Ask questions because they open your mind

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My latest experiences in Second Life have been about the social structure and how people relate and stay in touch in the environment. I know few people in RL who are also on Second Life (a sad fact, and one which makes me lonely).

Remember to visit my Flickr photo page for current snapshots from my SL experiences.
So when I finally had enough of shopping and trying on clothes, and when I needed a break in my building lessons, I decided to delve into the social pool and find some new SL friends. And a whole new world opened up to me. If you are still lurking on the edges wondering how to “fit in,” believe me, it’s worth it! And it’s easier than I thought it would be. To sum it up, I am reminded of the words of performer Bob Miner (Harmonica Bob), a dear friend of mine and someone who taught me a great deal, in a song he wrote for gradeschool kids.

“To have a friend, be a friend.”

That simple concept is what does it, in RL or SL. Reach out. Open your heart and let others change you. Connect.

Some initial impressions of interacting socially in SL:

  • People pop on and off in completely unpredictable ways, so you can’t reliably know where they will be or even if they will be on when you are.

  • It’s hard to get to know someone on a crowded dance floor.

  • Everyone has a different purpose for the current day’s session in SL, and it might not match yours. It’s worthwhile to find out.

  • Just because they look 22 and buff doesn’t mean they actually are. The decent ones will tell you a little more about themselves as you move into a more committed phase of your friendship. But you can’t count on that. There are a lot more 16-year olds on SL than you think.

  • “Profile surfing,” as I like to call it, is a great way to see if you have common interests with someone who is chatting in the same room with you (right-click on the person and choose Profile). It’s a little creepy to peek at the profile of someone who you haven’t chatted with before though, so if I do it and find an interesting profile, when I bring it up with them I apologize for the intrusion and try to be brief.

  • After a gentle prompting from a new friend, I put interesting stuff in my profile so that like-minded people will be drawn to me, and they have been. It’s genuine – and also general enough to respect my privacy – but also clear about my intentions on SL.

  • Whether I am going dancing or hanging out in a coffee shop, I’ve learned that everybody will try to greet me when I walk in and say goodnight when I leave, and that I should do likewise when others enter or leave. I’ve learned that popping in and out has rules of etiquette attached to it. If I can, and I’ve been conversing with a group, it’s a good idea to announce I have to go and allow them a few rounds of good-byes and well wishes. It communicates that I see them as people, and that I am interested in being a stable member of the online community and contributing to the social fabric. It’s about integrity. To the extent that we are able, we should treat others as though they are real people in real life, because they are, and acting in this way allows the online community’s reputation to be elevated in everyone’s eyes.

  • Conversation starters are a must! Showing up in a new hangout with an interesting hat on, for instance, can prompt conversation. I experimented with this by showing up at the Open Latte coffee shop wearing a stainless steel top hat that had moving gears in its side. It sparked a hat party and we were all laughing at the dorky hats we had stashed in our inventories and had never worn. My new friend Finn had some hair difficulty after trying on a hat that made her hair disappear; I helped her find and fit it back on her head, and we struck up a conversation after that.

  • Finding funny ways to connect and keep the group energy up is a great idea. I noticed that some more experienced SL residents were donning sophisticated and cute avatars to keep the conversation going. Rocket, for instance, has an adorable little short dragon avatar, and he gets into all kinds of mischief when he puts it on. This is much preferable to the worn out gag of attaching the freebie penis on top of one’s clothes and issuing come-on lines.

  • One great trick I discovered by accident, while looking at someone’s profile. There is a Notes page on their profiles which they don’t see – you can add your notes and impressions about that person, and only you can see it. Later, if you think you remember someone and you look in their profile, you will find your note! If they tell you something important about themselves, you can make a note in this page so you remember to ask them about it later.

On facial expressions in SL:
I think SL should put some more thought into the use of facial expressions. I don’t really want to sort through my inventory and find that smile gesture and activate it. Once it’s loaded, it’s still too hard to “play” it during the convo. I am envisioning a special mouse that is multi-point sensitive and can transmit positive and negative facial expressions instantly. Ex – Push down = bad expression; push up = good expression; push hard = strong expression; push lightly = mild expression.

Looking at another person in SL:
Also, Alt-Click is a really fun tool for making my avatar look at someone or something, but it’s too hard also. Maybe eyetracking technology can help here. A little camera hooked to the top of the screen can watch where my eyes look and make my Av look there too.

Other types of gestures:
Thirdly, hand gestures should be easier. Maybe picking up the mouse and waving should cause the Av to wave.

Improving the dance scripts:
Second Life has a finite number of dance scripts and these are reproduced as part of dance balls and dance floors, usually. After going to a dozen or so dance places, I’ve learned that there are only a few basic dances – maybe thirty or so. They are fun and engaging, and some really impressed me, but they are still somewhat crude in execution. I’d like to see a flashier tango with more of that wonderful rigid passion that is classic tango. Waltzes should be dreamier looking. the Saturday Night Fever dance loops too quickly and doesn’t show some of the great steps my limited knowledge includes. The names of the dances are not adequate for dancers who must make a snap decision in a dance club. Club Dance 4 just doesn’t tell me what I need to know. Does anyone know where I can find and purchase some more sophisticated dance moves, hopefully including those I can share with a partner?

Thank you Willy Heartsdale for the stimulating conversation which caused these ideas to surface. Willy is an ideas guy, and you should seek him out for his view of the future if you have not already done so.

Going somewhere with a friend or several friends:
When touring some amazing treehouses on SL, I had two companions with me – my hubby Randy and new SL friend Willy. I was struck by the awkwardness of our efforts to move from treehouse to treehouse. I had a notecard with landmark links on it, so I would get the notecard out, alert them that we were moving, click the link and teleport to the spot, then find each of them in my contact list and offer each a teleport to me one at a time. Too many steps!! Do any of you have any ideas for making this work better? Wouldn’t it be great if we could “link” as a group and pass the driving controls to the one who has the landmark, so that we could seamlessly move throughout SL? Even more fun would be a free for all mode that gives everyone control of the group’s teleporting movements, so that the TP commands would be executed on a first-in, first out basis. Random fun!!

Questions to better focus my explorations:
Is it possible to be good friends with someone you only know on SL?
Is there a place to hear recorded poetry on SL?
Who are the people that know lots of interesting SL people? How do I find them?
How can I find the consistently best places to go dancing in SL?
And, an extension of this question would be how can I find consistently best hangouts in SL?
Is anyone working on better dance scripts and where can I buy them?
Humor on SL – how do we engage others more by making them laugh, considering that we do not have the facial expression range usually needed to convey that a joke is being delivered?

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