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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

GREENSPANNING THE GLOBE-- PHILIP LINDEN INTERVIEW, PART II

Continued from yesterday. Discussed in Part Two: more questions (and criticisms) on policy implementation; the selling of links on eBay, and the potential for real world commercialism around it; in-world culture clashes over the policy shift; the Big Picture relation (if any) to Second Life socio-economic theory, and the real world.

Hamlet Linden: Another resident asks, "Now that Linden support for events has been restricted to educational events only, will you be loosening the restrictions currently placed upon the event calendar for non-supported events, so that residents can have more flexibility in posting the events that they are now funding out of their own pocket?"

Philip Linden: Hmm... I'm not sure off the top of my head exactly what restrictions we place on event creation. Well, there is a limit on recurrence, how many events you can have at one place in a day for example. Those rules are designed to keep the events system from being an advertisement listing... we will not simply allow any events to be posted, because it is likely that the system would be misused by[residents] posting thousands of events that were simply repeat advertisements for locations. We recognize the need for better ways to advertise Second Life content, but the event listings aren't the place.

HL: Related to that, tell me about selling sponsored links on eBay. [This change was also part of the policy announcement. The Second Life interface features a Top Links button, with descriptions of cool/fun/interesting sites and builds—before the recent policy changes, these were selected by Linden Lab staff - HL] Some residents wonder if that has anything to do with eBay's founder now being an investor in Linden Lab. True? In any case, discuss the decision behind this change.

PL: What a story of unintended consequences! We wanted to test what would happen if we let people simply pay for the content in the former "top picks" section, because we were unhappy with the quality we could deliver picking them ourselves. It isn't fair to everyone, because we can't possibly survey all the great content anymore to find top picks. So it seems like the way needs to become resident-driven. We need to get it out of Linden hands.

HL: So Omidyar didn't suggest it?

PL: Good grief of course not. I suppose he might not like it if he notices... who knows? I haven't mentioned it to him. But we just wanted to test selling the spots as sponsored places, and the way to do that quickly as a test was to use an auction. Our [web-based] auction code is for land not for stuff, so it wouldn't work well enough. So we needed to use an auction... something we could set up quickly. I suppose we could have picked another auction service... but I think eBay was easier and faster to set up.

HL: Another resident asks, “Will any real-world business advertising be allowed with those sponsored links?" Also, will some of these be auctioned for L$?

PL: I am not sure whether we will sell those spots for L$... No, we will not allow real-world advertising there.

HL: What if it's by a company which owns a sim, for example? Auction a sponsored link for Gap™ Island, for example?

PL: I think the value of those spots is in showing really great content to mostly newer users, who want a quick overview of what SL has to offer. I have no interest in having those spots do anything else-- they need to be great SL content. I can't see how selling jeans in those spots could possibly help SL.

HL: But if a company buys an island and buys a link, is there any mechanism to stop that? Especially if the content they make is really good quality-wise (albeit promotion for real world goods and services)?

PL: We reserve the right in the SL Terms of Service to not allow real life advertising. I would certainly invoke that right to keep those listings directly beneficial to SL resident content.

HL: A veteran resident asks, "Philip, given the huge effect that these changes can have on the Second Life economy, why was only 2 days notice given for a patch?"

PL: We gave a week's notice, the two day notice was the L$25 cost for ratings. I think that was OK. We felt that the ratings change needed to go in, and we wanted to see what folks would think with it in place, more than debate it a priori. As with everything else, we can change this stuff if it doesn't make sense. It's all just code!

HL: There seems to be a culture clash, if not conflict, between residents who are content-creators, and residents who are more casual users who enjoy nightclubs and other chat/social-oriented activity. [Broadly speaking, content creators tend to support the changes, while casual users and the event hosts who cater to them do not. - HL] How do you think these changes will impact these cultures?

PL: I was sad to see the fighting there. I love that Second Life brings people together, and I feel bad whenever it fails to do that. I think that the differences were very exaggerated in that debate, as they often are in these sorts of conflict. The fight seemed to be more one of degrees. I think we all enjoy the people part of SL-- the social scene, the clubs, the events, to a lesser or greater extent. A line seemed to get drawn in this debate at some degree, and everyone picked a side.

HL: But these changes seem to impact casual users much more than content creators; for example, increasing the cost of rating, which is something people do a lot at nightclubs (i.e. rate parties). It also seems to benefit content creators more.

PL: There are still lots of overall subsidies that allow casual users who don't pay for SL to reward event sponsors, content creators, or landowners. So I think things will be OK-- it is still very possible to use SL in exactly that way.

HL: How do you think increasing the cost of rating residents will affect the culture of SL?

PL: It will increase the “meaning” of the individual rating, either positive or negative, which will be good for everyone. [Where it once cost L$1 to give someone a positive rating, under the new policy, it now costs L$25 per rating. - HL]

HL: There's a meta question here, about how the control of the money supply, regulation of money, and so on, shape and change a society, sometimes for good, sometimes (often?) for worse. Do you and Cory [Linden] have any beliefs on these, which shaped the decision to implement these changes?

PL: I think our principles here are simple... there are few things you can predict or direct, in something as wonderfully complex and open as SL. This means, therefore, that unless you are foolish or vain, the number of ways in which you act on the world should be few. We don't know much, so we should make few and small attempts to guide. I think the shared values of the Second Life culture, as they exist in everyone's minds, will more affect SL than any Linden Lab-driven policy, for example.

HL: Do you think your real world political/economic opinions influence your thinking on this? These new changes seem to skew Greenspanian/fiscally conservative, actually.

PL: Hmmm.... I think a lot more about Second Life than real life, when it comes to politics or economy. So I'd say it is the other way around, honestly. I think I'd be more likely to vote differently or respond differently to stuff in real life.

HL: What have you learned in this regard, that affects your real life [political] opinions, then?

PL: After the things I've learned and come to value in Second Life, I am more a believer than ever in letting people decide their own future, and in letting markets decide economies.

HL: Ah! So about Bush's plan to privatize Social Security...

PL: Don't even know about that one!

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