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Metanomics: Learn how your avatar participates in a virtual world culture

Metanomics presentation screen
Metanomics presentation screen

Metanomics, a group that gathers in Second Life with a good “2D” Web showing as well, had a discussion March 2 on avatar culture.

The session preview stated that Anthropologists Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce are developing new methods and theories about human relationships in virtual worlds and would be discussing how traditional ethnography is being adapted to the study of online immersive environments and how virtual worlds shape identities, economies, communities and societies.

One of Metanomics’ many strengths is its ability to have a regular Web component at the same time that in-world meetings are held.

If you have a signon with Metanomics, you can participate in the chat even if you are not in-world, using ChatBridge.

The Metanomics group makes full use of its Web and its SL presences by delivering rich information in a variety of formats.

The first guest was Robin Gomboy of ReactionGrid, an alternative to Second Life which appeals more to some businesses and educational groups because it doesn’t have an in-world economy (although residents can buy and sell using shopping carts like people do on the “2D” Web) and the rules dictate PG content only.Ā  A single sim costs a “hosting fee” of only $25 a month, and a 6-sim private grid is only $75 a month. You can host your own server as well. In the near future they will be adding hypergridding to it (allows avatars to move between privately owned areas without getting a new signon, avatar, etc.).

For immersive education, Gomboy noted that the prerequisite seemed to be that there is not an in-world economy already in place. Educators typically don’t want an in-world economy.

Metanomics’ Beyers Sellers said he didn’t tend to agree but then he comes from a college economics environment and that may be coloring his perception.

Metanomics host Beyers Sellers asks questions of his guests during a discussion on virtual world cultures.
Metanomics host Beyers Sellers asks questions of his guests during a discussion on virtual world cultures.

ReactionGrid’s terms of service stipulate that residents have PG-rated content only. There are some software tools which are being built just for ReactionGrid. Experience and leadership are playing an important role to help shape the culture and create trust among the other members, she added.

Advice for “Gridizens”? Remember how hard it was for you to learn the basics of getting around – help others out with teaching the technology, respect others’ meeting spaces, and respect others’ privacy.

ThinkBalm innovation community is a ReactionGrid participant. They decided to ask members to use their real names to increase the trust factor. Instead of using virtual chair and a copy of RL lecture setups, they experiment with 3D best practices in online learning.

First major cross-grid event last weekend. She is the speaker for the TechNet group in SL and in ReactionGrid. She was using HippoViewer and in both worlds at once. She used LiveMeeting to help in her presentations.

Next interview:

Tom Bellstorff, a professor of anthropology at the University of California Irvine, has done research on sexuality, globalization, etc., and cybersociality.

The session presentation screen shared these links:

CDS : Metanomics Messenger: Tom Boellstorff:

Celia Pearce (Artemesia Sandgrain in SL) –

American Anthropologist

CDS : Metanomics Messenger: Celia Pearce’s Web sites:
Georgia Tech:

Experimental Game Lab:

Emergent Game Group:

Mermaids Project:


Virtual Cultures:


Celia Pearce & Friends (Design & Consulting):

Metanomics Messenger: A Ludicrous Discipline? from: Ethnography and Game Studies

This work defines and discusses three phrases:

game cultures

the cultures of gaming

the gaming of cultures

Metanomics Messenger: The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia (
), winner of the 2005 Ruth Benedict Award from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists

Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human

Tom Boellstorff (Tom Bukowski in SL) – what would have to change in virtual worlds and what doesn’t have to change?

Boellstorff has been doing this research for a little over 5 years. He deliberately set it up to fail by using the classic methods he used in Indonesia and applying it to SL without consideration for the differences between the environments. Surprisingly he didn’t have to change a lot.

Would he use alts or not? He decided not to.

Questions about money and anonymity – have parallels in the real world.

He likes to refer to the non-cyber world as the physical world rather than as the Real World or RL, because he maintains that what you do in SL has real consequences and is real to its participants; just differently so.

IRB – institutional review board. When a researcher does research with people, they have to get approval from this board because you are working with human subjects. It’s about protecting people’s privacy and confidentiality.

He used a research design that was entirely inside of Second Life and didn’t try to get physical world information about the people. He only asked about the person’s SL life and used their SL names.

Pearce said in her research she kept encountering people who were in some way disabled and was surprised by the commonness of that scenario.

Demographics of Baby Boomer Computer Gamers – Players of the game Uru, which was closed in 2004. The majority of these players were baby boomers, she found.

Forums just for baby boomers – like Game Boomers. There is a myth that baby boomers want to play only casual games, but that turned out not to be true. Many of them were replacing their TV watching time with their gaming. They liked adventure games but don’t like to hang around with certain types of groups associated with online games. They want to play with people their own age for a more refined method of relating.

They all were really active in communities. Fav activity – exploring. 2nd fav – helping others learn the ropes.

Baby boomers with young people at home tended not to play with their kids. Most of the players used a PC rather than a console, which they tended to think were for the kids.

The Wii came out about the time her study was finishing up and they actually targeted the baby boomer generation.

Let’s talk about Uru – based on the game Myst – if anyone has a version of the Scarab of Ra on the PC, let him know (Beyers Sellers) because he misses it!

Crap Mariner noted that there was a hack of Myst called Pyst, in which you could see the ecological effects of 10 million users walking through the Myst landscapes. He called it crude, deranged and brilliant, which made everyone laugh.

Those who played in Uru became “Uru refugees” or “diaspora” when Uru shut down. They tried to recreate some of their favorite elements from the world later, which she calls a trans-culturization process.

Like refugees in the physical world, the Uru refugees were kind of moved around and given a hard time for the lag they caused everywhere they went.

Fleep Tuque said: “I’ve written about the total fail of trying to move the BBS community to here, I think you lose a lot when you try to switch platforms if new platforms don’t facilitate the kinds of ineraction that the community formed around in the first place.”

“We aren’t spending enough time in the question space. Sometimes it’s the question that matters more than the answers. There’s often a real interest in design or implementation research but we need to also stay in the question space so that we come up with some good questions to ask before we rush to those solutions.”

Tom Boellstorff

His book – “Coming of Age in Second Life” – he tries to write for multiple audiences, some of which know a lot more than others about the basics of virtual worlds/online games.

This wonderful new mode of interaction has its problems but shouldn’t be dismissed outright. In The Matrix, the virtual world is used to enslave the humans, so there is a fear factor here towards virtual worlds.

For Pearce as a game designer, when you design games you are also designing cultures, and you may not know what kind of culture will emerge with your game.

AbaBrukh Aabye
AbaBrukh Aabye

I asked one participant, whose background is in anthropology, to tell me what he got out of the discussions:

AbaBrukh Aabye: well, the concept of culture in virtual worlds has interested me since I first was an early beta tester on what became AOL

AbaBrukh Aabye: and it’s clearly becoming a larger part of human culture in general

AbaBrukh Aabye: I discovered SL from a feature on NPR

AbaBrukh Aabye: but when I’ve talked about it to some of my RL friends, they just laugh

The way people think about virtual worlds is varied depending upon their experience and what they want out of life. Having a little imagination is helpful for enjoying the concept of spending time in a virtual world. The fact that real life (RL) is called the physical life by one of the speakers is very telling: real things are said here in Second Life and in other virtual worlds, real relationships are forged (my own present relationship included), and real struggles are fought. Anytime you have a mix of people interacting, that is real.

But it will be some time before a significant part of the Internet-visiting population will feel that way, too.

Aerial view of a Metanomics sound stage
Aerial view of a Metanomics sound stage

Participate in an online discussion

Saturday, October 11, 2008

One of the things I enjoy doing in Second Life is participating in, and helping with, online discussion groups. I volunteer with a group called Play as Being, which holds daily meetings in Second Life for the purpose of discussing the results of their experimentation with meditation techniques.

There’s not a teacher or a lecturer; rather, it’s a loose grouping of people having a free-form discussion which sometimes closely follows the meditation topic and sometimes only touches on it. The participants, a mix of regulars and new drop-ins, are diverse in their geographic locations, level of expertise in the topic, and spiritual beliefs.

As a group leader for the Thursday night meeting (7 p.m. SLT), my responsibility is mostly to welcome new people and explain the premise of the group as needed. I also help facilitate a good discussion by asking questions and clarifying to keep people engaged, but I don’t guide or teach, because I am not an expert by any means.

With the permission of the participants, we save the chat log from the meetings and post them to our Play as Being wiki with comments from the “Guardian” that was facilitating at the meeting.

After participating in these meetings for a few months, I now realize there is a natural pattern to these meetings which helps everyone have a better experience in the discussion. What follows is my attempt to offer some suggestions to all participants of online discussion groups, in Second Life or otherwise, which will make the overall group experience much richer.

Basic etiquette for any gathering in a 3D world:

  1. Take care to choose your appearance to match the formality of the group; avoid wearing extremely revealing or possibly
    offensive clothing or attachments until you know the group norms better. If everyone else has a hat on, get out a hat. šŸ™‚

  2. Adjust the size of your avatar or use a smaller avatar if it looks like it will be too large to fit in the discussion area. Some avatars are very large and could fill entire rooms or block views.

  3. Avoid using sounds or gestures unless the group is okay with that. In Second Life dancing events, for example, it’s considered polite to show appreciation for the musician or DJ by making cheering noises such as Hooooooo! In a quieter discussion group, this would be off-putting.

  4. Follow group behavior norms about avatar positioning to avoid distractions. If everyone else is standing, stand. If everyone else is sitting, sit.

  5. If someone offers you inventory, such as a toy or a garment or a notecard, be sure to thank them in regular chat or in IM. If possible without disrupting the group activity, wear the object or in some way try it out to show your appreciation.

  6. Tipping of the musician/DJ and hosts is customary in entertainment venues. It’s not expected and probably would be considered rude to directly tip a discussion group leader. If you appreciate what the group is doing and want to help, ask the leader if there is a tip box somewhere in the region. There usually is, and donations would be appreciated there.

  7. Choose your entry and exit points with consideration for others. In 3D worlds like Second Life, you can teleport to specific locations and save those locations as landmarks. Save the landmarks for locations slightly outside the discussion group area so that if you follow a landmark after the group has begun, you don’t suddenly appear on top of someone’s head. If someone lands on your head by accident, be forgiving. It happens sometimes. šŸ™‚

Tips for better discussions in any kind of chat, 3D or otherwise:

  1. When you are responding to something another participant said, start your response with his or her assumed name. Even if you know someone’s real name, don’t use it in open chat.

  2. If you know that someone is in the middle of expressing an idea (i.e., you can see their hands typing or they’ve already said something that appears to be an incomplete thought), hold off on adding your comment to the chat until they have had a chance to finish. This will make the conversation flow more understandably.

  3. Try to stay with the general topic of the discussion group and try to contribute to the specific topic that’s being discussed during that particular meeting. Sometimes a change of topic is a helpful thing, but if the group is still chatting about a previous topic, it can be jarring to have a new one brought up.

  4. Differences of opinion can be stimulating and helpful for the discussion, but be sure to phrase your responses respectfully and in a way that will encourage everyone to keep participating.

  5. When you join the group late or must leave early, try not to interrupt the flow of the discussion beyond brief greetings and good-byes.

  6. Try to be mindful that each participant brings something of value to the discussion and comes from a different background. What they say may be different from what you would say, but each comment can further the exploration of the topic.

  7. Ask for clarification or more information when someone says something that you are not sure you understood completely, or when you sense that there is something interesting that’s being left unsaid.

  8. Share examples from your personal life, literature, or even pop culture.

  9. Remember to be careful about making jokes because they can easily be misunderstood in an environment where people cannot see each other’s faces. Humor is a wonderful addition to a group discussion, but be careful to phrase it so that it is not perceived as an attack.

  10. Phrase your remarks for a diverse audience to avoid accidentally offending someone. The participants’ names or avatars probably don’t match real life. For example, someone who appears male may be actually female, and someone who appears skinny may be in real life overweight.

  11. Role play should be reserved for regions where this is commonly agreed to be acceptable. While exploration of other appearances is fine and sometimes a great learning experience, in a serious discussion, adopting a whole new personality or faking experiences or knowledge can be offensive to the participants and misleading to those who are trying to explore a new concept.

Bonus suggestions (extra credit if you can do these):

  • If someone makes a “faux pas” in the group setting, try to have a sense of humor and be gentle. Understand that not everyone has had a chance to read this blog entry (LOL) and may need a little time to realize that there are norms to be observed. Patience and tolerance can enhance the group experience.

  • If you really like a group that you attend, tell others, give them landmarks, and bring them along to meetings. Be sure to give them a few pointers about the behavior norms for the group before their arrival so that they don’t suffer from embarrassment after missing a cue. Take care to remember the group’s preferences to make sure that the person you invite is not an inherently bad match for the overall tone of the group.

If you follow even a few of these suggestions, your group experience will be much more pleasant and constructive. Being a good group participant is an art and can lead to lasting and significant friendships.

Take lots of photos and share them

I have accumulated nearly 200 photos of Happy Clam Island and its citizens in just a few months, so I decided it was time to move them into a group that others can contribute to. The Happy Clam Island group pool is on Flickr. If you have HCI photos to contribute, please tag them with HCI and then join the group! If you want to help organize the photos, tell me you need admin level access. I certainly don’t want to hog all the fun.

See a sampling of the most recent in the badge below, created using Flickriver:
Happy Clam Island (HCI) - View this group's photos on Flickriver

Here are some photos from Happy Clam Island’s volcano party on Saturday night (August 23, 2008). To read more about the event and the building/detonation of the volcano, click on these photos and read the captions.

View 'HCI, volcano' photos on Flickriver

Play as Being photos

My photos taken at Play as Being meetings in Second Life.Ā  Play as Being is a wonderful example of what can happen when many like-minded people gather in one place. Four times a day, every day, a volunteer leads a discussion on meditation methods. Specifically, the discussion is about the 9-second pause which is recommended 4 times per hour; to be used in lieu of or in addition to regular meditations. The group’s purpose is to play with different ways of getting into the right headspace and then share what happens with the group. It’s been meeting in Second Life since April of 2008.

items in Kira and Play as Being More in Kira and Play as Being pool

Attend a lecture

Friday, July 25, 2008

I’ve been chatting with a number of Second Life friends and I am starting to find parallels in our conversations, even though each friend comes from a different background and they don’t know each other. There is a lot of great research and commentary about the social/cultural/economic impact of virtual worlds, especially those with active economies like Second Life.

I had attended Metanomics a few Fridays ago. This was a panel discussion held in the Nokia region in Second Life. The moderator was really good at keeping everyone focused and navigating voice chat with the speakers and audience members. Very sophisticated stuff and done very well. I guess I have to admit that I was more keenly interested in HOW they organized their session than in WHAT they had to saw about economics in Second Life. Both were interesting aspects though.

The Metanomics Web site has an interesting blog entry on boundaries between real and virtual worlds, although I was a little disappointed in the weak conclusion after such an amazing lead-in. Blogger Roland Legrand on 7/23 wrote about trying to apply the deconstruction method of philosopher Jaques Derrida to Second Life. “I speak now to you live but Iā€™m having texts around me. I can assist my words though I see you as avatars, and I cannot see your physical faces and bodies, I am here in this virtual auditorium, and yet I am far away,” wrote Legrand. “Virtuality cannot be understood by using simple opposition such as real versus the unreal.”

The Virtual World entry in Wikipedia has a section on boundaries which is just as interesting, because it mentions the magic circle, which is supposed to be the line between RL and the virtual world. It also describes that line as being quite porous, a wonderful word for the phenomenon. If Second Life gets better integration with open-source Web apps and we start seeing mashups, Google searches, and better social networking capability, that porosity will increase tenfold.

In my opinion that’s a good thing but also a sad thing, because SL is a magic place that most ordinary folks find too difficult or too time-consuming to be worth their effort, which tends to ensure that the ratio of smart to stupid people stays high.

Economics are another good example of the porosity of that boundary: “The fantasy environment of the virtual world is protected from the intrusion of real life by this magic circle, but practices such as the sale of virtual items and virtual currency for real life currency challenges this separation while reinforcing the notion that objects in the virtual world have real life value.”

This is the stuff that gets me excited.

Find something amazing and learn more about it

Sunday, June 15, 2008

DJane Solace spins for Organica

Friday night I joined the multi-DJ trance event at Organica, having put together a killer outfit with a slight Goth lean (kinda like cute Goth – think Paulie Perrette). When I got there, the lovely and awesome DJane Solace was already on the decks and there were about 15 people dancing.

The problem with that count is that I can’t be sure how many people were there. As you can see from the pic, the particles were particularly strong and beautiful that night, so sometimes we couldn’t see ANYBODY else. We just had to ASSUME there were others out there.

The inestimable Nos

I think the various types of particles were created by Nostrum Forder, who Thomtrance O’Toole tells me is a particle genius. We saw stars, hearts, fog, balls of electricity, rainbows, streaks, and more that night. Nos is also a joker, it would seem. When I announced I would be right back after a bathroom break, Nos asked me if I needed TP. I misunderstood and thought that meant a teleport to a bathroom – noooooo, Nos gave me an object called “TP”. After much deliberation (out loud for everyone’s amusement) I decided to click on the dastardly thing and see what it did. You see the result. There were LOLs and ROFLs all over the chat window. They were loving it. I danced like that for a few minutes more, considering it my initiation dues for hanging with this wonderful bunch of people on Happy Clam Island.

My “hazing”

Yummy DJ Thomtrance O’Toole

Then Thomtrance took over for Solace and as usual I completely lost my train of thought for at least 30 minutes. I love goa trance and the idea of a DJ who can pick out good techno and also program in several languages is oddly compelling and exotic to me. Besides, he has really good bling. Soon my buddies showed up, popping in one at a time: Stevenaia, Gar, and Devon. A happy cluster of dance!! What fun. We were cracking jokes all over the place while Thom simultaneously kept up with the conversation, greeted all new arrivals, and spun music.

Qee was the DJ after Thom. Qee is something of a legend in DJ-dom in SL, and it was evident many people agreed as the dance floor (a wooded clearing with grass) filled to capacity. Lag put us through forced slo-mo several times during this as people hooted and capered through the changing particle showers.

Orange ball lightning.

The particles were absolutely stunning all night long. We saw juicy, tart orange ball lighting, heavy fogs of cerulean blue, zombie green, flash hangover yellow and poppy red. There were swirling, slicing ribbons of rainbow, effervescent hearts in every color, round rainbow and streak particles, stars of every color, and even sparkles to add to the overall effect. Every second was a completely different experience. I found the particles to be a major part of my experience there that night, and want to learn to make them. To that end, Nos sent me a link (it’s like a stone tablet at the beginning of a quest):

I can’t stress enough to you, my readers, how important it is to really connect with the people you meet on SL (and in real life too, for that matter) and LISTEN to what they are telling you. There is a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge in these nice people and if you are sweet to them, you can be a part of this happy energy.

The following chat excerpt has been added with Nos’ generous permission.

[7:27] Sylectra Darwin: Did you do all the particles Friday night?
[7:27] Nostrum Forder: I don’t know what “all” means in that context. I bring mine, which tend to be massive. People bring theirs, and the DJs have effects.
[7:27] Nostrum Forder: I do try to play off what I’m seeing other people emit.
[7:28] Sylectra Darwin: That answers my next question, which was – are you varying the effects?
[7:28] Sylectra Darwin: Yes, I knew about the others but once you’ve seen them they are easy to identify. I saw all new stuff which I believe was all yours.
[7:29] Nostrum Forder: yes. I have a set of basic throwers. Some of them are timer -based, and some of them are triggered by command.
[7:29] Nostrum Forder: My own stuff is not currently commercially available.
[7:29] Nostrum Forder: People have asked, and I’m not opposed in principle. It’s a matter of time.
[7:29] Nostrum Forder: If I tried to package for sale, I’d never get laid.
[7:29] Sylectra Darwin: HAHAHAHA!
[7:29] Sylectra Darwin: You should DEFINITELY sell them.
[7:30] Sylectra Darwin: Yes, I heard you’re the particle god.
[7:30] Nostrum Forder: There are better out there.
[7:30] Nostrum Forder: I’m an integrator. I’ll use commercial throwers if they work.
[7:30] Nostrum Forder: There are people ike Vandelite who are miles ahead of me technically, when it comes to the scripting and such.
[7:31] Nostrum Forder: I got started doing this, for what it’s worth, by tweaking a mod-able dance sphere script live while Qee was playing.

Get your own virtual home sweet home

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The question goes, if the tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? Along those same lines, those new to SL are always amazed that their avatar bodies poof out of existence when they are not logged into the world. However, you can have a stamp of permanence if you buy or build your own residence in Second Life.

I finally took the plunge and rented a piece of land on SL with NOTHING on it, called Sylectra’s Spiral Paradise. I repeat, NOTHING. This was both terrifying and scintillating. The rental fee was breathtakingly high for only a small spit of land – about $1200 Lindens per week, or US$20 per month. Didn’t care. I was going to have some fun with this as long as I could.

It was on this wonderful island that I discovered called Happy Clam Island, and after meeting a few of the residents (shout out to Finn and Thomtrance) I decided I needed to be near these incredibly neat people.

Apologies if I paraphrase incorrectly, but I believe the group’s vision is to bring more public awareness to the problem of global warming and sustainability in general. Sustainability has to do with using the available resources (animal, vegetable, and mineral) in such a way that it does not burn through the planet and its people in record time. A wonderful concept which is not new, but which has new impetus because of the price of oil and (finally) official government acknowledgment of global warming.

View from the front porch overlooks Organica.

To think that George Bush mocked the scientists warning about this coming global catastrophe just a few short years ago still amazes me. Now only a fool would continue to say our climate is not changing and that there is nothing we can do to help. We live here. We have to take care of our planet and each other.

Butterfly dome. My design.

I am not sure why I am in SL with this group of people and also good friends with Willy, who has a wonderful similar vision, but I want to be in these circles with these wonderful people and learn what my purpose is. And maybe that will change as time goes by, but something is gently tugging on me and it feels so exhilarating.

This move to rent the land is just one of several I have recently taken which are the start of my new path to ? I have no idea. When Mom took her journey to the next world, she was ill for about a year and passed away just after her birthday (Christmas day) in 2006. She was so accepting and philosophical about it, and her experience changed me for the better. I resolved to continue to let positive experiences change me, to open my heart to these wonderful connections to other human beings, to turn my spirit to something greater than myself.

Meet a Linden, tour a friend’s SL home

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nostrum Forder and Sylectra Darwin attend Torley Lindens office hours in which he amplifies our awesome.
Nostrum Forder and Sylectra Darwin attend Torley Linden's office hours in which he "amplifies our awesome."

I met Torley Linden (above, in pink hood with green eyes) yesterday during his office hours! This is the guy who works for Linden Labs and does instructional videos for residents. He was very considerate and answered all my questions. Torley is famous so I am quite honored he had time for one of the little people. It’s only because few people are in Second Life as yet.

Also, Willy introduced me to one of his younger friends, Jeffrey, who lives in his (RL) neighborhood and sometimes borrows one of his computers. This nice fellow is 18 years old and owns a couple of new ventures in Second Life, including a Motley Crue tribute band which performs in SL. He’s a newlywed and lucky for him, his wife is also a Second Lifer. He gave us a tour of his condo that they are renting. He’s got it decorated with lots of red and pink and romantic themes – sounds like his marriage is a success! I unfortunately didn’t get to meet her – next time I hope. His activities in SL give him enough income to afford the weekly rent! I think it’s a laudable goal.

A one-prim creation made from a rectangle shape with a handmade texture slapped on it.
A one-prim creation made from a rectangle shape with a handmade texture slapped on it.

On the building front, I made a Japanese shoji divider screen (at left, red birch with rice paper and brass hinges) from scratch using Adobe Photoshop Elements and uploaded the resulting texture to my inventory, where I slapped it on a single prim shape. It’s beautiful, and low-lag. I am proud. Looking at it again though, I would rather have a 3-prim screen so you have realistic zigzag positioning. To make it economically attractive, I have some other ideas about the patterns.

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?