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Friday, March 03, 2006

THE NEW NEW WORLD NOTES...

Continues here.

My deepest thanks to everyone at Linden Lab who made my journey to this point possible. And just as much gratitude to the Residents and readers who've made (and make) it a trip worth taking.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

THE PRESENT DEATH OF HAMLET

So it suits to suspend my tenure as Hamlet Linden while standing on the cliffs of Shipley, because this is where, more or less, it all began some 30 months ago. I interviewed Catherine Omega in May of 2003, in her mansion along the Shipley shore below, and though I'd been writing New World Notes for a couple weeks by then, it's pretty much where I decided that Second Life would be the place I'd devote myself to. Because when I wondered why she had such a palatial house, Catherine Omega explained that she built it while homeless in real life, squatting in an abandoned apartment building. That story set the tone of New World Notes for me, and some of the main themes I wanted to follow from then on: Real world status versus Second Life identity, and the interaction between the two. Emerging standards of wealth, value, and creativity in an online world that begins to look more and more like the next generation of the Internet itself. And above all, always, cool, fascinating people, doing cool, fascinating stuff.

So I got some land and eventually had an office built for me, on the cliff right above her estate. Here is what it looked like in August of 2003. The guy with the cross is doing a jig because the three of us there had just crossed the entire continent of Second Life on foot-- a trip that took, in its entirety, like, three whole hours. When I repeated that stunt with a party of lunatics seven months later, it took nine hours. If you were to try it today, it would literally be impossible-- like Zeno's paradox with Achilles, you could never reach the end of Second Life's continent, because in the day or two it took you to make even half the trip, vast new swathes of land would have sprouted up in every direction.

Since then, Shipley's seashore, which used to stretch out into endless horizon, has become a tributary, as a Southern isthmus of the continent grew in a circular direction to replace the sea. And Catherine Omega has moved on to other, newer places in Second Life. But as it happens, after I made the announcement that I'd be leaving Linden Lab for now, she was also the first person in the world to fly over and greet me, and wish me well.

So this is where I'll leave Hamlet Linden for an indefinite time. Word of a new Hamlet-- and a new New World Notes-- posted here soon.

Meantime, be sure to take the new survey that'll help determine NWN's future.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

GETTING FEDERATED

Now it can be told: once New World Notes is no longer sponsored or affiliated with Linden Lab starting March 1st, it will partner with John Battelle's Federated Media Publishing, a vast and mighty new blog network anchored by Boing Boing. It's a new enterprise from the co-founder of Wired and the Industry Standard, and I'm deeply honored to be the little brother in FM's growing roster, reporting on the ever-expanding directory of wonderful (virtual) things in Second Life.

If you're a reader of New World Notes, please help me make the transition by taking the Federated Media poll for advertisers. And if you are a potential advertiser, contact FM's account executives to discuss rates.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

OGLING AVATARS

Fast on the heels of Cory Linden's recent thoughts on using OpenGL to copy SL objects, Mr. Zamboni sends word of an imminent in-world demo of that very technology-- from OpenGL, to an application called OGLE, to a 3D printer, to a once-virtual object you can hold in your hands.

Details on tomorrow's event-- and a startling visual demo-- here.

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THE PUBLIC DEBT OF DIGERIDOO

A unique solution to the high cost of higher education...

For awhile there, he could put himself through college by floating the tuition with his credit card, and with his job selling refrigerators and such at a department store chain. But when one thing led to another (as they're often apt to do), Lordfly Digeridoo found himself $4000 in debt, with no immediate means to pay off his creditors.

This is usually the part in the story where the broke college kid sucks it up and goes back to his parents, hat in hand. Instead, Digeridoo (who does in fact have a hat in SL, except it also functions as a calculator, a helicopter, and other useful devices), put a proposition before his fellow Residents:

"[B]asically, an unsecured, long-term L$ loan given by the community at large. The only collateral I'm able to give is my good standing within the community (or perceived one, anyway)."

It was a simple proposal: people would loan Linden Dollars to him, he'd keep a running tally of who gave what, and use that to pay off his college tuition. And when things were turned around for him, he'd pay people back in the order they paid him. It's an experiment in the trust and generosity of a social network that only really exists in a virtual world. ("I could in fact take all this money and throw it into the stock market or something, cackling insanely as I sip tequila in Bermuda," he acknowledged in the Forum post announcing his scheme. "It IS an unsecured loan, after all".) But Digeridoo has been a Resident since 2003 (ancient, by the world's standards), and a well-established SL architect. Perhaps because of that-- or just the general fungibility of virtual currency for random acts of whimsy-- within two days, he's collected over $700 in loans.

"[P]eople have been wiring me money to help me fend off the debt in real life," he tells me, amazed. "Yes, dozens of people from Second Life, many of whom I've never met. If anything I've learned there's either a lot of lurkers on the Forums, or word of mouth spreads fast." To keep things transparent, he posts the running tally of donations in his SL profile. "Seeing as the public is donating, it only fits to have the number displayed for the public," he says.

Once he's stabilized, he plans to start paying off the community of loaners with Linden Dollars. Much of those funds will come from his in-world businesses-- prefab homes, land development, and the odd custom buildings, assignments he does for the L$ equivalent of US$20-30, usually. (He may even auction off some of his old buildings, like the famed Digeridoo Tower, which now exists only in his inventory.) As it happens, he's also applied his SL building skills in college, as a Urban and Regional Planning major-- such as an assignment to build a scale model of Rome's Piazza Novona.

For all that, however, Lordfly Digeridoo believes the time has passed when someone like him could earn a full income as a creator in Second Life.

"I've been obsoleted by the content developer teams," he says. "Remember back in the day in SL, 2003 or so? The world was small; almost everyone had a small niche they could fill, and fill it well. When I started, that niche was custom builds... I had virtually no competition for at least six months. Simply nobody else was building homes for people on a case-by-case basis."

Not so now, he believes.

Continue reading "THE PUBLIC DEBT OF DIGERIDOO"

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

SLODCASTING

All the drama, patter, and giggles of SL, now portable for your morning commute: Johnny Ming's Secondcast, podcasting hour-long shows on a myriad of Second Life subjects. The first episode is a Skype-powered rountable between Ming, the SL Herald's Walker Spaight, famed architect Lordfly Digeridoo, fashion empress Aimee Weber, and Snapzilla founder Cristiano Midnight, winging it on assorted topics, from the new Resident Moderators program in the official Forums to the OpenGL controversy to the perils and pleasures of being famous in Second Life. (Aimee memorably compares it to being an Employee of the Month at a Walmart outlet.) Spinning off his recent SLOG post, Lordfly offers some fiscal prognostication, predicting that the Linden Dollar will eventually inflate to its "true" value of US$1/L$361. All interesting stuff, though maybe the most interesting thing for me is hearing the real life voices of Residents I've only communicated with up to now via text. The effect may even be more jarring than the experience of meeting them in-person-- since, after all, avatar identity is so wrapped up in what you say, and how.

Get the podcast here.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

GRAPHIC CONTENT

There's been SL comic strips, SL magazines, and SL advertisements that use graphic novel stylings, but unless I didn't get the memo (and that's always possible), there hasn't yet been much in the way of actual graphic novels using Second Life as an illustration platform.

Enter Sidra Stern's "Reavinator", a witty (but not-worksafe) story of one madwoman scientist's quest to create Frankie, the perfect man. Sidra used a third party tool called Comic Book Creator to create templates and dialog balloons, incorporating those with screenshots featuring sets that she built and avatars in customized poses, to pantomime the action.

"That's my favorite picture," she tells me, "the one with the phone." Ralek Queso created the animation so Residents would know you were in Busy mode, and Sidra retrofitted it for the comic. Another expression was created with Siggy Romulus' mood chooser heads-up display.

Though she shares her name with the man-crazed heroine of her graphic novel, she says there's no autobiographical elements. "It's an archetype," she tells me, laughing. "I figured it would work well here, given the changes everyone can make to their avies and to their self."

She's already working on the next issue. "It won't be with Frankie," she says. "That will come after the next one. I have to figure out what kind of trouble Frankie will get into."

Posted at 12:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (11)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

BLOGGER OF GOR

In the first part of "Unimpeachable Offense", I mentioned the Gorean subculture of Second Life in passing, and only because one of the Residents I chose at random to interview happened to be a "slave" within the group. I haven't written about them in detail (yet), but as luck would have it, "humdog" has written a vivid confessional of her time among SL's Goreans for the Second Life Herald:

... For those few people left in SL who do not know what a collar or kol’lar is, I will tell you that it is a complex symbol. The collar is an extremely tangible and visible symbol of a very powerful multi-level relationship of surrender. Putting on a kol’lar is a statement of transfer of personal power and control from the person wearing the kol’lar to the person who has given the kol’lar...

More-- evocative, controversial, and certainly not safe for work-- beginning here.

Posted at 12:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack (23)

Friday, February 17, 2006

THE LONGTAIL OF LONG TAILS

The nice thing about running a blog for so long is you'll suddenly see an old entry re-discovered to enjoy another surge of readership, then surge again from the first re-discovery, and so on-- sort of like Chris Anderson's "long tail" model applied to blogging. That phenomena happened to me last week, when a Wired.com article on SL included a link to a 10 month old NWN entry on SL's furry subculture. The article was translated to what's apparently Wired.com's Japanese sister site, and from there, got picked up by a news aggregator for Japanese mobile phones. And just like that, thousands of Tokyo salarymen were suddenly reading about furries in Second Life on the bullet train.

The challenging thing about running a blog is picking up on this effect as it happens, and pointing readers to interesting conversations that unexpectedly start up in Comment threads from entries archived months ago. Sometimes rude, sometimes insightful, new readers to "Furry Like Me" are making their mark now-- read, join in, or both.

Posted at 01:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (19)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

HERALDED APPEARANCE

Walker Spaight just put up his interview with me for the Second Life Herald here, a conversation on my recent decision to take NWN indy, while also touching on issues of journalistic independence and financial backing, bloggers and virtual words, and more. Thanks to Bedpan Unknown, Huns Valen, and an identified Japanese dancing box robot for the mid-interview entertainment.

Posted at 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (14)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

UNIMPEACHABLE OFFENSE, PART I

Being the final word (hopefully) on a curious (if butt-ugly) experiment that tested the boundaries of community values-- and the values of a community.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed to be the most important thing in the world, but if I don't post something about it now, it'll probably be forgotten forever. So here goes:

THE GRIEF THAT KEPT ON GIVING

Last December or thereabouts, a guy started buying land. Lots of land. Not large parcels, mind, but tiny plots, on which he installed giant, looming, garish billboards emblazoned with a putative political statement-- "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS - End the Illegal War in Iraq - Restore US credibility - IMPEACH BUSH". In the eyes of many Residents, however, this wasn't the landowner's lobbying effort against the American President, but an outrageous extortion scheme against his neighbors. After all, he'd set this land for sale at exorbitant rates, and if they didn't want this eyesore hovering near their property, they'd have to buy the parcels off him, so they could take the signs down.

I covered all this here, including an interview with the man I dubbed "Jedidiah Profane", and had every intention of leaving it at that. But the outrage kept coming, partly because Linden Lab took a hands-off position on the signs. If they weren't overhanging Profane's property into another Resident's land, Daniel Linden, Director of Community Services, told me, then they weren't Linden Lab's problem.

In the official Second Life forums, Residents started topic after topic on the subject-- "Impeach Bush or Land Extortionists?", "Support for the 'Impeach Bush' Guy", "Is LL protecting Impeach Bush because they're thinking of bringing in billboards?", and so on-- until there were nearly ninety threads on the same subject. (We know this, because Nailati Elytis helpfully created a meta thread listing all the existing threads on the issue-- "'Impeach Bush Signs' - Handy Thread Index!")

At which point, I really had no choice but to revisit the controversy. And after all, the floating billboards are still in-world even now, and like barnacles, tend to attract still more signs, sometimes political, sometimes in protest of the original signs, sometimes advertisements and religious proselytizing.

But was there a real, substantial controversy, in the first place? Or was I just looking at a feedback loop of Forum drama which didn't represent a broader community perspective?

"Forums are great places for technical help," new Resident Clarrice Cinquetti warned me in a private message, "but when it comes to general discussions, you will find the same clique usually posting complaints..." And the small segment of total Residents most active in the Forums were doing just that-- the vast majority of them clamoring for the immediate banning of Jedidiah Profane.

But it's a huge world, and even for his hundreds of parcels, surely most of the community had little or no contact with Profane's signs, let alone an opinion on them. Instead of following the Forum's lead, Clarrice advised me, I should go into the world, to see what the average Resident was really thinking.

And so I did.

Continue reading "UNIMPEACHABLE OFFENSE, PART I"

Posted at 06:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (19)

OPEN MIND ON OpenGL

Like so many other online worlds and computer games, SL's 3D graphics are rendered via OpenGL. A great toolkit from a developer's perspective, but in recent times, also a growing concern to the companies-- and in Second Life's case, many of the subscribers-- with livelihoods that depend on controlling the IP rights over their graphic creations. What happens to the concept of ownership in Second Life when you can use a program like OGLE to not only copy a virtual object made by someone else, but convert it into physical form? What then constitutes unauthorized copying or fair use in SL?

Lead Linden Lab developer Cory Linden just posted some initial thoughts on dealing with that challenge to his own blog, carefully disentangling the issues and proposing solutions like John Carmack after a marathon session of reading Lawrence Lessig-- or maybe like Lawrence Lessig after an all-nighter hacking a Doom III mod, it's hard to tell which. You make the call:

... As Second Life continues to grow and creations within it become increasingly valuable there is no doubt that we will continue to see all manner of behavior, including both fair use and infringement. Technology can not – and should not – sacrifice fair use in a failed attempt to prevent infringement. Instead the residents and Linden Lab must rely on law, culture, and community. Some of that exists today but far more must still be built.

One example is the concept of first use. Linden Lab is currently making changes to make it easier to determine who originally created an asset and its creation date. While much of this data currently exists, it isn’t displayed in the UI. By exposing this data, it will be much easier for residents in a conflict to be able to clearly determine which texture or object was created first, simplifying conflict resolution for all parties involved.

Read it all here.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ANOTHER SL VALENTINE'S STORY...

... this one from the editor of The Second Life Herald, writing for The Escapist: The romance of Diamond Hope and Unmitigated Gall (!).

Posted at 06:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (17)

NEW WORLD VALENTINE'S

Scrolling back to find stories of romance for February 14th, here's a few personal favorites from last year: the courtship of Snow Hare and Phil Murdock, and the partnership of Jade Lily and Torley Torgeson, transcending gender and now even Linden Lab policy. Scrolling back two years, another favorite of mine is the Atlantic-spanning duet of Eddie Escher and Fallingwater Cellardoor. Read them all with someone you love in-world!

On a whim, I checked in with a member of each couple last night, to see how they were doing, a year or more after I wrote their profiles. After all, when a relationship forms and deepens through the distance of online interaction, you'd think its long term prospects are dicey-- especially when it's taken offline.

The status of their love, after the break.

Continue reading "NEW WORLD VALENTINE'S"

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Monday, February 13, 2006

STEAMPUNKING SECOND LIFE

I'm a fan of the SL blog from Ordinal Malaprop, not because I know anything about scripting in Linden Script Language (her main specialty), but because she writes it in the voice of her Second Life persona-- sort of a Victorian-era mathematrix, say Ada Lovelace as depicted in The Difference Engine, who's somehow stumbled forward in time into an online world. Miss Malaprop's blog, appropriately enough entitled "An Engine Fit For My Proceeding", gives word of a recent project she's joined-- appropriately enough, an entire region converted into a steampunk city. I shall keep myself apprised of its progress forthwith.

Posted at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (23)

CONCURRENT AFFAIR

Couple months ago, peak concurrency was around 4500, and a month later, was hovering just beneath 5000. That was the highest number of Residents in-world simultaneously during prime time, and even though SL crossed the 100K Resident mark before December's end, for several weeks that number kept flickering below five thousand and never getting past it. Like it were the speed of light or something.

Yesterday evening, however, it was well over 5500. When Second Life gained 100,000 Residents, I noted how that would change the way it was perceived by the outside world. Seems to me this gain of some 1000 concurrent Residents in a couple of months will change that perception further-- perhaps even moreso within the world itself.

Posted at 12:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (15)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

GREETINGS, COMMONERS!

If you've arrived here via Mia Garlick's nice interview with me on the Creative Commons site, welcome. Here's some links to get you up to speed on the intersection between SL and CC:

Lawrence Lessig's appearance in Second Life to discuss Free Culture begins here. Be sure to catch Professor Lessig's avatar doing a Scottish jig with Joi Ito to raise funds for CC, and a write-up on a Resident-made CC license creator for Second Life works, here.

Before Lessig, Second Life was graced by several appearances of powerful CC ally Cory Doctorow, created in avatar form here and interviewed here. Being so generally ahead of the curve, Cory actually came to Second Life as early as 2003 to talk about his work as both fiction writer and EFF/CC advocate, documented here and here (interview begins from bottom of the page).

As I mention in my interview with Mia, Professor Lessig's advice has had a profound, practical impact on the Second Life community, perhaps most explicitly in the story of Tringo, a phenomenally popular, user-created game which, thanks to Lessig's advice to let subscribers retain the IP rights to their creations, the developer could subsequently sell as a Gameboy spin-off.

The "rip mix burn" culture of creativity has been documented by this blog numerous times in numerous variations-- through in-world tributes to popular games (here and here), to virtual book publishing, to screening movies in-world (here and here), to graphic arts and comic creation (here and here), to live music performance, to machinima (here and here).

Now that reps from both Creative Commons and Free Culture.org are setting up shop in SL, I hope you consider getting in on the fun-- get a free account, join the Free Culture group in-world, and introduce yourself in the site's group forum.

Posted at 01:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (13)

Friday, February 10, 2006

BUG HUNT ISLAND

Cory Linden brings the latest news on Linden Lab's effort to bring Mozilla pages into Second Life. News, and a bug hunting contest in which the top winner gets a free private island. You know, sort of like "Survivor" for hackers.

Details here.

Posted at 04:34 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (16)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

FIRST MONDAY, SECOND LIFE

I'm very honored to have an essay in one of the latest issues of First Monday, the esteemed peer-reviewed Internet journal that's featured digital giants like Linus Torvalds and Eric S. Raymond. My modest contribution to that stellar hive mind is "Taking New World Notes: an embedded journalist's rough guide to reporting from inside the Internet's next evolution", sort of a warm-up for the book I just announced I'll be writing. Many thanks to the issue's editor, the uniformly excellent Beth Noveck, professor at New York Law School, and in Second Life, the doyenne of Democracy Island, for bringing me into the fold.

Speaking of my book, I've been wondering what it'll be like to be an embedded journalist without an official embed title-- a unilateral, as it were. What happens after I lose the Linden name, and begin concentrating on the book? Does the world start to seem less strange and wondrous?

I was thinking about those things last night as I took the screenshot to accompany my announcement. It was hard to concentrate, though, because when I arrived, a man named YadNi Monde on a blue horse with a blue cat in one hand a blue cigar that spouted blue Pac Man heads in the other was already there, talking heads-up displays with his friend, a guy in a giant purple hat and an anarchist statement flickering above his head.

"What's the deal with 'Overthrow Your Government' above your head?" I ask him.

"Well, it's a political statement," Draconis Neurocam tells me. "What's even funnier is I'm Buddhist."

"Overthrow the Lindens, you mean?"

Continue reading "FIRST MONDAY, SECOND LIFE"

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

GOING INDY

I began this journal that became a blog near 3 years ago-- on April 22, 2003, to be exact. And on March 1st, by very cool and generous arrangement with Linden Lab, I'll be taking full ownership of New World Notes.

On that day I'll also be ending my current contractor relationship with the company-- a totally mutual decision between Linden and me. In the months that follow, I'll instead be focusing much of my efforts on developing the book version of New World Notes with my agent, a project that's been waiting to bloom for quite awhile.

At the same time, New World Notes will go on pretty much as it is now, except as my own independent project, financed by ads and/or other forms of sponsorship. That in place, I'll continue to chronicle Second Life's evolution from an emerging society (it's already emerged, really) to becoming what I believe is the next generation of the Internet. That's the story of my career, so no way am I letting it go. I'll continue to be endlessly suprised and genuinely awed by the community of Residents who have transformed this place from an uninhabited world to an electric society-- and as Second Life expands past a million-plus users and beyond, it'll be my job (and joy) to watch as they begin to transform the world outside, too.

You can communicate with Hamlet Linden in-world and at hamlet@secondlife.com until the end of February. After which, a new embedded journalist avatar under my control will emerge, ready to continue with the community on the march to a million.

Meantime, if you're interested in the new New World Notes as a potential advertiser or sponsor, contact me at wjamesau@well.com. Any questions for Linden Lab about this change should be directed to the ever-excellent Catherine Smith (catherine@lindenlab.com).

Posted at 12:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack (16)