Avatars. Weird. Just Weird.

Of all the things I am, I am NOT a gamer. In fact, if you want to build your self esteem, invite me over for a night of CoD (Call of Duty, not the fish). While you are massacring the enemy hoards, I will still be trying to figure out which button does what while contributing to the body count by being an easy target for the opposing side.
But I do watch my 16 year old play. I am fascinated by many of the games in his drawer (and online) that allow you to create your Avatar, your online persona. It seems this extends to the virtual world, including Second (and apparently its last) Life.

I tried Second Life, for a grand total of about 30 minutes, since it was being highly promoted for online learning communities at the time. One of the first things you had to do was create your Avatar for the Second Life community. I selected the basic male. I was there to learn how this world operated more than I was there to build an alternate me. Once I started exploring, it would appear that "normal" is more likely "abnormal" in this world.

Much like your first day on a tropical beach in winter, everyone knows you are a newbie by the very obvious lack of sun exposure. I encountered Avatars that were anything but normal who ignored me since I was obviously new. The ones in the picture above are a tame, and I repeat, tame version of what I saw.

I'm not judgemental, but, or should I say BUT!!! It's incredibly hard to have a "conversation" (nevermind a meeting) with someone in the form of a chipmunk, a green alien with a long tail, or NSFW clothing. Is this how people REALLY want to be seen?

As I mentioned, my Second Life was extremely short, and it appears I am not alone by the almost dearth of articles and news lately. But the Avatar thing hasn't gone away.

Since Second Life, there has been an upsearch in Social Media. It's not uncommon for people to have a Facebook account, a LinkedIn account, multiple Twitter accounts, and one or two other online communities. Each of these "worlds" allows you to post an indentifying photo (I KNOW these are not Avatars, but play along with me here). Normally I wouldn't get involved, but I recently enabled the Facebook and LinkedIn connectors for my MS Outlook. What that means is this - you send me an email, and if you have a Facebook account, your profile picture is displayed in a frame below the message preview, whether or not we are Friends on Facebook. You may think that only your Friends get to see this picture. Not true.

Normally, this is very useful. You can put a face to a name. Where it gets iffy is when your holiday picture shows up on my monitor at work. Did I REALLY need to see you without your shirt on? Our meetings will never, ever, be the same. Ewww.

But let me encourage you to let this knowledge be used for good. Check out your profile pictures and make sure they present you in your best light. Drop any picture that involves beer, or your car, or pet (use your blog for that :) ), or has you sooooo small that nobody can tell what you look like. As a professional, you are ALWAYS on call when you have an online presence.

Keep that in mind as technology moves forward, your Avatar will matter. In my opinion, Microsoft's Kinect plays a key role in upcoming collaborative strategy. As we operate with global teams on every corner of the planet, sending Avatar information over the net is much more efficient than sending a video signal. I've heard it mentioned that facial tracking on Kinect is moving along nicely, which means your Avatar will smile when you smile, frown when you frown, and remain stoic if someone inadverdently makes body noises in a meeting (probably not, but one can dream for our professional reputation).

This means we will all have to create an Avatar. So I did.

I recently got a Windows 7 phone. It connects to an XBox Live account (but the WP7 experience is a different post). I went online and started the process. I built an Avatar to represent me in the online world that somehow looks remarkably like Brad Pitt. I get mistaken for him all the time.

Actually, Avatar Me ended up looking like... well, me.

The real issue comes with the hair. I have what my son describes as a "sideways Mohawk". Second Life did not offer this choice, XBox did. My online persona is one that is accurate to who I am.

After all, as a leader, shouldn't you be on "game" all the time? Why would there ever be a different you online than the person your family and co-workers need to live with every day?

Now I'm not saying you shouldn't have fun, but don't make the mistake that many leaders make. Your online persona is not the 'private' you. It is way more public than we are truly able to comprehend.

Disagree? Then use the comment field below. Agree? Do the same.

Be wise, and lead well grasshopper.

NOTE: This was also posted as an entry on http://blogidol.ca/


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