Jul 30, 2011

Don’t Be Stupid.

Amending #Google’s motto into something more realistic.


I believe Google should be amending their slogan from "Don't be evil" to "Don't be stupid". They've essentially thumbed their noses up at the very nature of the Internet and the roots of what makes it great. Pseudonyms are a part of the very fabric of what make the Internet what it is, and the culture that has given rise to what we know as Cyberspace. While this has brought both good and bad as a result, I believe the very existence of the Internet as we have today is ongoing proof that the good far outweighs the bad.

In a digital culture such as we have today, everybody is famous in their own way, and pseudonyms comprise an irrevocable part of that culture. To make any attempt to deny that history and legacy is to do so at their own risk.





We live in an era of multiplicity of identity, each having proper context and just as much weight as any other name we may use. In that Google wants only a wallet name shows only willful ignorance on their part in failing to understand that they are dealing with people who are represented by multiple identities, interests, and behaviors, all which are a part of a greater whole of the individual.

In a court of law, individuals are innocent until proven guilty. So too should pseudonyms be addressed - they are acceptable until proven otherwise. It is the individual's right to choose what name they use, not a corporation. This is why there are laws in nearly every country on Earth defining the very legality of using a pseudonym at will for a myriad of purposes farther reaching than a simple social network.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation states in a recent write-up “A Case For Pseudonyms” that companies like Google and Facebook are entirely within their right to forbid pseudonym usage, they also point out that it is horribly short-sighted and often times damaging and even life-threatening to do so. I'd like to believe that Google is not so blinded by short-sighted goals and profits that they are willing to jeopardize the well-being and even lives of others in the process.

If the purpose of Google is stated as being the intention of bringing all the world's knowledge and information together, as well as the people, then they must understand that they simply cannot exclude a majority of the people or outright deny the culture that gave them this opportunity. If it wasn't for a world full of pseudonyms, Google would have no Internet to dominate. For every person, there are multiple identities, each with distinct metrics and differentiation of personality in context of the virtual space in which they inhabit as their domain. In the eyes of Google, this should account for much more opportunity than they currently seem to grasp.

Yet, while Google and Facebook are entirely within their right to deny the use of pseudonyms and demand a wallet name, the price they pay for doing so may, in turn, be far too high for even them to accept. This fiasco is reaching mainstream media, and even celebrities such as William Shatner are lamenting over their profiles being suspended, while others such as @Skud are continuing with interviews in mainstream media railing against these policies, all for the world to read. Twitter is alight with similar discontent from users who have had their profiles suspended for pseudonymous usage, and as these personal accounts continue to mount in public view, the future of Google+ does not look as bright as it once did. While Google+ may, indeed, enjoy a fair amount of success, it will have willingly sabotaged its own growth and success from what could have been a true game changer.

While Google and Facebook are within their rights to deny pseudonyms and even anonymous usages, surely they are not so ignorant as to fail to understand the maelstrom of bad PR and ill-will they create worldwide in doing so. 


While it has been claimed that I somehow believe that avatars are real people, I must contest the oversimplification and misstatement of such. Avatars to me are merely digital representations of a person which bare the context of a virtual environment space pseudonym. As I believe that pseudonyms are just as legitimate as a wallet name in all but the most well defined cases, and are protected and sanctioned by nearly every country on Earth through law, I make my claim that I believe that the context of the pseudonym matters little while the actual usage of the pseudonym matters most. In a digital world, we carry many pseudonyms or possibly just one that is well known or chosen, and each usage of such is entirely dependent on the use context – that being the scenario by which the individual decides what personality best suits the digital arena by which they will participate, while retaining the right to manage their multiple personality order as they see fit.


In the context of social media, such as Facebook or Google+, the right of the individual to freely choose their forward facing personality and context of immersion is a cherished right and not a privilege. As such, an avatar to me constitutes as much of a real person as I would attribute to that of Mark Twain and the works and actions thereof. Simply using a pseudonym in context does not invalidate any part of the person using it, nor does it make the person behind the pseudonym any less real. By association, therefore, an avatar is the representation of a real person and fueled by the actions of the very real person behind it (excluding the actions of an artificial intelligence bot at this time). However, just like anything having to do with digital representations, an avatar on it’s own does not constitute a real person, but instead constitutes the forward facing chosen identity of a real person in proper context to the digital environment space they are currently participating in. Whether that space is a virtual reality or a social media hub is inconsequential as our multiplicity of identity will eventually become cross-domain and interchangeable, and indeed already has despite efforts by companies to the contrary.


This, in and of itself, offers a very profound glimpse into the future of our digital multiplicity, or multiple personality order, in that the concept of “True Names” takes on an entirely different meaning in today’s society than it did prior to the digital age. As a result of this profound paradigm shift, we see today that even large corporate entities such as Google and Facebook somehow are unable to understand the importance of multiplicity of identity, and continue with their attempts to reshape the entire fabric and legacy of what made the Internet and digital culture what it is today.

The final question remains - At what point does the price of their policies become too much to continue? From a perspective of simple common sense, I'd say they've already reached that point, causing more harm to their reputation and social media product than may be reversed before they've managed to make it to an actual launch.

In the end, the point remains: What people are angry about is that their common names are not recognized by Google, and simply offering those people the chance to comply with practices that they already are against is not an answer, in the same light as this "solution" is really further proof that Google is willfully ignoring the very premise of the debate and in doing so, are blatantly insulting the world. If a common name happens to be a Pseudonym, then so be it. There should be no obligation to fill in a field with a wallet name, and a pseudonym should be just as acceptable - if not more acceptable since in many cases, the world is more likely to know the pseudonym than the wallet name.


While I’ve heard the opposite take on this subject, being that we are not “forced” to use Google+ or any of Google’s services, that is much like asserting that a near monopoly of services aren’t forcing you to use them. Simply because a company offers great things, and arguably better than competition, does not constitute a right to demand things from your users that can be dangerous. Yes, as users, we are the commodity not the customer, however I challenge that notion since we are willingly trading mountains of information about ourselves on a daily basis for access to a service, which in turn make these companies a lot of money. We are, indeed, customers in that we are paying for these services with something vastly more valuable than money – our own privacy and identity. The very least we can do is draw a line in the sand for one crucial piece of information that we alone should have control over – and that is our own identity and how it is presented.

Because of this, I have chosen to refer to Google as a company whose motto should be changed to "Don't be stupid." It is far more fitting given the current situation, and bares repeating when a company such as Google seems to have entirely missed the obvious.

Will Burns
Object Interoperability Lead | IEEE Virtual World Standards
Aeonix Aeon in SecondLife

Jul 28, 2011

The Elegance of Subtlety

How the smallest details make the biggest impact. #SecondLife




Cinemagraph technique by Jamie Beck: @_frommetoyou on twitter


I’ve always been an advocate for the advancement of immersion in virtual environments and, despite appearances, this almost always entails an attention to detail which otherwise go unnoticed in the grand reveal. The question to me isn’t whether or not such subtleties go without recognition, but whether or not the prospect of attention for subconscious inclusions actually make a lasting impact on the user experience. Many times it is not what we see but what we construct within the confines of our own mind which create a total experience.


This also extends to the realm of what we do not see or experience as well, since the lack of certain expected details often give focus to what remains, and barring that, leave only the inadequate half-immersion which does more to destroy our immersion than to create it.


The subject of this article centers around a photographic technique known as Cinemagraph, in which only certain elements are given motion while the majority of the image remains frozen in time. The brilliance of this technique lay within the notion of selective subtlety in drawing attention to that which would engage the viewer the most in order to tell a deeper story. Remember this as you continue reading.


A virtual environment, then, is the construct of the mind in so much as what we experience is not entirely what is directly implied. The mind is a powerful tool, which when engaged will gladly fill in blanks which we did not notice were missing in order to create a more synergistic and harmonious environment of experience. It is when we, as the creators of these immersive environments, forget such large parts of the environment in our design that the mind of the person experiencing our creation falls short and creates a disconnect. One could say that when the expectations of the mind are not met, there becomes a cognitive dissidence whereby the mind, (instead of easily constructing), is instead focused on reconciling the elements which are either missing or out of harmony.


A simple example of this can be seen in the way that we handle audio in a virtual environment, wherein the majority of constructs simply do not, instead opting to forego the details in this area with the inclusion of streaming music. While streaming music has a place within a virtual environment, it should never be implemented as a designer’s crutch as many of us already do. As such, we begin with a realistic notion of where to begin for the creation of our virtual environments in that when we are bringing our imagination to fruition, we should be willing to adequately deconstruct all of the elements of immersion for our benefit.


While there are quite a lot of examples wherein the concept of complete cognitive immersion has been taken into account, such as the wonderful works of Bryn Oh, we must come to terms with the idea that these examples are shining exceptions to the rule. Too often we create our environments without any further thought into the complexity of immersion or what longer lasting effects the lack thereof will have on our audience. This, to me, is very disconcerting in that what we continually create happens to invoke an experience of repetition or disconnect for the sake of focusing only on one aspect of our environment.


If we were to take into account the idea of virtual environment nightclubs, there are few and far between which offer any experience above and beyond that of a cardboard box which happens to have a shoutcast stream. In what can only be construed as a further misunderstanding of the circumstances involved, our notion of what constitutes an “event” has become so horribly warped that there becomes little difference in simply attending versus an evening elsewhere on the grid.


Should this be by design or intention matters little in the bigger picture because what we are left with in the long tail are categories of events which are about as exciting as spending a night alone. There are only so many times one can participate in a “hunt” before it becomes old hat, and the same holds true for clubs which promote a contest board, which hardly qualifies as a contest by any means – by which I will say “Best In [Insert Clothes Style]” became overplayed a month after the first club owner decided it was a good idea.


An event is much more than this, but we’ve become so accustomed to these lowered expectations that raising the bar at this point would simply be a matter of sitting up from the metaphorical floor.


Qualitative Deconstruction


At best, one can express our current situation as one by which within the early domain of initial design we make smaller mistakes and assumptions which later culminate into larger disconnects within our end-results. It is our own undoing through bad assumptions early in the process which later become issues that likely contribute to the nonexistence of the venue as a whole. Much like a snowball, what looks and seems inconsequential on the onset quickly forms an avalanche which later becomes unwieldy.


Let us focus, then, on the simplicity of audio. For all intents and purposes, this should be the easiest aspect of our environments to master, yet time and again we find that the concept is easier said than done. As a result, most choose to forego the detail of audio immersion altogether and focus on ways to drown out or distract from this glaring metaphor shear. So, too, we see actual environment design without any consideration for the actual environment or the participants within it – focusing only on the predefined goals of the environment intention while giving no second thought, if a first thought at all was given, to what brings it all together.


The elegance of simplicity is what drives the virtual environment, not in the aspect of less is more (though this is certainly true), but in choosing what that “less” will be for the highest impact and immersion. The goal of any virtual environment designer should be, from the beginning, to create a space in which your visitors will feel compelled to not only remain but to bring others with them. In order to accomplish this, you must understand immersion.


Again, in the aspect of audio, we think of things such as ambient audio. Can we close our eyes and not be taken from your environment? There are, arguably, only two real aspects of immersion available to us in virtual environments, two senses which are the foundation – sight and sound. Very few are capable of uniting both in immersion, and fewer still are capable of doing so convincingly.


To elaborate, a shoutcast stream is not your audio immersion - it is supplementary to the audio immersion underlying.


If you turn off the music and the world becomes dead silent, you have failed. Furthermore, automated gestures are not a qualifier for your audio immersion either, just in case you were thinking about using that as your crutch as well. The point is this: If you neglect the ambient audio (the simplicity aspects) you are omitting half of your environment up front. Why on earth would you willingly cut out half of your immersion advantage before you bother to start?


In the area of design, there are countless items I could focus on for immersion, much of which ask exceedingly dumb questions which should not have to be asked, yet it seems nobody has bothered to actually ask them in the first place. For instance, if you force your visitors to traverse a mall at length prior to actually reaching their intended destination, you have failed to grasp many important things about both design and human nature (Blackhearts Café comes to mind).


blackhearts cafe_001

Blackhearts Café : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ | How the mighty have fallen… into a pile of spam.



I can easily think of hundreds of ways to avoid that scenario while drastically improving the return and visitor satisfaction levels. Conversely, does the actual experience itself (your venue) extend past the doors in a believable manner? A lot of times that answer is no. In the case of Blackhearts Café they really don’t have an excuse since the entire sim is under their control. I can give other, smaller, venues a pass simply because they have no control over the rest of the sim they reside on. However, I point the finger at the actual sim owners for not planning and enforcing a total design plan. Something so simple and subtle when ignored turns into a clusterfsk later on. Ask Blackhearts Café.


I’d like to point out, however, that while Blackhearts Café seems to have taken a nosedive in quality, (I used to hang out there all the time), there is another club in SecondLife that just goes overboard in the attention to detail. I Love the 80’s wins this hands down and is my new favorite place for the 80’s in SecondLife.



I Love the 80s_001

I Love The 80’s: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Clearly they love the 80’s and you.



In much the same manner, if people are only attending your location for short periods of time, and those times happen to be when you are essentially bribing them with contests or prizes, then you are entirely missing the point. It also means that you have absolutely no idea how to create a long term engagement in a virtual environment, unless you count creating a Pavlovian response mechanism of people expecting free money or prizes every time you ring a bell.


I will give a pass to a handful of venues where this is concerned, because they do manage to continually draw a crowd and a DJ in and of itself is not a cause for concern or scorn if you have taken care to actually put thought into the rest of your environment design. Locations such as Fogbound Blues and I Love the 80’s in SecondLife come to mind as an example of design and immersion, although there isn’t much more to be experienced than the staple of dancing, listening to music, and chatting.


If we were to break that down further to base components, we’d find that even those are lowering the bar of expectation to something unrecognizable in that chatting isn’t a novel idea, nor is listening to music, and even the notion of “dancing” in SecondLife is really just an excuse to loop an animation and go AFK for awhile. Not terribly exciting. While I’m not entirely against these things, I’d like to point out that certainly we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard than even this. I’m sure I could point out the audio immersion portion and apply it to in-world clubs, and while internally I actually do, externally I am giving them a pass with just a heads up that there needs to be more.



fogbound blues


Fogbound Blues: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Excellent Design, Great Staff, Definitely Worth a Visit




The question then becomes: “What else is there?”


Is the simulation in synergy? That is to say, are there many elements which are unrelated through the simulation space which are tied together in order to create a wider immersive offering? Once again, we are focusing on the overall design aspects as well as attention to the simplicity of certain details which we often overlook.


If you own a storefront in the virtual world, the question becomes whether or not you have thought about the totality of the experience that you are creating or if you are relying purely on a DIY experience of automation. If your store has little differentiation to the counterpart available on Marketplace, then we must ask the obvious question of why anyone would bother to visit your store. In limited cases, I have experienced a viable answer to this question in that the customer service aspect becomes the reason for in-world participation, by providing something that the automated catalog online cannot – human interaction.


When I visit a storefront, my immediate criteria is usually whether there is an in-store representative during reasonable business hours of operation. Think about your store for a moment and ask yourself that same question realistically. If you were to walk into a store and find that there was a representative but that representative was nonresponsive, or in the case of our beloved SecondLife an automated bot with a canned greeting, does this somehow devalue the experience? The answer is of course, absolutely. It says to your patrons that you cannot be bothered to spend time in your own store, yet somehow expect your customers to do so.


Whether you are a busy designer or not isn’t part of the debate, because if you are actually that busy, then you would also understand the concept of micro-management and hiring a staff in order to split the workload appropriately and free up your time personally to focus on the things that only you are capable of doing.





Bax Coen: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  | Well Designed, Good Products, and Customer Representatives



For this, I give stores such as Bax Coen my appreciation in that the owner definitely understands the merit of attention to elegant subtlety and provides application of the theory. When you arrive there, not only are you greeted by a well designed store, but you are often times actually greeted by an in-store representative whose sole purpose is to help customers. This is one of those elegant subtleties which often is overlooked when taking into account an entire environment.


To a lesser extent, Lapointe and Bastchild offers similar treatment in that there are representatives on duty to help you with your shopping or questions sometimes. I am not certain if this is ongoing or whether the times I happened to be there that there were representatives, but the idea is sound. Revisiting the main store, I found it to be completely devoid, so I can only assume it was a fluke.


On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, we see large name such as Blacklace and Alphamale wherein, while the store and selection are top notch, offer nothing in the manner of differentiation for why using an automated DIY Marketplace to shop for their products would be less beneficial to actually attending their in-world store.


The same can be stated concerning [hoorenbeek] with the exception that the sole benefit seems to be that the marketplace offering is limited compared to the in-world store, although the product displays in-world are excellent, I find the lack of actual customer service representatives in a large brand name store like [hoorenbeek] to be somewhat disturbing. There is definitely room for improvement, despite their products being great.




Alphamale & Blacklace: ★ ★ ★ ★ | Excellent design, clothing is top notch. No staff.




Generally speaking, we can focus on any number of things having to do with our virtual environments, but the biggest game changers are often the smallest and most subtle ones. Ambient audio changes everything around you, attention to details when designing and building shows a level of caring usually not given, and actually thinking in advance how to make your environment work in synergy goes a long way to a successful virtual space.


You’ll know you’ve gotten it right when you can take away the contest boards and stupid gimmicks only to find that people continue to stick around for many hours – even when you aren’t there to watch over your own place.


If you have to force people to do something or invoke gimmicks or bribery to attract a crowd, you’re going down the wrong path.


Just remember… The Elegance of Subtlety.






Jul 17, 2011


How #SecondLife may find their social media answer blowing in the wind…




Social Media Networks are essentially all the same on the surface. You’re connecting with friends, relatives, co-workers, and sharing information on a feed wall. Of course there is the addition of games, applications, and other plugins which give our social networks a sense of further connectivity, but in the long run they are all essentially laid out the same. When we take a look at the varying social networks, we have to ask ourselves what it is that makes one better than another, and at first glance we are hard pressed to see any real differences.


Take for instance, Facebook. It’s essentially a three pane layout with your controls on the left side, different information feeds in the center (wall) and on the right hand side are advertisements, and other things.






I’m sure the image above looks familiar. To me, this is a social media network that is showing its age in the amount of clutter that has managed to cram itself into the interface over time. If we take into account the addition of the Chat Sidebar view (which I’ve turned off) the far right side of the screen becomes a contact list. Aside from aesthetics, this sort of feature creep has turned what once was a clean layout without too much clutter or distraction into the digital equivalent to an advertising back-alley. Myspace had the same issue as well before its demise, when NewsCorp initially bought it up and then opened the flood gates for marketing. Now that Myspace is trying to be the place where musicians and artists can connect (read: spam) you, it is little wonder why anyone uses it any longer.


For the longest time, Facebook was the center of the social media world. Everyone was compared to them, and their 500+ Million users. Even today that happens, because that’s where everyone is at this particular moment. But there is always a paradigm shift on the horizon, and even Facebook knows that, which explains why they are looking for an IPO – the cash out. This can be seen in Zynga’s (Farmville, etc) sudden interest in an IPO as well.


Of course, this can also be explained in conjunction with the behemoth of media, Google, gaining ground with their Google+ Social Network. But something isn’t quite right…






With all of the hype surrounding Google+, for those that actually have gotten into the service have likely noticed that there is little difference between Facebook and Google+, other than the obligatory integration of Google services. Yes, Google+ has Circles and Sparks, and Hangouts, but Circles are a fancy way of saying “Groups”, Sparks is a fancy way of saying “RSS Search” and Hangout is just a Group VideoChat. Are these the killer features of the Google+ service? Sure they’ll throw in Games, because that’s obligatory for a social media network, and they’ll probably use their acquisition of Aardvark to offer a “Live Answers from Real People” service powered by the network.


I’m still unconvinced this is anything to really be excited about, especially when we take into account the Google+ stance on the use of pseudonyms as your profile identity, which you are not allowed to do based on their terms of service. People leaving Facebook based on privacy concerns to go to Google+ are finding out that they’ve essentially jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire as Google has decided to make all profiles public without an option to make them private, and they also insist you use your “wallet” name – that is a birth name on your profile or come under the scrutiny of the digital inquisition.


While the media has been focusing attention of Google+ and whether or not it will be a Facebook killer, there has been an ongoing development called Diaspora* in the background. A tech startup that is taking a different approach to all of this. But diaspora* isn’t a fly by night sort of operation that suddenly came out of nowhere; They’ve been around for a few years now, working diligently to create a social media network that is very different than Facebook or Google+.





We already know from the pictures that there is essentially little difference to the layout of these social media networks, so what are the underlying things that make these social media outlets different, and why should we care?


Privacy is Dead. (Or is It?)


When it comes to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg once said “Privacy is dead” and when it comes to Google+ they are taking a similar stance in that your profiles must be tied to a real person (wallet name) and they will be insisting on making all profiles public. Aside from this very telling stance, Facebook and Google have a very large incentive to keep you public and “authentic” in that they earn their money on the zeitgeist advertising metrics. In this case, there is no room for the myriad of other ways we may present ourselves online, such as anonymously or through a pseudonym; Whether the pseudonym is a pen name or of your virtual world avatar is irrelevant, because they both act like a digital inquisition when challenged – asking for a cell phone number or other “approved” methods by which to validate your identity, which in turn defeat the point of anonymity or pseudonyms because those validation methods divulge private information about yourself that you had no intention of divulging – and more often than not shouldn’t be legally forced to divulge for something like a social media network.


Diaspora, on the other hand is the polar opposite to this “Privacy is dead” approach by stating it is specifically designed to facilitate your privacy in a decentralized and agnostic manner which each person is free to control entirely, while also giving users and entities the right to start their own “pod” in the network with the source code. This is a stark contrast to Google+ and Facebook where your information is housed centrally (thanks to Google and Facebook) and where Google and Facebook control what privacy (if any) you are allowed to have.


So while on the surface, these social media networks look essentially the same, the ideals of Diaspora and how it works are in stark contrast, almost in total defiance, to mainstream social media networks.


While Diaspora isn’t as fully featured as Facebook or Google+, you have to hand it to their small team in that they are diligently working on the code and making it better over time. Their greatest concern isn’t whether or not you can play Angry Birds, or beg for CafeWorld items on your stream, but in making the underlying system secure and privacy aware, even with encryption. Unlike Google+, they aren’t subject to corporate sponsor (or even intelligence agency) pressures to make everyone “authentic”. No, they simply care about whether or not you can control all the aspects of your privacy and persona.


Personally, I believe this is a “killer" app” for social media. It’s not the widgets, it’s not video games, it’s not a little “Like” button on websites. The killer application of social media is (and always should remain) the ability to represent yourself with privacy and security in whatever manner you decide. Advertisers and corporate entities will realize that reaching demographics is a privilege and not a right, and more so that the individual right to privacy will always trump their right to make a buck.


As of this moment, think about all of the information you voluntarily give them. Photos, videos, comments, likes, and all manner of user habits as they keep an eye on you. You’d think that would be enough to satisfy them, but now with Google+ they are extending that boundary further by insisting on a real name and not anonymous or pseudonym. If they challenge your “name” on a profile, they ask for a phone number to verify your identity or any other amount of “approved” identification methods such as maybe ID cards, or mainstream media references where your name is shown. Maybe a home address too?


Is it just me, or is all of this invasion of privacy becoming too much? If you use FourSquare, you’re already broadcasting everywhere you go, and I made a joke on Twitter about this to the tune of how the NSA can essentially track you without needing a warrant: Just make it into a game called FourSquare and you’ll be volunteering your whereabouts.


It’s one thing to make these privacy options… optional. But it crosses the line when these companies begin demanding instead of asking. That’s the one thing I will not stand for… will you?


Is there a SecondLife for Diaspora?


By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with SecondLife since I’ve tagged the article for Twitter as such. Actually, this article has quite a lot to do with SecondLife and Linden Lab if we think about it.


Linden Lab wanted to create some sort of social media connection between their existing users and social media services that they use outside of SecondLife. Their initial thought on the subject was to find ways to integrate into Facebook (Skylight, etc) but found that when they put all their chips on the table to make that happen, they were shot down. Facebook decided to enforce their T.O.S. and wiped out quite a lot of Avatar Identity Profiles on the Facebook service. Since connecting SecondLife to Facebook would require Linden Lab to follow the Facebook terms of service, they would be forced to only allow “authentic” users to connect, which is a very different reality to what sort of user they already have of their service in Avatar identities. With Google+ the option wasn’t even on the table, as Google began enforcing their T.O.S. even in closed beta, removing “fake” avatar identities which were really SecondLife citizens looking for a privacy aware alternative haven for social media.


It is possible that the push for “Display Names” came about as a short sighted workaround to address the “authentic” names issue on Facebook, but then it was realized that not many people were going to change their display names to a real name, thus making that idea bunk. However, Display Names does have at least the side effect of allowing people to choose a name – so whether that is putting your real name over your head or just choosing something less arbitrary than the name you were assigned on rez-day is inconsequential.


The answer, at least in the short term, for Linden Lab has been to simply develop Social Profiles for their citizens – a walled garden social network for their own avatar users where they can have a safe haven. If you can’t join them, then you make your own… But this isn’t entirely the best idea either, even though it shows that Linden lab is at least thinking forward on this in terms of their own users. I mean, if we ignore the acquisition of Avatar United and shutting it down in the first place.


The problem still remains that the avatar identities are still blacklisted from mainstream social media, and those that are not have either given their real names, are on borrowed time, or have invented some plausible name that will escape detection from the digital inquisition. Creating an entirely new network specifically for just avatar identities is not solving the overall problem either, because the situation is reversed – in that instead of avatars being persecuted on social media, now “real people” are persecuted since they have to have an avatar to participate in Social Profiles.


This is where a stroke of genius comes in.


Diaspora is open source, and they wholly encourage people to set up their own “pods” in the decentralized network. They are privacy aware, and don’t care if you are anonymous, pseudonymous or authentic. Why build a social media network from the ground up that will only service a walled garden, when you can connect to an open source framework that prides itself on privacy and user identity in all forms?


I propose, then, that the SecondLife Social Profiles run on Diaspora as part of the decentralized social network infrastructure. This is the secret as to how we can bring the “authentic” people and the “avatar identities” together under a single banner, while remaining accessible to the outside world and cross platform. Why not? Diaspora seems to be the social network of choice gaining favor quickly with Avatar identities. It meets all of the needs for a Social Profile in SecondLife, and for the needs it does not meet, the code is open source and extendable freely as needed.


Diaspora + SecondLife, think about it.


There is also the main reason why I really believe that SecondLife should be using Diaspora as their Social Profiles system, and it’s the biggest reason:


Time and again I find myself writing about interoperability and the future of the Metaverse. More recently in the context of research papers and now as the Object Interoperability Lead for IEEE Virtual Worlds Standards Workgroup. The most consistent thing I find myself saying, and getting agreement on, is that open formats and methods are favored over proprietary methods at all points. The agnostic descriptions usually state things such as that the methods must be available via open source, without patents or litigation, and must be implementable by anyone who wishes without royalty, fee or restrictive license.


In the recent research paper with Dr. Dionisio and Dr. Gilbert, there exists a chart to illustrate how Social Media and virtual Environments offer two different forms of ecosystem, in that social media freely shares with each other, and while virtual environments sometimes connect to those social media outlets, it is often a one way street as virtual environments remain within their walled gardens.


Social Profiles as they exist today do not qualify for standards compliance, however the introduction of Diaspora as the backbone method by which to integrate Social Profiles for SecondLife would have far more benefits and easily qualifies under standards compliancy, while truly offering a method to reach outside of the walled garden, and reach back in.











Jul 16, 2011

Moving Forward

#Zeitgeist and the Future of Humanity

I don’t believe in a utopia. A world that is perfect and without problems is against the very nature of conflict and resolution. Without something to aspire to overcome, we would be lost as a people. Regardless, I do believe in something better than what we have today. When I speak about us as a people, I am implicitly stating us as members of a human race on a planet called Earth, and not any single country.

zeitgeist movement

What I believe in, though, is that we as a people have a bigger problem to overcome than that of local politics and what will happen when the money runs out. In retrospect, what is money other than a piece of paper that implies worth based on assumptions?

Where did that money come from? The bank? But where did the bank get the money? They may have gotten it from a Federal Reserve – but then where did they get the money? Well, they printed it out of thin air based entirely on assumptions. That’s pretty much how the process goes for any country. The problem is, that these Federal Reserves print money out of thin air and assumptions, and instead of giving the governments the money they only loan it to them, with interest.

Far be it for me to say that I am against the ability to make profit to sustain a business, because that’s essentially what banks are, even at the highest levels. However, there is a big problem with this loan and interest rate system that few seem to be noticing. 

When something like the Federal Reserve loans money to a government, say the United States, it says that the United States must pay back the loan (which is acceptable) but then adds interest to that repayment, which is not alright. I know I already said that making profit isn’t necessarily bad, but when we stop to think about it, if the only place to get the money to begin with is from the Federal Reserves printing the money, where does the money come to pay back the interest on top of what they loaned?

Nobody can pay back money that physically does not exist, so it is no wonder that entering into this game of loans and interest is a no-win situation. It is actually designed as a no-win situation for any entity that accepts the loans, because when a person defaults on a loan, what does the bank do? They repossess your belongings. What happens when a country defaults on its loans? The bank repossesses the public resources and sells them to private ownership.

This could be public parks, national buildings, and even extends into things like public services themselves. Healthcare, education, public entitlements… those are always the first to go.

So let’s take a look at these tell-tale signs from the point of say, Greece. Austerity measures being voted on in order to extend credit at the expense of the public, as Greece is looking to sell off public assets to private ownership and extended payment for the loans, while tacking on the austerity measures against the people themselves to pay back loans which are, by definition, impossible to repay. No wonder there are riots… The government is no longer serving the wishes of the people that it is supposed to represent. 

In the United States, all hell is breaking loose in government as they rush to come up with some sort of deal to evade defaulting on the loans which are taken by the government. In doing this, cuts to spending are being made to “non-essential” things, which most often translates to things that the actual public needs, but the wealthiest do not. This brings us to the other point, in that one of the biggest battles in Congress is that of increasing taxes on the wealthy in our country, but it is little surprise that the Republicans are mostly not in favor of this and will not budge unless taxes are instead increased on the lower public, while cutting the middle-class and poor benefits and entitlements.

I’m sure there will be some sort of deal passed before the August deadline for the United States, but the aftermath of those measures will be felt by the working class, who are already poised on the edge of rioting as conditions continue to get worse. Increasing the debt ceiling does not solve any of the problems, because there is simply no way to pay back interest with money that doesn’t exist. The only way is to sell assets and rights to private companies, and while the paper money they used to loan us artificial worth was just imaginary, the assets we are trading in return when it is not feasible to pay back interest with money that doesn’t exist, is very real.

Something is definitely wrong with society as a whole, but as with anything, it will correct itself over time. This idea of imaginary worth and paying back money that doesn’t exist, raiding other countries to gain more resources to promise to our debtors, and this game of global musical chairs will collapse on itself if given enough time. The banking system, from the local branches all the way up to the IMF and World Bank, are part of a Ponzi Scheme. The only reason nobody goes to jail for it is because it’s on a global scale, and involves nearly every government on Earth. 

But there is a worse thing than jail.

It’s when the very population of the planet unite and refuse to bow to their whims.

Push will come to shove, and enough people will get angry to say enough is enough. We see these movements now with things like Anonymous, and while they can be chaotic, and are most definitely breaking a lot of laws on a global scale, they represent something bigger. When the laws which are meant to serve the public are instead used to control or deny that public, it no longer serves the best interest of the people to obey. You can usually tell when we, as a people of this planet, are on the verge of fighting back, because you’ll see increasingly more numbers of people in civil disobedience and breaking those laws – regardless how many of those laws come to pass to forbid it. We see it in public riots breaking out around the world… the people are saying they’ve had enough, and eventually you will too. It’s just a matter of time before something happens when you decide you’ve reached a breaking point.

That is the true litmus test of the planet. When what the laws say versus what the majority of the population does instead becomes very different, you may want to take a closer look at what is about to transpire. I always put my bets on the people as a whole, because there are simply far more of them than those found in the highest echelons of government or power. Power is simply a word we use to denote that by consensus we have allowed an individual or group of individuals to prevail more than others – but that is a right given by the majority, and can (and will) be revoked when power is abused. 

We live in a society where the global population is awakening, and we really don’t like what we are seeing. This can be seen from Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, to Anonymous, to LuzSec, to the rise of #AntiSec around the world. The population of Earth is slowly rising from the slumber, woken only because those that were there to serve the public became greedy and forgot what their mandate was. Americans went to war in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the catalyst, and the public was lied to on numerous occasions, but moreover, it is highly likely that the catalyst itself was simply to scare people into submission.

We can talk about conspiracy theories all day, but the solid truth of the matter is this: Regardless of what you or I believe, the world as we know it is about to change dramatically. How can an entire planet be in debt, and more importantly, to whom is everyone in debt to? More important than that is – does the imaginary money even matter to begin with?

No, it doesn’t. It’s simply fact, immutable, that there are a finite amount of resources on this planet, and we cannot continue to waste them as if they are infinite. Take a trip to the local landfill before you tell me how conservative we are with the environment. You cannot print more trees, you cannot legislate into existence animals that are extinct, and you cannot restore a planet with politics.

This isn’t about just treating the planet better, this is about treating each other better as well. In order to do that, we have to change what makes this whole planet broken to begin with. We have to change ourselves, and what makes us act the way we currently do.

I provide below, a thought experiment. It is not your typical type of movie, and it definitely gives some interesting views that are in stark contrast to what we are brought up to believe. I ask that you take the time to watch it, pass it along, and take something from it that can help you understand the planet and the people on it in a better way. So when you watch the International News, and you see what is transpiring, you can look on in more than curiosity or shallow lack of empathy.

No, I would like everyone to be able to see the far reaching implications of all that is happening today, yesterday, and into the future.

I want for you to learn, but moreover, I want for you to know me and others as a common friend. I am a citizen of Terra, and so are you. 

Thank you.

Will Burns
Aeonix Aeon

Your global thought experiment. Please take notes.

Jul 14, 2011

The Distributed Self

Virtual Worlds and the Future of Human Identity #SecondLife

digital people

There has been a great deal of discussion recently concerning the merit of social media networks and their increasing insistence on “authentic” identity usage as of late. In example, we can see how something like Facebook or Google+ may be misinterpreting what it is that actually makes up an authentic identity in the digital age. I’ve written on this before in prior articles, but more under the auspices of the most extreme case of what would happen if the trend for “authentic” identities continued to persist, in that there is an increasingly higher probability that such will be challenged legally the more it is insisted upon.

When we talk about an identity that people most likely know us by, this name isn’t always a birth name, and this is why the idea of pseudonymous identity reigns supreme in the digital age. It is likely that many people around the world know us as our nicknames, handles or virtual avatar identities and really aren’t associating us with our real names – whether this is by default or by design is entirely up to circumstance and how we, as individuals, portray ourselves to different interest groups.

How we portray ourselves among different circles of influence can, and often does, vary wildly. In a business setting we may portray ourselves as an authentic identity, that is to say our real name (or root identity), but this is an exception to the rule in the digital age because quite often our root identities are accessible to only the closest of people such as family or very close friends or direct contact. This leaves us with the other 99% of the world with which we participate socially, and quite often these interactions are under a pseudonym.


In SecondLife we are free to engage under any pseudonymous representation we wish, and I believe this is a more realistic application of multiplicity of identity than what social media is providing today, with the exception of possibly Diaspora. While we can use our pseudonyms on Facebook, Google+ and others, it is not expressly permitted to do so, and the only reason people get away with it is simply a matter of hiding in a crowd. It is no wonder that those pseudonymous profiles are essentially on borrowed time, and should have no expectation of existing into the future. 

I really do believe that this sort of social black-listing is not going to last too long, nor under most circumstances is it justified.  There are plenty of legal reasons why a pseudonym is a perfectly acceptable alternative to a root identity, there are moral reasons, personal safety reasons, and even the reason that companies should be paying attention to the most – because it multiplies the population, and that is good for business. But most of all, the only reason that matters is simply because there is nothing you or I can do to actually stop the proliferation of distributed identity. That’s why so many pseudonyms exist as profiles on social media networks, despite their terms of service forbidding it. While it does give them the right to delete profiles and suspend services at will, this isn’t necessarily the correct path to the future.

As a counterpoint, I also happen to use Diaspora and actually believe that it represents a closer approximation of what needs to happen in technology and social media in order to appreciate and accommodate the multiplicity of identity, as well as what manner of control the individual should have over that identity. When I write about Google+ or Facebook, I like to point out that they do a lot of things correct, yet manage to foul up when it comes to the most important part of understanding the future of human identity, but with Diaspora, there seems to be an entirely different take on the matter.

I wrote a small snippet last year concerning Diaspora, entitled Why Diaspora Will Win that didn’t get much attention, but it did weigh out some of my thoughts about such a system and why I think that sort of model going forward is the best model for social media interaction. It is decentralized and focuses mainly on every conceivable manner by which you may control your identity, whether that means a pseudonym or a root identity is of little consequence to Diaspora because, and I believe this to be true, they are all the same and should be treated with equal weight.

The issue of human identity in a modern age is a complex topic, and I admit there is no easy answer. However, there are some very excellent signposts for this future which we can begin to really follow and understand going forward. To this end, I’d like to toss in a small section of a research paper that is currently unpublished, but describes the situation very concisely, taken from “The Distributed Self: Virtual Worlds and the Future of Human Identity”, by Richard L. Gilbert, PhD and Andrew Forney

The rise of 3D virtual worlds and the introduction of avatar-mediated forms of expression and interaction has the potential to once again reshape humanity’s conception and experience of the self and usher in a fourth stage of identity, one which can be termed “The Distributed Self” (Gilbert, Foss, & Murphy, in press). In this conception, consciousness and aspects of the self will be increasingly externalized and distributed into 3-dimensional digital forms (i.e. avatars) reflecting any number of combinations of age, gender, body type, race, ethnicity, style, personality, and physical health. Several studies have shown, for instance, that participants in 3D virtual environments such as Second Life often create avatars that, relative to their physical self, are younger, have a better body or physical appearance, and are ascribed a more positive or idealized personality (Au, 2007; Bessiere, Seay, & Kiesler, 2007; Gilbert, Foss, & Murphy, in press). Less frequently, they choose avatars with a different gender, ethnicity, or skin color (Wallace & Marryott, 2009, Duchenaut, Wen, Yee, & Wadley. 2009). Moreover, Gilbert, Foss, & Murphy (in press) estimate that among the overall user base of Second Life, 18% have a single “alt” (i.e. a secondary or alternative avatar) in addition to their primary avatar; 32% operate two or more alts; and that in approximately 70% of these cases one function of the alt or alts is to experiment with different aspects of identity or personality.

Taken as a whole these data indicate that about a half of active users of Second Life are coordinating a multiple personality system consisting of a physical self plus two virtual identities (a primary avatar and one alt) and about a third are coordinating an identity system involving 4 or more components (a physical self and three or more virtual identities). When the allocation of consciousness to non-immersive digital forms such as email, Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In is added to the physical and 3D virtual components of the overall identity system, the structure of the self becomes more like an organizational flowchart rather than the singular entity in modernist conceptions, or the diverse, but device constrained, model of post-modernism.

Multiplicity of Persona, or in this case manifest persona, is more like a conglomeration of multiple identities which comprise a single encompassing identity than a single root identity that ignores the digital pseudonyms as “fake”. It is this point that most social media outlets completely gloss over, and in fact insist erroneously that a root identity (birth name) is the only authentic identity that matters or exists. Unfortunately, this mentality of discounting the multiplicity of identity is incorrect and can be shown to be not just mildly inaccurate but wildly inaccurate for the assumption of the roles that digital identity will play in the future of social interaction.

The research paper is quite interesting to read, as it goes through all the phases of human identity over the course of generations leading up to this post-modern understanding of multiplicity. When it is published, I’ll see about getting permission to repost or link to it in full if anyone is interested.

Social Networks + Me

While there is a lot of issues concerning current social media networks, I do still use them. Unlike many, I have no issues with using my real name in public scenarios simply because I already am in the public limelight between my academic contributions, research, and interviews. This doesn’t mean that I am against the right to privacy or an individual’s right to withhold personally identifiable information in managing their own distributed self. If anything, this should be the very foundation of a social network – the right to choose which part of a persona we wish to put forward as our digital self.

It doesn’t matter if that digital self is a furry, robot, trans-gender, or adheres to ideals that are indistinguishable from what the root identity portrays. The simple fact of the matter is that they are all real people and should be treated as such – even if they require the basic right to privacy in using pseudonymous aspects of their distributed self.

As for me, I use Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks under my root identity. Even in SecondLife, my Display Name is set as my real name and not a pseudonym. However, more people know me as Aeonix Aeon or Darian Knight than Will Burns, and in this light we can easily see how our distributed identities truly matter in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, I also have a Diaspora account, and if I had to weigh in concerning which social media network will reign supreme, it wouldn’t be Google+ or Facebook in the end… it’ll be something like Diaspora. I will say, however, that the social media system that Linden Lab is building seems to be getting at least some of the points made here – if only they would stop thinking like traditional social media networks and start thinking like something better from the future.

It’s a good start, nonetheless, and time will sort these issues of identity out.

For now, I embrace the distributed self model of thinking. To borrow a quote from Ferris Beuller:


Jul 9, 2011

Google + and the Future of Avatar Identity

#SecondLife #GooglePlus | Your avatar is considered your legal identity?

Here's a bit of food for thought when it comes to the United States (and other countries) residents who choose to be known by their Avatar Name/Pseudonym, and something you may consider retweeting to get the word out:


In the United States:
Several specific federal court rulings have set precedents regarding both court decreed name changes and common law name changes (changing your name "at will") for the United States.

One may be employed, do business, and enter into other contracts, and sue and be sued under any name they choose at will (Lindon v. First National Bank 10 F. 894, Coppage v. Kansas 236 U.S. 1, In re McUlta 189 F. 250).

Such a change carries exactly the same legal weight as a court-decreed name change as long as it is not done with fraudulent intent (In re McUlta 189 F. 250, Christianson v. King County 196 F. 791, United States v. McKay 2 F.2d 257).

Since persons who choose to use Google services, including Google+, under their Avatar Identities, which constitutes a Pseudonym and is thus protected and federally sanctioned within the United States as having the same legal weight as a court-decreed name change, any T.O.S. enacted by Google is an agreement with a legally standing Pseudonym and carries the same weight to legally be both acceptable and binding as the "true" name of the person involved.

In removing Virtual Environment identities from the Google+ service under "breach of TOS", Google as a company is likely breaking federal law in the United States. This also goes for Facebook, since any "legally binding" T.O.S. entered into agreement by an Avatar Identity holds the same weight legally as a Pseudonym and therefore that of using a real name as long as the intent to defraud does not exist.

Since Avatar Identity is not entered into consideration as "fraudulent" intent by default, and Google falls under the jurisdiction of the United States (as does Facebook), it is perfectly legal (at least to US Citizens) to use an Avatar Identity and it is expected that such can be treated with equality such as a real name would be. As for other countries in the world, I suggest you take a look at your local common law name changes statutes to see if these rules also apply to you, though from cursory reading it appears that similar, if not identical, laws are in place.

This is why Multiplicity of Identity must be embraced. This goes for Avatar Identity, Pseudonym or Real Name, as long as they are not used with an intent to defraud. There is no question about whether or not an Avatar Identity constitutes the same legal standing as a true name under any pretext other than with intent to defraud, or under well defined circumstances by which a true name may be required. However, a business such as Google or Facebook does not constitute such precedence to ignore pseudonyms and is not immune to the law nor has any precedence to violate it.

Since OpenSource Obscure (and other Avatar Identities) are/were used without the intent to defraud, but only make use as a legal pseudonym, violation of of the T.O.S. is non-existent and cannot be legally enforced or mandated - even by a private business such as Google or Facebook.

However, each Avatar Identity has a solid legal case against Google and even Facebook, and can be considered wrongful and illegal termination of services under false pretense. The only reason things stay the same is because nobody bothers to challenge the "corporate inspired" norms... when really, they should.

Actually, I think @Botgirlq said it best: “Wonder if the EFF might be interested?”

I bet you they probably would *love* to help out.

Will Burns | Aeonix Aeon
aka: The guy that may have just started a class action lawsuit

PS: Now would be a good time to rethink your strategy, Google & Facebook

Find me On Google+

Find Me On Facebook

Jul 6, 2011

Google+ Me

#Google+ #SecondLife | How Social Networks could be ready to change for the better.

After a much anticipated wait time, I’ve finally been added among the ranks of Google+ users. It seems from all the buzz online through other social media such as Twitter and even Facebook that Google+ has both its ups an downs depending entirely on who you ask.

Take for instance my favorite comic XKCD which essentially states that Google+ is not Facebook but it’s just like Facebook without all the clutter and crap that Facebook has been predominantly known for as of late. I like to think that it represents a bit more that just a Facebook clone.

For starters, there are the better privacy controls over who gets to see what on your profile, albums, etc. For this, Google has introduced the idea of “Circles”, and I believe this is actually quite intuitive for how to manage our digital relationships and, well.. circles. Whereas with Facebook, I’m simply overwhelmed with updates from absolutely everyone in my friends list, with Google+ I can filter out the noise and just look at updates from certain circles, like Friends, Family, Co-Workers, and so on.

I could very well pick apart minor annoyances with Google+ but doing so would seem pointless since it is really a closed test phase and not meant to be entirely bug-free. What I’d like to do is focus a bit more on what I actually enjoy about Google+, hopefully with some pictures to illustrate.


At first, the idea of Circles caught me off guard because I’m an avid user of Facebook, and as such I have grown quite accustomed to having everyone and everything lumped together without much choice in the matter. But when I sat down and got acquainted with how circles work, it was more like a breath of fresh air. You can add your contacts to existing circles, and Google+ starts you out with a few common ones like Friends, Family, etc but there is also the option to create whatever circles you want as well and sort your contacts the way you want.

Edit: Thanks to AlexanderTheBenelli for pointing out the Groups option in Facebook. However, it seems like that option is lost in the clutter on the left side of Facebook which is probably why I hadn't noticed it prior to it being pointed out. With Google+, the Group Circles are the focus of the left side space, and immediately distinguishable.

When you go to your Circles tab on Google+, this is the screen you are greeted with. It’s elegant and clean, with a wonderful drag and drop functionality. I can grab multiple contacts and drag them into a Circle below, or onto the empty circle to create an entirely new circle. When you click on one of your circles, it expands nicely to show the people in that circle, as shown below.

I’m not entirely certain if this workflow logic actually works across multiple web browsers, but for the sake of argument I’m using Firefox Aurora (6.0a2) and it works wonderfully for me. The reason that the circles are relevant is because on the main page (Home) the Stream (or I suppose Feed Wall) is divided up between your circles, so you can filter out what you don’t want in a single click.

The one thing I did start to wonder about when using Circles was what happens when you have a large number of people in a particular circle? I mean, how exactly does that work out when there is clearly a limited amount of space to add on the circle itself? I suspect that there is a sorting routine involved with Circles that shows you the contacts in the circle that you interact with most often up front, and upon clicking the circle itself it will show you the entire list. In this manner, I believe Circles would be contextual and dynamic.



Something I have noticed is the general feel of the Google+ Home page in that it just seems a lot less cluttered. I’m not being bombarded by banner advertising, game requests, or a million other points of absolute drivel that I associate with Facebook. I’m sure it’ll be a matter of time before Google decides to begin cluttering up Google+ with random crap nobody really wants or needs, but I’m truly hoping (if not praying to the technogods) that Google understands that doing so would be one of those things that people would not want. Let’s face it, Google makes their money on advertising based on user habits and zeitgeist data, so it would make perfect sense that they would somehow tie advertising into Google+.

I do believe, however, that Google just might be taking a hint and thinking of ways to passively advertise versus blatantly. There are definitely ways to advertise to people without cramming it down their throats or being intrusive – something I think both Twitter and Facebook both could learn a lesson about. In the context of Twitter, promoted tweets or accounts defy the very nature of earning credibility through merit, not to mention that companies which utilize Twitter for the sole purpose of cramming advertising down my throat, or in the worst case scenario, accounts that toss advertising at you by interrupting your conversations with drivel and spam via keyword bots just aren’t something I enjoy.


When you create a Google+ account (join) it asks if you want to link up your Picasa albums to your Google+ space, and I highly recommend that you do. If you use Blogger or pretty much any other Google owned service that allows you to upload photos, it’s highly likely that you already have a Picasa album space.

When you click on the Photos button, it takes you to a photo section beginning with Photos From Your Circles. Fairly straightforward approach, I’d say. Of course there are the sections for Photos From Your Phone, Photos of You, and Your Albums.

When you click on any of the photos it zooms into a lightbox view that also includes the comments on the side for that photo, where you can also add a comment at will. Below you can see my friend @AdamFrisby striking a “World’s Most Interesting Man” pose for the camera.

When you want to upload a photo, I don’t think it could be made any simpler than how it’s done in Google+. You just click the Upload New Photos button in plain view and you’re presented with a screen that looks like below:

That’s right, Google+ allows for Drag & Drop functionality from your computer to the browser space for upload. For this, I merrily went into my pictures folder and dropped a handful of pictures onto the browser space, where I was immediately greeted with the indicator that it was uploading.


I know in Facebook, when I want to upload photos I have to go through a dialog window (which is the secondary approach by Google+), so I’m relieved to know that Google is thinking forward in this ease of use area in allowing me to simply drag and drop my pictures into the browser window as a main option, and use the dialog window as a fallback instead.

Google Integration

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper Google offering if it didn’t somehow seamlessly integrate with the other Google services that you use. To this point, Google+ shows up on the Google Search page as well with notifications, sharing options, and basic account information when you are logged in.

The notifications number at the top of the screen will give you a number of waiting messages/notifications from your Google+ space, and clicking on it will drop down the notifications space as seen in the picture above. Now, the really cool thing about this is that when you click on any of the notifications, it doesn’t just take you to another page, but instead I’m guessing it AJAX slides the content into the box. Very handy indeed!

Of course the +1 buttons that Google created as their own version of a “Like” button has a bit more meaning and weight in comparison to Facebook. For instance, when you press a +1 button anywhere online, it is keeping track of what you like and using that information to better filter and customize your searches on Google, as well as bring in recommended results from your friends +1 if it applicable. In this manner, I’d say that Google+ definitely has a leg up over Facebook since they essentially dominate the search space online. This type of cross service integration is refreshing for me in that what I am doing in one space has some sort of relevance in others, and maybe even the rest of the world.

I haven’t gotten so far as to really check out whether the other Google services such as Documents, Calendar, etc. have been somehow integrated, but as far as I can tell for the moment, they haven’t. I could, however, see in the near future how being able to share a document from Google Docs to people you select from one of your Circles in Google+ would be beneficial. Even cooler would be the ability to share a video from Youtube to your Google+ Stream. Of course, I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but I can definitely see the potential here.

Slow Death of SEO? (A Side Thought)

I'm adding this section as a side thought after the initial publishing of the article because there are some serious implications with not only Google+ but the integration across the entire web and across multiple media services.

While you could still be optimizing a site with proper keywords and search engine optimization tactics, it is starting to become very clear that the name of the game going forward is flat out merit and level of engagement, not trying to manipulate an automated algorithm or gaming the system, so to speak.

I was in conversation this morning (July 6th, 2011) with Sherry Hall from http://www.pulsepointmedia.net and we both came to a very exciting yet disturbing realization about the future of the web and social networking:

You can't SEO your way out of this.

The integration of the +1 button is not just a clone of the Facebook "Like" button, because it also is tied to the Google Search results and rearranges the results of your search based on the weighted authority of the people who recommended the content most. If I were to search for something like "Metaverse" on Google, normally SEO would ensure some manner of getting a site up the listings, but going forward, SEO becomes a secondary tactic in favor of Level of Engagement and Social Weighted Interest. You're either going to create and present content that others will +1 and Share across the world and network, which in turn weight the ranking average in your favor, or you can stick with SEO tactics and end up on page 10 of the search results.

While SEO is still somewhat valuable, sites and services online will live and die by level of engagement and content merit. This is a revolutionary paradigm shift and definitely worthy of being taken serious.


Multi-user video chat with extra features. That’s about the sum of it. Again, I believe Google+ has a leg up on Facebook, even if we take into account that Facebook would be adding Skype video chat to their service. The reason I say this is because Skype has this nagging business model which tells you that in order to use group video chat you have to pay a subscription fee. Clearly, the fact that Google chat wins in this scenario before Facebook even gets their foot in the door is that what Google+ is offering for free, and as part of the service integrated as Hangouts, I suspect Facebook + Skype will charge a subscription fee to enable. +1 to Google for this bit of one-uppery.


What social media network would be complete without the inclusion of an arcade? Well, from some reading up on the internal website code of Google+ it can be seen than they are already setting up for just such a thing. It would be a natural addition to Google+ to have games integrated, but I’m thinking that there may be more to this down the line. Take into account that Hangouts already have the group video chat built in, as well as Youtube video search and play (which might be something that others can share with each other in a hangout, like a group sharing a video with each other), and I can see that there is a lot of potential for Google Games to be integrated as well in Hangouts where multiplayer games can be initiated among your Friends Circle and everyone is playing against each other. Definitely gives new meaning to “multiplayer” in context to social media games.

I mean, let’s look at it like this: When we play games like Farmville, are we actually playing with or against other players? We can see their pictures in the game, and maybe an NPC represents them, but it’s not really a multiplayer game in the real-time aspect. I suspect Google Games may change this for the better. Even better would be seeing SecondLife integrate with Google+ while the rest of the world is still jumping on the Facebook bandwagon. I wonder if anyone at Linden Lab has a Google+ account yet?


It’s no secret that Google acquired Aardvark, which is essentially a service that people can sign up for in which they volunteer their time to answer questions posed by the community. Along with the underlying framework for Google Games, there seems also to be some preparation for inclusion of Google Questions, or whatever they’re going to rebrand Aardvark as. So not only will you be able to do basic searches in Google, but you could also pose your question to the Google Questions community for an answer from a live person in the network, of course powered by you and me.

Devil’s Advocate

Alright, there has to be a catch somewhere, right? You already knew that you weren’t going to read an entire article from me filled with glowing reviews, glitter and unicorns.

Let’s be honest, shall we?

I’m slightly uneasy about Google consolidating so much of my digital life under one roof. Picasa Albums, Search, Email, Video/Voice Chat, Documents, Calendar, Spreadsheets, and now an entire Social Network built under the premise that all of these services are now working together.

At this point, I’m a bit leery about the privacy issues involved here, but also understand that this very point may be the reason why Google is treading cautiously when individual privacy is concerned. There are a lot of personalized options everywhere for who can and cannot see what you are posting and sharing, and I suspect that they’ll also go with an Opt-In model whenever they introduce methods by which advertisers or third parties can access your Google+ information.

The opt-in model would be much better concerning privacy, and would definitely win Google a truckload of brownie points versus Facebook, who has this ass backwards notion that automatically enabling information sharing to their advertisers and 3rd Parties and making you have to opt-out (assuming you even knew they opted you in in the first place) is a good thing.

One definite place where Google has a real chance at decimating Facebook is simply in user privacy, as well as giving their users control over their own personal information on the social media network.


While I do have concerns about privacy and control over my personal information when using Google+, it seems as though Google thought a few steps ahead and actually have implemented a comprehensive privacy control panel. Just how comprehensive are we talking about here?

They have a section named Data Liberation.

Seriously, Google+ gives you the built-in ability to backup and download everything in your Google+ account, from your Picasa Web Albums, to everything you’ve ever typed in your Streams, and even including getting a JSON file of your Profile information.

I’m actually quite impressed by this bit of security feature available by default. Even though Google is quickly integrating into all aspects of our digital lives, and this makes me a bit uneasy, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. As long as the comprehensive privacy options continue to exist and they all remain opt-in from the start.

[Edit: Thanks, again, to AlexanderTheBenelli  for showing me that Facebook does give the option to download your data, but it's a bulk download versus individualized in Google+

The real question now becomes, how cool would it be if Google+ could be used in conjunction with SecondLife? Unlike Facebook, I don’t think Google really cares if you are sharing your real identity in the services or publicly. You could have that information not visible publicly, and represent your Google+ account as your avatar.  Even better would be if Linden Lab got involved with the upcoming Google Games as a way to integrate SecondLife into Google+ (think Skylight, except for the Cloud Rendering part) where you could log into SL from Google+ and have an adventure with your Friends Circle in various places in SecondLife. Some food for thought there...

The future of social networks may be bright, indeed… but only time will tell if Google+ gets it right.