Social networks are often a heated topic among Second Life users. Many take issue with Facebook for its policy on real names and subsequent bannings. More recently Google stirred the pot with the launch of Google Plus, its new social network still in beta. Many Second Life users, including me, welcomed Google Plus as a good alternative to Facebook for its sleek interface, followers grouping and its open policy about identity. Or, so we thought. It took only a few days for the Second Life community on Google Plus to get a cold shower when the first accounts were suspended for using “fake names”.
In the meantime, Linden Lab is beta testing its own social features with new web profiles and has sent emails to its users with friend recommendations. A number of bloggers have commented on this coming feature with mixed feelings. Some like Tateru Nino aren’t particurarly enthused. Others, like Pussycat Catnap, think it’s a good idea that needs refinement.
I stand in the camp of those not particurarly impressed. Do I really need friend recommendations? Or, another social stream to take care for? As far as I can tell, there is no way to aggregate all your friends’ streams. What’s the point of posting on someone’s else profile other than an occasional comment? Why would this be more convenient than a regular IM? It may be too early to judge on this feature, perhaps this may appeal to the more social users of the grid, but my first impression is that it doesn’t really add much to the way I use Second Life.
My friend list in Second Life is not like having followers on Twitter or Google Plus. I don’t take random friendship requests, as a matter of fact I discourage them. My friend list is strictly made of real friends, work contacts or people I need to keep in touch with. Anything more than that would make my list unmanageable. In my opinion, the reason why most of the people who work, build and create in Second Life, those whose main activity is not socialization, won’t find much value in these social streams is that they fall short to their needs. That said, I can imagine this feature to have some appeal to those users who enjoy Second Life to socialize and meet new friends, though the lack of stream aggregation seems to be a major shortcoming.
Groups, the best social tool
I believe my profile as a Second Life user is a fairly common case. Like most people who need to promote events or products I need an efficient way to communicate to a vast audience. To promote our community I run blogs (different ones, focused on different needs) and have accounts in all the social networks where there is a consistent number of Second Life users. This is on top of the usual promotional activities inworld, of course.Many businesses and communities have web sites, forums, wikis, a presence in social networks to cover their needs. These are a lot of resources to manage, with lots of duplication and little integration.
While this web presence helps for our “community branding” and as an easily accessible and maintainable information repository, it is not very effective as a promotional tool and requires a considerable work to replicate information both inworld and on the web. In our experience our web promotion brings modest results in terms of traffic.
A couple of months ago I offered my opinion on how Linden Lab could improve event promotion in Second Life by extending groups with a web interface in this post. But, groups could be extended even more and be one of the most effective social tools with great benefit for Linden Lab and its users, both in and out Second Life. Are Lindens aware of this potentiality? Maybe, likely, but to date there is no sign of any plan to re-evaluate and improve groups. This is why I consider groups an undervalued, hidden gem and a powerful social tool Linden Lab apparently is not aware of. Until evidence to the contrary.
How could groups be an effective social tool? Well, why not integrating all the resources Second Life people use on the web into groups? How about this:
- A web page as a front-end with some degree of customization for group presentation.
- A blog for group notices. Social networks should be integrated in it so that all notices can be automatically broadcasted. Of course, all new notices should be automatically delivered to group members as notices do today, but I would consider a subscription system for people who wants to receive automatic updates without being members.
- A wiki to store information, images, files.
- A forum with public and private sections. Having sections would be ideal to cover different needs in the same group, such as a private section for group officers. This could also be organized as an information stream the way Facebook or Google Plus work.
- Group owners should have the ability to make the group visible on the web.
Think of the advantages: revamped groups could be excellent, more effective promotional and social tools, not only inworld but also on the web. There are literally thousands of groups in Second Life covering all kind of topics which could attract new prospective users and better promote the myriads of activities carried on in Second Life. Could there be a better way to show what Second Life is and how people use it than opening this massive amount of information to the web? The wiki and forum (or info stream) could also relieve group chats by part of the load stress they suffer today.
There are a number of details to consider, of course. Not everyone appreciates the migration of user profile to a web interface due to the increased load time, for instance. Storage and bandwidth could be other issues. However, I think the advantages easily outdo the disadvantages and in my opinion this would be a very welcome improvement.
What is your opinion? Feel free to post your comments, and if you like this suggestion please support it by spreading the word.