Assume you don’t know me

In “Identity versus Reputation: Wandering and Wondering in Virtual Spaces,” Znet Lady Isbell raises important questions about doing business in virtual worlds through the created personalities of avatars.

She (he?) writes, ” The identity question has all kinds of insecurities behind it. Just who is the puppeteer hidden behind this little mass of bits and bytes displayed on my computer screen?”  Can I trust this person?  Are they who they say they are?  Are they really representing what they say they represent?  Can I do business with someone I can’t see?”

My answer is sometimes and it depends. Certain types of transactions are ideally suited to the worlds of Second Life, where Znet Lady lives. In a leadership exercise I co-wrote recently specifically for use in Second Life, the ambiguities and puzzles available in the virtual world provide the dynamic flexibility of the exercise: participants can take risks and can go places and can talk to people that wouldn’t be accessible or perhaps wouldn’t be trustworthy, to use SL parlance, in RL (real life.)

At the same time, I wouldn’t pass along  personal or financial information to an avatar I didn’t know as a human in RL. There are very few humans in RL that I do know that I would give sensitive information to.  So while caution is the word in virtual worlds, caution is also the word in the regular worlds which we count on passports and drivers’ licenses and encryption to protect us from one another.

Znet quotes Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, “We believe the concept of identity through your avatar will span the web. We are going to seek to enable that. Technology-wise, it’s only about 18 months away. I do think we will see some interconnected virtual worlds… ” When that happens, the small world will be getting not only much smaller but six degrees of separation that we assume now connect us all to one another might become even less.

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