Blighted Virtual Neighborhoods and Other Threats to Online Social Experiences
The rapid expansion of web presence into many new kinds of social networks has by far outpaced our ability to manage (or even understand) the community, economic, demographic and moral forces that shape user experiences. Online ticket queues, communities of online gamers, online retail malls and checkout sites, Facebook or MySpace communities, web-based town hall discussions, and Second Life destinations are just a few examples of places that users have come to regard as neighborhoods. They are virtual neighborhoods. They begin as attractive destinations and attract both visitors and inhabitants. Some users spend money, and some put down roots in the community. But like many real neighborhoods, virtual neighborhoods all too often turn into frightening, crime-ridden, disease- (or malware-)infested eyesores. Most users are driven away, real commerce is replaced by questionable transactions and billions of dollars of value is destroyed in the process. In blighted inner city neighborhoods you can find a familiar array of bad actors: loan sharks, vagrants, drug dealers, vandals and scam artists. Online neighborhoods fall prey to virtual blight: (1) Bot Blight, where the bad actors use bots and other non-human agents to overwhelm systems that are designed for human beings, (2) Human Blight, where individuals ranging from hackers to sociopaths and organized groups deliberately degrade a virtual neighborhood, (3) Entropy Blight, where abandoned property accumulates dead-end traffic of various kinds. The simple first-generation tools that were deployed to protect online properties have failed – the collapse of Geocities and the recent apparent defeat of Captcha, a technology to let only humans enter the neighborhood, are evidence of that failure. There is a growing realization of how easily bad actors can create the virtual version of urban blight and how ineffective existing approaches to identity, trust and security will be in battling it.