Gender-bending Avatars Inspire Less Trust

July 6, 2007 at 9:21 am | Posted in social software, virtual worlds | Leave a comment

An article in the July 5, 2007 issue of New Scientist Tech indicates that the ability to select avatars that are vastly different in appearance than their creators can exacerbate the trust problem. The study found that androgynous avatars were perceived as less trustworthy and goofy avatars (like a ketchup bottle) rated very poorly. Trust is fundamental to business relationships and, accordingly, solutions for conveying trust will need to be established before enterprises can make full use of virtual worlds.

Trust is a currently an unresolved pain point for virtual worlds. As I posted earlier, David Weinberger at the Enterprise 2.0 conference listed the next frontiers for Enterprise 2.0 to conquer as authority, trust, and boundaries. The set of characteristics used to inspire trust in face-to-face communications is hamstrung in virtual environments. As virtual worlds slowly make their way into enterprises, how can we know who to trust when anyone can shape their appearance? What about people that have multiple avatars for different occassions? If someone today treats me rudely or cheats me, how do I know I won’t encounter them again in a new skin and with a new name tomorrow? Trust is established based on relationships or behavior, but which behaviors matter in a virtual world?

Trust in business usually involves

  • Knowing that a person is who they say they are, both from an identity and role point of view
  • The ability to predict a person’s behavior with a high degree of accuracy
  • Viewing the motivation of a person as based on benevolence and sincerity

Shopping sites have created trust metrics such as eBay’s ratings system, but these ratings have not yet been applied to virtual worlds and may not work as well as they do with Friendster or Slashdot (karma points).

Ultimately, Captain Kirk shouldn’t have been so focused on space; “trust” is the final frontier.

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