Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
Recently Plurk, a social network similar to Twitter heavily used by the Second Life community, rolled out a controversial new feature. Users can now make posts anonymously using the "whispers" tag that will be seen on their friends' timelines, but will not have their username or any other identifying marks attached to it. While the feature seems like it's intended to be a sort of like a PostSecret that you can send to only the people you know, it's caused a huge fuss since it debuted... But not for the reasons you might expect.
I'll say right off the bat that I find the idea of using anonymous plurks as a sort of directed PostSecret really... stupid. PostSecrets help you get something off your chest anonymously and that can be great. These are usually difficult issues that people deserve support for, and most of the anon plurks in the PostSecret vein have been people reaching out for help. (The SL version of PostSecret, well, not so much.) Look, you're already talking to your friends; none of them can actually do anything if they don't know who you are. Either it's a problem and you need help or its not and you want to be fawned over without having anyone call you out on it.
Or maybe they will call you out. That's where the real drama has sprung from in all of this: Instead of rude anons stirring shit up, it's irritated commenters.
Anonymous Plurks are not the safest venue to vent any directed drama, because there's no guarantee that you'll be entirely anonymous. In the first few hours of the service, people rapidly found out that if you @mentioned someone, they could see the name of the anonymous plurker in the notification email. Although this issue seems to have been resolved, it really highlighted the risks. Bugs and exploits aside, someone could always look at the responders and work out which friend they all share to determine the poster's identity.
While there aren't many people willing to take that risk there are lots of people aggravated with all the anonymous plurks, both the navel-gazing ones and all the "GUESS WHO" bullshit (that people are hopefully just getting out of their system early). The unexpected side-effect of anonymity is that people can easily forget that the poster in question is a friend, snapping back with no-holds-barred bluntness. Although you're limited to only a few whispers a day, everyone's been eager to test the new feature out. Combine that with the number of people who think it's a very bad idea for a social network (and the number of people easily annoyed by timeline clutter) and you have a recipe for drama and hurt feelings aplenty.
So before you post that whisper, ask yourself what you'll do if your SL BFF tells you to STFU. In my opinion, if a message sent to your friends isn't worth attaching your name to, it's probably not worth posting in the first place.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.