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[liberationtech] the virtual revolution in Second Life -- virtual model or just more RL?

Shava Nerad shava23 at
Sat Oct 5 14:53:01 PDT 2013

A virtual trip report with the strongest insider activist biases.  Probably
if anyone wants a paper out of this, I'm a subject, not an author.

Perhaps a small thing in the larger world, where Tor has been in the
headlines for Silk Road and amusing powerpoint presentations by the NSA
this week, eh?

But in the world of tiny virtual first-world-problems, I am also an art
performance celebrity/Buckaroo Banzai type in virtual space.

tldr links: (getting our act slotted on
NBC's America's Got Talent) (one of a series of stealth edu
machinima produced for German TV)

We have a following of some reasonable thousands on SL, even though we've
been in slack mode for a couple years, since this is, needless to say, not
a money maker.  But it is community.

The Second Life community is notable for its to-me loveable and often
neurotic population of fannish, high percentage (I'm not) transhumanist
digital natives who make "digital native" an absolute in a way unheard of
in most gaming or social media contexts.

As such, this community is an interesting vanguard for social, legal, and
other bubbling up phenomena before they hit more sociotypical online
society.  With a higher percentage of ASD, disabled, homebound, socially
isolated folks, as well as a higher percentage of cultural creatives,
intellectuals, educators, DIY/makerspace each-one-teach-one types, medical
outreach groups, activists, self-help group facilitators and coaches, human
rights advocates, (para)military trainers, wisdom teachers, and other
engaged intellectuals (often meshing in Venn diagrams) -- whose silos
sometimes interact or not with a vast majority of consumers who are just
there to party and buy cool clothes, dance, and hook up -- it's a weird
weird weird weird virtual world.

When it came to light recently that Linden Lab, operator of Second Life,
had made some incredibly draconic changes to their TOS, the community
freaked.  And LL went to New World Notes (the primary metagame media) and
smoothed things out with PR, for the most part.

Then I saw the TOS more recently through an individual blog article in the
arts community (as I said, we're a bit behind and in slack mode) and
freaked, myself, and posted here a couple weeks ago.

As a result, in the intervening time, there's been a turnaround in
community opinion the issue.  We catalyzed a great deal of that.

Oddfellow Studios (that being me and Fish Fishman, aka Shava Suntzu and
Tuna Oddfellow in virtual space) pulled our stuff and moved to Inworldz, an
open source grid (imagine a miniature version of Second Life with a
thousands rather than millions of users -- a public private server, so to
speak, still with a real-money economy, and with the same asset server type
so you can import your own assets -- and violating license could
conceivably rip other peoples' (c) but we don't, or could import certain
FOSS licensed assets which we have).

We were back up and running a rough equivalent to our show within a week,
including our monthly collaboration with JaNa KyOmOoN (AKA Jan Pulsford,
keyboardist to Cyndi Lauper) with whom we do two monthly dates cross
continent, us in New England, her in England.

Because we are art performance folks and our fans tend to early adopters
even for SL, I think a lot of our fans weren't hesitant to "jump grids" and
become metaversals -- this is to say, they just registered with Inworlds,
created a new avatar, loaded up the very similar client, and came to enjoy
the show.

The shows in SL got press coverage too, showing how easy it was to move,
and how people moved with us as our fan base.

Through all this, I worked the metagame press, as well as blogging and
discussing the issues in and out of game, as did Tuna.  Language and
backgrounders we crafted began to propagate, and went unopposed by any
official pushback by the Lab,

New World Notes did a dramatic turnaround on their position when I pointed
out that a perpetual irrevocable license (including rights to
reassign/sell/resell) means that if, say, the Lab goes tits up, all assets
go into receivership and anything in the SL asset server is up for auction
if it isn't marked by copyright -- hunting down your assets to defend them
is up to the owner in that case (IANAL but I did used to work in
entertainment licensing).

By the time you straighten things out tracking and defending your
copyrights, as I pointed out, your legal help better be free.

NWN went to the Lab for comment a couple weeks ago.  Got none presumably.

I think Hamlet/NWN felt somewhat played by the previous PR response he'd
gotten.  He's solidly on the dissent side of the question now, perhaps
feeling like he was likely responsible for people making bad decisions in
the first round, although I haven't directly asked him that -- seems like
bad form.

Though the Lab hasn't officially responded, an interesting, quite erudite
comment that opened "Well, I'm not a creator in SL and I don't have a horse
in this race but..." on New World Notes signed "imho" supported the Lab's
position with expert legal language -- conflating several points
masterfully.  I refuted it, and postulated "This might not be a very humble
opinion, but might even be Humble's [the Linden Lab current CEO's]
opinion."  "imho?"  lol.  While I've been ill, one of my sidelines for
income has been working as a ghost writer because I have a great ear for
different writers' cadence and style.  'nuff said...

Now the "bug" is spreading from the arts community to educators and many
other communities that have been long time conservative land holder blocs
(this is to say, income producers and also PR anchors that are not pr0n) in
SL.  Intellectual foment is taking over, as is often the case in RL
governmental stonewalls of this sort.  Movement momentum is reaching, if it
hasn't reached, a tipping point, and the brain drain is likely unstoppable.

Several major vendors of intellectual property (textures, art assets) have
pulled their relationship with SL, stopped selling and forbidden creation
of new assets with their assets in SL.

Creators are leaving SL in droves for alternate open source grids.  The
mothership is emptying out, at least experiencing a brain drain of a
vibrant population that characterized it's first generation, the generation
that made it "Second Life," the dream of its own mad (social) scientist
creator, founding CEO Philip Rosedale.

Every week that LL withholds action and further comment, they are heading
further toward a future more like (an authoritarian
barbie-and-ken-and-einstein-on-the-beach dead virtual world that was
entirely company authored content) and less like the Burning Man inspired
"Your World, Your Imagination" user-created economy envisioned a decade ago.

So my assumptions are:

They have to know what's going on.
They aren't STOOPID.
They are either constrained in action.
Or they want us out.
Or they find the cost acceptable.
Or some amalgam thereof.

It seems to me that the company is too small for them to be slow to act,
which is another possibility in a very large company or bureaucracy.  But
I'll include that as a gridlock staff/board conflict, say, as a low
possibility.  Never underestimate the paralysis potentiality of politics.
 Look at DC.

Another interesting aspect becomes the influence of the government
crackdown on the Linden Dollar as a "bitcoin" like currency exchange.

Several Linden Lab independent linden dollar currency exchanges were shut
 down in dramatic style earlier this year with the loving interference of
the US government, and only two were reopened after undisclosed
negotiations having to do with PII, it seems (although more have opened
since) -- so  this does have some legit overlap with interests on this

I've even entertained for a fleeting moment that they have some sort of
weird NSL thing going on...NAH...  C'mon Shava...  Not every
uncommunicative stonewall from an internet company you like has an NSL
behind it...  These are just odd times.

But interference in the exchanges could also lead to FUD within the
investors, a new strength to the internal political clout of the legal
department, and many other destabilizing issues (the PR department
explanation for the new TOS is that Legal wants "a unified TOS across all
the Linden Lab businesses," which include game companies with no user
created content.  My refutation to this was that if they were running a
truck fleet and an airline fleet for shipping businesses, their legal
department would be fools to use the same liability and shipping guarantees
for both companies.

What are other pressures on a company like LL, their board/investors, and
the future of Internet culture that leads to moves like this these days?
 What will it mean to the diaspora of creators to move into a cloud of
small grids and how will that be a model for systems like Diaspora and more
traditional forms of social networking?

Seems to me this is a mesh of issues that bears watching for some folks
here.  I understand Second Life has been so "over" for at least a half
dozen years, but we've been ahead of the game(s) (and distinctly off
center) for at least a decade, so we make up for it. ;)


Shava Nerad
shava23 at
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