The Null Device
Danah Boyd's critique of Friendster and similar social software, delivered as a presentation at the recent O'Reilly digeratifest, seems quite interesting:
Friends on these sites are not close ties. In fact, they're barely weak ties! I'll explain why in a moment. Thus, anything that can be assumed about transitivity across ties is 100% lost. This only gets worse as we go down the chain. As one of my informants reminded me, why would i want to date my hairdresser's brother's drug dealer's second-cousin?
The reason that this became quickly apparent for people is because they usually signed on with one group of friends. On Friendster, it was most clearly demonstrated by the Burning Man crowd. If your Burner friends joined, you signed up and created a Burner profile. This didn't mean that you were only a Burner, but it was the image appropriate to your group of friends. You dress and act differently amongst Burner friends than you do amongst colleagues. Then the colleagues appeared. Do you shift your profile to look like them? Do you find a middle ground? Doesn't matter, really... Because your colleagues can see that all of your friends are Burners. Guilt by association.
Take this a step further. They expose the PEOPLE from each facet to each other with us as the only bridge. If the focus of our interactions between two groups were similar, we would comfortably expose them over time. If you find out that your colleague likes jazz, you might take him with you to meet your jazz-going friends. But if he hates jazz, you probably won't think to introduce him to the jazz aficionados. On Friendster, your ability to connect people because of their similarities is lost. The only similarity that matters is you. Furthermore, they get to interact through the system without you even negotiating whether or not they should meet. All of a sudden, your drunken friends are asking your boss out on a date cause she's hot. Yikes! Not only does this disempower you, remove the ability for you to connect them as need be, but it now makes you have to deal with the consequences of two different groups with two different standards of social norms.
(via bOING bOING)
When buying experienced characters for that multiplayer role-playing game, always to check that they're not made with sweatshop labour:
Early last year a small Southern California company called Black Snow Interactive made a business move you could almost call shrewd if it werent so surreal. They rented office space in Tijuana, equipped it with eight PCs and a T1 line, and hired three shifts of unskilled Mexican laborers to do what most employers would have fired them for: playing online computer games from punch-in to quitting time. The games they were required to play were Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot, two of the most popular massively multiplayer role-playing games online. As the workers sat mouse-clicking virtual trolls to death, their characters acquired skills and gold at a brisk, assembly-line pace. For this, Black Snow paid the Mexicans piecework wages -- then turned around and sold the high-level characters and make-believe money on eBay, where a grandmaster dragon-tamer account from Ultima can fetch $200 and a Dark Age gold piece trades for roughly what the Russian ruble does.
(via Things Magazine)
(Btw, I wonder how long until the first online game currency appears on currency exchange markets next to the dollar, the pound and the euro.)