Social Computing and WoW

So, the brain is bending and buzzing and there's been too much caffeine in every single drink I've had today. That's my caveat.

Thanks to the inestimable Liz Lawley, I was fortunate enough to attend the Social Computing Symposium sponsored by Microsoft Research. She essentially got about 100? of the world's technical brainiacs, present blogger not included, to Redmond to talk about issues in social computing, where we thought we were going, what online community was all about. It's an unusual place -  a conference format where the most important conversation to you may be taking place on IRC in the "backchannel" while the lecturer at the front of the room creates a counterpoint intellectual weight to the popcorn going off in your brain. I had fun last year and so far am having fun this year.

Yes, the sentences get longer the more coffee I've had.

I've had the pleasure of attending a session called "Arguing with Clay Shirky" (which was really more about games. vs work context and can you mix the two, or do you end up with the work diluting the play space? ) I was not the only one arguing with Clay Shirky, Julian Dibbell actually proposed this session and was the chief proponent although I had my moments.

I was in another session where we debated with Gary Flake about whether Oprah used her reputation to jump genres and recommend books, or whether she was actually within her reputation-sphere. Then we talked about Paul Newman and his salad dressing.

Alas, I found myself stuttering when I tried to explain what I did to a Stanford graduate student. It was odd to have to explain the bloggigng corporate sea change to someone who took blogging as part of the landscape but hadn't thought about the constraints on business. Or perhaps I'm just simply an old crone, behind the times. I will never go back to grad school I fear.

Today I have seen esteemed colleagues play World of Warcraft and call this social computing. More than that Steven Levy went so far as to become an embedded journalist in there!  I think I missed my calling when I was in college; I should have majored in video games. People, it is actually possible. I don't want to talk about how much real-time these folks at one round table had spent in the game. I feel like it is airing dirty laundry while the real laundry piles up.

The sessions I did attend were not about WoW but about reputation, community structuring, and as mentioned, the one about can you really put game into work and work into game. One thing that was interesting was the example that broke Shirky's assertion somewhat about not mixing the two - someone brought up the idea of an open source contest site they knew of that produced real, marketable code as a way that play and work intertwined and didn't take from the fun. Is game or play just a reward system that's more efficient than work or drudgery? How much does community lighten the load of work (think barn raising) or make work fun? Is there a sweet spot between work and play? is it, in fact, doing your Phd On World Of Warcraft?

Ok, I'm being facetious. :) I think part of this is that I don't dare get too close to people playing this game. Oblivion ruined my "real life" quite enough thanks...adding another game would perhaps shut down my ability to do things like eat.