“… real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” – Morpheus, The Matrix, 1999
When I first created an account in Second Life, I soon found it difficult to determine what was real, and what was not. For example, I caught onto SL Exchange, a web based marketplace where you could purchase virtual items, and could not determine if some of the products were in fact, real products for the real world that could be purchased with L$. SL Boutique soon started to sell computer hardware for L$ on it’s own marketplace.
The people behind avatars is much like the same problem. I have found through my own experiences, and the tales from others that some individuals represent themselves in a different way than who they really are. The classic scenario is that men play as female avatars. Some experiences cause quite a bit of shock when you find out that people are not who they say they are when you act on those perceptions (be it in a positive or negative way). This blend of the real world with the virtual world is very hard to work with sometimes, with misrepresentation due to the anonymity that individuals can hide behind to protect their real life identities. It also gives people the ability to assume the identity of others through impersonation.
One of my first musical experiences in Second Life was seeing the U2inSL band, “Live” (June 25, 2006). This is a group of a few people who dress up as the U2 Band Members, play U2 music through a stream, and perform in an elaborate stage while role playing the U2 bands characters. Asking them if they were really who they were would result in “Yes”. Afterwards, they come back out to sign autographs. Being pretty new at the time, I had assumed I was actually in the presence of the real U2 band members behind each avatar. Although the music was a playback of a live recording, the experience was exhilarating because of who was behind each avatar. I even got a virtual autographed photo from the Avatars “Bono Vox” and “Adam Clayton”. During the event, I had signed up for the “One” campaign from U2 as well. Once I had found out later that it was just a tribute band, I felt that I had been made a fool of and was embarassed and angry. Each time I received an email from one.org, it just brought back memories and just disgust each time and ended up unsubscribing.
The question remains though – would the experience itself be any different regardless of if the “real” Bono would actually have been there or not? The perception that he was there, made it all the more exciting than if I had known that he was being impersonated. The show itself would probably not be as well performed though. I would imagine that most people who are new to Second Life would be capable of doing more than talking and walking during guest appearances. Even at that, someone may have to assist them while they sit in the captains chair.
With the melding between the virtual and real world, there will soon need to be some way of verifying who is real and unreal. With email and web sites, we have digital certificates that help represent the sender/recipient of email as well as the host/client on web sites. Digital certificates also enable the ability to not only digitally sign messages, but to also encrypt them so that no one else but the intended recipient may read them. It may not be long before we see (optional) extended information in our virtual profiles that help verify real life identities behind the avatars. Today, Both Bono and Adams proviles say that they are in a virtual rock tribute group.
The reverse seems to be without any problems. People who are becomming famouse in virtual worlds and social networks seem to be well known in the real world only because their virtual profiles often link to photos and sites that provide references of their real-life selves. They don’t have to convince people who know their virtual identities that they are who they say they are. However, comming from a niche market, their identities are not a househould name. The majority of the US population may know Bono’s name, or at least the name of the band, U2. It is doubtful that most individuals know of someone popular in a virtual environment unless they appear in an episode of South Park.
Long ago, the web itself was a niche market that catered to individuals with technical aptitude or in the academic field. Household names only became known through the (traditional) media. I remember how excited I was to see a billboard in the middle of Pittsburgh with a web address for the remake of a starwars movie. Today, many billboards, magazines, television and just about any form of advertisment has a web address. If Second Life is to catch on in the reality of mainstream, I believe that most advertising campaigns will offer some form of letting the public know that they can be found in Second Life.
A SLurl is hard to remember as it contains a lot of extra information (protocol, domain, coordinates). I would think that advertisers would go on region names similar to AOL’s Goto keywords. For example, I own the Woodbridge sim, so in advartising, It would probably make sense to say “In SL: Woodbridge”, or something similar on a visible ad, or say in a radio advertisement, “More information can be found on the Woodbridge region in SL”. Short and easy to remember.
The other part of SL becomming mainstream is the default location that people go to find information. If I hear of a new product, want to find information about a band, or need to build a dog house, I often go to search Google. The 3D internet needs to reach that same instinct for mainstream users. Every now and then, I’ll search Second Life for things that I am also searching for in Google. Unfortunately, I usually don’t find much.