for a variety of reasons wish to keep their actual identities private.

When you go and pitch the findings that you gather from the free contributions of the ThinkBalm members, fine, don’t include insights from the people who don’t use their real names. But I’d encourage you to rethink this policy – I really felt that ThinkBalm was meant to be a community, and as such I look around in virtual worlds and recognize that there are people who can provide rich insights into the issues we explore but may never reveal their actual names. And I want to hear what they have to say.

But I also understand that ThinkBalm is a commercial facility that you’re managing, and so you have your own commercial interests in packaging the community’s inputs. I just think it’s a shame to lose track of those voices, although I’m sure there are other ways they can be heard.

But maybe I have it wrong. Are there venues in virtual worlds outside of maybe a corporate setting where it’s a requirement to connect the real name to the avatar? What risks am I overlooking by having ‘anonymous avatars’ helping to explore and brainstorm and contribute to the advocacy of virtual worlds?


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