Functions of space in a MOO environment

Bookmarklets | MOVABLE TYPE In the real world, the space impacts on our behavior in some functional ways (e.g. we cannot cross walls, we cannot see across a mountain, we cannot ski in a lift) and also by social uses (e.g. one should not sleep in one's office). A MOO environment reproduces some of these functional constraints (e.g. users must use doors to leave a room), but not all of them (e.g. tele-transportation is possible). We can express these functions with Clark and Brennan’s (1991) terminology:

· Space controls access: Most commands can only be performed on the objects in the same room as the user (e.g. look, read, get, take, ...) · Space controls visibility: Objects and partners can only be viewed (i.e. described by a piece of text) if they are in the same room; the action of another user is often only visible if (s)he is in the same room · Space controls audibility: What user-A can hear depends on where user-B is and which communication command he uses. The command "Say hello" displays the "hello" message to all users in the same room, while the command "Page Kaspar hello" sends the message "hello" only to Kaspar, but wherever he is. Actually audibility is just a special case of visibility since messages are typed text.

In other words, by its very design, a MOO imparts two functional aspects to space: because access to information and visibility are space-bound, the spatial path reifies the information search process; and because visibility and audibility are space-bound, space contributes to differentiate private and public conversations. Becauseo fthese functions, space awareness (knowing where you partner is) contributes to knolwdge awarness (knowing what you partner knows), a criticial factor in CSCW design, but - as we willl see in the experiments presented here- space awareness maintained can be at lower costs than knowledge awareness.

In addition to these functions, intrinsic to the design of standard MOOs, space can have task-specific functions. Typically, the importance of space is different if two users have to write a text collaboratively in the MOO or if they have to escape collaboratively from a labyrinth. The tasks selected for the empirical studies presented here differ by the extent to which spatial aspects play a role in the solution process. The user’s behavior may be influenced by the virtual space beyond these constraints. For instance, if two users prefer to discuss their work when they meet in their virtual office while they would rather talk about their private lives when they meet in the virtual bar, this difference of behavior cannot be explained by the functional factors mentioned above, but only by the transfer of social habits from the real world into the virtual environment. In this contribution, we measure the impact of space by detecting cases where space influences the users behavior beyond strict functional necessity.