Clickable Culture   Official Research Blog of Phantom Compass
  Researching the Researchers, Part 2  
Posted 2005-01-21 by Tony Walsh
Campus Second Life, a program intended to open Second Life's virtual environs and population to academics, is again feeling the heat. Last October, a well-intentioned university class became the object of resentment by many Second Life residents, and the result was that the scrutiny directed at residents was turned on its head. Class professor Richard Parent ended up having to do a good deal of damage control to clear up misconceptions and repair relations with residents. These events were soon forgotten. Unfortunately, not only by residents, but with another group of academics, and possibly by Linden Lab.

Second Life's "Radiks" family is comprised of students and professor Megan Conklin of the Elon University course entitled "Imagining Technology." The Radiks have lately been asking a number of pointed questions in the Second Life forums designed to troll for responses useful to the students' area of study. Few of the Radiks students have been up front about their research postings, but others haven't been so dilligent. The end result is that a new debate has been unecessarily launched, casting scrutiny on the Radiks. Given how avoidable this situation was, one might wonder if there's a larger experiment afoot.

As with the first incident (Parent's "Pitt" family), this second one hasn't seen much (if any) Linden attention [see the bottom of this article for an update on this]. It's the researchers versus the residents, with no apparent moderation in sight. Like the first, this second incident could be cleared up quite easily, it's just that the residents are left up to do the detective work and come up with their own conclusions. It doesn't help that there are seemingly either no guidelines for the Radiks to follow, or the guidelines are not being enforced.

In the interest of researching the researchers, here are some topics the Radiks family has been looking into, pulled from the Second Life forums. Some interesting questions, even if pretty basic. It would be noble of the students to share their conclusions with the residents that being surveyed, but research subjects are not traditionally afforded such considerations.

SL Marriage/Partnership??
I'm new to SL and I am in a class that investigates the in-world life. I was wondering if anyone had any insight/links that would provide me with information about SL marriages and relationships. Thanks for any help.

Status and Class in Second Life
Do you feel that their is a hierarchy in Second Life society?
If there is do you think that this hierarchy is based on building skills or something else?
My friend and I were having this conversation today and I felt that me being a novice user not completely familar with all the capabilities of SL that there is a heirarchy present. He didn't agree with me but he is also a very experienced user of second life. Let me know what you think on this issue. It would be greatly appreciated in helping each of our arguments!!

[Note the lack of disclosure about the purpose of the question and the nature of the poster]

Second Life and the Prisoner Dilemma
How do you guys think the prisoner dilemma applies to second life?
[No disclosure]

Personal Sl Appearance
I just started second life a week or two ago and I've noticed alot of people have very complex and interesting avatars. Do you feel people get judged or looked down upon sometimes for not having a cool or unique avatar? I mean I have a pretty normal avatar, just some white spiky hair, everything i wear was given to me. I was just wondering if its that big a deal, or if its just as cool to spend most of your time building or talking to people without really concerning yourself with trying to get the newest outfits.
[No disclosure]

Escape from RL
This question was given to me by my professor. I'm not looking for answers, just a good healthy discussion.
Is Second Life a means of escape from real life for you?
An example: some people have mentioned that they are disabled in RL, but in SL they can run, walk, fly, drive, whatever they want, they can achieve. For them, SL is an escape from a RL that limits what they can do.
How about you?

[Some disclosure, but not much]


Robin Linden, SVP Marketing and Business Development, posted the guidelines for inworld research and observation.

Megan Conklin responded to some of the forum controversy by stating that her students wouldn't be posting any of their work publicly, that the privacy of residents was a chief concern, and that the Radiks are trying hard to work within the posted guidelines.

Update 2:

TLuskie Radiks hosted a meeting and retracted a statement. Details here.

Update 3 (Jan 23, 2005):

Robin Linden posted a list of all current and spring semester classes who will be joining residents inworld as part of the Campus Life program. Any major community backlash against these newcomers unlikely at this point--at least backlash of the "What do you mean we're being studied" variety.
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Comment posted by tluskie radiks
January 21, 2005 @ 2:07 pm
Whoa my friend...take it easy. No one's rights are being violated!

First of all, you claim that we (the Radiks) are not sharing our research results. Well, have you 1) asked for them? 2) Ever spoken with a Radiks? If so, you would know that this is a semester project. So, why would we want to release "results" that dont even exist yet?

Second, we do tell everyone in the SL world that we are conducting research, and that their responses may be published. We tell them right up front so that they have the ability to opt in or out. In the forums, the posts are public domain. If you post a response to a question in a public forum, you should not be offended if your responses are used elsewhere.

Want to see what we are up to? Check out our Wiki!

It is the course homepage where we work on assignments and what not. You can also see our interview assignments.

So...just relax and dont get all worked up about it!
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 21, 2005 @ 4:21 pm
I'm taking it plenty easy, friend. If anyone's getting worked up around here, it's you. If you're looking for drama, you've come to the wrong place--try the Second Life forums.

Based on your comments, I'm not sure you've done much more than skimmed through my article. Considering what you're supposed to be studying, you might want to pay a little closer attention. Particularly to the Parent case, previous forum posts about the Pitts, and my previous posts about it on this blog. Once it was evident that Second Life's residents were rankled, one or two of Parent's students made the situation worse by shooting their mouths off. Do you see any parallels here? Probably not.

You wrote:
First of all, you claim that we (the Radiks) are not sharing our research results.

I made no such claims. Instead, I said it would be noble of you to share your results.

...we do tell everyone in the SL world that we are conducting research, and that their responses may be published.

I assume you mean by this that you open every inworld conversation with a disclosure statement. As I illustrated, you aren't being open in all of your forum postings. I made no comments about your inworld conduct.

In the forums, the posts are public domain.

Wrong. The Basic Forum Policies and Etiquette section says, under Private Discussions, that "the forums are a public area for the Second Life community’s use." It doesn't say anything about postings going into the Public Domain. Furthermore, in Second Life's Terms of Service, under Content, we see that "Content Providers have rights in their respective Content under copyright and other applicable laws and treaty provisions, [and] they retain all such rights..."

If you post a response to a question in a public forum, you should not be offended if your responses are used elsewhere.

The Second Life forum is not public. It is accessible to Second Life members only. It is arguable that even truly public speakers should expect some privacy or consideration, but I'm not particularly interested in arguing about it.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 22, 2005 @ 9:43 pm
Mister TLuskie Radiks was generous enough to open up a snap meeting with all comers on Jan. 21, 2005. While attendance was sparse (giving creedence to the idea that the most vocal complainers are also the most timid or apathetic), an intelligent and civil discussion was held. Those gathered managed to make headway in terms of understanding why the Radiks situation occurred and possibly how it can be stopped. More on this at a later date.

For now, it's noteworthy that TLuskie Radiks mentioned inworld that, in his comments here, he meant that he believes Second Life forum posts fall under Fair Use, not the Public Domain. That's reassuring :)
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