THE FASTEST WAY for a college student to become a social leper is to live outside of virtual space. Because you're so not connected to friends if you lack an online social profile. That conclusion resonates from several sources in Ireland and today from Vic Keegan in The Guardian. "Virtual reality is the new reality," Keegan says.
Things I have seen during the past academic year: online gated communities for clubbing, continued success of AnotherFriend's dating site, sharing research load through wikis and Writely, launching a band through Podsafe Music Network, listening to a gig in Second Life while doing 2D embedded browsing, exchanging Lindens for real currency.
When Fresher's Week kicks off a few months from now across Ireland, shouldn't much of the action be in Bebo or MySpace? If politicians want to energise the politically disaffected third level audience, shouldn't they hitch their electioneering cart onto social networks that emanate from the Irish blogosphere or from Boards.ie?
In today's Guardian, Keegan points out "MySpace gets most of the publicity thanks to the hype created when Rupert Murdoch acquired it, but most of the activity has been below the radar of mainstream media on sites such as Bebo and Facebook, that claims 7.5m users spending 20 minutes a day online." This is an Irish social phenomenon. Keegan points to "Faceparty, started six years ago, predates MySpace but until recently was largely unreported in the serious press. According to Hitwise, it has more than 6m subscribers (rising by 35,000 a week) and was the number one community site in the UK in the first quarter." And here's something else--using Linden dollars as real-world micropayment currency is happening already. Just listen to Adam Curry babble about it and it's obvious that an alternative currency has slipped into a virtual world that parallels real life.
There's a lot to be learned by leveraging social communities online. My latest adventure takes me back into Last.fm where it feels as though there are 3m fellow listeners. It was much more popular around the campus of Northern Arizona University where I visited a few weeks ago. It handles 10m songs a day--way more than the Yahoo! service that launches whenever I come online with Yahoo! Messenger.