Leading Virtually Digest, January 2, 2009

What: New York Times article about Vivaty’s 3-D virtual scenes for web pages
Posts it is related to: The Future of Virtual Teams: Collaboration in 3D Web
Bottom line: Virtual worlds are going hyper-personal and it appears there is plenty of interest from users. Vivaty is now offering a widget that allows users to create personal 3-D scenes that can be embedded on web pages. VentureBeat, who is introducing their new Facebook site through the article, is hoping that their personal 3-D will entice users to stay engaged with their site longer as well as enhance online community building around the site. Vivaty’s tools allow users to create a custom scene and embed it on blogs or web pages. Vivaty can also be integrated into one’s Facebook account or used to share photos from Flickr or favorite YouTube videos–bringing 3-D interactivity to social networking sites and other web pages. The scenes are entirely browser based so there is no download like for other virtual worlds such as Second Life. The article cites Google’s Lively as competition for Vivaty’s offering, however, Google discontinued Lively on December 31st. Although Google closed Lively, a group of Lively fans created New Lively to keep the project going, showing that there is interest and demand for these personal virtual worlds for interacting with friends and creating online communities. This could be another step toward a fully 3D web environment with integrated globally recognized avatars (gravatars), making it possibly easier for people to gather, organize and collaborate online.

What: New York Times article on Facebook’s attempt to integrate social networking into other sites
Posts it is related to: Building Social Relationships in Virtual Teams
Bottom line: Facebook is working on a new application called Facebook Connect that will allow users with Facebook accounts to login to other sites using their Facebook IDs and share activities on those sites with Facebook friends. For example, a user could theoretically log onto Hulu.com to watch a video and let other online friends know, so they can watch and discuss the video together. MySpace, Yahoo and Google are also looking into developing similar systems. Facebook is hoping that this new system will lead to new revenue streams for the social networking site through the sharing of user information with other sites. This, of course, is raising concerns about possible privacy issues, for which Facebook faced criticism in the past for its introduction of the Beacon application. Facebook is making concerted efforts to make sure that users privacy concerns are addressed and that the application is transparent to users. One potential benefit for users, besides the added sociability to previously non-social sites, is the ability to log in to several sites with a single Facebook ID, reducing the need to memorize numerous account passwords and ID’s.

What: New York Times article about digital trails and privacy
Posts it is related to: Of consequence to all of us who collaborate with others using technology
Bottom line:  In exchange for privacy, students at M.I.T. received free smart phones. Researchers are tracking the actions of students through the smart phones in an attempt to get a information about the dorm’s social network. If a student with one of the smart phones sends a text or email with the phone, researchers will gather data about it. If a student listens to an mp3, the researchers will know what the song was. In fact, smart phones are not the only devices that can collect such information. Data being gathered from everything from one’s web surfing behaviors to badges worn at work (for example, my mother who is a nurse, wears a badge that transmits where she is and when on a floor during her shift in an effort to track patient care) is leading to what is being called collective intelligence. Collective intelligence is being forecasted as a tool for improving and personalizing advertising efforts as well as helping people organize more effectively. While collective intelligence can give us pictures of things that were until now unobservable, such as Google’s ability to track the spread of the flu through the incidence of Google searches for flu information, some argue that collective intelligence can lead to wide spread privacy abuses. For example, if one of the students with a smart phone in this experiment were to call me, suddenly information about me would also be included in research data without my knowledge or consent. Some researchers argue that privacy concerns are a new phenomenon and that in the past people living in small villages did not have the luxury of privacy-everyone knew what everyone else was doing. A counter-argument to that, however, is that in these small villages, there was also mutual responsibility for neighbors and community that doesn’t exist with the widespread collection of information into vast databases. We will have to keep an eye on the social networking, collaboration and information gathering techniques that are coming and consider carefully how to balance the common good and privacy concerns as well as consider the overall benefits of the tools we choose to use for communication and collaboration.

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  1. Alan
    Alan at |

    This is getting a bit more sctejubive, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of neighbors will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune Social is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

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