Keeping track of history, and keeping history honest

Gwynneth Llewelyn offers yet another manifesto on Second Life, this one discussing the development of the Second Life economy and its impact on governance. I greatly enjoy reading her blog as it offers a degree of historical depth and technical insight that nearly every other SL blog lacks; while many offer elements of technical expertise, way too few offer anything resembling history.

This is a real pet peeve of mine, as it’s clear that these first few years of the Second Life grid represent the beginning of something unique and special in the evolution of the Internet. With the exception of well-meaning efforts like the Second Life Historical Museum (which is great on very early SL history but lacking in the near-recent past, especially after the historical landmark that took place when Linden Lab allowed unverified accounts), I know of no organized effort to catalogue and document Second Life history other than the forthcoming Second Life 4th Birthday celebration, which is totally volunteer organized and (from an art perspective) a bit of a scramble for people to sort through their inventories for anything approaching “older” Second Life pieces.

Simply put, Linden Lab blew it in not devoting resources to documenting the history of its grid. As much as I will praise the recent developments in their customer service capacity, I scold Linden Lab for the lack of a paid, full-time Second Life historian on staff. In their pursuit of the almighty buck (which is needed, granted), they lost sight of the amazing history they have created. This is unforgivable.

That all being said, blog entries like Llewelyn’s are quite important. And getting the facts of Second Life history correct are even MORE important. So allow me a chance to nit-pick an element of the aforementioned entry. Gwynneth, in describing the modern Second Life economy, states:

Things like the Foundation For Rich Content allowed cultural events to establish themselves initially; now, the artistic and cultural environment in SL pays for itself. There is hardly a gallery/museum that doesn’t make a profit, and live concerts always hit sim limits.

I know nothing of the Foundation for Rich Content. However, I can speak with more than a little authority on the art gallery/museum market. I also possess considerable experience in live music events (DJ performances and live music).

In both cases, Llewelyn dramatically overstates the economic success of the Second Life art market. To say that “There is hardly a gallery/museum that doesn’t make a profit” is patently wrong. I own a “gallery” (I suppose it’s a gallery, although there is much more to the place) and can say that without the income from my Oyster Bay Market store rents, there is no way in the world that I could turn a profit. With the rents, I am barely in the black against my monthly tier payment. Gallery commissions on art sales alone never did and likely never will cover tier at Oyster Bay.

Conversation with my fellow gallery owners (Believe it or not, we do swap notes) indicates that I am not alone. No gallery that I know of confidently operates in a self-sustaining manner every month. [EDIT/CORRECTION: I now know of one.] In nearly every instance, gallery owners are barely covering costs or subsidizing their galleries with their personal pocketbooks. This is even more profound in the countless small, single-artist galleries where the artist/proprietor simply wants to show their work to the world. The saying, “You’ll never get rich in art” is true in the real world. Sadly, I think it’s the same in Second Life.

In the same vein, Llewelyn says that music concerts regularly fill sims. She must be a diehard fan of Komuso Tokugawa, as I cannot think of any other performer in Second Life – live performer or DJ – who can be counted upon to fill (and often crash) a sim. There are some performers who are very popular who will occasionally fill sims….yesterday’s opening of the Maximilian Milosz and Scope Cleaver sims, which was DJ’d by DJ Santiago Cortes and Doubledown Tandino kept the sim reasonably full for their 2+ hours, for example. Most live performances attract a decent crowd, but nothing approaching a full sim. Why do I know this? Because I host events at Oyster Bay and have only had full sims from Komuso Tokugawa and Smily Raymaker; I also frequent live music events and my teleports are almost never rejected for sims being full. This is no reflection on the caliber of Second Life music; I have been very pleasantly surprised at the SL music scene. It is one of my favorite aspects of the social life in Second Life.

I raise these points to offer my perspective on Gwynneth’s well-written, informative blog entry. I also think that my impressions do cast a bit of a different shade on her optimism that the Second Life economy is as robust as it appears to be. Without the Linden weekly stipends and personal checkbook contributions, the Second Life economy would suffer greatly. The economy is much further developed than it has been, but I doubt that it is as successful as Gwynneth states.

In the end, however, it’s a shame that I feel compelled to comment so strongly – especially on such a nitpick. Problem is, there is so little history offered that we MUST get it right.

By the way, I agree with Llewelyn’s notion that the current libertarian environment of the Second Life grid is untenable, and that some form of democratic society is needed.