Internet Realities

Over the last few weeks a number of managers at various levels of ACS were involved in a review of Lindens for Life a virtual fundraiser, which took place in 2nd Life an electronic game, for the benefit of a Relay for Life team. The Futuring and Innovation center was an observer of the activity in question from its inception as part of our research into the critical area of social networks and social software. From our perspective this sequence of events, the decisions made and the rational for those decisions provide a wealth of information that can help ACS to understand the issues around social networks and social software. To further this effort Guy Fischer and I are setting up a conference call with all of those involved in order to review where we are and what we should look to in the future.

Let me give you a little back round. The innovations mandate requires the FIC to look into a lot of areas and social trends that are just emerging but are likely to have a significant future impact on our business. By definition many of the things we look at are far from mainstream, trends tend to originate on the fringe. The diverse area of social networking is certainly not new but technology has altered the field’s economics and made entirely new business models possible. Some of these models can revolutionize our business for the good if we are prepared. Conversely they could also provide negative disruption if we do not understand and plan. The emerging Social Software industry has been identified as an area that will have huge implications for ACS and all voluntary health organizations. In order to better understand and prepare for this emerging technology the FIC is developing and leading a multi-agency initiative in order to provide the context and essential understanding that will lead to appropriate and productive uses.

As part of this work we are in contact with a lot of industry leaders. One of the really creative people is Philip Rosedale the founder of Linden Labs whose product is 2nd Life a multi player persistent game. We have maintained a learning liaison with Rosedale and have followed the company and the development of 2nd Life since last April.

Electronic games are now a worldwide business with a larger gross income then the traditional film industry. 2nd Life is a unique game where the concept is to let a very large number of players use the Internet to create and be members of an ever-changing virtual society with its own virtual economy, institutions and social systems. One could not design a better learning lab to understand how philanthropic behavior and fund raising systems develop in a newly forming multi cultural society. For this research purpose Randy Moss in my office monitors the 2nd Life game a few hours a week.

About six weeks ago we were pleased to see that a fundraiser for a major charity was being organized inside the game, by one of the players. We were particularly interested that it was for ACS. We watched it emerge and happen and after it was over did track down the organizer to learn about him and the why of the event. He turned out to be an Air Force guy who was also into Relay and had used his contacts in the 2nd Life game to raise $2,000 for Relay. As we know ACS later turned the money down because of its Internet connection and our understandable lack of knowledge about the individual or the nature of the 2nd Life game. On the surface it looked complex. The reality was what he was doing was raising money for ACS from people he met in a place where he spends some of his leisure time, nothing less nothing more. The only unique thing here is that he spends some of his leisure time in a cyber space game and he wanted some recognition for his donors on the games cyber news show, thus the reference to the big check.

From my perspective this was a serendipitous occurrence that adds to our understanding of Internet fund raising and our institutional lack of readiness for it. Our multi level and multi department assumptions and reactions to a well intended and innovative, Relay participant who was operating outside of our knowledge base and comfort zone is instructive. The emerging social network tools have great potential but to use them effectively we need to understand the area in all its dimensions. We need to be proactive.

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  1. A thoughtful response to the situation, Mike. I agree with what you said about FI Center’s role. The enormous growth of computer networking services and the ever-evolving ways people are using their communications power to organize to do things—many of them quite novel things—has changed the options for social organization irrevocably. The way people make community today is not the same as it was ten years ago, and it will be very different again in another ten years. There’s no going back, and avoiding engaging these new community systems is a sure way to stagnation.

    When a new community first gets involved with ACS they often become enthusiastic and do things to—in their view—help us in ways that are at variance with our policies. I hope the reaction to the event on 2nd Life wasn’t any stronger than for those occasions when other, more corporeal, communities do something similar.

    I’m all for FI Center keeping up the involvement with 2nd Life and similar emerging social groups. We can get to know them and they can learn what constraints we’d like to operate under. Understanding is a two-way street, said Elanor Roosevelt (wife of our 32nd president, for you youngsters). Let’s keep traveling the street.

  2. Another thought…a question really.
    Why did we turn down the $2000?

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