Avatar Social Network (ASN) has been growing steadily since its inception in the latter half of 2013, and is being seen by many users of virtual worlds as both an alternative to Facebook and things like the SL Feeds, and as a useful extension to their social media presence, positioning it alongside their use of existing social media services.
Strawberry Singh was one of the more recent SL users to comment on the service, and her blog post, coupled with a reminder of ASN’s existence from Mona Eberhardt, prompted me to take the look at it that I’d told myself I would back in July, when I first happened across the site.
ASN, which is operators by Second life user Arkad Baxton of AP Holdings describes itself as a social network for users of virtual worlds and games, which “gives back to its members and rewards all activity on the website while asking for no real life information from its members.” The site invites members to “share, like, comment contents, post their blog articles, create and build their own groups, discuss topics on the forums upload photos, videos, create their own individual fan page with its separated feed, play games, chat and more.”
Overall, the site’s set-up appears to be along the lines of Avatars United (remember that?) or Moolto, Second Friends. or 2ndHub (with which ASN appears to have the most in common, although 2nd Friends currently appears to be largely inactive).
Since opening in September 2013, the site has been gradually refined and improved, addressing various issues and perceived shortfalls. At the same time, it has been gaining popularly among users from Second Life and other virtual worlds. Today, there are getting on for some 2,000 users (a number I’m sure will be surpassed in a short amount of time given the frequency of sign-ups), all of whom seem to be fairly active. The site itself has a fairly clean, easy-on-the-eye design, and fairly straightforward navigation.
Signing-up is simple enough; there’s a registration page which makes no call for people to provide real life information. You don’t necessarily have to provide your SL / VW avatar name – it’s entirely up to you as to how you define yourself, although using your avatar’s name and image obviously makes sense from a social connections standpoint. The log-in page also includes Twitter and Facebook links, so I assume you can access the site using verification from these services, rather than signing-up via the form – I opted to go the sign-up route.
Once signed-up and verified via e-mail, you are taken to the main page, which is split into three main sections – the central feed column, including service announcements which appear at the top; information on those who have recently signed-up, or whom you may wish to friend through the service to the left, and information on recent forum and blog posts, etc., on the right, all of which include various links (e.g. to the forum post in question or to the poster in the case of the forum links, for example, or to people’s profile pages in the case of the friending suggestions and new joiners.
A menu bar at the top of the site provides access to public areas and also to your own incoming message centre (Friends requests, messages, notifications) and profile / personal feed link.
The Community option in the menu provides access to the core elements of the site – blog pages, forums, groups (think SL groups), pages (think FB pages), ads for in-world employment opportunities, gifts, and so on.
The Media option provides access to photos and videos uploaded to the site. Videos can be uploaded from your computer or imported from YouTube or Vimeo (other services pending), while photos can be organised into albums, which in turn can have privacy options set against them (do you want them visible to everyone, friends, etc., who do you want to be able to comment on them, etc.).
Clicking on a photo in an album will display it in a window similar in style to Flickr, and with various sharing options (Twitter, Facebook, G+ etc). I’ve not yet found a way of disabling the share options (if they can be disabled) for those who want to keep their images to the ASN site.
The Games option on the menu allows you to amuse yourself playing various games (some of which require Adobe shockwave), while the Info option takes you to various pages with further information related to the site – including the Rules (!), and the About page.
Down at the bottom of the site is the chat bar and its options. This can be toggled on / off via the icon on the extreme right, and provides options which allow you to access any public chat rooms which may be running and / or set-up your own public or private chat room, initiate direct messaging with a friend logged-in to ASN (just pull up the list of friends logged-in on the right of the bar) and set your availability (or otherwise) for chats.
There’s a further menu tucked away in the central feed area of the main page, which has options above and below the Post Comment area.
The top part of this menu is self-explanatory: buttons to link to Facebook and Twitter and, for the first 30 days after sign-up, a link (Welcome) to a page providing an overview of the site and options.
The lower section of this menu allows you to easily switch what is displayed in the feed. Again, the options are pretty self-explanatory, and the More option allows you to select Groups, Networks and other elements which can then be viewed in the feed area.
A point to note about the site is that advertising is allowed – this helps generate revenue to keep the site afloat (and to provide a means of paying rewards?). These aren’t overly obtrusive (see below), but if you don’t want to be bothered with ads, Ad Block or similar will hide them.
Now, rewards. This is an aspect of the site that raised some criticism when it was first launched. essentially (and assuming I’m understanding things correctly), users are rewarded with credits for their participation in ASN. So when you join, you get credits, when you post a photo or forum comment or give a like, friend someone, etc. credits can be earned (with daily caps on the amount of credits a person can earn via each activity). Credits are accumulated and stored by the system on your behalf, and can be accessed via your profile page and the More + option. As I understand it, they can then be traded for gifts (shown in Community > Gifts) or can actually be cashed out as either L$ or InWorldz currency via ATMs in either world (registration with the ATMs required, I understand – I’ve not tried that side of the service).
Some of the critiques of this system were that it would encourage people to post for the sake of posting, but I have to say that having browsed the forums, this does not seem to be the case. Nor do people seem to be throwing snapshots and things at the site to earn credits or going particularly crazy friending everyone in sight or liking everything that’s said. Ergo, I’ve venture to suggest those worried at the idea of rewards spoiling things can breathe easy. Debates in the forums are constructive, feed images and comments within the overall guidelines (focused on VWs and games), and it’s all friendly and pretty easy-going.
There is also an Android app to go with the site. However, the system requirements left me a tad bit surprised, given they include access to the device and app history (apps running, browsing history, etc.), account identity and profile(s), device location, device ID and call information. I’m not suggesting anything untoward here, I just found the requirements off-putting, and given I’m not a great one for social media on the go, it was enough to steer me away from installing the app.
Turning back to the website, there’s a lot more to cover, so consider this article merely an overview. I’ve not, for example, covered things like groups or pages and the flexibility of use provided within them. nor have I delved into Networks; but then, you need things to discover for yourself to help make things interesting should you opt to give ASN a go 🙂 .
There are some minor irritants with the service – at least for me. When posting something or joining a group, etc., there is a pop-up asking if you’d like to share what you’ve done with others. While you can turn off the receipt of such shares (and a range of notifications) via you Profile, but there doesn’t appear to be a way of disabling the pop-up when doing something, and it tends to break-up one’s workflow somewhat at times. The site can also occasionally be slow when there are a lot of people using it, suggesting it or the server is struggling a little. It’s not enough to be a serious worry, but it does tend to raise the odd mental question on how the service will handle larger loads.
The success of any service like ASN is wholly in the hands of the users. Popularity can wax and wane (2ndHub for example, appears to have no activity in about a year, going by the home page, although Moolto appears to still be in good use). Right now, ASN’s popularity appears to be on the upswing, and it certainly offers a lot to keep people engaged, particularly if they are active across more than one VW and wish to keep tabs on various things. This, coupled with the easy-on-the-eye design, could see ASN obtain steady and popular use by a broad cross-section of VW users.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how it further develops.
Note: This article originally included information on the sponsors of ASN, information based on a PR circular I received in June / July. Arkad has since contacted me and requested that I remove the names of those originally listed, as sponsorship agreements are changing. I’m happy to oblige, and have done so.