Tuesday, February 28, 2006
THE PRESENT DEATH OF HAMLET
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.
Monday, February 27, 2006
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.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
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.
THE PUBLIC DEBT OF DIGERIDOO
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.
"[W]e've got gigantic economies of scale going on," he speculates, "or at least the beginnings of such. Who's going to hire a broke college kid to develop a sim or a large area when they can just hand it to Bedazzle or someone with an architecture degree?"
Besides which, he hasn't been too happy with recent clientele, who've demanded to know why he doesn't sell "McMansion" prefabs, or customers who insist on having a virtual home with a virtual bathroom.
"[B]uilding clients who can't fathom living in a house without a working toilet," he says, "so they demand space and design requirements for real life amenities that are a) pointless in SL, and b) expensive. There's a small minority of people like me who build with SL in mind: open spaces, open floorplans, no superfluous extra rooms, designed with the camera in mind, keep the toilets out kthxbye."
So he keeps at his college studies, hoping for graduate school and a better job outside SL. Once he's settled his current debt, that is.
"At the latest, I'm hoping to have them paid off within 6 months," Digeridoo tells me. "I'm a stubborn guy, Hamlet. Once I set my mind to something it's done eventually." He grins. "Hence me slogging through college without proper financial backing."
He's been surprised at some of the Residents who are helping him along now-- not just those who don't know him at all, but all those who know him well, and share a mutual dislike.
"There's been quite a few people who I've had visible sparring matches on the Forums, or who otherwise I wouldn't exactly consider us 'cordial', giving me boatloads of cash," he says. "I've found myself extremely humbled by the generosity of people, and yeah, I've been hanging off the Forums a bit lately."
The Linden Dollar college fund of Lordfly Digeridoo is still accepting loans. But while they are loans, they're designated interest-free.
"I didn't want people able to 'invest' in my personal financial misery," he explains. "We have credit card companies for that, after all."
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
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.
Monday, February 20, 2006
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."
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.
Friday, February 17, 2006
THE LONGTAIL OF LONG TAILS
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.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
UNIMPEACHABLE OFFENSE, PART I
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.
WORD ON THE STREET IS...
To get a sample, in mid-January I sent Instant Messages to ten Residents selected completely at random, and at different times of the day, asking what they thought of the "Impeach Bush" situation in Second Life.
As it turned out, seven in ten of them had heard of it. And all seven of them who did know about Profane's campaign were against it.
"Griefer, plain and simple," Bob Bravo, President and CFO of Globe Land Development, told me. He'd mostly heard about the controversy in the Forums, he said, "[H]owever, since I deal in land and fly around a lot you cannot miss his signs." Ginger Doctorow was of a similar mind, as was tattoo artist CaseyJo Giugiaro and JJ Koolhaas. ("Litter all over," Mr. Koolhaas pronounced. "An eyesore.")
Flynn Faulkland, a bisexual dragon skink (i.e., a hermaphrodite lizard) had a comporable view, more or less. "I have mixed feelings, really," said Faulkland. "I have no particular love for Bush, and I do support freedom of expression... to a point. Expression is one thing, clutter is another."
When asked, Snapple Sneerwell not only had a negative opinion, but a solution, too: "I have discussed this with Linden Lab 'til I am green," he told me. "[We need z]oning regulations, not only for political signs, but all signs. Each sim would have a Sim Council for establishing guidelines for that sim. All new landowners would have to agree to those guidleines before buying land in that sim.
Lallander Parvenu's opposition was not only against the signs, but to their content, as well. "Being a servicemember I found it highly offensive," he told me. Released from duty last summer, he had been stationed in Kuwait, and rejected the notion that Jedidiah Profane's sentiment was actually in support of troops like him.
"[I]t makes it feel like the troops themselves feel that way, which overwhelmingly is not the case," he told me. "When you're in [theater] that sort of thing rarely comes up, I mean he is Commander in Chief. You do your part and move on."
"No general annoyance about failure to find WMD, distraction from going directly after Al Qaeda, being out here under 'false pretenses', that kind of thing?" I asked.
"I don't feel that we were there under false pretenses, anywho," he replied. "The general consensus not only from the US side but also from Britain is that [Saddam] did have or was producing WMDs."
Then Lallander Parvenu grinned mysteriously. "I'm having to watch my words here, I hope you understand. I was with the intelligence branch."
On the other side of the ledger, Blueangel Kipling had not noticed the anti-Bush sign campaign, busy as he was hanging out with friends, and playing games like Greedy Greedy, Tringo, and Slingo. Reached at the base of her volcano, the flame-haired vampiress Susan Dangle (designated in her profile as "Mistress Tess' personal bodyguard sworn to protect her even in my death") said she hadn't noticed them, either.
"Too much time building stuff in Second Life to watch the news," she told me, smiling sweetly.
Nor, for that matter, did Mariah Ghia.
"What do you think of the 'Impeach Bush' situation in SL?" I asked her by Instant Message.
"I haven't heard of it frankly," she replied. "But I think he should be impeached. He lied, misled the people about this illegal 'war' of his."
"Actually, I meant the hundreds of giant 'Impeach Bush' cubes all over Second Life."
"Oh, I haven't seen any of them," Ms. Ghia said. "I rarely leave Ar. I am a Gorean slave, and we are not allowed to leave the city unescorted. If I do leave the city, it is to shop." Goreans retain a large private island in Second Life, known as Glorious Ar, and it is here that Mariah Ghia is a Red Silk kajira, "rented property of Master Aros Cyr".
"I have been real life submissive and online for four years," she explained, "and slave since November." She's read most of the John Norman novels that gave rise to the Gorean subculture.
"There is much honor in the books," she told me. "Plus I have an in-built need to serve. I love the freedom being a slave gives me."
"That's a paradoxical statement," I observed.
"I don't have to make decisions, for I am told what to do, I know what is expected of me. It is freeing to be able to be what you really are."
"If your Master told you to support Bush and the war in Iraq," I asked her, "would you?"
"I would respectfully beg not to, and explain my reasons... Please don't mis-understand." And Mariah Ghia began to unburden herself. "My husband was in the Navy, in Vietnam, and my son spent 10 years in the Navy," she said. "What I cannot stand about war is how our men and women are being killed, and for what? The babies, the innocent men and women who have done nothing to our country, being killed and maimed. The carnage, it just gets to me. Frankly, we had this conversation in church Sunday school for adults last week."
But, I pressed, what if her Master happened to insist that she support Bush?
"Then in all good conscience, I could not," Mariah Ghia answered after a pause. "And would be punished, probably."
So in the end, I had both a microcosm of real world opinion and the community of Second Life. It wasn't just a figment of Forum drama. Seven in ten had seen the signs, they didn't like them, and many of them seemed none too pleased that they were allowed to keep existing in their present state.
With that information in hand, I sent an e-mail to Second Life CEO Philip Linden, to see what he made of it.
Coming later: The Linden response, and the world's response to Profane.