Category Archives: Current Events

Things that are happening “now.” Or “then,” if this entry is in the past. Whatever.

The Liberals And The Linden Prize

Back in my oft-cited “Disneyfication” post, one of the things I expressed concern about was a potential bias towards advancement of “liberal” social causes in the criteria for the Linden Prize.  Well, now that Linden Lab has actually released the Linden Prize finalist list, it behooves me to go back and dig deeper into the actual nominees, and see just how much liberal bias there actually is.  After all, theorization should be no match for diving in and finding out, right?  So let’s have a look…

Alliance Virtual Library – The Info Island project is run by the Alliance Library System, which is mainly based in Illinois.  The facts that, first, it comes from a well-known liberal hotbed (the home state of President Obama, among other things), and, second, that it deals closely with local governmental agencies that are often liberal, are about the only things I can find here.  Certainly they support a wide range of environments, only some of which could be said to be “liberal.”  Assessment: Some liberal bias, but it’s not great.

American Cancer Society – This is the well-known Relay For Life that has been happening in SL for a few years now.  My gut instinct is to say, “Cancer affects everybody, so how can this be a liberal cause?”  It’s also a cause I have supported and continue to support in SL.  BUT!  This op-ed in the Wall Street Journal reports:

Last week the American Cancer Society announced it will no longer run ads about the dangers of smoking and other cancer-causing behaviors and the benefits of regular screenings. Instead, the Society will devote this year’s entire advertising budget to a campaign for universal health coverage. John Seffrin, the Society’s chief executive, said, “[I]f we don’t fix the health-care system . . . lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco.”

Sadly, these ads will waste money that should be used to continue the Society’s educational campaign about prevention and detection. The evidence shows that universal health coverage does not improve survival rates for cancer patients.

“Universal health care,” a.k.a. “socialized medicine.”  Ask my ex-wife, currently struggling with the Finnish health care system, exactly how much that helps.  I hope ACS gets off that high horse and gets back to their core message soon.  Assessment: No real liberal bias, but watch that whole “socialized medicine” thing carefully.

Invisible Threads – The folks at “Double Happiness Jeans” describe it as a “virtual sweatshop.” Uh-oh, is that a liberal codeword I hear?  False alarm, though, as they describe their process, which allows SL-based employees to “manufacture” jeans from the comfort of their own homes, is kind of the antithesis of a “sweatshop” environment, and described by them as “the future of capitalist production.”  True, they did have an attack from a group calling itself “Virtual Anarchy,” attempting to “unionize” the virtual workforce, but I’m hard-pressed to say, from the record, whether that was an actual griefer attack or just a publicity stunt.  Assessment: No real liberal bias.

Let There Be Night – This project is also linked with something called “Dark Skies Awareness.”  The concerns raised here seem to be partly based on environmental factors, and partly on the needs of scientists, specifically astronomers.  I know something about the latter; my father, prior to his retirement, was a city manager in San Diego County, California, and as such was approached by astronomers at the Palomar Mountain Observatory with regard to changing street lighting to keep from spoiling their observations.  The city did start employing low-pressure sodium lighting, which is more easily filtered than other types of street lighting.  (As a side bonus, I got some nifty memorabilia out of it, like a copy of the earliest photo of Halley’s Comet as it approached the Sun in 1986.)  The site does make some troubling references, however, to things such as the widely-publicized envirowacko “Earth Hour” event.  Assessment: Some liberal bias, but doesn’t detract from the astronomical message…at least until we are able to move all astronomy to Earth orbit, or to the Moon.

Nonprofit Commons – This project is a host for many non-profit agencies’ SL presences, and, of course, some of those nonprofits are going to be lefty in nature.  A few examples: WMNF, a radio station that “advocates for peace, social and environmental justice” (liberal codewords!); the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which is pro-legalization; and the Sierra Club, which is well-known as being highly liberal.  However, there are some pretty good counter-examples listed among their membership as well, such as the Center for Civic Education, which promotes American political knowledge (and, let me tell you, some libbies are in desperate need of same!), and the Faith Foundation, a faith-based charity for children.  Assessment: A mixed bag, which is pretty much what you’d expect.

Skoolaborate – This particular project is sponsored by existing schools, and liberal bias in primary and secondary education has been well-established at this point.  See, for instance, this article from the Christian Science Monitor.  The site is heavily larded with liberal codewords such as “diversity,” “international citizenship,” “issues of global significance,” “underprivileged groups,” and “inter-cultural understanding.”  Furthermore, the actual “units of work” which are taught by Skoolaborate members are not open for inspection by the general public, including the parents of the children undergoing such instruction; to me, this strongly suggests a “hidden agenda.”  Assessment: Clear liberal bias.

Studio Wikitecture: Open Architecture Challenge – Sponsored by the Open Architecture Network, and “dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design.”  While the liberal codewords in that statement and the references to the UN Millennium Development Goals are troublesome, they also have a fair number of business sponsors…and, as I was telling Selenalore last night, I see no reason to condemn so-called “green building initiatives” out of hand, as long as there’s no harm in it.  Assessment: Some possible liberal bias, not a lot, but caution is indicated.

The Space Between These Trees – Benefits the Kintera project.  I’ll admit, my gut reaction was to dismiss them as “envirowackos” out of hand.  However, I took their “Awareness Quiz,” gave what I thought were “common sense” answers to the questions, and got 6 out of 6 correct.  (For instance: Hunger is not always caused by a lack of food in the world.  It’s generally caused by the food being in the wrong place…and sometimes the reason why the food can’t be moved to the right place has more to do with politics than anything else.)  They focus not only on giving out livestock, but on teaching the recipients to care for it properly, and encouraging them to pass the offspring of that livestock on to others in need.  This is in line with the whole “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime” proverb, and makes plenty of sense.  Assessment: Perhaps still some liberal bias, but certainly nowhere near as much as I first thought.

The Tech Virtual – This project relates to museum presences in SL, and the main museums involved seem to be focused on science, technology, and innovation.  None of this is prticularly “liberal” in outlook, though their upcoming projects on “energy” and “health” would bear watching, to ensure there’s not too great a focus on “liberal” aspects of those issues, like global “climate change” or socialized medicine.  Assessment: No real liberal bias, but watch those two projects I indicated.

Virtual Ability – I’m trying not to be biased by the fact that the people behind this project are fellow Coloradans. 🙂  They’re all about helping people with RL disabilities get ahead and thrive in SL…and some of what they say resonates a great deal with experiences friends of mine have had, and perhaps a couple of my own experiences as well.  I can’t find any liberal bias in this one.  Assessment: No liberal bias.

Clinical Scenarios for Increasing Patient Safety – This is tied to the British National Health Service, and, if you want a liberal can o’worms, it’s hard to find a bigger one.  See, for example, this post on the MedRants blog.  However, this is about improving patient safety…and anything that does that in the execrable NHS can’t be all bad, I say.  Assessment: Liberal bias only insofar as it’s tied to British socialized medicine.

LanguageLab.com – It’s a language school.  Really, how biased can it be? Primarily, too, it’s focused on teaching English to non-English speakers…which is a laudatory goal, as English is pretty much the de facto lingua franca (how’s that for some “borrowed” language terms?) of the planet; still, I can think of a few libbies who would be shitting bricks and sputtering “cultural hegemony!” at the thought.  Assessment: No liberal bias.

The NMC Campus Project – This is all about the use of virtual worlds in higher education.  The involvement of academia in this kind of project is pretty much a red flag for liberal bias; see for instance, Daniel Pipes’ essay on “conservative professors as an endangered species,” as well as, for a local angle, the case of Ward Churchill and the University of Colorado.  In fact, when I clicked over to their site, the first thing on their calendar was a series of lectures entitled “Global Agenda 2009: Tinderbox – Understanding the Middle East.” (Uh-oh!)  The lecture in question was fifth in a seven-lecture series, this one featuring a columnist for Israel’s leading newspaper…but this after the lecturers in lectures #1 through #4 have already drummed the liberal party line into anyone attending the whole series.  Another event on their calendar relates to responses to climate change among native peoples in Alaska. (Liberal codewords!) However, you could probably get much the same content on 80% of college campuses in the land…including the one I graduated from, more’s the pity.  Assessment: Liberal bias, but this is due to endemic bias among the underlying organizations, and not SL-specific.

So, tallying everything up, we have three clear instances of liberal bias and five “partial” instances, out of 13 projects total, so the situation may not be anywhere near as dire as I first thought.  And, in all cases, none of the bias was specific to being in SL, but was all a function of the underlying organizations.  Now, on the other hand, there was no instance of any finalist project having a conservative bias of any nature…whether this was due to bias on the part of the Linden Prize selection committee, or simply due to the fact that there just weren’t any “conservative” projects for them to choose from, I don’t have enough information to say.  Overall, though, I’m willing to concede that my initial assessment of the Linden Prize was off-base to at least some extent, possibly completely so.

“When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.” – Jake Houseman (to Johnny), Dirty Dancing

UPDATE: Well, according to Massively.com, the winners are Virtual Ability and Studio Wikitecture.  That’s one “no bias” entry, and one “some bias” entry…and LL doesn’t live down to either my expectations or Prok’s (he thought Skoolaborate would take it).  Consider me corrected…at least for now.  However, keep your eye on the prize (as it were), as there’ll be plenty of opportunity for LL to show liberal bias in the future.

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Filed under Community, Current Events, Philosophy

God, I Hate Being Right

Over on New World Notes, Hamlet talks about Linden Lab’s upcoming changes with regard to “adult-oriented content” in Second Life®, and laments the fact that many bloggers don’t seem to have expressed an opinion on these upcoming changes.

Well, Hamlet, you want an opinion?  I can sum it up for you in four words: “I Told You So.”

Linden Lab seems to be employing a strategy with respect to “adult” content in Second Life reminiscent of the strategy the Nazis employed with respect to the Jews of Warsaw:  First, herd them into the ghetto, then, over time, enforce stricter and stricter controls on them, until they can eventually be eliminated.  Well, you providers of “adult content,” welcome to your ghetto.  But don’t expect that it’ll stop there.  LL, in their quest to present a “clean” face to the world, especially to would-be regulators in government and would-be investors in the business community, will gradually tighten the screws on both the “adult” continent and the remaining “sanitized for your protection” mainland.  Eventually, you and your content will be driven away to some OpenSim-based grid.  Those of you that can’t or won’t move, will perish.  Either way, LL will get its wish, and, likely, nothing will be permitted on the Main Grid that would offend Dr. James Dobson.  Or perhaps, the mullahs of Iran.

(Now that paragraph ought to piss a few people off.  At the very least, I’ll probably get called for a Godwin’s Law penalty, fifteen yards and loss of down. 🙂 )

How it affects those of us on private islands, like Lexxotica, I’m not certain yet.  But I’m thinking we’d better not try to put pole-dancers into any club we build there, lest we be forced to declare the whole sim “Adult” and possibly lose rental business.  Which means we won’t be able to employ as many people as we have in the past…and we won’t get traffic from the people who want to see pole-dancers.  Classic Catch-22 scenario.

More and more, I’m becoming convinced that, with the departure of all the executives from the early days of Second Life (the last one, Ginsu, took off just recently), Linden Lab has lost its soul.  Yes, perhaps the alternative was for the whole company to go down, given the present economic and political realities.  But take a moment and lament that which has been lost, and which is soon to be lost.

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Filed under Current Events

Drop Dead, Part Deux: Openspace Sim Owners, BOHICA

Apparently it wasn’t enough for Linden Lab® to screw over owners of regular sims by dropping the price, thus pretty well ensuring that sim owners like Lexx would stand zero chance of ever recovering their investment.  Now it’s time for owners of openspace (or “low-prim”) sims–ironically, who proliferated as a result of changes LL instituted at the time of the aforementioned screwing of regular sim owners–to get it in the shorts:

We need to therefore take some steps to improve [open sims’] performance and better reflect their actual usage levels in our pricing so that we can maintain the best performance level for everyone. As a result, we will be implementing a pricing change effective January 1st along with some policy changes effective immediately.

Let the reaming commence!

We will increase the monthly maintenance fee from USD$75 to USD$125 per month. This price increase will apply to all owners of Openspaces on January 1st as well as new purchases after that date. There will be no grandfathering of Openspace maintenance pricing.

[…]

At the same time, we will be increasing the upfront fee for brand new Openspaces from USD$250 to USD$375.

Yeah, I don’t suppose a 66% increase in tier, combined with a 50% increase in purchase price, is going to make anyone owning one of these sims real happy.

Lastly we will begin to proactively discuss overloaded Openspaces with their owners. This is important because as with abuse of region resources, a heavily overloaded Openspace can adversely affect other Openspaces sharing the same machine which is clearly unfair to residents who are using them responsibly. We have listened to your feedback on this, and agree that we need to make changes to better support our Openspace users by actively working to keep the performance levels as high as possible. We will also provide some detailed guidance about what ‘overuse’ looks like and how to prevent it.

And, as if that weren’t enough, they promise more policing of “overuse.”  But who decides what “overuse” is?  Is it just going to be like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (thanks for the correction in SL Bloggers chat last night, Lillie) famously said about pornography, “I know it when I see it”?

This is going to drop demand for openspace sims through the floor.  Here’s an analogy: If General Motors were to declare bankruptcy, who’d want to buy a GM car?  How would you know whether your warranty would be honored, or even whether you’d be able to get repair parts for it in the future?  Similarly, why would you buy an openspace sim, when at any time, LL could come along, declare what you’re doing to be “overuse,” and yank the rug out from under you?  Uncertainty is a powerful “negative incentive” towards investment.

Needless to say, this announcement has raised merry hell among the existing owners of OS sims.  Some have even gone so far as to announce they’re calling it quits.  And I don’t know as I can blame them for doing that, having just been cut off at the knees.  Others are urging calm, saying that this is only LL’s “first offer” and the price increases may be mitigated somewhat before they actually go into effect.  Which would be all well and good, but ignores the “negative incentive” factor of stricter enforcement without clearly defined terms.

Of course, anyone who’s in the business right now can tell you that the rentals market in the Second Life® virtual world just plain sucks at the moment.  Witness this article by Prokofy Neva.  Now, friends, I’m not one to always agree with what he says, but he’s speaking from extensive experience here, and I’ve seen the numbers of this business for myself with Lexxotica’s rentals, and I can tell you that he’s right.  It is very difficult–nay, impossible–to make money at rentals unless you have damn near 100% occupancy, and Lexxotica wouldn’t be here if I didn’t pour a lot of my money into it to keep it going.  (Of course, I get a sizable chunk of the land, as well as the continued existence of a club to DJ in, so there are other benefits, too…)  Now, when I saw this announcement, I thought, “Prok is just going to be laughing his ass off,” and I wasn’t the only one.  And sure enough, he’s got plenty to say on this, too.

Prok does point out what LL says about openspace sims and their intended usage, to wit:

They are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events. As a stretch of open water for boating or a scenic wooded area they are fine, but we do not advise more serious use than this and will not respond to performance issues reported should you not use them in this way.

Fine, but this raises a few questions:

  • Why are they starting to get anal about this now, given that people have been using these sims in “unapproved” ways for so long?
  • Why did they double the prim limits for openspace sims (from 1875 to 3750), when they knew or should have known that this would just encourage more of these “unapproved” uses?
  • Why did they give people the opportunity to convert their sims from full to openspace, when they knew or should have known that people probably weren’t just going to rip up their existing builds and plant trees or dig lakes on these newly-converted sims?

Now, I’m going to try to give LL the benefit of the doubt, employing the maxim, “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.”  I think they got overconfident about how much load their “openspace” sims could really bear, post-Havok 4 deployment, and about how many people would pick an OS sim over a regular sim for their needs.  They overestimated the former, and/or underestimated the latter, and it’s killing their revenues while imposing loads higher than anticipated.  The Law of Unintended Consequences cannot be circumvented; people will always find loopholes in the rules, and do as they damn well please.

And killing revenues is not what LL wants to be doing right now.  The whole RL world is currently in the throes of a financial downturn (how deep or long, it’s anyone’s guess at this point), and despite indications to the contrary, the SL world is not immune from RL’s effects.  If you check out this PowerPoint presentation, you’ll see that high-tech companies all over the place are being advised to hunker down and focus on sheer survival right now.  (As one of the last slides puts it: “GET REAL or GO HOME.”)  Much as I hate to see anyone screwed over by LL, the fact remains, if they go down, all of SL goes down with them, and we’re all screwed.  And maybe that poisons the dream of a “real” Metaverse for years, or decades.

Tateru, over on Massively.com, says, “The simplest explanations for all of this that fit the observed facts, is that either the March 2008 changes have progressively gutted Linden Lab’s market for regular simulators, or that they’re in need of a large cash infusion for Q1 2009 — or possibly both.”  Two sides of the same coin here, Tat.  It all comes down to money, and, for LL, as for every other business out there right now, Money = Life, especially now.  With the coming move to Class 6 server hardware (which sure as hell ain’t cheap, as I know from being in the HPC cluster business in RL), plus the cost of energy to keep those data centers powered up and cooled down, plus programmer salaries in San Francisco (where the cost of living is among the highest in the country), LL’s burn rate is nothing to sneeze at right now, I’m sure.  Anything that helps stem the tide is probably welcome right now.

But what about the effect of this on the average Joe the Resident?  Well, I think we have adequate evidence now that LL’s Give-A-Shit Meter about Residents per se is strongly down in negative territory–if not in imaginary numbers.  First it was the full island owners, then certain groups at SL5B, and now this.  One wonders if a second-order effect of all these policy changes is to drive Residents away to OpenSim-based Grids as soon as the interoperability technology is there to support it, leaving LL and their Grid to lead out a corporate-friendly, Disneyfied existence.  (Lillie Yifu tells me, “That is a long way off Erbo.”  Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  Depends on how hard LL pushes for it, doesn’t it?)

In the meantime, this Grid, of its users, by its users, and for its users, shall not perish from the Earth.  These things pass; the trick is to live through them.  Just make sure you’re ready for the next episode of “Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.”

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The Coming Disneyfication of Second Life

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?

Where else, indeed:

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.

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Birthday Bust

Apparently, Resident reaction to Linden Lab™’s ham-fisted banning of the SL Kids from the Second Life® Fifth Birthday Celebration (previously, previously) had at least some positive effect: LL apparently called off the dogs, allowed the Kids to submit applications again, and expanded the celebration to two weeks (from the previous one week). For a time, all seemed to be well on the Grid (well, aside from the various technical glitches…but, at this point, SL without technical glitches is like ExxonMobil without a corporate acquisition policy).

Unfortunately, LL hasn’t finished butting into what was supposedly a Resident-run celebration. Jacek Antonelli reports that Trinity Coulter, who had taken over as primary organizer of SL5B from SignpostMarv Martin after the latter resigned in protest over LL’s initial meddlings, has been forced out of that position by Dusty Linden. Several other organizers are out as well, according to both Jacek and Shoshana Epsilon. Meanwhile, Dusty is also vetting all the images for the art exhibition, rejecting any that have a “child” avatar in the same frame with either an “adult” avatar, or with a bed of any sort. Never mind that absolutely nothing sexual may be going on in the pictures, or that all avatars therein may be dressed in outfits that wouldn’t so much as raise an eyebrow in church.

I’m willing to assume that Dusty is not the originator of these decisions, and is just passing on policy as dictated from a higher level. Ditto with people like Everett. So the question becomes: Who’s calling the shots on this policy, and why? Linden Lab’s own policy (“The Tao of Linden“) states:

There are many ways to emphasize responsibility, accountability, communication and trust. We believe that the one key principle that best supports all of these values is transparency. As much as possible, tell everyone what you are doing, all the time. This transparency makes us responsible to our peers, makes us accountable to our own statements, and replaces the need for management with individual responsibility. Over time, it creates and reinforces trust. Be willing to share ideas before you feel they are ‘baked’. Report on your own progress frequently and to everyone.

Yet LL can be notoriously UN-transparent about a great many things when it suits them. We have had these policies dictated to us, in a manner which has never happened before in the history of Second Life Birthday Celebrations. Yet, in terms of rationale for these policies, we have heard precisely bupkis.

Last time, I challenged M Linden, new CEO of LL, to come out and give us a statement as to the policies being laid down for this celebration. So, have we heard anything?

(sound of crickets chirping)

Look, M, Philip, all the rest of you Lindens, we’re all adults here, even those of us in avatars that look like children; your own age-verification systems encourage that. We know about that fundy bluenose shitbag Mark Kirk (Stupid Party-Peoples’ Republic of Illinois) and his moralizing crusade, and we also know he doesn’t really give a shit about child avatars in Second Life, because all politicians really care about is getting elected, then getting RE-elected. We know about Sky News and their little “gotcha!” exposes, and we know why they do it: because it translates into viewers, which translates into ratings, which translates into money. Is it these kind of dipshits that have you so scared, you feel the need to impose new, draconian restrictions on content at what’s supposed to be a celebration “by the Residents, for the Residents”? If so, why not simply TELL US? Sure, it would piss off a lot of people, but at least you’d be being honest with the people that, ultimately, are responsible for paying for your world…and, at least, we’d know WHO to hate.

With two weeks to go before SL5B starts, the whole affair looks to be coming apart at the seams. At this point, I’m glad I didn’t try to involve myself with this fiasco, and I predict the whole thing will turn into a shambles and a public-relations disaster for Linden Lab. The irony is, by making such a fuss over child avatars this time around, LL is playing right into the hands of the Mark Kirks, the Sky News people, and others who automatically equate any “child” avatar with kiddie porn, and start saying, “Icky! Icky! BAN! BAN!” Nice way to invoke the Law of Unintended Consequences, LL.

Meanwhile, I sit over on Lexxotica and continue to wonder…how soon before LL works their way down to me?

UPDATE: Prokofy Neva continues to take the Lindens’ side…a stance which I find somewhat puzzling, as he himself has been the recipient of arbitrary Linden Lab shaftings in the past. But this isn’t mere schadenfreude on his part.

UPDATE: Vint Falken has reopened her JIRA issue dealing with this, “MISC-1231: Missing Cultures and Communities from SL5B.”  Go vote for it if you haven’t already.

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Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

The blog firestorm over Linden Lab’s new policies for the Second Life® Birthday Celebration continues apace, and Vint Falken’s JIRA issue on the topic is up to 166 votes as of this writing.  So far, the only comment from the Lindens on this issue has been one comment by Everett Linden on Massively.com…which has done nothing to clear up the issue, and has, in fact, raised additional questions.  His statement that “the SL birthday on Linden land is PG” directly contradicts the draft policy for SL5B, which states “All sims will be Mature.”  Of course, he may have meant that people were to adhere to PG content and behavior despite the sims’ Mature rating (the kind of rules enforced at The Shelter), but who can say for sure?

And it’s clear that Everett doesn’t make policy, he’s just passing on “the word from higher up.”  Okay, then, let’s get this settled once and for all:  I call on M Linden to make an immediate statement to the community regarding Linden Labs’ policies for the Second Life Fifth Birthday Celebration.  In detail, and with footnotes. At least, if he tells us something’s no longer kosher, we won’t have to waste time going higher.  You took the job, M; now it’s time to show you can deliver.

Strangely enough, Prokofy Neva seems to be taking the Lindens’ side in this matter, saying that this just involves Linden Labs’ right to promote whatever it likes.  Well, Prok, you’re absolutely right; LL can promote whatever it likes at an event which it gives its imprimatur to.  However, there are two important issues which follow from that principle:

  1. What’s with them changing the rules this time around, from the policies previously established for past birthday celebrations, and indeed from the draft policies they’d already established for SL5B?  And why can’t they communicate the rationale for these changes in a reasonable fashion?  Jacek points out that the Lindens had several options as to how to deal with the Second Life Children this year, and they took the option that was guaranteed to cause a firestorm.  Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…and it sure as hell ain’t Danish blue cheese.
  2. Yes, the Lindens have the right to change the rules for birthday celebrations at any time, as they see fit.  We, however, as Residents, also have the right, in turn, to decide whether or not we choose to devote our time and effort to making such a celebration successful, under those revised rules.  Two principal organizers of SL5B, as well as any number of potential exhibitors and participants, have already made their choice known; how many more will walk away?  And will there even be a Fifth Birthday Celebration, under these circumstances?  It may turn into a sanitized, corporate affair, as Prok no doubt thinks it will, which may suit the Lindens just fine.  They will, however, have sent a powerful message, one that Jacek has picked up on:

But Linden Lab, it seems, doesn’t want its Residents anymore. It doesn’t want a free, open, creative world. It wants a sanitized, media-friendly world, that universities and big corps won’t think twice about making major investments in. LL’s message for Residents now is: Thanks for making us so popular, but go away now. You’re embarrassing us in front of the cool kids. Linden Lab has continually neglected and offended its user base, and thus turned a natural ally into a second enemy.

We are Linden Labs’ customers. We pay premium account fees (and I know of at least one Resident who has downgraded to Basic over this very issue); we pay tier for land; we buy sims and pay tier for them.  Yet LL seems to want to piss us off at every turn.  I’ve said it before: The only company I know of that has shown it can thrive while pissing off its customers over and over again is Microsoft…and even they aren’t having such an easy time of it anymore.

I don’t have a good Last Graf here; either LL will find their principles again, or they won’t.  Either SL5B will go on as it would have, or it won’t.  One thing’s for sure: the ball is now in LL’s court.

“…and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written.” – Atrus, Myst

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Filed under Community, Current Events

And The Sign Said, “______ Need Not Apply”

I’ve been saying for some time now that one of the things I’d like to do is DJ one or more sets at the Second Life® Fifth Birthday Celebration (known as “SL5B” to the sort of people that appreciate abbreviations). Unfortunately, events have transpired that are causing me to rethink this.

For previous birthday celebrations (including the Third Birthday celebration that Tateru, Mera, Torley, and a cast of dozens put together so well, and which impressed me so much when I was still a n00b), Linden Lab maintained a relatively light hand on the content of the celebrations. That has now changed; the “Second Life Children” community has been told that, not only may they not exhibit at the event, they might not even be able to attend the event.

The Second Life Children are a group of people, all adults in RL, who use child avatars in SL for the purpose of engaging in activities appropriate to children (playing on playgrounds and the like). I’ve come down hard against the idea of sexual ageplay with child avatars in the past, but clearly, this isn’t it. There’s absolutely no pedophilia–real or simulated–involved, the claims of certain Congressional bluenoses and some Scheisse-für-Gehirne German prosecutors to the contrary. I’m hard-pressed to figure out just what they’re doing that’s in violation of the TOS or Community Standards.

Oh, and, according to an update at the Massively.com article I linked above, the Goreans and BDSM’ers have been given the official ixnay for SL5B from LL as well. Is this what they call “celebrating the cultural diversity of Second Life”? As usual, there has been absolutely no clarification of this new policy offered whatsoever from the Lindens, who may be dedicated to spreading the love amongst themselves, but clearly practice “mushroom management” with Residents. (“Put ’em in the dark, feed ’em shit, and watch ’em grow.”)

Now, some of you are no doubt saying, “But, Erbo, you’re not a child avatar, or a Gorean or BDSM’er either. What are you so honked off for?” I’ll tell you: Every time I hear about some new restriction LL is applying to certain people or things on the Grid, I wonder how long it’ll be before they work their way down to me. Let’s say I do land a gig DJ’ing for part of SL5B; would LL suddenly find it necessary to tell me which songs I could or could not play? I can imagine that someone might take offense to, say, “Bilingual” or “Crazy Bitch,” or most songs by Children of Bodom. Would they have to pre-vet my playlist, and maybe forbid me from taking requests because someone might ask to hear an “unacceptable” song? Don’t laugh; yesterday, you might have thought it was inconceivable that the highly-popular SL Kids builds would be banned from the celebration. As far as I’m concerned, LL has now thrown everything up in the air as regards SL5B, and I question whether I’d want to be involved at all under those circumstances. (In this, I am joined by SignpostMarv Martin and Ariel Otafuku, two of the main organizers of the event. Hey, M, Philip, are you getting a message yet?)

We can only speculate on LL’s motives in this case. Maybe they’ve been threatened with a major lawsuit, and are circling the wagons to either quell the suit before it starts or to make their potential defense airtight. Maybe LL really is planning an IPO, or shopping itself to some large Internet company, and wants to keep the folks on Wall Street from getting any whiff of controversy. (Remember, Controversy = No Money = Bad.) In any event, the Lindens seem to suddenly be living out their (Second) lives in fear…and for that, I have just one piece of advice, which I will be using as the epigraph to this post.

More on the story from the esteemed Ms. Malaprop.

“A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” – From the movie Strictly Ballroom

UPDATE: Vint Falken is doing the best job tracking blog comments on this issue, and she has also filed a “bug report” with LL’s JIRA on this issue.  I have voted that particular issue up, and I recommend you do likewise.

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Filed under Community, Current Events