Monday, July 23, 2007

Who is your avatar?

I'm quickly approaching my 1 year anniversary as a resident of Second Life and lately I've spent a fair amount of time inside this virtual world. The more time I spend the more interesting people I meet. The more interesting the person the more I realize that they are living in a reality where their avatar is perceived as the first persona and their real persona is now on the shelf collecting dust.

Being married with a young child and a dog I am forced into a world of normalcy. Sure, I make a concerted effort not to fit in with most parents my age, because
their sense of normalcy gives me the shakes although I do have my quirks which I freely admit to possessing and which I fully embrace. When I originally created my avatar, MSGiro Grosso, I tried my best to design it after my human self, even right down to choosing an Italian last name. The only liberty I took was to have a somewhat crazy hairstyle, which is impossible to recreate in the real world unless you have five different products from Bed Head. I only use two which means my hair is borderline different. When you see the effort and great lengths that Second Life residents go to in order to create their perfect persona you realize how easy it is to fall in love with that character and eventually want to become them.

Creating a persona on the other side of a computer where nobody can see you and pass instant judgment upon you is quite empowering. It gives you great confidence when total strangers are drawn to your avatar and quickly strike up a friendship. I can see how one may want to become that person and in some cases I've befriended people within Second Life who now want to be known by their avatar name and/or persona in the real world. Even Second Life developer, Aimee Weber, is somebody else in the real world yet she prefers to go by her avatar name. It's as if avatars have given everyone the ability to have a stage name, which was until recently only reserved for the entertainment industry. I wonder why it took a 3D virtual universe to bring that confidence out in somebody, because obviously it's been stored away inside of that person for a long time and yet they don't possess the confidence to tie that newfound attitude to their birth name, because somehow that name has established characteristics and expectations that cannot be changed. I'm sure in 5 years time a group of researchers will release studies on the influence of avatar based society and it's sociological ramifications on the human based society and I hope I'm the first person to read about their findings, because I find this to be so fascinating.

I bring this up, because as a marketer I'm curious if this is going to change how we look at Second Life demographics when approaching the build-out of a client's presence within the environment. Sure we may have loads of data on the typical behavior of a 28 year old single woman who is the manager of a drugstore in the South, but does that mean you have to cater your messaging to her or do you apply it to her avatar who is a 6' tall, redheaded, bombshell who spends her time as an escort in Second Life? Who am I speaking to? That's our challenge. As the community expands even further this should work itself out in one direction or the other, but for now it has forced us to be sensitive to this new reality and carefully assess our approach.

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