Integrating Social and Immersive Media, and is Second Life Merely Sociable

Second Life and Social Media Integration

Second Life is not a social media but is merely sociable. Or that was the premise of a panel I facilitated at the Second Life Community Convention yesterday in San Francisco.

The claim was intentionally provocative and the panelists, Hydra Shaftoe and Hiro Pendragon, argued that Second Life IS a social media, as did many in the audience. But the point of the argument wasn’t that Second Life doesn’t have components of social media but rather that it doesn’t easily facilitate many-to-many forms of communication.

Robert Bloomfield of Cornell University chimed in and claimed that Second Life may not facilitate many-to-many forms of communication but does “few-to-few” very very well.

The challenge however for immersive media platforms, including Second Life, is that they are competing in a broader media landscape. As enterprise struggles to make sense of ’social media’ they are looking for new ways to measure their investments, and to take advantage of the broader Internet-based trends that are bringing their customers together and opening new venues for communication and messaging.

And that’s the challenge: how can Second Life be part of the conversation, how can it articulate comparable measurements, and can (or should) Second Life adopt a stance that it is, indeed, a social media platform.

Clunky Tools and Hacks

A starting premise, and one that was hard to argue, was that the tools for communication and social interaction on the Grid are, well, clunky. Groups are limited to 25. Group chat works, sometimes. The friends list excludes the kinds of management tools that would make it more like e-mail maybe.

Hiro argued that using the term ‘hack’ was derisive, I suppose is the best way to put it. Hacks to some are elegant solutions to others, and demonstrate a cunning and intelligent use of the platform. But hacks to me mean using the “Second Life API” in ways that should be built into the API itself. And you shouldn’t need to hack notices, they should just BE.

Integrating Second Life with Other Social Media

One of the more interesting discussions on the panel was based on the universal idea that Second Life should more easily integrate with social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. But where this got a little contentious was a comment by an audience member that in order to do this, it would make sense to link virtual and actual identities. The panelists, Hiro in particular, talked about the threats to privacy on the Net in general and seemed to propose that avatar identity should be sacrosanct and we should resist the push to linking with actual identity.

Now, this is something that I’ve blogged about frequently, most recently in reference to changes to the ThinkBalm community’s insistence that members reveal their names.

I’m personally on the side of caution. Linking to actual identities should be, if anything, optional.

Measuring Social Media

I closed the panel with a discussion of measurement. As enterprise struggles to measure the return on investments in social and immersive media, virtual worlds have an obligation to be part of the conversation of how these measurements are made.

Here’s a copy of the slides from yesterday’s panel:


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