Monday, October 8, 2007

The Big Reveal

You choose a name. It might be similar to your real name, or it might not. You create an avatar. He or she might look a lot like your real self, or might not. You begin to make friends in SL, people whose real names you don’t know. Unless you’re completely immersed in role play, you probably tell them a lot about your real life: your family, your work, where you live. Eventually you might tell them your real first name.

If you are trying to keep your real identity under wraps you may think just providing your first name is safe; but if you’ve provided enough other information, it may not be too difficult for a resourceful person to find you in cyberspace. Adam gave me his real name, email address, and website address quite readily. As a woman, I was more cautious—or so I thought. Adam knew my city, and what I do in RL. After I told him my real first name, I realized that he might have everything he needed to find me in RL. I did a quick search with Google using my first name, what I design, and my city: lo and behold, there I was.

Sparky did something similar. He told me his first name. He had also posted a link to a website in his SL profile. On that website is an email link to contact the webmaster—whose first name is the same one Sparky gave me. He verified that I had found him; we had developed some trust by then, so it wasn’t a problem. But just knowing his name and city allowed me to find quite a few references to his work, and—the most unnerving of all—his home address and phone number.

There are myriad other ways you might provide enough personal data to reveal your RL identity. It didn’t even cross my mind, when I emailed my friend Jet a document written in Word, that the file info for that document had my real name in it—because when you set up those programs on your computer, they ask for that information and add it to every file you create, unless you make sure that setting is turned off. Never mind that Roisin has an email account separate from her typist, set up to protect her identity; the attached document gave me away.

Of course, those are accidental reveals; but you might want to exchange RL information with an SL friend deliberately. At what point do you make that decision? How much in-world chatting is enough to feel safe telling someone your real name? And then do you take the SL-to-RL crossover to phone numbers, MySpace, business websites, exchanging photos of your RL self, webcams, even meeting in RL?

Since I try to keep a membrane between SL and RL, I don’t intentionally give out RL info too readily. Oh, sure, there’s a photo of my RL self in my SL house, but to me that’s fairly harmless. And with Sparky and Jet, I have an understanding that any personal information we have shared or discovered is strictly to satisfy our curiosity; our friendships remain confined to SL and MSN. While we can use MSN to hear each other’s voices or see each other via webcam, we do so sparingly.

That’s not to say that I’ve never become RL friends with someone I met online; I met one of my closest RL friends in an online birding chat room some 14 years ago. And if I found myself in the towns where some of my SL friends live, we might meet at a RL coffee house. But I have no travel plans.


Anonymous said...

The danger in SL is that relationships seem to develop very very fast, and tend to explode just as quickly. Its the non face to face communication, very direct and up front.

So its fine to reveal as much as you feel free with, in the end its just honesty. But important to make sure that it doesn't bounce back and bite you. You need to be sure who you are dealing with? are you sure?
Cliff Hotaling

Roisin Hotaling said...

Exactly, Cliff. Making a conscious decision to reveal who you are requires both careful consideration AND a leap of faith.

I also wanted to point out here how easy it can be to accidentally reveal your identity even if you don't intend to. I haven't been bitten...yet. Others may not be so fortunate.

Anonymous said...

Shows what the true value of Trust is!

Or protective we are of our RL?

Cliff Hotaling

Thatcher Darkstone said...


I really enjoyed your writing; it seems to be a forgotten art. Hope to see you in-world, and Tessa, too, more.

Thanks so much for your help in SL, and your insight into privacy protection.

Garrett Larkham said...

When I started in SL in August 2007 I would mention aspects of my RL life just to make conversation. But now I just keep SL and RL stuff separate as much as possible.

I think it's the right way to go. Makes things less complicated...don't you agree? was great seeing you at Slade's and Siv's party on Monday, Ro-SHEEN :))