2-4 Study of other MOOs

2-4.1 The mediamoo

MediaMoo was announced in 1993. This virtual version of MIT's Media Laboratory was designed to satisfy the need of scientists, scholars or specialists from the private sector to get daily, informal continuity to their community of interests. MediaMOO consists of people who are studying virtual communites.

A text-based virtual environment can provide both a shared place (the virtual world), and a shared set of activities (exploring and extending the virtual world). Like at a coffee break at a conference, there is a social convention that it is appropriate to strike up a conversation with strangers simply based on their name tags. On MediaMOO, you can read descriptions of people's research interests as well as their names, and this can form a basis for striking up a substantive conversation [Bruckman 93].

However, name tags alone are not enough. The best sorts of interactions occur when people participate in a shared activity and not just a shared context. On MediaMOO, this takes the form of constructing and interacting with the virtual world. The Constructionist theory of education emphasizes the value of constructing personally meaningful artifacts [Papert 80]. This theory has guided design decisions made in MediaMOO and everyone is automatically a programmer with full privileges to create new objects and places in the virtual world.

A virtual place to socialize:

Users from around the world connect to this virtual place to socialize, talk about their research projects, interact with the virtual world, and create new objects and places. People from the Media Lab are encouraged to build their own offices; users from other places can build their offices as well and connect them via " Internet ". The system developers constructed basic infrastructure and a few interesting and evocative objects and places, but almost all the building was left to the users.

MediaMOO attracts a community of researchers through advertising on electronic mailing lists devoted to media studies. People are required to submit a description of their research interests to register and while some applicants are refused, it is primarily a self-selection process.

An endless conference reception:

MediaMOO is perhaps best described as an endless conference reception. The conversation fluidly moves between personal and research issues. Some question the value of the sort of interaction which takes place on MediaMOO. One user wrote that "frankly it strikes me for now as a schmooze place for people with nothing better to do, not a place where more productive things will happen than already happen in other communicative modes." Administrators of MediaMOO do not share that perspective for a variety of reasons and they argue asking if spending time at a conference reception is a waste of time. Most veteran conference-goers attest to the fact that the conversation at coffee breaks and receptions is usually more valuable than the sessions attended. The exchange of ideas and networking which take place on MediaMOO are similarly productive. One might question whether these benefits can be obtained with less time commitment through other media--but this analysis ignores other benefits of the MediaMOO. For media researchers, coming to understand this medium may be interesting in itself. There are so personal, emotional benefits that come from participating in a "third place," such as relaxation, friendship, good conversation, and a sense of belonging to a community. In short, if one enjoys it, then one will reap benefits from it which go beyond that pleasure. Some people do not enjoy it, and that is certainly a valid point of view. It is a strength of the medium that the community is self-selected--everyone who is there wants to be there.

Online colloquiums and forums:

The kind of networking and casual collaboration which occurs at conferences does appear to be taking place on MediaMOO. It seems natural to extend the conference metaphor to literally have meetings on MediaMOO. This has been tried several times with mixed results. Conversations in MOOs are often multi-threaded. When large numbers of people all talk at once, each of those threads can become very short--rather like a tailor's scrap bin. Users have experimented with a variety of computational ways to improve the quality of discussion.

Wade Roush organized a forum on Cyberspace and the Humanities, which more than 40 people attended. The forum took place in two different "conference rooms," each with a different method for focusing conversation. In one, users are all allowed to talk at once and tag their comments with a relevant subject line. In another, a limited number of people can talk at a time and there is a queue for those wishing to speak. This increases the coherence of the conversation but takes an already slow medium and slows it further.

Randy Farmer writes: "It seems likely that online meetings will be more successful when networked video and audio systems become more generally available. Text is a tremendously expressive medium and has advantages over graphics and audio for some applications. For example, in less than a moment one can write that "at the top of the hill is a gnarled peach tree," and this conjures up an image in the reader's mind. It would take considerably longer to draw such a tree, and less would be left to the imagination. Audio and video will not replace text-based VR, just as television didn't replace radio or magazines but simply changed what they are used for. Online meetings are one application where the greater bandwidth of audio and video may be needed".

The second design better embodies the participatory philosophy of MediaMOO. It assumes that the community of users have worthwhile things to say; the privilege to comment is no longer reserved for the author of the object alone. Valuing participation and respecting the contribution of each individual are principles inspired by Constructionism.

MediaMOO presentation and entrance:

**  Welcome to MediaMOO!  **

MediaMOO is a professional community, where people come to explore the future of media technology.
The operators of MediaMOO have provided the materials for the buildings of this community, but are not responsible for what is said or done in them. In particular, you must assume responsibility if you permit minors or others to access MediaMOO through your facilities.  The statements and viewpoints expressed here are not necessarily those of the janitors, Amy Bruckman, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and those parties disclaim any responsibility for them.

A note to guests: guests' connection site information is publicly readable, and included on all mail messages posted.

'connect <character-name> <password>' to connect to your character,
'connect Guest'    to connect to a guest character,
'help @request'    for information on how to get your own character,
'@who'             just to see who's logged in right now,
'@quit'            to disconnect, either now or later.

*** Connected ***
You are almost to MediaMOO, inside a fiber optic cable. Type OUT to get to the Media Lab or COMMON to get to Curtis Common.
Obvious exits: out to The E&L Garden, common to Curtis Common, salon to The NI Salon, and down to media.mit.edu
There's a new edition of the newspaper.  Type 'news' to see it.

A virtual place to socialize:
An endless conference reception:
Online colloquiums and forums:
MediaMOO presentation and entrance:

VMDL/MOO Report - 17 FEB 1996

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