Social Norms in Virtual Worlds

I just spent my lunch reading a study by Nick Yee of Standford University entitle “The Unbearable Likeness of Being: The Persistence of Nonverbal Social Norms in Online Virtual Environments“(pdf)  Now if you read all the way through the title, and didn’t glaze over — you should really read the study.  It’s a short report and it’s very interesting.  There’s also a great interview with him at Mind Hacks that’s worth reading.

I just spent my lunch reading a study by Nick Yee of Standford University entitle “The Unbearable Likeness of Being: The Persistence of Nonverbal Social Norms in Online Virtual Environments“(pdf)  Now if you read all the way through the title, and didn’t glaze over — you should really read the study.  It’s a short report and it’s very interesting.  There’s also a great interview with him at Mind Hacks that’s worth reading.

Understanding how people relate to one and other is critical if you are trying to communicate.  Now this may seem obvious, but think about how many people seem incapable of holding a conversation and then multiply that by the number of companies that clearly have no idea how to communicate with their customers — and you can see why this might be important.  The premise of the study is that virtual worlds have the potential of really opening up the ability to study human interaction — if basic behavior holds up in virtual worlds.

So why do I care?  Well, while there are many, many studies that will tell me that 4 times out of 5 a user will pick choice A, most stop there.  They don’t tell me why.  I want to know what it is about the interaction that makes a person more likely to choose A.  A better understanding of why people respond to things the way they do, makes me better at my job.  It probably makes me a better human being too — but I’m necessarily paid for that. 😉

By understanding behavior norms in virtual worlds, I better understand virtual worlds.  I’m then in a better position to explain how and why my clients might want to engage in these worlds.  That’s also why I actually use things like Second Life.  If I don’t actually experience them, I really won’t understand them. Second Life is the hip thing right now, but the same applies to Live Journal, MySpace and every other online fad.  Each contributes a new element to how we communicate online.  While any one of these may not last more than a few years — the model they create will resonate for some time.  Understand the root of it and you have a better chance of success.

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