Building trust in virtual communities

Alan Moore has posted a fascinating interview with Benjamin Joffe, CEO of China-based consulting boutique Plus Eight Star, about a special report his firm published last month on Cyworld, the virtual community that began in South Korea and which is spreading globally.

The interview is interesting for its peek at some really useful insight and background into Cyworld. What struck me in particular is Joffe’s comment about the advantages of members using real names as opposed to make-believe naming that’s typical, for instance, in Second Life:

[…] The key point in Cyworld is its ‘real-name policy’. Basically you need to use your real name associated with your official ID number to register. This has become more or less a standard among South Korean Internet services. It is a bit counter-intuitive, but real name policy does not damage free speech, it brings responsibility, courtesy and a lot of benefits for users themselves in terms of trust in the information they can find. We faced the same elements when doing a benchmark of best practices
in online ‘serious dating’ services: trust and reliability brings a very high value to services.

That makes complete sense to me. Whenever you meet anyone new in Second Life, you often have no idea at all if the person really is who he or she says he or she is.

I think this stifles opportunities to build new and trusting relationships. To be fair, the Cyworld example is greatly influenced by culture and behaviours – vastly different in Asian countries compared to North America and Europe. Still, ‘virtual anonymity’ such as you see in Second Life certainly makes many people cautious.

Linden Lab, Second Life’s developer, does offer an option to use a real name, but they’ll charge you for that. A shortsighted approach, I believe.

Virtual communities are becoming big business – whatever some Second Life purists may think or wish – and, just as in the real world, trust is the catalyst for it all working.

A final note about Joffe’s Cyworld report – he is offering a free introduction version (download link to the 107-page PDF in Alan’s post). The report provides greater detail on Cyworld and its development in the context of other virtual communities including MySpace and Second Life.

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