Google’s Ultimate Mashup, The End of Web 2.0, and More Metaverse Wannabees

Well, there is a huge difference.

First and foremost, XMPP is kid’s play when compared to the incredible complexity of LL’s own protocol. Adding extensions to XMPP can be done in a breeze, and it’s easy to do. It doesn’t have to worry with real-time positioning information.

And, more important than that, it doesn’t have to worry at all with protection of intellectual property — the Achilles’ heel of marketplace-based virtual worlds.

Put in other words, if you upload a picture to Facebook, it becomes Facebook’s property, not yours. If someone then grabs it from there and embeds on their own page on MySpace, there is little you can do about it. Google Wave has no need to worry about that — people will be sharing text, images, and videos all across boundaries inside the federation, and nobody will care where things will end up. The long-standing philosophy of the World-Wide Web has been “if you can see it online, you can copy it”. The concept of “content protection” not only doesn’t exist on the Web, but the Web is not even designed to accommodate it. Property rights are claimed on courts, not on bits and bytes.

Contrast that with Second Life, where intellectual property rights are paramount to make the SL economy work. And, honestly, without the IP rights as described by permissions, there wouldn’t be an economy in SL, and we would just have a few thousands of very talented and creative content creators, happily sharing their content — and all moving over to Blue Mars as soon as it’s launched, because it has much shinier graphics.

The whole notion of virtual property — both “land” in SL and “content” — has emerged mostly from SL. It’s obvious that other virtual worlds have “valuable content” as well; I defer to Ted Castronova to have it properly explained to you. In a virtual world where all content is developed by the VW creators (and not the users), and the sale of items is controlled through an internal procedure, IP rights are enforced, and the economy is based around the degree of value individuals put on certain “hard to find” items. In SL, however, anyone is (potentially) a content creator. There is no artificial restraint put on the market — content is sold as a regular business transaction in a free market. But content can only be sold because IP rights are enforced.

Now, the biggest obstacle to the grid integration into a federation of SL-compatible worlds is exactly how to preserve content ownership. If CopyBot was the bane of 2008, 2009 brings a new problem: how to avoid content to be simply exported to other grids without the original content creator’s permission? Legally, according to Philip Linden, content sold in SL is just licensed under LL’s ToS and thus cannot leave the grid without explicit written permission — unless, of course, grid operators establish an agreement with LL to extend the ToS to cover their grid, too. Ultimately, unlike the free-for-all Google Wave federation, Linden Lab might act as the Universal Virtual World Terms of Service enforcer, making a federation-based Metaverse quite different from the free-for-all Internet — turning the act of adding a grid to the Metaverse a binding contract that extends the UVW ToS to the new grid as well. Alas, this is way harder to actually do in practice than in theory. Not only current OpenSimulator grid operators are already pirating content, but some are contesting LL’s view of the reach of their own ToS regarding the right to use freebies outside of LL’s own grid.

Needless to say, the legal complexities will make the “federated Metaverse” far harder to handle than the “federated social networking world of Web 2.1”. On the other hand, there is a strong economy incentive to do so. Social websites thrive from individuals contributing their time and their content for free — the site owners make money out of ads and profiling data. The content creators get nothing. As I’ve once remarked, if Facebook allowed a method to sell Facebook applets, not unlike Apple is doing on the App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Facebook would start bringing Microsoft real income and not only a handful of US$ from ads. (Once more, Jobs shows to be much smarter than Ballmer.)

However, it’s too late to get people to change their view on how content is distributed on social networking sites. The cat is long out of the bag.

On virtual worlds, however, we’re forging a new marketplace for digital content. Commerce will be a part of it. And this means that even though most people today don’t “get” Second Life, economic incentives will, eventually, turn the tide. Giving someone the choice of posting a picture on Flickr or making a few L$ by selling the same picture inside the Web 3.1 federated Metaverse will certainly make many people think twice! The business opportunities inside SL are staggering — when compared to the business opportunities on the Web 2.0 or 2.1 social networking sites, which are pretty close to zero for the ordinary users, except for a very very tiny slice of “social networking consultants” or, well, applet developers…

One might argue that social networking is not about “making money on the Web”, but about trading influences. I could be persuaded by that argument, of course, but… why not have both? That’s definitely possible in Second Life today — you can generate “influences” as in any other online social networking environment and at the same time sell content.

So that’s one of the things the IETF will have to sort out until late 2010: how to deal with the digital content economy and the IP right protection in the federated Metaverse and make Web 3.1 much more appealing than the current Web 2.0.

Rest assured, even the Metaverse will have enough free content to keep every newbie happy… legitimately free content, of course. That’s not the point. The point is picking up Linden Lab’s 4% market share in the world-wide business of digital content and turn it into 50% or more. Then we’ll start to see the rush from Web 2.X to 3.X; even if most people will bring with them a “share content for free” attitude, a lot will come because of the different paradigm…

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