Looking back to look forward

The Making of Second LifeLooking Back…

After an extended period of waffling, I broke down and got myself a copy of Wagner James Au’s (SL: Hamlet Au) book, “The Making of Second Life.” I’ve read Au’s New World Notes blog pretty much non-stop since rezzing into Second Life ™ and, to be honest, I really don’t care for the blog. I’m not exactly sure why, seeing as I’m very interested in SL history and documenting this magical time in the development of the 3D web (most recently manifested in the “self-publication” of my own book, “Oyster Bay,” on Blurb.com). Ongoing reflection makes me wonder if it’s because New World Notes, by virtue of its longevity, holds itself out as an authority of Second Life news…and Hamlet, being only one person, misses an awful lot of what’s going on. He also clearly has his circle of friends and influences, all of which cloud his perspective IMHO. It’s a blog written by one person with occasional help from friends, and a pretty good one for what it is, but is is not the end-all, be-all authority on the Second Life grid. (Considering the tribal nature of the grid and the way-too-large geographic expanse of the grid, I’m not sure that there is or could be a single authority.)

Blog-directed criticism aside, I really enjoyed “The Making of Second Life.” Au weaves the narrative of the RL startup that is Linden Lab with the evolution of the grid, offering historical perspective on that very awkward early period at the beginning of Second Life. He also wisely documents the significant historical milestones that changed the course of Second Life’s culture – as well as the working culture at Linden Lab. (Laying off 2/3 of your workforce implies a change in course and definitely was worth a mention.) Au also touches heavily on the sociological elements of SL, including the artistic/creative, social/identity and sexual elements – with more than a passing interest in how SL was a tool to help people break through societal barriers like homelessness (repeated mentions of Catherine Omega), RL trauma (Aimee Weber) and physical/emotional disabilities. And Hamlet throws in some free advice for the unfortunate corporations who, by entering the grid, obviously deserve our love, attention and affection. Very good book, and worth a read if you haven’t already. One gets a healthy appreciation for all that SL was, is and can be from reading it.

Looking forward…

Mitch KaporThe book also gave me much greater insight on Phil Rosedale and Linden Lab’s philosophy. The company started out with a deliberate goal of avoiding RL marketing inworld, going as far as to codify that in the terms of service. The influence of social entrepreneur Mitch Kapor (right, in avatar form), Chairman of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, is palpable. Rosedale’s apparent transformative experience at the Burning Man festival also apprently roots his corporate philosophy in, well, a non-corporate orientation.

Which brings me to the present state of affairs at Linden Lab and Second Life. The laundry list of doom-sayers has been ongoing, but I’ve noticed a few that speak to a more profound problem with the grid:

Now, the ongoing technology-driven shortfalls in the grid are inexcusable (I still have that lousy glowing bar on my Release Candidate viewer…grumble grumble). And the answer isn’t corporate-skinnable viewers or special rights for corporate avatars – ideas that speak to a philosophy of corporate welfare that seems to run contrary to the Kapor/Rosedale ethic that Au describes. Besides, companies can buy their special treatment if they want. (Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Prokofy.)

But it’s clear that Linden Lab is making its money from island sales and corporate services, not from average Vigs like me (especially as I’ve downsized my tier by over 90%). And average Vigs like me are in a Faustian bargain with our corporate bretheren – we don’t want the corporates around (Actually, we residents largely ignore them, as Au says in his book…), but we need them to keep the grid afloat.

In the spirit of what I’ve learned from Au’s book, permit me to humbly offer:

A Modest Proposal…

I gather that Kapor is supposed to speak inworld to close the now-infamous “SL5B” fifth birthday event for Second Life and make a “special announcement.” While I can only find one blog post to this extent in looking through my NetVibes archives, I’ve seen a fair bit of speculation on what the announcement might be. (Ah – here’s another post, this one as to the identity of the “special announcer.” So I’m not crazy…)

With the space remaining in this post, I’m going to share what I hope happens as a result of Kapor’s July 7th talk. Keeping in mind Kapor’s apparent ideological bent per Au’s book, and Rosedale’s somewhat anticommercial, master-of-his-domain attitude (with his talk about starting new countries, cheating death, etc.), I am trying to reconcile the aggressive development of the commercial side of Linden Lab and the SL grid. It’s not out of the question to think that maybe, just maybe, Kapor could step out and announce a wide-ranging shift in direction at Linden Lab. The changes I envision/hope for are as follows:

  1. Kapor announces the “divorce” between Linden Lab’s corporate services division and its individual consumer services business. Two separate, distinct sides of the house. Perhaps even separate legal entities.
  2. The “Second Life Grid” corporate/educational services division goes big-time, offering private grid services along the lines of the arrangement that Linden Lab apparently has with IBM. If companies and schools want private playgrounds for their meetings and classes, away from the great unwashed, cool. (Just don’t be jackasses about it and Copybot all of our intellectual property, as some worry…spend your own money and do your own work, thank you, or pay us for ours!) Costs are commensurate with what would be expected for corporate customers, and customer service teams continue to offer the aforementioned super-concierge service to these high rollers.
  3. The remaining mainland and private islands are made the hub of the grid, much like spokes on a wheel from an architectural perspective. The catch is, this core business is reestablished as a non-profit corporation like Kapor’s Mozilla Foundation. Taking such action allows Kapor and Rosedale to be the philanthropic “big thinkers” that we know Kapor is and Rosedale oh-so-desperately wants to be.
  4. Kapor announces that a substantial portion of the profits from the “SL Grid” corporate business, which would still operate in a for-profit manner, will be plowed back into the non-profit side to subsidize ongoing technological improvements, tier subsidization for those unable to pay, outreach to disadvantaged populations (perhaps along the lines of the US Department of Labor-funded WIRED initiative in Appalachian Ohio, where virtual worlds and interactive gaming development are used for education and economic development purposes in this chronically depressed part of the country) and even advanced legal research in how trans-national systems like the Second Life grid can best interact with unique national laws.
  5. The server software is open-sourced in the same way that Mozilla’s Firefox browser is. Thing is, each server is permitted – probably for a minor fee – to connect to the hub that is the SL main grid.

So that’s my dream…to see these two civic-minded gentlemen be able to conduct their work in light of their larger visions and aspirations. Sure, I’m projecting a lot of wants and desires onto them and their motives, but a guy’s got to dream, right?

Alternatively, Kapor could announce that Nicholaz Beresford is coming aboard as Linden Lab’s Chief Technological Officer. I’d be just as happy in knowing that the grid/viewer shortcomings would be meaningfully addressed…

3 Responses

  1. I too follow New World Notes. In fact, I tend to use it as my main source of information, even though I know I will not get all information here. I was following other news sources as well, and needed to scale back and drop down to just one or two, due to information overload, and because I found the tone of some upsetting. Hamlet survived the cut because most of the time NWN provides good information without a lot of drama (most of the time). Unfortunately, some of what runs isn’t really what I consider “news.” Pointing this out on a recent article got me flamed and labeled an “ignorant hater.” People can be so amusing, can’t they?

    I have Hamlet’s book, but have not yet read it. You might be interested in another book I purchased recently. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it deals with the anthropology of SL, a topic I am very interested in. It’s called Coming of Age In Second Life: an anthropologist explores the virtually human, by Tom Boellstorff (Tom Bukowski in SL).

    I too feel the winds of change coming, and they aren’t fair winds for smooth sailing. I have drastically downsized my holdings, and pulled my money out into real US dollars, as Linden Lab has said in the past that the Linden is not a real world unit of currency. In the wake of banks and stock exchanges crashing, it seemed prudent to cash out while Linden still allowed it. Remember the Great Depression? If there was a run on a bank, the bank just closed its doors and did not allow customers to withdraw their funds. I would prefer not to get caught in the stampede when the run on Linden Lab begins.

    I have some opinions about where SL is going, and it is not in favor of the little guy. I suspect that SL will become a closed shop; an in world training ground for corporations and educational institutions. Not much space for the little guy there. Eventually, the little guy will no longer exist. I hope I’m wrong, but my rose colored glasses have been removed, and cannot be replaced by simply selecting “wear” from the pair in my inventory.

    I too would love to see Nicholaz brought aboard. Why can one man, in his spare time, fix all the things that an entire technology staff working full time at Linden Lab cannot repair? Hmmm……

    Princess Ivory

  2. […] about the announcement from Linden Lab has run the gamut from a lowering of tiers, to a Mozilla-like open sourcing of the code, to “who cares, it’s unstable […]

  3. […] Lab today dampened speculation that Second Life is about to be ported to the XBox, that Mitch will open source the whole the like Mozilla, or what held the most promise for the entire community – that Philip […]

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