You see, while we avatars can “see”, "hear" and “touch” while in-world, the text-based communication is really focused on providing chat that, by design, mimics real-life interaction. In other words, you type at people nearby. Sure, technically you can IM anyone, but it is awkward to do, especially if your correspondent isn’t on your friends list or is offline. SL instant messages are just not good when you want to communicate with someone who doesn’t happen to be in your proximity:
- You must be in-world to be able to send a message, meaning you have to run that big fat SL viewer. Not always convenient or even possible in some situations.
- Out-world responses by email are awkward, confusing, delayed, mislabeled, and replies are rejected when the originating IM goes stale.
- There is no way to keep track of conversations; it’s just a big pool of emails mixed in with whatever other emails you might have.
- There is no way to include anything other than text, such as links, pictures, SLURLs, etc., except as text strings.
I believe Linden Lab recognizes this deficiency and they have been beavering away on a solution: SLim, a separate instant messaging client. Initial reports indicate that although it sorta works, it is apparently awkward to set up and use, especially compared to other more advanced communication systems.
Enter Plurk. It’s a microblogging service that is becoming the favorite “alternate” environment for Second Lifers. What, you want to know what “microblogging” is? Basically it’s blogging, but one short sentence at a time. The posts are more frequent, because they are short and easy to create. The swirl of short messages from someone accumulates in your mind and builds a vision and understanding of your correspondent in a way that email and other communication systems simply cannot achieve.
One of the first and currently most popular microblogging services is the venerable Twitter. Many Second Life residents still use Twitter, but it suffers from two key problems: first, it has been frequently broken or degraded, and secondly it’s nearly impossible to have any kind of ongoing conversation as all messages are treated as a giant pool.
Back to Plurk. Based on their experience with Twitter, the Plurk Gods created a better microblogging service. Yeah, it sure looks a lot different than Twitter (a scrollable timeline view instead of a simple message stream), but that is how they are able to thread the conversations. As a result, per-user messaging seems significantly higher between Plurkers than between Twitterers. Some who are accustomed to Twitter don’t get the timeline interface, but once they do, they usually like it. Other Twitter stalwarts don’t want to migrate at this time because they have gathered a huge following on Twitter and would have to start over. I think that could be a temporary situation.
In early June of this year a few technologically adventurous residents fell into Plurk, including Codebastard Redgrave, GoSpeed Racer, Gabby Panacek and myself. We rapidly gathered a significant following of other residents. Today there are many hundreds of residents and it’s growing daily, because it just works as an alternate communication channel.
It may seem like a glorified chat room, but once you get past that we seem to have developed ways of leveraging it to better our second lives. Here are some techniques we’ve discovered so far:
- News is distributed instantly, far faster than notecards or group notices
- You can add to your group of friends without much risk and your Plurk list can thus be larger than your in-world friends list.
- New friends are identified much faster than in-world, and can later be added as in-world friends
- The Plurk social space operates 24 hours a day, non-stop. Messages are recorded and easily read later.
- In-world events can be announced, and follow ups (e.g. location, whether it’s good, etc.) can be rapidly added, even as events are underway.
- Assistance is instantly available just by asking and others will respond from around the world, perhaps because it’s just text and everyone is “equal”.
- Conversations can hold lists of instructions or tips and can be referred to in the future.
- Pictures of events, products, shopping locations and avatars are frequently posted and discussed.
- Group activities are organized and coordinated quickly and efficiently.
- If your Plurk friends are all residents (typically so), the social space is always in “SL Context” making discussions of in-world things much easier.
And that’s not all. Resident and scripter Thraxis Epsilon has built a “Plurk HUD” for SL, available here. The HUD is simply a button that permits you to Plurk from in world – and it can even automatically add a SLURL of your current grid location (this is called SPLURKing). Imagine how easy it is to start a party: SPLURK it, and people appear! I’ve done this several times requesting (and receiving) volunteers for ad-hoc projects or other activities. And it works. Very Well. If you don't believe me, sign up on my page here and give it an honest try.
So, should Linden Lab buy Plurk? Maybe not, but certainly there are many lessons to be learned by examining how residents make use of an advanced communication system. Come to think of it, I should have mentioned this to Philip Rosedale when I spoke with him on Saturday …