August 1, 2007 10:30 PM PDT

Are people more polite in virtual worlds?

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Do people behave better in virtual worlds than on blogs, forums and chat rooms on the Web?

A group of virtual world advocates say "yes." They just can't prove it yet.

"Character rancor is much different on blogs, Twitter, (and so on)...It can get very petty," Jaron Lanier, scholar in residence at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, said here Wednesday at the AlwaysOn technology conference.

"In Second Life, it's almost more like theater," Lanier said. "I don't see people getting into petty interpersonal knots with each other. But this is anecdotal."

His theory is that people behave better in virtual worlds because they can be economically tied to their property, for example, and as he described it, they have "more to lose if they're creepy." Lanier's other theory is that seeing people, even in the form of an avatar, evokes empathy.

Lanier, a pioneer of virtual world technology who coined the term "virtual reality," acknowledges he's biased. In the 1980s, he founded VPL Research, the first company to sell virtual reality products; its patents were acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999. His most recent venture, animation software company Eyematic Interfaces, was bought by Google. And he's an adviser to Linden Lab, creator of the popular virtual world Second Life.

Lanier played host to a panel at Stanford University that included Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab; Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president at IBM; and Chris Melissinos, chief gaming officer at Sun. To be sure, all of the panelists have a stake in seeing virtual worlds take off more widely with Internet users, corporations and advertisers, so that they can become viable economic engines. A major factor in that growth will be in showing the intangible benefits of virtual worlds, such as fostering human relationships that are more polite than say, anonymous posts in Internet forums, according to the panelists.

"We've studied this," Rosedale said. "We have forums and we watch them fight in forums and then see them be civil to each other in Second Life."

Wladawsky-Berger backed up this notion by saying that virtual worlds present information technology in a much more human way. "As a result, we'll be able to do a tremendous amount more. Enterprise resource planning will be reinvented for virtual worlds," he said, giving the example that hospitals could manage their operations in a virtual world in a way looks more like their hospital.

IBM has 5,000 employees in Second Life, and according to Wladawsky-Berger, "virtual worlds are a godsend for meetings." He said that IBM has a code of conduct for staff in Second Life that they need to "be nice" and dress their avatars "appropriately" in meetings. But when among friends in the virtual world, they can do whatever they like, he said.

"Training and meetings are the killer apps of virtual worlds. Don't underestimate any technologies that help us do those things in a more human way," Wladawsky-Berger said.

Lanier joked that IBM staff "can't help it that they compulsively go to meetings."

Rosedale admitted that Second Life is just barely getting off the ground. "It's still hard to use 3D, the interface is still awkward," he said. Despite this, Second Life is growing rapidly, with 30 percent of its residents from the United States, the bulk from Europe and a growing number signing up from Japan, he said.

Second Life is about 250 square miles in digital atoms, or five times the size of San Francisco, he said. And it has about 830 residents who make more than $1,000 a month in the virtual world. The economy in SL, he said, is about 100 percent larger than it was six months ago. And that might be buoyed by the launch of new voice technology next month.

"We're going to close the world much more rapidly using these technologies than with the Web," he said.

To hammer home his point, Lanier then added: "Civility is killer app of virtual worlds."

See more CNET content tagged:
virtual worlds, Second Life, virtual reality, meeting, IBM Corp.

16 comments

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Second Life is useless
Nobody cares about Second Life except for a small handful of people. Why does Cnet insist on writing stories about it? There isn't even anything remotely interesting about it. Is Cnet being paid or given kickbacks for repeated press?
Posted by furrier (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Your have a point
Because the have Lindens working from cnet. Nice way to draw attention right? Not many real users in the game of Second Life anymore. Only people looking to make money. Don`t let the number of users fool you. There are not even clost to 8 million users. Only 1 million ( HAHA maybe ) reset are just alts or 3rd 4th 5th etc etc etc.
"SL" doesnt mean Second Life. Its mean "Stupid Life" with "Stupid People"
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Link Flag
More to lose
If someone is taking months to develop a character, buying it
clothes, gaining experience or property, etc., than yes. Being polite
will benefit you, and help to prevent you from getting the boot due
to other people complaining about you. In chat rooms and blogs,
it's not a big deal to drop one persona and reappear as another. I
think the degree of polite and good behavior is directly related to
what people have to gain or lose with that persona. That said, an
amount of your real personality will inevitably leak through from
the real world to the virtual world.
Posted by Chiatzu (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Only more polite
They're only more polite because there's no "One Key B**ch Slap
Button" option.
Mark my words... if the repeated tapping of the "B" key let you
"reach out and touch someone", this story would never have been
written.

;-)
Posted by GGGlen (491 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Avatar on messengers?
Time was that the word "avatar" meant the earthly manifestation of a god. You might have also used it to describe an archetype. But in the earliest days of the Internet ? back in the 1980s, when no one was looking ? an avatar became one's digital self.

Regards,
Mihai
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.GigaOnline.ro" target="_newWindow">http://www.GigaOnline.ro</a>
(200 Gb file hosting)
Posted by ip_fresh (59 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Virtual Manners
I challenge the advocacy group to come study some of the other virtual worlds on the market today. I'm talking about the MMOs.

WoW, Lineage 2, Everquest (1&#38;2), etc.

I cannot speak for the others, but the community in Lineage 2 is excessively filled with vitriol and aggression. Perhaps it comes from the fact that the game itself is a player versus player environment, with very few restrictions, but that attitude carries over into the community.

It's almost disheartening for someone who actually tries to have manners.
Posted by koster_jay (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
no no no
Luckily for us, we happened to have followed tip #1 enough to pick up on this little subtlety before we behaved like buffoons: Indian people are very polite.

Westerners want to get to the point immediately. That can be very dehumanizing of us, and ignoring the pleasantries can be downright insulting even if we don't mean it that way. Conversations open with discussions about health and family. If time is a factor, plan for it. An insulted tech rarely gives the job their best effort. Kindness could save your business!

Markito - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.songtexte32.com/interpreten/peter-gabriel/index.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.songtexte32.com/interpreten/peter-gabriel/index.php</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.songtexte32.com/interpreten/picture-house/index.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.songtexte32.com/interpreten/picture-house/index.php</a>
Posted by songtexte32 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't agree
While I have met many nice, polite people in Second Life, a lot of people seem to use the anonymity in Second Life to assault and harass people. Phillip Rosedale need just stay in any one of Second Life's 4 sandbox simulators to see this.
Posted by J-Man71 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Measure the Stimulus Response Strength
The theory is the onset cues in the simulation stimulate the behaviors in the human brain (any mammal brain really).

1. The cues of 3D systems are stronger than in flatter communications media such as chat or text only. How strong is what one would study and measure.

2. List behaviors tend to coalesce around the behaviors of the dominant personalities on the lists. It is feedback mediated behavior. Monkey see Monkey Do. Monkey outdo.

There is a lot of wishful thinking in that conference conversation. Lanier is pleased that some are finding a use for VR and he may not have to pay out the prize money. Rosedale wants to continue the hype stimulation of his business and I wish him well. Wladavsky-Berger as a retired IBMer wants to see Palimpsano's money well spent and WB bet it on Second Life. All in all, it is a local consensus of personalities that VR is good business in search of a motivation for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But Rosedale is right that these are early days, the second emergence of 3D on the web. We know quite a bit based on the first emergence in VRML worlds such as Cybertown where the real pioneering work was done. People ARE polite if the majority and the dominant personalities are polite. If a flame war breaks out and any of the dominant players join, their posts will make or break the wave (remember: feedback mediated). The style or purpose of the world (JOI is adult; behaviors tend to reinforce adult conversations about adult topics) drives the topics and the topics act as the stimuli (think S/R paradigm) so the reinforced responses are quite predictable.

IOW, yes, 3D does add to the stimulus repetoire and if modulated correctly, there is an increase in civil behavior. How strong a reinforcer it is is unknown and unmeasured critically. Someone at IBM will get around to that soon I suspect.

And we wait to see those results.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ORLY? What is this then...
That opinion is utter crap. People in email frequently say things they would never say over the phone or in person. People behave in online worlds in ways that would likely get them physically injured in the real world.

Seriously if someone was writing this article I would be saying something like, "mm, I'm not really sure it works that way." Instead here I opening by saying it's "utter crap". Who's going to do anything about it. I suppose if I went of the deep end cnet would censor this post but the way it's written now I doubt they will. Rudeness is expected on the internet, as is poor sportsmanship in online games.
Posted by smilin:) (889 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I guess they have never actually played an MMO
As a former Gamemaster I know that people use the anonymity of MMOs to act like total *****. Then try to use the 'Free Speech' crap to hide behind. Have you actually read what the 1st Amendment says? Give me a break. American MMO players are almost as bad at international PR for the US as GW is. There are almost as many nasty international players out there too. But at least they don't threaten to sue you whenever you try to enforce the Code of Conduct.
Posted by HeightOfland (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Virtual meetings yes - Virtual worlds no
What is the value of being in a so called Virtual world to have a meeting? Why be represented as a heky jerky Avatar to have a meeting!
What is the value in that? The value in a Virtual meeting (aka Web Conferencing) is to enable people to meet from around the world and be able to talk with via Voice, share applications (i.e., Web browser, Powerpoint, etc.) and to be able
to instantly attend such meetings, that means not having to download a software but being able to do so via ones Web browser only. Things that 2nd life cannot do AT ALL, but a software product such as eAuditorium can, FYI here:
www.eAuditorium.com
So why Hype 2nd life when it offers so little real tools for Web meetings when a product such as eAuditorium has been around for more than 5 years, it offers Web meeting capabilities such as Voice conferencing &#38; Application Sharing that 2nd life does not and it is free too, all you pay is for support!!! Why?
Except as others have noted here Cnet has a stake to hype 2nd life because it is silicon valley VC funded and to ignore other products such as the much more superior eAuditorium because it is not silicon valley VC funded.

And about crowd control &#38; being polite, eAuditorium also provides the meeting conductor (Moderator) with total control over the meeting, which is the ONLY way to ensure real business class (productive) meetings. And if you want to attend Virtual worlds to play games and not have a business meeting, then you would want to go to a place such as World of Warcraft which
offers real 3D worlds with shootem up games.
Posted by Dean_Ansari (61 comments )
Reply Link Flag
are you joking?
Just because language filters and such are used... it does nothing to stop jerks bent on making everyone else miserable... in the Real World or in virtual life sims like SecondLife or Moove. The only distinct difference is that you can block / ignore / report trouble makers alot easier without too much fear of retaliation. Of course that only goes so far when a jerk can simply create a new account and continue the attack.
Posted by roomancer (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yes, they are
But both users and developers still have to learn how to make and use 3D technology for the web. Virtual Worlds are not games, those are playgrounds. It is up to users to create and obey the rules.

zarkov
Posted by zzarkov (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just alot of load mouth Real Life morons!
I just love it!!!!!!!!! If anyone body been in Second Life? They tell you BOMBS, GUNS, BOOOBIES, ***** etc........Now tell me this? If people are not attacking you with weapons, or sexually insulting you with their sexual parts. I say Second Life is a wonderful place! Rude? well I say 80% of the users are. Don`t ever pay for this play on Second Life..... Just don`t take anything serious.
Posted by play7 (926 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's the Proof
Well, some of the comments here in this talkback just prove the point! Yes people in SL are in general pretty polite compared to forums and chat rooms. But that only applies to text or voice communication. Because it's a 3D virtual world there are plenty of other things you can do that others might find offensive. Hey if you don't like seeing boobies, stay off the nude beach.
Posted by MSCEngland (1 comment )
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