Digital storytelling Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Gordon Luk on avatars in games and social media sites / stickiness and museums

Gordon Luk has, post-SXsW posted some well illustrated examples of avatars and the types of available customisation that can be done in various MMORPGs and social media sites.

Luk is looking at the differences between ‘explicitly controlled’ and ‘implicitly controlled’ customisations. The former being those that are created by the user/player (initial picture, autobiography) and the latter being those that are generated or altered by the game engine itself. What he is interested in is how social media applications can learn from game environments,

avatars can play a large role in improving participation in games and social media, and can arguably go a long way into transforming one into the other. Building these layers into a community system can definitely result in game dynamics, and I’d bet that it would improve network engagement.

From using a lot there it becomes apparent that part of the pleasure and stickiness of the site lies in the ‘implicitly controlled’ customisations. In these are the automatically logged track and album charts that generate as you play and ‘scrobble’ music into their system (game), and the ‘neighbours’, ‘radio stations’ and ‘recommendations’ the system generates as a result. Through pleasure and stickiness comes an investment from the user in continuing to maintain their (in this case musical) identity on the site.

One of the things I am looking forward to in San Francisco at Museums and the Web this year is hearing how museums are encouraging stickiness and user investment in their proposed and in some cases, already developed, post 2.0 era websites. I expect it isn’t always going to be a ‘build it and they will come’ situation unless museums can get the ‘stickiness’ factor right with their target audiences. This is where I can see great merit in Jim Spadaccini and others work with smaller museums and non-profits, choosing to harness already existing, and already ‘sticky’ social media rather than try to develop their own (competing) ones.

Fundamentally the question is “why does someone spend so much time in a game world customising their avatar?”. And, “how can we get them to do that on our site as well?”

2 replies on “Gordon Luk on avatars in games and social media sites / stickiness and museums”

Then you should enjoy our presentation on Second Life Museums. As one museum owner we interviewed suggested, it’s not ‘build it and they will come” it’s “let them build it and they’ll keep coming back.”

I recently wrote about the idea of FOAMs (Friends of Museums – ala FOAF, friend of a friend), but hadn’t considered the an avatar aspect of it. The problem with “my museum” type features on museum websites is they are not very portable. As a consumer of museums I may be interested in connecting with many different kinds of museums. Personally I already find maintaining my many avatars can be a chore, why would I want to have to do it at every museum I’m interested in? A protocol that allowed me to connect with other FOAMs, create my museum ‘avatar’ that bridges the many museums I want to associate myself with and aggregate upcoming events both near and far (the way MySpace tells me what my fav bands are up to…).

Has anyone conducted a survey of museum-related groups in different social media? Flickr, MySpace, etc? The Couch Surfing community has a whole group of FOAMs that travel and provide advice about which museums not to miss.

See you in SF!!!

Hi Richard

I’m looking forward to your presentation.

Identity portability and interoperability, both real and that of your avatars, is going to be a big issue.

OpenID is starting to take off which is great (although it is approaching it from the other side of the identity equation – verification), and I wonder if any musuems are using OpenID in any of their MyMuseum-type projects?

At the presentation-end of the equation I think a lot of people, at least currently, use a common handle (identity name) across multiple platforms (for example, the same handle on MySpace,, FLickr etc – before everyone goes looking – no, I don’t do this!), as a way of making it easier for themselves and friends.

Ideally interoperability would be the end goal, and perhaps it will become possible once the bubble competition between services cools down and users start demanding the ability to port their content from one service to another etc – much in the same way we can, at least in Australia, change mobile phone carriers whilst retaining the same contact phone number.


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