Thursday, March 15, 2007

Our avatars ourselves

As companies and other organizations take to immersive worlds, it may be that new employees are assigned an avatar and virtual office space along with their security card and computer. Blogging is now part of some job descriptions and soon employees may be encouraged to spend time in-world for both corporate socialization and professional collaboration purposes within and across corporate lines.

There is a lot of energy around synthetic environments including a full track of virtual world programming at this week's SXSW Interactive in Austin TX and at the upcoming Virtual Worlds 2007 conference in NY March 28-29. Second Life is sneaking up on 5m users and a $2m/day economy and There engine Forterra has its hands full with enterprise and government clients for custom enterprise applications as well as government and medical simulation and training exercises. If you are not in-world somewhere for your company, you can work as an extra in someone else's world. Sim exercises are populated by "external role players," a new and expanding job category which simultaneously underlines the marketability and necessity of tech-savviness and another step in the Yochai Benkler shift to an economy of distributed individual participants vs. industrialized entities.

Professional avatars will likely be influenced by corporate guidelines and norms regarding appearance and behavior, analogous to the physical world; at least virtual suits are more comfortable! One result of this could be an even more diffuse exploration of virtual identity as humans have a closet full of avatars for all of their different professional and personal virtual activities. Other new job categories are probably already proliferating: avatar imaging, avatar reputation management and consolidation...

Avatar and other content portability across the different emerging public and private virtual world environments is also a non-trivial matter. IEEE avatar translation protocols and standards as well as intra-world authentication services could help facilitate avatar portability. Poor portability could mean poor rendering which could result in miscommunication, prejudice and other dynamics which can be theoretically avoided with virtual worlds. An avatar discrimination lawsuit re: virtual world employment practices would not really be a hoped for milestone.