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Business - Written by on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 17:16 - 0 Comments

World Wide World Meets World Wide Web

Every day we wake up and live our day with one foot firmly in the “real”, physical world and the other in the online, virtual world. These two worlds of information, experience, and entertainment play a major role in the lives of people all across the globe. I remember a time before Google when people thought of the Internet as a place only for geeks and freaks, but for a number of years it’s been mainstream for the masses. And yet, people tend to think of these two separate domains as distinct, separate, and often … strange. While the Internet is clearly a tool with which we supplement our lives, and the real world is the place where we actually live our life, the virtual world mirrors the real world in many significant ways and many people actively (and even to excesss) live their lives out online. This is my attempt to reframe a small group of actions in both spaces, as being… entirely what you’d expect – not strange or illogical – simply a byproduct of human actions, with shared characteristics. Most of these may make you go “duh”, but this is my way of having a little fun, while clearing up any misconceptions about these two topics.

The real-world is …
brimming full of people and places that you will never have a chance to meet or see, but this shouldn’t bother you because a lot of these people you would never want to visit or meet anyways due to opposite interests. Similarly, the Internet is a free for all of good site meets bad site, good person meets bad person, and personally relevant meets irrelevant – it’s the world wide web – you’re not expected to see everything, meet everyone, and do everything … it’s simply too big and you’d never have the time, money or attention for everything that’s out there. On the Internet you discover something new every day. Whatever it is that you discover tends to come your way via. targeted search, advertisements or serendipitous exploration. This is true of the real-world also, and so too is the reality that the most powerful drivers of online referrals are personal in nature, from people who you know and trust. In the end, what you end up finding is normally not even what you set out to search for in the first place.

More discussion below.

Forming Relationships
The Internet is …
an informal network of both strong and loose interpersonal links. Why you care about who you know online depends on what they bring to the virtual table and the meaningful exchanges that take place between you and another person. In the real-world, the people who you know-of, but tend never to get-to-know, are your loose network. The fact that you see them every day and say “hi” when you walk by, but never anything more, doesn’t mean you’re friends … it just means that you’re capable of being friends… maybe. Casual communications (in-person) and boosting your ‘friend count’ (online) will only get you so far, but action (or lack of) will bring you together, and keep you apart.

Game Playing
The real world is … full of people, and as humans, we are naturally social. One of the ways in which people socialize is through sports or game-playing, which often incorporates elements of physical reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination, constant and long-term training, competition, and of course, teamwork and cooperation. Top sports players are 1 in 100. Once people are online, we’re thirsty consumers of entertainment, and one of the most active and online spaces for this is in the world of multiplayer and massively multiplayer (virtual worlds) games. Online gaming is a flourishing industry and it shares many similar traits to real-world sports, clubs/teams, and the surrounding fan-based community. Popular online games range from first-person shooters, to poker, to text-based games, and an elite core of competitive players emerges in most communities, some playing more than 100 hours a week (“MOM, i’m not playing…i’m training!”). Most games are driven by their competitive spirit, wanting you or your team to win, and the tangible or intangible benefits within the community, from cash prizes, to awards and informal reputation.

The real world is … an always-on hub of activity related to commerce and personal purchases. When you see something you want, you carefully compare every item on sale, shopping at multiple stores, and often come back to the one with the best price, user and customer experience. Similar principles apply to an online retail environment. When you see something you want, you search around for the website with the best deals, but you pay just as much attention to the surrounding variables. An unattractive or poorly designed website indicates a potentially shady dealer, just like a cracked and sun-faded sign does for any physical property – it cries “stay away.” Similarly, online dealers that tend to get the best rating feedback, and the most personal referrals, are those that treat their customers fairly, with respect, and deliver goods in a timely fashion. Even more-so than in the real-world, online shoppers are happy to share stories of a good customer experience, and even happier to mass-distribute a story of a customer-experience story gone bad.

One final note – I don’t consider these described actions as any major shock – in truth, many of these examples follow conventions established socially in the real-world. In the end our perceptions are based on the behaviors we see when interacting with others in both the physical and virtual world. On this final note, I’d like to emphasize that since we can’t visually see other people in the virtual world, it’s important to recognize that the people behind the keyboard are changing too. As we discuss in our research, issues of technology, globalization and communication, among others, are strongly tied to the people who play in the global sandbox and the makup of these people across the world are constantly changing (also known as demographics). It’s interesting to think about how the Internet too will change over time as a byproduct of the changing composition of people using it across the world. In what ways? Who knows!

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