Civility and Anonymity

One of the biggest expenses in running There.com was customer support. I think that there were at least two reasons for this:

  • We were a PG-13 world, which, like the real world, allowed minors to freely interact with non-minors. This placed a special burden on us with regards to content, behavior, and moderation in the world.
  • Anonymity gave people a “cloak” under which they could do all sorts of things which they’d never do if they weren’t anonymous. Since they were, the burden fell on Customer Support to resolve the issues.

Lots of Customer Support issues were really issues of civility, ranging from name calling to stalking to you-name-it, in my book “incivility” covered this and everything in between.

To better understand the relationship between civility and anonymity, I suggest you watch the video in this TechCrunch article. Pierre has thought a lot about this, and we (he, I, and lots of other people) experienced it at eBay for many years. It’s a complicated subject.

Recently, I’ve been wondering what a virtual world would be like if:

  1. You couldn’t be anonymous. Somewhere, probably on your profile, you’d have to put your real name.
  2. You have two choices vis-a-vis anonymity.
    • For the regular monthly fee, you have to put your real name somewhere (probably your profile).
    • If you want to be anonymous, you have to pay extra every month.
  3. No matter which you choose, we still have to have a valid name and email address on file.
  4. You could still have multiple avatars, but they’d be linked (somehow) so you couldn’t hide behind an alt to be in-civil.
  5. Some sort of reputation system existed, just like in real life. If you acted like a jerk, there would be social consequences.
  6. You’d have to put a credit card (or other identifying payment method) on file to join to make it expensive to create multiple accounts.
  7. You’d have to be 18+ to join. Period.
  8. Restrictions on “Blood and Gore” would be lifted on developer items, but the “Fig Leaf” and Brand Protection restrictions would remain.
  9. Property would be rented out for real money. In world currency could not be used for property.
  10. Resales of currency outside the world would be prohibited. And in world transaction system would be substituted to allow members to do their own currency arbitrage.

Clearly, some people wouldn’t like this sort of World, probably mostly because of the anonymity issue. That’s fine, as we’ve seen, there are plenty of other virtual worlds out there.

I’m not saying that such a world would ever exist, but if a News Site can try and bring civility back into online discourse, then why not a Virtual World, too?

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  1. #1 by kiki261982 on 2011.04.17 - 4:16 pm

    I think that if there2 opens and it requires a monthly fee and/or fee to join, and if the site is an 18+ requirement i strongly believe that there2 will be a great success. All us therians have missed it so badly that everyone will pay the amount given in the survey! I joined there.com on dec 8th 2008, and instantly fell in love with it. Like everyone else i have been lost without there.com and the fun that there.com gave us! I wish you luck with the process of making a there.com comeback Mr. Wilson! I am so excited to hear that its now in the works of coming back! Sincerely, A therian for life, KiKi

  2. #2 by Bumpin42 on 2011.04.13 - 1:21 pm

    Dear MW If There2 opens and we pay whatever the cost to play, Theres alot of people like me who have alot of stuff so we have more then one avi for all our things, So are we going to have to pay for more then one avi to get all of our things back to our main avi? If so maybe the first mouth can be free so we can log into our other avi`s to get our things together.Oh ya iam one of the ones who will pay upfront for 6mo`s or even a year. Thx Bumpin42

    • #3 by Sarah on 2011.04.18 - 5:19 am

      Me too

  3. #4 by Jimuari on 2011.04.08 - 4:03 pm

    There are many of of out here waiting for There to reopen. Please do it soon and we will pour back in masses. Long Llive There or There2

    • #5 by Michael Wilson on 2011.04.08 - 4:08 pm

      We’d love to do that. But what if we spent the money to make that happen (which is not free), and then ran it, and the membership didn’t make up for the costs? Where would we be then?

      • #6 by daniel on 2011.04.17 - 5:49 pm

        ok. so i read your comment and hears what i think MW sir…i calculated the survey results you posted on April 15 and around 1950 people voted. now say those people were looking on your site everyday for updates and say….if. you open there again 1950 people joined right away that would get there well say you were going to charge $10 a month that would make there $19500 for that frist mount and by one months time tthe word would get out that there.com is open again and more people would join….. its worth a try

  4. #7 by Defector on 2010.06.10 - 7:26 pm

    I would have done it for free but its too late now rofl

    • #8 by Innie on 2011.04.09 - 10:11 am

      That is the problem, too many did it for “free”, and then cost of running it (along with running it for 13+) ate up the money. It needs to be an 18+ game, that charges a monthly fee. They have to make money.

      Free wont happen anymore, which is a great thing.

  5. #9 by reenren on 2010.04.27 - 7:45 pm

    in reference to the first comment by Explorer_One: <>

    True nuff, but who sez u have to link to anyone u know in rl? It was/is just as easy to make a fake account in FB as it is anywhere else lol. And still i could start linking with pp in rl if i really wanted too under my alt id. Some actually do know me in rl, but that’s just incidental. I have never been in a situation where I am forced to create a account that is not whatever I dream up, and I always opt in favor of anonymity. yada yada

    point #2, there ARE social consequences for being an ass, same as if you r an ass in rl. People won’t like you, will unfriend you, block you, put u on iggie, etc.. Really, there is no perfect formula to make pp act right. They either do or they don’t. Many of the people I have seen saying things i wouldnt say under any id both in FB and anywhere else for that matter are doing so under their real names, so not sure the whole “anonymity leads to acting more badly than usual” holds true by any wide margin under close scrutiny.

    just sayin… +P

  6. #10 by Orielle on 2010.04.17 - 10:34 am

    For safety reasons I think it’s a bad idea to force someone to reveal their real name or any real life info in a virtual world for just anyone to see. Just before I joined There I had a stalker in another virtual world that would not take no for an answer. One day I was suddenly logged out of that world and a message popped up saying that my account had been hacked. I immediately logged in to the site and changed my password and as much of my billing info as I could, name and address. I couldn’t put in fake zip code. Ever since that day I enter fake info for any virtual world I join.

    And I met plenty of crazies in There too. If I had to have my real name posted on my profile in There I would have been a nervous wreck the time one came to my town. The guy has a license to carry a concealed weapon and suffered from mood swings, could quickly go from liking me to hating me and vice versa at a drop of a hat… Oh yeah, I really want someone like that knowing my real name. 😛

    • #11 by Michael Wilson on 2010.05.04 - 5:54 pm

      I’ve thought carefully about your comment, and amended the list above :-).

  7. #12 by plainhavoc aka Robert Porter on 2010.04.12 - 9:37 am

    Dear Mr. Wilson,

    I joined There.com in 2007. As most others, I fell in love with the “community” feeling. Friends were made and lost in the same manner as real life. Economic situations vary, especially when you throw the enormous variable called humanity in the mix.

    I was upset at first, Hell, I was furious. I had spent quite a bit of money, time and effort into creating a perfectly peaceful environment to spend my time. When it all came crashing down, nature took course. Denial….Anger…. and finally resolution. My resolution came when I read your chatlog on Thumdar, but not the reaction that you might think.

    There gave me peace, pure and simple. I learned how to develop models for the first time, which I had always had interest in, but never wanted to learn in a “classroom” setting. The wonderful people in There gave me that education. Now that I have the fundamentals down, I finally decided to go back to school for a change in careers. I have YOU to THANK for that opportunity. Without There.com, I would have never developed the intestinal fortitude to make such a leap on my own.

    I know There still exists in some way, and that will always lead to hope. Hope that one day it will return to the public, even if it is never truly the way it was. After all, There WAS a business, and when the deck gets stacked against you, it’s just a matter of time before you have to fold and cash what chips remain.

    I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, however, I will think twice before investing in another “game” again.

    Sincerely,

    Robert Porter
    aka
    HaVoC

  8. #13 by Thereian Fan on 2010.04.12 - 8:16 am

    I see your point in what your saying Mr. Wilson. I believe the reason why they do that is for security reasons. I think what would be great is for those who are the age under 18 their parents must send a legit document stating that I give my son/daughter permission to come on here and I’ve read the Terms of Service and approve it. Something that a parent is acknowledged where their child is and what he or she is doing.

    As Explorer said. There is. You have Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and all of those social networking sites. Maybe having a 2.5D virtual world would might help to boost There’s economy. Now I might not know much about economic or the issues that There had, but it seems like there was a issue in supply and demand. If let’s say you cut down cost in certain things and ask for more demand, than there you could see in a economic difference.

    I’ve listened to the video and I have to say it was very interesting. I was listening about the Pez Candy and the whole ebay industry and I will have to re-watch it and follow what they are explaining in the video. Nicely done.

    • #14 by Sarah on 2011.04.18 - 4:29 am

      (I think what would be great is for those who are the age under 18 their parents must send a legit document stating that I give my son/daughter permission to come on here and I’ve read the Terms of Service and approve it. Something that a parent is acknowledged where their child is and what he or she is doing. )

      Sorry for copy and paste a part of your comment but I want to show you what you said that I think that is good idea

  9. #15 by Explorer_One on 2010.04.12 - 7:34 am

    But doesn’t such a world already exist called Facebook? Try as you might, you can’t really be anonymous once you have linked up your profile to friends from High Schoool, family or co-workers. At that point, doing any “bad deeds” would have serious real life repurcussions.

    Probably a successor to There could be made for facebook with a somewhat realisitc avatar representing you in-world that is directly tied to your Facebook account?!

    What do you think Mr. Wilson? There is plenty of money to be made in that platform if you add a farming component to a re-launch(not joking as Farnvilles stats are still unreal). 🙂

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