Today, I attended my “Social Networking and Virtual Worlds” class (as part of my Babson College MBA) inside Second Life. As a bit of background, all of our classes are inside Second Life. This is the third course of this variety at Babson. I took part in the very first class, and it was a really interesting endeavor.
At any rate, in tonight’s class, we had a guest speaker for the first hour or so. Ian Hughes (also known as epredator in other arenas, such as Second Life and Twitter) spoke to the class about his efforts relating to his evangelism of alternate realities/metaverses/Second Life within the IBM environment. Below isn’t a minute-by-minute summary of Ian’s roundtable discussion with our class, but rather a few salient points that stuck out. I’ve paraphrased his comments, and then added some of my own follow-up to them.
“It’s not just the visuals of the avatar that are your identity. Making your avatar personal, in the true sense of the word, is what it’s all about.” – Ian was commenting on the fact that often people create avatars (or perhaps feel compelled to do so) that are completely different from their real-life personas. While this is often an opportunity for a departure, it isn’t totally necessary. Ian said, “My avatar may look like the ‘Predator’, but there are actual pieces of my own real-life persona, including my leather jacket with stripes.” In real life, Ian owns and wears a leather jacket with vertical stripes on it. So, it’s a link between his metaverse avatar and his real-life identification. His main Second Life avatar – the Predator – hides behind a mask, but his in-world persona couldn’t be further from the truth. Ian was amazingly open and honest with us, speaking in detail for over an hour. He said that he chose the Predator persona because he is a fan of science fiction. And that has stayed with him for some time as a method of…
“Enhancing my personal brand” – Ian commented on the fact that as one builds up their online presence, it is possible to create an on-going brand for oneself. This is true for Ian, since his Twitter ID is also epredator, as well as his vanity LinkedIn URL. His predator Second Life avatar certainly make him identifiable inside that metaverse The leather jacket is what allows people to identify him in the real world as well. Ian was also stating that he has become truly identified with the avatar name ‘epradator’. In fact, a search of epredator on Google yielded about 32,000 hits at the time of this blog post. Ian stated that, “… using my personal brand as epraator has essentially become my CV [curriculum vitae]”.
“Meetings with various people inside Second Life are interesting. It becomes almost an equalizer; levels and titles, etc. kind of go away, since this is still new space. It levels the playing field quite a bit.” – The class was asking about what dynamics were experienced when meeting with upper-level executives at IBM or other companies. Since this is still terra nova for many people, titles and egos and such are often shed when entering Second Life. Those whose voices might not otherwise get heard are now raised a bit, making for a richer experience.
“Career-wise, [it may not have had as positive of an impact as I would have liked], but it’s the right thing to do.” – One of my colleagues had asked a question that relates the desire to evangelize something that’s new and cutting edge to a company that is steeped in tradition and is generally regarded (rightly or wrongly) as conservative. Ian’s response, to a class at a school ranked tops for entrepreneurship, was validating. The phrase, “it’s the right thing to do” really hit home for me. This speaks volumes to the thought processes an entrepreneur encounters when faced with a dilemma or decision point. It was refreshing to see that passion and zeal are true hallmarks of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, and not just lip service.
“The ones that really want to get this are the ones that are getting it.” – Seemingly a circular phrase, I understood what Ian meant by this comment. One must have an open mind for new ventures and new ideas to be able to accept something that’s termed a ‘metaverse’ or even something that’s named ‘Second Life’. Convincing these people is often not the challenging part. Rather, it’s the people that subscribe to the old way of doing things, or those that think there isn’t much room for innovation that are the challenge. For these, it’s the continued evangelism of the idea, and showing them examples of experiences, pictures, posts, case studies, and the like are ways to get others to see the light.
“[In the future,] there will not be a single virtual environment.” – One of my colleagues had asked if a standard would be formed around the notion of virtual environments. Ian commented that there will not be only one metaverse in the future. Sure, some may dominate, but there will always be others. The challenge for the survival of these multiple metaverses will be the provision of the ability for a user to move freely between them. Through a follow-on question, we determined that this was akin to an OpenID for social networking sites and other popular sites that required authentication to access.
“We are treating Second Life like a three-d wiki.” – This last item was perhaps my favorite. The comment revolved around the sense that we as users are adding rich meta-data to a long, on-going conversation and thought-process about virtual worlds and the social networks that are tied to them. Clearly Second Life today does not look like the same Second Life that was launched in 2003. Along the way, lessons were learned, information was shared, and the overall collective knowledge was increased.
This was a great class, since we were able to participate in a conversation with Ian about his experiences relating to Second Life. I for one appreciated his time, since it was past midnight in the UK when the class started at 6:00p ET!