More connections, more possibilities

Someone recently showed me this BT advert from 2002: “The more connections we make, the more possibilities we have”.

It’s interesting for many reasons. It nicely sums up the internet of course, but it increasingly reminds me of a popular misconception about virtual worlds.

Yes, the internet is a bit like an auditorium which seats millions of people, and in which we all get a chance to talk to any (and all) of them. But it’s not exactly like it. If we were creating a 3D digital social space (with ooh, let’s say, avatars to represent people) would we actually create a great big auditorium to bring them all together at once? Probably not, no. For the same reason that although large numbers of people may come together for specific events in the real world, the number of connections you can make inside a huge crowd doesn’t scale with the size of the crowd. How many people are you likely to talk to at a sports event, or a music gig, with a thousand people around you? Tens? Hundreds? If the crowd was a million rather than a thousand, would your experience be any better?

The advert itself highlights how ridiculous (though naively adorable and even romantic) the idea of bringing millions of people in one physical space would be, so why is it so easy to obsess about doing the exact same thing with virtual worlds?  IBM is not immune from this, and when the 12 IBM islands were first launched you’ll remember the three large auditoria, capable of holding around 200 people each.

I’m pleased to say that although these spaces are useful, they’re used rarely in comparison to the rest of the IBM territory in Second Life. We rarely even attempt to fill these spaces, perhaps because of a realisation that an even bigger and more scaleable approach is needed. We need to (continue to) concentrate on what works on the web: the idea of multiple ongoing and concurrent conversations, with people picking an area (or even environment) which is most appropriate and interesting to them.

Ian just highlighted this very point in a post about the recent NRF (National Retail Federation) show, in which a custom shopping experience can be dynamically created. I find the idea of small social environments which can be dynamically created much more interesting than huge social environments which attempt to cater to crowds of unmanageable and unlikely sizes.

One thought on “More connections, more possibilities

  1. That was an excellent advert. I still remember the man with the fish…

    As you so rightly point out though, the whole paradigm is wrong. Auditoriums as a physical space are designed around the idea of a small group of people broadcasting to a large number of people who are relatively passive. That’s not what connecting is about at all. We’d be much better to design our virtual spaces around market places or ancient Greek Agoras.

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