In the wake of the conclusion of the Second Life® Fifth Birthday Celebration–and especially in the wake of the remarks made by Linden Lab® board member Mitch Kapor on the 7th, as well as certain other announcements–one is left with an impression that more changes are in the works for our Second Life virtual world…not all of which will be viewed as “better” by many of what have been, up to now, its core constituencies.
First, as Hamlet Au states, Kapor has explicitly said:
“[I]t is simply valuable for people to be able to use a virtual world. And that is going to make things challenging for people who feel that as the frontier is being settled and there is less novelty and in some senses less freedom, it is always an uneasy transition for the pioneers. And I believe we are going to go through that again.”
SLKids, Goreans, BDSM’ers! Think getting excluded from the birthday celebration was bad enough? Well, that’s only the beginning. Expect to find yourselves further and further marginalized, if not outright banned, because you don’t fit into LL’s Brave New World of businesses and social causes. And furries, roleplayers, escorts and sex club owners, you’re not long behind. After all, this ain’t the “frontier” anymore, and all the old brothels and saloons have to make way for respectable businesses.
Second, expect voice and other technologies for bringing your RL self into the virtual world to take on more importance as time goes on. Again we quote Kapor:
“[V]oice through its tone carries a whole stream of information about the attitude of the speaker, the speaker’s intention, which is just not present in text chat. And though voice is not a panacea and there are still many applications in which it is actually a drawback, I am not a positive affordance. My intuition was that it would be hugely empowering to add voice in a fundamental way to the platform and when the team actually produced them, we saw the incredible wide spread adoption of it. It was gratifying in the extreme and now it is not really possible to imagine the experience without voice.
[...] There are a lot of other meta information that is filtered out of our avatar to avatar encounters. And what is missing today is that natural conveyance of things like body language and gesture and facial expression.[...]
So what is missing today for a whole set of users are going to be making things more realistic when you want them to be more realistic in terms of the presentation of your avatar.”
Great, if you want to be yourself. But how about if you want to be someone else? The transgendered people are going to be only the first casualties of this new emphasis on “realism” (see Cala’s well-known post on the subject of voice, for instance); this one’s also going to hit the roleplayers, furries, and many others, including those of us who’d rather just keep our voices to themselves, except when we want to share them. (Lexx and I communicate via Skype all the time, leaving SL Voice turned off. Occasionally, we conference in other people…but at our discretion.)
Expect more of these kinds of policies coming out of LL…and expect LL, increasingly, not to care about what the Residents think of these policy shifts. Their response to complaints about the new policies will start to be, “You don’t like it? Fine! You can just go elsewhere!” Up till now, this wouldn’t have worked, because, after all, where else could we go?
IBM and Linden Lab have announced that research teams from the two companies successfully teleported avatars from the Second Life Preview Grid into a virtual world running on an OpenSim server, marking the first time an avatar has moved from one virtual world to another. It’s an important first step toward enabling avatars to pass freely between virtual worlds, something we’ve been working toward publicly since the formation of the Architecture Working Group in September 2007.
And here is where we see the grand strategy really begin to take shape. Once it becomes possible to travel between Grids as easily as we teleport from place to place on the Main Grid, Linden Lab will start tacitly encouraging any activities they don’t want on the Main Grid to migrate to one of the OpenSim-based grids, where, presumably, the rules will be different. As all these unsavory “legacy activities” spread out, LL’s original Main Grid will become more “Disneyfied,” more suitable for showing off to all those businesses and social activists that will then shower the Lindens with dollars to establish their virtual-world presence.
(Oh, those of you who’ve already invested, perhaps heavily, in a presence on the Main Grid? Guess what: you’re up Shit Creek without a gas mask. You can either stick around in LL’s increasingly-more-stringent environment, or sell out, most likely at a financial loss, and start over again where the rules are more like they used to be.)
So, how does the Linden Prize fit into all of this? I’m not sure, but when I look at its stated purpose:
“[The] fundamental motivation here is to recognize special achievements by Residential organizations using Second Life and to call attention to the ways in which it is being used to improve the human condition.”
I start wondering just exactly how much “improve the human condition” is a code word for “advance liberal social causes.” (You don’t see that it’ll be that partisan? I’ll believe it when I see a Linden Prize awarded for something like the virtual-world equivalent of Oleg Volk’s www.a-human-right.com site, promoting gun ownership for self-defense. Or for a campaign exploring the themes raised in Mark Steyn’s book America Alone.) Perhaps LL thinks that highlighting the works of a virtual Amnesty International, or Greenpeace, or whatnot will go a long way towards cleaning up the image of SL as a sordid den of sex and child abuse, at least, in the view of certain asshats. This could especially be the case if LL sees a potential dominant performance by the Communists Democrats is in the cards in the November elections. (Or maybe I’m just overstating the obvious; LL is, after all, in San Francisco, a city which is so far off the “moonbat” end of the scale it’s not even funny…)
LL may go on to many great things as a result of this strategy. But in a very real sense, to paraphrase the old Vietnam War-era saying, they will have destroyed Second Life in order to save it.