Moving on up

I’m evidently going up in the WWW – SL Shrink now has an authority rating of 1 on Technorati, resulting in an impressive 1176061 place jump in its ranking, and making me officially the 2121799th most influential person on the internet.

I followed the link to find out who my new friend was, and it turns out to be Metaverse.jp, a Japanese blog offering “virtual world information”, mostly in japanese of course, so I can’t see why they’ve linked here. I’d like to think it’s because they admire my elegant prose, but I suspect that there’s some sort of automated data aggregation going on. I’m not complaining though; a few more links like that and I’ll be in the top one million

Political Blogging

I consider myself to be a bit of an internet veteran; I can remember 14.4 modems, bulletin boards, Usenet, and how exiting it was to see the first web pages, with their plain text on grey backgrounds. I still think ASCII art is pretty cool. So I’d have to admit that I initially approached the whole Web 2.0 thing with an old-timer’s conservatism, and I started reading blogs at a relatively late stage.

What first got me into the blogosphere was my interest in US politics. Around the time of the last presidential primaries there was a lot of talk about how bloggers were going to change the whole nature of political discourse, by bypassing the sclerotic mainstream media and engaging in polemical warfare reminiscent of the golden age of pamphleteering in the 18th century. Intrigued by this promise of a new style of politics, I started looking at the Blog Report feature on Salon, and following the talking points as they bounced around the blogs of the left and right, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s certainly entertaining, but not always particularly enlightening.

Now I live in western Europe, Scotland to be slightly more precise, and so perhaps I don’t really appreciate how bad the TV networks and newspapers are in the US, but I have never felt that blogs add a great deal to the experience of being a politically active citizen. It’s not that they don’t contain useful information, just that it’s very hard to make any sense of just how important, in political terms, any given story is. Although events in the real world are (usually) the trigger for whatever debate is exciting bloggers at any given moment, the self-referential nature of the medium almost always means that a sense of perspective is quickly lost.

Here’s an example: Glenn Greenwald’s column from a couple of days ago. Now Greenwald is a good writer, he’s living the dream by getting paid to blog for a reputable media organisation and his politics are not too objectionable (though personally I’m well to the left of him), but this piece is just nonsense. Over 1200 words (words that could have been devoted to any one of a myriad of unreported stories) to bring us the “news” that right-wing bloggers don’t always tell the truth, and can sometimes use objectionable language. Greenwald tries to make some overarching point about the “right-wing noise machine”, but it doesn’t really wash, and just exposes how badly he misjudges the resonance that such stories have within the mass of the population. Five minutes spent talking to real people on the street would set him right. The irony is that Greenwald and other left bloggers continually (and correctly) criticise the Beltway media for existing in a world of their own, but seem not to realise that the blogosphere is in many ways equally self-contained.

I’m not saying that blogs never break big stories, just that the political impact of such issues is best judged by how they are debated on the streets and in homes and workplaces, not by the blog entries they inspire.

A bit off-topic there; no Second Life, not really any psychology, unless you want to analyse the meaning of a blog post about the irrelevance of blog posts. It’s because I’m no further forward with getting the SL linux client to work – I didn’t notice that the blog I thought would be helpful hadn’t been updated in ten months. Look out for more posts about blogging, maybe something about social networking sites.

Research resources

Before starting this project I did review the relevant research to some extent…

I have noticed that when bloggers use the term “research” they tend to mean “looking up stuff on the internet” rather than “uncovering new information”. A lot of the time what is presented as original insight is simply a rehash of old opinions. Ideas gain credence by being repeated, and the perceived authority of a source counts for far more than any concept of objective truth. I could illustrate this by linking to the numerous articles by trusted internet opinion-formers wherein exactly the same point is made, but that would be just too ironic.

I was thinking about this after posting yesterday about the Technorati ranking system. Blogs gain authority by being cited by other bloggers – and bloggers tend to cite the blogs that have authority. Opinions become self-reinforcing, and morph into accepted fact. (For an illustration of this look at the comment section following George Monbiot’s Guardian article debunking the 9/11 conspiracy movie Loose Change).

So when I say I reviewed the “research”, what I mean is that I typed “Second Life” into Google, and read the Wikipedia article that popped up. Most interesting fact? (Of course everything in Wikipedia is fact). That more than 90% of SL user accounts are inactive. It really cheered me up to read that, since it suggests that the vast majority of people prefer to interact with other real humans rather than computer screens. And that means that the 10% who do get really into SL are likely to be quite interesting, from a psychological point of view at least.

If you’re interested in real academic research on online issues, I would recommend the journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior, which is an excellent resource for the latest thinking on online interaction and its impact on real and virtual societies. Read more of this post

The Competition

Since it looks like it could be some time before I actually make it on to Second Life (I need a new graphics card, some more RAM, probably a distro update – you can see that I had really thought this project through), I took a trip over to Technorati to see what else the blogosphere had to offer on SL.

Technorati must be a depressing site for the average blogger, since it sets out in harsh figures exactly how little attention the world is paying to your ramblings. This blog is currently ranked number 3297860, alongside all the other losers who have “no authority”. (Though the site does kindly append “yet” to that killer phrase, like the “Author NYP” that creative writing graduates put on their business cards).

Ranked a mere 3294251 places above SL Shrink is Second Life Insider, which seems at first glance to be mainly about scripting and commerce, with nothing about psychology.

Ranked 4294 is the Second Life Herald, which has more of a gossipy tone. A quick search did turn up a few posts relating to analysis of online interaction, though nothing particularly deep.

On the face of it more closely related to SL Shrink is Gwyn’s Home (rated 48661), which promises commentary on “socio-political issues on Second Life, the virtual world platform of Linden Lab.” There are a few posts in the “psychology” category, but again nothing particularly profound. And the animated avatar on the home page is frankly creepy.

Technorati lists a total 3184 blogs on the topic of Second Life, and I can’t really be bothered to look at any more tonight. No-one seems to be doing exactly what I’m planning though, which is encouraging.

I’ve also discovered ninjafoo Ng, an SL linux blog, which will hopefully get me on the grid sooner rather than later.

Technical difficulties

I can’t get on to Second Life. Which, for someone who has read all about the easy money to be made on SL, and wants a piece of the action, is a major problem.

The issue is this: as a left-field, alternative, non-corporate kind of guy, I will of course have nothing to do with the evil monopoly that is Micro$oft, relying instead on my trusty old linux box, old being the operative word here. There is a linux client for SL, but it’s an alpha version at the moment, and I can’t get it to work. I probably need some new hardware too.

If I was really serious about this I would go out and buy a cheap windoze box just for this purpose, but, in line with my general half-assed approach to things, I’m going to try to get the linux solution working first.

In the meantime I’ll try writing about other internet phenomena, like Youtube, or Myspace, or specific blogs, or blogging in general maybe. Though three posts in seems a bit early to be getting all metatextual.

Initial enthusiasm

Well, I was never going to wait two months to put up a new post, because it’s hard to be as indifferent as that towards a new project like this.

I spend far too much of my time looking at random blogs, and, like many before me, have noted that the average blogger starts off with great enthusiasm, before falling into silence after a few months. I have this theory that starting a blog is an experience that has much in common with unrequited love. At first it’s all that can be thought about, and hours are spent imagining the words that may be used to charm the object of affection. (To make this analogy stand up we have to imagine that the love-object in question is the blogosphere as a whole, and the response craved is favourable attention from the other inhabitants of this community). Then, as time passes, disenchantment with the lack of response sets in, along with painful awareness that all the process is doing is revealing the essential emptiness of life. Those whose ego-strength is sufficient to allow them to accept this are able to move on, and focus their attention on more achievable goals. However those who lack this ego-strength find their love turning into resentment and eventually hate, directed towards the love-object itself, or, more commonly, toward those forces that are perceived as preventing the desired consummation. In real life this latter process drives the obsessions of stalkers. Online though, it merely produces a whole lot of boring and bitter blog entries.

You’re not interested in this though. You want to hear stories about the things that go on the adult areas of Second Life, like 42 year old guys who get off on pretending to be hot lesbians. Well, I’m going to get to that, just as soon as I sort out a few technical difficulties.

Over-optimistic statement of intent

Well, that’s the soon-to-be-famous “Second Life Shrink” web log set up.

The plan is that this blog will form the basis of a book, or some other media phenomenon, that will allow me to retire from my day-job and make a living doing what I’m best at – aimlessly surfing the internet. How many other bloggers have that ambition? 99.99% I would guess, and for about 99.98% of them it remains a dream. I am almost certain to be among that number, since I am, it has to be said, a bit of a slacker. I thought up the idea for this about a month ago, and it has taken me this long to get round to start realising it, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

So what’s the gimmick, I hear you ask? Just this: psychoanalytically-informed commentary on online behaviour. Unoriginal I would have to admit, but obviously no-one who has done it before has has my sharp insight or dry wit, not to mention my understated modesty.

Anyway … my intention is (as the title suggests) to wander around the likes of Second Life and report back on what I find, enlightening readers with erudite comments on the interaction that occurs there.

Expect another entry in about two months, if my work rate online is anything like it is in real life.