Sunday, June 5, 2011

Can We Talk?

Second Life is all about communication. It offers a wealth of ways to communicate with others: text chat, voice chat, text and voice IM, group chat, gestures, group notices and notecards. It even offers instant translation into other languages, although Google’s recent announcement that they will be discontinuing the Translate API might spell the end of that convenience.

The mini-nation of Caledon calls itself “Well-Mannered Caledon” in its press releases and brochures…and indeed it is. Citizens address each other by their titles. In Caledon, I’m “Miss Kidd” or “Professor Kidd”. How refreshingly formal and polite!

I mention this because the Caledonians are an oasis of good communications manners in a desert of poor etiquette. I don’t single out Second Life here…the art of dealing politely with others has been woefully neglected by today’s society, whether on line or in real life. Schools don’t teach etiquette, parents don’t (most of them were not taught by THEIR parents, and one cannot pass on what one does not possess.)

But politeness is the lubricant that lessens the friction of social interaction. Far from being, as some young people contend, hypocritical, good manners are essential to a smoothly-functioning society. So today, I’m going to talk about Communications Etiquette and provide some good and bad examples.

Local text chat can be “heard” by anyone within 20 meters of the speaker. Voice chat carries a little bit further, but has much the same general range. (General rule: If you can see an avatar’s nametag, they can hear you.) So whatever you say may very well impinge on people beyond the specific person you’re speaking to.

That’s important to remember, because it forms the very basis of good chat etiquette. Some specific points:
  • In a group, use the name of the person to whom you are speaking, to avoid confusion. If Judy Resident owes me $L100, and I simply say, “Pay me $L100”, I could find myself either (a) inundated with donations from kind citizens (highly unlikely), or (b) Abuse Reported for begging. Instead, I should say “Judy, please pay me the $L100 you owe.” Or better yet, use IM for a private talk.
  • Don’t overuse gestures. Chat gestures that type huge pictures made out of text characters make the local chat hard to read for everyone. Audio gestures like the ever-popular “HOOOOOO!” drown out the music. If you like the DJ or the performer, tip them instead!
  • Keep the racy emotes in IM.
  • For heaven’s sake, turn off your chatty bits! This applies to talking genitals, talking fetuses, talking Neko tails…just about any object that says what you probably think are cute and clever and funny things, but annoy the heck out of everyone else.
  • DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is an internet convention for “shouting”, and unless you really do mean to place special emphasis on your words, you shouldn’t do it. (You can actually “shout” out to 100 meters with CTRL+Enter, but that isn’t the same thing as SHOUTING IN CAPS.)
  • A little shorthand is fine, chat is a very immediate medium. But you will be perceived as more intelligent (whether or not you really are) if you spell out words, spell correctly, and speak grammatically.
First Avatar: wuddup? ur prety
Second Avatar: Good morning, Miss Kidd. You’re looking very lovely today.
Both express the same sentiment. Which avatar would you rather go out with?

The most annoying things about Voice are:
  • Trying to force it on people who don’t want to use it. I know some men are so insecure they won’t speak to any female avatar they haven’t “voice verified”. I’m not here to argue with them, but I do want to point out that a voice/avatar mismatch isn’t always just a gender thing. Hearing a child or tiny avatar speak like an old person, or a huge dragon with a sweet soprano destroys my sense of immersion just as much as hearing a beautiful woman with a baritone.
  • Leaving your microphone live when you aren’t speaking. Some of the sounds people make while sitting alone at their computers are truly disgusting. I recommend you do NOT use “push to talk in toggle mode”. It's too easy to forget and leave your mic live.
  • Using the voice channel to play music. This makes it hard for anyone else to use voice, and it interferes with the parcel’s own audio and media streams. Keep your music to yourself please!
One that both text and voice users can fall into: Ignoring the people using the other method. Text users, turn on your voice options, so you can hear the voicers! Voicers, keep an eye on the chat and don’t ignore the texters! We all live here.

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