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.

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