Humble Governance

Early this year, my good friend Hiro Pendragon pointed out that I’m no good at predictions any longer, because I happen to be so disconnected from Second Life® these days that I “lost touch” with it. At the time he wrote that, I was actually shocked. I have one job which is about development content and applications for Second Life exclusively, and, unlike many Metaverse Development Companies (who have dropped that moniker), ours is still 99% focused on Second Life — well, and OpenSim too, since it’s pretty much the same kind of development (although we have far more projects for SL than OpenSim). We don’t do Facebook apps, Flash applets, websites, iPhone/Android apps, or other types of development. We just do Second Life. Sure, the odd webserver has to be developed too — because these days most projects have a web-based backend of some sort, so we naturally know about web-based programming  (that’s the remaining 1%). We have plenty of projects to keep us going; no, we’re not millionaires, but we certainly haven’t stopped developing for SL! The market changed? Sure — nowadays, we get little requests for “media splash”, and it’s all about education, training, and simulation, but most of our customers are corporations, not necessarily just academics.

Besides SL, well… mostly due to taxes, which are terminally high these days in my country, I had to get two extra jobs to be able to afford to pay taxes. It’s silly, but that’s how it works — I get my earnings mostly from work done in SL, but what I earn is not enough to pay the taxes on top of that — and still provide me with enough income to pay my bills and eat! — so I have to work extra just to be able to afford to pay taxes. This is absurd, of course — the keyword describing early-21st-century economy is absurdity — but I’ll keep my own political views on the subject for another day 🙂

So that’s how I spend most of my time. The rest of it… I’m studying. I’ve decided to pick up on my academic studies where I left them in, uh, 1992, when I gave up on a Master’s thesis because I didn’t have time for it. I still don’t have time — and even less these days! — but universities are a bit more flexible than in the past century. And all my studies are about Second Life. That pretty much means that when I’m not actually developing anything for SL, I’m researching about what academics are doing in SL, and experimenting with rather esoteric things which only interest the academic mind 🙂 In the mean time, I’m still attending — and giving — conferences about SL, some in RL, some in SL. If anything, after some slower years in 2009/2010, 2011 has definitely gone back to the “golden era” days where everybody would be talking and doing things in SL. Well, almost. The biggest difference these days is that one cannot ignore the academic work, which is, by far, where Second Life shines, as an established platform. Corporations and non-academics cannot ignore Second Life as well, but are still struggling to find a good use for it. And they keep being baffled about what to do — websites are not “in” any more, so should they look into Facebook apps, mobile applications, or make the bold step to go into virtual worlds? (For me, of course, those are not “options”, they have completely different uses; but a marketeer spending money on application development sees them as “either/or” options)

So, more ever than before, I spend more time doing and thinking things related to Second Life. But, surprisingly, this means far less time spent in-world; which, in turn, means less time in touch with other residents and what they’re doing. I guess that was what Hiro meant: I’m simply not a “regular user” any more. Or, well, definitely regular in the sense that I log in plenty of times over the week; but just not the “usual” 4-6 hours per day that I used to log in.

And of course that means that I will never catch up with the novelties that are happening all over the place; I rely more and more on second-hand reports read on blogs than on first-hand experience. This means that every opinion I make (or, well, almost all) will be subtly tainted by the bias of the people I interact with; my own perceptions of Second Life are an amalgamation of perceptions of what others think and say; but frequently they might not even be my own perceptions at all. This, I think, is what Hiro meant by “losing touch” with SL: it’s when, due to circumstances, the view I have of Second Life is not even my own, much less the vision shared by residents, with whom I interact less.

When reflecting about this, I suddenly realised that I’m as bad as Linden Lab — because they happen to be in exactly the same position.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

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

  • So, you were doing Ivory Tower projects and think I was wrong in my assessment that you were out of touch with what was really going on in Second Life? I rest my case.

    -Hiro

  • So, you were doing Ivory Tower projects and think I was wrong in my assessment that you were out of touch with what was really going on in Second Life? I rest my case.

    -Hiro

  • So, you were doing Ivory Tower projects and think I was wrong in my assessment that you were out of touch with what was really going on in Second Life? I rest my case.

    -Hiro

  • So, you were doing Ivory Tower projects and think I was wrong in my assessment that you were out of touch with what was really going on in Second Life? I rest my case.

    -Hiro

  • So, you were doing Ivory Tower projects and think I was wrong in my assessment that you were out of touch with what was really going on in Second Life? I rest my case.

    -Hiro

  • You were right! I was just shocked because I realised you were right!

  • You were right! I was just shocked because I realised you were right!

  • I’ve been getting in-world more often recently, like, a couple hours of wandering each week with a friend or my girlfriend. It’s interesting how much is still the same (people mostly still dance to streamed music) and how much has ramped up. The quality of avatars, for example, is crazy-go-nuts. So much of the behavior’s the same, and the challenges people face in enacting those behaviors is what changes. I think!

  • Well, I’ve been doing the same hehe. I agree, the biggest differences are on the avatars; however, thanks to the Destination Guide, I’ve seen some amazing builds with an impressive quality. Some are merely decorative, in the sense that their purpose is just to appreciate the talent of its creators. But most are nicely fit into a certain functionality — MMORPGs or shops or simply new communities around a specific theme.

    We’ve come a long, long way since 2003. 🙂

  • Well, I’ve been doing the same hehe. I agree, the biggest differences are on the avatars; however, thanks to the Destination Guide, I’ve seen some amazing builds with an impressive quality. Some are merely decorative, in the sense that their purpose is just to appreciate the talent of its creators. But most are nicely fit into a certain functionality — MMORPGs or shops or simply new communities around a specific theme.

    We’ve come a long, long way since 2003. 🙂

  • Well, I’ve been doing the same hehe. I agree, the biggest differences are on the avatars; however, thanks to the Destination Guide, I’ve seen some amazing builds with an impressive quality. Some are merely decorative, in the sense that their purpose is just to appreciate the talent of its creators. But most are nicely fit into a certain functionality — MMORPGs or shops or simply new communities around a specific theme.

    We’ve come a long, long way since 2003. 🙂

  • Well, I’ve been doing the same hehe. I agree, the biggest differences are on the avatars; however, thanks to the Destination Guide, I’ve seen some amazing builds with an impressive quality. Some are merely decorative, in the sense that their purpose is just to appreciate the talent of its creators. But most are nicely fit into a certain functionality — MMORPGs or shops or simply new communities around a specific theme.

    We’ve come a long, long way since 2003. 🙂

  • My response at http://www.fleeptuque.com/blog/2011/09/whats-missing-from-governance-in-second-life/.  🙂

  • Victor1st Mornington

    This simply wouldn’t work.  A voted in collection of 50 or so avatars, i can tell you what would happen there for a start, it would be full of big names, or names that are recognized in the blogging community or forums.  Average Mr or Mrs resident who doesnt have control of a large group to pool for votes wouldn’t stand a change.  “FIC” folks (as prok put it) and the very same big corporate business owners in SL would be voted in for sure.  Anshe Chung would be guaranteed a spot for a start.

    So you have a committee or parliament or whatever with 40 to 50 BIG names about half of which are populated by BIG businesses and the other half is SL celebrities.  What would the percentage of the representation be for the furries, the BDSM community, the Goreans?  Virtually NONE.

    Thats a democracy?

    I don’t think so.

    That sounds more to me like big business and “The FIC” trying to get a bigger foothold into an already partially crumbling world of Second Life.  The confederation of democratic sims you mentioned, any big gorean communities in it?  Any big sci-fi communities in it?  What about big steampunk communitiues?  Big furry communities?  BDSM communities?  I know the answer to that already…no.

    That is NOT a democracy.

  • You’re basically arguing that democracy in general doesn’t work 🙂

    Thankfully, 200 countries and countless organisations all over the world have proved otherwise — in some cases, for several centuries.

    To give you an example, there are tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of furries, BDSMers, Goreans, and so forth… why would they vote on, say, Anshe Chung (who is far less known than you might think) than on someone from their community which is closely aligned with their ideas?

    And who are those “SL celebrities” you’re talking about? How many followers do they really have? Just because someone has a blog it doesn’t mean they’ve got a lot of “followers” who would vote for them. As an example, Prokofy Neva has for several years writing SL’s most read blog — now I believe that Hamlet Au has marginally more readers. Still, how many furries, BDSMers, and Goreans would vote for Prokofy? 🙂

    It’s not as black and white as you describe. Again, this old argument has been brought over and over again every time a country or an organisation decides to be democratic instead of authoritarian. And the trade-off has been clear over the centuries: it’s always better to publicly and universally vote on representatives instead of relying on “interest groups” which nobody elects to “advise” the ones actually governing the world — real or virtual.

    Who are the people who advise Linden Lab today? How many of them are Goreans? There might be some, sure, but who are they? Do we know what they tell LL? Can we publicly see the transcripts of their conversations or even phone calls to LL? No. That’s what we have today and will continue to have in the future — unless we, the residents, ask for a different model.

    The only point I concede you is that what we currently have is no democracy at all, and nobody ever pretended it to be; but how is the current model better and more fair than a democratic model where we at least know who we’re voting for to represent us in meetings with Linden Lab?

    Or are you proposing a different model instead? I’d be delighted to hear your own suggestions and your arguments for it — feel free to post it here for us to discuss!

  • You’re basically arguing that democracy in general doesn’t work 🙂

    Thankfully, 200 countries and countless organisations all over the world have proved otherwise — in some cases, for several centuries.

    To give you an example, there are tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of furries, BDSMers, Goreans, and so forth… why would they vote on, say, Anshe Chung (who is far less known than you might think) than on someone from their community which is closely aligned with their ideas?

    And who are those “SL celebrities” you’re talking about? How many followers do they really have? Just because someone has a blog it doesn’t mean they’ve got a lot of “followers” who would vote for them. As an example, Prokofy Neva has for several years writing SL’s most read blog — now I believe that Hamlet Au has marginally more readers. Still, how many furries, BDSMers, and Goreans would vote for Prokofy? 🙂

    It’s not as black and white as you describe. Again, this old argument has been brought over and over again every time a country or an organisation decides to be democratic instead of authoritarian. And the trade-off has been clear over the centuries: it’s always better to publicly and universally vote on representatives instead of relying on “interest groups” which nobody elects to “advise” the ones actually governing the world — real or virtual.

    Who are the people who advise Linden Lab today? How many of them are Goreans? There might be some, sure, but who are they? Do we know what they tell LL? Can we publicly see the transcripts of their conversations or even phone calls to LL? No. That’s what we have today and will continue to have in the future — unless we, the residents, ask for a different model.

    The only point I concede you is that what we currently have is no democracy at all, and nobody ever pretended it to be; but how is the current model better and more fair than a democratic model where we at least know who we’re voting for to represent us in meetings with Linden Lab?

    Or are you proposing a different model instead? I’d be delighted to hear your own suggestions and your arguments for it — feel free to post it here for us to discuss!

  • Excellent article, Fleep! I loved the presentation on Chilbo as well. Good points and a wonderful example to show how the organisation should fit the community, and not the other way round!

  • Joe Essid

    “Well, almost. The biggest difference these days is that one cannot ignore the academic work, which is, by far, where Second Life shines, as an established platform.”

    Informally, from talking to academics who come to our VWER meetings (over 30 attend each week) I hear one tale after another of retrenchment and reduction in the wake of the disastrous ending of tier-discounts for academic and non-profit users. The timing cannot be blamed on the current CEO. I do wish he’d given institutions a year to adjust beyond the “pay two years NOW” option. But even if the discounts had remained, my campus technologists tell me that in their circles, SL is a technology that is not discussed much any longer.

    I hope that changes, with the EA-alumni bringing some new ideas and energy to a stable but stagnant user-base.

    So while you are correct that many really great academic projects remain in SL, I wonder how many will still be present in a year. Well see.

  • While there is certainly a lot of research on virtual worlds outside SL/OpenSim, long-term I don’t see there is any chance of betting on any other technology that has even the slightest, remote chance of surviving outside academia; on the other hand, research in and about virtual worlds will continue to grow more and more because it simply offers so much with a relatively little effort — so long as the technology remains around SL or OpenSim. The big issue is really how well SL can remain a competitive solution against the ever-improving OpenSim platform, which becomes more and more stable and more feature rich with every successive release.

    I should be a bit more careful in describing that when I talk about “academic work” I really don’t make a distinction between SL and OpenSim: while the server technology behind each is certainly very different, conceptually (and specially from the end-user perspective) they’re pretty much the same thing. The only real question is about stability and user base vs. cost — as OpenSim becomes more and more stable, and attracts a wider audience, SL will come to a point where the cost is simply way too high to compensate for the lack of stability and user base…