Whither the (market and academic) research in Second Life?
I’ve spent my last three years seeking out research about virtual worlds in order to put the information into the Social Simulation Research Lab in Second Life. I’ve not updated it in quite a while, I’m afraid, as work and study pressure has forced my hand towards more pressing requirements. However, I have gathered many many many resources about virtual worlds social research into one place, and I’m rather proud of it.
One thing I’m not so happy with is the rather scant section of in-world research. When I started my own, I was one of approximately 15 people examining the culture of the virtual world. It was almost impossible – even then – to track the others down. I did manage to find Donald Jones’ paper about queer culture in SL (his Masters thesis on the subject is finally here and is awaiting inclusion in the SSRL’s virtual stacks), track down anthropologist Tom Bukowski (his avatar name) and eventually Thomas Chesney alerted me to his ethnographic work and Yakoub Islam pointed me to his research on religious identity in the virtual world. But otherwise, I’ve found very little about in-world research that I could include.
So what research is actually going on in Second Life? Who knows? Linden Lab doesn’t anymore; they abolished the research vetting processes in January 2007 in favour of delegating the responsibility to ethics committees at the local level.
But arguably knowing what’s going on in there would be invaluable – for current and future students, market researchers and even press bureaus. At last month’s Learning and Research workshop, one of the participants recommended that Linden Lab provide a repository of research which Residents, Lindens and researchers alike could refer to, out of curiosity, in the interest of self-disclosure and/or for inspiration. With a little help from an insider, I’ve discovered the Second Life Market Data Portal which has a list of the Market Researchers inside SL, an outline of the 2007 Second Life Market Data Project, and a list of the demographic studies that are currently going on.
But as for academic research, while we have the 3rd party SimTeach Wiki and the SL Educators/Researchers Listservs, neither of these resources has a library of information about actual research projects, just research institutions interested in SL. The Association of Internet Researchers’ most recent conference had abstracts with “second life” in presented papers (find them by searching here), and there were over 40 research proposal submissions for the Learning and Research in Second Life workshop (edited collection or special journal edition forthcoming). But I’m sure there’s more out there. Aaron Delwiche’s students use SL for research all the time.
Cobbling this together is now almost impossible, but if anyone out there knows of a mighty knowledge base of existing, past and future in-world research, please do let me know.