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Sunday, October 09, 2005

BEING HAMLET LINDEN

Notes from a talk I'm giving today in New York City at the first Second Life Community Convention. If you're an SLCC attendee, feel free to post follow-up questions I didn't get to during the event, and if you're unable to attend, and have questions anyway, please post to Comments, too.

BECOMING HAMLET

Early influences for in-world journalism: Julian Dibbell's work ("A Rape in Cyberspace"), and my experience as a host on the online conferencing system the WELL (whose dramas were documented by Katie Hafner for Wired here), and my own personal experience with other MMORPGs (while playing Everquest, I ear-witnessed a gang shooting right outside my house) made me suspect it could be a genuine form of journalism. There's news to be found, in the interaction between online worlds and the real one.

My first introduction to Second Life was as a freelance technology journalist for Salon and Wired in early 2003, shortly after writing an epic article on future MMOs for Salon, where I basically predicted The Sims Online would dominate all, because of user-created content (which was never delivered.) During the demo, Linden Lab offered me a contract to cover the development of Second Life as an emerging community for a blog I decided to call New World Notes. "Hamlet Linden", named after my favorite literary character, wears a white suit, in tribute to my favorite journalist, Tom Wolfe. (Side benefit: wearing a very obtrusive white suit makes it easier to take compelling screenshots-- not photojournalism, but screenshot journalism-- since I can visibly position myself in relation to the action.) My first entry was almost exactly two and a half years ago-- April 22, 2003.

MAKING IT UP AS I GO ALONG

Principles of journalistic ethics for an in-world reporter, developed over time and case-by-case:

- No peeking at the mind of God.
No asking Linden Lab to pull chat logs from the servers, or fact-check the IP traceroute of a Resident who claims to be in, for example, China or Iraq. Report only what my avatar sees and hears, from screenshots and chat/IM logs. (Also the reason Hamlet Linden has no God powers, by choice.) First decided this after writing "Home for the Homeless", the Catherine Omega story.

- Assume real life details are roleplay-- judge accuracy by plausibility and internal self-consistency.
First case study: Again, "Home for the Homeless", profile of Catherine Omega. Decided that the story of someone who decided to create the roleplaying persona of a hacker girl squatting in an abandoned apartment building was almost as interesting as that being entirely true.

- No real life Resident names or faces. (Well, almost never.)
Maintain total Resident confidentiality not only for TOS privacy reasons, but confidence to fully and openly express themselves. One exception: the story of Wilde Cunningham, where it was essential to depict the reality behind the avatar.

- No explicit commercialism.
Especially after the trade of L$ for US$ was allowed, and many Residents began using it as to earn a real world living. Case study: Tringo became a NWN story after it had become an unavoidable cultural phenomenon.

- No explicit promotion of Second Life or Linden Lab.
To maintain journalistic independence and the appearance of neutraility, run Resident comments critical of specific SL and LL policies whenever possible, and edit/minimize explicit praise by Residents of LL and SL. Rarely quote Residents discussing how much they love Second Life and how revolutionary it is-- focus on what Residents are doing in SL, let readers decide for themselves whether that makes SL lovable and revolutionary. Principle: New World Notes is promotion of Second Life only inasmuch as it can honestly report genuinely cool, exciting, provocative stuff.

WHAT MAKES A NEW WORLD NOTES ENTRY?

The general criterion I follow, when looking for stories:

- In-world innovation.
As in "Evolving Nemo".
- Second Life experience illustrative of SL culture and/or online world issues.
As in "Watching the Detectives".
- Second Life experience illustrative of real world issues/themes/ideas.
As in "War of the Jessie Wall".
- Linden Lab policies which impact Second Life culture.
As in "Abbatoir Economics".
- Cool stuff. (Hamlet's discretion.)
Games and machinima.

NOT IDEAL FOR NWN...

As the world has grown in size, and the barrage of interesting stories grows, I've steered away from stories that mostly involve these elements:

- Commercial enterprises per se.
Interested only inasmuch as the enterprise impacts SL culture, or says something about it. (How story on SL's Public Notary is an exception.)
- Cool builds/scripts/avatars per se.
Editorial decision influences culture, impacts real business. Reason why I turned fashion and avatars into a democratic Expo event.
- Personal conflicts between Residents.
How Anshe Chung's story is an exception.
- Specific grievances against Linden Lab action or behavior with no collective/principled element.
- Veteran Residents, especially those already featured in NWN.
The bar for them must be much higher. (Links to non-NWN blog entries are a welcome exception.)

IN SEARCH OF STRINGERS

Starting in December (partly in preparation for the NWN book) I'll begin seeking stringers/editorial contributors to NWN.

NEXT NWN EXPO: THE MARVELS OF SECOND LIFE

I'm now taking nominees (via IM, Forum Private Message, or at hamlet@secondlife.com). May be accompanied by short write-ups (100-500 words), which may be used as a writing sample to become an NWN stringer (see above). Up to ten from each category will be nominated, with 25 selected to represent The Marvels of Second Life.

Categories:

- Games and Entertainment
- Commerce and Business
- Arts, Humanities, Educational and Scientific/Technological
- Community
- Resident-made Landscapes and Architecture

Must be associated with a physical location (i.e., Landmark) and still currently exist.

OTHER NWN ANNOUNCEMENTS:

- Taking comments on a new blog entry: "What will your avatar be like, now that we know the person behind the curtain?"

- Next New World Notes book club: Thomas P. M. Barnett on October 26th!

Posted at 06:06 AM | Permalink

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Three words: KEEP BEING YOU.

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Hey Hamlet! WOW, I never realized that your av looks so much like how you do in real life.

I was able to watch the SoP roundtable you participated in and thought you did great and held you own against those reporters who were trying to imply that you were not impartial because you worked for LL.

Your intellegence really came across. WOW.

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