Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Big Thinking on Public Goods in Virtual Communities

You might already know, but Second Life, and other immersive, virtual communities are one of my current interests. I'm still coming up to speed on what they are and what they can do, and I'm certainly not very well entrenched in any of these communities. But I'm learning. And I think the possibilities are really interesting

This interview is with Howard Rheinngold, one of these big thinking, futurist types. Here's one tidbit:

The research on open-source production seems to indicate that a mixture of motives is necessary for creating public goods like open-source software, Wikipedia, etc. Reputation, profit, learning, fun, altruism. Profit is in there, for sure. It's just not the only motivation.

Interesting stuff...


Susan said...

It's interesting that he talks about Second Life in one breath and Wikipedia in the next. I get how the general term "virtual/online community" applies to both—you need to be online to connect, you don't actually "know" these people in real life—but they just seem so different!

Wikipedia is like going into a library and reading the comments in the margins of a book that a bunch of other people have also read/written in... I mean, obviously it's more than that, but there's no concept of presence: you can participate in or benefit from Wikipedia without ever actually interacting with the other users/"members". To my mind, it feels much less like a community and more like a resource. Which is to say, I use Wikipedia almost every day, but I don't feel like a "member of a community" at all. Presumably the editors and/or frequent contributors may feel differently... but still, the whole model seems fairly solitary. If you don't want to be known, you never have to be.

Whereas in Second Life, everyone has presence—you can't just lurk around and not be noticed. From the moment you sign on people can see you, they can come up and talk to you, they can hit you or sell you things or have sex with you... And it seems like the interest of it is largely in this direct interaction between different users. Aside from the fact that it involves more than one person, and that you need internet access to participate, it seems like a very different model.

Do you know of any terminology or research that has addressed the nuances within the general term "online community"?

Nick said...

Interesting thoughts Susan. Here's another relevant quote:

"As far as I am concerned, tens of thousands of people who are actively creating new stuff are more interesting than millions of more passive participants."

I think he makes a good point that there's a lot of members (maybe an order of magnitude+ more) of virtual communities which consume the content without adding to it. But the real interesting parties (the ones whose output you consume), are the ones who do produce. Wikipedia, for instance, is driven by a smaller community of active participants.

Don't get me wrong, I'm in the same boat as you as far as Wikipedia goes. But I certainally would use Wikipedia if there weren't a large active community of producers.

Susan said...

Still, I wonder how the interactions/relationships between active Wikipedia members and active Second Life members compare to each other. I still can't help but feel that there must be (significant?) differences. How well do they feel they know each other, what aspects of each other do they know best, and how do they feel about each other? It seems like Wikipedia members are interacting on such a cerebral level, exchanging text/knowledge, and all trying to demonstrate their reliability as someone with valuable knowledge; whereas Second Life seems much more about personal gratification (get the cool car you can't afford in real life, make a million dollars, be a furry, etc.); so I would think that people's interactions would be... I dunno. More personally motivated? More instinctual? More emotional?

Vanna said...

Well written article.