The wierdness that is Bay City, part one

Honest, I don’t know how I get caught up in this stuff.

I’m a member of the Bay City Alliance group, “an informal group for communicating, marketing, and planning events and celebrations” (per BlueGin Yifu, the group owner).  Keeping in mind that I enjoy a good celebratory event or two at Second Arts, I feel that this type of group is both good for my little gallery but, more importantly, good that my gallery helps promote a positive message about Bay City and the great people who reside there.

BGY, as I call her, convenes weekly meetings on Sunday afternoon at the Bay City Centre, a great place that hosts informational signage about the many stores, galleries and places of note in Bay City.  The meetings themselves cover the gamut of issues related to any geographic community of interest in Second Life: 1) How to build traffic, 2) How to ensure a steady stream of fresh events/content to get the traffic to make a habit of coming to Bay City, 3) How to best communicate with the Lindens as a community (in part so they honor their commitment to build an infohub in Bay City), etc.  The all-volunteer core membership has organized parades, promoted member events and even distributed holiday decorations to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

And then there are the mall cops.

Yes, Bay City has a self-designated police station.  SL police is a form of roleplay where the members “patrol” the community and try to promote law and order.  I dealt with this type of group when I owned Oyster Bay – the SL PD was in the Shepherd sim – and I found that they were good for bugging the dickens out of me and shooting temp-rez bullets all over the sim.  Suffice to say I wasn’t thrilled when this gang set up shop down the street from Second Arts.  But it’s mainland, and we all have to put up with each other’s peculiarities and eccentricies.  That’s part of the “joy” that is mainland!

The cops in Bay City, though, have a different approach.  They want to build upon the stylistic (art deco-ish) and landscape (flat) uniformity of the Bay City infrastructure by organizing a self-government.  Here’s their initial presentation, from a NON-Bay City Alliance meeting held at the cops’ place on February 15.  I thought I was at that meeting, but the meeting transcript says I was not – and I can’t believe that my comments would have been edited out.  I must’ve seen the presentation at a subsequent gathering.

As for this Metaverse Republic thing, I’ve got a notecard with some FAQ about them after the fold…

Version 2.3

1. What is the Metaverse Republic?

The Metaverse Republic is an independent, non-profitmaking organisation that will provide enforceable dispute resolution to SecondLife by means of a judicial system (in other words, courts) and a democratically elected Parliament. Website: http://www.metaverserepublic.org

2. Is the Metaverse Republic up and running yet?

No. We are still in the process of designing the constitution and technical systems. It will take quite some time before we are ready to go, since we must be very careful to get things right.

3. How will the Metaverse Republic work?

There will be courts, where anybody will be able to bring a case, and the outcomes will be decided by skilled, professional judges, and possibly also juries. The decisions of the court will ultimately be able to be enforced by the use of a banishment database. Anybody who, for example, fails to observe a court order, can have her or his avatar name(s) placed on the banishment database. Using sophisticated systems currently under design by our Techincal Team, landowners (both of individual parcels and whole estates) will be able to “subscribe” to the banishment database (for free), which will automatically eject/ban from that land all the avatars whose names are on the database.

All subscribers will be entitled to vote in regular elections to the Parliament (as well as the executive and a body called the Public Oversight Panel). The Parliament will, in turn, be able to pass laws binding on the courts. It will also be possible for entire local communities to subscribe en bloc by subscribing all of their land (such as a whole estate), and every citizen of that local community (whether directly a landowner or not) will be entitled to vote.

4. What sort of things could the Metaverse Republic be useful for?

Have a look at our list of possible use cases to get an idea of some of the things that we have in mind:
􀀀

5. Will the courts only be able to deal with disputes between subscribers, or on subscribing land?

No: the courts will deal with all people who use the virtual worlds in which the Metaverse Republic operates. Creating artificial boundaries would serve only to undermine the effectiveness of the system and create unnecessary confusion.

6. Who are you to be making laws for other people?

Ultimately, we are not: because the democratic Parliament will, subject to some necessary constitutional limits, have the power to pass laws binding on all the courts, we are just setting up a structure within which people can make laws for themselves.

7. Why is a system like this necessary when just banning griefers ourselves or using BanLink is a faster way of dealing with problems? Isn’t it enough that there are real-life courts?

The main point of the Metaverse Republic is not to deal with griefers – it is to support enforceable contracts, and other behavior rules, by having a fair and inexpensive system for impartial dispute resolution. That could be used for griefing issues, and other land use or behavior disputes, but is also likely to help maintain a fair and efficient business environment for the micro-payment transactions that are becoming common in Second Life and other virtual worlds, as well as better enabling local communities to form and enforce their own rulesets.

Disputes about virtual world transactions and and in-world local rules often cannot be efficiently regulated or adjudicated in off-world legal systems, due to the transaction size, the nature of the parties or the subjectmatter of the dispute.

8. Are you just role-players?

No. This is a serious system for a serious commercial economy. SecondLife is not a game; we are not playing at running a judicio-political system any more than Anshe Chung is playing at running a business.

(That is not to say that there are no role-play governments in SecondLife; there are no doubt quite a few, perhaps the most well known of which are the Goreans.)

9. Isn’t banishment too harsh a punishment for most cases?

Yes. That is why we will not use it in most cases. Banishment is the ultimate penalty, just like, in off-world legal systems, going to prison is the ultimate penalty. In both cases, it is, ultimately, the only thing that can be done effectively to a person against that person’s will; however, lesser penalties (or other orders, such as compensation, etc.) can be enforced by threat of invoking the greater penalty.

In off-world jurisdictions, for example, a criminal court will impose a fine or a civil court will make an order for damages. If the person refuses to pay the fine, he or she can ultimately go to prison. If he or she refuses to pay damages, the court can make a further order, for example, for seizure of assets. If the person then physically stops the bailiff taking the assets away, or takes them back after they have been taken, he or she can be convicted of assault or theft and, ultimately, go to prison.

In the Metaverse Republic, a person, for example, who is the beneficiary of an order against another person to pay compensation can bring another case against that person if the compensation is not paid, and if successful, the court would be likely to order that the person be banished until the payment is made.

10. Won’t people just be able to say that they’ve paid their compensation or whatever even when they haven’t, and nobody will know for sure whether they’re telling the truth or not?

We are in the process of developing an automated payment object that will automatically register any payments made pursuant to court orders. People will be presumed not to have satisfied the court order unless payment is made through the object.

11. Why is it important to have enforceable contracts in SecondLife anyway?

An economy can only flourish in so far as its transactions can adequately be safeguarded against exploitation or intractable dispute. For simple transactions, such as the purchase and sale of in-world objects, SecondLife provides such a means in the software code itself. However, no such system is available (or, without unimaginably huge advances in computer technology, possible) for more sophisticated arrangements, such as contracts of employment or for the provision of services. Unsurprisingly, therefore, most of the SecondLife economy is founded almost exclusively on simple transactions.

If more sophisticated transactions in the future become effectively enforceable in a way that they are not now, all this could very well change. Far greater collaboration will be possible, such that work could be carried out by large teams of individual specialists, rather than singular and personally trusted individuals slowly doing all of the work themselves. A wage-based economy could well come into being; think, for instance, of the World of Warcraft gold farmers, and how they were able to earn a better living farming virtual gold than they were by working in actual mines, and what benefit could be brought to SecondLife by legions of such people working as part of large SecondLife specific organisations to provide an ever increasingly sophisticated set of virtual goods and services.

If the SecondLife economy is to be anything more than a bubble, or is to be based on anything more than sex and gambling (not that we make any judgment as to the propriety of either of those activities), then enforceable contracts, amongst other incidents of a sophisticated judicial system, are essential.

12. How will the enforcement work if people can just come back as alts?

People who have built up reputations and large networks of friends and contacts have much to lose by switching to an alternate account. A reputation, often built over months or even years, would have to be built from scratch – entire networks of contacts would have to be re-accumulated. If the person simply told all her/his previous friends that he/she was returning as an alt, the friends may very well want to know (or guess) why, and having to tell all one’s friends (and business associates) that one has been banished by the Metaverse Republic might become embarassing. Furthermore, any one of them might report the alternate account to our enforcement people, resulting in that account being banned, too.

Of course, not everyone has an established reputation: just as with off-world legal systems, some people will be worth bringing actions against, and some will not. In off-world legal systems, it is the size of the person’s pool of assets that counts: in virtual worlds, it will be the investment in reputation and social networks.

There might also, in the future, be technical means of linking accounts, such as a better version of the credential verification system that Linden Lab uses to track who is an adult, or IP linking (possibly already used by Linden Lab).

13. Will this work in OpenSim or other platforms?

Yes – the Metaverse Republic is designed to be able to work on any virtual world platform with an economy and land ownership: any OpenSim platform would be able to work with all of the tools designed for SecondLife, and in the same way. The system is flexible enough to be able also to work on platforms not based on SecondLife, although we do not currently know of any suitable such platforms.

Indeed, given that, in a world in which OpenSim predominates, and the grid (or however it will by then be known) is more like the web, with open protocols and distributed server ownership, the Metaverse Republic will be even more useful than it is on a centrally owned platform such as SecondLife, where cohesive standard setting and enforcing is even more difficult. Because the Metaverse Republic is designed from the ground up not to require the co-operation of the owner of the virtual world itself, and to work in a distributed fashion, our system will work well in a network of disparately owned sims.

One particular application of the Republic in such a scenario would be the enforcement of copyrights, trademarks, etc. of purely in-world organisations that lack the financial resources to invoke off-world legal processes, if it proves not to be possible to protect copyrights adequately using a permissions system in an open environment. Given that such an open environment looks set to be the future, a system that works well with the unique challenges brought by such an arrangement is most important.

14. Is there not potential for abuses of power in such a system?

We are working very hard to design the constitution to minimise the possibility of abuses of power by distributing power carefully amongst a series of quite independent institutions of state, in accordance with the principle of the separation of the powers. Further details of that can be found in our Founding Charter, or its executive summary.

However, in this system, unlike any first-life government, there is an additional, powerful check against abuses of power: market forces. Because subscription to the database is voluntary, and because the system cannot work unless a good number of people are subscribed, if the system becomes corrupt or abuses its power, people will simply unsubscribe, and its power would collapse. Conversely, if it acted fairly and justly, more people would be inclined to subscribe, and its power would increase.

15. However well you design your constitution, how can you stop the people who actually have their hands on the tools (the database, the land, etc.) from ignoring the constitution and laws?

Although we have not yet finalised our techincal systems, our preferred solution to this issue at this stage is to use a cobination of open-source software (so that everybody can see how the code works), reqire approval of the code by our democratic institutions, and require automated logging of each use of the systems in question.

Other options under consideration for resource management include registering as a real-life non-profit organisation, and having the people on the executive (which will be partly elected) on the board of that organisation, or alternatively, using an external service to manage the non-profit under the direction of our executive; and using a bot account to hold all of our land.

16. How will the system pay for the land that it will need for the courts and Parliament, and pay its judges and other officers?

This is not something on which we have made any final decisions yet, as the system is still under design. One possibility currently being considered is renting an island, letting out much of the land, and using the revenue from that to pay for the remaining land on which we will house our public buildings. Some income will be generated through fines, although we do not expect that it will be substantial.

The judiciary will have its own, separate, finance, although might be subsidised by the general treasury to some extent. Its finances will largely derive from court fees and costs, which will ultimately be born by the losing party in every case, and will be enforced in the same way as other orders of the court. The court costs will be based on a fixed scale, determined in advance of each case.

In the early days of the system, it might well be that it is not possible to pay any office holders. If and when the system becomes more successful, that position will no doubt be reviewed. Ultimately, we would like to be able to pay whatever it takes to recruit and retain the best people for the job (assuming a SecondLife-scaled income). If the system flourishes, we believe that we will be able to do that in time.

17. What will I be able to do if somebody brings a case against me?

At this stage, the judicial procedure has not been finalised, so this answer is provisional. However, it is envisaged that an official organ of the court (either a scripted object or a member of the judiciary) will always have to notify the defendant(s) so that they can be sure that the action is real, and not fictitious. The notice will contain a link to information about what the Metaverse Republic is, and the procedure for defending a case, as well as Metaverse Republic law generally. It is also envisaged that it will link to a directory of SecondLife lawyers, who will be able to advise as to the prospects of success of any prospective or pending action.

To respond, a person, we envisage, would reply with a notice (either a SecondLife notecard, or using a web interface) setting out what is admitted and what is denied and why, and generally how the party responds to the claim. Based on the answer, the judicial system would then either schedule a hearing to resolve any dispute, or make an order if there appeared to be no dispute.

18. How will the court be able to make decisions in cases where there are no official records of what happened?

There is nothing special about SecondLife or other virtual worlds such that it is uniquely difficult to resolve disputed issues of fact without the sort of conclusive evidence to which Linden Lab (and other creators of virtual worlds) potentially (but probably not in the least practically) has access: in the physical world, there are no server logs: conversation between people evaporates into the ether as soon as the words are uttered, remembered often only by those disputants at least one of whom is often either lying, mistaken or both. Money is often represented by fungible cash, every coin and banknote being, to all intents and purposes, identical to every other of the same denomination. Especially in the days before modern forensic evidence and closed-circuit television, criminal trials relied exclusively on the evidence of eyewitnesses, often combined with circumstantial evidence and some scant obvious physical evidence. Civil trials relied on witness testimony and a few documents (which were sometimes alleged to be, and sometimes were, forgeries). Despite that, however, the justice systems of the age before modern technology served their purpose, and, although were not perfect, were infinitely better than having no justice system at all. There is nothing special about virtual worlds that means that the very same sort of justice system cannot exist for them, too.

However, it certainly is possible to have a system of notarised documents with electronic signatures to make proving the contents of a contract easier than it might otherwise be. Although, in the physical world, oral contracts are, contrary to popular myth, upheld and enforced all the time, electronic notarisation undoubtedly reduces a potential source of uncertainty. There is already a notary service in SecondLife called nota bene, although that only works for quite short documents. We will be considering creating our own tools to allow the notarisation of longer documents. Another possibility is a registered payment system, whereby a scripted object securely records that a payment in a particular amount has been made by one avatar to another, through the object, on a particular date, to avoid disputes as to whether any particular person has received any particular amount of money.

19. If a court in the Metaverse Republic makes a decision against me that I disagree with, what will I be able to do?

In most cases, where the original case is heard in a lower court, it will be possible to appeal to the High Court (consisting of at least three judges) on the basis that the lower court has made an error of law. If one disagrees with the substantive law that the courts have applied, one will also be able to lobby Parliament to change the law, vote for a different set of members of Parliament at the next elections, or stand for election to Parliament oneself.

20. How often will elections be held?

Elections for the Parliament, Executive and Public Oversight Panel will be held every six months, using a single transferable vote system.

21. Isn’t this the same as the SecondLife Superior Court thing from 2005? Didn’t that fail?

The Metaverse Republic is similar in the sense that it involves an in-world court, and the SecondLife Superior Court did, indeed, fail. However, the reason that the SecondLife Superior Court failed was because it had no means of enforcement, which will inevitably doom any legal system to instant failure. In that respect, the Metaverse Republic is dissimilar. The Metaverse Republic is also dissimilar in that it, but not, as far as we are aware, the SecondLife superior court has a democratic Parliament capable of making laws binding on the courts.

22. Does the Metaverse Republic have a presence in-world?

We have a headquarters in Tabula Rasa, part of the Avalon Town estate.

23. How do I become involved in the Metaverse Republic?

While we are working to build the Metaverse Republic, we have three teams: (1) the Constitutional Team, charged with creating the constitution of the Metaverse Republic, and associated details; (2) the Management Team, charged with overall project management and resource administration; and (3) the Technical Team, charged with creating the tools necessary to enable the Metaverse Republic to work effectively.

To join the Constitutional Team, contact Ashcroft Burnham. To join the Management Team, contact Colleen Kesey. To join the Technical Team, contact Chase Marellan. See here for more details: [And then there was another notecard]

I’ve only started to scratch the surface of this stuff, so I’ll stop at this point and offer up more for the cause soon.

7 Responses

  1. Run away!!!

  2. Ok, I didn’t read all, actually I stoped long before the end of these rules, because they are scary (it always reminds me of political polices and the end of freedom). I don’t need a SL Police or Parliament for that matter. And i don’t recognise this kind of authority to anyone except Linden labs. We have all the tools we need, like banning someone if we think it must be done (not because someone else thinks that) and abuse report.

    I’m happy most of my life is in private islands that don’t have anything to do with this sort of thing (or banlink for that matter) when I read this kind of stuff.

    You know, if a system like that would extend to all the grid I would pack and go away from SL the same minute.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ~Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759 – and this is true even in virtual worlds 🙂

  3. The last thing Bay City needs is a “Metaverse Republic” style government. The whole thing reminds me too much of Neualtenburg

    http://gwynethllewelyn.net/2005/02/27/neualtenburg-sls-most-hated-project/

  4. Oh well, for the sake of the argument, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (the new name of Neualtenburg, after it started adding more and more sims which have different themes) has survived the hardest trial for self-governance in SL: the trial of time.

    In fact, from the original group, only one person remains. The rest have come later, and like everywhere in SL, people come and go, all the time, although certainly a core group has remained constant over the past 2 or 3 years.

    And unlike it’s often claimed, people in the CDS do not always agree with each other. Rather the contrary! Disagreements are serious and disruptive. But… it’s a democracy: every six months, a new government is elected. And yes, for the sake of the argument too, it’s rather not surprising that if a group has done a bad job, and the newer citizens felt “left out”, they push to form their own group and get elected. That has certainly happened before, and possibly will continue to happen in the future: this is only to be expected, specially when the groups are new.

    After five years, however, things start to get a bit more mature: people still disagree with each other, but they start working more on compromise and less on disruption. This is naturally something that takes time to evolve.

    Was it worth it? After entering the fifth year of self-governance, two things have emerged naturally: one is longevity. The institutions survive their founders and their leaders. A charismatic “leader” that drops out of SL never to return does not break the community apart (you just get new members elected into office). The CDS remains around even if the members go away and start their own projects. In fact, in some cases, we’re bringing them back under our fold again — after 1 or 2 years after they left 🙂 (in fact, in some cases, the splitter groups tend to lose their “charismatic leaders” and feel they have nowhere else to go). Secondly, of course, it also means slow growth. Autocracy is more efficient at growing and dealing with issues than democracy: the CDS existed a bit before, say, Caledon, or SLNE — both have now dozens of sims and hundreds of residents. The CDS has just four and is planning the fifth, and population is around a hundred, even if theoretically over twice that number became citizens at some point in the past.

    These were the two lessons we learned: you trade off longevity of a project for swift growth, and have a place which will survive its “charismatic leaders” when the ultimate power is indeed in the hands of the residents, and not in the leaders. And that lesson was quite important to all of us really 🙂 Many would prefer a way faster growth (I’m one of them!!) but we know that would mean undermining the citizen’s ability to decide what they wish to do with the CDS. And that’s ultimately what counts in any kind of democracy…

  5. Just to be clear, Gwyneth, my “run away” wasn’t directed at the general idea of self-government, or at the CDS. What these wannabe police are looking for isn’t self-government, it’s other-government. They want the Lindens to give them control over Linden land, over land that *they don’t own*, so that they can impose their will on other people there.

    A Bad Idea, imho.

  6. […] The wierdness that is Bay City, part one Destination Station […]

  7. […] unlikely to be implemented as some desire) issue of self-governance on the city. Morris Vig did a good write up on some of these issues. This also does little to help the […]

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