As I am typing this I have a little avatar at the bottom of my screen keeping an eye on me. This avatar is about one inch high and is called a weblin. I have only just discovered weblins (they have been around for a while apparently). I heard about them on Fleep’s Deep Thoughts and I went to investigate over on weblin.com to find out more for myself. When I got there I was met by a cheer leader weblin who waved poms poms at me and gave directions on how to make my practice-weblin ‘be angry’ and wave.
I had been struck by Fleep’s Deep Thought’s statement about weblin.com: “I think this is something of a paradigm shift, and another transitional step to the fully immersive 3D Web or whatever you want to call the evolution we see happening with online social networks and virtual worlds technology.” Fleep further speculates on the use of weblins for education saying in effect they could provide a form of social presence for scattered students.
I think Fleep might be right about this. I recently took a distance education class and missed the relaxed conversations (about the class) that take place during the coffee breaks of face to face meetings. I wrote about this missing element in an earlier blog post ‘Virtual Coffee’ suggesting Second Life could play a role as a location for virtual coffee breaks. But Second Life is a huge unwieldy beast compared to these diddy little weblins! I can see online class discussions taking place with weblins running around providing a useful additional feature. Weblins are less formal than email as communication can be carried out in chat, and the visual back drop to the interaction would be class discussion threads. This visible prompt would provide a ‘social presence of place’ lending a context and meaning for the class chat. In fact, I wonder if any educators are using weblins to add more dimension to online courses already?
A swarm of weblins on MSN poised to become my friends!
I downloaded the beta version of weblin and I am now experimenting with it. So far I have discovered that when you sign in for your online email accounts with yahoo, gmail and msn swarms of weblins appear. They announce themselves with heavy foot steps and speak or gesture with bird warblings. It is fun to explore, though I cannot fathom why total strangers want to be my friend just because we both popped onto the same web page. I found myself with only one other weblin called ‘Dennis’ on the BBC news page, but I couldn’t think of anything cheery to say to her considering our backdrop of natural disasters, murder and football stories. I guess I am not a fully fledged social networker?
Cyberloom says ‘cheep’ in a skirt and jacket (one size too small) standing next to a weblin chap with pointy ears.
Now, it is intriguing to consider that one inch tall pixel representations of humans can inject some degree of ‘social presence’ (see earlier posts Social presence Theory and Second Life & Social presence and skin deep reality). Obviously size does not matter when it comes to reinforcing the impression of talking with another human being, our minds just need to latch onto the image of another human? (Hence the success of chatting bots?) I also wonder about the social presence of location when applied to meeting on web pages. That is, the web pages will determine weblins behavior and conversation. For example, MSN is a communications watering hole, a focal point for people looking to meet in chat-rooms or simply aiming to email friends. Other web pages will draw weblins with common interests. I was going to take my weblin for a walk across different sites to see how many other weblins I could find but my weblin vanished! I discovered I needed to download a Firefox plugin (for a while there I thought my weblin had run off with the Greek chap with pointy ears to a more ‘mature’ page… I need to talk to her/it?)
In the meantime, as weblins walk slowly to and fro across the bottom of web pages determining Fleep’s possible paradigm shift, I wonder how, when and where my weblin can find clothes that fit will her?