OII SDP 2007 (XIX): ‘Being There Together’ in Shared Virtual Environments and the Multiple Modalities of Online Connectedness

Lead: Ralph Schroeder

Researchers increasingly work at-a-distance and across institutional, disciplinary and geographical boundaries. What are the challenges of online collaboration? How is working in distributed mode different from face-to-face meetings and collaboration? When people work in a distributed group, what are the implications for trust and leadership? There are also ethical and legal issues in e-Research, such as the privacy and anonymity of data, intellectual property and access to shared digital resources. And finally, different disciplines organize online research in different ways. What are the lessons from these ways of working together? The lecture will examine both general issues in distributed research and individual e-Research projects.

Millions of people spend lots of hours online, most of them having entertainment. Besides what the goal of going online is, it actually has potentially huge implications, because we spend increasing time of our life in virtual environments. Indeed, it’s not just online, but media: TV is mediated communication and this is what the whole thing is about: mediated communication.

Definition of Virtual Environment (VE) technology as presence, plus interacting, and copresence.

Sense of presence: in a virtual CAVE-like system, a precipice is pictures with a walking plank across: do people just walk around and over/on the precipice or do they “cross” the plank? Sense of copresence: do people walk through each other in VE?


Findings about small groups in immersive systems

  • As good as being there
  • Presence — high, low — but also interaction
  • Presence — high, low and modality
  • Technology determines “leadership”
  • Following and not following conventions (through avatars, leaning, pointing)

Technology determines the quality (and output) of interaction. For instance, an interaction of three people, two of them on desktops and the third one with virtual reality goggles, it is highly likely (statistically significant) that, asked after the experience, the one with virtual reality goggles will be pointed as the leader of the group — even if nobody new what was the others’ interface.

Findings about large groups in desktop non-immersive systems

  • Non-verbal communication
  • Control and flexibility (Sims)
  • Sociability around objects (There)
  • Avavatar appearance (consistency)
  • Reality cheks and overshadowing
  • Large groups and spaces: “Inhabitability”, stake, transferability, on- and offline relationships

Other New Media…

  • Relax (visual) sense and place requirement — but people speak of presence and sharing space
  • Nardi et al on instant messaging at work: outeraction as “reaching out”, awareness moments, stepping in and out
  • Christian Licoppe on mobiles and SMS: copresent interactions… into a seamless web, connected management of relationships
  • Other examples of Cyworlds, Japanese mobiles, webcamera use, Ling on mobiles

Linking SVEs and Other New Media

  • Switching focus and multiple modes
  • Mediated and face-to-face relations — more, richer, more dense?
  • Being there together — historically, in media theory, and today
  • Adding to and complementing multimodal connectedness

The Varieties of “Being There Together”

  • Videoconferencing is proliferating in different forms, has practical constraints, and is mergins with other technologies
  • Online spaces support spatial interaction, the development of social norms, and content that engages users
  • Social networking relates to “always on” togetherness, and expresses identity and social “availability” and “awareness” (as with IM, mobile phones and social spaces)

My reflections

  • To which extent are personal websites — specially those with dynamic content and high density of outlinking to other personal websites — shared virtual environments, in the sense that somehow the owner shares, by exposure, his digital identity to others, even in an asynchronous way? In other words, if my digital personna “is still there”, can I consider I am actually being there somehow, even if my physical personna is not?
  • Does the time I spent in an asynchronous virtual environment counts as co-presence, even if there is a lag of time among digital experiences of different individuals or their digital personnae?
  • If they are, a collection of them implies an emerging (in the sense of emergence), self-built virtual community made up of individual virtual environments?
  • Provided there’s a bunch of academic personal pages, interlinked among them (i.e. in posts, blogrolls, comments, pingbacks and trackbacks), could be we talking about an asynchronous virtual faculty board?
  • Maybe the concept of the “web page” is quite (really) poor, but imagine it evolves into a “construct” in the sense of William Gibson?


Schroeder, R. (2006). “Being There Together and the Future of Connected Presence”. In Presence, August 2006, 15(4). Cambridge: MIT Press.
Schroeder, R. & Fry, J. (2007). “Social Science Approaches to e-Science: Framing an Agenda”. In Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), 563–582. Washington, DC: International Communication Association. Retrieved July 10, 2007 from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue2/schroeder.html

More info


SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “OII SDP 2007 (XIX): ‘Being There Together’ in Shared Virtual Environments and the Multiple Modalities of Online Connectedness” In ICTlogy, #46, July 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from https://ictlogy.net/review/?p=585

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