Building Communities

Polska RepublikaLinden Lab announced a bold move, “back to the mainland” — finally recognising officially that they have been doing a rather poor job of maintaining it. On Linden Lab’s official blog, Jack Linden underlines some of the key issues that Linden Lab will tackle again: more control, more attention to urban planning, more enforcement (specially on the nasty ad farms that cover the nice views!), and zoning. Their recent experiments with Bay City — Linden Lab actively promoting a mainland-based rental community, competing with residents providing rental services — might have encouraged them to preserve one of the most valuable assets of the Second Life® environment: in SL, communities are created around buildings.

Interesting for me, the connection between both has not always been clear to me. But the revelation struck me when all of a sudden a lot of different kinds of communities started to pop up here and there.

Second Life’s Self-Governance Attempts

Plodding along for four years and into its 9th term of constitutionally elected members, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), Second Life’s first democratically-run territory, has always been one of those projects that refuse to disappear from the face of the grid, no matter how many people have opposed it from the very start. Its foundation was quite simple — communities that depend on a single person to own the land and provide the buildings have always a “succession problem”: if the owner goes away, the community disbands pretty quickly. It’s hard to replace benevolent dictators, as everybody in SL has experienced once in a while, when their rented land is suddenly sold to a different landlord.

The CDS is unique in that regard. There is no “owner” of the four regions that make its territory. Instead, residents owning a plot of land in the CDS get a vote and can get elected for Government, which will manage the regions on behalf of the citizens. If you disagree with the Government’s views and plans, you can just elect a new Government after 6 months — or become a candidate yourself and gather voters to elect you. It neatly solves the issue of depending on a benevolent dictator, although, like all democracies where a lot has to be discussed and voted upon, it grows quite slowly, and not without pain: people with radically different views have to co-exist somewhat pacifically in the same area. The “will of the majority” rules, but the minorities will grumble and protest (all the time), like on any other democracy, and will publicly protest on the forums or in in-world meetings, specially on the more lively Representative Assembly meetings. It’s all part of running a territory under a democracy. It works; although it’s not so efficient as a benevolent dictatorship, at least it gives power to whom most deserves it: the tier-paying residents.

The model was unique, but it certainly sprouted a few followers, like Cedar Island, with over a year of peaceful existence, where decisions are also taken democratically, and with a community that has designed their own charter guaranteeing some fundamental rights to its residents — a charter which any resident can change by voting on those changes. The Al-Andalus Caliphate is a similar attempt.

All these communities have similarities (there are many members of all of them). Besides the notion that the community should govern itself through a popular vote on what to do, they also tackle urban planning, building, and covenant enforcement as part of the duties of any community member. So building brings people together to talk, to do common events, to have a quiet place to rest, away from the hectic life on the grid. But unlike most rental services in SL — where, at most, you’re allowed to decide what furniture you have or what house to live in — on the above-mentioned communities the residents can decide much more: they can change the whole layout of the regions, they can change the theme, add new public buildings — and they will actively engage in the building of their own territory.

Ayumi Cassini at the Polska RepublikaQuiet recently, Ashcroft Burnham sent me an email with a link to Ayumi Cassini‘s blog. Ayumi and Uzi Boa are from Poland, and they had a lot of experience running the SLang Life island and its associated magazine. During the successful days of SLang Life, Uzi and Ayumi have been engaging the international community by promoting several events and projects that brought different cultures and countries together and show each other what they had to offer. When the SLang Life magazine lost its major sponsor, Uzi looked for something else to do.

Well, she came up with an idea: why shouldn’t the old SLang Life island be reconverted into a Polish community where its residents would set the rules democratically?

Polska RepublikaThus “Polska Republika” (Polish Republic) was born. In just two weeks, a rather large group of Polish residents came together, and discussed the details of establishing a Constitution and the overall layout of the sim. It opened just 5 days ago — they were blindingly fast in setting most of the things up, using lots of buildings by the very talented Barnesworth Anubis, set into the late 19th century, and with a very fancy European look, very clean and charming. They even have quite an amount of shops already set up, and one of the residents I met, Szerewp Loon, is busy finishing up a theatre that will show performances in SL.

Audience with Queen UziHow did this all work together so smoothly? Well, Uzi Boa is paying for the tier, and although this is a “Polish Republic” (the main language is Polish, and most of the signs are in Polish, although the majority of the residents there also speaks English quite well), she was made Queen. An intriguing combination — a republic with a constitution established by its residents, where they can vote on features and changes, but which has a Monarchy that pays for tier!… — but Ayumi explains that historically the same happened during a period in Poland as well.

Royal Palace, Polska RepublikaThis means that although Uzi might be Queen, it was the residents of the island that built a lovely Royal Palace for her — and, who knows, one day they might even vote to paint it in pink! 🙂

Until that day comes, Uzi is actually fascinated by the success she’s got so far. Not only the discussions are lively (either on the forums or in-world), like it always happens when you give over power to the people, but the sim is pretty, well-planned, very clean, and quite well attended: my “interview” with Her Royal Highness was at 3 AM CET, and there were at least still a dozen Polish residents around, happily tinkering with the finishing touches on the sim, or just chatting and (probably) discussing what to do next. Uzi might have benefited from a huge influx of Polish residents recently, from a very positive TV show that was aired a few weeks ago, and which (according to rumour) brought LL’s own registration system down, as dozens of thousands of Poles tried to get their avatar as quickly as possible. Naturally, many have left SL since then, and Uzi is relying mostly on the existing Polish communities, and the many friends she made during SLang Life’s golden age.

CC BY 4.0 Building Communities 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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  • Gwyn, your post is uber annoying, because you start out talking about the mainland, and slip into talking about “democratic” communities that are all run not on the mainland, but on private islands.

    You also perform a terribly sleight of hand claiming that they are all so wonderfully “democratic”. First of all, the “democratic” ownership is a basic fiction overlaid over the raw fact that only one person can own an island and pay the tier on it. The tier bill goes…where? Not to “the Confederation of Democratic Simulators” elected officials, or any “group” but…one person. That person pays tier. Everyone pays tier to that person to compensate them. They serve their democracy at the pleasure of this hidden autocrat. Oh, sure, that person would never, ever, ever, etc. think of screwing the community but…unfortunately, in the illustrious history of the CDS predecessor, there is a case where a founding autocrat wanted to take back their buildings from the community, and the community then banning that person, Ulrika Zugzwang.

    If you really had the democratic — and socialist! — ideals you claim, why, you’d do what we do on the mainland, which is to make groups where people share tier. To be perfect about it, you’d have your members all put in 1024 or 4096 worth of tier. It wouldn’t be so terribly efficient and cheap at one level, but it would also create a great deal more solid democracy for real, and less dependence on the possible whim of that one island tier-payer. You’d also get the 10 percent bonus to use. I never understood why you didn’t buy a mainland sim or two and do that and have a range of members from 512 even to half a sim.

    I think it’s very interesting that the Poles set up a republic so quickly. Shows you how fast you can get things done when you aren’t hobbled by socialist ideologies, which I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts they weren’t. They had an unabashed concept to have stores to pay the costs, apparently. Oh, not that the CDS doesn’t have something like that, I realize, but…they have caps, and controls, and clearances — and they behave like the bureaucratic socialist government that they are!

    Why on earth you’re fanning Ashcroft these days is also totally beyond me. None of his solutions have ever been proven to be really democratic in deed, in the liberal sense, as they all involved making him the magistrate and controlling other people’s land.

    As for the caliphate, any group promoting the concept of the Caliphate, a religious autocratic unitary government based on the primacy of one religion that is imposed over a territory, cannot be calling themselves democratic. There is a fashion now to call “democratic” anything with a plebiscite. But democracies that hold their last election merely to install a Caliphate aren’t worthy of the name. Democracy includes within it the concept of protection of minorities, dissenters, and the system itself, to enable the people to vote out of office those who destroy its values.

    Each time you talk about rental communities, you speak of them with scorn as being run by mere benevolent (or sleasy) dictators — as if back of your operation isn’t one tier-payer who can confiscate all the land at a mouse-click! But groups like Ravenglass Rentals, even if run by the “tyrant” who pays most of the tier, actually run under the rule of law — the lease, which binds the owner as much as the tenants. I also have tenants contributing tier for a discount or rent-free living as well. The land preserve has a dozen people contributing a lot of the tier, and also cash donations to cover tier in that group or other open lands I make available from Ravenglass.

    It’s amazing to me how much people do contribute freely to such projects, and I marvel that there aren’t more of them. I’ve always thought that much more could be done to encourage premium accounts and have newbies take the 512 and join a newbies group that would help them initially with housing and skills. I try to do that to some extent with my 2 communities but I wonder why this isn’t widespread. I guess because it’s simply hard organizing and maintaining groups especially when you are constantly thwarted in your efforts to zone by the Lindens unzoning and playing to ad farmers.

  • Gwyn, thank you for the exellent article, and the mention of the Metaverse Republic. For anyone interested in participating in the Metaverse Republic, visit our website at http://www.metaverserepublic.org , visit our headquarters in-world at the Tabula Rasa sim, or IM me (constitutioanl team), Colleen Kesey (management team) or Chase Marellan (technical team).

    As to “totalitarianism”, do not confuse dictatorship with totalitarianism: totalitarianism involves the state having total control over every aspect of citizens’ lives, whereas dictatorship simply refers to non-democratic government. To the extent that Linden Lab is a government at all, it could be called a “dictatorship”, but is certainly not “totalitarian”: as Desmond points out all too frequently, a service provider can never really be totalitarian because its customers can, wheras the citizens of a state cannot, simply stop using its service. Linden Lab is no more or less democratic than any commercial organisation. There are many reasons why non-provider based governance such as that on which I am working in the Metaverse Republic is highly desirable (not least because a commerical organisation cannot sensibly resolve disputes between its customers), but there is no dichotomy between, on the one hand, user-created governane, and, on the other, control by the service provider. It is particularly significant in this respect that the service provider is only changing its policy towards mainland: private estates are to remain as unregulated as ever.

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  • Gwyneth, thanks for including our press release within this article. Much appreciated.

    However, we do feel the need to comment:

    We want to make clear that our group is NOT after “running the whole of Second Life”, nor does the SL Democratic Movement(SLDM) seek to “operate grid-wide”. Although we do focuss on the governing of Second Life as a whole, currently solely done by Linden Lab, what we want is create a basis for empowerment and protection of the individual (communities) regarding LL’s control throughout SL. We focus on LL’s ToS for that, which is in that regard grid-wide, but not in anyway a proposal for a specific grid-wide parliamentary or otherwise institutional structure.

    We dont fit into the category of groups that “..assume [that] Linden Lab is willing to grant some users the power to decide over all others..”.
    Besides that LL will likely grant some users ‘political power’ sooner than they will grant it universally, we have always opposed an elitist, “representative” model where some users would decide for all.

    “…and they often scorn the attempts at “local governance” as being inefficient (since their jurisdiction is so limited) and not serious (since they never grow enough to become significant).”
    SLDM is also not part of the “they” here. As said, we want to change the ToS to empower and protect the individual user as well as individual communities and stimulate and support decentralisation of governance generally. Our group also has been developing software and proposals for changes of (SL) group structure to stimulate local, democratic governance.

    But we hold the idea that the layer of ‘global’ governance, that of LL control over SL, should also be democratized and incorporate resident rights and representation, indeed due to the very nature of the SL world and its creation. LL’s ToS is where everyone is subject to, including the local democratic communities like CDS or the ‘federal’ Metaverse Republic layer. This does not render these governance structures inefficient or meaningless at all. Only we think the reasons for the existence of these resident goverance attempts and structures, should be extrapolated towards LL and SL.

    Gwyn, you use “top down” to classify SLDM’s campaign, whilst the campaign and our views are essentially bottom up, including our (lack of) view of what global SL Resident Governance should necessarily look like. This is implicit in the direct democratic ideal we hold.
    We need mass popular support (which includes articulation of this support by the people themselves) for the idea of change we hold for the ‘revolution’ to become real, justified and viable. This is not “waiting for Linden Lab”, but would be a bottom up forcing of change. If anyone is waiting for Linden Lab to grant protection and empowerment for the individual user of SL, it is not SLDM, but rather groups like CDS and Metaverse Republic or perhaps they are happy with the status quo, with how LL controls and governs the virtual world that they build. In any case, the different kinds of governance sketched in your article, from local, to federal, to global, can and need to exist and develop simultaniously.

    SL Democratic Movement
    http://sl-dm.co.uk/

    SLDM HQs: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kaskitayo/234/188/52

  • Silmaure W

    Gwyneth, that’s a really interesting post!

  • Gwyneth,

    Thanks for your very interesting thoughts regarding self-governance issues in the Metaverse. Especially thank you for the mention of the Polska Republika (Polish Republic).
    I hope this was not your last visit 😉

  • You’re right, Gwyneth, to emphasize the difference between local self-government and government of the entire Second-Life Grid. The local democratic experiments are of course more fruitful, partly because anything new has to start on a small scale before it can grow, and partly because democracy itself just works best on a small scale.

    Existing local democracies in SL differ widely among themselves. Some are open communities, in that virtually anyone from Second Life can join, such as CDS and Al Andalus. Others are closed or “gated” communities, such as Cedar Island, where potential members must submit to a selection process, or Polska Republika, where members must apparently speak Polish.

    There are also different formulas for land ownership, such as ownership of the sim by one person (the Polish Queen), private ownership of plots by individual members, or collective ownership. As a member of CDS I differ with Prok’s assessment of CDS ownership. The one avatar that officially “owns” the CDS sims from the point of view of Linden Lab is a mere token. CDS has in fact a cross between individual ownership, since all citizens must buy at least one plot to vote, and collective ownership, since the public spaces and other accumulated assets are owned by the group rather than being owned by any individual.

    As for grid-wide self-government, however, the groups you mentioned have neither the capacity nor the ambition to bring that about. Ashcroft’s Metaverse Republic is, by his own admission, nothing more than a set of “tools” to be made available to existing local governments, to help them implement local law enforcement. And the SL Democratic Movement is more of a political party than an attempt to create a government. They advocate resident rights from a leftist point of view, but as you note their views are only shared by a tiny minority, and I think they are sensible enough to realize this themselves. When they say that LL control over SL should be democratized and should incorporate resident rights and representation, this comes across as a plank in their theoretical platform, rather than as practical, believable project.

    There are also various other marginal groups working on setting up some kind of grid-wide government, but they all seem to have missed the basic point. Anyone who is serious about this idea should just look at how such things happen in the real world. The pattern is very standard: it starts by the calling of some sort of parliament or constituent assembly, with representatives elected on a geographical basis from the different regions of the country. The assembled representatives then start a big talk-fest, from which something eventually emerges, which in some cases may be a national constitution, although many different outcomes are also conceivable. Ashcroft’s idea of writing a constitution first and calling a parliament later puts the cart before the horse, and to that extent is in fact undemocratic. To set up a grid-wide self-government you must organize a general election BEFORE anyone can make any decisions at all. But my comment is already long enough. Anyone interested in more discussion of this subject can find several long posts I devoted to it on my blog.

  • Although it has been some time since this topic was last commented, I just noticed Danton’s post, and wanted to make two brief comments.

    Firstly, I think that Danton confuses the Metaverse Republic with the Local Government Study group when he writes about us simply creating tools for local governments: the Metaverse Republic will be a governance system in its own right.

    Secondly, the suggestion of having a parliament before having a constitution makes little sense, since there must be a constitution that regulates the procedures and the powers of the parliament for any such parliament to be workable. What we do have, however, is a dedicated Constitutional Team (which anybody can observe and apply to join: the information on how to do so is set out on our public website) charged with drafting the constitution. Unlike a more conventional terratorial government, people can choose whether to subscribe to the Metaverse Republic, and thus whether or not the constitution has effect will depend on whether enough people like the idea to subscribe. In that sense, it is more, rather than less, democratic than existing terratorial governments, few, if any, of which (save for federations of existing states, which each had their own existing complete governance systems that had not, for the most part, themselves come about in that manner) have come about in the way that Danton describes.