Monday, September 28, 2009

Roskilde day I - Analytical Strategies and Methodologies for the Study of Virtual Worlds

I'm live blogging from Roskilde, Denmark. From Roskilde University. Right now Sisse Siggaard Jensen is welcoming us all and presenting the today's speakers, Thomas Kohler from Innsbruck University and Greg Wadley from the University of Melbourne. Siggard Jensen gives us plenty of information about the very old city of Roskilde and the work of their group at the university, before asking us to introduce ourselves.

Thomas Kohler begins his talk entitled "Qualitative Research in Second Life." Research context: Integrate customers in the development and creation of new products and services. How to use Second Life to achieve this? Avatar-Based Innovation. This process begins with need identification and idea generation, moves on to concept and design and finally to the test and launch phase. The challenge: participation, to get people to participate. What creates a compelling co-creation experience which encourages participation in virtual worlds? The answer is, according to Kohler, the mix between virtual worlds and open innovation. Research design: Virtual focus groups, expert interviews and participant interviews and observation. Content, process, users. The virtual focus groups and the participant interviews and observation were carried out inside Second Life. Create immersive environments (it has to feel "real," interaction is important, media richness, using for instance voice, as well). Build in playfulness. Focus on the social nature.

The "Out of Avatar Experience: Collaboration around Objects in Second Life," presented by Greg Wadley, focuses on online worlds as a tool for 3D knowledge. Motivation: how do you facilitate remote repair, training, surgery... communication about position and movement in 3D. Body language and linguistic language helps, but how do you deal with it when for instance body language isn't available. Prior work: reference in virtual environments is problematic. View, gestures... What is an avatar looking at? How to deal with the fact that there is only a rudimentary body language? How well does Second Life support the aim to facilitate problems such as remote repair? Second Life's detachable camera is "in-camera" (in private) whereas the avatar is public, the one that other people think you're looking out from. Wadley describes a study he and Nic Ducheneaut did at PARC of users collaboratively building a house and focuses on the methodological issues while setting it up. The experiment follows two or three group members with different levels of building expertize in their attempts to coordinate the build, noticing their different camera positions (behind their avatar or completely detached from it). The group members are supposed to collaborate, but when this, on one occasion, leads to the group members diving the work up among them, they decide to create a new type of task. A helper now sees how their build is supposed to look, but he or she can't move anything, whereas the "worker" has the editing possibilities. They now have to communicate, thus providing the researchers with material.

After a short break Greg Wadley initiates a heated discussion around words like "virtual" and "world." We discuss concepts like embodiment, avatar, sense of place, (co-)presence, reality, subjectivity, but the discussion doesn't really lead anywhere and we agree to disagree. Wadley then moves on to discuss the difference between text and voice. How much info does it transmit about users? Is it easy or difficult to set up? How good/bad is fidelity? Possibility to eavesdrop? Does it support asynchronicity? Is it possible to store and search messages? Does it support group coordination? Does it work better if the users know each other (the shyness factor)? Does it allow for parallel conversation threads?

What might influence the choice of voice or text? Language proficiency, role-play, social distance, trust, context and purpose, RL multi-tasking, emotional factors, some expressons only work in text or, conversely, in voice, intention, raiding, disability, self-disclosure.

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