Social Networking in Virtual Worlds
Outside of the gaming realm, virtual worlds lend themselves most naturally to the social world due to their interactive nature. As the world continues its trend towards more Internet-based social venues, virtual worlds are striving to bridge the gap between social networks and face-to-face interactions.
The first thing that comes to mind when the average person thinks of the words “social network” nowadays is inevitably Facebook. Facebook has revolutionized how we keep track of friends and family online. Although Facebook’s social networking is fabulous, it is hardly a replacement for social events themselves. In order for people to begin turning to virtual worlds to act out their social desires, the text-based interaction system that instant messaging currently relies on must be evolved.
Many new sites such as IMVU, the Facebook app Shaker, and TinyChat are attempting to do just that by creating new worlds to interact with your old friends, and meet new people alike.
Most of these sites take advantage of the avatar to give the user a feeling of space and time. The belief is that in order to rival real social interactions, these virtual worlds must stimulate as many senses as possible. People must be able to see the people they are chatting with, and be able to experience situations they would normally encounter on a normal day. They are now able to shop together, to play games together, and to explore new worlds together. These all add up to be a more appealing option that Instant Messaging.
Take for instance this description praising the benefits of IMVU, “Imagine that instead of typing into a chat window and seeing words pop up on a screen, the conversation takes place in balloons above your head. Well, not your actual head -- the head of an avatar that you create and customize. Your avatar sits on a sofa with other avatars, chatting away. It can laugh at things that are funny, hug someone or show off a dance move.” . IMVU offers a new way to create friend networks online by giving the users events to do while they are interacting. You’re able to customize clothing, setting, and other details of life that mimics face-to-face interactions. The benefits of such a world is that instead of mustering up small talk to keep one another interested, you’re encouraged to perform actions and talk to people who you have more in common with. You can compliment some one's clothing, or you can take part in a debate over political issues.
Shaker, similar to IMVU in the avatar regard, hopes that by using Facebook integration it will make users more comfortable.
People Interacting Inside Shaker
When you sign into Shaker, you are able to differentiate people in the Shaker world who are already your friends from people you don’t know. This creates an atmosphere similar to going to a party where you have the option of spending the night with good friends having private conversations, or engaging in larger circles and meeting completely random strangers. Shaker specifically gives you the option of expanding your Facebook social network, and makes it easy for you to nurture your new found friends with communication outside of the Shaker world.
TinyChat has taken a different approach by ditching the idea of avatars, and instead simply using the user’s live webcam stream. TinyChat combines the use of online chat rooms with video chat in order to create a video chat room. Chat rooms can hold up to 12 video feeds in each room, and other observers can voice their opinions in the form of text comments at the bottom of the page. This concept further legitimizes that people feel more comfortable interacting with people they can see instead of avatars that they cannot instantly trust. Already on TinyChat there are rooms that fill up with the same people every day because they met online and enjoy talking to each other.
Tiny Chat Video Chat
All of these websites are a part of a larger trend of online social integration. The virtual worlds that people are creating are becoming more immersive and conducive to social interactions. Whether users seek to play games, dance around, buy each other drinks, or simply sit there and stare at each other, they will soon be able to do whatever their heart desires online.