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5:49pm on Wednesday, 14th October, 2009:
I was in London today, in Belgrave Square, which is home to a dozen or so embassies and, among other prestigious organisations, the Society for Chemical Industry. It was to the SCI that I went, because there was a Kids in Games and Virtual Spaces Forum being held on the premises, and I was to be the chair of the proceedings. Kids and virtual worlds have little in common with chemical industry, but they have a lecture theatre for rent at reasonable rates, so that's where the conference was.
I wore a suit for the event, because I was the chair. I was the only person there in a suit, but hey, during my normal work I don't wear suits and many of the people present do, so we all got to be in unusual dress.
The conference went well, except that we started 10 minutes late (not my fault), didn't make it up at the coffee break (not my fault), a couple of speakers and panels overran (my fault for not ruthlessly cutting them short), but we finished with 5 minutes to spare before the next conference, on funding, started in the afternoon.
It was actually quite interesting. Some of the things that were being said we have wider knowledge of in the virtual worlds industry, but other things were better known in social spaces than in games. For example, one of the keynote speakers (Marc Goodchild from the BBC, who with a surname like that was destined to head up their children's division) stressed how important it was that individual moderators were identifiable so they could become known to the children using their site. Now MMO forum moderators do tend to get known, although often it's so there's a name that players can hurtl abuse at, but I've never heard it explicitly said that they should be free to express their personalities and that it was a good thing. It was always implicit, not explicit, so that was useful to hear.
The other keynote was by Oisin Lunny who heads up Habbo for the British Isles. Apparently, if you have a Yorkshire accent like me and say "Usheen", it sounds like how Oisin is pronounced in Irish, which was fortunate. Also fortunate was that I said Lunny correctly anyway, because I don't have that strange way of pronouncing my Us that they have down south.
One interesting company that was present was emoderation, which moderates online content as a business. I'd come across people at conferences before who did moderation as freelancers, or who trained companies to do in-house moderation, and I've heard people say they were thinking of setting up an outsourcing unit for moderation, but I don't believe I've yet encountered a team that actually does. Except, well, this one does. They'll do web sites, MMOs, twitter feeds, you name it. They'll handle both real-time moderation (so if someone posts to a site, they'll read the post before deciding whether to accept it or not) and the usual fire-fighting kind of moderation (removing offensive content once it's posted). Because they have people who do this the whole time for a range of companies, they're very on-the-ball — they can tell whether teens are swearing or just using slang, and whether in either case it's allowed or not on that particular site. Some of the work they do is in areas that are not pleasant, though, and they have to train their moderators to enable them to switch off their own feelings (in the same way that police officers handling child porn have to be desensitised in order to do their job); they even have counselling facilities for when someone sees something so disturbing they can't handle it, which is some indication of the extent of the work they do. From an online business's point of view, this kind of service is great because it offers them a degree of protection — if something offensive does sneak through, they can pass the subsequent law suit on to the moderations company, rather than take the heat and the bad publicity themselves. I think it's a really good idea. It can't handle technical posts (or, for MMOs, queries regarding up-coming content), but it can stop children from being groomed by predatory adults, spot when they're standing around in a virtual world to form the shape of male genitals, and they're alert to all the ways that people who aren't meant to use a system will try to get round it.
Hmm, this post wasn't originally intended to be an extended unpaid advert for emoderation, but oh well, that's how QBlog entries work out sometimes...
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