Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Modeling Reality in Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds were fodder for science-fiction in the recent past, now they are near ubiquitous in this era of Web 2.0.

One of the most popular of these Virtual Worlds, is Second Life. Second Life was launched in 2003 and allows it's users free access to its world in which interaction is done through personalized avatars. The uses of Second Life are vast and varied. Some use it as a way to spend leisure time and get a break from "real life." Others use it for socializing, much like Facebook.

Second Life also allows for virtual classrooms, which many institutions of higher education use. Also, corporations are taking their board meetings and conference calls online to Second Life.

One thing I was not aware of until I read it in Stephanie Simon's WSJ article, is that medical students are also using SL for training in the treatment of patients.

Whenever new technology comes to forefront there is always a downside to go along with the upside. While SL can be an amazing tool for businesses and individuals (especially those with disabilities who cannot experience all that "real life" has to offer), the flipside of the coin is that it can become consuming. People need to be able to draw the line and not let their Second Life overtake their 'First Life', and make sure they forge relationships and remain sociable in the real world.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Social Networking

Social Networks can be very powerful tools, but they are only worth what you make of them. In fact, that statement is applicable to the Internet as a whole. You can spend your days blogging about local politics, researching topics that interest you, shopping, talking to friends, or simply watching videos of cats in silly situations.

When it comes to Social Networks, they can be used simply as a way to keep in touch with friends and family or a place to play online games. On the other end of the spectrum, are personal blogs and a platform to promote yourself or your business. No matter how you use SNs, the benefits are apparent. There's no easier way to keep in touch, and even see, so many people. I'm able to see what my family in Florida and Texas are doing, including pictures, when I only get to see them in person once a year or even less. With regards to the business aspect, there is no cheaper, easier and more efficient way to reach your target audience than through the internet/social networks.

Now, having said all that, it's not as if everything is gumdrops and rainbows when it comes to this subject. Along with the debatable issues (from the Freakonomics Blog) including less face-to-face interaction, and the fact that it is becoming increasinly difficult to "disconnect", there is certainly a more sinister side.

One part of that sinister side are Gossip Sites (Chronicle of Higher Education). These sites are basically a platform for personal attacks from behind the shroud of anonymity that is the internet. Many a reputation has been tarnished and many more will be thanks to these sorts of sites.

The even darker side of Social Networks consists of stalkers and child predators. Between the (near) anonymity and the ease of access to photos and chat rooms, it has never been easier for a certain sect of society to partake in these deviant acts. Obviously, stalkers and pedophiles are not new to society. They have been around as long as humankind has, and while we will never completely eradicate these people from the earth, we can become more educated and actively educate the younger generations in ways to avoid becoming a victim. Much like when a parent tells their child not to take candy from strangers, parents of the 20th Century will need to imprint the same fear, except now the candy is digital.

Sampling Social Networking

With all the Social Networking sites around these days, it could become pretty overwhelming if you're trying to decide which to use and for what purpose. From Facebook to Myspace to LinkedIn to Hi5 to Friendster, just to name a few, the plethora of options could make your head spin.

I am, or have been, a member of all the Social Networks listed above. For the most part, they are all very similar. They all allow you to create a personal profile with photos and biographical information. Here are some thoughts on each one individually:

Friendster: This is first one I ever signed up for, as it was the first "Social Networking" site that I had ever heard of (though I don't think "social networking" was in our lexicon back then). It was very basic compared to some of the other sites to come after it. You able to add friends, send messages and post "Testimonials" on your friends' profiles.

hi5: The second one I joined, after getting invited by a friend. I didn't know at the time, but this was (and is) the largest Social Network in Latin America. It had a little more flair than Friendster, as it allowed you to send icons and comments to people not on your friend list.

MySpace: This site pretty much started to Social Network "boom" of the middle of the last decade. MySpace allowed users a great deal of freedom to customize their profiles with html code to add wallpapers, pictures, songs, videos and much more. Many sites popped up with tutorials and code-generators for users to copy and use in their profiles. It all of a sudden became acceptable to "friend" total strangers on MySpace, and it was this aspect that caused many to use it as a personal promotion site. Some people have become famous by way of MySpace (Tila Tequila, to name one) and it is used by many musical artists to promote and disseminate their work.

Facebook: Initially only available to students, Facebook opened registration to the general public within the last 3 years. This is one of only two Social Network sites that I check regularly (the other is below). Facebook doesn't have the freedom of customization that MySpace has, but that has worked to its advantage as the member profiles are much less cluttered. Facebook was the first to have "apps" available to users, the most popular of which are games such as Farmville and Scrabble. Facebook is constantly evolving in an attempt to make the user experience as pleasurable as possible.

LinkedIn: This is the least "social" of the Social Networking sites. LinkedIn is a professional networking site where users post some biographical information, but the focus is on education and work experience. I've heard that many HR departments use LinkedIn as a tool to screen potential employees. It is very straight-laced, and instead of friends, comments and wall posts, there are connections and recommendations.

Basically, these sites are what you make of them. If you are looking for a career change, try LinkedIn, if you want to keep in touch with friends and family, or promote your own venture, Facebook and MySpace are the places to go. One thing is certain, Social Networking sites are here to say, and only time will tell how they will evolve in the coming years.