Oct 12, 2010

What’s in a Name?

With all of the discussion concerning the efforts of Linden Lab to work on and implement the new Display Names feature in SecondLife, one can only wonder what they would be so hell-bent on pushing this feature through. Surely, you would think that they would be listening to the outcry of the citizens of the virtual world when we collectively express our disdain for this feature?


In a way, they are listening, but like a child knocking over boxes in the candy aisle we tend to forget that we aren’t the center of the virtual universe.

Display names are being implemented to appeal to a wider audience of concerns, namely being the sorts of concerns and public perception that real world companies have when they see names like SlutMasterBob Jenkins.

If Second Life is ever to be accepted on a business front, then the option to use a display name that is not a nonsensical name is a matter of necessity. Corporate Executives make the decision as to whether or not their presence in the virtual world will happen, and their biggest concern all along is the lack of ability in being able to natively display your real name in the virtual world.

I’ll be the first to admit that I happen to like Aeonix Aeon as a name, and while it serves a purpose, there are times when being able to display my real name instead would lend more credibility to my professional involvement and to ease the tension between myself and said corporate entities who aren’t too certain what to make of the “fake” names in a virtual world.

That being said, it is a matter of social nuance that names like Aeonix Aeon in the virtual world automatically trigger a sort of prejudice and lowering of credibility when in use, and we won’t even get into SlutMasterBob Jenkins because that’s the sort of name that screams “Never take me serious”.

There is also the concern with various TOS in the social media world whereby you cannot use an alias but instead are required to use your real name. While that rule goes out the window most of the time, when it comes to companies integrating into social media we can see yet another reason why Linden Lab would want to implement Display Names, regardless of how much you and I may voice our concerns for the opposite.

I won’t go into too much detail about the social media aspects of this display name integration, because I believe Avril Korman (@damnedgoodesign) will be further expounding on those details in her continuation of the following article on [http://searchenginewatch.com/3641432] “Losing the Plot in Second Life?”

I’d rather not step on toes or steal her thunder, but she does (and publically will be) making very interesting points concerning the social media integration of Second Life. Whether or not I’ll actually buy into it is a whole other issue.

It’s not that I don’t believe Linden Lab is making a push to integrate for social media (maybe an app on Facebook or something) but my concern is that such integration would invariably cheapen the entire SecondLife experience on the whole, bringing it down to the level of Farmville.

This disturbs me to no end, mainly because I am aware of a talk by Jesse Schell entitled Visions of the Gamepocalypse [Fora.tv] where this sort of mentality is going to make pretty much everything into a “Fast, Easy and Fun” environment. Of course, to wit, Zynga has made numerous deals in that area as an indication that this is where it’s going; Such as where if you buy a Big Gulp or Slurpee at 7-11 you can redeem a code on the cup for Farmville Cash.

My biggest concern, is that there will be an entire influx of Second Life “users” who very well may never have actually logged into Second Life and therefore haven’t the slightest clue what the community or environment itself are about. When you dumb down Second Life to the point where the average person associates it with some game on Facebook, or by and large, token purchases for some stripped down version of the environment, I feel we’re at a point where we’ve lost the plot (as Avril’s article is titled).

I still remain with the opinion that the x-factor and “gold mine” of Second Life resides in getting real brands into the virtual environment in a manner that appeals to the existing marketplace. For my complete take on this, you should take a minute and read The Second Life X-Factor here on this blog.

As for whether or not I’m for or against social media integration of Second Life, I’m on the fence about it. While I know it is probably inevitable at some point, that doesn’t mean I have to actually like it. In the meantime, rest assured that at the very least the decision to incorporate Display Names isn’t as bad as we may believe, and will (in the long run) be beneficial to all of us.

Please keep in mind that actually using Display Names will be optional. It’s not like you’ll be suddenly forced into showing who you really are in-world. For good or for bad, we should take a deep breath and admit that soon the virtual world will be getting a dose of reality.


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