In cyberspace, Pam Taggart is in charge of keeping things under control, kind of like a police officer. But the role of a cyber police officer is different from that of the real world. Ms. Taggart is the operations manager for Metaverse Mod Squad, a company that provides avatar staffing in virtual worlds. She is in charge of moderating virtual worlds such as the sim for Gossip Girl in Second Life and Pandanda, a flash-based virtual world for kids featuring panda bear avatars. But what exactly is a moderator? Ms. Taggart and I met at the Mod Squad headquarters in Second Life, where we talked about the duties of a moderator, the skills required for the task, and how different it is from a 9 to 5 office job.
Q: Why does the Gossip Girl sim in Second Life need a moderator?
A: We do a little bit of everything. Gossip Girl of course is a Warner Bros. product, and we are here to protect their brand and make sure the residents follow the rules that Warner Bros. has established. A very large part of what we do though is entertaining– planning events, hosting parties, greeting new residents and orienting them to Second Life.
Q: Could you give an example of those rules?
A: Essentially they want it kept PG. No vulgar language, nudity or overt sexual behavior.
Q: It seems somewhat strange that Gossip Girl forbids sexual content.
A: We run into that quite a bit, what they air on the show we don’t allow to occur on the site.
Q: So what do people do (in the Gossip Girl sim)?
A: We have an events coordinator and they plan and throw some amazing parties. Each night we host an event or party and bring in live musicians for events from around Second Life. We have a really great group of regulars that have made Gossip Girl their home.
Q: So you’re cyber police/tour guide/party host?
A: Yes we wear many hats.
Q: How many moderators do you have? Do you work from the office or remotely?
A: For Gossip Girl we have about 15 moderators at this time. We all work remotely, we are spread all over the world.
Q: Other than typing skills, what kind of skills do you look for when you hire people?
A: We look for very outgoing vibrant people who can communicate well in both live chat and type. They have to be quick thinking and be able to keep a cool head in difficult situations.
Q: Can you determine these characteristics without meeting them in person?
A: We have become very adept at finding great team members. If they can survive a virtual interview and communicate well during that, it’s usually a great indication that they will do well as a moderator and often times we are very familiar with them in the real world.
Q: Do you have stipulations on how the avatar looks or dresses?
A: All of our moderator avatars look exactly alike with just slight variations; we all wear the same uniform. The hair is the same, it makes us very easy to identify.
Q: That’s really interesting. It’s kind of like a robot, but not a robot. Could someone make a living in real life being a moderator in Second Life?
A: Yes, we have several stay at home moms who work quite a few hours and it’s a great way to bring in a second income for their family while allowing them to stay at home with their kids. We also have some folks who have higher educations and do it for extra spending money and for the love of it.
Q: What is the male-female ratio of the moderators?
A: At this time, out of our 50 or so moderators, we have 2 males, so the female ratio is much higher. As we branch out into more male dominated sites I’m sure that will change.
Q: But most of the sites you’re doing are for kids, right?
A: Correct! And that tends to attract the more motherly types who want to moderate.
Q: Let’s turn our focus to some other projects that you do, like Pandanda.
A: Pandanda is a virtual world for kids, they have some great games you can play in there and it is also a socializing site.
Q: How does your moderating duty work out there? Is it like Gossip Girl where you’re openly acting as hosts, or more discreet?
A: Right now we are doing more moderating. We operate in stealth mode about 50% of the time.
Q: What does stealth mean? Are you totally invisible or a panda in disguise?
A: We appear transparent and the kids can’t see us at all.
Q: Are moderators required to give reports?
A: Yes, after each shift a moderator gives a detailed report and then as project leader I do a detailed daily report to the clients.
Q: What are you looking for? Bullying, or obscene language…?
A: We keep an eye out for any inappropriate behavior
Q: Have you come across that yet?
A: Yes, kids love to test the limits. They love to figure out how much they can get away with, how they can bypass the word filter. They get very creative.
Q. Do the children know you’re a moderator? How do they react to your presence?
A: We have a special last name, PandandaMod, and we wear a yellow t-shirt with a big M on it. Our chat bubbles are also purple so it stands out. So far, the moderators have been treated like rock stars in Pandanda. When not in stealth mode, we get swarmed– we take the kids on tours and play games with them.
Q: I guess the companies use moderators to assure parents.
A: That is a big part of it, knowing your child is on a safe site goes a long way.
Q: What would you say are the pros/cons of being a moderator?
A: The pros are getting to work from home! I really can’t think of any cons– things get crazy busy but it’s all fun. We get to play all day.
Q: Is it hard to explain your profession to people in real life?
A: Yes it is! They all look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. It’s getting easier now though that more and more folks are becoming involved in social networking sites, but my 90 year old grandmother still does not quite get it.
Q: Do you work on weekends too?
A: I work 7 days a week pretty much.
Q: Wow. That must disrupt your private life.
A: Since I’m at home it does not seem as difficult as if I were leaving home every day. I’m not tied to the computer all the time: I get errands done, meet with friends… it’s all very flexible. My family is in Alaska so when I go to visit I work from there. As long as I have my laptop I can work anywhere.