The Schism Around Voice: Multicasting vs. Broadcasting

From the roots of that paradigm, buzzwords like “Web 2.0” have emerged: social, interactive environments, where people collaborate to provide content. So far, these were mostly assynchronous — in the sense that on a blog, a forum, or any of the social sites like MySpace or Flickr, the author(s) publish something (a text, a picture, a movie), and others add to it afterwards (with comments, or, in the case of the Wikipedia, with additional articles). It’s not done in real time, but there are delays; still, those delays are very tiny when compared to an author that writes a book and then receives fan/hate mail which might influence a future revision of their own work.

Real-time interactivity comes, however, with chatrooms — from IRC to webchat. Here the issue is slightly different: you don’t have persistence of context. An IRC session can take hours, with hundreds of participants, but after it finishes, the text “disappears” (obviously, you can grab a copy and read it later; but IRC, as a medium, is not persistent on its own). Thus, although it’s definitely real-time, it lacks the persistence effect of something like, say, Wikipedia — which grows and grows as more people interact with it.

There is, to a degree, a system that allows both — real-time interaction in a “multicasting” model, with many authors and readers who interchange roles — and persistence of content. The best known example are Richard Bartle’s MUDs and all its many successors. In that environment, people build rooms — snippets of text that, like a book, appeal to the users’ imagination to evoke images in their mind when they read what others have placed as a description of the room. The rooms are also interactive — they are not “merely” nice, textual descriptions, but they allow, through commands and other special options, agents in the environment to change the rooms. Whether it’s a “game” (in the sense of a role-playing game with missions, quests, and goals), or simply “interactive art” (a narrative that unfolds, depending on the users’ choice), the issue is the same: MUDs allow collaboration, interaction, multicasting, and they have persistence of content.

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