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Business Professionals' Perspectives on the Disillusionment of Virtual Worlds

Bateman, P., J. Pike, N. Berente & S. Hansen 2012. Time for a Post-Mortem?: Business Professionals' Perspectives on the Disillusionment of Virtual Worlds. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research 5 (available on-line:, accessed 17 January 2013).
Virtual worlds (VWs) are powerful three-dimensional technologies where users can assume identities and interact with others. While designed as open-platforms for creativity, expression, and experimentation by recreational users, VWs were once lauded for their potential applications to business. Today, much of the business community has either moved on from the hype of VWs or struggles to understand whether value can be obtained by using VWs. This paper attempts to provide an understanding of these outcomes through the analysis of assessments written by 59 business professionals, who each spent an extended period of time in a popular VW during the peak of the hype. From these assessments, four broad perspectives on the value of VWs to organizations (or lack thereof) were identified, along with challenges facing use of VWs if they are to become more widely used within business.


• A useful paper – good analysis of hype, why hype did not materialise in the VWs with regards to business opportunities/being a space for business activities

- Notes a prediction in 2007 that "80 percent of active Internet users would have a VW presence by the end of 2011 (Gartner Research, 2007)." (p2)

--> This might have been the key point - if there were loads of people in VWs, there would be business potential (see p11 also). Since there wasn't such an influx, there wasn't - hence the real question might be: 'Why weren't more people in VW?'

--> Surely, e.g. in gaming, there are many opportunities for advertising, but in a relatively limited market?

• Data derived from an exercise done by postgraduate students in business course who were asked to go into Second Life and develop opinions as to the usefulness for business. Only those with prior business experience were used

• Overall (p7) – 36.8% saw it as having some value, 41.4% no value, 14.3% contingent value, 7.5% future value

- Most value seen as advertising platform, enhance customer experience, training, meetings

- Main problems seen as need to learn the platform, inability to control the environment, technology no fast enough, wrong kind of users

--> This actually suggests the need for a limited form of virtual world, tailored for business users only. On the lines of LinkedIn or something.

• The argument revolves around affordances, and how the technologies are relevant in one context but not in another [i.e. relational] – thus SL is good for people who want freedom, gaming environment, but this is not useful for businesses

--> The environment of freedom etc. actually is not what businesses want… In fact, businesses thrive on limited social openness - i.e. they need to lock people into certain discourses, perceptions, etc which will lead them to directed purchase decisions [- this must relate to the markets approach somehow – Callon etc…. i.e. markets are about developing assemblages with particular dynamics…]

• Good point about hype (p11) – that for much research

- "the primary focus is on how business might use VWs, not if. This approach creates an unspoken assumption underlying prior work – creation of affordances naturally leads to business utilization. However, capabilities of a technology do not determine use (Wasko, et al., 2011). In fact, additional capabilities and functions afforded by virtual worlds have been found to be harder to utilize, even for experienced users, thus reducing willingness and expectations of use for business activities (Luse, Triplett, & Mennecke, forthcoming)." (p11; original emphasis).

--> Good point I think - i.e. hype-discourse assumes the potentials will be used, and thus develops a number of positive scenarios. By focusing on a couple of examples, e.g. IBM, this is taken as proof that they will be used, hence the positive assumption is taken as justified and then developed

Please note - these are rough notes only, based on a first reading. They may be useful to someone interested in an alternative perspective on this paper.
However, these notes do not necessarily represent a final opinion, and are subject to revision in the future.

"There's an app for that" - women and mobile technology

Frizzo-Barker, J. & P. A. Chow-White 2012. ‘There’s an App for That’ Mediating mobile moms and connected careerists through smartphones and networked individualism. Feminist Media Studies 12, 580–589 (available on-line:, accessed 21 December 2012).
The ubiquitous use of mobile smartphones and Internet-based applications commonly known as "apps," can be viewed as simultaneously empowering and constraining for women's experiences and identities due to their potential to foster "always on" forms of sociability in both public and private spheres. We conduct in-depth interviews with women who daily use smartphone apps to understand how they use and make meaning through social media and popular apps to do with parenting (using the "Total Baby" app), fitness ("Runmeter"), finances ("Mint") and daily tasks ("Evernote") through Judy Wajcman's technofeminist approach, which suggests that people and artifacts co-evolve, and technology can facilitate and restrain gender power relations.


• Quite a short article (relatively) and with less discussion of the feminist angle than I expected – i.e. how apps help a woman/mother in her daily caring duties, but also reproduce patriarchal structures etc.

- This article contains more a number of interesting examples of app usage although nothing that I didn’t expect.

- Basically arguing that apps/smartphones get used in different ways that reflect women’s roles in society, and are integrated into their household management

• Interesting bit about a certain ‘computer logic’ [my term]

- “Smartphone apps add an additional layer of logic to the execution of daily tasks. In her ground-breaking study of computers and automation in the workplace the 1980s, Shoshana Zuboff (1988) highlights the distinction that computers “informate” tasks; that is, they produce precise information about the tasks in such a way that the data takes on a life of its own. We found evidence of how smartphone apps motivate women’s daily practices with information about their finances, health and fitness.” (p586)

--> The way in which the smartphone organises the information that it gathers (e.g. about organising calendar, details of the child’s vaccinations etc., have an effect in organising the user’s life too [though to be sure people don’t always do what the apps say, and one wonders how much the respondents are talking of ideal situations, rather than in practice forgetting to check and so on]

• Definition of apps: “small stand-alone software that connect to Internet data without using a web browser portal.” (p580)

• Notes the rapid spread of mobile technologies – overtaken fixed lines

- “over 60 percent of the worldwide population has access to wireless communication (Manuel Castells 2010)” (p580)

- “Mobile phone subscriptions surpassed 3.4 billion globally in 2008, eclipsing landline telephone connections in the early 2000s, as the most rapidly diffused among all human communication technologies in history (Castells 2010).” (p582)

• Draws upon Castells’s ‘networked society’, ‘networked individualism’, and Wajcman’s technofeminism

- “Where networked individualism depicts the freedom to connect to various community networks, technofeminism draws attention to women’s often overlooked role in cultivating and maintaining these community networks.” (pp582-3)

• Interesting tensions and guilt feelings relating to using apps/smartphone

- “paradoxical double standard—they felt guilty letting their children use a smartphone while they completed a task, and also while using their smartphones when with their children.” (p586)

• Also note that it's in a special issue that deals with feminism and new media

Please note - these are rough notes only, based on a first reading. They may be useful to someone interested in an alternative perspective on this paper.
However, these notes do not necessarily represent a final opinion, and are subject to revision in the future.

Remote control, children, and television

I often hear parents telling me that television is a good way for their children (infants, toddlers) to educate themselves. I usually shudder inwardly and then tell them about this research that shows how too much television for infants is likely to cause short attention spans and possibly also slow learning of language, etc. (By the way he specifically mentions ‘Baby Einstein' DVDs as being a bad idea; also note that Disney had to *remove* claims that Baby Einstein was educational and offer refunds after legal action was brought against them in the USA.) One of the main problems is that the editing of TV programmes is so snappy, with new scenes every 10 seconds or less. We have not had television for a few years now, and when I do see television, I start to get annoyed at the way in which everything moves so quickly.

One of the reasons for this is the need to keep people interested, and to stop them zapping onto another channel if they are not stimulated in the next 15 seconds. So, imagine a world without the remote control - it's an interesting way to think of the effects of technology on our lives.

The inventor of the remote control just passed away, and he could reasonably claim to have been a major contributor to the current short attention span-friendly TV programming, with his invention of, as his patent application put it "a system to regulate the receiver operation without requiring the observer to leave the normal viewing position" (Rosen)

On the other hand, and in a good example of the need to avoid plain technodeterminism (i.e. the argument that technologies cause social change), it is instructive that one of the selling points of the ‘Flash-Matic' was its ability to "tune out annoying commercials" (by reducing the volume, Rosen), and the ability to avoid advertisements is still a motivating factor for most TV viewers.

Toddlers want control, they need it. Which is why they keep saying ‘No'. It's an important part of how they develop a sense of their own individuality in the world. So it doesn't surprise me that they (apparently) pick up the use of a remote very quickly, and one research reported that
One subject, three-year-old Jimmy, was incapable of articulate conversation and could neither recognize numbers nor tell time, but he "had mastered the basics of RCD use." He "primarily used the RCD to change channels on the TV in order to watch his favorite programs," and when told the time, clever Jimmy "knows if his program should be airing." (Rosen)

Frankly, I can't help thinking that if poor Jimmy hadn't been given free reign of the remote he might have learnt more words, numbers, and the time. Let's hope that he eventually managed to learn to read.

Computational thinking and the digital natives.


The 'digital natives' argument is that people who were born in world of omnipresent computing and internet (let's say born 1990 or later) will be able to intuitively understand computers in a way that 'digital immigrants' like me, who remember writing essays by hand at university, and writing snail mail letters to friend, cannnot.

However, it's my observation that the majority of the 'digital natives' just take computing and the internet for granted, and know little about what goes on behind the interface they are able to use. This says something good about the GUI design paradigm, but also means that perhaps innovation is not happening as much as it could be.

When my son goes to school, I would like him to be taught about computers in the same manner as learning to write and do sums. This is apparently the idea promulgated by Jeanette Wing
The term computational thinking (CT) was coined by Jeannette Wing (2006) to describe a set of thinking patterns that involve systematically and efficiently processing information and tasks. CT involves defining, understanding, and solving problems; reasoning at multiple levels of abstraction; understanding and applying automation; and understanding the dimensions of scale. While the concept has emerged from computer science, students can engage in CT with or without a computer. CT draws on a rich legacy of studies of human cognition, such as systems thinking, problem solving, and design thinking.(The ITEST Small Group on Computational Thinking)

I think this means that computers are designed according to a basic logic, and by teaching that logic one can enable people to engage with computers as reconfigurable technology, not black boxes which only do what they've been sold to you as doing.

It's about empowering the next generation to take technology in a direction that integrates it on an individual level in ways that are given direction by persons, and not by corporations and governments.

So - for example - children could be given their own version of the One Laptop Per Child, a sturdy piece of hardware, with an open source basic platform, and taught how to write their own programs into it. Imagine - they could write programs that help them to learn to read, or do maths.

What do you think?


The 15-minute blog post.
I like to blog, but I can't afford to spend a lot of time on it. Solution: limit myself to 15 minutes per post.
One link, one picture maximum.
All comments, critiques and corrections are welcome. Thank you.

My favourite podcasts

I love listening to podcasts - they are a great way to use some of that downtime in an interesting way - when you're driving, walking the dogs, cooking, and so on... I can listen to my favourite programmes whenever I want, pause them, rewind, turn up the volume (great for people like me with hearing problems), etc.

If you're wondering how to get podcasts, the first thing to know is that You don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts! (obvious to those of you who know, but not obvious to all). A podcast is just an mp3 file that you can download and listen to on any mp3 player, your phone (if it plays mp3 files), or on your computer, and some home stereo systems. If you have the proper equipment, and your mp3 player supports it, you can also transmit from an mp3 player to a car radio.

If you do have an iPod, then it can connect seamlessly with iTunes to update automatically when you connect it to your computer. But, you don't need an iPod to use iTunes - I like iTunes as it does really useful things like organising all my sound files in neat folders for me. It also makes subscribing to podcasts very easy.

When you subscribe to a podcast, this means that you tell iTunes (or other software too I suppose, but I never used another) to check online regularly and download the latest podcast. Most sites that offer podcasts also have a 'One click subscribe to iTunes' button which makes life easy.

Here are some of my recommended podcasts:

On Point with Tom Ashbrook: a daily phone in talk show from NPR (public radio) in America. Invites knowledgeable guests and covers a range of subjects. A bit America-focused, but generally interesting, and I've learnt a lot about America too, since I've started listening to it.

BBC World Service has many, including:
From Our Own Correspondent: BBC's foreign correspondents do random stories that are not necessarily breaking news. Great snippets and insights into all parts of the world. My long term favourite.
Interview : half-hour interviews with interesting people - politicians, business leaders, activists, celebrities...
Crossing Continents: "On the ground reporting from around the world which focuses on the human dimension of the big international stories."

Examples of other choices are:
World Book Club ; One Planet; Newsweek (Cantonese); World Business News

Radio 4
Thinking Allowed: Laurie Taylor usually has the author(s) of books on history, and social sciences, and host analytical conversations about the world we live in.
In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg : "The history of ideas discussed by Melvyn Bragg and guests including Philosophy, science, literature, religion and the influence these ideas have on us today."
Woman's Hour: News, Politics, Culture : Sometimes interesting daily programme on 'Women's issues'. I listen to it mostly for tips on bringing up children, but it also discusses other issues related to women - legal issues, art, whatever...

• Tech/Geek stuff
Digital Planet: Weekly BBC techie podcast, with the latest on gadgets, and the effects of technology on society.
The Digital Edge: local Malaysian weekly discussion on all things techie, geeky and related industry matters; hosted by @johnlim.
This Week in Asia: Weekly Singaporean-based Singapore/Malaysia based techie discussion with a regional focus (thanks @Cerventus for the clarification); similar to The Digital Edge.
Digital Campus: More or less bi-weekly. Based in George Mason University, academics discuss issues related to Digital Humanities - with a particular focus on history, libraries and museums.
Supernova Hub: regular high calibre discussions with leading academics, business people and technology experts - you can learn a lot here!
Yi-Tan Weekly Technology Call: this came highly recommended, but has yet to live up to expectations I'm afraid. The site is a bit messy, but if you want to subscribe via iTunes, click here.
TED Talks: also highly recommended, but all online streaming video as far as I can see. TED means 'Technology, Education, Design', and there are regular top speakers (e.g. Tim Berners-Lee) who impart wisdom in relatively short talks.

• Finally, The Teaching Company has many great lecture series with proper academics teaching everything from "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition" (I actually understood quantum physics for a while!), through a "History of Ancient Rome", "History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon", to the "Roots of Human Behavior". They're not free, but if you're lucky you may find someone with a copy to share.

Some random thoughts on sociotechnology

Did you know that it was not Gutenberg who invented moveable type – known as 'printing' to most of us? Actually, it was the Chinese who first thought of it in 1040 CE using wood and later ceramic, and the Koreans improved it in 1324 by using metal type; Gutenberg developed it later, "around 1450" (thanks Wikipedia, oh fount of all knowledge).

Interestingly, with regards to sociotechnological analyses, although a Korean king developed a phonetic alphabet of 24 characters which would have made printing a lot easier (otherwise they had to use thousands of Chinese characters. But, "Adoption of the new alphabet was stifled by the inertia of Korea's cultural elite, who were '...appalled at the idea of losing Chinese, the badge of their elitism.'"; in addition, there was also a "Confucian prohibition on the commercialization of printing" which restricted the use of printing to the state.

These examples highlight the ways in which technologies never automatically drive social change, but interact with existing social practices and come up against entrenched social hierarchies and so on.

On a vaguely related other random thought, these news stories seem to be examples of what Adam Greenfield meant when talking about a shift from "wayfinding to wayshowing" (the first story is the most amusing)
Swedes miss Capri after GPS gaffe
Sat-nav dead end at crematorium
Sat nav misdirects football fans

As we are increasingly given means to guide us around geographical space – GPS for the moment mostly, the example he gave (in a talk at QUT) of apps that can guide you to the right exit in Tokyo subways, and in future one can imagine devices to lead you around malls to a shop, guided tours for tourists, etc. – he argues that our awareness of the environment may change. Instead of finding our way ('wayfinding'), by picking out landmarks and spotting random things on the way, we are more likely to move around by staring at our 'steering device' - being shown the way ('wayshowing'). It's an interesting point, and reminds me of something my sister brought up recently – how when travelling using a GPS you don't read a map anymore, and thus find out less about the landscape you're moving through.