Op-Ed: Avatars United – A Social Network Too Far?

by Alphaville Herald on 03/02/10 at 8:46 am

by Sigmund Leominster

Avatars United home
If you’re becoming jaded by the tales of the inconsequential status and activity of the Justice League Unlimited, which, as a group, must now hold some sort of record in terms of column inches in the Herald (inversely proportional to the inches of their primmy penises), and fapping to Post 6 Grrrlz no longer holds any thrill, then maybe you’re ready to join the In-Crowd on Avatars United.

Yes, in the latest attempt to improve the whole Second Life virtual world experience, Linden Lab has bought a virtual world-based social networking site called Avatars United, which describes itself as “a community website bringing virtual characters from all online worlds together. The project is built in recognition of the fact that strong bonds and close friendships actually can be tied within virtual spaces.” According to the “About Us” section of the website, “Avatars United (AU) is a community for your virtual avatars. Register your avatar, upload your profile picture, write your biography and share some of your exploits in virtual worlds through pictures, videos, blogs and much more.”

Brilliant! Not only can I now waste hours in Second Life but waste even more interacting with the same folks on a social networking site. Wait, didn’t we once hear Linden Lab describe Second Life as a social networking site already? If so, why the need for an ersatz Facebook?

Well, once reason is that Facebook has recently been taking a stand against avatars who want to have an account with them. Basically if you’re not real, you can’t. Sigmund Leominster, who I consider to be a pixilated extension of “me”, cannot join Facebook. Or if he does, it’s only a matter of time before he gets consigned to the metaversal ether, doomed to flicker forever as a ghostly bundle of pixels scattered across the multiverse

So for those folks who want to maintain their anonymous status as Sparklingwand Winchester or Lovesto Spooge, then Avatars United is the place for you. It takes only a few minutes and very little spelling ability to become one of the new networking Glitterati. Why, even Prok and Tizzers have signed up, which somewhat dampens any “antiestablishment” stance they might want to portray.

Or are they?

The anonymity of this new social network lends itself to rampant imitation and aspiration. As of writing this article, there is a list of 193 “Lindens” signed up, which starts with Abdullahi Linden and ends with Zero Linden. There’s also an “M. Linden” who may or may not be the real “M. Linden.” And tucked into the list are NotReallyA Linden, Fake Linden, and even a Spartacus Linden. By my reckoning, that’s more Lindens than actually seem to work at Linden Lab so clearly one or two folks are telling pork pies.

So the reality of the people on AU is no different from the avatars in Second Life; you take them as they are and even then, you can’t be sure. Of course, the Sigmund Leominster on AU is assuredly me. Honest.

Is there really a need for such a social network? In truth, there are probably a lot of residents of Second Life who may well find some value in the system. That is, if they have time to maintain the social contact. It’s somewhat ironic that the proliferation of social networks may slowly end up fragmenting the very thing they are supposed to facilitate; social interaction.

I, for one, am now officially “social-networked out.” Faced with my current daily ration of tweets, pokes, IMs, emails, Skypes, blog posts, and comments, I haven’t even had time to sign up to get plurks, flikrs, or LinkedIns. So adding on a bunch of AUs would push me right over the edge. Unless the physicists at CERN have some hideous accident involving the Large Hadron Collider that causes a rift in the space-time continuum and created the 28 hour day with a nine-day week, I simply don’t have the time.

 The world of social networking is competing for YOUR time. Wikipedia lists some 150 “major” social network sites and omits the “minor” ones, and a 2009 report by the Forrester Research group said that 55.6 million adults, or about one-third of the US adult population, visit social networks at least monthly. Facebook, the number one network, has over 350 million registered users, with China’s Qzone claiming 200 million. Figures like these make you wonder whether folks actually have time to do things like, say, work, eat, or take a crap. I suppose if you have a netbook you can do all three at once

A fair number of sign-up for AU will turn out to be little more than marketing ploys. My first friendship offer was from Emerald Viewer, and the “friendship” is clearly no more than a way of promoting the software and not a genuine offer of social contact. Other offers were from folks I don’t know but who have links to their SL businesses. Not so much a social network as a marketplace.

Given the already small number of Second Life residents, how large will Avatars United be? Sure, the site also caters for avatars in other virtual environments but if the Second Life contingent is a niche of a niche, it turns out to be very small.

In principle, it’s an interesting idea and it’s always worth applauding when someone does something rather than nothing. However, after a few months of excitement as folks sign up to join the online sensation – and “me too” I have to add – the numbers will level off and the traffic will slow down. One of my favorite words is “moribund” and there’s a chance I’ll get to use it in a year’s time to describe Avatars United.

Now please excuse me as I have a Facebook page to update. Either that or a Post 6 Grrrl to fap to.

21 Responses to “Op-Ed: Avatars United – A Social Network Too Far?”

  1. Ysanne Korpov

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    AU has one advantage over facebook. I do not have to prostitute my RL data to it.

    Everyone complains about security glitches and spam, but blabbering everything out on facebook and twitter is “in”.
    I am fine with the fact that someone wants to write about the consistency of their stool samples. But then you shouldn’t wonder when the shit hits the fan, if you have written it under your real name and address

  2. Senban Babii

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    I joined AU a few weeks ago, when the FB avataricides started. I was looking for a temporary solution in case I was next on FB’s list. It was pretty dead to be honest. And then the avatarian tidal wave hit. It’s still dead, only now the site gives loads of 503 errors as an added bonus 8P

    Just like many of the accounts on FB are only there to advertise their business or product, the same applies to many of the new accounts on AU so far.

    This whole social networking thing has over-saturated every aspect of the internet. There are only so many spam posts of “OMG I LUV HIM <3″ and “Hanging out in SL” and “If you luv me ul retweet this as your status” that I’m personally prepared to endure. In theory, social networking is meant to connect us in valid ways but in truth all it has done is fill our internets with a cacophony of drivel. But we desperately add more and more people because the number of people who follow you is taken as some social indicator of your popularity and influence – you only have to consider MSM headlines which announce that Stephen Fry is the world’s most influential Twitter user when in fact that assessment is based on how many people have added the whore. It’s an indication of how inconsequential and meaningless we’ve allowed social contact to become, don’t you think?

  3. Darien Caldwell

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    Senban pretty much summed up my view of ‘social media’. My only lingering question is, why would anyone subject themselves to that willingly?

  4. Sigmund Leominster

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    The ability for human beings to hold two contradictory beliefs is demonstrated pretty well by many social network members who simultaneously want the world to know everything they are doing but remain private. There are a number of examples of teens who have been genuinely surprised that their drunken parties posted on Facebook have been used by their school as grounds for disciplinary measures. Their claim that their privacy has been invaded rings hollow. Writing anything on a social network site is, and always will be, a public event.

    This phenomenon is similar to the actions of celebrities who court the media to promote their fame and then complain about being unable to escape the scrutiny of the press.

    Senban is spot on with the comment that social networks do more to trivialize “friendships” than encourage them. For many folks, their Facebook list of friends has nothing to do with friendship but an attempt to simply rack up numbers in a game where whoever has the most friends wins.

  5. GreenLantern Excelsior

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    The Twitter user named “SecondLie” (follow this guy, he’s hilarious) has been talking about Avatars United for a few days, so I joined. It appears that the goal is for every SL avatar to friend every other SL avatar. The website sends you an email for every friend or group request and for every message you receive. That can add up after a while, especially since once you start making friends, those friends generate more friends for you and the process accelerates.

    You can set up Applications (programs) that will run on your AU web page. The only one I have installed so far is called “SL Blips.” You can buy a HUD from SLExchange that allows you to send a “blip” from Second Life to your AU page. I don’t see a way to send a blip to anyone who’s offline or to communicate from AU to SL.

    Depending on how the system works, it could be very valuable or just another tedious social network. Something about it makes me want to take a closer look and see what else it can do.

  6. Robble Rubble

    Feb 3rd, 2010


    Yeah I knew you of all people would love something that has you sending information from SL to an external website.


  7. Orion

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    Wow! Awesome idea! I’m gonna go plastering all the naughty and socially sketchy stuff I do in SL or whatever other world up on some avatar myspace clone. Then when the JLU or the next up and coming video game vigilante wannabe CIA group comes along they can dig up my RL identity, link it to this, then share all it with my friends, family, and co-workers? Yeah right!

    As it is, the JLU is more or less benign compared to what other potential groups are out there. I’m already having visions of some radical moral / religious group going around, lurking undercover in some of the more seedy sims tracking then recording the movements and actions of its patrons and keeping it in some off-world database only to be used for the purposes of blackmail, coercion, and public humiliation when the opportunity arises. As it is I’ve already heard people in other posts calling for just this to happen – ala the one in the Hard Alley Protests calling for all the names and identities of those who play in such sims to be published for just these purposes.

  8. Sigmund Leominster

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    OK, so is ANYONE not now signed up on Avatars United? It’s like a High School Reunion in there! Why, I almost found myself uniting with Jumpman until I came to my senses ;)

  9. Darien Caldwell

    Feb 4th, 2010

    I’m not, and never will be. :)

  10. Obvious Schism

    Feb 4th, 2010

    Doesn’t matter if you are on AU or not. Anyone can sign up with any avatar name whatsoever. So even if you personally don’t sign up, someone else can sign you up on your behalf. Which is nice.

  11. Senban Babii

    Feb 4th, 2010

    Although I’ve signed up for AU as I mentioned above, I’m really now just there to watch what happens, to watch how events unfold.

    One only has to look at SL Blip, the first app to appear on the site which lists things like your home location and so forth. The thin end of the disclosure wedge? When you consider tools like Twitter’s geotagging, how long until the Blips from SL to AU have a similar gridtagging function, which in effect track your travels around the grid?

    Like I say, I may have an account there but you’ll not see me adding such apps. I don’t do it for RL, what makes you think I’ll do it for SL or EVE or any of the other places I visit? And Orion’s point is dead on – these tools do nothing but provide fresh meat for the people like the JLU who love to harvest every bit of data they can on your activities so they can use it to blackmail and expose and have banned.

  12. Sigmund Leominster

    Feb 4th, 2010

    Darian, good for you! I think I’ll starting making in-world friend offers to folks who DON’T use AU ;) And who is Kris Spade and why does he keep sending requests for being “united” when I keep hitting the “ignore” button? I think some folks are hitting the “random” key at the top of their “Profile” page and then hitting “Unite.” I reckon if you just sat for half an hour you could whip through a few hundred folks.

  13. Jumpman Lane

    Feb 4th, 2010

    i joined up for months ago! BEFORE them pesky Lindens bought up the dump! The set wallace /walker lindun as an advertizin piece lmao

  14. Toy

    Feb 5th, 2010

    I joined it only to keep my name, I have no intentions of using it

  15. Robble Rubble

    Feb 5th, 2010


  16. Senban Babii

    Feb 5th, 2010

    Hey! Serious question time!

    Second Life’s TOS applies to SL itself and the SL forums, right? Well now that Linden Lab owns Avatars United, how long do we think it will be before the SL TOS is quietly updated to include AU?

    Best start thinking about just what you write on there and about who before it gets used against you.

  17. Rawst Berry

    Feb 6th, 2010

    This reminds me of the time when everyone was hating on reality TV shows. Well, people still do. It always made me wonder how they got so popular if, apparently, everyone hates them.

    Now it’s social networking sites. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t use a single one. I guess I just don’t like reading mundane facts about people I barely know. But the fact that they exist means that someone finds them useful.

  18. Senban Babii

    Feb 6th, 2010

    @Rawst Berry

    “This reminds me of the time when everyone was hating on reality TV shows. Well, people still do. It always made me wonder how they got so popular if, apparently, everyone hates them.”

    That’s a fair question. Partly the answer lies with the fact that the majority of the human race are cattle who unconsciously subscribe to the doctrine of Idiocy Of The Crowds. Just because a majority find something fills the emptiness of their existence, doesn’t mean that it is meaningful or that it has value (compare to the society found in Fahrenheit 451 for example). In fact the reality TV bubble has well and truly burst, especially since people have slowly realised that the majority of the shows are pre-scripted. They are nothing but chewing gum for the masses. In the same sense, even the social networking bubble is starting to burst as people realise that not only is it empty of value but that the social networking companies are simply commodifying your lives so as to sell the data.

    Now I’m sure that critics will already be rolling up their sleeves to defend their position but what I wrote above *is* the truth. People just don’t like to believe it applies to them. Thankfully, I got rid of my TV years ago, around the start of the reality TV boom in fact. I have some social networking accounts – Twitter, which I almost never look at and which I’ve been stripping out recently. Facebook, which I now only keep for Island Life if I’m honest and AU, which I only keep to watch the carnage unfold. Oh, and I still have a MySpace page I recall from years ago if I can bother to remember the password. I guess you could also count my blog? If there’s anything I’ve missed, forgive me but it’s simply a sign of how little social networking impacts my life.

    Here’s an old blog I wrote on web2.0 celebrity if you’re interested http://whenitchanged.blogspot.com/2009/06/celebrity-in-web20-generation.html (ONOZ MAH REEL NAYM ECKSHPOZED! – Probably added to a wiki page by the time you read this, know what I mean?)

  19. Jumpman Lane

    Feb 9th, 2010

    Philip Linden accepted Jumpman Lane friendship request (unread) [IT'S ON NOW! IF ME AN OL DIRT FACE PHIL GET COOL A LOTTA U TURDS GONNA BE IN TROUBLE! SEE YA AT THE WATER TREATMENT PLANT ...UH...TURDZ!]

  20. Prof. Archie Lukas

    Feb 12th, 2010

    Client retention initiative

    ’nuff said

  21. Violet

    Mar 10th, 2012

    Yes, but the corporate SL has swallowed AU and I have now continued to develop my SL social profile on http://www.avatarpals.com which caters to all second life and virtual world avatars like IMVU too. It is a small friendly community but I just need a space to store my virtual life memories and socialize without having to reveal all info of my RL as Facebook demands! AvatarPals.com is the savior I was waiting for.

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