Sunday, March 2, 2008

Too much information

During a break in the Eduverse streaming last Thursday, I was ably introduced to the MetaLIFE hud. This is an attachment which you wear, which has a plethora of special features meant to enhance the existing Linden search, friends list, places to visit list etc. It includes a feature which is very like twitter, allowing you to follow other people or let them follow you, and offering reports upon what you are doing. It reports to you the tagging of places in Second Life, although it doesn't currently distinguish between a positive and negative tag, and it reports the "hot" places tagged by other metaLIFE users.

(For those who would like a chance to see the metaLIFE hud for themselves, there will be a demonstration at the Business Exchange on Tuesday, March 4, 12pm SLT at a special show and tell for gadgets.)

I was told that there is also a feature which allows you to buy through the hud rather than bumbling around the shops not finding what you are looking for. I can see that for people who dislike shopping in Second Life, or who have a clear idea of what they want, this is a boon, but for those of us (women, generally) who like wandering about and making serendipitous finds, well, it isn't so much of a treat.

I can see that a tremendous amount of work has gone into the hud, and that it has some passionate believers in its benefits, but I was a bit disappointed to see that the usual slingo-tringo-zyngo places were at the top of the hot picks. Places I am involved in were on there, the Business Exchange and Numbakulla, places which I think are a bit different and have some content, but they had one or two votes, instead of hundreds.

I hated the idea of allowing people to follow me around SL, with a hud reporting on my location. I generally switch off the function in the Linden UI which allows people to know where I am. There are times when it would be useful - when I am standing in front of a show and tell audience and have no show and tellers and no audience is one - but when I am building and want to be left alone, the last thing I need is something which highlights my location on the grid.

I had never used Twitter, and realised I wasn't really in a position to say what it was like and whether this was like it, and so I signed up to find out. Dear reader, I hate it. The system discovered I already had a couple of contacts using twitter, and so immediately signed me up to "follow" them, and thus I discovered with some envy in my heart that one of them was having dinner with Matt Groening and then attending TED, and another was feeling sick and had just taken some Tylenol.

I hope I have as much empathy as the next person, maybe I should hope I have more, but to be honest I do not think I can cope with daily reports on the minutiae of my vague acquaintances and friends. What I love about Second Life, and about its potential for education is that, despite the name, it gives you first hand experiences, and an opportunity to meet people that you might never have met otherwise. I don't want to know when they change their underwear, buy an attachment or go to bed.

It seems to me that many of the things which are mooted currently as possible improvements in the coming multiplicity of 3D worlds, are not improvements which are being demanded by the users of those 3D environments, they are either ideas from the world of commerce or from the world of academia and are based on ideas of what the residents might want and not, actually, what they want. When Michael Wilson from Theredotcom was asked by Robert Bloomfield about interoperability, which has become a buzz word in virtual worlds, he said last week "in all the times I have ever spoken to any of my customers they have never...asked why they can't use their Theredotcom avatar in Second Life, or in Wow...or in Everquest."

In many cases, people find a home and stick with it. I have a number of friends who play World of Warcraft as well as Second Life, but that's a game, and SL is not. I am sure that there are people who live on Theredotcom and also play on World of Warcraft too. I see no benefit in being able to transport my Second Life avatar to World of Warcraft so that I can become SL girly-gets-killed instead of a war troll or armoured dwarf. I like being my eternally-25 Cali avatar in Second Life, and plan on sticking with that. Even though she was based on my avatar in Uru originally, I now have a considerable investment of time and money in my avatar, and love, it has to be said. I wouldn't want to port her anywhere else because I don't want to be anywhere else.

The other side of the interoperability equation is the ability to take friends and move them between worlds, something which the beta test of Myrl is likely to allow, and the new Second Friends addition to Facebook already allows, through the medium of Facebook. I can see the advantages of being able to amalgamate friends lists from different places, maybe, but only real friends, most of the people I know in SL are friends only in SL and it isn't appropriate to take them out of there. They may not want me to know that the fairy queen elven woman I know in Second Life is actually a burly bricklayer in real life. Hell, I may not want to know that either, as the mental disconnect it may cause may affect my ability to relate to them in SL.

In my friends' list in Second Life I have people I see all the time, people I see occasionally, or talk to when I get the urge, people I befriended at an event and have never seen again, and people I helped as a mentor who befriended me in case they needed help. If I were to port my list from yahoo it would include people I corresponded with for a while because I commented on a blog or sent an email, but have never emailed again, people whose product I have bought, friends and family I have many other ways of contacting and a few people I am not close to who would be
appropriate to that sort of friends list.

The point is, what with friends on twitter (good name) telling me when they have a cup of coffee, and friends on MetaLIFE telling me they have found a cool slingo-tringo-zyngo-badingo place, and friends on Facebook showing me 20 year old photographs (it came as a shock Clint, I tell you), and the possibility for people from myspace, bebo, Kaneva and Uru telling me other things about themselves... I am on information overload, and want to run away from social networking now and forever.

What I do see a demand for, is filtering technology, and that's what missing here currently. It isn't that I need more information, I need less. I want to follow and listen to the twittering of people who don't go slingoing, because that's not my thing. I don't want to be able to buy stuff instantly from a hud because I enjoy wandering the shops of SL. I want to be able to match myself up - without prejudice - to people who have similar interests and pursuits as me and yes, if I am honest, people who might be useful to me, might pay me for blogging or writing, or making educational games, or building in SL.

While Theredotcom is not my thing at all, I thought Michael Wilson had some very wise words drawn out of him by Robert Bloomfield in the Metanomics interview. he said: "If you've got millions of members who will tell you what they want on the product, maybe you should listen to them to pick out what to do next week, rather than making things up on your own."

I think that the many clever people who are working on ways to provide more and more information, twittering around the worlds of the web and the virtual, who are working on interoperability, permeability, conductivity and all those other shiny new features, would do well to mark those words.

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