Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Real World, SecondLife and FaceBook/MySpace

Over the past few weeks I've conducted about 17 interviews with current college students and recent graduates. All women. A few of my interviews have been with older alumnae, but I'll leave them out of this discussion for the moment and stick to the younger crowd, the "digital natives." These are real people, about to enter or recently in the job market.

I've been asking various questions about technology and tools in order to get a sense of where people are at, while also soliciting ideas and input for improving the use of technology to support learning throughout their member organization.

In general, the young women I have interviewed describe themselves as "very comfortable with technology." Some claim to feel lost without an Internet connection, but hey, don't we all? Computers are a fact of their lives.

Some things have surprised me, most have not. A few trends:

  • Not ONE person has even heard of Second Life. This was a little wake up call to me as I sit in my little e-Learning world, trying to immerse myself in all that is new. The rest of the world is not in this technology bubble yet. I would explain a bit about SL and the general response was, "that sounds interesting."
  • Not ONE person has a blog. A few people have "read" a few blogs -- written by friends with photos of children. One woman told me that she used to blog in LiveJournal, but there was just way too much personal information that was getting shared with the universe, so she deleted her account.
  • Everyone who has graduated from college since 2005 has a FaceBook account. Most everyone accesses it multiple times within a day. This is a main way of staying connected to friends.
  • A couple of people also had MySpace accounts. But mostly not. MySpace is seen as being too "creepy". Too much information is out there. "It's not safe." I'm not sure how this relates to danah boyd's recent blog article on Viewing American class divisions through FaceBook and MySpace. These young women are all college educated. I had read Danah's article before starting my interviews and was listening for any judgment based on class. I didn't hear anything direct or obvious. Safety and creepy were the big buzzwords I heard. A few people commented that MySpace is too garish; the FaceBook look and feel is more classic.
  • Only two people admitted to any regular game play. One of the gamers plays with her brother; the other described obsessively playing Dance Dance Revolution with college roommates at her house. I wonder how this would differ if I had been asking young college males about gaming? Hmm....It appears to me that the gaming gender divide is alive and well.
  • No Blackberrys or Treos in the crowd. Lots of cellphones. Lots of laptops.

Can you confirm or deny any of these trends? Does any of this matter?

Check out A Deserted Second Life and My First Second Life Experience if you want to hear more about how actual people are interacting with Second Life.


Anonymous said...

I think the gender divide matters when we develop elearning, and I can confirm that it exists for me personally.

I'm a major geek, yet I avoid Second Life and continue to be skeptical about its use in elearning. In my case, it does seem to be a gender issue.

I've visited SL and have seen several demos of it, but my gut reaction has always been, "This is a guy thing." I have that reaction partly due to the hyper-gendered avatars that I keep seeing (super-stereotypically male or female). I associate that style with video games and super-hero comics, which continue to be mostly "guy" things. In fact, the overall look of the place says "video game," which to me suggests lots of explosions and battles and such. I realize this is not what SL is about but that's the gut reaction I have to it.

If SL has this effect on other women, then it won't be the most effective place to send female employees as part of an elearning experience. However, ideas taken from Second Life, minus the cultural trappings, could be effective.

It's also possible that as more video games appeal to women, women will develop better associations with the "look" of Second Life.

Cammy Bean said...

Great insights, Cathy. I have to agree.

I've been trying to get more into the whole gaming thing/SL because I feel like it's getting pushed pretty hard. But I keep raising the gender hand. Karl Kapp will tell us that Princess Barbie Fantasy Dressup World (or something like that) was the best selling game of 2006 showing that girls are gamers too....

But there are definite gender hurdles. How many of the World of Warcraft Guild Masters who are getting hired for their special guild skills women?

Tracy Parish said...

An interesting survey you've conducted there. I've tried to explain SL to lots of people here who just can't even comprehend it. When I found out about it SL a while ago, it already had a million + users and I thought I was in the loop on things.

I found and interesting graph of What People are oing on the internet. Perhaps it will be of interst to you as well.


Anonymous said...

I also feel like SL is being pushed pretty hard, and I want to push back. I think some SL fans don't understand the many subtle messages the world can communicate.

For example, I just Googled "second life women."

Two results were for articles about the percentage of women in SL. One was a Reuters piece from June 2007 that said that 26% of SL users are women. Another was a story from 2005, when 38% of SL users were women.

If it's true that the percentage of women has decreased, maybe it has something to do with the other results from my search term. The first result was a story about whorehouses on SL, and about a third of the remaining results appeared to deal with sex.

When the inclusion of the word "women" in the search term results in lots of hits about sex, I get a pretty strong message about SL culture. For comparison, if you search on "Chicago women," you get a completely different set of results.

One could argue that by sending staff to just one part of SL, you limit their exposure to the larger community and should therefore eliminate any discomfort. But the overall look of the place is still loaded, fairly or not, with cultural messages, and anyone who spends time online knows about SL's larger culture. So why send staff there?

Cammy Bean said...


You're raising some really important issues about SL that I haven't seen discussed before in the e-learning/edublogosphere.

If 3D synchronous learning is indeed the wave of the future, I'd say this gender divide in SL speaks to the need for more corporately-styled virtual worlds such as Protosphere by Protonmedia or OLIVE by Forterra.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

An interesting post Cammy, I think it matters a lot, and it's important to have these kind of reality checks every so often. Personally, I'm less interested in the gaming gender divide and more in the fact that we are all so infatuated with moving elearning into virtual worlds when we have't even engaged properly with the current technologies. You rightly point out that it's mobile technology which is now ubiquitous, not virtual worlds.

I review my list of elearning blog feeds every morning and it would be easy to think that the elearning world is obsessed with SL/Virtual Worlds and Personal Learning Environments as the next-generation LMS. But the reality is that these bloggers are mostly working at the bleeding edge of elearning, whether as theorists, researchers, academics and, in particular, technologists.

The blogosphere gives a good impression of current thought and where elearning may be heading, but the reality of the elearning that most of us produce on a day to day basis, and the level of technology that the majority of learners are comfortable with, is way, way lower than this.

Your post is a valuable reminder that the current focus should be on utilising the mobile technologies which have become so widespread, such as laptops, cellphones and iPods rather than getting carried away with virtual environments (which only the highest-end computers with amazing graphics cards can even access!) Elearning on cellphones and PDAs is still pretty experimental and there are huge challenges with user progress tracking, content synchronisation and getting the instructional model right. Let's focus on getting the basics right in current technology before becoming immersed in the next wave, which in the case of virtual worlds is still many years away from becoming ubiquitous.

Cammy Bean said...


Good points. But don't you think we have to be doing both? Some of us have to keep sloughing through and creating the good stuff. Others have to be looking forward to the next edge (perhaps that's virtual worlds), working through it now so the rest of us are ready when it is ubiquitous.

Over at the Epic blog, you've got a post on how the UK is pushing virtual much more than the US. This would indicate that the "edge" is not a solid thing. Geography, industry, gender - perhaps these factors influence where the 'position' of a technology edge lies.

In the meantime, I'm trying to work with what I've got (hey -- my laptop doesn't even have the right video card to run SL!)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Cammy, I agree that there are people doing very important work on the ‘bleeding edge’ and I personally value this highly and I enjoy reading their blogs. It's especially interesting to us in Brighton as Linden Labs are opening a development office here!

While we may be pushing virtual worlds more in the UK, for every e-learning customer genuinely interested in this area, there are still ten more who want mobile learning with PDAs, cellphones and iPods, yet this still can’t be delivered as effectively as we would like. For an area in which demand is so high, m-learning technical progress and standardisation seems painfully slow, particularly around issues like progress tracking and content synchronisation for PDA and cellphone. Is this because so many people want to latch on to the ‘next big thing’, to the detriment of fully exploring the potential of the current technology wave?

You are right, the ‘edge’ is not an easy thing to pin down. I see lots of interesting web 2.0 visualisation tools coming online in the past year, it would be cool if something similar could track the e-learning edge!

Karl Kapp said...

Some thoughts on women NOT playing video games...

First, 70 percent of the players of The Sims are women under age 25.
-BBC News

Second, here are some quotes from real-life women gamers.

"Games are growing more and more in the hearts of women. Some have always loved games since growing up. Others learned to love them once they were grown up, just to ease stress. Our focus is to bring the best things we can for both action and strategy genres."


"Women gamers are more likely to play online games (53%) than male gamers (46%). Women play fast-paced action and adventure games online with friends, enjoy Jeopardy and backgammon online after work to relax, compete in hardcore competitive gaming tournaments, play with their kids' game consoles, and create their own civilizations in Populous on their computers at home. The idea that video games are "boys toys" is clearly a myth."


So, there is nothing inherently male or female about the genre of video games...just like there is nothing inherently male or female about books. We have romance novels and spy stories...anyone can read them regardless of gender, although certain content is clearly aimed at one gender or another.

Yes, most games have CONTENT geared toward young males but not all, games like Nintendogs, The Sims and Barbie Fashion Boutique have content gear toward young girls...of course, every time I point this out someone indicates that these games are sexist and I am sterotyping women...but I merely point to these games as examples of video games primarily geared toward women. In fact, someone told me that The Sims is so popular with young women because it is like a virtual doll house...very SL-esque.

However, we also know that women like shoot 'm up games as well.

I really don't think Second Life is inherently male and I think Intellgirl would agree, she is highly active in SL and is using it for her classes and getting great results...check out her blog.

While not all women play video games, neither do ALL males. But to say that women don't play any video games is a mis-statement.

Anonymous said...

Karl, I don't think anyone here has said, "Women don't play any video games."

The point I was attempting to make is that video games have historically been designed for and played by a narrow demographic--young men. This demographic was the sole focus for a long time. So for women in my age group, at least (mid 40s), the video-game world carries a fair amount of baggage. Younger women will obviously have a different experience.

I certainly advocate the use of games in training. Elearning based on immersive games is far more engaging than a screen of text with a Next button. My gender concerns focus on two areas:

1. If these elearning games are styled the same as historically male video games, women could feel like they aren't the intended audience. The "styles" I refer to include use of lots of black and hyper-sexualized female characters.

2. I continue to maintain that Second Life is an inappropriate place to send employees.

First, Linden Labs itself says the majority of SL users are male. It was the source of the statistics in the stories I quoted. Clearly there's something about the world that appeals more to men than to women.

Second, I realize people are successfully using Second Life for training. However, using SL for an official function could also be seen as an endorsement of a world that is increasingly X-rated.

This is especially problematic thanks to recent media coverage discussing how hard it is to set foot in SL without being approached sexually or exposed to sexual behavior. For example, here's a strongly-worded piece on the subject from a male Reuters journalist:

The mildest quote from the piece: "There have been attempts, recently, to downplay the role of sex in Second Life. Anyone’s who’s spent more than a day in-world knows those attempts to be disingenuous at best."

More professional alternatives to Second Life could certainly be powerful places for learning. ProtoSphere's faithful recreation of a classroom doesn't inspire me, but clearly the technology exists to create an imaginative, engaging, and welcoming immersive world. I just don't think that Second Life is it.

Karl Kapp said...


I actually tend to agree that the public Second Life environment might not be the best place for formal training.

I think private islands are a better way to go. You can only allow certain people onto your island and you can keep people you don't want off the island(everyone else).

I think the future will actually be an educational version of a 3D world apart from Second Life...one like ProtoSphere or some other type of 3D world that is cleaner and more corporate or academic friendly.

However, if women don't get involved (for whatever reason), then 3D worlds will be shaped only by males (which can't be good...as evidenced by Second Life). If woment stay out of these worlds, they won't be able to have any positive influence.

Maybe a group of female bloggers should get an island in Second Life and see what positive environments can be created within a 3D world. It might make some of the possibilities for educatonal use a little more tangible.

I am sure the resulting insights of such a group would be invaluable to the overall discussion of how to use 3D worlds for education.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your response. I agree that women should be involved in the creation of 3D worlds, and I like your idea of creating a private island to demonstrate the potential.

As you show in your video about the new drill model, 3D can be used imaginatively for several types of training. It would be a terrible waste if a boring virtual classroom became the "safe" default for corporate users.

Anonymous said...

It's really easy to understand why more men enters SL than women...

because many blogs, news, TV news, etc..only talks about SL and Sex....

and where sex is...men will be.

So, only way to stop that is to stop telling SL is only sex. More than half my friends in SL are woman...

SL is just like Real Life...you have sex everywhere, and you don't see women leaving it. You just go to places where you feel safe...SL has places like that. You just need to find them.

Anonymous said...


EMC has used Second Life as a recruiting vehicle with some success. Even though most of the candidates had not used it, they were very willing to try it out and enjoyed the experience.

I wrote about it in some detail on my blog at http://peterquirk.wordpress.com. Based on that experience I'm looking into its uses for training, team building and distributed meetings.

Cammy Bean said...

Hey Peter,

Thanks for stopping by! That's really interesting that EMC is using SL as a recruiting tool. Very progressive. I'll be sure to follow your musings on your blog...


Nicole said...

Since this was posted times have changed and there are more and more people on mySpace than are on Facebook. I myself prefer Facebook because I don't have the time to sit and design a mySpace page. I don't have a Blackberry, however, I do have a cellphone and a laptop. As far as the gender divide in video games, I'm not sure I believe it. I have a WII and love playing that, any free time I have I play.
My best friend has a Playstation2 and I know when she isn't working she usually likes to sit and play that as well.
Two of my guy friends like video games but they are mostly hooked on the games that are free online, I dont know why because the graphics are better on video game systems.

As far as Second Life, I didn't know anything about that until I started taking graduate classes in Interactive and Instructional Technology. I've seen it and I think I like it, but I have never used it so I'm not all that familiar or even understand how it works.

As far as the progression in technology, with all the advances we have now and the young adult generation is successful in, imagine what the technology is going to be like for the young kids that are now 5 when they get older.

Cammy Bean said...

Hey Nicole,

Thanks for stopping by and providing some input. I myself have discovered the Wii and really like it (although I don't have much time to play, I do think it's easier and more appealing than older consoles.) My 5 year old son LOVES it. I agree with you on that for sure -- with the Wii as his starting point for gaming experiences, who knows where he'll go.

Keep us posted on your SL experiences!