The Big Controversies in Second Life

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Societies and communities have their own “backgrounds”. Although Second Life® does not have equivalent concepts to “skills”, “levels” or “experience”, commonly found on massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs), there is a single difference between a brand new resident and an older one: you’ll be familiar with the complexity of relationships inside Second Life, and, most likely, have an opinion on the types of controversies that occur in this virtual world.

So, to bring you up to date on what people talk about, and what you’re expected to know, here is a list of topics. Most people, after a few months, will have very strong opinions on most or even all of them. Some will not even recognise those as being “controversal”; many will ignore their existence; and some, while having read a bit about it, will clearly state they don’t want to give any opinion on it, since they don’t care (which is, in a sense, an opinion as well!).

In a world where you’re defined on what you think about issues, “having an opinion” is your ultimate way to depict your self…

Social aspects

Group tools

No matter how much people ignore them, the abstract notion of “groups” in Second Life, as supported by the new and improved group tools, is the (current) focus of structure in Second Life. Groups allow mega-corporations, local artisan’s collectives, or a simple way to get announcements from your favourite club. They determine co-ownership of items and land. They facilitate communication and they bring together people with similar-minded issues. Thus, they’re the very blood of SL’s society.

You’re defined by the groups you join, and very likely, your choices will define the persona you present to others. If you’re fond of partying, you’ll be subscribing to as many club groups to stay in touch with their announcements — since everybody will know that all you care about is to join these. If you’re a big landowner, you’ll have several rental/land management groups. “Being in a group” is, thus, the first step of showing others your place in Second Life.

Sooner or later, you’ll develop an evaluation of what these groups mean to you, how their limitations affect you and your friends, and they will also get you in touch with similarly-minded people who share your views. You won’t be able to escape being labeled because of the groups you’ve joined.

The “SLogosphere” vs. in-world society

Forums, blogs, websites, Snapzilla, and videos and pictures posted on everything ranging from MySpace, Flickr, Google Video, you name it. These days, you see one new website becoming part of the SLogoshpere every day. While at one time you were able to keep up with a handful of blogs and the Linden forums, nowadays you have to work harder. The sheer amount of data and information that is written (and read!) about Second Life is daunting.

Sooner or later, you’ll have to make choices: what are you going to read? What will be your choice? Because, at the end of the day, your choice will define your interests, your affiliation, and where your heart lies. It’s next to impossible to list them all — but once it was easy to be a “SL celebrity”, just post on the Linden forums. Nowadays, with just 600 or so users, the Linden forums are just a pale shadow of their former glory; even Prokofy Neva’s blog has far more regular readers than that. So your choices of where to get current information will be way more overwhelming. What should you do? Whom should you ask as a reference? Should you look up del.icio.us to see what they recommend? Or Technorati? Or Digg? Or Blogshares, or… well, you see, with literally thousands of websites related to Second Life, you’ll have a tough choice. How will you know you have made the right one? 🙂

Favouritism and the gamer culture

Many users of Second Life — some would say, the majority of them — come from popular gamer culture, which is a rather fascinating subject to investigate properly, perhaps on a separate essay, although I’ve alluded to it before (yes, even Linden Lab is seriously contaminated by the gamer culture).

Gamer culture has its own social norms, which are quite unlike the “real world”‘s social norms. They split the world between the “Gods” (creators of the universe) and the “Users” (players of a game). The closer one is to the “Gods”, the more you can ask from them. Thus, favouritism bends the “rules” by giving some people a higher percentage of “success” — it is shunned.
One expects the “Gods” to be as fair and neutral as possible. But what happens when they aren’t? And what signs do you expect to see when the Gods play unfair?

On MMORPGs, the signs are sometimes clear to see: a “friend of the Gods” gets an impossible-to-find item just after days of entering the game. Or they get killed, but somehow still keep their character. Or their suggestions become new features. This all is obvious, blatant favouritism.

On Second Life, however, things are not so easy. Sure, some people have gotten a discount on a private island, because they have a “cool” project. Residents will yell “favouritism” — but in reality, that group was perhaps a non-profit company (or exchanged part of their fee in return of some RL advertising on some sort of media). Nobody might know the reason why LL gave a discount to that group. Is that favouritism? You see, we might never know everything between the transactions between a company (LL) and a partner (the group getting the private island). Unlike what happens in MMORPGs, Linden Lab actively engages into negotiations with other companies…

The more common sort of “favouritism”; however, comes simply from good ideas. While some might view Linden Lab as “Gods”, they’re not omniscient. They make mistakes. Very often they choose the “worst” path towards a goal. And suddenly, out of nowehere, someone comes up and publicly says: “Why don’t you do it this way? It is much better like that!” Sometimes, Linden Lab reads that comment and implements exactly that. Favouritism? Hardly so. LL is not a company run by mindless white-collars. They understand some issues, and they can see how sometimes an idea from a resident is much better than their own ideas. And thus they implement it.

Give Linden Lab enough good ideas — or solid, constructive criticism — and they will be prone to listen to you more. Favouritism again? No, just a question of an attitude. You see, people with good ideas and knowing a way to implement them, in a non-costly manner with few resources, are precious: they’re sometimes called business consultants 🙂 So, LL is getting free consultancy. They would only be stupid if they didn’t take advise for free, if people are willing to give them that. Favouritism? Now things become tricky…

Real life software houses depend on input from their customers to make products better. But they work like dictatorships, not like democracies. Not everyone is “allowed” an opinion — since just because you’ve got an opinion, it doesn’t mean that you know what you’re saying. Naturally enough, crying out loud “Stop lag immediately! SL sucks!” is definitely not being helpful — it’s just emitting a (rude) opinion. While giving them a link to a free graphics engine where some issues with alpha textures are better dealt with, and pointing out the sections in the code that could be used by Linden Lab to improve their client, would be a valuable piece of information. LL, here, acts like a software company. They have to filter out the chaff from the wheat — and naturally enough, the ones whose opinion on “why lag sucks so much” will be left behind. Immediately, the community will yell “favouritism”.

Understanding what exactly is “favouritism” in the context of a software house which has to strive for improving their product to keep their customers happy is not easy. I claim that the whole notion is part of the “gamer culture” that has to be discarded as quickly as possible in order to advance SL successfully as the future Metaverse, but many disagree. You have to work out your own answer.

Ostracism and discrimination

Let’s face it: we all have encountered clear, blatant examples of discrimination, segregation, and ostracism in real life. Be the company where all the chiefs are males but the females do all their work; your colleague who is gay and never gets a promotion; the Afro-American Einstein sitting on a corner filing forms with his potential neglected — we all have seen similar examples in our alleged “equalitarian” world. But we humans are pattern-seekers, and quickly apply stereotypes and labels to our experiences.

Some would even go so far as to claim that this is the way our brain works: instead of filing each individual we met with complete data, we classify every individual in neatly tight, isolated boxes with a label. And then we add some extra tags on top of it. That way, our brains can just store the differences from proptotypes, but some neurologists even claim more than that: that our capacity for tagging people is limited. The authors of the Monkeysphere concept tend to defend that we can only keep track of a limited number of people as being part of our close sphere of contacts (150, according to some theories). Beyond that, every human being in the world has to be stereotyped, and that’s the way we deal with people beyond the Monkeysphere.

It’s hard to say if this concept is correct or not, but at least it explains prejudice very neatly. Prejudice appears because we classify someone under a stereotype, with its own tags and flags, and simply don’t bother to “update” the information for a particular individual, because we don’t care (or, perhaps, because our brain can’t handle it).

What this means is that even in Second Life you’ll get very strong ostracism. The most usual example in the book is the recurring prejudice against furries, which is truly not rationally explained. Like many dozens of thousands of people, I have some furry friends, have been around at their marvellous places (and are still amazed every day I visit Luskwood), and have some good customers among their community. The ones I talk to are clever, friendly, and often very very dedicated — I can see how hard they work at the Help Islands, for instance: you can rely upon them to be available and to come when you call for help.

But most of the resident population doesn’t see them that way. Why? Under their stereotype tags, they flag furries as “deviant sexual behaviour” (more of that in a minute) and “egotists”. Egotism leads to individualistic behaviour, which means that sooner or later, one will ignore other’s feelings and needs, but just your own — you have the basis for griefing there. So, in people’s minds, a furry is tagged as a griefer. And there is nothing one can say to change people’s opinions on that. It’ll be a stereotype that gets propagated all over the virtual world, and is so hard to shake it lose.

I’ve never been “griefed” by a furry — rather the contrary, I got help from furries when dealing with some griefers. They are community builders, not destroyers — in fact, one of the largest community in SL is run and inhabited by furries. The largest community destroyer I’ve ever met was an insignificant human being, a Caucasian, living in a democracy, happily married and with a child, and who is studying for a PhD, allegedly helping people with Alzheimer in real life. What could be more further from the typical stereotype for a “griefer”?

Still, it’s not my place to discuss the way stereotypes grow into ostracising people or whole communities — just to warn you out. Yes, ostracism exists in Second Life, and prejudice runs very deep in the resident’s veins. You have been warned — chose your friends carefully, and ask them what they think about. You’ll be far better off if you know beforehand how people will react to stereotypes.

Borderline behaviour

It is not my place to discuss the aspects of “hacker culture” — it used to be a word that some people were proud of. Being a hacker would simply mean having the necessary know-how (often applied to computers, but not necessary exclusively to them) to be able to do amazing feats with simple tools that would seem impossible to the eye of an unexperienced person. That’s all it was.

On the computer networks of the world, the word “hacker” has become synonymous with cyberterrorism, massively destroying systems and networks, often for cybercrime. And in a lower key, they’re “annoyances” — the guy that is able to remotely shut down your computer just because he’s exploiting a security breach. Annoying, but hardly “dangerous”.

The problem becomes more serious when these types develop an egotistical, autistical, sociopath-like behaviour. The emergence of things like Asperger’s Syndrome, which has studied deeply the connections with a certain degree of autism with highly intelligent individuals, has become a focus for many studies in human behaviour. In earlier times, we would call them “arrogant, egotistical bastards” — people who would care only about themselves, and employ their intelligence and cleverness to gather benefits only for themselves, disregarding the whole world. This is rather well studied nowadays, and you can understand much better all the nuances of this kind of borderline behaviour. An interesting aspect of SL is that, for instance, many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are actually community leaders — they always explain to me that SL allows them to “filter out” very successfully “confusing signals” from voice and body language, and they can thus employ all their intelligence and skills towards social interaction (I’m quite sure that once we get VoIP, things will not look so bright for our Aspies). A fascinating concept, well worth another essay 🙂

Still, it’s true that sociopaths abound, lurking in virtual communications, and Second Life is not an exception. On virtual worlds and MMORPGs, they’re called “griefers” because they inflict grief upon others. On textual communications (forums, news, blogs…), they’re “flamers”. Totally egocentric, on what Kohlberg would call the pre-conventional level of moral reasoning, these individuals never evolved beyond autoritarianism and moral relativeness. Every action is justified if it gives the self any advantage; you associate with others only to improve yourself. The rest of the world are basically mindless beings that are to be preyed upon (unless they have the power of authority, ie., if they can lock you up in jail). They also view everyone else as being at the same stage of moral reasoning.

This is a stage that we all go through when we are children, but almost all of us will evolve towards later stages. However, a large number will never evolve beyond those basic levels. They’ll remain utter egotists — we can call them sociopaths — for the rest of their lives. This will not mean that they will be violent, or automatically become murderers or rapists. Not at all. They simple will not be able to understand why there is a need for something like “sharing” (thoughts, goods and services, feelings, a common culture) — the concept will not make sense to them at all. Only the self will matter.

Second Life has an interesting catalyst for so many sociopaths to come to it: it doesn’t actively enforce (almost) anything. Griefers go mostly unpunished — they simple log off with an account, and log back in with an alt. On the mainland, you can’t even touch them — if you do, a clever griefer will file an Abuse Report on you instead, and send a clever email to Second Life on how awful you are and how deeply they were hurt by your actions, and that they’re now going to leave SL because they never thought it would be so bad… remember, these guys are often very, very clever.

Help Island is a notorious place where people are completely at the mercy of griefers, and they know that very well. No Mentor might lift a hand against the griefers — that would mean immediate removal of the Mentor status, which is not so easy to get. But on the other hand, there is no way you can protect either you or the new users from griefers. The new users will be too confused to be even able to react. The griefers, with returning alts, will be able to do whatever they please.

There are tricks and strategies to deal with this kind of borderline behaviour, but they’re not easily applied — it takes some training, and some skill as well. Most people are simply unprepared to confront griefers — because in real life, if you’re harassed, you go to the police. In SL there is no police, no justice, no laws, no enforcement. This is very hard to accept for many, who are used to live under democratic institutions and a code of law — and naturally, it’s only when you miss those that you understand how important they are 🙂

Sociopaths are actually dangerous for a virtual world that touts “social interaction” and a “collaborative environment”, specially if they are allowed (as they are) to roam the world unchecked. It means that sooner or later you’ll meet them, but you have to understand their psychological traits and not let them affect your enjoyment and participation in SL. Too many people get such a strong reaction against griefers and leave, never to return. This is actually the wrong approach; one should stay and ignore the griefers, since the more they’re ignored (something which can be very difficult for some), the faster they will go elsewhere, where they can be the focus of attention. Griefers, unable to deal with social relationships, only know one way of gathering attention: by disrupting social networks. If you prevent them of doing that, they’ll leave.

Deviant behaviour is not found only on this area, but on many others, mostly of a sexual nature. Being not an expert in those, I will mostly let you explore for yourself. A few articles on Wired magazine by Regina Lynn should be able to give you a good outlook on the many possibilities for sexual interaction in the virtual world of Second Life (Regina had also a special appearance at the SLCC 2006). Here, you’ll truly have to keep a very open mind! About a third of all users of Second Life have some sort of relationship inside the virtual world, and in many cases, it is everything but conventional. Failing to respect that will get you ostracised 🙂

Political aspects

Anarcho-syndicalism, anarchism, or libertarian neoliberalism?

Forget “communists” vs. “capitalists”; the notions are too blurred to fit in exactly. Calling someone a “communist” because they only participate in volunteer projects (say, social causes, fundraising events) where someone else pays for the land and you only provide your work in a team collaborating on construction projects is a too narrow-minded view — people might do that simply to gather attention for their shops/malls or services, so these can be just marketing stunts of a good capitalist. Similarly, just because someone owns vast amounts of land and hundreds of tenants, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically ruthless capitalists — they might use all that money, for instance, for social causes: in SL, this means mostly helping out new users with free (or low-cost) rental areas, providing them with prefab homes, helping them out setting up their shops on a “common ground”, and so on.

The old labels simply don’t apply so well. Still, a few trends can be spotted, the anarchist being the best example. Anarchists will disregard any rule whatsoever, except the ones they have created for themselves. Many, unlike the common stereotype, are not loners. A good example is concertated griefing: they disrespect and disregard everybody else’s buildings and privacy, are strongly convinced that the fun of Second Life is having a game where you can do whatever you want to do without repercussions. Everybody should do the same, and settle on the boundaries — “you don’t shoot me, I don’t shoot you” approach.

Anarchists can be utterly non-violent. They do simply what they want to do, but don’t disturb anyone while doing it. They just want to be left in peace, and enjoy what they do. Nobody has the right to bother them.

Anarcho-syndicalists are very commonly found among older users. They group together to defend themselves from external threats. They idealise a Second Life where money, land, and prim limits are unnecessary and contrary to the purposes of making “a better world”. They also believe this to be Linden Lab’s plan for Second Life, and will defend the right to freely collaborate on amazing projects and concepts, without being tainted by money. Thus, they feel morally superior to the rest of the residents, who are still on a lower level of social thought, where “money” is still a needed concept. Not surprisingly, they’re angry at Linden Lab for having introduced the concepts of “money” and “propriety”, which they find utterly alien in “the brave new world” they’re building.

Many are effectively anarcho-capitalists (a notion that is disputed): they believe that the strength of their group is enough to defend their right to free trade, without the interference of LL or, obviously, other groups. They want unbounded and unchecked free exchange of money, items, and services, but… only by having themselves as the sole producers of goods and services. To do that, they will form close bonds with LL’s employees, specially with the former residents who have become employees. Prokofy Neva identifies this group with the “Feted Inner Core”; no matter how informal or formal they are, they have the means to influence LL’s actions and planning, and exhibit two important aspects of social relationships: they protect themselves (ie. they work in a closed group), and they persuade LL to implement their concepts world-wide. Since they’re open to commerce — assuming, of course, that they are the providers, and the rest of the world are the consumers — LL tends to overly encourage members of this group as well — more in the past than nowadays. They are fond of structures of power that organise and plan this world according to their own views, to the exclusion of anyone else’s.

The larger majority of LL’s residents, however, are libertarian/neoliberalists. They believe in equal opportunities for making money for everybody; the best way of assuring that is keeping LL from interfering on the economy. They disregard and disrespect (and even find it dangerous) all kinds of resident-based organisations that promote some tort of ethical codes of business conduct. People ought to be free to exchange items and services as they like. What others call “cheating” or “lying” is just a twisted view on commercial practices — everybody knows that you’re allowed to “slightly bend the truth” when selling a product, and it’s up to the consumer to know “the rules of the game”, inform themselves, and shop from merchants with a good reputation — or the cheapest prices.

This group utterly despises the others, since they view them as dangerous inhibiters of free, unregulated commercial transactions in Second Life. The in-world economy is established by people selling their creations or services, not by fancy, utopian moral values that are imposed upon others. If people want complexity in defining “rules” to organise commerce — they should go away to RL and live there.

Many residents are neither of the above, of course, and are very likely on the moderate centre, either on social capitalism (SL companies have a moral obligation to develop this world to support new and poor users, through low-rent/low-cost mechanisms that allow poor residents to enjoy themselves, and slowly help them to work up in the social ladder) to what Rudy Rummel calls “soft socialism” (or Europeans call social democracy), a means where, through a non-voluntary financial contribution, businesses create a pool of money and resources to deploy structures (social and architectural) to be enjoyed by all (like, say, education, arts and culture in SL). These types of “moderate” residents are the ones commonly found around and being shocked by the lack of organisation, planning, and structure, and will volunteer their time (and often their money!) to better plan and organise things at the local level (their own groups, their own communities, their own businesses), hoping to “lead by example”.

Sooner or later you’re going to find people from all these groups, and the way you relate to them will label you accordingly. The daunting task of balancing friends from all these contradictory groups will get you ostracised by all of them 🙂

So, think about Second Life politics. What are you, a democrat, an anarchist, a libertarian, or you simply don’t care? Take a look at the Wikipedia’s page on forms of government to know what people are talking about!

Relationships towards Linden Labs

The employees

Lindens — love them or hate them. We all have our “favourite Linden”, and we all have that special guy at Linden Lab that we point to when things go wrong. Some will know who the Lindens were before they became Lindens, and they’ll be everlasting friends; some, for exactly the same reason, will be their antagonists forever.

Linden Lab has a rather heterogenous group of employees. While they share with us the bright-eyed, wonderful magic of Second Life, they have personal motivations as well. Each will look at SL in a different way — just like us residents (see below). Also, they are not ugly, lazy monsters that refuse to add this or that feature, or not answer the phone when you need; if there is something that unites them all, is their amazing ability to work hours after hours to make SL work — even if so very often they’re accused of doing exactly the opposite.

It’s hard to work at LL with such a demanding crowd of angry residents. Remember that they’re also humans, even if they can click on God Mode 🙂

The company

Being a Californian start-up, lead by visionary Philip “Linden” Rosedale, and funded by several visionaries as well (Mitch from Lotus 1-2-3 and Mozilla fame, Jeff from Amazon, Pierre from eBay… among so many others), Linden Lab is quite hard to understand as a company. They have an amazing (and utterly naive!) corporate culture — the Tao of Linden, meaning mostly that their employees can pretty much work on what they want, and hopefully they’ll cook something together that is greater than the sum of the parts. Hopefully 😉

Sometimes the company has the weirdest ideas. They’re the only software house in the world that doesn’t have a User Group (too worried about favouritism!) or a Partner Programme (they don’t understand the concept). They sell a software that allows integration with back-end application servers, but haven’t published any documentation on how that should be done. They get lots of press reviews and references in the (real) media, but they don’t have a marketing or advertising strategy. Their former “hired evangelist” left LL to create his own company, providing customers with consultancy services on how to create a virtual presence in Second Life. They don’t make deals to get ads inside SL to at least cover some of the costs. All in all, this company is too weird to defy description!

To baffle even more the ones desperately looking for any signs of “corporate culture” at Linden Lab (and who are obviously quickly disappointed), they’ll soon find out that it’s impossible for LL to be a huge profitable company. They’re a struggling one, covering the costs, but still struggling. Return on investment will take decades, if not more — they are now on a steep exponential growth curve, and we all know how dangerous these are, after three years of steady, linear growth. Still, they don’t make a lot of money, but they’re still around. Why? How?

The answer is simple: Linden Lab is lead by visionaries, not by business people. They want to create something unique, something that has never been tried before. And for that you need stubbornness — not greed. Being a visionary in the post-bubble days is something very hard to be! But still they struggle along.

Also, you will have to make your opinion on what Linden Lab’s role in Second Life is. Are they “distant gods” that “left the world in our hand”, just coming in to observe what we’re doing? Are they benevolent dictators ruling over a mostly libertarian landscape, just stepping in for some blatant violations (hate speech, child porn) but letting us do whatever we please? Or are they “merely” a software developing house which created an amazing platform for creating the Metaverse, and we should deal with them like we deal with any other software house, and expect them to behave just like the Apples and Microsofts of this world? The way you relate with Linden Lab will also define what you think that Second Life actually is.
Skeptics — or realists perhaps? — think that LL has about 18 months to prove that it was worth to be stubborn, and to go along their planned route, despite not making enough money to make it worthwhile as a company. If LL has 3-5 million users by the end of 2007, they will gather a huge attention — the momentum will be so great that it will be unstoppable. Things like MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and all these “social tools” of the much-touted “Web 2.0” will suddenly become meaningless — they will just be seen as crude attempts of doing something, at a very limited scale, of what Second Life can be and become: the ultimate social tool ever developed on top of the Internet, dwarfing everything done so far. At the same time, it’ll conquer its spot as one of the potentially most interesting e-Business marketplaces in the world: with 3-5 million users, they’ll easily have over US$ 10 billions in transactions per year, shadowing all the other virtual worlds, even if they’ll have a small overall share of all people connected to virtual worlds. The whole business (and techie) world won’t simply be able to ignore them and sweep them under the carpet.

If they fail — well, then, this technology was developed ten years too soon. People will still talk about it with fondness for a while, then quickly forget it and return to blogs and MySpace and Flickr and Google Video. And in ten years, someone will announce the Metaverse, using 3D photorealistic texturing and cheap goggles for an immersive experience “unlike anything ever done before”. Although, from a technological standpoint, compared to some 3D engines, SL might be terribly outdated, from the point of view of a product, it might just be on the market too soon.

The product

… which comes to the ultimate question regarding Second Life. Both amateur techies and professional programmers, system administrators, and network engineers tear their hairs (real and virtual) when they look at SL’s suite of clients and server applications. Why the so unconventional choices? Why was the group server writing on text files, and not on a database, thus limiting our choice of group tools? Why do we need to update our clients (dramatically so) every time a few bugs are fixed? Why is performance so terrible, and why do we have to suffer so much when over 25 avatars are in the same spot? Why does the asset server crash, if it’s supposed to be a cluster of servers? Why is IM proprietary, and not Jabber-based and federated with Google? Why did they stop development on Havok, on in-world HTML, or Speedtree — things that 10-year-old products have had for ages? Why the so many limitations and delays built-in on Linden Scripting Language, that all experts and professional scripters know how to work around (and are thus silly as a concept), but need to spend almost 90% of their development time doing so? Why are monetary transactions not atomic? Why is the whole user interface drawn by the renderer, instead of being on separate windows (on their own threads)?

Why, why, why?

On the other hand… why don’t we just pop over to another virtual world, where “everything works like it should”, and are instead on Second Life?

The interesting bit of Second Life’s technological platform is that sometimes it can work in such an awesome way that we have to think twice on “how did they manage to do that?” while on the very next moment a spike lag can make us turn back to reality and make us remember how clunky, primitive, amateurish, glued-together-in-a-hurry some things are.

As soon as you deal with both extremes — wonder and amazement when something works way better than it should, and grumbling and mumbling when it doesn’t — you’ll have to forge your opinion on Second Life, the Metaverse platform.

Philosophy

A game versus a platform?

Henrik Linden (now not working for LL any more) has coined two very interesting words that define Second Life’s experience very well. The first-generation SL residents were interested in Second Life as an “alternate reality”, one that is disconnected from “real life” but bears some resemblance to it. In this alternate reality you would be able to be whomever you wanted to be — and requests for revealing your real life data are considered rude. This group is called by Henrik “immersionists” — they want an experience where SL becomes a real country, with a real economy, where real people are going to live, have their jobs, have their fun. It will have nothing to do with the physical world. And they’re working hard to make this become true.

A later generation, the “augmentationists”, have a different point of view. They look at Second Life as an extension of real life — a tool, a platform, a communication medium, the 2nd generation World-Wide Web in 3D. For them, anonymity is as silly as faking your voice on a phone call; just because you’re a “phone number” you’re not a different person. And sure, people can have a job as virtual architects in Second Life — contracted in real life, with real customers, and paid in real US dollars. This doesn’t mean that SL is just work and no fun; rather the contrary, it’s an entertaining experience, a fun place to be and meet people. But it’s just that and nothing else.

Being trapped between both extremes, I can’t really say what to advise 🙂 I guess I’ll always be an immersionist struggling to look at Second Life as an augmentist. But you have to make the choice on your own — and be ostracised by the other group, forever.

Types of users

SL resident Jon Seattle defines four types of users of Second Life: Builders, who join Second Life to express their creativity by creating things — from buildings, textures, animations, clothes, to creating communities and interesting projects. At the extreme case, some are “self-builders” — known for their plethora of alts, each one a personality they have “built” for themselves. The second class are Business Owners. No matter what they do, they have a very strong focus on Second Life: this is a place to make money. Some are more or less obsessed with it, and the scale can be very different. Not everyone is an Anshe Chung; many will be perfectly happy to open up a small shop and sell their clothes. In any case, their idea is that SL is a nice place to open shop and cash in, by being good at some product/service and filling in a niche nicely. The third group (by far the largest!)are the Consumers. They are in SL to get entertained. They don’t really produce anything — SL is an escape, a place to relax, to be with friends, to get entertainment, to join groups, to have fun. They admire Builders because of what they do; they grumble at the prices set by Business Owners; but they accept both in their place in SL: to fill up the empty sims of this virtual world and get them some goodies. And lastly, there are the Debaters. These are usually untalented as creators and are lousy business owners; what they do, mostly, is to think about Second Life, and get an audience to listen to them (I’m sure Jon had someone in mind when he defined these four roles!), and mostly write/talk about it. They’ll be the proselytisers and evangelisers of all what is cool about Second Life — and will do that in-world, on blogs and forums, or or real world conferences.

No one is truly just one of these groups, but you’ll have to figure out what you are, because your needs and desires (and the ones of your group) will be quite different of the other groups! And they’ll be at odds with each other, when pushing for new features, for example.

But it’s not real!

After a few weeks online, you will very likely see how serious the inhabitants of Second Life are. They’ll get offended quite easily if you are rude to them. Drama will erupt because someone stole a texture, or because one sim was down for a few hours. And some residents will laugh at them and just shake their heads and say: “What are you making a fuss out of it, come on, this is not real, this is just a game”.

Although this naive group is slowly dying out, the question still remains to be answered at some point. What is “reality” after all? What we perceive with our senses? But through Second Life we have visual stimula; so why is it “less” real? When you watch a movie on TV, you know it’s not “real” but just “pretend”. But you still laugh and cry — why, if the people portraied there are just actors? And how do you know that what’s in the news, just before the movie begins, is “real”? Just because someone tells you so?

We are all humans here, with our motivations, our feelings, our friends and companions, our daily chores. No matter how much you can dismiss pretty pixels on a screen, you’ll have to face with the ultimate reality (virtuality?): there are people behind the screen, staring at you.

Identity and self

Avatars are cute pixelatted graphics with human souls

Extropia DaSilva will very likely be the reference of “self” and “identity” in Second Life. Even if you don’t agree with her ideas, this will definitely make you think a bit about what means when you talk about “self”.

All we know is that people in SL behave like people in real life. Their patterns of social conduct, norms, and even things like physical distance will be “brought” over to Second Life. We apologise for bumping into people; some men (or male avatars) open doors for women (or female avatars). We dress up for special occasions. We build homes, mostly on the ground, and with roofs (although it never rains inside, and our avatars don’t get wet). We adopt the language of our own medium, status, or reference group (computer programmers will talk about computer programming, lawyers will talk about laws). So, if we don’t identify with our cute pixellated avatars, why do we behave as if we do? 🙂

The question begs asking, and many will dismiss it saying that “I can look like I want in Second Life”. Sure you do. But why do 7-feet-tall ogres run for elections and talk like professors? Why does the blonde bombshell patiently train new users in scripting or building? Why does the lady dressed in a Victorian dress organise large groups of volunteers? Why does the guy dressed like Prince Charming flame the world with his bluntness and strong words, acting as a hero of the nation bringing righteousness to SL? The answer, of course, is that we can shed our physical aspect, but it’s way harder to shed our mental processes. You’ll behave in SL more likely like you behave in real life — unless you’re a very talented actor or role-player (and sure, these exist as well!). At the end of the day, you’ll be stripped off all physical attributes, and will commune with your fellow residents mind-to-mind. So, where is your sense of identity then?

Conclusion

Imagine you’re planning your travel to a new country which you haven’t visited before. These days, with the Internet so handy and with such a wealth of information on what to visit in any country (think Wikitravel), it makes a lot of sense to browse for the existing information before making a trip. Will you need vaccines? What are the nicest places to visit, and how will you be able to travel there? What do the natives speak or eat? And more important — what do they talk about?

Second Life gets more complex by the minute, as about 10,000 new users log in every day. Most of them just saw a link on a web page or a magazine, or watched a TV broadcast mentioning Second Life as the “virtual world” where every dream can become possible. They come unprepared and in desperate need of guidance. Just looking at the new users that drop in every day at Help Island, I would say that over two thirds simply come from other MMORPGs — with totally different expectations on Second Life: they want to know how they can make money, or where the red light district is. Another third simply has no clue — they have never logged to a virtual world before, and like the very first time when you connected your computer to the Internet and launched a web browser, they ask themselves: “Now, where do I begin?” The next question is most likely: “What is all this about?” or “What do I need to know”?

If you can answer each and every one of the questions on this article, and make an opinion on all the issues, well then, you’re ready to take the plunge into SL’s dynamic and complex society 🙂

CC BY 4.0 The Big Controversies in Second Life by Gwyneth Llewelyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

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  • Wow! I had to sign up for LJ just to tell you what a great article this is.

    It’s a fantastic overview… I kept nodding in agreement through the whole article.

    Great, thorough stuff.

  • Thanks, Boadi! I actually discourage anonymous comments for many reasons (I’m sorry about that), one of which is spamming, but with the increasing number of people using some sort of OpenID to sign on different blogs/wikis/forums, I thought I’d implement it as well (people can also sign up for just this blog, of course).

    Ah, and the article is definitely far from “thorough”, but at some point in time, I guess I can also get tired of writing 🙂 There are many, many things that I’ve forgotten to mention, the most notable ones being:

    – IP rights and how people have such a wrong idea about what they are or how they work
    – Ethics, and community standards that change from community to community
    – The approach towards commerce in SL (just barely mentioned on the “politics” paragraph)
    – How much RL data should one reveal, or expect others to reveal (also just lightly brushed)
    – Who does, indeed, make the rules in SL? (I have an unfinished article on that, sooooo…)

    This just means I’ll have some more work to do next week 🙂

  • Torley Linden

    Gwyn, while you’re at it, you should PUBLISH A WHOLE BOOK. I’m reading My Tiny Life by Julian Dibbell, and in the midst, I think of you. You certainly have enough material!

    One thing I really like about this new blog format you’re using is the bigger font, it’s RSS-aggregatable, and the column width helps with readability–understandable given your style, it’s a very long scroll down, and a most welcome and rewarding one at that.

    You put a lot of pieces together.

  • Thanks for your patience in reading it to the end, Torley 🙂 (and BTW, nice Gravatar! 🙂 🙂 ) Well, the new blog format is mostly a tweaked version of Lisa Sabin’s Blossom Theme for WordPress, I guess that she is the one that has the merit of getting a rather presentable format for reading 🙂

    As for publishing a book, ah well, I’d love to — it has been years since anything I’ve written has been put into “book” format — but I don’t truly think there is an audience for that. Not yet! Let’s see SL grow a bit more, perhaps to 10-15 million users, then grab some of the most interesting writers in SL and get Tim O’Reilly to publish it 😉 Who knows, it might even sell more than 50 copies 🙂

    Seriously now, I hardly have enough time to post articles here, much less to write a whole, serious book about SL… although… hmm… I might surprise you still with a different type of book 😉

    I’m keeping it a secret for now, just to add some spice — watch this space in 2007 🙂

  • professor beliveau

    Gwyneth:
    Very interesting article. Helpful. Thanks.

    I would note that Anshe Chung’s taxonomy doesn’t account for the group to which I belong . . . Educators/Researchers . . .

    Though we will certainly spend time debating the value of SL for meeting our various goals, and though some of us have to build (or to hire someone to do it for us) so that we can have places to work, and although we will bring consumers (as students) into SL, I don’t feel comfortable with putting our roles as teachers or researchers into any of the 4 categories Chung suggests.

    The educators among us are working to discover/establish the viability of SL as a distance education and/or immersive learning environment. We’re trying to see if this is a good place and way to reach and serve students and learning. The researchers among us are (in various ways) interested in the same stuff in SL as we are in RL: what, how and why do people do what they do and what does doing it mean to them.

    Thanks for the interesting musings. Reading them provoked much thought.

    Peace.

    oh… one other topic of interest (probably to the “debaters”
    : >
    there are pretty stunning differences (of opinion/outlook/outcome, etc.) between what I’ll call “the community rhetoric of the Lindens” and “the business rhetoric of the Lindens.”

    I am NOT blaming the Lindens for anything with this topic. I’m not implying that they are somehow misleading anyone or anything like that. I’m just pointing out that there are two very public “faces” of the Linden Labs effort and that both show sufficiently for someone to analyze them. In one version, SL is “a wholly user-created community.” In the other SL is “after all, just a business.” In the first version, the Lindons have only loose and facilitative control. In the second, they are absolutely ruthless Lords and Masters. The two rhetorics operating concurrently produce a really interesting and sometimes paradoxical meaning environment.

    enuf. Once again, thanks for the great prompt. Peace.

  • Just to clarify, Prof. Beliveau, the 4 roles are suggested by Jon Seattle and not by Anshe Chung 🙂

    The 4 roles are also *not* isolated boxes; most people will fall into several categories at the same time. The categories can be misleading. A “business owner” can be anything, from a teacher, to a freelance DJ, up to a lady of negotiable virtue 🙂 — just because most people think of business owners as land barons or shop owners, this is not so easy like that. Similarly, a builder can be a community builder, and don’t know a thing about gluing two prims together.

    It’s most likely that educators/teachers will fall in the category of either builders or business owners. Most educators/teachers either teach because they love to teach — in essence, their act of teaching is its own compensation, and thus, they would be classified using Jon Seattle’s taxonomy as “builders”. Other educators/teachers will teach because that’s their job (and we certainly see that also happening quite a lot in SL!) — they would most certainly be classified as “business owners” in that taxonomy.

    Now that you mention this aspect, I guess I’m not a “pure” Debater, as I thought I was, since indeed I like to teach in SL, for the mere sake of teaching. This is the hallmark of a Builder. So I guess I’m also a Builder, after all.

    In any case, Jon’s taxonomy is certainly open for discussion 🙂

    On the community/business rhetoric issue, you might find Henrik’s blog-cum-wiki at http://slcreativity.org interesting. Search for his immensely interesting articles on Immersion vs. Augmentation — which fall neatly into the community/business dichotomy, I think, just with a slightly different emphasis.

  • Gwyn… thanks for the reply… and I totally understand requiring a login. =)

    BTW… i added a link to this article in my new blog sldot.org

    I’d love to hear your comments on IP especially, as it’s something I’ve been concerned about since I started Second Life a couple months ago.

    Specifically I’m concerned that LL’s desire for a more open protocol and their desire to maintain IP are in direct contradiction.

    Though I’m by no means a long-timer, it seems like LL’s longterm goal is to become a sort of standard protocol for a 3D world. And when the folks at libsecondlife started to reverse engineer the protocol, and started reading the datastream and snagging textures… it seems like LL was fine with that, because of their outlook.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that stance… except that they seem to also support an economy based on false limitations.

    They have those checkboxes that “protect” your IP, however the only security they really offer is based on people not fully understanding the protocol.

    Look… I’m no supergeek… but i do believe that if something can be rendered on the client side, and you can read the datastream, you can make a copy of it.

    As soon as a talented programmer comes along and produces a tool with an easy interface, that looks at any particular object and can produce a carbon copy of all the prims right next to it… won’t the whole economy crash?

    It seems the only “real” protection anyone has is real-world courts… and I doubt that’s really feasible.

    I guess my worries put me in what you call the “anarcho-syndicalist” camp, by default. Not necessarily out of an ethical stance… just out of practicality. I can’t see the economy as sustainable in the long term. And it’s better to deliver no protection than to deliver false promises.

    But really… my true concern goes out to the builders, especially those that make a living at SL, who’s longterm success seems to depend on whether LL wants to obscure the protocol. And they don’t seem to.

    Am I all gloom-and-doom for nothing? How do you see it?

  • Gwyneth:
    This is a great article. There’s LOTS of food for thought, and it’s made me think about some of my SL interactions in a different light.

    In regards to our brains classifying individuals with a label, I have heard stories about the filming of the original “Planet of the Apes” movie and the television show “Babylon 5” where the extras of different races, not being able to easily get in and out of costume, tended to sit with each other during lunch breaks.

    On the augmentationist vs. immersionist issue, it’s been my experience that some (I have no idea what percentage) augmentationists aren’t even *aware* that immersionists exist. I have seen people put all of their RL information on the SL tab, which gives me the impression that they consider SL & RL to be one and the same. A couple of days ago, someone asked me about the origin and nationality of my SL last name. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I chose my SL name because it sounded cool and not because it had anything to do with my RL background. I think a big part of the problem is that there aren’t any visual cues which indicate whether the person behind the avatar tends to be an immersionist or augmentationist. I’ve had non-human looking avatars, which one would expect to be immersionist, ask me all sorts of questions about my RL. It seems like one day the augmentationists will vastly outnumber the immersionists. Perhaps the immersionists should retreat to their own island (I say that only half-jokingly).

    Anyway, thanks for a very interesting article.

  • niko donburi

    Thank you for taking the time to post such a well-thought out and informative article. Your observations are quite accurate and aptly illustrate that SL is in a state of flux from what it once was to what it will become.

    Niko

  • I’m amazed by both the depth and breadth of your writing! Sometimes I feel myself starting in on a looooong session like this, but fortunately for me (and the audience), the vicissitudes of posting regularly virtually demand that I keep my posts relatively brief.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t appreciate long form! Thank you for your continued expression.

    Akela Talamasca
    http://www.secondlifeinsider.com

  • Prokofy Neva

    I found this tendentious in places, though a good summary. It’s even longer than my posts, so I’ll have to come back to digest, but I found it humorous that great minds think alike — I really was *just* going to post something about what I saw were the two great controversies of Second Life: land and jobs. There are huge debates — very acrimonious — about these two very basic things that every newbie comes in wanting — such a debate that some even deny that newbies want such things and try to portray them as needing building classes and long sojourns in the sandbox making fun content they don’t charge for.

    The attitude toward land which oldbies counsel newbies as “not needing to have fun” is like the Calvinist or Victorian attitude toward sex; it’s like parents telling teenagers to abstain. The moralizing about selling freebies is just as bad — you would think that sex again was the topic, so prudish do people get and so angry about the “misuse” of the selling function.

    Gwyn somewhat addresses this by referencing what she calls anarcho-capitalists; there’s nothing anarcho about them, however. They aren’t for freedom. They’re for sale of their own products only. They are corporativists, and that’s on the fascism spectrum.

    And speaking of spectrums, Gwyn goes on a little wierd jag about the Aspbergers’ Among Us. We have lots. And they exercise a control over SL that many find unsettling and some jeer outright, not only because they’re intolerant, but becaue they don’t buy the idea that a condition like this should become a ticket to a privileged position.

    It’s curious that Gwyn recites the big Aspie mantra about filtering out stuff and freeing up intelligence for social interation. She assumes that’s what is good for the Aspie is good for all the rest of us. Is it? I know that challenges the most sacred holy of holies in Second Life, one behind which many a man with a curtain and a Great Oz is hiding, but I have to raise this issue.

    What happens is that all the energy, powered by the condition, for obsession, infinite compulsiveness about details, technical capacity and even brilliance, is brought to bear on certain areas of SL, like Orientation Island or the Feature Voting Tools, in ways that disenfranchise many others. I deeply question this.

    Augmentationists are at root parvenus, as they exploit and even gut or GOM the achievements of immersives who make the world that they parachute into it. An augmentationist is not a neutral stance; he augments using my world, and my imagination — and yours. I’m not for letting him do that so easily and casually and at such benefit to himself, and at such damage to us.

  • Patroklus Murakami

    This is a brilliant guide to many of the controversies that rage in our little virtual world. It made me think, which is surely the purpose of a good blog post. I’m not sure where I stand on all of these issues and may be in the ‘radical dead centre’ for most of them!

  • On’Being trapped between both extremes, I can’t really say what to advise 🙂 I guess I’ll always be an immersionist struggling to look at Second Life as an augmentist.’
    Looks like am your enemy! nah just joking 🙂 I am an augmentist struggleing to SL as an escape 🙂 As for most things, you can surely write a book about SL. I think, it will probably be not too difficult. I have seen someone publish a New York Times best seller just by aggregating her blogs about her sex life. I strongly urge you to publish a book…dont know if this makes sense as media evolves.. i have stoppped buying books (well kind of) but I think it would serve as a good historical landmark.
    Moriz Gupte

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  • Prokofy Neva

    Gwyn, upon a closer re-read, I really have to ask: why do you feel called upon to be such an apologist and such an uncritical evangelist for Linden Lab? Apparently they don’t *pay* you to do this. So why do it? Do you think it benefits you or them somehow?

    As I see it now, you’ve really done a very deft slight of hand on the whole favouritism discussion, making it seem like everything that many of us feel and see and analyze properly as blatant and illegitimate favouritism is only a mirage and isnt’ *really* that but is merely “business consultancy* (rolls eyes). WE are to blame for “seeing it all wrong” — or being “jealous” — they aren’t to blame for not taking the trouble to really make a level playing field.

    You say WE have to get rid of our “gamer culture” where we assume that everything “works that way,” that there is a “quest” and “game gods” that we need to “level up” and “suck up” to — that we’re at fault. But they’re the game gods exerting their unaccountable power often — we aren’t even gamerz, most of us. We just work here.

    You keep excusing this game-god-infused Lab as being some very model of a perfect “software company” when clearly, it’s a software company absolutely immersed and suffused with gamer and game-god and MMORPG culture. Some of its chief architects/programmers/ managers come from other game companies, are gamers, and first tackled this as a game, even using the word “entertainment” in their press releases.

    In fact, it pays to go read the ad copy on http://www.lindenlab.com, and not just that for the customers on http://www.secondlife.com, because on lindenlab.com it speaks frankly of “entertainment”. One of the ways they entertain is to get people immersed into thinking they are “running a business” etc. and of course that’s easy to do when real money changes hands.

    It’s they who need to get rid of the exclusivist, gamer-god culture that privileges some over others – not always with really obvious merits. Not us.

    You’re feeding into this very dangerous development of recent months where the Lab is going around telling everybody they have to be “constructive” and “positive” — or get out. They close the forums. They shut out contact with people they don’t like. They privilege the smarmy, suck-up brown-nosers who have no social legitimacy. This is a recipe for stagnation, corruption, death.

    And this is how you get a really outrageous coup happening with the hijacking of the voter tools, as I’ve written about extensively — one resident, Angel Fluffy, comes along and just “helps out” and says “do it this way” and does it — in the absence of transparency and effective planning for resident involvement that we see at LL. I can’t believe you are justifying such a blatant coup by your little nostrums hwere about “business consultancy”.

    So he grabs the entire reform project of the voter tools, gets cursory Linden approval, makes a group with only himself as officer (these groups you’re getting all celebratory about have their dark sides as controlling instruments), puts 3 Lindens in it who are only relieved to be able to show “a resident who is given the reins” in their activity reports where they are taxed to show “devolution of management on to the community” — an voila, we have a dictatorship-in-the making, precisely because YOU and your confreres insisted on seeing this as merely a software company that *gets* to do things this way “just because”.

    Well, what are we, chopped liver? We pay the freight on this floating crap game.

    Whoever heard of a software company *in their lives* doing stuff this way? Of course they don’t take customers, have them work for free, and reward only a few smarmy fake smilie suck-ups. Can you imagine if real life in fact worked that way lol? Of course it doesn’t. Real software companies don’t have all the customers making content, cooking up solutions to bugs, and even reverse-engineering for free. They hire professional staff, they pay them for their work, and they submit it to public scrutiny and market testing. They don’t hide it, or discuss it semi-secretly in an IRC channel.

    You never really see this, Gwyn — you’re always willing to excuse and forgive these people who are tasked with making an entire realm of human existence — the Metaverse — but are treating it as something like a private school clique or a country club.

  • Excellent way to take my words and place them upside down, Prokofy 🙂

    Actually, this article is about *questions*, not answers. People should ask the questions themselves and have an opinion on what their answer is for them, personally. Sometimes, though, people don’t even know what questions to ask!

    So, yes, people should look at LL and ask themselves the following:

    – is LL too deep into “gamer culture” to the point that they aren’t able to change to corporate culture instead?
    – what does “favouritism” mean, from the perspective of an immersionist (this is a country) and an augmentist (this is a platform for content creation), using Henrik’s definitions?
    – will a company made of 99 kids and one adult be able to survive beyond the year 2007? If yes, is that an emotional “yes”, or one based on researched data?
    – can a company and their closed software product be “dictated by their users” (in the sense that they participate in the decision processes, hopefully in some sort of democratic way), is “crowdsourcing” the only possible way of participation, or do other models exist? (open-source, for instance, and even that means different things for different people)
    – how professional is a company that uses “The Tao of Linden” to control their development process? Is inventing a new business model, just for the sake of it, a good idea; or would a more conventional model bring better results? If so, why?
    – does the LL culture influence the way SL works, to an extent that at some point, only the ones aligned with LL’s ideologies will thrive, excluding the rest of the world? If so, what can we do to prevent that? Is that even possible?
    – will Second Life be *one* Metaverse or a plethora of metaversettes, each with its own rules?
    – is *Linden Lab* creating the Metaverse, or are *we* creating it using the tools that Linden Lab provides us?
    – and finally, will Linden Lab still be around in a year or so?

    I just ask the questions. People are expected to find the answers for themselves. You have your own; I have mine (which, on most of the above questions, are even overlapping, although not on all); I invite others to answer the questions for themselves. Providing all the answers would be presumptuous on my part; people have different expectations on Second Life, so it’s unfair to tell people what they should think. Instead, I encourage people to think by themselves, to compare SL to other, successful models, and see the differences, and why they might affect the present and future of SL. But it’s up to them to take their own conclusions.

    And yes, I do “forgive” Linden Lab quite often 🙂 I have a terrible shortcoming in my personality: I truly believe that people should learn from their mistakes first, and only from what other people tell them second. You might label me as subscribing to some sort of post-modernist education school. As a matter of fact, while I’m quite conservative in terms of teaching children under age, once you’re an adult, you should be able to figure out things on your own, test them in the field, fail, make mikstakes, and learn from the mistakes you make. Ok, so, LL is “playing around” with a quarter of million people, and eventually they might fail because noboy told them what to do. It’s true — I’m rather passive in that regard. All I try to do is to incite open-mindedness: “look, there are other ways of doing the same thing, why don’t you give them a try?” If the answer is “no way, I’ll do it stubbornly *my* way”, it’s their fault.

    And this is ultimately what CAN happen to LL. They’re stubbornly following “their” way. If it works out as they want, great. But it is not the *only* way. Learning to adapt to a plethora of opinions is not an easy task for whomever is at the helm of Linden Lab. All I try to do is to point out to them that there *are* alternatives, and they should look at them.

    But if they don’t… and if their model works out well, in spite of everything… well, I’d look silly 🙂 So I don’t “blame” them for not doing things like “I” would do, if I’d be walking in their shoes, I just provide input, ideas, concepts, models, and watch what they’re doing with interest. Who knows, their way might even be best. After all, after 7 years, they’re still around and have three quarter million users. That should tell us something. They can’t be *totally* wrong.

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  • Prokofy Neva

    Gwyn, I’ll point out that you began by making statements, not questions; only when I challenged your judgement of the *residents* being the ones immmersed in gamer culture — then the issue is the Lab being immersed — did you turn your declarative statements into questions.

    So let me answer them, then, at least with my own opinion:

    >- is LL too deep into “gamer culture” to the point that they aren’t able to change to corporate culture instead?

    Yes. Some of the leading figures in LL come from games and gamer culture; even those who did not specifically have game development in their resumes come from the hacker/programmer kind of culture that is compatible with games and which views everything as “meta,” and the code writers as the gods.

    Philip Linden himself has spoken very explicitly of seeing himself as a Greek god, in an interview with an industry publication.

    >- what does “favouritism” mean, from the perspective of an immersionist (this is a country) and an augmentist (this is a platform for content creation), using Henrik’s definitions?

    Favouritism has occurred both for immersionists (top content creators the Lindens fete to keep content flowing and new players attracted) and augmentists (help to spin off metaversal consulting companies, coddling of big business and big education, etc.).

    >- will a company made of 99 kids and one adult be able to survive beyond the year 2007? If yes, is that an emotional “yes”, or one based on researched data?

    An emotional yes, and one also based on research data, which shows they will have a very rocky time of it, but ultimately will likely keep enough of their soul, even with a buy-out of a larger media company, to keep most customers happy.

    >- can a company and their closed software product be “dictated by their users” (in the sense that they participate in the decision processes, hopefully in some sort of democratic way), is “crowdsourcing” the only possible way of participation, or do other models exist? (open-source, for instance, and even that means different things for different people)

    Why not try? Who says you can’t? The game-god model of software production surely can’t be the only model; it’s merely one that emerged in the early years of software making itself. Who *says* it has to be this way and cannot be more collaborative, even with accepting of non-programmers and users as equals? Of course it can.

    When software making becomes as normal as making vacuum cleaners or cream cheese, companies will become less self-referential, obsessed with their own reflection in the mirror, and more attentive to consumer needs.

    Making software is really no more glamorous than making and repairing automobiles.

    I’ll say it here as I do in every discussion: open source=closed society. I’d rather have a professional company with accountability to a bottom line and a customer service ethic making the software and involving me as a consumer, then have a lot of script-kiddy freaks working it open source and putting control maniacs in charge everywhere — the most deceptive thing about the open source movement is that end result — use of it and development of the opened software by people who themselves make closed, magic circles of technical expertise privileging themselves and their culture.

    >- how professional is a company that uses “The Tao of Linden” to control their development process? Is inventing a new business model, just for the sake of it, a good idea; or would a more conventional model bring better results? If so, why?
    – does the LL culture influence the way SL works, to an extent that at some point, only the ones aligned with LL’s ideologies will thrive, excluding the rest of the world? If so, what can we do to prevent that? Is that even possible?

    Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood on TV had a really, really long run, using only the concept of things like looking soulfully into the camera and saying to the viewer, “You’re special…just because you’re YOU.” In fact, only the death of the RL actor put an end to the show. I imagine the Love Machine will have the same kind of hold for many years to come.

    >- will Second Life be *one* Metaverse or a plethora of metaversettes, each with its own rules?

    Metaverslets, until through a series of world wars, the various fiefdoms begin to unite.

    >- is *Linden Lab* creating the Metaverse, or are *we* creating it using the tools that Linden Lab provides us?
    – and finally, will Linden Lab still be around in a year or so?

    We are.
    Yes.

    Your turn.

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  • Gwen ~

    Thanks so much for writing such an eloquent and independant SL-At-A-Glance sort of read for me to introduce non-SLifer friends and family to Second Life.

    It’s a brilliant and lovely summary for people fascinated by the future of where cyber social (and business and all other sorts of…) networking maybe headed in another half-decade ~ a place at which SL has already quite arrived!

    ~Amy:)

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