2-2 Presentation of MOO & WOO environments
Electronic mail is used to send a document to any number of recipients. It is, for the most part, reliable, and is used so constantly that it has become convenient through force of habit, if nothing else. It can either be interruptive or not, depending on the receiver's preference. While email communication can be so fast as to be nearly real-time, it does not normally convey the feeling of a real-life conversation. It is possible to keep a history of email messages. Email is probably the most used of communications tool a community of researchers has. Electronic mail although available within the MOO (the MOOMail system), is still more practical when used independently. For instance, it is easy to create folders on traditional email systems while it is less strait forward on MOOMail system. However, the MOOMail system can automatically send the messages on the registered email address where they can be moved to the appropriate folders. So the MOO should not replace the email facilities, it could rather be a complement.
Computer conferencing can be replaced in the moo using the mail-recipient lists device. Indeed MOO mailing lists can be created and even moderated. Lists can be public and accessed by anybody on the MOO or they can be restricted to a specific group of users. In the first case, it corresponds to the News system or to the mailing lists available on Internet and in the second case, it rather corresponds to a computer conference although the interface is far more rustic. MOO even bring a new dimension to the word computer conference. Indeed, as Mason understood it a few years ago, computer conferencing consisted in messages shared by a group of people and sometimes moderated by one administrator. The conference was taking place in an asynchronous mode which is not the best environment to hold a conference for several obvious reasons. Within the MOO, a conference can be hold in real time, interactions can occur and slides can even be shown or directly in the MOO or through the WWW interface. Then the WOO environment becomes one of the best medium to hold a computer conference. It happens on the BioMOO and its efficiency really is astonishing. (An exemple is available in appendixes.)
Remote databases can also be accessed in the MOO itself, and from WWW interface with all the facilities such an interface can offer. In the MOO, databases are constructed by administrators. As an example, the BioMOO offers a database of people, with their real-name, their e-mail address, their research interests, etc. WWW offers various kinds of databases based on several kind of research systems. Depending on the interface, boolean operators can be used, and search is often available through a form. And, of course, telnet sessions can be opened from a WWW link so traditional kind of remote database are still available. In addition, data and HTML pages can be served according to the "history" and the "profile" of the authenticated MOO character. So again, the WOO environment is really efficient.
The UNIX talk command is useful for short conversations between two people. Enhanced versions of it allow conversations between any number of people. It is as real-time as it is possible to get over an ASCII connection, allowing one to see the typos made by the other person. However, talk can be annoying primarily because it is extremely interruptive (from which window is that beep coming from?), there is a confusion between talk protocols on various operating systems, and the interface is inflexible and primitive. Nonetheless we do use it occasionally.
Compared to E-mail and News, the primary disadvantages of a MOO are that it must be actively administered and that the user must initiate the connection. Compared to UNIX talk, the MOO remains a communication tool that is not as interruptive although messages appearing on the MOO window can be a distraction if one is working on something different. The following table tries to resume the main differences between the above mentioned communication facilities:
1.) 'Proxemics'. There is no spacing of players in a MOO room: all are simply there. Proxemics may, however, be implied by use of emote commands or use of furniture or other objects ("Lilly sits on the sofa"). Classrooms are good examples. These are specific rooms adapted with tables, desks, and board. People can sit arount tables and the current communication cannot be heard from one table to another. E.g. if Paul is sitted at the red table, he can talk to Lilly who is sitting at the same table but he cannot talk directly to Pierre who is sitted at the blue table. When Daniel who is sitting a the teacher's desk is speaking loud, everybody in the classroom can hear him. This kind of room can of course be used as a conference room.
2.) 'Silence'. This carries comparatively little meaning on the MOO. Unlike speech sounds, Internet typed messages take a measurable amount of time to reach the receiver. Usually the delay is small enough not to cause communication problems, but longer delays arise intermittently, caused by a general lag, or slowing of the system due to heavy processing. It is understood that MOO lag may increase at any time, and that individual players may be experiencing lag on their systems that the others do not see. Also, messages appear only when the player press return at the end, so a long message will cause a longer pause while the player types. The features of a slower "speed of sound", variable lag time, and the fact that messages are shown only in their entirety, not heard as they are spoken mean that a lack of immediate response to a comment or question is not taken as meaningful until it lasts for several utterances.
3.) 'Turn-taking'. For the same reasons listed for silence, strict turn-taking is impossible and so does not exist. Similarly, interruption is generally an undefinable concept. Several conversations tend to be going on at once in a room, even if only two people are there, and utterances belonging to the various subjects overlap and intermingle. The conditions described above make this likely to occur, and it is also unproblematic because all messages appear on the screen and do not draw each other out as they would in speech. Also, a player who is confused by a seemingly contextless remark can look back up the screen for its earlier referent. This form of communication is slightly less ephemeral than sound, and spacing and timing are less important than in normal speech. One disadvantage of a text-only environment, however, is that events which do not interfere with vocal-aural communication do interfere with MOO communication. For instance, a programmed object that performs actions frequently is just as "noisy" (in terms of taking up screen space and reading attention) as a character talking, and if there is too much going on, speech messages may be missed in the confusion, or scroll off the screen too quickly to be read.
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