Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Comment: Shrinking of Communities in Second Life

Second Life is shrinking. It is a fact, no need to be a big expert of the Metaverse to see it.

The number of SIMs is decreasing everyday a bit more (most would say due to the extremely high fees). For instance, we have now about 44 SIMs popping when doing a search with SWRP while they were around 78 a year ago. But more important, the SL communities are shrinking too.

Now, a question could be : who is guilty?

And all blogs so far point to Linden Lab. It is true, the strategy of our beloved LL regarding the management of the Second Life communities if far to be optimal. Well, let's be fully honest: if they would want to kill Second Life they would not do it in another way. But still, I think the Lindens are not the only one to blame.

I think that part of the problem is us, the "old timers".

Some times ago, I was reading an interesting blog post. In substance, it was saying: "Do you know any "Resident" who achieved anything?" (for those non familiar with SL, people there used to have a first and a family name, but then few years ago, the family name was abolished and every new avatar is named "Resident"). The author of the blog was mentioning that during her three first months of existence in SL, she was doing a lot of amazing things (which by the way was true), and even more by six month of her second life. And that, yet any Resident would have reached an even slight level of SL celebrity due to their SL achievements.

Maybe. But something has to be said: when the old timers rezzed the first time, all doors were open. Anything was possible, Second Life was a new world, the (virtual) sky was the limit. Is it still the case ? I honestly doubt it.

Let me explain my mind a bit. SL communities were already quite difficult to penetrate. I am well placed to know it, since I explored a few of them from a (virtual) anthropological point of view (and I am still doing it, as my interest for Second Life as a premise of the Metaverse is not dead yet). 

But since some time (let's say, a year or so), things are getting more and more complicated. It now gets simply impossible to reach the community for new comers without previous experience (at least impossible without putting really disproportionate efforts in the process). If we take back the example of Star Wars Role-Play SIMs. I wrote above that the number of SIMs appearing under SWRP keyword. But if the number of SIMs decreased, the traffic did not. Of course, mathematically, the TOTAL traffic decreased, but the individual traffic of individual SIMs (let's say, Little Mos Esley, Dantooine Jedi Enclave, or Nar Shaddaa) is stable. People are still here. The same people. We observe more endogamy. And that is not specific of Star Wars Role-Play, I am observing a few other communities of SL (role-play communities, or not role-play community). Endogamy is growing. As a correlate, new comers are having more and more difficulties to enter into the community. Another phenomenon I observed since some time: even in role-play SIMs, most of the conversations are now strictly carried on in IM (instant message function of Second Life), while before, most of the role-play was done in public chat. That too does not help new comers to integrate easily. Of course, it is not an absolute rule, some people are still incredibly nice to newbies as it used to be the case few years ago. But, more and more people are "newbie-unfriendly". Maybe not newbie-unfriendly, but "neutral" (in the sense of ignoring). And in a supposedly social environment, "neutral" equals "unfriendly" (does not however equal aggressive). As a result, communities in Second Life are shrinking. Even worse, I see more and more the very same persons in SIMs with somehow related thematic. Well, of course, it was always the case. But what I mean is that we see more and more ONLY those very same persons, once again, attesting the shrinking of the communities ... and logically reinforcing the bounds between the already present members, but making new players difficult to enter the game.

So, we all complain about the Lindens. But we should ask ourselves what changed in us. Because we are here since longer than others, we "saw all, did all, know all" of Second Life, and took all what it had to offer. We lost this amazed eyes that we had when we went out of Help Island the first time. And all of us, happily rich of the knowledge we got from our experience in Second Life, we take one of these three directions: 1) we leave it at all ... it was a good time but it is over now, 2) we stay there, but become cynical to newcomers, 3) we move to OpenSim or other platforms. None of these solutions is satisfactory. The third one particularly looks like a kind of a trap: OpenSim and other "Metaverse" platforms are kind of based on Second Life, or derived from it at least. Meaning, they mostly attract former users of Second Life. They are so far lacking the "democratical" dimension that Second Life had at a time. We again stay "between us", between "old timers", within a "Metaverse elite".

Now the real question is, do we want the Metaverse to really emerge ? If so, how could it really emerges if only kept by a restricted number of people ? To make it work, it should be open to the largest number of people, nope ?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lab Update

Some time I did not wrote ... so, like always, a lot of things happened. But for now, one news is really important : after two years of postdoc in the lab, Anna Lomanowska got a position of Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology of our glorious Laval University, beginning June 2013 ! Congratulations, Anna !

Well, her research program does include some projects on virtual spaces, so we will have one more excellent researcher working on this field at Laval University ! Looking toward some really good collaborations and interactions between our groups !

And by the way, I am extremely glad that my 400th Tweet was to announce such a great news !

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lab Update

September ... new academic year is beginning, and with that, some changes in the lab. First, we lost our extremely good undergraduate summer students Charlotte and Marie-Ève ... Summer is finished, that's life. But we gained a new lab member, Maxime, who is beginning is Master degree and who will be working on knowledge sharing in virtual spaces (among other things).

I finally officially joined the Editorial Board of "Computers in Human Behavior", one of the best (if not the best) peer-reviewed journal in the field of human-machine interactions, of cyberpsychology and of computer-mediated communication, as member of the Scientific Board. With the explosion of virtual spaces, this 18 years old journal is having its impact growing (and is Impact Factor growing too !), and I am very happy and honored to join the Board !

New year coming, new projects, and particularly new research projects ! Still exploring cyberbehavior, but we need more people for that, so amazing graduate students or fascinating post-doctoral fellows are always strongly encouraged to come and join us in the funny (virtual) world of cyberscientists !

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Comment: Drama, Godmoding, Metagaming

Something which really interests me, maybe even amazes me, in the study of human behavior in virtual spaces, is how apparently paradoxal behaviors can emerge. For example, what is referred as “drama”. “Drama” not like in a Shakespeare’s masterwork, but “drama” like in “I used to really like you, but now that your character tried to kill mine, I really hate you so much”. Especially in immersive role-play environments (note that drama can occur in so many other contexts, but in role-play environments, the disconnection is more evident … for other examples of where and how drama can come, please go in the really nice blog A is for Avatar at the letter D … for Drama, of course).

So, if people go in an immersive role-play environment (such as for instance the Gorean role-play of the Star Wars role-play of Second Life, which both provides on regular basis excellent examples of role-play, and excellent examples of drama), it is arguably to do role-play. In other words, to enact “imaginary” characters in an “imaginary” setting, the setting usually being derived from a science-fiction, fantasy, or historical universe. Role-playing is not a new activity, but the visual support of immersive interfaces such as Second Life, it becomes even more enjoyable. However, the bases are the same than for any of the old table role-play games. With a few exceptions.

First, in a table role-play game, one of the player is the “game-master”, or “story teller”, the one who tells the story and describe the setting so other can inhabit it. In an immersive non-directed environment such as Second Life, there is not such a thing. Role-play SIMs will have Admin (people with out of character powers, having a “out-of-character” police role, such as kicking or banning the griefers, and so on), and GM (“game masters”, whose role is mostly to settle the numerous disputes between players). And indeed, there are a lot (but really A LOT) of disputes between players it seems … Second, in a table role-play game, you KNOW or at least see the real players behind the characters … those players are your friends, you are altogether to “enjoy” a pleasant time and construct a common story. Well, in an immersive role-play environment, it should be the same. But it seems it is not the case.

Indeed, more than often, some disputes emerge between the players. Most of the time it is based on the fact that people put themselves in opposition to each others, and that, like in real life, nobody really wants to be the loosing one. But if there is a conflict, somebody is likely to loose. And then, things go to drama. My character is stronger, no it is mine, and so on and so on … Using a “meter” (an attachment adding some systems of life points to bring more realism to the role-play fights, and used theoretically to remove drama: if you lost the metered fight, you lost it) does not prevent drama to occur AT ALL. I would think that drama comes even more commonly in the SIMs heavily using meters (but that is just a feeling from an “observer” point of view). The current answer against someone calling you to create drama is that this people is “Godmoding” (playing a character with God-like powers: my character is too strong, I can not lose, I can not be beaten, etc …). Or “Metagaming” (using information and knowledge your character is not supposed to have to foster your character purpose … for instance, reading the Tags or profile of the other characters … if your opponent write in his profile: I am a Vampire, directly attacking him with Holy Water or any kind of weapon supposed to damage a vampire without giving him the chance to actually give you role-play clues suggesting he may actually be a vampire).

But now the question remains … if everybody comes to enjoy, why this need to show that you are the strongest? And why this need to develop your character at the expense of others (who come here for the very same reason somehow)? That is simply fascinating me really … Something even more interesting that I observed a few time … When a new comer steps out of character in main chat in a role-play SIM, immediately, dozen of GM, Admins, and older players will rush at him. If they are nice, the new comer will receive a full lecture on how to role-play (by people who may actually not have such amazing role-play skills … for having observed kind of a lot of role-play settings and situations over the last few years, I am always surprised to notice that those who come to you to claim: “I can give you some advices on how to role-play” are often not the best role-players). But more than often, they will simply threaten the new comer with a kick or even a ban.

However, and that strikes me by the contrast, I observed a few times that when people get very respected in a role-play SIM, they can freely step out of character. And then, everybody in the SIM seems to applause with two hands: “Look, he (or she) is such a REAL role-player, he can allow to go OOC” (huh? That’s against SIM rules, no? What if I go OOC? Oh, right, I am not a good role-player).

I somehow would be very interested to study this phenomenon. What happens exactly during the inter-individual exchange process … What are the initial steps of a drama situation … usually they do not resolve nicely (people seems to get durably hurt by drama), so how could we find ways to reduce the negative side effect of such conflict-related resolutions? But then, how to experimentally study drama without interefering with the process? (an observer can hardly come and ask people: Hey, guys, fancy for a bit of drama? Let’s go, I observe you!).

Any suggestion welcome …

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Comment: Metaverse, Hyperverse, Cyberverse

A comment to add to the debate on the Metaverse initiated last week by the blog post of Chris M. Collins, and enriched by numerous contributors, both in different blogs and comments. A comment, maybe in a form of a summary.

From reading the different blog posts, and comments on them, and the Twitter debate which emerged from all that, it seems that three main conceptions of the Metaverse exists simultaneously :

1 - Some people consider the Metaverse to be directly related to a particular setting (Second Life, as the original one, or Opensim), in what we could call a "system-dependent" conception of the Metaverse if we would be speaking in biological terms. Or, if using a more correct terminology in terms of cyberpsychology, as a "platform-dependent" approach. The Metaverse is represented by the "best" platform at a given time, "best" meaning either the most popular, the most user-friendly, the most innovative. When the current platform gets outdated, for a reason or another, people would simply "move" to the next platform, hence, the "Metaverse" (being the sum and synergy of the people inhabiting it) would follow the transition.

2 - Some people consider the Metaverse to be much more than a single platform, but the interaction of multiple platforms over the Internet. The different platforms interacts with each others, and interact with the other facets of Internet, with the social media, and so on, forming what we could call a "Hyperverse".

3 - Finally, some people, like myself and Botgirl Questi for instance, seem to believe in a wider definition of Metaverse which would include both augmented reality, and, more important, would ultimately reach human body via implants, thus connecting the "network" to the "mind" (see previous comment), thus leading to the emergence of a true "Cyberverse".

Obviously, there is a hierarchical order in these three levels, one preceding the other. But saying that, I don't consider any level of interpretation to be inferior to the other. A lot of things can be understood about human behavior in virtual spaces with a single-setting "platform" approach, being a MMORPG like WoW (see for instance Guitton MJ (2010) Cross-modal compensation between name and visual aspect in socially active avatars. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1772-1776 [PDF] ; Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Social organization in virtual settings depends on proximity to human visual aspect. Computers in Human Behavior, 27:1258-1261 [PDF] ), or an immersive virtual environment such as Second Life (Guitton MJ (2011) Immersive role of non-required social actions in virtual settings: the example of trade role-play in the Second Life Gorean community. Design Principles and Practices: an International Journal, 5:209-220 [PDF] ; Lomanowska AM, Guitton MJ (2012) Spatial proximity to others determines how humans inhabit virtual worlds. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 318-323 [PDF] ; Guitton MJ (2012) Living in the Hutt Space: Immersive Process in the Star Wars Role-Play community of Second Life. Computers in Human Behavior, 28:1681-1691 [PDF] ).

Even if more complex to investigate (at least for what is related to the experimental design), it is possible to touch the integrated "Hyperverse" level (for instance, when studying the co-existence of a Second Life role-play setting and a related and supporting blog, such as in Guitton MJ (2012) The immersive impact of meta-media in a virtual world. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 450-455 [PDF] ).

The idea of "Cyberverse" somehow echoes the concept of GUTE in AI (the "Grand United Theory of Everything", for a review of the history of concepts in Artificial Intelligence, see the excellent paper French RM (2000) The Turing test: The first 50 years. Trends Cogn Sci 4:115–122). And in a way similar to what AI-researchers are facing for the highest levels of integration, it is currently very difficult, not to say almost impossible experimentally speaking, to approach and study the Metaverse at the "Cyberverse" level, especially given the fact that the technologies are still far to be fully mature.

Still, technological advances are likely to make these three levels of interpretation merge de facto in a very near future.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Comment: On the Metaverse

Today, I will write a commentary on a post made by another: the text of Chris M. Collins (aka @fleep on Twitter) on the future of the Metaverse (you can find it here).

This vibrant post was actually amazing.

However, I wanted to had my humble contribution to the debate. Specifically, I have two points that I want to discuss.

- First, Second Life :

My first point is on a phenomenon I see more and more those days: attacks against Second Life. We see more and more of that in blogs of influential people in virtual spaces. More than just criticisms, really attacks, coming clearly from disillusion of what Second Life could be but failed to realize. I would think that Linden Lab should consider seriously this phenomenon (which they are obviously not doing).

However, those attacks are partly unfair.

As a scientist working on cyberbehavior, I find Second Life simply amazing as a ground for research and investigation, not to mention simply exploring the universe of possibilities.
Second Life is not perfect. Agree.
Second Life is way too expensive for the services it offers. Agree.
Second Life did not evolved as fast and as far as the most avid users would love. Agree.
Second Life is not supporting the "communities", nor the individuals. Agree.
Second Life seems to be lacking (or to have lost) a long-term vision, as observed by the relative stabilisation (not to say decay) of the number of inhabitants of Second Life. Agree.
But again, in the context of the rise of the Metaverse, those criticisms are unfair. Second Life is not a perfect environment, nor a philanthropic association. In contrast to Opensim, Second Life is a COMMERCIAL venue: Linden Lab is a company, which exists to make money. So, we can think what we want, the ultimate goal of Linden Lab is to generate profits. Sure, they could generate much more if they would listen a bit what is said in the blogosphere (e.g., the non-assistance to educators, to communities, and so on ...). But still, Second Life has been a real and true pioneer. We all are exploring other platforms, we all are looking further. But forgetting the past, and those who had the ideas, the vision, and the guts to start things is not correct.

- Second, the nature of the Metaverse :

When reading the fascinating post of Chris (and others), we have the feeling that Second Life IS the Metaverse. Some do acknowledge it is not the case, and suggest that the Metaverse is Internet. But the Metaverse IS NOT Internet. It goes way further, and we already see its next signs. The Metaverse won't be a "virtual reality"-based environment, it will be based on augmented reality. Even more, it may well be integrated with human brain. Let me be more specific with a simple example: nowadays, I am almost not doing anymore research in animals, but the few research I am are doing in animal are aiming at developing one day human-machine interfaces. To cure human diseases, ok, but still ... even if the first goal is to cure human disease, obviously it goes in a larger framework which would allow to directly connect the brain to virtual interfaces. Or, if I reword it, to biologically connect humans to what we could call a fully integrated, "true metaverse". And we are far to be the most advanced in that, the research I am doing in this direction of neural interfaces is children babbling compared to what are doing some labs in USA, in Japan, or in Europe.

Finally, if I share the faith and wishes of Chris, I do not share the analysis, nor the feeling that we are not advancing anymore. Science, technology, human knowledge do not advance linearly, but by steps. And, in term of Metaverse, we are in an "accumulating period", accumulating knowledge, new concepts, new technologies, which will make us make a leap soon, further. And the future of the Metaverse is not in Second Life nor in Opensim. It is way, way, further.

But, to be honest, it is with people like Chris, who is obviously leaded by a dream and a vision, that we will go there !

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lab Update

Our last paper (collaboration with J-M Beaulieu lab) just got published today in the last issue on the role of serotonin in depression ("The neurobiology of depression revisiting the serotonin hypothesis. I. Cellular and molecular mechanisms") of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. And the paper is an EXIS Open Choice (i.e., in open access) ! It is there.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lab Update : FENS Forum 2012

The FENS Forum 2012 (Federation of European Neuroscience Societies) just finished few days ago. This year it was in Barcelona, Spain (a pretty pleasant location to have a meeting). It went very well, and I was surprisingly happy to see that there were more and more posters on virtual settings. We had a lot of excellent exchanges, and I come back with a lot of new ideas ! We just need more students (places always available in the lab for good candidates). Here are some of the pictures of the event :

8th FENS Forum

 Barcelona, or how hard it is to work as a scientist ...

Catherine Lortie (graduate student in the lab) in front of her poster about human-machine interactions. Speficically, judgment of humanness of a robot by a human from computer mediated interactions (work published in PLoS ONE). 

A nice crowd in front of the poster of Dr. Anna Lomanowska (postdoctoral fellow in the lab) about the spatial distribution of avatars in the virtual environment of Second Life (work published in Computers in Human Behavior).

7500 participants, 4400 posters ... lots of people

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lab Update: 8th FENS Forum

The 8th FENS Forum will take place between July 14th and July 18th in Barcelona, Spain. The FENS meeting is a good time to see a lot of people and to network. If you are interested to say hello, here are the schedule of the two posters of the lab that we will be presenting there :

CL Lortie, MJ Guitton
Optimization of language-based human-computer interactions: Judgment of the humanness of an interlocutor is in the Eye of the Beholder
Session Name: Language
Sunday, 15 July, 2012
Session Time: 11h15-13h15
Poster Board Number: F47

AM Lomanowska, MJ Guitton
Inhabiting Virtual Worlds: Social Determinants of Interindividual Spatial Distribution
Session name: Human Cognition and Behaviour III
Monday, 16 July, 2012
Session time: 11h15-12h15
Poster Board Number: F61

Also, as you can see in the Publication section of the blog, we are having a few more papers accepted or in press ... As soon as they will be fully published, I will update the information and add the pdf !

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lab Update

Marie-Ève presented some of her results on how deaf people use blogs to communicate in the 14th edition of the "Journée Recherche" of the Faculty of Medicine of Laval University. She even got interviewed by one of the campus web-journalists (see here for her interview, in French) !

And here is a picture of the event :

Marie-Ève in front of her poster, Quebec City, QC

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Comment: Increasing tuition in Quebec universities

Yesterday I went to hairdresser (yes, such things happen ...). The radio was playing, and at one time an add caught my attention: it was an add from the Government of Quebec claiming how much they were doing things to make education available for all.

That was kind of stricking, in the present context where the extremely unpopular planed increase of tuition led thousands of students to go in the streets, and the even more unpopular "Special Law 78" challenged democracy by forbidind the aforementioned students to do so.

I am not discussing here the scholar fees increase per se, there are numerous reasons which led people to think to do that. Some are goods, some are less, and alternative solutions may have emerged too. What is true, is that with the crisis, the grants pipelines are getting dry. This situation of crisis also encouraged funding organisms (which are themselves funded by the government, hence, when no money in the public treasure, there is no money in the funding agencies) to promote strongly  industry-oriented type of research, with half-half funding (half from private companies, half from public funding agencies), in fact resulting in an utilization of public research resources to "boost" country-specific industrial innovation potential. Once more, I am not criticizing that. It is a political choice, and I understand that the population (via the decisions of their elected delegates) want to use public money to boost the competitiveness of local industries. However, it has effects on universities.

In such context, Universities have to secure other sources of funding if they want to keep alive an independent research agenda. That is particularly true for some fields of knowledge traditionally difficult to fund (somehow, research on Arthurian literature gets a bit less funding than, let's say, cancer research). And sorry, there are no so many way to increase funding of a university: or you get more from government, or you get more from charities and fund raising campaigns (unlikely in situation of economical crisis), or you increase tuition. An accessory question is, however, how would universities use this new money. Would they use it to keep non-profitable (economically speaking) field of knowledge, or would it be used to develop and secure "fashionable" (and usually highly productive) research fields ? That is another question, I am digressing ...

Anyway, this increase of tuition could well result in an increase of the quality of the teaching (by having more money to recruit "star scientists" or to keep the best teachers), and could contribute to position back Quebec universities among the best world universities ... But in no case it would contribute to increase the access of university education to all ! Students usually have no money, and while reasonable grants are available for biomedical and other scientific students (ranging easily from 15,000 Canadian dollar a year for some NSERC grants to up to 60,000 (!) a year for the Banting grant ... which is in my opinion way too much, better to give 3 grants of 20,000 than one huge grant of 60,000, especially given that this grant failed to attract the best non-Canadian students due to the evaluation criteria ... another digression), students in humanities can hardly dream to get a grant of 2,000 to 5,000 Canadian dollar ... meaning, in no way enough to survive during long graduate studies.

Again, I am not critizing here the decisions made by the Government of Quebec, elections are coming soon, population will judge. Just, all this story (including the add in the radio) was a perfect example of very bad move in term of communication ...

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Thank to those who answered the previous post ! I got few emails (pitty that people were to shy to leave a comment, it would be interesting for others I think, but anyway, thank you for the feedback). I am working on that at the moment, hopefully something will come out next year !

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Question to the Readers

Dear Readers, I am re-writting something I wrote some time ago ... I am developping some courses on cyberpsychology, virtual anthropology, and so on, and I would like your feedback. What do you think should be absolutely include in such course ? What, as a student in this field, as a user of these new spaces, would you think should be absolutely included there ? Comments are more than welcome ! If you are too shy to post a comment, just drop me an email ! (see "Contact us" for the email address)

Thank you in advance !

Monday, May 21, 2012

Metablogging ... blogs blogging on us

Thanks to Daana Kira (field reporter in "Galactic News Network", the galaxy-wide news network of SWRP in Second Life), I saw today that other blogs are mentioning our work. That made my day, thank you TOROZ ! I am very happy when my work is mentioned by scholars and researchers, but I am actually even more happy when it catch the eyes of people outside of academia. We do research not just for us, but because we hope that it can serve everybody (in this case, help us all to understand the mechanisms of immersion in virtual space).

The link brings you there !

And, for those who did not read the paper on the immersive impact of meta-media (Guitton MJ (2012) The immersive impact of meta-media in a virtual world. Computers in Human Behavior, 28:450-455), here is a picture of Daana Kira, one of the best journalists of the metaverse of Second Life.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Comment: On Wikipedia

I am a Wikipedian. Not since long time. And not a very active one. Nonetheless, I am a Wikipedian: I edit time to time articles on Wikipedia. Wikipedia was an amazing idea, and is a great tool. However, there are some things which limit its full potential.

All those who have given homework to students know that way too often, students will consider that doing a copy-paste from Wikipedia is what we mean by "searching on the subject". Whatever the level of the student and of the course, students are surprised that it does not work ... doing a copy-paste from Wikipedia is really easy to detect. Common, we, teachers, are not so naive ! When it comes to University level courses, it becomes even more problematic. First, plagiarism is not well considered in such context (and doing a copy-paste from an open source is still plagiarism. University work relies heavily on intellectual honesty, you can not attribute to yourself work of others). Second, and that is a big issue, Wikipedia is not the true. At a first glance, Wikipedia provides extremely useful information. However, if you are really an expert in the field, or, if you want to become one (let's say, Master and PhD students), Wikipedia contains a lot of mistakes. We had a discussion about that during the last PCA/ACA meeting: I defended the point that, Wikipedia EXISTS, and that it is used ... furthermore, the idea is in the line of the humanist idea of university and sharing human knowledge ... hence, we can not complain about the fact that there are mistakes: we have to contribute and correct them. If we (when I write we, I mean "scholars" in a broad sense, meaning people who are supposed to be experts in their respective fields) do not correct and edit the articles of Wikipedia, how can we complain about it ?

Having said that ... Wikipedia is a community-managed system. There are no control about the quality of the article writers, nor of the editors. All works based on the "good faith" of the community members. And globally, it works rather well. If a mistake occur, the "group intelligence" (so to say) will correct it. A community based system of control to serve the community. In theory, that should work (if we believe in the good hidden somewhere (sometime very deeply) in Human nature J  ). Practically, the risk is that Wikipedia reflects the mainstream opinions rather than the real knowledge. Let me take an example. In one of my fields of specialties, the neurobiology of tinnitus, we have several theories which are rather opposed to each others. Both are backed by complex experimental data coming from complex animal models, with use of complex methodologies, all published in moderate to high impact factor peer-reviewed journals. I am sure all of these theories are more or less valid (mine of course being probably the best ... no no, I am not biased !). The "tinnitus" article in Wikipedia is full of mistakes and non-sense. However, I refrain myself to edit it, because if I do so, I will in good faith write things which may be considered by polemical by other experts in the field. I still do edit some articles in "serious" topics (neuropharmacology, animal behavior, etc ...). But my point is that, even if Wikipedia may attract experts willing to edit the articles, the system of community control may lead to have the "expert edits" being corrected aftermath by non-expert editors acting in good faith.

The concept of anonymity is extremely important. However, in the extremely competitive world in which scientists (and actually all the humanity) live now, anonymity is not really appealing. You can hardly attract an expert to contribute anonymously to an article, since at the end, his real-life salary depends on the amount of things he published under his name ... Then, why loosing time to correct things which you would not be able to add in your CV, and that other people less expert than you will edit ? Not saying that we should not edit articles, I actually am doing it, and a lot of other scientist too. Just saying, it is a limit to attract people able to actually correct the mistakes.

In such "community controlled" system based on "good faith", rules more complex than "common sense" should not be necessary. However, humans are humans, so indeed, rules seems to be required. I will not extend on this last point, but I refer to two Tweets from Rhonda Lowry / Grace McDunnough (I advice you to follow her on Twitter, I think she is one of the person I retweet the most  J  ).

Between the two Tweets, I was defending the concept of "good faith" of the community members (yes, I am both a Kantian and a humanist, I do believe that humans can fundamentally be good  J  ). But her point is extremely important.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lab Update

We had the visit in the last few days of Sergey Kapishnikov from the Weizmann Institute of Science. We had amazing discussions and fruitful interactions with people of the team (pictures are coming soon). We will try to develop one or two collaborative projects soon.

Here, Charlotte is showing to me and Sergey a neuron she just reconstructed in 3D. We don't see it well on the screen, but believe me, it is rather cool ! For those interested, the pic was taken in one of the rooms of my lab which we use mostly for audio experiments and recordings (and neuron reconstruction), so the two big covered things behind me and Sergey are actually speakers (covered to protect the membranes).

Also, Catherine presented us in the last group meeting a very good "compte rendu" of the last ATA meeting. Actually, it was pleasant to see that we are having the "good hypothesis", so to say, since some of the main thematic on which we are thinking seems to be currently at the center of the debates in the field of telemedicine.

Catherine in front of her poster at San José, CA, during the ATA meeting.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Research Update

We are in the process of launching a very exciting new research direction in the lab, which is somehow (and rather obviously) at the interface between our interests in virtual spaces and in pathologies of sensory systems: "theoretical and practical aspects of tele-medicine in otolaryngology". Actually, some of our recent works could be seen as "predictors" of this kind of projects (particularly, the paper on recognition of artificial/human language, and the last review on tinnitus). We first will focus on theoretical aspects, but with the aim to go relatively soon (depending on how things evolve) to more practical things ... ideally with some more grant support !

Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Judgment of the Humanness of an Interlocutor is in the Eye of the Beholder. PLoS ONE, 6:e25085.
Guitton MJ (2012) Tinnitus: pathology of synaptic plasticity at the cellular and system levels. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 6:12.

Speaking about tele-medicine, Catherine is back from the 17th Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Telemedicine Association (AMA) at San Jose, CA. It seems this year was a very good occurrence of this meeting !

On an other topic, the paper on the "Hutt Space" of Star Wars Role-Play community of Second Life (see picture just below for those who forgot what a Hutt is) is now in press, and available here.


Actually, this paper is kind of interesting (I know, I am biased), since it provided a greater "deepness" in the 3C model of immersion on which we are working, and since it increased our understanding on dynamics of virtual communities, and identified some structuring factors ...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lab Update

Several good news in the last few days !
First, I got awarded as "Chercheur-Boursier" (Junior 2), by the "Fonds de la Recherche du Québec - Santé" (FRQ-S). Second, I got the proofs of the paper on the Hutt Space (see previous post). It is looking really good ! Third, the paper on "Challenges in Space Medicine" is accepted for publication in "Public Health Frontier" ! Both in the proposal for the Chercheur-Boursier and in the Challenges in Space Medicine paper, I introduced and proposed new possible utilisations of virtual spaces (different in the two media, however). Things are advancing nicely, let's hope we keep going in this same positive direction !

Monday, April 16, 2012

Research Update

Finally back from the 42nd PCA/ACA Annual Conference in Boston, MA. It was very interesting, excellent place for efficient socializing. I presented the work on the Hutt Space of the Star Wars Role-Play community of Second Life, and I actually got the SFF PCA Best Paper Faculty/Independent Scholar 2012 Award !

And since good news never come alone, last week, the Hutt Space paper got accepted in Computers in Human Behavior !

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


In our modern world, the question of optimization is recurrent. A lot of the problems we are facing are linked to a non-optimization of the available resources. That is of course true if we take the example of health systems. But it is also true in the way we develop research. In both case, adequate design of strategies is a way to reach optimal results. If we consider doing an experimental research, taking some time to think seriously on the experimental design is always good. The more time we spend on it, the more likely the experiment is going to be good. Thinking about all the possible controls, the alternative hypothesis (and the way to rule them out) ... all that is not a waste of time. Rather, it insures that when you do the actual experiments, you need only to do "slight adaptations" in the process, and not fully rethink your whole experiments ! In health system too, good design of strategies can be valuable. In the last review on tinnitus (Guitton, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 2012, see the Publication list for the pdf), I spend some time discussing some points on design of therapeutic strategies. Here too, we do have a lot of tools in modern medicine, but are we using them in the most appropriate and efficient way ? Are we orienting medical research in the optimal direction to insure reliable translational outcomes ? (I am using intentionally this "translational" word, since it is obviously a fashionable word now, if we look at the budget orientation of the funding agencies of Canada for the coming years ... and with some reasons actually, since, indeed, we are at a point where we do need to translate the results gathered in fundamental science into clinical applications). All in all, strategies are important, and thinking about which one we use is central if we want to successfully apply the knowledge we generate with our research.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lab Update: Our new toy !

Scientists are like small boys : they are very happy when you give them a new toy ! Well, here is the new toy we will be buying in the coming days J

A Brüel & Kjaer Sound Level Meter 2250 ... the top of the top in measurement of acoustical backnoise. This sound level meter will complement our already pretty well equiped lab of bioacoustics. The coming projects are going to be very interesting I think !

On another topic, I am going to be at the PCA/ACA meeting next week in Boston. It is a very "eclectic" conference, but I think it will be highly interesting. I will be specifically presenting results from the virtual role-play communities of Second Life (this time, about the "Hutt Space" of the Second Life Star Wars Role-Play community). We will be discussing as well with some other people about some theoretical aspects of virtual community managements (among other things). Second Life really provides fascinating models to study cyberbehavior. The communities of Second Life are relatively easy to penetrate (open-minded and nice people, willing to share their interests and so on ...), and do represent interesting examples of social dynamics in virtual spaces. So far, we have 3 papers published using Second Life as a model, but I think more will come soon. Doesn't mean we are not looking at other virtual communities or virtual spaces, however J Anyway, something which is interesting with Second Life communities is the management of the so-called "drama" (particularly marked in the "role-play" environments, such as the Gorean community, or the SWRP community). Witnessing it - how people create it, how people deal with it, and how it has long-term effect on a community - is very informative. Still trying to find ways to quantify this phenomenon a bit more seriously ... not sure we will be going there, but well, why not ? Anybody has an idea on that ?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lab Update

I am presently preparing the visit of Sergey Kapishnikov (from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel), who will be visiting my lab in May. He will give a talk on new way to do high-resolution bio-imagery using X-rays ... something which could have some amazing potential in studying vestibular system. Exam period is coming soon, so my hard-working undergraduate students are focusing on their courses now, but when exams will be done, we are going to have a lot of interesting results, since both Marie-Ève and Charlotte's projects are advancing in very promising ways ! Talking about students' work, we submitted last week another paper with Catherine ... so, things are advancing !

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lab Update

Long time I did not post something ... Well, a lot of things going on around, not enough time to write ! The first months of this year have been very intense, but good things are coming. On future developments of the lab : we are again having human subjects on a very interesting series of collaborative works with the newly established lab of Pascale Tremblay (Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine of Laval University), we are developing new projects on mutli-modal and/or sensory integration in virtual spaces (some preliminary data already, extending our themes from avatars in virtual worlds to other cyberspaces such as the blogosphere and to web-forums, we will have a presentation on that next month with Lynn Koller (from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) in the PCA/ACA annual meeting in Boston). We did last week our first joined group meeting with the lab of Philip Jackson (School of Psychology, Laval University) ... that went pretty well actually, such things will reinforce the "avatar group" of Laval University.

I am pretty happy with my present team, but since we are asking more money, and having much more ideas to test, we have positions opened for promising students !

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lab Update

To begin the new year, some good news for us.
First, welcome to two new lab members, Marie-Ève Arsenault and Charlotte Kemp. Welcome aboard !
Second, today two of our papers got published in the last issue of Computers in Human Behavior : the paper of Anna on spatial distribution of avatars in virtual spaces, using Second Life as a model (Lomanowska AM, Guitton MJ (2012) Spatial proximity to others determines how humans inhabit virtual worlds. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 318-323. [PDF]); and the paper on the impact of meta-media on immersive behavior, also using Second Life as a model, but analyzing the interactions between a meta-media (a media over a media, in this case a blog relating the events taking place in the virtual community of Star Wars Role-Play, all "in character", "GNN" (Galactic News Network) ... an amazing work of two avatars by the way, Daana Kira and Rakiko Lowtide) and the virtual world on which the meta-media is based (i.e., in this case the Second Life Star Wars Role-Play community) (Guitton MJ (2012) The immersive impact of meta-media in a virtual world. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 450-455. [PDF]).

With the new year, some new resolutions ! So, for all students (anywhere in the world, not specific to my lab) and for researchers alike, we should read more papers. To help you in that, my two Twitter account are here ! First, my main Twitter account :

There, I post very regularly links to papers, small comments, and so on ... Honestly, a "must follow" I think ... objectively, really ! Most papers suggested there will deal with virtual reality, augmented reality, social media, bionics, or papers of general interest ... But need to check regularly, I do update the "things to read" rather often.

Second, my second Twitter account, which is in French and supposed to be a support for the courses I teach. So, it is a bit more specific, but still. At the beginning of each post, there is the code of the course (Laval University codes, it is where I teach mostly). Some links are worth a look, for instance the one I suggest for the course NRB-7008 (Neuroscience II) on the auditory system.

Most of the posts however refer to the courses I teach to the ORL Residents (with the code ORL-X). Among those posts, I do some "suggesting reading", which are (obviously) aimed and centered around oto-rhino-laryngology. However, I think the suggested papers could be of interest for other as well. So, possible to have a look there too :

And once again, a Happy New Year 2012 !