Display Names and public relations

So Second Life is getting “display names”, meaning that although I am Dale Innis, I can have the label over my head say “Dale” or “Catgirl” or “Barak Obama”, or almost anything else I want.

This is old news, and I don’t frankly think it will turn out to be all that significant in itself, so I haven’t weblogificated about it (unless I have and I just forgot), but I saw something today that does move me to write.

The Lab is saying, and I think correctly, that the Residents will understand enough about immutable identities (the names we have now, which will be called “user names”) versus extremely mutable display names, that there will not be huge amounts of griefing or fraud as a result.

On the other hand, the Lab is also saying that you can have any non-offensive Display Name you want, except for ones that end in (or contain, or something) “Linden”.

And people are asking the very reasonable question “if there’s no danger of griefing or fraud using display names because everyone will understand that they can’t be trusted, why are you forbidding Linden names? Isn’t that sort of hypocritical?”

There are good answers to this question. For instance:

Since we will make it very clear to all Residents that display names are under the control of the user, we don’t expect a significant amount of confusion or fraud using display names. The one exception to this is the name ‘Linden’, which is so tied in current Residents’ minds to LL employees that, although we think the potential for confusion or fraud there is still small, we’ve chosen to forbid it in display names. We regret the limits that this will put on people whose real-life name is ‘Linden’, and we will periodically revisit this limitation going forward.

On the other hand, there are also very bad answers to this question. Here’s one example:

Linden is a real world company with real world brand and protections of that brand. So yes, we will protect that inworld.

If the restriction on “Linden” in Display Names was really about protection of real world brands, then presumably they would also be more or less obliged to forbid any other trademarked name as well, which would really cut down on the available space! Or else they’d be blatantly saying “we will protect our own brand, but we will allow our platform to be used to damage any and all other brands”, which would not only show contempt for the brands owned by us Residents, but would be essentially begging for contributory-infringement lawsuits.

So given that there are good and bad answers to that question, you’d hope that the Lindens would be giving the good answers, and not giving the bad ones. Unfortunately, this Darkly Cute posting and its comments suggests that the latter bad answer was given at an Office Hours or something recently by Jack Linden, whereas the former good answer was just made up by a humble Resident (me), and posted hypothetically in one or two places in the weblog-o-sphere.

I don’t know why the Lab doesn’t have someone assigned to writing down reasonable answers to reasonable questions, and making sure that all customer-facing employees are familiar with those reasonable answers and use them. I don’t know why customer-facing employees are allowed to, or for that matter think that it’s a good idea to, basically pull random answers out of their hats in public. We had that problem with the Adult Exile, and probably with every other major debacle; rather than a nice clear explanation, well thought-out, from the Lab as a whole, we get spur-of-the-moment inventions from individual Lindens.

Maybe part of it is the atmosphere of your typical Office Hours or inworld meeting: a room full of random and largely surly Residents shouting questions and accusations and profanities and epithets at one or two Lindens, who do their best to keep their tempers and say reasonable things. It would be trying for anyone.

But the Lab really needs to drum it into the heads of the poor Lindens who endure these things: when Residents ask hard legal or policy questions that you don’t know the Official Lab Answer to, do not just make stuff up. Say “that is a hard legal or policy question that I don’t know the Official Lab Answer to, and rather than just making something up, I will take it and get back to you with the actual right answer.” (And then, ideally, actually do that.)

This would be a Good Rule to Have. Hear that, Lab? :)

Okay, enough complaining. :) I think I will go build something, or listen to a good DJ. Display Names and bad PR aside, it’s still a wonderful world(s).

Guy Linden stopped by (land changes in the Rise)

As reported previously, I tiered up and have been looking for more land in Hughes Rise. I also opened a ticket about all the abandoned land in the Rise, including one small parcel with a spinning (and false) FOR SALE sign on it.

Well today (it’s been awhile; I suspect they are ehem sort of shorthanded) I got a note that Guy Linden had added a comment to my ticket, and also had an IM from him inworld, saying that he’d turned on autoreturn on the parcel where the sign was (and lo the sign was gone!), and that he’d gladly swap me a 512 of mine for an abandoned 512 that would make the Park more compact.

So I IM’d him back, and he was still on and he answered me (including very helpfully and clearly telling me how to avoid bumping up my tier and/or having objects returned as we did the swap), and we swapped parcels. I said that my real concern was what would happen in general to all of the abandoned land, and he said that he’d put some of it up for auction, and that in general that’s what they do with abandoned land, but it happens sooner if someone actually says something in a ticket about it.

Then I noticed that there was a 512 actually for sale, and for less than 1L/m2, in the Rise just a little ways from the Park, so I abandoned a bit of the parcel I’d just picked up from Guy, enough that I had 512 space left in my tier, and I bought that cheap 512. So now my tier is full, and I have even more prims to play with in the Rise. Yay! :)

And Guy did indeed put some Big pieces up for auction, so here’s the colormap of the place now:
Hughes Rise, parcel colormap, as of today
Green bits are of course my holdings: the main Park in the center, the annex butting up against Mooter at the bottom left (the blue bits are FAB holdings in Mooter; they are blue because I belong to the FAB patron group), and that little piece to the upper right that I bought for a song today. Then red is normal land belonging to other people (or abandoned, or Linden land), and the purple is the newly-up-for-auction land.


So I may be getting some new neighbors. :) And anyone who knows how these auction things work is encouraged to go bid on these parcels. It’s a great neighborhood!

I went to SLCC!

And it was terrifically wonderful, and I came home with a nasty summer cold and layers of crises at work, that have been keeping me from weblogifying about it (or even thinking about it as much as I’d like to).

Here’s Philip Linden, talking about stuff!

Esbee, Oz, and Philip; SLCC2010

Isn’t my cellphone camera awful? That’s Esbee Linden and Oz Linden, and Philip Linden; I vaguely think that Philip jumped up to the stage to answer a question during Ebsee’s and Oz’s (and Q’s, on the phone from the hospital) talk about Team Snowstorm.

Philip gave a nice Philipish keynote, in which he said lots of Right Things (and didn’t say anything about how we have to change radically to attract millions of new users at the expense of the basic wonderfulness of SL, hurrah!), and left everyone hoping he could actually make them happen.

(He also said some things that made me sad, like the end of the Teen Grid and of the Last Name List, but Τα Πάντα ῥεῖ, y’know…)

I hung out with terrific people, some of whom I’d met before in RL and some not, had some great (if pricey) food, drank more alcohol than I usually drink, and had the most fun that I’ve had in RL in some time (with clothes on, as someone added when I said that, nudge nudge wink wink).

There were some sessions, but y’know (and no offense to the presenters) they were pretty much as useful and informative as a good weblog post with an active comment thread. There was live music, which was ‘way fun and probably the thing that was most like the SL equivalent (someone even put pink and blue paper plates on the floor for poseballs haha), although it had the usual RL problem that it was too loud for me to understand anyone talking, or anyone to understand me talking, except rarely. But just listening to the music and clapping and laughing and smiling at people was great.

Mostly there were people who care about Second Life wandering about and having random hallway conversations, and slightly less random room conversations (until omg like 3 in the morning zzzzzz), and wandering about the streets and eating dinner in restaurants or buying it at the 7-11. And actually being able to touch and hug and hold hands and grin into each other’s eyes, which I don’t really miss not being able to do all that much in SL, but being able to do it now and then in RL has its good points. :)

The schedule changed alot (first because Philip was able to show up live for his keynote after all, which was great, but at a slightly different time than his remote one was at first scheduled for, and thereafter for random who-knows-what reasons), so it was often hard to figure out just what one could go to next. The schedule was organized by track rather than by time, so figuring out what to go to at 10am involved large amounts of page-flipping. There wasn’t enough free coffee. :) I heard rumors about various musicians being told that if they wanted to come and perform they’d have to pay full-price conference admission, which seems like sort of a mistake. But in general the conference folks did a good job, especially considering that they didn’t have all that long to get it all together, and they were all over the place carrying microphones and smiling and things, and that was all good.

Some of my v wonderful friends made me a blue RL shoulder-butterfly to reference the blue SL shoulder-butterfly that Boy Dale always wears, and that was too sweet for words. I wore it to the Avatar Ball, but didn’t enter the Best and Worst Costume lineup, ’cause I didn’t really want to win either one. :)

I ran away from the knot of people with Philip in the center that moved here and there around all major events (until he left), knowing that others would be taking notes for me.

I drank a mojito! This involves alcohol. Also lime and some salad, I mean, some mint-leaves down in the bottom of the cup. I also drank wine. Both of these are comparatively novel for me :) but I did not suffer unduly.

I danced around on the dancefloor at the Avatar Ball, and played with the inflatable guitars and microphones and things, and talked-shouted to some nearby folks. My car pool :) left before the closing ceremonies and the movie; I will have to arrange to see it somewhere else sometime.

Lots of people that I would have liked to meet weren’t there! I hope to meet them (you!) someday in RL, conditions permitting. I’m not sure I’ll go to the next one if it’s in California or Guam or Venus or something. We’ll see. But I’m very glad that I went to this one; both because it was a total hoot, and because it strengthened my belief that, despite how fashionable it is to say that SL is in deep trouble and doom is nigh, things are actually most likely to muddle along just as they always have. And that I’ll continue to totally love the place…

ZOMFG Philip is back!

I know, I know; but I was away and offline all day.

Woot! Happy Birthday! :)

Linden Lab Announces Management Changes

SAN FRANCISCO, June 24 /PRNewswire/ — Linden Lab®, creator of 3D virtual world Second Life®, announced today that company founder Philip Rosedale has been named interim CEO, and CFO Bob Komin has assumed the additional role of COO. Linden Lab also announced that Mark Kingdon is stepping down as CEO.

“On behalf of the board, I thank Mark for all of his contributions during his tenure with Linden Lab which include growing our user base and revenue, increasing the stability of the platform, and nurturing and helping build a world class team,” said Rosedale, who will continue to serve on Linden Lab’s board of directors.

About Second Life and Linden Lab
Developed and launched by Linden Lab in 2003, Second Life is the world’s leading 3D virtual world environment. It enables its Residents to create content, interact with others, launch businesses, collaborate, educate, and more. Since its inception, Second Life Residents have logged more than one billion user hours and generated more than $1 billion in user-to-user transactions. With a broad user base that includes everyone from consumers and educators to medical researchers and large enterprises, Second Life has become one of the largest repositories of user-generated content and the largest user-generated virtual goods economy in the world.

Privately held Linden Lab, founded in 1999 by Philip Rosedale and headquartered in San Francisco, develops revolutionary technologies that change the way people communicate, interact, transact, learn and create. For more information, visit http://www.secondlife.com.

SOURCE Linden Lab

Not to be mean to M Linden or anything, but I did not like pretty much any of the changes that came at about the same time he did. And I like Philip’s having founded the whole thing in the first place :) although I didn’t like his recent “things have to change so we can have as many users as Mafia Wars” sorts of statements.

Whether this new change from M back to Philip-temporarily-and-the-CFO is a sign that there is actually a new direction, or something else, and if there is a new direction whether I like it more or less, all remain to be seen.

Interesting times!

Free Hobbit Holes!

Hobbit Holes!I mean, Linden Homes! :)

In a recent posting to the official Second Life “blog”, the Lab has announced that they will soon be beta-testing a program in which Premium members can get a free plot of land, with a pre-installed Hobbit hole house on it, to live on. For free.

These Linden Homes will be limited in various ways:

Therefore these parcels will be unlike normal land in that they will be restricted in various ways; the house cannot be removed and the parcels cannot be sold, joined, terraformed or divided. Events and classifieds cannot be created for these parcels; only Premium Members can own them, and only one per account.

If you can’t remove the house, I imagine you also won’t be able to modify it so that it consists of a single invisible phantom prim buried a meter underground. :)

My initial visceral reaction to this was sheesh here we go again with the Lindens sort of dipping down and futzing around with the world and the economy.

Sort of like having Athena Herself open a free pizza-place on the corner. Okay, maybe she only offers three toppings, and no Sicilian crusts, but I’m not sure how happy I’d be about it if I had a pizza joint in the same town. Or, alternately, if I was a big fan of Sicilian pizza!

I’ve read Jacek Antonelli on the subject, and she is hopeful that this will turn out to be a good thing even for the people that might look on it as wildly uneven competition.

I’ve read most of Second Thoughts on the subject (I admit I didn’t read the entire long chat transcript); Prokofy Neva thinks this is all part of the Lindens’ systematically destroying the mainland.

Whether or not the Hobbit Holes program succeeds in its stated aims, my larger impression is that, as I’ve noted before, the Lindens still think of Second Life as a thing of theirs, that they can of course do whatever they want with. They are not Deistic creators, setting the world spinning and then keeping their hands off; they are hands-on deities, reaching down and twiddling in ways both small and very large, not worrying all that much about what mortals might be swept asides in the process.

I have the feeling that the internal economy is in some sense not real to them; they probably know it exists, but it doesn’t figure at all largely in their calculations. They like being able to show big numbers in monthly press releases, but on the other hand they regularly do things that have large and disparate impacts on various sectors of the economy (freebie policies on xstreet, the Zindra exile, now the Hobbit Holes), and the only sign that they’re aware of this is typically some vague reassuring noises in the forums and the weblog.

And as I’ve probably also said before, this is entirely within their rights. It’s just a continuing sign that the way the Lab as a whole views the world, as a thing that they are doing, and that we are allowed to play in, and that they will periodically fiddle with in ways they think we will overall like, is quite different from the way that I would like to view the world, as a place where the Lab creates only the basic ‘physics’, and the Resis then create an actual functioning world on top of it. To me it is much less fun and interesting to see what a few dozen people in a California company would do with a world than it would be to see what thousands of random people from all around the world would do.

I’d like to be able to say that the world is gradually moving from the former model to the latter, but I don’t see it. It’s all too easy to tell a story in which things move the other way: in order to attract some possibly-imaginary set of neophobic corporate and mass-market users, the Lab wants more control, not less, over the way the world develops. And so over time the doings and the imaginations of the Residents become less and less important.

I hope that’s not the story we end up telling, ’cause I like Second Life, and I would hate to see it all cleaned up and sterile and dull and controlled. I hope that either the Lab decides that reducing Resident influence on the world is in fact not the best way to grow the business (and I think that it isn’t, myself), or we get some sort of compromise, where (sigh) parts of the Grid are all sterile and clean, and parts are allowed to remain as wild and wooly and unpredictable as (well) our imaginations…

Update: oh, and here is Ordinal, who I intended to quote from but forgot:

It is not First Land though. Those days are behind us. Now, residents are Content Creators or Content Consumers, and the assumption is that they are Content Consumers from Day One and will not move from that position.

Exactly. And exactly what I fear for the future of SL.

Playing the silent harpsichord

I went to Pathfinder’s office hours!

Pathfinder Linden's office hours, 2 Oct 2009

There is me providing entertainment on the harpsichord! Which is completely silent! :) I prolly should have cropped this some (note that the original is really frappin’ large).

That is of course Pathfinder a bit right of center (and right of me), Mo Hax below me an’ to the left, Daniel Voyager on the sofa to the left of there, an’ people that I don’t know scattered about. Pathfinder’s office is quite cool!

I asked him various questions about the Community Partnership Program, which still creeps me out. He reassured me it will be fine, and I should talk to Blondin if I have more questions. Poor Blondin!

To save you the trouble of a forum visit, here is what I wrote:

Heh. I don’t know quite why this curdles my blood so. I mean, I know y’all at the Lab are well-intentioned and all, but…

Isn’t it supposed to be *our* world, and *our* imagination? Is there anything wrong with just keeping the grid running, and letting us Residents decide what to do with it?

Why do you feel the need to offer special privileges and benefits to those groups that apply to you in attractive enough ways, and fit well enough into your own ideas about what the world should be like? Do you not trust us to get it right on our own? I think Philip did, but maybe I’m just idealizing the Old Days.

I mean, it’s well within your rights. But it feels really creepy to me.

I want to live in a virtual world created by its residents, not a virtual world created by a handful of people at Linden Lab, with help from those residents that are approved into “partnership” programs.

See my recent weblog posting on this general issue for more.

I hope it’s not an omen that I just signed up on ReactionGrid yesterday…

And here’s the relevant parts of the OH chat transcript:

[12:19] Pathfinder Linden: so does anyone have any specific questions for today?
[12:20] Dale Innis: Can I say how creepy I find the Community Partnership Program, so you can reassure me it’s all okay?
[12:20] Pathfinder Linden: Dale, creepy? what’s creepy about it?
[12:21] Dale Innis: It seems like the Lindens are playing favorites so much. Blessing certain groups, who will then have an advantage over everyone else.
[12:21] Dale Innis: This worries me somehow.
[12:22] Pathfinder Linden: Dale, well, I honestly don’t see it that way. I see it as a way to help facilitate groups of different Residents who are all trying to improve the Mainland.
[12:22] Dale Innis: But then the people that *don’t* get to be partners with you are less able to improve things, aren’t they?
[12:23] Dale Innis: I’d much rather you did things that helped everyone, than take applications for certain people who will have special access.
[12:23] Dale Innis: I know, I probably worry too much. :)
[12:23] Pathfinder Linden: everyone in SL can improve the Mainland. we’re just looking for specific situations where we think folks could use our help and where we think the net effect will be positive for everyone in SL.
[12:23] Dale Innis: So theh Program is mostly about the mainland?
[12:23] Pathfinder Linden: Dale, i understand why you’re worried
[12:24] Pathfinder Linden: yes, it’s focused on the mainland
[12:25] Dale Innis: I guess I like to think that the mainland is shaped by whatever people who buy land there want to do. It worries me that the Lab will pick certain groups to give extra privileges to.
[12:27] Pathfinder Linden: Dale, I completely agree with you in that the mainland is shaped by the people buying land there. we’re just looking for opportunities where we see folks trying to do something innovative on a large scale that would shape the mainland in a hugely positive way, and help them achieve that.
[12:27] Dale Innis: Okay, Pathfinder, thanks. I guess I am just worried that people will game the system to, for instance, get advantages over their competitors.
[12:28] Dale Innis: I can’t really think of anything besides maybe roads that really require Linden action to accomplish.
[12:28] Dale Innis: But i guess we’ll see. :)
[12:28] Dale Innis: ouch someone closd the harpsichord on my hands! :D
[12:29] Pathfinder Linden: if folks have lots of COmmunity Partnership questions, you should definitely synch up with Blondin. that’s his project.
[12:29] Dale Innis: heh heh, okay :)
[12:29] Pathfinder Linden: he has office hours.
[12:29] Pathfinder Linden: http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/User:Blondin_Linden
[12:29] Asterion Coen: poor blondin
[12:29] Dale Innis: He gets all the tough ones. :)
[12:29] Dale Innis: I think he must have droawn a short straw.
[12:29] Asterion Coen: at every linden OH, they all say, “you whould ask to blondin” :)
[12:30] Xaria Mistwallow: blondin just would love you for that one path :p
[12:30] Luisa Bourgoin: didn’t he made stuff like sl6b ?
[12:30] Xaria Mistwallow: he is run over by residents each week and a lot more coming like this :p
[12:30] Dale Innis: not to mention taking forum heat on Adult Exile :)
[12:30] Pathfinder Linden: The biggest opportunities for success are always “tough ones” in my experience.
[12:31] Pathfinder Linden: yes, Blondin also handled the Zindra work.
[12:31] Dale Innis: ( Yep biggerst opp for success are usually also the biggest opp for failure. :) )

I should probably do a whole posting on the Community Partnership stuff. For once I mostly agree with Second Thoughts on the subject (although I don’t know about all of the hub-related stuff he refers to there). This seems like another rather strong action by those in the Lab who are on the “Linden Lab as privileged content creators and partnership-makers” side of the whole issue. And while it’s certainly nice that Pathfinder says he understands my concerns, it’s not clear that he actually shares them to any extent. :)

But at least now I’ve expressed them to a Linden; maybe that will help…

Hey you Lindens, get offa my lawn!

On the snazzy black-background Flash-driven page that Second Life dot com shows if you aren’t logged in, it says

Second Life is an online, 3D virtual world imagined and created by its Residents.

On the masthead of the pages that Second Life dot com shows to logged-in Residents, it says more succinctly

Your World. Your Imagination.

I like both of these phrases quite a bit. I like the idea that SL is whatever the Residents make it, and that Linden Lab qua Linden Lab confines itself to making sure that the laws of physics work, making sure that the land exists, and that the most basic rules of civilized behavior (i.e. no griefing) are enforced.

If the Lab wants to have some land where they do cool stuff, and wants to like organize a Winter Festival or something now and then, too, that’s okay, although I’d rather they did it as individual Residents, rather than as The Lindens; it’s fairer that way.

It’s like how the FSM created the RL universe for us, and then mostly stepped back to let us play with it. He doesn’t reach down with His Noodly Appendage now and then to put on a barbecue or a remake of Casablanca or anything. He keeps, if you will, a clean separation between the tasks of physics and culture.

There seems to be a real tension at the Lab between letting the Residents shape the world, “Your World, Your Imagination” style, and intervening to shape and mold the world the way that the Lab would like it to be. The most obvious example of that is the Great Adult Exile, but it’s relatively easy to argue that they were forced into that by RL laws about exposing people who might be children to taboo images and stuff. More subtly, though, the Lab does things like Bay City and Nautilus, parts of the mainland where rather than just putting out land for sale and letting Residents build stuff, they do big builds of their own, with Themes, and Texture Sets, and Back Story, and all like that. Whatever one thinks of the particular builds, it’s undeniable that, having been built by The Gods Themselves, they have certain advantages, economic and psychological, over anything that a mere Resident might build.

I posted a comment on this SL weblog entry about the Hau Koda Municipal Airport, with this sort of concern in mind:

This looks like a really pretty build, and I know lots of hard work and great intentions have gone into it. And I hate to be an ol’ grump but…

Why is the Lab making large elaborate builds, again? I mean okay I can understand roads, a bit, because in order to be useful they have to cut across large areas and it would be hard for a private Resident to acquire all that land from the folks in the path of the road. But why an airport? It being Our World Our Imagination an’ all, why not sell that land to a Resident or a Group and let them build whatever the imagination suggests? Maybe an airport, maybe a hockey rink, maybe a carnival-grounds, whatever.

Not that I don’t think y’all at the Lab should have the fun of building. But why do it in an official capacity? Buy the land by the usual processes and build stuff on it that way! I dunno if it’s just me, but otherwise I sort of feel like us Resies are just sort of sitting around going “ooh” and “ahh” at what the Lindens and Moles are building. And somehow that doesn’t feel all that SL to me.

Again, nothing against this particular airport or the good times that ppl are having at it. But just as a matter of general principles…

And I got an answer from M Linden himself:

Well, Dale, several reasons; some more specific to this project than others.

— build theming: we think creating a theme for urban areas is Very Good. Since the parcelling, parks, and other Linden-owned land is part of the theme, we try to seed the entire area with in-theme examples.

— public event sites: helps build community without a specific Resident having to support the cost. We have various auditoriums, meeting spaces, etc. spread around the world. Some (like the Linden Memorial Zone) are created to ensure long-term stability and freedom from the perception of bias – not that Lindens can’t be biased, but at least we have to answer for it in the forums, office hours, etc.

— hub: once the load on the infohubs is balanced a bit more, we’re gonna turn on the hub settings for this region. Even when hubs are nicely balanced, it’s now thought best to avoid having Resident-owned parcels in the same Region (to avoid the “I can’t get into my own land” problem).

— land buying: the DPW (at least) tries to avoid buying land (or other content), since our sources of Linden dollars are pretty much infinite. We’ve sometimes bought small parcels, at market rates or lower, to fill out “broken” projects (like missing pieces of roads); and we buy some stuff for personal use (avatars, props, etc.). But it’s hard to stop “bidding higher” when you have unlimited funds. And, heh, how do you know the DPW didn’t buy the Region; “Hey, [Region-creating Linden], we’ll buy you lunch for a Region!” (joke!)

In the case of Hau Koda, we knew that some sort of Linden content needed to be placed there. I chose “period airport”.

I can sort of understand the “public event sites” one, sort of; I could make a case that (like roads) big event sites are a Public Good that no one Resident or Resident Group would be incented to build, and that it makes sense to build them with tax money (so to speak). The “hub” one I don’t really understand at all: all of the infohubs that I know of are in regions that also have Resident-owned parcels (unless I’m just really confused); maybe this is some new policy?

But the first and last ones are the ones that worry me. “We think that it’s good to have themes in urban areas, so we’re gonna do builds”. Well, why? Isn’t that something that the Residents should be doing? “We knew that some Linden content needed to be placed there.” Again, why?

When the people that control the laws of physics and the land supply and so on also get to choose the aesthetic theme of various areas, that seems to me to unfairly advantage those Residents with similar tastes, at the expense of everyone else. Is Second Life really “Your World, Your Imagination”? Or is it “Our World, Our Imagination, You Allowed To Participate If You Follow The Theme”?

The latter is certainly the case in many other virtual worlds. Twinity is always sending me these notes about exciting new events and buildings and stuff that they, the Twinity gods, are putting on, and what RL city they’ve decided to model next. Vside (last time I looked anyway), was entirely designed and built by the owners, not the residents. Once in a great while I see someone trying to have a Player-run event (a sermon, a beerfest) in WoW, but they’re mostly ignored and often derided, and all of the buildings and official events and holidays and so on are written by Blizzard.

But, for reasons that I thought I’d be better able to articulate when I started typing this entry, I want Second Life to be different. I want it to be a place that grows organically from the individual activities of the Residents, and voluntary groups of Residents. The place that’s most obviously and chaotically like this is the mainland (which, as you may recall, I adore); but private estates are that way also, in that each one represents a consensus of some sort among the estate owner and those people who choose to live there. Except for having put down the dosh for an island, the private estate owners are just Residents like everyone else; they aren’t the people who run the underpinnings of the world, or control the laws of physics.

Prokofy Neva recently posted two entries that brought my mind back to this worrying tension (while I have my own problems with Prokofy, at least the first of these postings is quite cogent). It seems, he’s discovered, that the Lab has a closed email list in which the Lindens are talking with some of the major Estate owners about what SL should be like. My initial reaction to this is that it’s really none of the Lab’s business what SL is like (Our imagination, guys!), and that when caught talking about it on a mailing list with certain selected Residents, the response “oh, sorry, that mailing list was supposed to be closed” is not real real comforting.

The feeling that I get from the response that M Linden wrote to my comment, and the responses that Prokofy got from Jack Linden, and quite a few of the statements by Blondin Linden and others during the Zindra discussions, are that the Lindens aren’t even aware of any tension between their views on all this and the views of at least some of the Residents. To them, I think, it’s pretty obvious that they own the world, they will be making various decisions about how it works and how it is themed and organized and managed, they will decide who to partner with in doing all this, and the end result will be a great thing for everyone, with lots of opportunities for individual Residents and Resident groups to express themselves and build stuff that they’re inspired to build. That this would seem creepy and paternalistic to lots of Residents doesn’t seem to have even occurred to them; after all, why would any Residents be all distrustful and ungrateful like that? The Lindens created the world and continue to run it in a way that lets us do various cool things. We should be happy, not moaning all the time!

One phrase from Jack’s note to Prokofy really drove this home to me. Jack is talking about the Lab looking for ways to “add value to the Mainland” (a phrase that already makes me very nervous), and he writes:

The last part is in finding ways for the community to partner with us. As you know we’ve had mixed results there, but I still feel there is a lot of value in doing that whenever we can.

Yowch. It’s hard to read this as saying anything but “we’ve tried letting Residents do stuff on the mainland, and while we don’t really like how it’s turned out, I feel that we should look for ways to continue allowing Residents to do stuff, maybe, if we can, where it doesn’t conflict with our more important goals of making everything look nice.”

And that’s just scary!

I don’t feel that the mainland, or even Second Life in general, should grow and develop through partnerships between the Lab and whoever the Lab feels like partnering with. I think it should grow and develop through the actions of the Residents. I don’t think that’s an unusual opinion :) but I also don’t think that the Lindens are really aware of it, or even understand the difference. And I think that’s too bad. I would also love to be proven wrong.

Our World. Our imagination. Remember!

Update: Related posting by Ciaran Laval.

Update 2: In the original version of this post, I wrote that “Even in Metaplace where (some / most / many / all?) of the places outside of the central hub are user-created, the decision about which worlds to link to directly from the hub is made (afaik) by the Metaplace owners, and that gives them a tremendous amount of control over what the place as a whole feels like as you explore.” Raph of Metaplace very kindly corrected me in the comments, pointing out that while they do have some rotating Featured Worlds linked from Central (sort of like SL’s Showcase), most of the links out from Central are rented by users for Metaplace coins, and so quite user-controlled. Good for them!