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28 March 2004

There's Island of Women

According to Terra Nova, There will launch a Paradise Island of iVillage women on 30 March. Betsy Book wonders:

iVillage is a text-based community of women whose bonding often takes place specifically around members' relationships to their RL bodies in the form of pregnancy, dieting, health, and beauty tips. While there may be the rare case of role-playing and gender-bending in the iVillage web community (ie. men posing as women), most participants' online identities are extensions of their RL (female) selves. Will this direct tie between offline/online identity carry over into a virtual world? Or will iVillage women use There to role play, whether that means creating an avatar that looks radically different from their RL body, or even choose a male avatar?

I worked on the UK localisation of Flirtboat for Freeserve's women's channel a few years ago, and suspect the findings of this project (pdf) can help us make some predictions about what will happen on There's Paradise Island.

In Flirtboat users select their agent from a number of characters and define its personality, emotional disposition and interests by answering an initial multiple-choice questionnaire and then further in-game questions posed by other characters. The agents are autonomous after creation by the user; the user may influence the agents by giving them advice, which the agents may or may not take into account.

Interestingly those with male avatars were less likely to answer the in-game questions, which were mostly about their RL personality, lifestyle or flirting behaviour. (Another gender-based finding was that those with women avatars were far more likely to be of the Jungian 'feeling' type.)

This suggests to me that the iVillage players in There will carry their RL-derived iVillage identities over into the game. If they can have multiple identities they will, and some of these will be used for gender play, but I believe they will invest most in an identity that is an aspirational representation of their RL self.

Another finding from the UK Flirtboat was that while women were still underrepresented in Flirtboat (with the exception of the 13-19 age group), this was far less pronounced than it is in dating sites or even chat, suggesting that the narrative structure of Flirtboat, and the 'autonomous agents', liberated women users to flirt.

(Incidentally, Flirtboat also had branded areas, e.g. a Lastminute.com sundeck, where the branding was casually integrated into the sun loungers.)

Posted at 01:16 PM in Social software | Permalink


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