Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

The Archan Story

Today I wanted to share something that has been a large part of my Second Life over the latter part of this year. Since some time in April or May of 2006 – the exact date I don’t recall – I have been the head manager at the Archan Free Sex community in Second Life. Sounds like one of “those” places, doesn’t it? Debauchery, endless pixel sex, the decline and fall of the Linden Empire, the destruction of all that is creative and holy in SL, right?

If that’s what you’re thinking, I’ll disagree. We have striven to be an open community where people can explore virtual fantasies that they would never have the courage to try in reality. The anonymity and fantasy setting of Second Life makes it relatively safe for such exploration. Men who may have suppressed strong curiosity or desire about what it is to be female. Women who have had the darkest fantasies about domination but could never vocalize them. Physically impaired people whose bodies may not be whole, but whose natural sex drive is still alive. Those and more find open expression in a world like Second Life. And with or without places like Archan, they’re going to find their voice as sure as water flows downhill.

Much has been written about how avatar sex is the disgusting dark side of Second Life that degrades the entire virtual culture. I think such attitudes ignore some very important facts. Humans are very sexual creatures. If we weren’t, we would be extinct. And once you toss in layer upon layer of social custom and inhibition on top of our natural sex drive you usually end up with this tossed salad of neurosis, fear and sexual bigotry that can even elect Presidents. It’s that powerful.

It’s powerful enough that gays tend to have the highest suicide rate of any cultural demographic in our society due to the shame and judgment laid upon them. Our society has used shame as a tool for controlling people for centuries, but it is also the ultimate tool of destruction. It leads to a denial of self and an alienation from others that is, to me, the single most tragic and unforgivable aspect of our puritanical culture.

Back in the early ’90s, I was a sysop on a Compuserve forum dedicated to Human Sexuality. It was run by Howard Lewis and his wife Martha, a wonderful couple, both psychiatrists and published authors on topics relevant to human sexual psychology. The forum’s focus was on welcoming and engaging all manner of legal sexual proclivities. We had communities of gays, trans-gender/transsexual, BDSM, handicapped, bisexual, and straight people. Each group had their own ‘rooms’ where they could share thoughts and experiences in confidence and nobody was limited to only belonging to one room.

As a sysop, my job was to see that members’ lifestyles were respected. Predators and pedophiles were not welcome. We ran online games, trivia contests, support groups and conferences. Some members met offline. Some got married. Some died and were mourned just as much as if they were family. We were a living, breathing community in every respect and if it was the sexual curiosity that brought us together, it was the camaraderie and tolerant atmosphere that forged the community ties that bound us together.

I learned something very valuable in that experience. I learned that our sexuality is an integral, inseparable part of who we are – part of our soul, for those of you so inclined. The reason we feel shame about sex so easily is because we need to be accepted and loved by others on such a deep level that, when they disparage our fantasies out of their own fear and bigotry it hurts. We take it to heart. To move past that fear and shame is the most liberating experience one can have. To embrace who you are, no matter your proclivity as long as it doesn’t harm anyone, is to become whole again. This is why my philosophy is one of tolerance, of accepting people as they are and of not passing judgment on things I may not understand.

I’ve never understood the view that one’s moral character had something to do with whether you wore women’s underwear or preferred other women or just liked to yodel and wear a batman costume in bed — to me, morality is predicated on things like tolerance, generosity, and kindness. If there is a God, I would hate to think He would judge you for being the way He made you.

I offer all that as a background for the story I’m about to tell and to give you an idea of why I ended up becoming a manager of Second Life’s largest, most active free sex community.

At first, Archan was a quiet, pleasant place. And those who sought us out quickly found out that we didn’t lay around humping like bunnies. Like most Second Life communities we had parties, we danced, we formed friendships. We connected. We shared things we created and we supported each other through difficult personal times. For a long time it was the friendliest place no one knew about.

Then, the Lindens opened free registration. Most of the newbie sims and major clubs in Second Life felt the influx. I witnessed a phenomenon I was very familiar with from my Compuserve days — very often when someone signs onto a new online service, the first thing they type into the search function is “sex”. And one of the first things that came up in SL’s search tool was Archan.

Those of you who have seen my posts on the old Second Life forums or on some of the other boards are familiar with my experiences dealing with griefers. We probably doubled or tripled the griefer incidence experienced by the regular malls and clubs. At one point after open registration, I was filing as many as 10 Abuse Reports in one day for underagers, shootings, bombings and cagings. It was insane and it was ruining the intimate atmosphere we had built in Archan. It was so bad that I expected to have to try between six and a dozen teleports before I could actually enter the sim. It was always full of newbies with their Ruth shapes and plywood prim penises running amok, pushing people around in the crowds. I didn’t feel as though it was a “free sex community” any longer. There was no emotional connection any more with the people who came around. I don’t answer IMs that started out “Hi, wanna fuck?”. It went from being annoying to being ludicrous. It was so bad that the owner, Milosz Milosz and his real-life girlfriend Amber felt that something had to change. I agreed.

Milosz gave serious consideration to shutting down Archan for a month to save money to purchase his own sim but the recent Linden price increase helped to kill that idea.

We struggled with it for too long and I think all of us will admit that. We tried to help some of the newbies. Some of them actually had the curiosity and drive to figure out how to fit in and be good Second Life citizens. We attracted new members from Brazil, Poland, Israel, Japan, Australia and Italy to name a few. Language barriers became an issue to the point that I tried out Hiro’s universal chat translator and found out that our traffic volume overloaded it and broke it.

We were ready to make Archan off limits to those without payment information until we realized that some of our better regulars couldn’t get a payment source that worked in the U.S. When the Lindens raised the ban list limits to 300, we thought that would help — until we cycled through those 300 rows twice, pulling old names off the bottom in order to add a new name at the top. Push restrictions were a major assist since we could relax a bit about people wearing decorative guns as part of their avatar’s look. We joined the SL Banlink project, which offered a shared web database of ban lists so that the same griefer who bombed New Citizens at 9:00 couldn’t come over and bomb Archan at 9:10. We could pick and choose which other sims we wished to share lists with and banned individuals could protest their bans on that site.

Despite these efforts to make Archan more relaxed and comfortable for regulars, there remained the unsettling sense that we had sold our soul to the devil. We had traded our intimate family of friends for 56,000 traffic and a place in the Popular Places Top 10. We were also fed up. It was time for drastic measures.

On Thursday, large signs were placed around the property informing residents that we would become a members-only club on Friday night at 10 PM SL time. If they wanted to join before then, any manager could invite them but there were pre-requisites: One, they must agree to follow our code of conduct. Simple courtesy, consideration and tolerance of others aren’t too much to ask regardless of the nature of the venue.

Milosz placed another set of requirements on membership, one that we thought was pretty simple but which created some disappointment and anger among newbie applicants. We require a “presentable” avatar, one that the resident has obviously spent some care and invested time into improving beyond the basic Ruth and Ken-doll. Fancy skins weren’t needed, but something other than the default skin was strongly encouraged. Prim hair was also encouraged. And last, but not least, we refused to invite anyone who hadn’t at least put their avatar photo in their profile. No more blank grey boxes.

In that 24 hour period of warning, most of the regular members read the signs (they were pretty obvious and plentiful) and asked to join. Many of the newbies, as usual, didn’t even bother to read the signs any more than they had read our rules before. So when 10 PM rolled around, a small group of us gathered on the roof of the main building as Milosz did a countdown. At precisely 10, we saw at least a dozen newbies fly through the air and land in a clump outside of the parcel. There, they milled in confusion for a few minutes. Some wandered off. A few just stood there, stunned.

I felt horrible. Milosz told me not to feel badly – it wasn’t as if they hadn’t had fair warning. But I couldn’t help it. I’m a softie. The clump of disoriented newbies looked like orphaned children to me, naked or not. Ridiculous plywood newbie penises or not. Maybe some of them were salvageable.

Our staff is not without heart. We flew to the clump of newbies and dealt with their protests face-to-face. We handed out notecards explaining the changes. I gave away landmarks to freebie skins and hair and tips on making money. For someone without any payment verification info, even the $10L snapshot upload fee is an obstacle and I think we veterans tend to forget that.

By Saturday morning, the clump of newbies had grown. Every time one of them tried to TP into Archan, it shunted them to the neighbor’s property. We tried to deal with it as best we could, putting up notecard givers for self-service, answering questions, reviewing profiles, even taking the snapshots for them and paying the upload fee from our own pockets if we thought they were worthy membership material. But it was out of control. Most of them didn’t even know how to maneuver their camera, much less take a snapshot or edit their profile.

Someone began spawning those dollar-pyramid prims that have been banned from SL. Someone else came along and started orbiting people. Since the newbies were off of our property they were beyond our protection and out of our control and the prim clutter on the neighbor’s land was disgraceful. We contacted that neighbor (a pretty large real estate merchant) to let them know what happened and tried to remedy the situation. Eventually we came to realize that we had to allow a landing point that was still within Archan power to protect and control. So Milosz allocated a portion of his adjacent land, where we erected our help signs and boxes of giveaway skins, clothing and hair. Red Cross hurricane relief efforts had nothing on us.

By and large, most newborn residents who wanted to enter Archan were at least willing to try. I was touched by the sincerity and eagerness of many of them — not because they were eager to have pixel sex. I can’t count the times I was told that Archan was the friendliest, most entertaining club in Second Life (bear in mind their exposure to the world of SL after 2 days wasn’t exactly large). In a couple of cases where the resident was articulate, polite, sincere and genuinely eager to qualify I even took them to stores and spent some of my own money to upgrade their appearance. One male newbie told me that he liked looking at himself now. He made it to my friends’ list.

Our staff labored around the clock trying to cope with the flood of newbies who were now persona non grata. In some cases, there was no hope – we were cursed and yelled at for denying someone their “rights”. We were accused of all kinds of nefarious motives and a few of the rejected residents screamed that we could “go back to your circle jerk, faggots!“. Obviously, that attitude made the screening process much simpler for us.

As I explained in open chat several times, requiring SL residents to put a little effort into their avatar and their profile is to their own benefit. It’s very tough for people to get to know you if they can’t read a few words and look at whatever photo style or artwork you place in your profile picture — it’s the best ice breaker you can find and it’s easy to do.

It’s now Monday and the pain of this transition isn’t completely over, but the clump of orphans on our border has dwindled noticeably. And I have time to ponder the course of events and its implications.

My first conclusion is that the Lindens’ open registration policy has encouraged many places to become more cliquish and exclusive. There have always been status tiers in SL, just as in any virtual world. Prior to June of 2006 there were the landowners, the rich merchants, and the basic accounts who are just here to play with their friends. There were smaller circles within those groups, like Bartle’s socializers, explorers and the achievers. Open registration added another class – the freebies. Their numbers have highlighted some problems with the structure of Second Life, mainly the inadequacy of Orientation Island and the inability of the grid to cope well with 16,000 concurrent users. It’s been one gigantic stress test on Second Life.

Club and store owners have been left to their own devices on how to deal with the influx, for the most part. Land tools are still not quite adequate. Newbie help is woefully inadequate and Live Help is so overworked I’m not sure why anyone would put themselves through that ordeal. My experiences this past weekend reinforced my own vow to always help newbies who want it, but to never ever volunteer for Live Help. I’m convinced that it would shorten my life by 5 years and turn my hair prematurely gray.

So my theory is that a larger resident population is fracturing Second Life society into something closer to Alvin Toffler’s modular society — special interest groups have always held smaller concentric orbits within the whole. Now we have a larger group in the unverifieds who have a harder time finding their module and figuring out how to fit in. And we have the existing modules, like Archan, who find their resources strained to the limits and are forced to lock the doors to all who don’t know the password.

The future of Second Life may depend on how that class conflict is resolved, if it’s resolved at all. I cannot pin blame on those groups who shut their doors. It’s a normal self-preservation reaction to the situation. And I can’t blame them if they find their available resources inadequate for tutoring a million newbies when the introductory lessons are not enough to even hold a new resident’s attention.

In his town hall last week, Philip Linden said that “LL should not be in our opinion in the middle of arbitration. We need to open up and provide better systems for the community“. His goal is to give users the tools we need to handle our social issues without intervention from Linden Lab. While their efforts to date have not been entirely satisfactory, it’s an understandable and achievable goal.

Perhaps the ultimate solution to this issue is for those of us, like Archan, who deal with large groups of new residents daily to initiate efforts at education — not just how to move the camera, but also how to conduct oneself in Second Life. How to create an avatar that is appealing enough that other residents want to interact with you. How to make your way in a world driven by individual motivation, where those who have the drive and a modicum of skill can earn $Lindens that make their experience more enjoyable and those who don’t try are left to wander homeless and penniless.

Linden Lab isn’t going to do it for us. I would be shocked if I ever saw a major overhaul of Orientation Island. It will ultimately fall to us, the residents, who are under the most pressure to deal with the influx to take steps that will benefit the new people as well as ourselves. After all, we are the Second Life culture. We are the society and it’s our responsibility. We can shirk it and blame the Lindens, but I don’t think we’ll enjoy that outcome.

What Second Life needs now are more central resources for new people. The Shelter, New Citizens’ center, GNUbie store and Yadni’s Junkyard are great starts. The classes at Teazer’s Island are great, but what we need are instructional methods that new residents know are available at the moment they need them. I’ve begun a collection of helpful notecards that I pass out as a folder, along with folders of landmarks for freebie gear and tutorials on building, scripting, or design. I’ve found that while there is plentiful free hair and skins available for new female avatars, there’s precious little available for males. Most of the male newbies don’t care for the free skins at GNUbie store because they have underwear painted on the skin. They’re born into this world as Barbie and Ken clones the way it is, why should they want to upgrade to the Politically Correct Barbie of 2006?

I have a request and an offer to those of you who are reading this. My offer is that I will be glad to pass along my newbie help cards to anyone who wants them, free of charge. I wrote “How to Make Money in Second Life“, which lists a number of methods and cautions against some others. I started “Landmarks for New Residents” which was subsequently merged with Wildefire Walcott’s notecard and which I’ve updated recently – it includes the central directory room for money trees at Garmisch (47, 209, 167) and some stores which recently set out free gift boxes of hair and skins for new people. I also have available “How to Update your Profile“, detailed instructions on camera movement and placing a picture in the SL profile.

My request is this: If you know of any free male skins which are more detailed than the default Ken skin, I would sincerely appreciate some copy/trans copies to give away to deserving new people. I have landmarks for free prim hair, but if you know of others please send them to me. More than anything else, however, if you offer any services that new residents might find helpful I’d like to know. I am always happy to share the information I have without any expectations of compensation.I feel obliged to help because I love this virtual world of ours and I think we can make it work, with or without the full support of the Lindens.

November 27, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | 14 Comments

The Soul of the Stream

I made a mistake calling yesterday’s entry “As the Smoke Clears“. Apparently this whole Copybot issue is just getting warmed up and the smoke isn’t clearing at all. It’s turning up on internet news feeds and blogs all over the place outside of Second Life as well as inside it.. Now that the Lindens have banned its use officially, for whatever good that will do, and some of the 100-odd merchants who closed their shops in protest have re-opened their stores we have more exciting news and some food for thought to go with it.

The libsecondlife team has now kicked Baba Yamamoto off the project (under the guise of “reorganization”, which sounds like saying “redeployment” instead of “retreat” in reference to Iraq) after an IRC chat log was posted over on SL Universe which displayed a smirking, reckless, cavalier attitude on the part of several individuals toward the damage they knew ahead of time that copybot would cause to Second Life. It’s a bit late for damage control now, but at least we know who our friends are.

The Sellers’ Guild is still up in arms and held an impromptu meeting with the libsecondlife team to talk about the team’s goals and what can be done to limit damage for now. I’m still waiting to hear the outcome of the guild’s meet-up with Philip at the Town Hall — last I heard, Philip scheduled the town meeting for 11:30 AM my time, and I do have a real-life job I’d like to keep. It affords me some things I enjoy, like eating and sleeping indoors.

Of keen interest to me this morning, though, was Raph Koster’s blog entry on Copybot. For those of you who don’t know Raph, he’s been a major player in MUD and MMOG design for a long time and is one of the visionaries of virtual communities. I was a long-time Ultima Online player (Lake Superior shard) where he was the lead Dev, known as “Designer Dragon”. After he left that project, he was then creative director for Star Wars Galaxies.

One of the common threads in both of those games was Raph’s vision of virtual community dynamics. In UOL, he believed that user communities could be self-policing if given the proper tools. The tool he had faith in at that point was the complex and easily-griefed reputation system. Whatever his lofty ideals, the system was revamped at least three times and ultimately, Ultima Online failed when rampant player killing and griefing could not be controlled (and, to be fair, a better product came along in Everquest).

In SWG he wanted players to be able to advance through non-combat professions as well as combat roles. Thus were born the Entertainer professions – Dancers and Musicians for the most part. The problem in that game was that most of the users joined in order to shoot ray guns, fly spaceships and play Star Wars, not macro dance steps while they went to the living room and watched Friends. So over time, the Entertainment professions were ignored or hurt by changes, the combat system was revamped drastically and over half the player base left the game.

Raph doesn’t bear all of the responsibility for that – in fact, he condemns what happened on his own blog. His condemnation includes these pearls of wisdom:

Some have since decided that it was listening to the players too much that caused some of the design problems with SWG. I am not sure I agree. If anything, I think that many subsequent problems came from not listening enough, or not asking questions in advance of changes. Walking a mile in the players’ shoes is a difficult trick to pull off even if you have the best of intentions.

I digress. I think Raph’s comments on the Copybot issue need some focus here. Here’s the link again if you lost my train of thought.

The salient point to remember in all this is that he’s right about streaming content never being totally protectable. But in Second Life, it’s all we have. There are too many possible permutations to a prim’s size and shape and texture to store all of them on your client. SL’s content has to be streamed or we’re faced with pre-programmed stuff like World of Warcraft, where the developers paint all the textures and encrypt them on your client. The data going back and forth to the servers is just pointers – itty bitty 1’s and 0’s that tell your client which piece of armor or which weapon to load. Maybe that helps you to understand the epic rash of lag we’ve been feeling since the concurrent user numbers topped 10,000 per night.

He also has a good point about the parallels to the old Star Trek replicator story –

…after such a machine was invented, currency as we knew it ceased to be function. Since everyone had the capability to create (replicate) anything they desire, capitalism as we knew it died, and the new dawn of perfect Marxian philosophy was adopted by the Federation.

It’s true that if copying prims and textures becomes easy, the entire economy on which Second Life is based will collapse. We will be reduced to a world where everyone has copies of everything, IP rights are irrelevant and as a result the creativity and innovation that makes the world stand out will die. Marx and his imitators were wrong about human nature in a very large, important way: it is the promise of incentives which encourage innovation and creativity. Without those incentives, there IS no innovation and society (and technology) stagnate.

So we’re caught in a dilemma here. Free information sharing is an impossible ideal, but at the same time it is a reality because nothing is invulnerable to being captured as long as you’re streaming content. And on the other side of it, creators have a right to the fruits of their labors and must have some assurance that there is recourse if their creations are stolen.

The comparisons we’re hearing to the music industry’s long copyright war with Napster and others is an appropriate one. As much as the music companies would love to stop all illegal file sharing, it’s just not going to happen so long as Suzie has her Yahoo! IM hooked up with her friends. However, that doesn’t mean that the music industry has to throw up its hands and stop trying. Legal actions, lobbying for legislative regulation, and mass education are three of the means they’ve used to try to choke off the theft of their property.

In Second Life it’s not practical for a shopowner like myself, who deals in small volumes and mostly sells simple prim skirts, to hire an attorney or pursue DMCA every time I see another prim skirt with my textures on it. That’s not to say it isn’t an avenue for someone whose work is much more unique and complex, but I think the vast majority of SL merchants are more like me than they are like Francis Chung or Cubey Terra.

I see two avenues that could benefit the little people like myself. One is group action. It’s why I joined the Sellers’ Guild — a group that is prone to its own panic states and rumors at times, but which does have a core of responsible, mature members who understand how to get things done. Group action will always be superior to individual action, and on this issue I think the Guild is able to command some attention from the likes of the Lindens and libsecondlife team.

We could do more, though — if a problem arose that was so egregious and damaging that it had to be answered, I think groups like Sellers’ Guild make a good starting point for class action suits. We cannot command the legal resources of the Music Publisher’s Association, but we should be capable of pooling our resources and testing the DMCA laws in a court of law.

There’s another avenue, though, that is more naturalistic. It’s almost Darwinian in its approach. That is, the creators and innovators in Second Life can cope with this challenge to their domains by becoming even more innovative and creative. Objects, textures, and scripts will always be stealable. But the majority of customers are honest and they’re the ones who deserve to be offered fresh content regularly. No longer are we merchants competing against each other. Now we are competing against the lazy rip-off artists who will never innovate, never offer the kind of customer service we offer and whose whole focus is making a quick buck before they move on to the next theft. We can best them by doing what we’re already doing, but doing it better and doing it more often.

Raph claims we’re being “hoisted by our own petard”, but I submit that he’s using the wrong metaphor. We can hoist the thieves by their petards and demonstrate that we, the merchants of Second Life, ARE in fact the “soul of the stream”. We are the source of future content, innovation and imagination. Those form the core of the Second Life community, not a 256×256 digital texture file. You can clone my texture but you can’t steal my imagination.

-Cin

November 16, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | 1 Comment

As the Smoke Clears

The Copybot furor yesterday seems to be subsiding for the moment.  The Lindens have announced that anyone caught using Copybot “or any other external application to make unauthorized duplicates within Second Life” is subject to having their account banned.  (That, of course, has been such a terrific deterrent to texture theft and griefer attacks in the past… /sarcasm).

Last night, I received notice that about 15 Sellers Guild merchants had closed shop in protest, with 3 or 4 more following suit so far this morning.  A search for “copybot” in world pulled up almost 100 stores which closed their doors in protest.  My hat is off to them for their protest.   Having participated in past protest demonstrations (notably at the Second Life birthday party when anonymous registration was first thrown open), I’m of the opinion that protests make the protestor feel good but in reality do little to change the minds of a determined, uncaring corporate wannabe.

But in the big picture, what yesterday demonstrated to me was that the residents of Second Life care very passionately about this world.  We are emotionally invested in our businesses and our products — they are, as they should be, a source of great pride for us. In fact, I observed to a friend last night that this was about more than just money or dishonesty.  This was about pride and identity.  Owning and operating a business in Second Life can be a fulfilling experience and it should surprise no one that we’re this emotionally invested in something that defines our virtual identities.

That emotional investment is essential to creating a community that works but I’m reluctant to give the Lindens too much credit for its existence.  They offered the platform and created the rules.  But for the last 3 years, the majority of the hard work of creation has been done by the residents.  It truly is a world that WE built.  The same passion that motivated the creation of so many incredible forests, cities, beaches, clubs, events and beautiful clothes is also fiercely protective of the world.  The Lindens are charged with a trust to be the guardians of this world and when we perceive that they have failed us, the outrage is predictable and understandable.

Over on Second Citizen forums, Cory Edo has posted her experiences with Copybot.  Her observations are well worth reading and put this thing into a calmer perspective.  It’s not the magical Destroyer of Worlds that some of us were led to believe, but it is nonetheless a troubling peek at what can be done by determined reverse engineers (is a reverse engineer a “reenigne”?)

First – took me a while to find the compiled version of this, since I couldn’t find it on SLX and libSL has removed it all from their website. Found a link on a third party forum that’s apparently hosting it seperate from libSL.The file I got was an .exe, no instructions. Took me some time messing with it before I figured out how to run it.Essentially, you need two accounts – the control av, and the alt to act as the copybot.When the alt is the copybot, you cannot have the regular SL client open. You log into SL via a command line client (that black box). You can’t access the alt’s inventory, camera angles, anything like that while its running as a copybot. You run it via IMing it commands from your control av, which are basically limited to about 4 commands. Keep that in mind for later.OK, first the important stuff, what you can and can’t copy:– if you copy an avatar, you copy that avatar’s appearance and movements exactly. THE AVATAR HAS TO BE IN NATURAL VIEWING RANGE OF THE COPYBOT. Essentially, it has to be right in front of you. No camming up to a skybox, you can’t control the camera on the copybot av when the copybot client is running. I tried copying an av tonight and because it was standing behind my copybot av, it couldn’t mirror it.– when you relog the normal way onto the copybot av, using the SL client, the shape is reset to default. The copied clothing remains, however if you pass it along to someone else, the clothing will revert to what it was BEFORE it was copied. Copybot does not make new *clothing items* from the avatar it copies, it only mirrors the appearance of the avatar it copied. From what I understand this has to do with the way clothing and skin is baked onto the av mesh. Therefore, no clothing resale from this.– The attachments on the copybot that were created DO REMAIN, however:
– no scripts are copied
– no contents in the attachment are copied (no animations, no scripts, no nothin)
– the attachments are in the copybot av’s inventory named “Object” with full perms
– you do not get a separate copy of the textures used in your Texture folder
– the attachments that were copied retain the texture on the prims themselves
Example: it copied my AO’s shell – a plain box – but nothing was inside it.
Example 2: it copied my shoes, but the shape to fit the shoe was not copied (since the shape reverts to default upon normal login)
Example 3: it did copy my prim hair, and since there were no scripts involved along with no particular shape, that could be considered a clean copy.
After some trial and error, I did get the copy by UUID to work. This seems to be tricky, again, because the object you’re copying seems to have to be viewed directly by the copybot av. Since you can’t make it turn around or zoom in on an object while the copybot mode is on, you’ve got to have 1. the object right in front of it and 2. have a way to get the UUID.
– Copies via UUID do NOT contain scripts, animations, or any other contents. Its a shell.
– Copies via UUID do NOT give you a separate copy of any textures used.
The other commands are copy by local ID, which I have no idea what that is, and copy tree, for what good that’s worth.

Essentially, to use this successfully, you have to have two accounts, the ability or good luck to have the copybot look at what you want to copy from reasonably close up, the ability to get a UUID if what you’re copying isn’t an attachment on an avatar, and the most you’re going to get is a copy of something primmed without contents inside it. Also, depending on the lag of the sim and the prims in the attachments being copied, it can take quite a while to create a copy of, say, a prim skirt. Finally, I’m running under the assumption that if copybot is trying to copy via UUID and you have your land set to no build, the copybot cannot make the copy since the copy is built in the air above the copybot’s head.

This is for the version I managed to find to download, which is a compiled copy (not source code, so it can’t be modded from what I’ve been told). I can’t speak for rumors of any other versions of this that may do more – it seems that I have the official libSL version, since what this does meshes with what they say it does. Those with the source code could do something like change the die command (!quit) which people are currently using as protection. If anyone IMs a copybot with the die command, it will log it off. 

Now that libsecondlife has removed the Copybot from their downloads section and the Lindens have banned its use, don’t expect this issue to go away anytime soon.  Copybot’s still out there.  It’s still downloadable elsewhere.  There are still unscrupulous people in Second Life.  If the Lindens are true to their word and can come up with other ways of trademark-stamping our original content (even if not until 2007), that’s a step in the right direction.  But it will not get rid of the lazy asshats who prey on other people’s work.  Nothing will.  It remains to the Second Life community and to each of us as individual consumers to keep our ears to the ground and not to remain silent when we see rip-off content being resold at yard sales or someone’s expensive skins cloned and sold cheap somewhere.  We – you and I – are the main line of defense if we want this place to remain alive and viable.  The Lindens can only do so much.  Groups like Sellers Guild will help, but in the final analysis it’s down to you and me.  We are, after all, the citizens.  It’s our world because we’re the ones who built it and we can’t expect the Lindens to match our passion.   Nor do we need to fear that the griefers and thieves can ever match that passion — it is both the engine that fires our creativity and the glue that keeps the world going.  It belongs to us and us alone. 

– Cin

November 15, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

Copybot Update

Things are happening pretty fast now. For one thing, the copybot being sold on SL Exchange has been taken down. Ethan Cinquetti is offering a “simply copybot defeater” for free, but I’m having trouble searching for it on SLX  (Edit: he’s made the source code available here – paste into a script and stick it into a prim, rez and voila). I do have a “copybot detector” that tells me if anyone in my vicinity is running the bot – it also is free and copyable. Ask someone in the Sellers Guild if you want one.

The Sellers Guild channel has been roiling all day with anger and speculation. Several good-sized merchants are either closing their doors or are threatening to. Some are closing in an attempt to protect their creations (though if one item’s been sold somewhere, it can be copied by someone with this bot) and others are closing as a protest. The Guild is going to try to get an audience with Philip to express our displeasure and concern. How he will react is another issue, stay tuned.

The end result of all this has been a massive loss of confidence in Second Life and in the Lindens. Some of my very best friends are SL merchants, and some of them were practically in tears today as they see their hard work being ripped off gratis by greedy, lazy thieves.

At this point I’m not sure what the Lindens can do. You can shut down the libsecondlife project (not likely) but it’s too late – the copybot is already unleashed on the world. You could change key parts of the protocol to make it not work, but for how long? And what would protocol changes do to the unstable, teetering pile of code the grid stands on now? You risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater going down that slope.

If it’s any consolation, I’m told that Copybot is not easy to use. You have to install Microsoft .NET, you have to know a few things about C# and about UUID detection, and you have to have script skills. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it might mean that this hole in the Hindenberg might not explode right away.

I’m trying to be optimistic — or at the very least patient. Meanwhile I have to agree with my friend Allana Dion who said on her blog:

From now on, I don’t care what LL does, I don’t care what they say, I don’t care what their plans for the future of SL are. I’m here to be with Nai and with my friends and the day, the very day, something competitive to Second Life comes along, I’m out. The moment Second Life has some legitamit competition, a new virtual world built by another company, the new guys can count me among the willing. I will happily jump on board and see how much better they can do.

Allana, I hear you – and you are definitely not alone.

November 14, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | 1 Comment

Day of the Copybot

There’s been a new firestorm around Second Life these last few days, as news of the libsecondlife project’s Copy bot has spread across blogs and forums in the community. The Sellers’ Guild (an ad hoc group of SL merchants who formed an alliance after the first wave of texture thefts threatened their livelihoods) held a meeting with Robin Linden yesterday. As a member of Sellers’ Guild I have a transcript of that chat but I will hold off on posting excerpts until I get agreement from Stroker Serpentine, President of the guild, to quote his very insightful comments here.

Lo and behold, today we have the Official Linden Blog talking about copyright infringement and DMCA actions. It’s well worth a read, but I urge you to read between the lines. While copyright protection is theoretically important to SL and to the Lindens, technically there’s only so much they can do about it. It’s like griefing – no matter what methods you come up with, someone will find a way around them eventually. Robin Linden suggests that content creators who feel they’ve been ripped off should start a DMCA action. That’s not encouraging news for small hair designers or clothing creators. Most of us barely make enough to cover the tier for our stores. Pursuing legal action for us is more of a problem than it would be for Nike or Nissan simply because our pockets are not deep and we don’t have a large legal firm on retainer.

The plot continues to thicken today. Someone using the name “Prim Revolution” is offering the libsecondlife copybot on SL Exchange for $3000L, despite the fact that the code and instructions are freely available on libsecondlife’s web page. According to another source, the copybot being sold on SL Exchange is actually a trojan and will infect your computer with all kinds of nastiness (or is that a disinformation campaign intended to scare people out of buying it?  I get so confused) . Caveat Emptor – or in this case, For Shamus on You-us.

Ironically, the front page of libsecondlife’s site starts with these words:

CopyBot is not a product that we sell or distribute. It’s a debugging tool and silly demo with a [now] obviously bad choice of name. Hopefully you won’t be seeing copy bot on SLex any time soon..

But, this is the 21st century and this is the internet. Things like this tend to take on a life of their own – like nature, pitiless and inevitable. The libsecondlife team, which includes a number of Lindens as well as some of the foremost SL script coders, no doubt has had only the best of intentions. Their vision of Second Life saw that the only way it could ever become scalable and thus survive the future would be to move toward open source. There’s much merit in their view even though it has no sympathy for the way Second Life used to be, when we had a nice cozy little family. The future of Second Life is big, it’s technologically open, and it’s infinitely scalable.

The copybot is scaring a lot of SL merchants. Rightfully so. It represents change, and change is uncomfortable – even painful. What it portends for you as a resident of Second Life is for you to decide. For me, it means that whatever plans I’ve ever had to try to develop a larger scale business in the world are already obsolete. I don’t have lawyers on retainer, I don’t see much point in filing DMCA actions for my clothing. I also don’t see much point in pursuing my plans for more complex creations and all those half-built prims in my shop are probably going to be deleted.

This is not going to end well for the little guy.

November 14, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

Freedom from Grief

Griefers have been with us since the first time a MUD player decided it was more fun to attack his fellow players than it was to play cooperatively. Virtually every single MMRPG ever released has had its groups of griefer players and the degree to which they can cause grief to others tends to vary according to the game’s code and the amount of customer service devoted to controlling grief. In Second Life we have our share of this griefer element as well, even though SL doesn’t involve weapons, loot, or monsters outside of a few small simulation areas. In Second Life, the ability to write LSL code which can act on another avatar without their permission opens a very large door to all sorts of griefing behavior. Shooting and bombing are just the start. In the wrong hands, LSL’s capabilities are the virtual world equivalent of giving a 4-year old child a blowtorch and a can of kerosene.

This isn’t news. Philip acknowledged the ability years ago, but I’m not sure he connected the ability with the constant tendency of a certain small population of any virtual world to cause havoc. That fact seems to have been ignored from the moment Second Life germinated as an idea in Philip’s head. This is what he said in 2004:

Philip Linden: You can look at an online world, and ask how much freedom it gives you as a user. Sort of like the rat-in-a-cage analogy… How big is the cage? What is there to do? So when you look at historical online worlds… something like everquest, or even TSO… it seems quite obvious that in them you are far more restricted than in your waking life. There is a LOT less you can do there than in reality.
Urizenus Sklar: true
Philip Linden: So I believe this is a simple test for how basic and abusive and frustrated people will become in these worlds. The answer to the question “how much can I do?” tells us “how mean you will be.”
Urizenus Sklar: you mean the less you can do the meaner you will be?
Philip Linden: YES
Philip Linden: So SL poses a new question… what if the online environment offered you MORE freedoms than the real world, in just about every way. I assert, by comparison to these historical cases, that we might therefore actually behave better in such a place. We might learn faster, interact more deeply, and therefore become better people, at least on some levels. Little has been written about this.”

I think it’s safe to say that events have proven Philip’s theory to be wrong in almost every imaginable way.  Freedom does not equate to good behavior because human nature is not innately “good”. It is more complex than that – individual psychological motivations and social forces pre-empt any blanket “good vs bad” assertion. It is self-interested, for the most part, and usually only contained and directed by some measure of personal accountability.   Philip’s comment leads me to believe that he thinks griefers are motivated by either anger or boredom and nothing else. 

The 2004 interview in the above link also quotes Philip as predicting one million Second Life residents by 2007 – an irony that jumps out at me. The means by which we reached the 1 million account number (not residents, accounts) also followed the flawed assumption that anonymity and lack of personal accountability would not inherently create more griefing problems. The lack of preparation for that policy change tells us all we need to know about how misguided Linden policy thinking has been.

Where Philip misunderstands human nature is in his impression of the nature and motives of griefing: Griefers are not necessarily evil people nor are they simply angry or bored.   Psychologist John Suler has done a great deal of research and writing on the topic and slices to the heart of griefer motivation more succinctly than I can:

“the need to establish a “bad boy” identity in order to feel unique… the compulsion to buck the system and defy the authorities (rebels without a cause)….. the desire to feel powerful by inflicting problems on others….. the rather elitist and holier-than-thou attitude…. preying on vulnerable people (probably a way to cope with one’s own feelings of helplessness and vulnerability)…. a seemingly sociopathic inability to empathize with other people…. a preoccupation with issues of humiliation and shame…. hiding behind fantasy identities…. an inability or lack of interest in creating meaningful relationships “

Suler’s about got it right, I think, and none of his explanations have a thing to do with freedom or good and evil. All the increased freedom in Second Life has given us is an increased opportunity to cause problems for other people.

So, where are we and what can be done?

As the population in Second Life has grown, so too have incidents of griefing grown. We don’t have the exact numbers since Linden Lab doesn’t talk about them, but if we assume that a conservative 2% of subscribers cause 90% of the griefing problems in SL, we’re looking at roughly 200 to 300 griefers out of an average concurrent population of 12,000 to 16,000 subscribers. Those are the people who are costing the Lindens tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of resources and manhours in abuse report investigations.

I submit to you that one of the chief reasons Linden customer support has taken such a bad rap among us customers lately is because of this expensive and disproportionate focus on a few troublemakers at the expense of the larger group of residents. GameDev.net estimates that about 25% of customer service issues are caused by griefing and that the cost of one live help person assigned to handling abuse investigations can range from $100,000 to $300,000 per position per year. Financially, then, it should follow that finding technical means to prevent griefing should be easy to cost-justify. If a change in code costs $250,000 to implement you can save the money by eliminating one enforcement position for one year. In my real world as a customer service manager, that’s a no-brainer. I only wish I could submit an RFP with that kind of a financial carrot dangling from the pages.

It took a while for the Lindens to catch on, but slowly they’ve been making some changes to try to curb the problem. They claim they’ve implemented a way to capture and track the hardware ID of an individual computer so that one person using several alt accounts could be caught and have all of their accounts terminated or suspended. That’s a great step if it’s being used. My own personal experience with the abuse system is that it’s glacier-slow (2 to 3 weeks or more to be notified that an AR was resolved) and too often, a repeat offender is still in SL with an active account after the situation was supposedly resolved.

There’s more that can be done, however. What if each avatar had the ability to mute certain push scripts? What if muting particle effects could be sliced more finely and made a part of the mute function? Right now, we can turn off some push functions in land tools so that poseballs and teleporters still work, but (most, not all) push gun attacks do not. Yet we do not have that same functional toggle for individual avatars. I’m relatively safe on land I control, but if I’m at a large mall or a dance club or a sandbox that hasn’t activated that toggle, I’m vulnerable to griefers shooting or orbiting me. I can turn off particles if I have my Debug menu activated, but how many newbies know how to do that (Hint: CTRL ALT D!).

The developers are also talking about a way to prevent banned individuals from moving prims onto land they’re banned from – without more information I’m left wondering if that includes C4 bombs and rockets, bullets, etc? I’ve never understood how someone who has been banned from a parcel could still cause mischief on that parcel. That was the whole point of banning them, wasn’t it?

Let’s say a word about education here, too. I deal with hundreds of newbies every week, and in my opinion the Orientation Islands are inadequate for teaching new residents how this whole thing works. They go to a freebie place, pick up a cage gun or an orbiter, and think attacking other people is simply a part of “the game”. Our mentors and Live Helpers do a wonderful job but they are swamped and often don’t have the resources or time to help as much as needed. Why not add some system of small rewards for new residents who take the time to go through all the stations and exercises in OI, and throw in something about how you can jeopardize your account by assaulting other residents?

My own personal experience with griefers is above the norm, I believe. A club I help to manage ranks in the top 10 and attracts thousands of newbies, making it a prime griefer target alongside sandboxes. Most places in Second Life never see the level of griefing we do, but to me that simply means we would make a good test case for the effectiveness of anti-griefing measures. Adding the push toggle helped greatly. Raising the ban list to 300 names did, as well. Yet we still see griefers, we still see members being orbited and our events disrupted. Rather than file ten abuse reports on one griefer I think it would help both the Linden team and our residents if we had a way to make ourselves more griefer-proof. If we can’t be caged or orbited, we don’t file that AR and the abuse team can focus on more serious problems. Money is saved, frustration level goes down, and everyone wins … except for the griefers.

You can never be invulnerable to griefing, and it would be silly to suggest that. But if Linden Lab wants to save a pile of dough and improve the perception of their company in these challenging times, they should invest serious time and money into giving us more autonomy over our own avatars. If I can control whether I’m attacked by someone’s push script, we don’t have this conversation. My freedom from griefing should trump the freedom to cause havoc with other residents.

– Cin

November 13, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | 1 Comment

Second Life Business 101

After several hours of frustration trying to create prim attachments for a new skirt design yesterday I was ready to unleash more bile on the horrid server performance and the half-assed building tools of Second Life. Then I realized that’s about all I’ve been doing lately. I am normally not a negative person. No, really. I simply have a low tolerance for poor software and crappy interfaces. There, spleen vented :)

What I really wanted to talk about was my experience in opening my own business in Second Life. I’m no expert, by any stretch. I’m still learning things every day. I don’t have the in-world visibility and economic clout to claim such a thing. What I am, though, is pretty much the same as most other small business owners. I make enough to cover my tier, my IMs aren’t yet so overwhelming that they cap very often, and it tickles me to death to get positive feedback from my customers.

But it was a learning process, and I found that some of my lessons were avoidable had I known of a common source of information. The official Second Life boards, particularly the Design, Scripting, and Business forums, were a huge help. So are the in-world groups to which I belong. But none of them could replace hands-on experience and the School of Hard Knocks.

So, I decided it might be helpful to offer Cindy’s Tips for New Businesses and perhaps help someone else avoid some of the problems I ran into. Here they are.

Tip 1: Branding. You could start a small store somewhere and just put your creations up for sale but you aren’t going to be very memorable. The object here is to have your customers remember the name of your store and associate it with a positive shopping experience. Catchy names are good, but sometimes it’s not the catchiness so much as the quality and service you provide behind that name. Come up with a unifying theme for your store, design a simple logo (or have someone do it for you), and take every opportunity to put that theme and logo out there in public. It’s easier to remember “Cin City” (my stores) than it is to remember “Cindy’s cute flex skirts and scripted chat toy”.

2. Know your targets. Who’s the most likely to be interested in your product? Scripters? Geeks? Combat sim fans? Strippers and escorts? Club-goers and partiers? This is important in two ways – first, it helps you determine where you should locate your stores, and second it gives you an idea of how to approach your marketing. It can even alter the thrust of your logo.

3. Rent or own? The vast majority of SLers no longer own their own land. Nor do they need to in order to own & run their own store. There are some advantages to renting, not the least of which is that it doesn’t increase your tier costs. Renting in a high-traffic mall can also boost your traffic and thereby your sales without much extra work. I suggest that you spend some time doing a search for rental properties. (Try key words like “mall”) Compare the per-meter rental costs to the traffic volume shown. It’s a rough gauge of what you’re buying — and usually the higher the rent, the heavier the traffic.

When you’re first getting started you may not feel that a $100-150L per week rent is justified. That’s your choice but it’s been my experience that anything lower than that isn’t going to buy you much.

The downside of renting is that you are at the mercy of the mall owner. I’ve been in business for about 3 months or so, now, and I’ve had 3 different mall owners quit from under me. Some will refund unused rent, some won’t. Some will give you advance warning, some won’t. It’s the risk you take.

The other option is to go with a Premium account and own your own store land. This, too, has pluses and minuses. For the cost of the tier payments to Linden Lab, you get the security of knowing that your shop can stay as long as you choose to stay.

4. Vendor setup. There are some nice vendor systems available – some, like Adriana Caligari’s or Hiro Queso’s, are free. Others like the JEVN cost money. If you’re prim-conscious you probably want a vendor setup that lets you put several products into one vendor and offers “next” and “previous” tabs for customer browsing. If prims are less of a worry, I highly suggest just making a box, putting your ad texture on it, sticking the item inside and setting the object properties as “contents for sale”.

I wanted a vendor that would create a new folder in the user’s inventory which contained the 6 or 7 items in one outfit, plus notecards and landmarks. I searched everywhere but nothing I tried worked quite right. Then I discovered the “Sell Contents” trick, and the problem was solved. The only drawback is that if you have multiple iterations of one vendor you have to update them all individually, but the only real way around that is to buy a system like JEVN.

5. Advertising. At the minimum you need to put your store location(s) into your profile under “Picks”. That way people can search for your name and teleport to your store easily if they forgot to get a landmark. It’s also helpful to include landmarks in the item folders you sell. I also have a scripted landmark giver at each store, right by the door, that reminds customers to landmark and gives them a one-click way to save the store location.

But we can do better than that. You can buy Classified space for $50L per week and up – the more you pay the more visible you’ll be. Renting in a high-traffic mall will also help. Owning land near a high-traffic club or mall will also help. Remember that your advertising dollars will eventually pay you back, so don’t scrimp.

6. Customer Service. How often have you IM’d a merchant with a problem and either not received an answer, or not gotten the answer you’d hoped for? How often have you lodged a complaint and actually gotten replacement items for free? Which of those stores will you give your business to in the future? Copies of my items don’t really cost me anything. I regularly download my transaction history from www.secondlife.com so it’s very easy to verify purchases, and I never hesitate to help my customers figure out a problem. If they want special orders, I’m negotiable on price, but if there was a problem with my items I go overboard to make sure they’re happy. Happy customers are return customers.

7. A word about permissions. I won’t go into the debate over copy/mod/no-trans versus no-copy/transfer perms. That’s completely up to the merchant. Personally, I opt for copy/mod/no-trans for most of my stuff because I use a lot of prims, and no two avatars are ever alike. My customers need the ability to modify the prims to fit. And modify means they also need to ability to make backup copies. And copy means I can’t let them transfer or it’s the same as giving away my items.

But one thing I did not know was that when you sell multiple items in one deal, the permissions you set on your notecard can possibly alter all the permissions of your sold items. Notecards should always be copy/mod/transfer to avoid altering the permissions of other items being sold.

I also make a habit of checking the permissions on all my items in all my stores almost every day. Second Life has a bad habit, especialy after patch updates, of changing permissions. If you don’t want a freebie floating around in the yard sales making money for other people, watch your permissions.

8. Web sales. I nearly forgot one of the most important things: put your business on the web! Listing your products on SL Boutique or SL Express is a great way to pick up extra sales – and you can optionally pay for a higher listing if you wish.

Owning your own SL business can be fun and challenging, and I can honestly say that starting my own business has helped me stay interested in Second Life much longer than I normally do with online worlds. Don’t go into it with the idea that you’ll get rich and retire and you’ll find that it can be something to be proud of and have fun with for a long time. And, if you have some thoughts you’d like to add to this wordy spiel, feel free to add your comments. If I knew everything about SL businesses I’d be retired by now.

-Cin

November 6, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | 2 Comments

The Dixie Chicks Principle

After the Linden announcement that sim purchase prices were being increased by 34%, which was quickly followed by Philip’s admission that a few select landowners were privy to the information ahead of time, there’s been a quick backpedal at the Lab.  The price increase alone stirred up the kind of ire we haven’t seen since the unverified registration change, but the hint that some people got the chance to indulge in a little insider trading has fueled the flames even more.

It’s nice that Philip admitted the mistake.  I appreciate that.  But I found his comment a bit disingenious:

“There is a benefit to the commons of having people stay in the same space — a cool place on the mainland is a public good for the overall society,” Rosedale added. “It’s fine to have an island … but from a rational perspective you should probably pay a little more, because the community loses a little bit when you do that.”

(Loose translation: If Philip ran China, he’d try to squeeze everyone into one boat for the benefit of the community.  On second thought, maybe he’s just referring to the Welcome Area and sandboxes.  We should squeeze all 16,000 of us into those.  Yes, that’s the ticket.)

I’m very sorry, Philip, but when I hear you talk about the “community” in light of all the policy changes that have been made in this last year, it’s very hard to swallow.   It makes for good press, it sounds very caring and concerned for those of us who are actually participating in the Second Life community.  But it rings hollow in view of your actions.

If you cared about the community, you would not have made the arbitrary decision to open registration up to anyone who wanted to join without any requirement to verify who they are, their age or the fact that most of them had main accounts and this was an easy way to create mischief.  That was a decision you made with absolutely no preparation or forethought – where were the improved land tools before the change was made?  Do you know that, right now, even the increased 300-name ban list is insufficient for the more heavily trafficked sims?  Has anyone even given a nod to the fact that we can ban bombers from a parcel but those bombers can still hover outside of the land and launch their bombs into our land? We have to go through the redtape and 3 to 4-week wait for resolution by the abuse team, meanwhile the griefers have their fun.    I’ve been personally told in IMs, “Fine, ban me.  It’ll take me 10 minutes to come back with a new character.”  The corporate vision and the market value to other big corporations were the goal, not customer service.

Should it surprise you to realize that those who are tired of the griefing and the flood of newbies want their own space in which to pursue their artistic and community ambitions?  How does that conflict with the “good of the community”?

Have you not felt the degradation of grid performance since concurrent usage has grown so much?  Normal grid population in the evening (U.S. states, that is) runs between 12,000 and 16,000 residents.  That’s a 100 to 300% increase over a year ago.  Where was the preparation for that kind of increased traffic?  Have you actually tried to build anything when the lag is so bad your prims bounce around and unlink themselves?  New server hardware is nice, but apparently it’s only going to be installed on those new, higher-priced sims.

I appreciate the fact that Second Life must grow to stay in business.  I even appreciate the fact that Linden Lab must turn a profit.  But I’m beyond the point now of believing that LL knows how to deliver customer service or cares about the community.  I don’t think it’s any longer reasonable for SL residents to believe that PR spin.  Second Life has gone from being a small family to an ambitious, profit-driven corporate entity. 

Let’s drop the pretense that customer service really matters any more, or that raising the prices of new sims would have some kind of abstract benefit to the community of residents.   It won’t.  What will happen is that rent prices will go up to cover sim costs, meaning small scale merchants will see their own income decline, meaning fewer small merchants will want to stay in business.   Over time that will mean fewer small merchants will grow to be major content creators, abandoning the field to the corporations you’re luring into Second Life.  You’ll have your 3D Virtual Corporate world eventually, but it will be at the cost of the very community you claim to cherish today. 

I’m not trying to predict doom and gloom.  I think for the majority of residents, the whole sim price issue is only of indirect concern (as in higher rent payments).   It’s not enough to kill Second Life.  Not even close.  Second Life’s soul – its critical essence – remains the real community that exists when users come together and form social bonds.  We can do that in IRC.  We can do that in AIM or AOL or WoW or the many third party web forums that have sprung up since the official boards closed.  That is the real community of Second Life, and it doesn’t involve Philip at all.  It has its own life which will one day move on from SL to whatever new grid springs up on the web some day.

And until that Next Big Thing comes along, Second Life is safe — as safe as you can ever be from karma, that is.  Karma is being stored up right now with every new corporate policy change.  It will not be forgotten, it’s just saved up for later.  At that point, a phenomenon will occur that I call “The Dixie Chicks Principle“. 

If you recall, the Dixie Chicks were a very popular American Country band of three girls.  During a tour in Europe, singer Natalie Manes made some disparaging comments about President Bush.   Granted, she’s certainly not the only celebrity to do so, and also granted that it was within her rights to speak her mind.  But why were the Chicks so surprised when their fan base – an overwhelmingly conservative demographic – was so offended they stopped buying the Chicks’ CDs?  It was Natalie’s right to say what she did, but it was also their fans’ right to stop buying their music.  Karma is, indeed, a bitch.

Dear Philip:  It’s your right to pursue big corporation ambitions.  There’s not a thing wrong with that, ethically or professionally.  But be prepared for the day when your user base has a viable choice between Second Life and the Next Big Thing, and most of us cash in our $L and just stop buying into your “community”.   WE are the community, and we will simply just go somewhere else.    Maybe you can get Will Wright to commiserate with you when that happens.

November 2, 2006 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment