Right at the outset one thing that makes me happy and yet also curiously, productively uneasy, is just to be in a room where I have few connections to the ongoing work of many of the people in attendance. To see the working sociology of other groups and other professions is worth the price of admission in its own right. I was especially interested to overhear some of the Microsoft follks talking about ethnographic fieldwork in the context of their social computing research. It pains me a little because the social worlds of the anthropologists that I know overlap almost not at all with that kind of ethnographic and anthropological work, which seems a huge missed opportunity (mostly for the folks in my own circles rather than vice-versa).
Danah Boyd coordinated an interesting icebreaker game where people threw secrets into a big box and then we passed them around. It was an interesting demonstration of a lot of things about networks and social interaction. One thing that was fascinating was to watch the ecosystem of secrets as they passed around, which secrets propagated best, which ones people were most eager to get rid of.
I was presenting in the first lightning round. I don’t use PowerPoint often, and it shows: a presentation that worked well on my own machine at home had text overlaps into the pictures on the local laptop. Oh well. It was very interesting to have limit my presentation to five minutes: I don’t think I’ve ever had to squeeze what I do into that tight a time constraint before. A good exercise. Liz said afterwards that there was a lot of backchannel IRC chat during the presentation, which is another trippy thing from my perspective. I’m so rarely in conferencing contexts where anything like that kind of instant response is happening. I feel like I want to take a month in a small group of faculty to think about technology use in new ways, and practice new routines and habits.
Constance Steinkuhler presented before me: her work is simply amazing in so many respects, as much for the way it reconfigures scholarship on pedagogy as it circulates in virtual words research.
Nic Ducheneaut spoke about indirect sociality in virtual worlds, and I especially liked his suggestion about enhancing spectator experiences. One of the things I really did love about Star Wars: Galaxies was the original implementation of entertainers (though not so much the forced interdependencies that came with them). Think about all the contexts where people watch frapped movies of gameplay.
Andy Phelps made an important point about how clumsy and inflexible tools for moving large social groups like guilds from game to game.
Dan Hunter made me feel good about my n00bish PowerPointing skills when a QuickTime slide he had set up didn’t play on the PC laptop we were working from. But the points he made about scarcity as the key feature of virtual economies in persistent worlds, which I agree is an underappreciated precursor to economic behavior and property claims. Dan observed that the consequence is that property is real, and thus the economy of virtual worlds is real. I agree, but then the interesting question is, “What would a virtual world without scarcity look like?” Yes, I know, it wouldn’t be
Clay Shirky is a really good presenter in this format. A side note: I think I want to start working with my undergraduates (and myself) on getting better at this kind of format for communication of information. He spoke to the difference between productive and participatory value as a way to understand why gold farming and similar behaviors pollute or break the magic circle of virtual worlds.