Building Communities

Library in the Polska RepublikaThe fun bit of creating these communities is that people come to “their” buildings. Thus, Szerewp Loon is not only building a theatre on Polska Republika; he’s also setting up a place where people will come to see performances — thus generating events to attract new visitors. Ayumi Cassini also built her own project, a library in the island, and she reports that lots of visitors come, bring their own books, and actually stay there to read! Why? It’s the feeling of “belonging”. You can read a book in the comfort of your own home, but it’s so much more fun if you are in a place with other fellow book-readers, and can share thoughts about the book you’re reading. After all, this is one of the major reasons why people go to RL libraries to pick up a book and stay there to read!

Atlantis under the Polska RepublikaAnd sometimes people come up with totally unpredictable ideas and concepts that were never planned by the original creators — like an Atlantis Temple under the sea of Polska Republika (I won’t tell you where it is, it’s more fun to find it on your own!). This was clearly the result of creativity put to the vote!

So this is another community that learned an important lesson: get people together; allow them to build things together, and they will feel that’s their “home”; but give them the power to decide how buildings should look like — empower them democratically! — and they will be very reluctant to abandon “their” community. They feel “in charge” if they have some control over their environment.

But this is not the only alternative.

Non-building democratic communities

Probably the oldest (and more documented!) democratic project which does not have its own territory is the Metaverse Republic (MR). After about two years (!) of heavy discussion, the project is slowly coming to its first release. Their concept is radically different. The Metaverse Republic does not “own” a territory at all. Instead, through a software system, they allow banning of avatars from all parcels that join the MR. But this is an extreme measure! Before the banning actually occurs, there is a very complex judicial procedure to follow, where, in all transparency, the alleged infringer of the MR’s laws is fairly judged in a trial. If they’re found guilty — and we’re talking about RL lawyers and legal counsellors that hold court, so this is not an arbitrary process! — their avatar name will be added to the banning list, and all parcels of the MR will ultimately block access to that particular avatar. Griefing can thus be dealt with very quickly and efficiently, and it will affect hundreds or thousands of parcels.

The MR has no “contiguous territory” but is scattered all across the grid, both on the mainland and on private islands. Participation is naturally opt-in, and every resident who places the MR device on their land automatically becomes a citizen with a vote, being able to elect their Members of Parliament. These will establish the laws of the Metaverse Republic, in duly transcripted sessions which should be publicly available. And what kind of laws might those be? Well, the major issue is, of course, griefing, and all sorts of abuse, like frauds and dubious business practices. The latter is not covered by Linden Lab’s ToS at all; and griefers aren’t always caught. Also, the Abuse Report system is not transparent — you have no idea who is accusing whom and what the results have been, or how Linden Lab judged someone to be a griefer and someone else just to be a nuisance. There are no procedures and no publicly available decisions. It all seems arbitrary, and people like Prokofy Neva have demanded for years a more fair and transparent system.

The Metaverse Republic is the answer to all the above issues. It gives “protection” to every member of the MR by allowing them to exchange their absolute freedom (they have to comply with the MR’s Constitution and Code of Laws, of course; but remember that anyone can get elected to Parliament and democratically change them!) for a measure of enforcement that actually works well.

Of course, to be totally successful, the Metaverse Republic ought to operate grid-wide; and this is what a new group, the SL Democratic Movement, proposes to do.

Let’s be honest, in my four years in Second Life, I have seen these groups come and go. All talk about “revolution” and an utopian “direct democracy” model for running the whole of Second Life. All also assume that Linden Lab is willing to grant some users the power to decide over all others — and that if a big enough number of residents promote their group (over the alternatives), Linden Lab will have no option but to yield. No wonder, though, that these tend to quickly come and go — 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).

The SL Democratic Movement has at least done their homework well. I’m attaching the full text of their press release below, for you to understand what they are about. Their purpose is simple: the residents of Second Life (unlike other virtual worlds) are, in fact, at the centre of the stage — since they (and not Linden Lab) create content, communities, and give added value to the overall environment. An empty Second Life is worthless. It only became significant because residents built it. However, Linden Lab acts as a tyrannical (albeit benevolent…) dictator, disallowing all participation of the residents in the decision process. This is what they purpose to change — dramatically. They know what the results are supposed to be — Terms of Service that are negotiated between residents and Linden Lab, not unilaterally imposed by Linden Lab upon their residents — but the way towards democratic participation is not clear, not even in their FAQ. What is clear, however, is that they would welcome a model similar to what was done by EVE Online, but where all Residents can participate in the decision processes, not just the “chosen few”.

I leave you with the full text of their press release:

August ’08

SLDM Press Release

-The SL Democratic Movement calls for LL to balance the ToS and governance of SL-

Throughout history, human being and its technology have always been in an intricate two-way relationship, changing our concepts of being and reality along the way. With the creation of Cyberspace we even made ourselves a new plane of existence, a new being. With usercreated, immersive 3D virtual worlds like Second Life being the pinnacle in that field at the moment.

Despite the fact the Second Life world is entirely created by its users, by its residents, the grid operator Linden Lab uses a totalitarian control and governance model which is all too common with providers across cyberspace.

The fact this world is being created by its residents and the intricate interdependency relation stemming from this between Linden Lab and the residents, should be cause and basis for establishing a novel relationship between provider and user, that truly acknowledges the residents’ investments and existence, essential for the creation and sustaining of the Second Life world.

What is needed is a revolutionary change! A change that is needed to create together the possibility of a democratic Second Life, and in extension Metaverse and Cyberspace, that will respect the civil rights of its users.

Therefor, the SL Democratic Movement calls for Linden Lab to balance the Terms of Service and governance of the Second Life world:

We demand that future contract changes will be negotiated.

Accordingly, we demand change of the pretext of the Terms of Service regarding change of contract to enable this.

We demand a meaningful socio-political dialog between Linden Lab and the SL community and a public, transparent, non hierarchical structure with meaningful voting procedures and a possibility of referenda to enable this.

We demand the abolishment of articles 2.6 and 3.2.b and similar statements in the Terms of Service.

A profound change in these articles will make room for the full acknowledgment of you and your investments and for protection against arbitrary banning and deletion and in effect towards rights of due process and fair “trial”. Accordingly, the abuse report system should be changed towards these goals.

We want Linden Lab to actively further and intensify its open source plans and efforts, towards open sourcing the server code and a truly open grid.

These changes need the support of the SL community to become reality! We, SL Residents, need to start acknowledge our rights first! Join the revolution today and start agitating for a better world!

SL Democratic Movement’s campaign for democratic reform of the rule of Second Life has been underway for several months, and is motivated both by tensions between Linden Lab and their customers in Second Life and instances of mismanagement of the service as well as by a deep-seated philosophical conviction that users of Second Life ought to be acknowledged with their participation in the world both by right and necessity.

SL Democratic Movement is a non-profit organization advocating self-rule, transparent and fair governance, resident rights and democracy within the virtual world of Second Life. 

-SLDM is not affiliated with Linden Lab or Linden Research, Inc. Second Life® and Linden Lab® are registered trademarks of Linden Research, Inc.-

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
%d bloggers like this: