Sunday, March 9, 2008

The hunt for the elusive augmentationist

After several opening salvos, the immersionist cavalry has reached the supposed location of the augmentationist camp and found it empty - not even a prim cube there. With the battle clearly won, the horses were put back into inventory, many a flexy skirt was rezzed and the wings put on for the celebration. The augmentationists were on the run.


But were they?

The abominable augmentationist is a fearsome beast indeed. I picture him with long fangs, stalking around Second Life in an avatar that looks just like his RL self, filled with righteous indignation at the multicolored denizens around him, always ready to shout "YOU ARE PLAYING A GAME! GET OUT MORE!".

There is just one problem: their population density is about the same as the Yeti population in RL.

You see, the dreaded augmentationist is defined as "someone who doesn't immerse in the medium". Someone who doesn't "get" the other users, doesn't get the world and doesn't get the rules and etiquette of Second Life. It is true - a lot of newcomers to Second Life come in with a similar mindset and stay that way. Based on the registration/active user stats, I think the number could be as high as 90%. But - all of them are gone, never to return.

Why would someone not seeing the benefits of Second Life stay in? Suffer the grid and viewer crashes, climb his way up Mt.Stupid UI and brave the Inventory Missing monster? No reason at all - so they leave.

The ones who stay are the ones who see the benefits of Second Life and are willing to suffer its quirks for a chance of connecting to other users.

Yes, Virginia - we are all Immersionists.

Peace at last?

Separating immersionists into groups based on whether they reveal their real life info, whether they roleplay, do business in Second Life or use Second Life for business is .. silly, yet quintessentially human. Still, to be honest.. I had kinda hoped we had outgrown it. Oh well, perhaps in Third Life.


Rheta Shan said...

I had to grin when reading this, your pictures stick (I like the yeti one, but I had to laugh even more when thinking of the cavalry helplessly milling around in its empty target).

Yes, of course, we residents are all immersionists to different degrees. Pointing out that Second life is an immersive environment by its very nature was what I tried to do in my own recent post. The labels have outdated their usefulness (as far as they ever had any) long ago, and it seems to me it is really time to move on and discuss far more interesting things : identity and anonymity, trust and liability, government and democracy, just to name a few…

IYan Writer said...

Thanks for your comment, Rheta - as you know, it was your post (and the comments to it) that inspired me to post this.

I completely agree - let's put the IMM/AUG debate out to pasture and focus on new challenges.

Digado said...

Its strange how you mention the point, yet miss it completely.

The yeti is not inside second life, they are outside, covering about 90% of the market. You spotted this quite accurately but how is there not value in opening up the debate and reaching out to this 90% (or rather 99.9% of the real world)?

Over the course of various discussions I (partially) play the devils advocate and engage with people who represent a (sometimes rather extreme) point of view regarding virtual worlds. Eventually, the goal is to bring the two closer together and find answers and solutions to questions/problems that are still open - I think the discussion on verification is already one very real example of this.

Usually these discussions end up inside the communities, between enthusiasts, with the same outcomes how everyone agrees on nearly everything - while this is just not the case when projected into the very real world we live in. Something I find personally a lot more interesting than just the virtual box of Second Life.

The IMM/AUG debate is another link into reaching out and understanding, searching potential and ways to word it, the job of the early adopter (or evangelist/analyst). Find application and translate for the masses, and use knowledge to your advantage.

If you do not see value in this, prepare yourself, because its going to be the context for a lot of problems and solutions on the horizon :)

Digado said...

Oh forgot to say it's a very entertaining read and I did enjoy it, kudos on creative writing! :P

IYan Writer said...

Hi Digado - thanks for your comment (and kind words)!

I both agree and disagree with what you say :)

As a metaverse evangelist, I cannot but be an augmentationist by the economic definition of the term (makes money on the VW-RL boundary; IMM = makes money in VW; EXP = uses VWs to experiment; more on the first Metanomics show). As such, I am aware of the challenges that VWs will be facing with the increasing personal and business adoption.

However, I think the current IMM/AUG debate has nothing to do with the outside world. It's needless drawing of lines in the sand - and then sticking of heads in it. Instead of making us focus on the world beyond, it's making us focus on within. Instead of listening to others and finding a consensus or at least a shared vision, the echos in the echo chamber only get louder.

That's why I just wish for it to end - and hence my post.

Digado said...

What do we know of people who see their avatar as a separate entity, how large is the population of these 'immersionists' - why do they see their avatar as a separate entity, what drives them if not search for application? - these are important 'demographics' in marketing-talk for so many reasons. (Loyalty to the platform, projection, research accuracy, understanding a market, brand interpretation, understanding ongoing conversations, participation)

How many metaverse analysts/evangelists do you see actively engaging with this community? what if out of the 10% that says, 8% is part of this 'immersionist movement'? Won't this affect your strategy, your evaluation of the platform? For me it would, that's why I want to learn. My method is debate, you are free to agree or disagree of course, but your observation of the discussion staying within the realm of second life is inaccurate, it depends on how you use and apply the information gathered.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, Mr. Writer. There is no Yeti, no boogeyman. The real dangers are much more insidious, after all.

The Lindens are turning their back on the economy of trust here. How long before I need to give my "real" name in order to rent land? A land baron could always justify it as "protecting their RL investment" after all.

I have a woman friend who was taunted for not using voice, and not showing her "true self". Should this be ok? It seems like it is now.

The culture of sexual, artistic, and intellectual freedom here is beginning to be threatened by people who bring their own ideas of "normal" here without respect for pre-existing customs.

So no...the IMM/AUG thing is patently silly, which is why I haven't been focused on it. I'll keep my eyes open for the more subtle dangers instead.

I trust you will too ^_^

IYan Writer said...

Digado: I agree in principle, but not in fact. It is my opinion that this specific debate very quickly devolves from lofty principles to "X said Y therefore he's Z" - as you have seen for yourself.

I have also been "immersed" in this particular debate for several months now, since Nov/Dec I think, so that's an additional factor to my weariness.

IYan Writer said...


thank you for your reply!

I appreciate the strength of your emotion and your indignation at the world (and the rest of SL) sometimes not treating you (and other digital people) in a manner you think respectful.

But I think you should also realize that you can't bake a omelette without breaking some eggs. You can not have the best of both worlds - "Oh, I'll take the trust from RL but the anonymity from SL" - every choice means sacrifices. I have been trying to explain this to Soph for ages now (check my reply to the original Soph's post).

Be that as it may, I wish you and other digital people all the best. Emancipation is tough, in RL and in SL both.

Anonymous said...

I'm not asking for anonymity, Mr. Writer, I'm asking for pseudonymity. They are two very different things.

And, please don't confuse my goals with Soph's. My desire is not to extend my reach into the physical world and to do business dealings there. I suspect it might be possible for someone to do that, with the proper legal instruments in place, but it's really not my concern. I simply like the concept of SL as a world largely unto itself, and while that concept may be seen as outdated by some newer entries to our world, I think it is one that will prove to be timeless.

I'm not looking for your trust in FL dealings. Honestly, I'm trying to keep FL concepts of "verified=trustworthy" out of a world where, until recently, things were done differently. We place value on our names and reputations here, not the letters on our passport.

And, quite frankly, I want a world where people can be what they prove themselves to be...not one where a group of magpies can taunt a friend for not using voice. Some people may not see a connection, but honestly I do. The more value people place on "real" credentials, the less value will be placed on things like in-world behavior and presentation.

So no, I don't want the best of both worlds. I want the best of my world. I'm not making the choices you're referring to...the Lindens are making them for me. And those eggs you're talking about breaking to make the omelete - I'm betting they're our eggs, not yours.

IYan Writer said...

Hi Argent,

it is you who is baking this particular omelette and who must break some eggs, I'm afraid. Nobody can do it for you.

The rest of the post was about what you do not want - fair enough, I stand corrected.

And you're blowing the "taunting incident" way out of proportion, as is evidenced by Soph's own comment to the post I linked to earlier: "Nor do I think at all that you were acting with any malice or intentional disrespect. I'm not at all angry with you. I'm over my hurt - talking about it to you - talking about it *with* you - is a wonderful thing, and thank you. "

Anonymous said...

The rest of the post was about what you do not want - fair enough, I stand corrected.

Correction accepted. We all have things we want. Hopefully we can all achieve them without stepping on too many toes. I guess sometimes we have to agree to disagree, don't we?

And you're blowing the "taunting incident" way out of proportion, as is evidenced by Soph's own comment to the post I linked to earlier

I don't recall saying that this was the incident I was referring to. I certainly applaud Soph's capacity for forgiveness and open minded attitude given the situation, though.

Anyway, I'm off to focus on being constructive in-world for a time, I think. Thanks again for helping us see where the real issues are.


IYan Writer said...

Hi Argent,

nice sidestepping :)

Thanks for the comments & see ya in-world,


dandellion Kimban said...

Great reading!

I just cannot accept that augmentationsist doesn't immerse in the medium. Why not?
Through the whole debate, there is a subtext (and motivation for some) that "immersionism" and keeping pseudonymity are bad for biz. Well, that depends on particular business one is conducting here, but for a large percent that is quite opposite of the truth.

IYan Writer said...

Hi Dandellion, thanks for your comment!

You have a point, but for the wrong reasons :)

Real life has shown that, besides a layer of trust, a layer of accountability is preferred to business (and personal) dealings. Business dealings in RL *could* be based on trust alone - but they are not. The same is valid for personal relationships: they still exist within a legal framework, designed to protect individuals' basic rights. Please note that this is a pattern of cultural and civilizational evolution - it has nothing to do with any specific debate. People and businesses obviously feel more comfortable this way.

I believe that the same thing will eventually happen in virtual worlds, as well.

Please note that more accountability does not necessarily mean less anonymity. I really do not care what RL name (for example) dandellion Kimban translates to. But I want that accountability layer.

There are ways to implement accountability without sacrificing pseudonyms - tricky, but possible. Some kind of escrow perhaps?

So, yes - there is (in my opinion) truth to the statement that anonymity can hurt business - (a) for now and (b) for some business. But it's not because of prejudice, but because of lack of control which an accountability layer would provide.

BTW - I insist on a contract for larger RL business dealings, too ;)

IYan Writer said...

(this was a bit of a cumulative reply, for the last few blog posts where we discussed this :) )

(and sorry for the "please note" floods, gotta preview twice next time)

Digado said...

As I replied on Gwyneth's post - I think there is potential in social/peer linked 'trust' or rather, verification for the anonymous entrepreneur.

Someone with a trusted linkedIn portfolio I don't have to know personally to be able to get a context. I could see the people that recommended you, or worked with you. If you have a portfolio these people will verify, and I trust a number of these people, that means we have a level of substantial trust without knowing your identity. Now this is not definitive, but it's a start.

However, this is only one part of the problem, because this is not legally binding. I could trust you 100%, and with all the right intentions, we could still end up in conflict, or some other unfortunate event. Accident, bankruptcy, or third party 'screw ups' will still lead to a conflict where both parties need to have insurances.

This is the point where it's time to see the system just isn't ready yet. I can not hold you accountable in case things go wrong. This is not an issue of trust. To put some 'numbers' on the issue, in any investment that would not your financial well-being 'trust by network' could suffice - beyond that you'd really be irresponsible to invest anything.

Now obviously, that is bad for business as it simply limits your options, or creates a very bad position for negotiations, where you have to provide collateral for your inability to provide it trough accountability.

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

I agree that one of the best ways to deal with immersionism vs. augmentationism is to deny that the issue exists at all ;)

It seems strange to see augmentationists to present rational arguments to "Second Life's intrinsic immersionist nature". This is rather confusing. People send emails, too, but are emails "immersionists" by themselves? Of course not — they're just another communication tool, like regular mail was a communication tool before email.

On the other hand, novels have been published based on sets of mailed letters exchanged by people — real or very often purely imaginary. But through that purely "augmentationist tool" (a letter posted by mail is just a means to bring words to someone who lives far away), an immersionist world emerges, though a set of letters that are published as part of a novel.

A book, in fact, can be fiction (immersionism is required) or non-fiction (it conveys knowledge, and information to someone that doesn't have it — thus, again, it's an augmentationist tool). Most of us, however, use both: we laugh or cry with a very good story that suspends disbelief, but we also consult a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or a cooking book.

Now when we come to more complex tools like the Internet, or even Second Life, it's hard for me to believe the claims that both aspects aren't present as well. If I meet with a customer using voice and an HTML presentation on a board, I'm using it as a tool. I could do it via Skype. Or with a phone and sending a pen drive with the presentation. Or, naturally, in a physical room, with a physical board. The move to a digital environment doesn't make it "more" immersive — like a phone call is not "immersive" per se (but remember how people avidly use phone sex lines for "immersion"!). We just get a bit of the magic of SL rubbed off when we're doing that meeting on a huge, shiny globe deep into SL's oceans and wear furry avatars — there is a bit more to a SL meeting than, say, a phone call — but these are really eye-candy. They're like the signatures with pretty graphics on business emails — we place them there just because we can, not because we're digitally immersed in emails.

By contrast, when we get furious at someone on our favourite community because an idiot has dropped an ad farm in front of our lovely view of SL's gorgeous sunsets... that's immersion. We can log out at any time. We don't need to waste our time and patience with worrying about those things. We don't need to virtually pat on our friends' backs and say "it's all right, we'll deal with the ad farmer sooner or later". We can open the window of our RL homes, take a deep breath, and look at the gorgeous sunsets iRL too!

The "magic" that makes us involve emotionally with Second Life and its residents — even if we're fully aware that we can turn off the computer and forget all about it — is what we call immersion.

So why are we still bothered by the whole issue? Reviewing all the reasons is a waste of time, when whole essays have been written on the subject; but let's focus on one single aspect: human emotions. Studying how human beings interact in a virtual environment where they develop emotions and attachments (in the Buddhist/esoteric sense of the word) to other people and to the environment itself is a worthwhile research field, at least for the social sciences. Sure, I won't say it's the most important thing to study in the universe — definitely not in the same class as the cure for cancer or environmentally friendly car engines! — but we humans tend to study everything we can. For some of us, emotions and human relationships in their environments are worthwhile fields of study, too!

Last but not least... I fail to understand how discussing "identity and anonymity" (or, better, pseudonymity) is possible without at least studying the relationship of self to others in a virtual environment. The same, of course, applies to "trust". In my mind, those issues are much more closely connected than what you guys tend to imply :)

In fact, some people tend to throw all issues inside two little boxes: black or white. Once you evolve beyond the two-box-model, you'll understand that there are lots of them — "shades of grey" — and that's way harder to label things than you originally thought. Your next question will be if the number of boxes is finite or infinite :) But at the next stage beyond that, you'll learn that all those tiny little boxes (which, yes, are infinite...) are leaky and everything put in one of them will slowly contaminate all others in their neighbourhood... and "boundaries" just become an artificial — but useful! — way of studying what's inside each little box...

And then, yes, the discussion does indeed become interesting :)

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

Oh, a final comment: business is about managing risk. Don't trust anybody who claims otherwise ;)

Thus the question is:

- Are transactions between pseudonymous users more or less risky than between people who give you their ID cards? (Answer: most governments believe more in your ID cards; your mileage might vary!)

Unfortunately, I have just anedoctal evidence to support my case, and no real statistics. The worst business rip-offs I ever had in RL were all perpetuated by trustful corporations (banks, which are allegedly the most "controlled" entities...) or good, solid friends who suddenly "turned bad" on my unsuspecting, naive person. Even in SL, the worst rip-off was by a customer who insisted to meet iRL and managed not to pay us, in spite of having all sorts of contracts with us, managing to make us lose half a year's running costs with a single contract going bad. And threatening to sue if we went public about it!

By contrast, all other forms of business transactions — in or out of SL — that used pseudonyms worked flawlessly. From eBay, to buying software licenses or clothes and shoes, to making business in SL, I was never "ripped off" by a pseudonymous user in my 13 years of online shopping/business transactions, with people all around the world which I never met and don't even know their names. The only exception on business gone wrong through the net that I remember is by using PayPal (which is a solid, real company) which insists of "losing money" in some transactions (I was lucky not to use it to transfer a lot of money, though).

Then again, this is just anedoctal evidence, of course. One day I might get seriously ripped off by a business conducted over the Internet that goes so wrong because I was too foolish, and certainly change my attitude. My personal rule of thumb is that you should never risk to buy anything over the net that you can't afford to lose the money in case the transaction fails. This means, of course, mostly sticking to "a few hundred dollars" a time...

Digado said...

I agree with gwyneths argument 100%, the debate being the context for more important issues but not with her conclusion on one of these issues at all.

You (Gwyneth) haven't been able to answer one simple thing: As long as things go right - sure - but what if they don't? Imagine yourself explaining someone who you have no way of holding accountable didn't uphold his end of the bargain to management, a board of directors, or the people you have a responsibility for.

You told me you signed an NDA under your avatars name. This is a completely ridiculous thing to do if i can not hold you accountable in any way - which is the main problem with this anonymity. For the NDA you'd first have to present you and the avatar are the same person - otherwise YOU could just tell someone, but not your avatar.

Secondly - If there is no way to hold you accountable, what is the 'threat' of the NDA? It might as well be a verbal agreement not to tell anyone - this is NOT the purpose of an NDA. If it was just a matter of trust we wouldn't need them at all.

Third, the riskmanagement you mention. An NDA is a way of managing risks. They take a risk in telling you something, but they manage this risk by being able to sue you for damages and more if you break this trust. With the NDA being worthless as stated above, they can not manage this risk. Accountability IS part of the riskmanagement.

I think you make a strange case for this avatar identity business as you've explained you made your avatar name your brand, which makes you accountable because eventually this brand leads right back to you for anyone who needs to know and can be held responsible directly, unlike those who operate purely under the name of the avatar.

Your own experiences are colored as well, how many transactions did you do with companies you can hold accountable vs the ones you can't? Its only logical with these numbers being so far apart you have had some bad experiences with these companies