Co-Creating ‘Second Life’: An Analysis of Collaborative Co-Design Processes in Community-Authored Virtual Worlds
Developments in digital communication technologies, the emergence of social media and the shifting of the digital media landscape towards a more participatory platform are not only the driving forces behind the implication of new technologies to the market, but they also have significant effects on the ways people communicate, interact, participate and create communicative content in social contexts. This PhD project aims to observe how residents of Second Life (SL) use the virtual world as a collaborative tool for creativity to co-design the world’s content—that is, virtual places and artifacts that mediate communication in SL. The outlined theoretical framework and methodological approach is intended to summarize impressions from my observations of Second Life “builders” in order to understand who they are, how they collaborate and how they make sense of their co-design experiences. In order to theorize the communicative aspects of the co-creation processes of virtual places and artifacts that constitute SL’s grid, this PhD project seeks answers to following research questions: 1) How do the designers (“builders”) in Second Life collaboratively make use of the virtual world’s affordances, and organize their resources within its constraints, in order to build 3D virtual places that facilitate social interaction among residents? 2) Can the (presumed) “collaborative co-design” model of Second Life provide implications about how forthcoming models of user-generated content can effectively lead to user-driven innovation in virtual worlds? The categories of analysis emerged from a combination of theory and observations from twopilot studies completed in 2009. In these pilot studies, first, a 3-month multidisciplinary design process of a virtual laboratory was observed. Then, the laboratory was used for teaching purposes; students were asked to create virtual artifacts and join focus group interviews afterwards. The analysis so far indicates that Second Life comprises various affordances to facilitate object-based collaboration in design processes, and allows designers to develop context-specific co-design methods using available design resources (inspirational or material) situated within the virtual world (i.e., building 3D models, shopping for supplies, outsourcing tasks). Within this context, user-driven innovation is intended to imply innovative user practices within virtual worlds to find new ways of interaction and participation. The ultimate purpose of the study is to theorize social patterns that transform user-generated content into user-driven innovation, and to provide theoretically grounded empirical knowledge on which aspects of existing collaborative co-design facilities in community-authored virtual worlds affect user creativity and participation.