Friday, December 28, 2007

More advice for newbies (but first time it comes from me)

this post by Lem Skall

I often think that joining Second Life is like emigrating to a new country. At least the challenges are very similar. First, you encounter challenges just the way you do when you move to any new place, even when it's within the same country: how to get around, where are the best places to go to, finding new friends. It's much more when moving to another country though. You will usually end up changing even your diet and your hobbies.

The most subtle changes and sometimes the most difficult ones to adapt to in a new country are the cultural ones. It's what is often called culture shock. And I believe that it happens when joining Second Life too. It's not necessarily as negative as it may sound, it may be even exhilarating for some, but it involves a steep learning curve nevertheless.

Joining Second Life is like moving to a new country because it is a social place and it has its own culture. It has its own peculiarities and an etiquette that take time to learn and to understand. There are no common rules, but I'll attempt a personal view on what are some of the most important things to learn as a beginner in Second Life that are part of the culture. They may be obvious to veterans of Second Life and they may be even intuitive to some beginners. But my gut tells me that these have been some of the biggest challenges that have made beginners give up on Second Life.

1) Augmentation vs. immersion affects many aspects of the Second Life culture. It is always an important topic that comes up in many contexts and it has been widely discussed. Gwyneth Llewelyn has given one of the best definitions for the two terms : "[Immersionists are] interested in Second Life as an 'alternate reality', one that is disconnected from 'real life' but bears some resemblance to it. In this alternate reality you would be able to be whomever you wanted to be — and requests for revealing your real life data are considered rude. [...] [Augmentationists] look at Second Life as an extension of real life — a tool, a platform, a communication medium, the 2nd generation World-Wide Web in 3D. For them, anonymity is as silly as faking your voice on a phone call; just because you’re a 'phone number' you’re not a different person." Both augmentation and immersion coexist in Second Life and it is most important to respect both augmentationists and immersionists, no matter which choice one makes for oneself.

2) Instant Messaging (IM) is special. Use it wisely. It is a powerful tool that can be used to communicate with someone who is out of chat range or is even not logged in. It is also a very personal channel when used within chat range. Actually, it is always personal and that's why it should be used with caution especially with strangers. Just because everyone is listed and can be contacted in IM doesn't mean one should do it. And IM is so personal that when a male IMs an unfamiliar female within chat range it can make it a pick-up line almost no matter what he says. So it better be something important or it better be good. Don't be too shy either though and keep in mind that IM is used intensively even if it may not be obvious. For instance, a lot more goes on in IM in a large group as in a club where most of the public chat is bland stuff like "whooo!", "/clap" and "/me thinks he's in love".

3) The friends list is not a trophy collection. Offering friendship to someone in SL normally means "let's keep in touch!". You don't keep in touch with someone you've never been in touch with in the first place, so don't offer friendship to every stranger you run into, not without getting to know each other first at least a little.

4) There is no such thing as privacy in Second Life but there is such a thing as expectation of privacy. There are private conversations and there are private spaces. It is considered rude and annoying when people barge into private conversations or private spaces. Unfortunately for beginners in SL, it takes experience to recognize what is private and what is not. For instance, while a conversation between many people hanging out at an infohub is usually not private, a conversation among a small group of people in a low-traffic place (even if public) is usually private. A mall is obviously a public space, but residential sims are mostly private spaces. One may fly through someone's backyard and one may even enter a home but it is very bad form to stay in someone's private space while they're there without at least striking a polite conversation with them.

5) Anonymity affects social interactions in many subtle ways. This is common now in any social network on the web and it is valid also in Second Life even if the avatars may create false impressions. Anyone you interact with may still be anything in RL, young or old, male or female, no matter what their avatars may look like. There are so many such social clues that affect us in RL and yet in SL it takes longer to figure out people and to figure out what kind of rapport we can develop with them. This shouldn't slow you down though. It is possible to have very interesting communication and relationships with people in SL even without knowing the RL clues. Some would even say that interactions in SL are purer than in RL because they are free of such "preconceptions".

6) There are no social classes in Second Life. Actually there are, first of all, there are the Lindens. Plus, in time, there will always be people you will know of without them ever knowing of you. And most importantly, there is the great SL social divider: experience. There are 3 major social classes in Second Life: those who have been in SL much longer than you, those who have been in SL for a while but not much longer than you, and newbies. Still, that is all perception and there are no equivalents of Brad and Angelina or heads of governments in SL (mind you, there is the equivalent of a Donald Trump). No one is going to get mobbed by a crowd in SL and there are no bouncers or maitre d's who can pick someone before someone else based on their social status. Even SL age is relative because an avatar with a recent rez date can be an alt for a very experienced resident. In the end, no one can be sure of who you are in SL or in RL. All that creates a sense of equality in Second Life and everyone can therefore be approached equally. So there are no social classes in Second Life after all.

7) Exploration is the key. This is true of many aspects of Second Life and it is true also for meeting people, making friends, and finding a social life in general. Move around, go to events, join groups. Use all the tools that are available. Use the Search tool to find events and groups that may interest you. Read the profiles of people you meet, not only you will quickly get to know something about those people, but you will also find new ideas for things to do and groups to join. Go one step further and read the owners and/or the creators of objects and places that you find interesting and then read their profiles. Last but not least, talk to those people if you think there is something interesting about them. Talking to strangers in SL is much more common and accepted than in RL, just don't forget what I said about IM and privacy.

Of course, there is much more. I am intentionally leaving out sex in Second Life, griefers, and voice versus typing because those are complex topics in themselves. Augmentation vs. immersion is such a topic also but I decided that it has to be mentioned because it is so central to the SL culture. Bettina wrote up a list of "What every Second Life newbie should know" with great advice that addresses mostly technical and practical challenges that beginners encounter. This post here is the result of a challenge that Bettina made to me after I commented on her post. I have tried to add to what she wrote with elements outside the domain that she focused on even if we overlap in some places. And yet, our lists are not unique. There are many more like them out there on the web and by now also in printed books (and more elaborate there). There will also certainly be many more in the future. But every personal view counts and hopefully adds something new. I hope that our views achieve that.


Bettina Tizzy said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Lem.

This would probably be a good time to talk about Instant Messages (IMs) getting capped. After a certain number (is it 20?) of messages to an offline recipient, the remaining messages vanish into thin air... that person never receives them. This is why it is a good idea to send a notecard to people who are offline, especially if they receive a lot of IMs.

It is easy to prepare a notecard. Open your inventory and look at the top of the menu to choose "create." Then select "notecard," and a fresh new notecard appears on your screen. Before you send it, look for it in your inventory and rename it.

Lem Skall said...

I thought this was a very interesting and controversial topic and I expected more of a reaction in comments. Oh well, must be something I said. :P

Anyway, something that was on my mind while writing that post and yet I couldn't find a way to fit it in. In terms of chat and especially IMs the experience is very different for male avatars and female avatars. It's a pretty silent world for us men, especially in the beginning, before we make some friends and get our bearings. Not so for women. I'm saying this based on what I've heard from quite a few people.

Happy New Year everyone!

Lem Skall said...

Perfect as an example for the the first item on the list, Augmentation vs. Immersion, there is now a very interesting blog post from Sophrosyne Stenvaag