Second Life as ‘YASNS’
Danah Boyd is a doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley and a Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Her research focuses on how American youth use networked publics for sociable purposes. Recently, Danah has focused on the role that social network sites like MySpace and Facebook play in everyday teen interactions and relations. She is interested in how these environments alter the structural conditions in which teens operate, forcing them to manage complex dynamics like interacting before invisible audiences, managing context collisions, and negotiating the convergence of public and private life.
She has received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University and a master’s degree in sociable media from MIT Media Lab. She has worked as an ethnographer and social media researcher for various corporations, including Intel, Tribe.net, Google, and Yahoo! She wil be going to work for Microsoft Research in January 2009. She also created and managed a large online community for V-Day, a non-profit organization working to end violence against women and girls worldwide. She has advised numerous other companies, sits on corporate, education, and non-profit advisory boards, and regularly speaks at industry conferences and events.
Throughout Danah’s research on Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship we can see how she describes “social networking sites”. According to her, SNS’s must work as:
1. Web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system,
2. Articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection,
3. View and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.
The definitions above make use of web 2.0 tools and allow users to set up their own individual profiles. To varying degrees these services allow users to indicate a list of friends, join groups, contact other members and explore member profiles within the network. I think it is fair to say that all three platforms are working to build online communities. The three platforms share a clear interest to mobilize people towards the common objective – to help people in developing countries – yet this is where in my opinion the social networking falls short.
Now by taking what Danah states about what a Social Network Site is, we could easily apply it on Second life, since it is a web-based service that allows individuals to build a public profile within a bounded system articulate other users, and view and traverse the list of connections. Danah is clearly interested in youth and how they interact through the web, what draw’s them to make these profiles, is it just to find friends that already exist in their physical every day life? Or, are they searching for something new? She even looks at the psychological aspects of a teenager joining an SNS platform, and gives an example of a little girl being shy, not very social, feeling that she is not living up to the standards to be noticed by her fellow classmates. Therefore she finds a way that would make her attract others children to become her friend, and she finds comfort by uploading interesting pictures on the web to draw attention and make new friends.
What raises my curiosity is how can a person that is so talented and focused on youth, ignore the fact that a virtual world like Second life could actually help younger people, by creating themselves in a virtual world and having the freedom to socialize and learn so many things through it? Personally I believe that Second Life has a lot to offer if approached correctly.
She states in one of her postings:
“Lately, I’ve become very irritated by the immersive virtual questions I’ve been getting. In particular, will Web3.0 be all about immersive virtual worlds?” Clay’s post on Second Life reminded me of how irritated i am by this. I have to admit that i get really annoyed when techno-futurists fetishism Stephenson-visions of virtuality. Why is it that every 5 years or so we re-instate this fantasy as the utopian end-all be-all of technology? (Remember VRML? That was fun.)
Maybe I’m wrong; maybe I’ll look back twenty years ago and be embarrassed by my lack of foresight. But honestly, i don’t think we’re going virtual.”
I find Danah’s work really interesting and I admire her for what she has accomplished until now, but I would like to take a moment and criticise on the statement above. If more talented and dedicated researchers like herself actually put their theories and findings through their research and applied them on virtual worlds like Second life, then an actual healthy community could be implemented more easily and efficiently, the nuisance for education through the web would become much easier, and maybe even more self-confidence would be developed.
She talks about the integration of online and offline communities, but I don’t think she has actually realised that SL is already implementing that, many Universities have gone already virtual. http://www.simteach.com/wiki/index.php?title=Second_Life:_Universities_and_Private_Islands.
Nevertheless shifting our focus back to teenagers, on February 14th 2005 another version of second life was introduced to the public “Teens Second Life” this was structured for people aged 13-17 years old. Teen’s second life is different in many ways than Second life itself, such differences can be seen in access, age, demographics, land, content, economy and performance, so it is an actual community that is focusing on a healthy virtual youth environment, furthermore Linden Lab allows educators to actually set up projects on islands for middle schools and secondary education. The educational projects in Teen Second Life fall into two categories; those that are accessible to all residents of Teen Second Life (public projects), and those accessible to teens associated with a particular project in ‘real life’ (private projects). These private projects are most often inaccessible to Teen Second Life residents.
I believe what is so powerful about Second life than most of the other SNS’s on the web is the fact that it comes with a concept of “place”, being able to see each other and interact in different environments together with other avatars simultaneously results in a common set of visual references that make the overall cultural experience even more powerful.