Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Online Identities

 Dear Malcolm Parks & Kory Floyd,

Online Identities are a new form of creating new personalities in this world of new media. Some people use these identities to voice out political opinion with the power of anonymity of the Internet. While some others may use it as a way of cyber bullying other in secret so they will not face the wrath of authorities and their victims. One of the other types of people who create online identities are those who use it not to hide themselves but use these new social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and all the others to help promote themselves on the new medias. Entertainers and celebrities are especially in need of this service in order to get their image out to more area of their fan’s lives. Though in their case they have a unique problem of their own that it comes with.   

Check out this article about Google,Suddenly, Google Is Winning the Online Identity Race

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Real World vs. Virtual World

Dear Mr. Boellstorff,
            I enjoyed your research of virtual worlds because they are new and diverse places. These virtual worlds have opened up a lot of comfort and freedom for people who might be too shy to DJ in real life, but they can DJ as their Second Life character. Places like Second Life and other virtual worlds have become more than virtual spaces online, but more of online communities that are diverse and engaging. As you said, sociality in real life is no comparison or explanation of what occurs in the virtual world. I think that is an important facet in why these virtual worlds are being studied, because the differences in actions of people are astounding when compared. Some people really do come into themselves in Second Life and are very social, having hundreds of friends online but are very shy in person and have only a small set of friends in actuality.
            Because you incorporate the actual world into your research, it poses the questions of how much of actual life is in the virtual world. I think that there is so much of actual world in places like Second Life, because you can visit actual places. I have a Second Life account for my class and we go to school there, it has its own little Rutgers area, but while it does have easily identifiable places like grease trucks and the football stadium, it is not actually like going to Rutgers. The area in comparison with real world Rutgers is very miniscule and the areas and compiled together, versus in real life where the buildings are not even on the same campuses. The cultures between the two worlds seem to be much different from films I have seen, what I’ve read of yours and other writers, as well as my own personal experience there. In virtual worlds there is anonymity that allows for freedom of the users, they can look however they want and act however they want as well. The repercussions of their actions are not felt in their real life, so in theory you can get away with much more in virtual worlds than you ever could in real life. My first time in Second Life, I was just exploring a city area when I noticed someone randomly dancing and as soon as they saw me, they started dancing towards me and I immediately teleported out of there because I thought it was really weird for them to just try and dance with me. Things like that may be accepted in virtual culture, but in my real world culture that is not considered normal behavior.

Ana Luisa Suarez

Virtual Cultures

Dear Mr. Boellstorff,

In your third chapter: method, you discussed your experiments you conducted involving Second Life and virtual worlds in their own terms.  With the recent development and quick expansion of online worlds like these, it almost seems necessary to do research to learn more about them.  I really enjoyed that you chose to do your entire research while within the online world of Second Life.  How people are in the real world almost doesn’t relate to their avatars in virtual worlds at all.  People create characters in virtual worlds because they obviously have the desire to do or be something different than their normal life offers.  As you talked about, whether a woman in the online world is being controlled by a woman or by multiple users in real life is irrelevant.  The other people in the game have no clue about other users’ actual identities so I thought it was very smart that you started your work this way.  Your ethnographic approach to this experiment was necessary in this situation because of what you were hoping to discover.  Too many people before you tried to relate what they found to be true in the virtual world to also be true about the user in real life.  You said, “perspectives doubting the possibility of studying virtual worlds in their own terms miss how as virtual worlds grow in size, ethnographic research in them becomes more partial and situated, much like ethnographic research in the actual world.”  The virtual worlds people participate in are much more than just meeting places and extensions of their normal lives, but a completely different world with it’s own culture.

Chris Imperiale     

Monday, February 27, 2012

World of WorkCraft?

Dear Robert Bloomfield,
                Upon reading your article "Virtual World for Studying Real-World Business," it is fairly interesting that your idea of bring the business from the real world into a virtual world such as Second Life. Of course, your goal has already been accomplished. Second Life has been used for business related interactions ever since you wrote this article five years ago. I also want to point out that when you stated that "serious games are excellent devices for the study of business, in both uses of the term 'study.'" (Bloomfield 2007). It is exciting to read about your envision of the future, that video games that provides a virtual world will become a medium for people to do business, even though most serious games such as World Of Warcraft still take entertainment as priority. It is true, in my mind at least, that serious games have developed quite nicely, in the sense of creating an economics education gesture while playing them. Although mostly associated with entertainment, World of Warcraft also contain a series of interactive aspects that can associate to the real world. The auction house, trading and questing can all be seen as training for reality. While auction house and trading can be used as business transactions between clients, questing can train oneself into completing his/her objectives. Although virtual worlds have a few elements on life that users can learn from, it is ultimately not a "reality" for people to have their life base on. While learning from video games can be more entertaining than having to learn it in real life, issues in virtual worlds can be erased in seconds while the physical world's problems are here to stay.

Virtual or Real?

Dear Mr. Bloomfield,

I found your piece, Virtual Worlds for Studying Real World Business, quite interesting. In this reading, you talk about the many ways and reasons people are using virtual worlds and  finding new uses for it. Some times people fail to realize that virtual worlds are very similar to real worlds but the biggest difference is the fact that people feel more comfortable with doing things online than in real life. I mean just take a second and think about the amount of information that people willingly give up on these sites like Facebook and Twitter. That right there shows the power of virtual worlds.

I think that it is great that people are discovering all of these new ways to use these technologies especially in the education field. Educators can easily have people learn things by actually doing them in these worlds and possibly have some fun without them thinking that it is an actual lesson. I'm actually going through it myself as I type this letter. Another great use that is coming to the surface is business using these sites for meeting among other things. These uses in itself saves costs and makes business people be much more productive than they ever could have been 30 years ago. I think that with the in depth studies going into these virtual worlds we are going to find many more uses.

I think that it is important that we study virtual worlds because it is just like anything else that we study, we need to know all of the pros and cons that come with what we are creating. I think that it would be completely dumb for people not study these worlds. Just look at the studies that have been done and what has come from them and how we are using these worlds now. It truly is amazing. When conducting these studies I think that its is important to know what exactly we are looking into and for what. If we don't know these things we can get misunderstood findings and attribute them to the wrong things and that is not good. When we get our findings, i think that it is important that we understand what the findings can do and the impact of them especially anything regarding technology. Technology is moving so fast. If information that can have a huge impact gets out in the wrong way or if the wrong conclusion is drawn things could go bad and bad things can happen. So simply in studying virtual worlds is like anything else, we need to be careful and know what we are dealing with.

Amir Zaffa

It's all about Timing

Dear Mr. Boellstorff,

I think that it is very ambitious of you to take on the task of studying virtual worlds. Since it is such a new part of our culture there is continuous change that forces people to act certain ways. These swings can effect research and make it difficult to get solid data. I think people want to study these areas of society because they are so new and so unique. Never before have humans had a place to go that is not real but is a space to interact with others…anonymously.
These worlds, especially Second-Life are becoming more than just virtual places. They have been turned into a cultural center for SL users to interact, travel, and make money. As you said, “Actual-world sociality cannot explain virtual-world sociality.” I believe that this is the main reason why these virtual worlds need to be studied. There is a concept about Second Life that encourages users to use real life as only a foundation for virtual life. I believe that this makes studying virtual worlds rewarding.
The actual-world facet of your research creates a very interesting yet relatable question for anyone. How does actual-life affect virtual-life? There is really no one better able to answer that question than the user’s of SL who develop the landscape and culture that makes up the SL world. But a conclusion of how a virtual world relates with the physical world is hard to make should not be rushed to. I like to think of it as more of an open-ended problem and the answer depends on the constantly moving timeline of virtual culture and not the more concrete timeline of the physical world.

Andrew Kerth

Making Smart Choices

Dear Ms. Baym and Ms. Markham,

Reading this article was much more difficult and a little bit hard to understand.  This was personally not my favorite article that I have read this semester, however, it did give me some insight about researching the internet and the factors that go into conducting a study like this.  The internet has become such a monumental turning point in not only technology but they way that we all live.  Life would be hard to imagine without the internet being that we have become so dependent on its abilities.  The most interesting part of the article is when you were both describing the contents of each chapter in the book.
The first chapter is interesting in that it evaluates the boundaries of research projects.  What are the limits?  How far can a researcher go?  These are questions that I wondered when it comes to scientific research.  The second chapter is something that resonates with all internet users; communication.  I think a lot of people can benefit from learning about how to balance both face to face communication and through technology.  The last chapter that I find interesting is the fourth chapter where gender and sexuality are evaluated as influences in online discussions.  Being that I am someone who is interested in gender and sexual influences on everyday life I would find this chapter intriguing since these topics can sometimes be taboo.  You both said that the book "is, rather, an exploration and explanation of vantage points, a project meant to stimulate thinking."  It is always great to stimulate the minds of people and initiate conversations and debates. 

Kelly Myers

Economic Value

Dear Tom,

Before reading your article I had a completely different perspective on Second Life.  However, after understanding and reading your research I am pleased to say that I do have a lot more respect for the social platform then I did before.  As you talk about how people from various cultures share the same beliefs and qualities, there is no doubt in my mind that there is no better way to interact with people of various cultures then in Second Life.  Second Life should not be regarded as a “virtual world” but should rather be interpreted as another life in its own.  

People can benefit in Second Life economically just like they can in the real world and this shown by the example given of Kimmy, Laura, BettyAnne and you.  Not having a clear understanding of all the amenities of Second Life, Laura was unaware that she was able to make an income.  However, you mentioned to Laura that she could do service work such as being a stripper or escort.  This was striking to me because just like in the real world, there are also opportunities to earn an income and be economically successful in this life as well.  While before reading your article I thought Second Life was just a place to meet other avatars and do entertaining things, I now understand that there is a serious economic aspect to it as well.  People can own land and provide it to others as you also state in your article.  However, just like in the real world, the finishing product (land) you invest in needs to be attractive to the consumers otherwise the amount of income you receive will not be as high.  Again, thanks for the research you provided as I am now aware of the value that Second Life brings to individuals and families.

Steven Schreck   

Virtual Worlds and business

Dear Bloomfield,
At first I wasn’t sure how you were going to conduct a similar life trial, but I didn’t realize how there were real economies in these virtual worlds.  I felt like your first experience with the hunter on WOW, Ramat, was very basic, yet there were real elements of a business structure.  The auction houses act as almost pawn shop. Players can either sell what they don’t need or buy what they do.  It is simple, but the structure for economy.  I think your SL experience was much like mine, very confusing. I actually didn’t know about Help Island, so I have a feeling I’ll be visiting there very shortly.  I also found it interesting how different people responded to you when you were a female avatar.  It sounds like you were completely ignored as a male, but offered clothes and conversation for being female.  I guess even in Second Life there is a real difference in gender. In a few ways I understand how virtual worlds can be used to test hypotheses, but in general I don’t really agree.  I think it’s a way to get an idea of how people might respond, but it’s biased.  It is looking at a certain demographic of people who are interested in virtual worlds, not the general public. However since the goal of the Startup 2.0 is to involve gamers, this sort of platform is perfect.  As you said many of the players are participants in more than one virtual world, so that would most likely be the correct place to look for data. Good luck!

Shifting Ground

Baym and Markham:

After reading your article, my main focus was on the points you both raised about the blurring of the line separating the private and public due to the Internet, in addition to how the convergence of media changes how researchers can conduct their studies. Your article states: "The (seemingly) neat worlds of face-to-face embodied conversation, public speaking, landline telephones, radio, television, and film have all but collapsed into a tangled web of  video clips sent over mobile phones, music played over computers, refrigerators that suggest recipes on built-in computer screens, and sites like Youtube where clips of a broadcast television show sit on the same platform alongside home-made videos." This illustrates the face that there are many sources of information that researchers have to look into because the Internet has led to the increase of these sources. Trying to conduct qualitative research on the Internet means that researchers have to look at geographical characteristics, the type of information being used by users (which is already a lot of work on its own!), what type of users are using the information, etc. There is just way too much to be done in order to pinpoint the answer to the question that is being researched. Another thing, this convergence leading to the blurring of private and public is interesting and the fact that the blurring of this line is affecting research is also interesting. I can see how it would be related to ethics because you cannot violate someone's privacy by collecting their data without their knowledge -- BUT, if this "private" information is communicated using a  "public" medium, is it still unethical? I could not have done research on the Internet because it seems like way too much work to answer a challenging question. Although it does seem quite interesting, I just don't think that I could dedicate my time to doing such vigorous and extensive research. Kudos to you guys.


Avatar is making me real money

Dear Robert Bloomfield,

I enjoyed reading your article “Virtual Worlds for Studying Real World Business.” Prior to reading your work, I thought back to a video my class watched in our Self & Society in the Virtual Contexts course in which a woman designed her own fashions and luxury homes on Second Life, and even though they were just part of a video game, they sold for real money. This woman was making online products for avatars, not humans, and making her income in the six-figures only from that.

I found section 3 of your article to be particularly interesting, where you talk about how virtual worlds are valuable to educators and researchers in all disciplines because they have an immersive nature and can reach others across a global spectrum.

You talk about how the “basis of any economy is geography.” In Second Life and other virtual worlds this doesn’t apply. If a user wants to go to another island, they simply need to “teleport” there. No transportation or other special care required. With virtual worlds, making money is simplistic and can be done with just the click of a mouse.

Another interesting point that you make is that “Virtual worlds support interaction and innovation.” The woman from the video we watched said that if she wants to wear something, she’ll design and make it herself. Second Life provides the platform, with much room for creativity, which people are profiting from as well. You quote Cory Ondrejka as saying that Second Life gives users a chance to escape the “gilded cage” while creating, which is absolutely true

These people may not be able to afford these products for their actual cost in the real world, so why not get the next best thing: a replica in a virtual world. There’s still a money exchange, but at a much lower value.

Thank you for reading!


Exploration of Virtual Worlds

Dear Mr. Boellstorff,
Margret Mead's book "Coming of Age in Samoa" was ground breaking in exemplifying how culture can be injected into a society. Her ethnography uncovered how detrimental media can be as a promoter of unnatural behaviors, like when many female Samoans developed eating disorders after consuming American television. To me Second Life seems like an invasive media. The very idea that an ethnography can be conducted in a virtual world is mind boggling to me. I think it is very important to note the lens through which participants in Second Life are looking through. In an ethnography, one cannot judge a Second Life avatar solely on how they act in Second Life, however, the background of the person needs to be examined. Although users of Second Life are from all over the world, I don't think that real ethnographic work could be substituted for meeting in Second Life in order to learn about other cultures. It is interesting to hear your Second Life work be compared to your ethnographic work in Indonesia, because a lot of human tendencies are being repeated in both locations. It is also interesting to see the online language that has developed through Second Life. The virtual world as you explained, is definitely exclusive and if one doesn't adapt the language they can become an outsider. While I think your article was an interesting exploration of your ethnography of Second Life, I think the article "Virtual Worlds for Studying Real Worlds Business" by Robert Bloomfield, gave a practical perspective of life in Second Life. Bloomfield's inside look offers an examination of how Second Life harbors not just culture, but a working systems like an economy. The economy of Second Life is what amazes me most about the virtual world. It was extremely intelligent for the creators of Second Life to create Linden dollars because not only does it makes the game more real, it adds more incentive and is profitable. Understanding these infrastructure of Second Life is what would make your ethnography complete. The fact that Second Life has a working economy shows how deeply routed our own culture is in Second Life. When a virtual world is recreated it needs to have a working economy in order for users to find it legitimate. The fact that there is an economy however and fees, creates a digital divide among users which is something you mentioned in your ethnography, but I wish you had explored it further. It is important to note that although Second Life is ground breaking in its technologies it is not available to everyone. It is clear that your ethnography of Second Life gave you incite on conducting an ethnography in real life.  I wonder if there are things you can infer about people who are drawn to become regular users of Second Life? As you mentioned at the end of your article, this research pointed out some discrepancies in Second Life, for example; the fact that when you performed your ethnography you became a native just by making a character shows that there is no real distinction between constant users and those who are just on for fun.
Image borrowed from
Dear Mr. Boellstorff,

Your take on people's lives in Second Life is very interesting. It is especially interesting from my point of view because I don't know much about the obsession over Second Life completely understand its hold on people. However, the very fact there are "virtual ethnographies" being done tells you all you need to know about its wide reach. To consider Second Life a virtual culture in its own is to acknowledge the fact that many people relate more to their avatars than to their actual friends and family. It's a hard concept to grasp that someone could actually relate to "fake" people than "real" people, but to understand that you would probably have to know exactly what the person was going through.

Joseph Guagenti

Shifting Ground

Dear Baym and Markham,

I found your introduction to your book very informative and intriguing based on the questions you are raising. In the beginning I was kind of lost as to what you were trying to research when it came to qualitative methods. Towards the end of the introduction your main points were listed and I thought it was interesting how you laid out each chapter, to imply that each question would eventually be answered by a different researcher. When it came to being "trustworthy" or "authentic" and the privacy boundaries that are broad I think that there are easy answers to this problem.

Later explained in your intro you state that, "method is not a recipe for success, but a means for an argument", quoted from Sally Jackson. I think that to wonder about the boundaries of trustworthiness and authenticity isn't that much of a problem for the internet world. Researchers as you said, do not have defined methods, which means methods can always be altered. To figure out the realness of research is to be able to prove it. If research is done face-to-face it still has to be proven, so why would the internet be any different.

Also when it comes to privacy I think each person can define their own boundaries, it is not so much the researcher that has to do that. Each person posts a different level of personal information, if it is public than it is public. People have the option to keep their lives private, and if they want to do so they can. Many sites have privacy settings, which allow others to see only what one chooses they see.

It is up to the researcher to define their boundaries, it has always been a researchers job to do so. I agree that the internet is intertwining many different medias together, making it more of a challenge, but I don't think it is impossible. The fact that researchers can define their own methods is what makes it possible to still conduct research even if the medias are merged.


Nicole Lengyel

Business in a Virtual World

Dear Mr. Bloomfield,

Because I am an accounting major in the Business School and I focus on business strategies in many of my classes, this article really caught my attention from the beginning.  Since I have been exposed to Second Life, I have come to the realization that it is not all about entertainment.  For me, at this point in my life and because I am not really interested in Second Life, it is for school work and I guess some entertainment.  However, in your article you explain how Second Life and many of these virtual worlds can be used for business complexity and the expansion of its existence.  What I 100% agree with is your take on the abilities that virtual worlds give out for users.  You first explain that virtual worlds can have real economies.  This is definitely a positive aspect of virtual worlds because it actually allows users to sell, buy and exchange products from business to business or store to store.  The money can be converted into real money and the cycle goes on.  You continue to infer that virtual worlds advocate business reporting.  This is beneficial because it allows students to learn the methods of business and the systems such as SAP and Hyperion, and twist these systems into a electronically feasible access system in virtual worlds.  I especially like this area of the article because it shows that students can learn and benefit from these virtual worlds by actually putting their own two cents into the mix rather than just benefitting from what is already there.  Next, you mention that virtual worlds support interaction and innovation.  With virtual worlds becoming an up and rising theme in our world today, they definitely leave us with the ability to interact with other users and make connections with these users every time we sign onto the system.  Because the virtual worlds are expanding, it leaves room for innovation because many users are curious as to what else is out there and what they can discover in a virtual world.  If these systems continue to expand, virtual worlds can be identical to real world scenarios in that things from religion to medicine to science can be tested and performed.  Lastly, you mention that virtual worlds provide us with a universal platform.  Any user of these virtual worlds can most likely connect with others across the world.  This leaves great room for connectivity, education, and experience based on different cultural and ideological backgrounds. 

In addition, I feel that your distinction between persistent virutal worlds and bounded virtual worlds is very important.  I definitely feel that a program such as Second Life is persistent in that it never ends and the world still continues to go on even if you are not signed on.  On the other hand, I feel that a "game" can fit into the bounded category, because it stays the same until you are in control of your character again.  What I feel is the main difference between a game (such as a video game) and a virtual world program such as Second Life is that a game has a beginning and an end.  You play a game for one reason and that is to beat it.  Rather in programs such as Second Life and the virtual world that it provides, there is no ending really.  You are not there to beat the system or to win against another opponent; rather, you are there to create, explore, interact, connect, and learn.  These both provide humans with completely different tasks but are both beneficial to the mind. 

All in all, I feel that virtual worlds can definitely be beneficial for the business world.  Virtual worlds provide alot of room for expansion and experiments.  One can experiment the way a business works in a virtual world and then expand this business into real life.  One can also run much of their business through these virtual worlds -- especially if it is a global business.  These businesses would force workers to learn and be more innovative in their strategies which can enhance one's knowledge in their present and future jobs. 

Thank you,
Loralyn Sortino

Observation enough?

Dear Tom Boellstorf,

    After reading your chapter titled “Method” in your book “Coming of Age in Second Life” I have a new found respect for ethnographers everywhere. The amount of work that is put into creating a successful study of a specific culture is nothing short of impressive. You mentioned that you have conducted such studies both on and offline in the real world. The quantity of notes that you mentioned in the chapter is unfathomable, since you mentioned that the collection is well in excess of  thousand’s of pages. Conducting field work such as this and compiling all the materials into something useful especially with documents totaling this number is where my new found respect arises from. Conducting interviews constantly must be incredibly tiring, but the fact that you are conducting these on second life where the number of variables are  almost limitless is once again nothing short of a miracle. 
    I noticed towards the beginning of the chapter you noted that the way life in Second Life is more or less derived from that of the real world. As the Second Life world was still developing, many people chose to mimic the real world that surrounded them. While it seems straight forward at first, you also mention that it is not just a simple recreation of what already exists. It is something much more than that however, lives are being recreated as new ones. The limitless potential of the online world that Second Life is, also makes the dynamics of the entire situation increase by astronomical amount. Being able to understand all of it and report it is truly a task in itself. The traditional understanding of the offline real world may not strictly apply in all situations due to the very fact that almost anything can be realized in a virtual setting. Therefore cultures will develop that may not have been necessarily experienced before.
    Another notable fact that you make note of is that you conduct your studies by using a system of observation. However, I feel that in general, this will not take into account the hidden aspects that are scattered throughout the online world. Anonymity is one affordance that seems to attract many participants to engage in the digital world activities. By ignoring such queues I feel that a complete representation cannot be made. While the Second Life world may have its own social structures and cultures, I still believe that it contains some sort of ties back to reality. Therefore, looking at only the virtual avatars only represents one part of why the online world develops in that way. Understanding the people and their motivations behind the avatars is also important in my opinion. I think that when looking at the online community that is Second Life, more than just observations need to be made.

Jonathan Thai

The Virtual Birth

Mr. Boellstorff,

With different virtual worlds popping up everyday it seems, they have become popular topics of discussion as to what exactly is drawing people into them. For some, these virtual worlds offer an escape by being able to create separate identities and make the impossible, possible.  In Second Life for example, you are given the ability to fly to any destination you wish, a feat that is unattainable in real life. I personally created my character to not be a physical representation of me, but rather a representation of my interests, so I walk around as my favorite animal, a fox. However, there are still qualities of the real world in the game to have it thrive, like economics. I really admire your approach to studying Second Life by really engaging yourself into the game, learning from residents in this world, and handling two separate lives. In addition, I liked that you fully respected those in Second Life and did not try to unearth if women were really men, vice-versa.
I think these virtual worlds really appeal to people because they are essentially virtual sandboxes. Everything can be interacted with and the creativity has no bounds. I think this was evident in your example of Laura, Kimmy, and Betty Anne’s case. The “birthing” in a digital world gives people a fresh slate. The decisions they make from that point on are most likely to achieve a vision of who they want to be. If they fail, they simply just delete their character and start from scratch. 


Exploring the Virtual World

Dear Tom,

Your article Coming of Age in Second Life:  An Anthropolist Explores the Virtually Human was an especially interesting one for me to read.  Your ideas of how people view users of virtual worlds stood out to me because I have always wondered how outsiders look at the situation.  People who have never experienced participating in a virtual world will never be able to understand unless they try it themselves.  It really is like a “second life”, whether or not your avatar accurately represents who you are in real life or not.  I think some people just have it in their personality to become especially addicted to it, whereas others can function normally without it.  

Your point on how the virtual world is its own world is an agreeable one.  I believe as well that people who participate in the virtual world (such as Second Life, for example) day and night are disconnected from the real world, and to them they have two separate realities.  Some of them feel controlled by their avatar while others make avatars exactly like themselves, as if reality was not enough for them, but they needed another world in which they could live in.  

I applaud you for your study in online communities because it requires a lot of time and patience in order to make plausible conclusions.  When studying online communities, I feel like it is important to understand the thought process and psychology of why people use online communities, and to consider their personal lives as well.

Connie Zhen