Ello is the next ad-free, “we don’t sell your information”, invite-only social network to come and sweep the scene. And while it’s buggy right now, looking past those bugs isn’t hard — and I like what I’m seeing. Here’s what it looks like:

Posts can be short like a tweet, or longer like a blog post, and posting images seems to work more like tumblr than Instagram. Your feed is broken into “friends” and “noise” which is something I’ve wanted from Twitter for years. 

Ello is new and buggy, and yes, I may be jumping the shark a little (I just got invited like, an hour ago), but I’m excited to see what comes next. 

How do we represent identity in virtual worlds?

This is a blog post I wrote last week for my Self & Society in Virtual Worlds class, which meets in Second Life once a week. I enjoyed writing about this topic, so I thought I’d repost it here with a few updates to provide some context which is important! (like I say in the post)

In virtual interactions, we lose many of the cues that we take for-granted in face-to-face interactions. We don’t have the speed and openness of body language, so we’re forced to infer things based off signs that might not actually be present. For example a sarcastic comment may be interpreted as hostile, a message ending in a period could be interpreted as more serious than the sender intended, or peaceful internet comments may spiral into a flamewar over a simple typo. Seemingly insignificant things like this can be magnified in online contexts where there aren’t any other clues to draw from.

While both readings provide an insightful context into how other people affect identity, I particularly enjoyed “The Presentation of Self” by Goffman. My two main takeaways from the readings this week were: 1) being observed often has a significant and immediate impact on thoughts and actions and 2) that appearances influences identity.

“The Presentation of Self” talked about the two different types of sign activity: signs that we give vs. signs that we give off, signs that are intentional vs. signs that are unintentional. One could also argue it could be described as being Deceptive vs. being Honest, because there’s never a guarantee that someone is genuine, even in a physical context. This quote by William I. Thomas sums it up: “We live by inference. […] You do not know, you cannot determine scientifically, that I will not steal your money.” This is especially true online, where it can be astonishingly easy to impersonate someone.

The context of an online interaction is critical to how that interaction plays out. Certain environments imply certain affordances — for example, a tweet will be seen by your followers who either 1) looking at Twitter when you post it or 2) scroll past that particular point in time on their feeds. Also, 3) If you’re public, anyone who views your account can see your tweets. I say different things on Facebook (where there’s a chance family might see what I’m saying) than I do when texting my roommate or than I do when I’m playing Xbox Live online multiplayer.

Norms and rules are a critical part of making a virtual interaction work. As we develop new norms and new technologies, our interactions will change and improve. Snapchat and Second Life are great examples of two unique and different ways replicate ways of interacting in a “real world.” Snapchat replicates the instant, ephemeral, personal ways we connect face-to-face — users literally send a photo of their faces (with an optional caption) to friends. Second Life, on the other hand, imitates the physical world we interact in, dropping a highly-customizable avatar into a robust virtual world. Interactions in both take place differently because of that, and both are an example of new and forward thinking ways we’re going to interact in the future.