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Monday, November 01, 2010


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HeadBurro Antfarm

"(In fact I'd suggest linking avatar profiles to dating sites, like OKCupid, would be more productive than Facebook.)"

I reckon my missus would have something to say about that ;-)

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

You could see Dwight's face in a Halloween episode of "The Office" I caught on a flight back from Atlanta. Being Emperor Palpatine didn't help him score.

Maybe he should have dressed like an Indian Princess or belly dancer. Those were on offer this weekend at a bar I visited. Instant karma!

Hitomi Tiponi

'Most of the biggest social games, like FarmVille, have customized avatars, but the avatar is connected to a real identity, and perhaps even more important, a real face. In effect, social game avatars act like Halloween costumes, where you can see the person inside the outfit. Most avatars in virtual worlds, by contrast, resemble a full body costume where the face is largely or totally obscured.'

Why not compare Second Life to the biggest social virtual world - WoW - that is a more valid comparison? It is personality that is important (I can't spot a serial killer by looking at them), and you can in Second Life choose to be as interested in a person's real life as you want, and similarly you can choose to give out as much info as you want.

Annyka Bekkers

I think Second Life would be even more successful if it was more like Pacman. Pacman was crazy popular. If SL could be more like that, it would be crazy popular too.

Or better yet, it should be like Taylor Swift. Everyone loves her. SL should be like her, then everyone will love SL too

Adeon Writer

After putting my first life photo in the first life tab of my profile, I noticed some people did start treating me *slightly* different. It was very subtle. Perhaps even just all in my head. I mean, how many people check that part of a profile anyway? Basically, fewer people were willing play along with the metaphor of the game, the fourth wall tended to be broken much more often. (Kind of the opposite effect you mentioned.)

Needless to say, I've never removed it from my profile since.

smiles large

i miss the days when Lindens had a clue about anything

Cincia Singh

Dude you really couldn't be more clueless. We DON'T need more reality in virtual worlds. What's the point of a virtual world if you're going to drag in everyone's RL baggage to muck up the fun. I never want to see your real face twice as much as I never wanted to before.


Second Life lets people "show their face" if they want to. They also let people "hide their face", just like they can in a Halloween costume.

Are you suggesting that SL quit letting people do that?

That seems like a really really bad idea to me.

If not, what are you actually suggesting, because otherwise you seem to be advocating the status quo?

Maria Korolov

Hamlet --

Actually, online dating sites tend not to connect back to real identities. They show real photos of people -- because you want to know if your potential date is cute -- but not real names. After all, you don't want creepy stalkers showing up at your house after you failed to respond to their online overtures!

I believe there's a good place for anonymity in virtual worlds -- games, dating, anonymous support groups like AA, and interest groups where people might feel scared to reveal their identities, like gay and lesbian groups.

But, just as online, there is a place for real identities as well. At work, at school, and when socializing with your off-line friends. Farmville and Facebook seek to connect you to your existing friends. Workplace and campus environments connect you to existing colleagues and classmates.

You could argue which group is bigger and has a larger potential audience for a particular virtual world. Or you could set up multiple grids, multiple worlds. Or you could just give people the option to disclose their real identities or not, as they see fit.

It doesn't have to be an either-or.

-- Maria

Hiro Pendragon

"Most avatars in virtual worlds, by contrast, resemble a full body costume where the face is largely or totally obscured. This is probably a major reason why they've failed to gain mass adoption."

How do you figure that? Can you please elaborate / provide supporting evidence?

There's what? 15 million World of Warcraft players, a lot of them gender-swapping elves, cows, and trolls.

BJ Tunwarm

Yes, the lack of real you has hurt games like World of Warcraft so much.

Ajax Manatiso

Just goes to show you, you shouldn't post a blog article when you're completely drunk, or you'll have an article that makes no sense at all.

Georgianna Blackburn

As someone currently writing about online dating via http://how-to-date-an-avatar.com I see NO correlation to Halloween and creating an "instant dating scene" unless you're talking about parties at local bars & pubs, in which case dating is already pretty good bet if that's what you're looking for.

soror nishi



Hmmm, yes, SecondLife could use your suggestion. Perhaps they could put a tab in the profile where users could choose to upload a real-life picture. They could also include a tab that has a link to a web page of the user's choice, along with a button to press that will take the viewer to that page, so that they can include a link to Facebook/LinkedIn/OKCupid/RateMyRack...

Oh, they already implemented both of those ideas a long time ago. But I suppose other virtual worlds could follow suit. For example, maybe WoW could include the user's real-life information in posts they make on their official forums.

Oh, they tried that, didn't they? How did it work out? Would you say that the incident made the platform seem more attractive or less attractive to potential users?

There are plenty of ways to give out RL information to people if you so wish. As you mention, there are already websites for this purpose, so one could always discreetly send a person a link to a website such as their OKCupid profile.

Also, in addition to the concerns over stalking and other behavior that could result from giving out personally identifiable RL information online, there's the fact that one major economic force in virtual worlds is sex. Maybe not in WoW, but certainly in SL and RLC and many others. People who engage in those activities spend a good bit of money, and everyone knows that sex sells, and the notoriety of sexual content also generates controversy and thus advertisement.

Do you really think that people who engage in sexual behavior in virtual worlds, especially behavior that might be considered deviant (BDSM, capture roleplay), or that involves issues that they prefer to keep secret (LGBT stuff) are going to want to share their personal real-life information?

You know what the difference is between an analyst and a blogger? People respect the opinions of the former enough to pay a good bit of money. People are entertained by (read: laugh at) the opinions of the latter enough to click on a link.

Eggy Lippmann

The major reason why the SL social scene has failed is because most people already have a group of friends and they want to hang out with them. SL is a walled garden of escapist fantasy that caters very poorly to augmentationists. I can import my existing Gmail contact list into every god damn website on Earth, but not into Second Life.

When you arrive in SL, you have
a) Nothing to do, because SL does not cater to professional content developers
b) Nobody to talk to, because nobody you know is there!

So unless you're one of those people (like a lot of americans) who live the hell away from the nearest RL hang-out spot, SL adds nothing to your life.

I know everybody in my neighborhood - my elementary school was right across the street, my high school was a block away, a gorgeous 1920s café is also a block away, and there's really not much of a point in moving somewhere else.

I can't possibly walk around without stumbling upon someone I know. The shops are all still owned by the same people. My family has lived there for 4 generations, so I have lots of relatives in that same neighborhood.

Do most people even need the Internet if they already have proper urban planning? When cities are built to foster socialization, all the people you know will already be right across the street at the local pub or café and you can just go there and find someone you know.


Cause like, you know, everybody can tell who your real identity is in World of Warcraft too. That's why its so much more popular...

Oh wait...


"There's what? 15 million World of Warcraft players, a lot of them gender-swapping elves, cows, and trolls."

Don't you mean pantyelves, pedotrolls, and milfcows?


Ciaran Laval

No we really don't need to go around sharing our real life identities with all and sundry for virtual worlds to take off, Second Life actually has the balance about right with the option to put first life info in your profile, otherwise you do like you do in real life and share when you're comfortable.

Blizzard's plan to bring Real life names to their forums went down like a lead balloon, let people choose whom they share their details with, that's the sensible and safe way forward and in that regard, Second Life is doing fine.

Lewis Luminos

You're just missing the whole point about what virtual worlds are for. And seriously, OK Cupid? *facepalm*


Pedo Bear? Analogy Fail.


for brear to be eaten it must be buttered side down.........

ham and eggs ....

Imnotgoing Sideways

I'm sure all those families who push their kids into hugging Mickey Mouse would disagree. (^_^)

I'm consistently more likely to prefer presenting myself with "Immy's" face in spite of my own, thankyouverymuch. (^_^)y

Imnotgoing Sideways

I'm sure all those families who push their kids into hugging Mickey Mouse would disagree. (^_^)

I'm consistently more likely to prefer presenting myself with "Immy's" face in spite of my own, thankyouverymuch. (^_^)y

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

Ooh you people are so mean.

But while Hamlet may have been stone-cold sober for this one, there may be something to blogging while drunk.


Humans like faces. Our brains are wired for it.

But we like those faces to be dynamic and alive, reflecting active emotional states.

If we see faces that are frozen and unresponsive (like a typical full-face halloween mask), we tend to process them as creepy. Because they are "dead" to us.

The *very* interesting thing, in my opinion, is how our brains don't really care if dynamic faces are realistic human ones or caricatures (like good anime or cartoons). And sometimes, less is more (in terms of realism).

I blogged about this a while ago.

Gaga Gracious

Oh great! So he wants me to give my REAL identity away in an UNREAL world full of pervs and nutters (not meaning everyone of course).

Why not just all come over to my place. Have a party. Rob my house, rape my children, burn the place down why don't you!

VR Worlds are not real!

It's called escapism!

It's actually very safe for women if they keep the golden rule and don't give out personal information. Is that Not what we are always told?


Um...I'm not realy sure you're looking at this from the right angle,Hamlet.The reason SL hasn't gained mass adoption (and this comes from my own personal observations over the years) is becouse...well...Sl is kinda odd.And it's a place to escape to,away from the real world.That's what I like about it.Becouse I'm kinda odd AND I would jump into a space ship leaving for some unknown planet if I had a chance,without asking any questions.In fact,a good chunk of SL's userbase is also a bit odd and leaning twords escapism as well.But in the meatworld,most people aren't odd at all.Most of them are pretty normal even.And they like their meatworld just fine,so they don't need a new place to escape to.And that's why they don't use SL.In my opinion,anyway :D.But I might be wrong.I'd realy like to hear what others think about this.


Individuals such as the author of this tripe won't be happy until everyone has to attach their CV, passport, drivers license, phone number, mailing address, and DNA profile just to play a damn game. Sure, let's remove all the fun out of WoW and SL so Hamlet can go on a date rather than hanging out in the hood with freaky bear.

Here's a better idea sir, go join OKcupid and leave the role players alone.

Gaga Gracious

What he wants is to make VR Worlds into Facebooks, something Linden Labs has been flirting with and it's basically been thrown out by the founder, Phillip Linden along with the advocates who wasted good money and buying up rubbish like Avatars United. SecondLife has its socializing and those that want to reveal personal identities are free to do so but the people that really built SL are far more creative and are there to express that in role play for the most part. Most want to live private lives and drop in to escape for a few hours. That's what he wants to stifle and if Facebook and its teeming millions of morons are really wanted then fine. Opensim allows us to make out own private worlds and keep out identities private. SecondLife can die along with Blue Mars as we venture out and Hypergrid in the free Metaverse. Facebook reality? - Thanks but no thanks!


Awwww c'mon guys! Don't be so hard on poor ol' Ham! :D
I think the reason Hamlet is writing these articles,trying to speculate on the reasons why people outside of sl don't find it very appealing and trying to figure out ways that might change their perception of it - is becouse he (like most of us here) loves that crazy place,and wants to see it succeed.
Or he was realy bored (and since he's been writing this blog for years,and knows what kind of stuff would push people's buttons) and decided to troll his readers and lol at the reactions.Oh Hamlet,you kill me!haha!

But maybe I'm wrong again :P

Little Lost Linden

People in virtual worlds need to be able to remain anonymous if they so choose. For those people who want to give out their RL creds, that's ok too, but don't require people to give that info. No reason it should be required.

Sometimes I think Hamlet likes to upset people by mentioning the thought of rl creds being a requirement for virtual worlds.

Most people who know better, understand that rl creds are not something people should be required to give up.

Metacam Oh

Exactly Little Lost Linden, its all about OPTIONS. If I've learned anything from SL, its that people come in and use it for their own purposes and their own needs. The great part about SL is that it can serve this purpose. I think as many options as the Lab can give people that would be great.

The masses haven't adopted SL because it takes a larger crowd before others will venture in. Look at social networks, look at twitter, there is a tipping point and then the sheep come. I can't tell you how many people I knew a few years ago who swore they would never have a profile on myspace or facebook, then it was a twitter account and they all eventually do. With SL it just a little off, the technology is a bit too advanced for the masses on their computers and laptops, thats why SL in a browser could be key.

Also a lot of the major internet geeks and people that drive internet trends are out of the gaming mold, maybe I'm making a bold statement, but imagine SL with decent gaming options, and I'm not talking about Chess or Checkers. The lag and weak scripting language don't allow a game up to par that these gamers would find a reason to get engulfed.

Hamlet Au

"Actually, online dating sites tend not to connect back to real identities. They show real photos of people -- because you want to know if your potential date is cute -- but not real names"

Maria, that's exactly why I gave an example of a dating site -- it offers an *element* of the real person, without necessarily revealing the whole identity.

"There's what? 15 million World of Warcraft players, a lot of them gender-swapping elves, cows, and trolls."

Actually, just 12 million players. And the growth has basically plateaued in recent years. And social games with faces/names linked to avatars have been growing far faster in those years -- probably 200 million on Facebook alone. And World of Warcraft is on the *high* end of anonymous avatar-based virtual worlds. (Actually, Habbo is, with 16 million mainly anonymous-users, but teen-based virtual worlds seem to thrive on anonymity due to age-specific concerns.) There's no example of a virtual world for adults who are totally anonymous avatars substantially growing on a mass market level.

Hamlet Au

"You know what the difference is between an analyst and a blogger? People respect the opinions of the former enough to pay a good bit of money."

Actually, I'm also a paid analyst. My report on virtual worlds for GigaOM Pro is among the network's top sellers:


So yes, when I say virtual worlds which emphasize totally anonymous avatars are small and not growing in comparison to social games with customized avatars connected to real identities, it's based in large part on that research. I've written quite a bit on the power and appeal of anonymous avatars -- my book has a lot about that -- but the hard reality is that they're not being widely adopted. There may come a time when that changes, but it'll probably depend on the growth of social graph-based games and worlds.

Little Lost Linden

"I've written quite a bit on the power and appeal of anonymous avatars -- my book has a lot about that -- but the hard reality is that they're not being widely adopted."

How do we know it isn't "ease of use" that is in play rather than anonymous avatars?

Aren't the majority of things like Facebook, etc. much easier to use than say SL or WOW?

Doesn't that factor in more than the anonymous avatar angle?

If Facebook apps\games had the complexity of SL or WOW, perhaps Facebook wouldn't currently have the mass population it enjoys at the moment.

shockwave yareach

I play SL as a game. For me, it is entertainment and social activity. Fun time. If someone else can't deal with the fact that I don't wish to drag my real life details into SL, then they are free to walk away and not even bother to chat with me. Their loss.

nexus burbclave

So much to say on this, I may need to bang out a more complete response after things get a little less buys. For now, a few quick points.

1. As a long time attendee of Dragon Con, I would point out that what you experienced doesn't play out the same way everywhere. I believe the old journalism adage is "the plural of anecdote isn't statistics"? There are large communities that spring up precisely because they costume. Ask the fighting 501st, for instance, if hiding their faces has been detrimental to their social graph.

2. The current trend du jour is social gaming. This will continue to be the case...until the next big thing comes along. Shall we chase after that rainbow as well once it appears, or is it better for virtual worlds to apply their efforts toward tech and usability improvements. I think facebook envy is misplaced, especially when you consider that less than 5 years ago, it would have been myspace envy.

Carolyn Saarinen

Right so VWs = Paedophilia?
Not helpful Hamlet, really really *not* a helpful association you're creating.
Oh, and your hypothesis is a load of crap too.

Hamlet Au

That's not what I'm saying at all, Carolyn, Pedobear is an Internet meme *satirizing* pedophilia.

Nexus, DragonCon is a geek niche. There's nothing wrong with that, I'm a geek, I love geeks. But the vision that I support, along with Philip and others, is these 3D virtual worlds making the crossover into the true mainstream, so they can have a broader impact on the entire world. And if you believe that as I do, you have to ask, how do you reach the people beyond the 2% or so who are already into them? (That's roughly the percent of people worldwide who use a virtual world, about 150M out of 6 billion.) Well for starters, you look at similar phenomena that *have* gone mainstream. Halloween for adults is mainstream. But it probably wouldn't if most people were wearing full-body outfits that impede flirting/light roleplay/etc.

Hamlet Au

BTW, I pulled the original photo to this post, as it was inadvertantly detracting from the point I wanted to make. I thought people would get the in-joke aspect, but some were coming away with a negative connotation that I definitely didn't intend.

nova dyszel

it seems to me that there are many factors which also limit the number of people who will ever be interested in spending time in sl / any virtual world, and some which could possibly be addressed:

-lack of adequate computer hardware
-lack of computer comfort/familiarity
-no need for more social interaction than they already have in rl
-lack of time
-or personal freedom to spend time uninterrupted on internet
-prejudices that social interaction online is geeky, freaky, weird, pathetic, etc
-lack of knowledge of sl or other virtual worlds

I agree that many people are drawn to sl by the very option of anonymity, and some who choose to give up that anonymity only do so after being inworld for a while and coming slowly to that choice.

finally, why is the only model of success constant growth?

Nova Dyszel

Arcadia Codesmith

And if model train enthusiasts played with airplanes instead of trains, I'll bet they'd pull a lot more people in. Coin collectors could probably attract more of a crowd if they had coin battles instead of keeping their collections in mint condition. And hey, I bet golf would be more popular if it was played in timed periods and allowed tackling!

There are thousands of pastimes for which we could change some key elements to open them up to a more mainstream audience. And yet... we don't.

And perhaps the reason we don't is the fact that those elements are central to the enjoyment of the activity and changing them would destroy its essential character.

Initiatives like putting SL in a browser increase accessibility to VR without changing its basic nature. But hard-linking RL identity puts out the UNWELCOME mat to a huge portion of the current base with ZERO compelling evidence of the repeated but unproven contention that this would bring in new users.

We have all the tools we need to provide as much RL info in our profiles as we desire. Let it be.



are you taking a position against burkas in RL? if so i commend you.

i'm with you that avatars need to be registered to verified people for legal reasons however i don't think that information should be public to other users without their consent.

people are trying to live a second life. introducing first life for those that want it included will ruin their immersion and interest and it will ruin business for everyone. people building second lives are the engine of this fantasy escapist world.


Hamlet Au

I didn't say real world identities should be publicly exposed, and I never have, and I never will. I do think, however, that it should be much *easier* to integrate aspects of your real life in your avatar profile, certainly much more than being fully anonymous. Currently, most virtual worlds/MMOs are the exact opposite of a real Halloween party: Very easy to wear a totally obscuring disguise (in fact that's the default), very difficult to reveal anything about yourself (even the stuff you want to reveal.) I think that's a problem.


With real life costumes, if your face is obscured it may turn people off socially since the face is such an important part of expression/communication with all our facial muscles. A still photo will not achieve this. How about capturing real expressions with a camera and then translating them to the fantasy avatar's face? I know this has been done but not sure how viable it is for the average user at this time.

Sharing one's face/identity may help strengthen marketing potential in some ways but there are very different functions of virtual worlds that are all highly valuable, even if they may seem contradictory. Virtual worlds can not only extend reality but also transcend it. Can both be done at the same time effectively?


It's always interesting when someone has an idea and shares it. No one needs to agree.

Extropia DaSilva

A parable.

Once upon a time there was something called 'Legos'. Two philosophical schools of thought grew up around it. One group were known as 'Architecturalists'. They believed Legos should be used to make churches, factories, cottages...anything so long as it was a house.

The other group- the 'Vehicleists' argued that Legos was really meant for building cars, trucks, planes...anything so long as it was a vehicle.

Needless to say, there was some antagonism between the two groups, each one accusing the other of using legos in ways that was not appropriate.

But the truth was this. Legos was a playset that was flexible enough to accomodate both points of view. You wanted to build houses? No problem. You preferred making cars? Fine.

But then one group influenced the makers of legos, made them believe that if only it was biased towards vehicles, it would gain wider adoption.

And the makers of legos listened, and it became more and more like a system specialised for making vehicles. This pleased the vehicleists a great deal, but for those people who remembered when legos was agnostic in its position regarding what you could create, leaving it up to the individual's imagination and personal preference to make whatever they pleased, it was a tragic outcome.

If the point of this parable escapes you, read it again but swap 'Legos' for 'SL', 'Architecturalsts' for 'immersionists' and 'Vehicleists' for 'augmentationists'.

Extropia DaSilva

I should point out that the outcome would be equally tragic if the architecturalists/immersionists got their way and legos ended up as a toy specialised for building architecture/ SL ended up as a pure fantasy world where 'being yourself' is strongly discouraged. The strength in legos/SL lies in its ambiguous nature and the freedom that gives to make of it what you will. I agree with Hamlet when he says Sl should make it as easy as possible to include as many RL details as the individual seems fit, but only so long as that does not diminish someone else's right to create fantasy characters and other forms of roleplay.

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