Social Skirmishing in Virtual Reality
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Does the nature of the internet give rise to a no-win situation for internet based companies looking to control the actions of their user base?

One of the interesting elements of a platform such as Activeworlds and the representation by an avatar is that for the most part, a person can only be in one place at once – this in itself is nothing special in terms of natural reality; however in virtual worlds it takes upon a new twist.

Politics exists everywhere, from Westminster to the Slashdot forums and every conceivable situation in between. This is also very apparent in 3D universes such as Activeworlds.

The most important part in any political campaign is of course the people, and in virtual reality environments it takes politics to bring about politics. It is often the case that the most active periods of virtual reality life are those when involved in rallies for a popular cause, usually one against something perceived as a more powerful entity.

We can consider this form of Social Skirmishing increase rapidly with the onset of time. One of the best known examples was with the price increases of 2001, where Activeworlds, Inc announced that it would be raising prices 600% from $20 a year to $120 a year. This brought about huge protests, with users gathering together in virtual locations to protest.

This can be seen as a defensive measure by the users, the old age rule of protection in numbers – typically virtual reality defences are intended to stop a single user, not large clusters of users.

If you are in the unfortunate position of being the one opposed then you are faced with a difficult situation.

In one situation you have the tools to eliminate large clusters of users, of course with the diverse nature of virtual reality environments once users begin to be picked off, they will move elsewhere to a virtually geographic area they persevere to be friendly territory.

There are of course ways to eliminate the majority of users completely, however this of course means that you eliminate your user base, and often the source of your business. This makes taking action a double edged sword.

The second situation is when you do not have the ability to prevent protests; the best example of this in recent times is when Digg was flooded with tens of thousands of votes and comments with the HDDVD cipher keys.

Digg made the choice to initially attempt to prevent users from posting; however in doing this they only provided publicity to the efforts. Resulting in thousands more users rallying. Eventually Digg had to accept defeat.

The question is, in a virtual reality world, where a rally of thousands can be put together in under 10 minutes, what hope is there for the communist evil oppressors?

Very little.

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