Second Life Guess

[I apologize for not being able to correct the title of this post so as to conform to the new trademark policy of Linden Research. A suggestion by the office of C. Linden and / or Linden Research’s censorship trademark lawyers is however pending]

Linden Lab’s ban on SL Y-K-W banks is in effect as of today, on the dot two weeks after it has been announced. Two weeks in which, in the words of Massively’s Tateru Nino :

…we’ve had protests – some assuredly genuine, some apparently staged – runs on banks (a sort of game of musical chairs, where everyone hopes not to be the one left standing when the music stops), and the usual commingled mish-mash of cheering, screaming, jesting and angry outbursts…

— much of it happening in the SL Y-K-W blogosphere (see my own round-up of it here). Now the grace period is over, the economic effect of the ban turns to have fallen somewhat short of the sky caving in, in fact seeming to be near to negligible for the SL Y-K-W economy as a whole (though I am sure that on the personal level, for people having lost money in the crash, this is an entirely different story).

Seeing that and the fact that Linden Lab seem nowhere close to reverting their decision, the discussion of the pro and con seems to have petered out somewhat. Artur Fermi stating in essence « Good riddance, and keep the hype down » on Your2ndPlace and Aldon Huffhines / Hynes arguing on SLNN that Linden Lab’s decision is ill conceived and drives needed financial services out of the official grid, and that LL should reconsider are more or less the last ones to battle it out. Prokofy Neva and Benjamin Duranske on the other hand have added most welcome shades of grey to the often black and white discussion by casting some light on the people behind the banks. So, what am I up to, besides fawning for some more pats on the back for my diligent compiling work ?

Well, there is a twist on the debate I find fascinating : it is the guessing going on about LL’s rationale. Everyone I spoke to on the matter seems to have their own pet theory of why the Lindens acted the way they did (starting from one very smart person dear to my heart, Void Singer, whom I mention here because she wrenched that contribution from the claws of her depression ; please go over to her blog and give her a virtual hug, everybody). One of the more popular theories seems to be that LL faced a subpoena in the legal battle (purportedly, one should add) pitting Midas Commons against the World Stock Exchange — read the gist of it here. Note that this conclusion is basically, and somewhat daringly, extrapolated from a blog entry by Lindsey Druart of in-world L & L Corporation. Put in less kind terms, it is sheer guesswork based on a single, unverified source.

Now I’m not bashing Aldon ; the same remark holds true of all other theories, including my own. Just watch us pundits latch on minute signs, nearly unrelated facts, few and in between sources inside and outside the Lab — unverifiable by the very lack of collateral information — as well as on the occasional leaked document (with its authenticity, and possible rationale for the leak, discussed, as it was for Philip Rosedale’s internal email on Cory Ondrejka’s departure from the Lab — see here and here for examples) ; watch us construct theories (again, and with my apologies for this kind of reference, see here and here) on the Lab’s internals decision making processes, power balance and future direction on the authority of these crumbs. Doesn’t it all strike you as very reminiscent of the guesswork, sorry, I meant to say political analysis, going on when it comes to judging the internal decision making of authoritarian and tightly knit RL regimes, say contemporary China, or the defunct Soviet Union ?

To me it does. For a company liking to extol how transparent they are, Linden Lab excel at keeping their motivations and internal workings to themselves (the pronouncements on their intentions by their speakers — well, Robin Linden / Harper mostly — remaining cryptic, vague, and, of course, entirely non binding) leaving observers to their second-guessing, most of us probably doomed to finding ourselves far out on a limb retrospectively.

More than a simple curio, the similarity highlights one harsh fact : benign as King Philip might intend its rule to be, Linden private law (privilege — ever wondered about the etymology ?) reigns supreme over Second Life You-Know-Where, by its very nature despotic (despotism having very little to do with the goodwill of the rulers, or the style of their rule). Internal power struggles in the ruling group are the only politics, mock-democratic crowd mood sounding systems like the public JIRA notwithstanding. That is the status quo of Second Life You-Know-Where’s burgeoning society.

RL history shows that evolving societies do not tolerate despotic regimes indefinitely. They either topple over, or evolve before they get toppled over. Second Life You-Know-Where’s society is evolving ; maybe it is time that we, as its members, start pushing.

15 thoughts on “Second Life Guess

  1. I enjoyed this post, but what I found really remarkable is how you, and you are far from alone, see Linden Labs as some sort of institution, a government, or otherwise ‘leaders’ of a community. But they are not. They are not like Colgate doesn’t represent a ‘society of people who brush their teeth’ or Nike regulates ‘the community for people who wear sneakers’ just because they didn’t print the Nike Air Max in size XXL and yellow stripes. The choices Linden Labs make are marketing/product development decisions and should be treated as such. They are a company trying to run a profit on a Virtual Environment.

    This is not so much a mistake as it is an interesting phenomena in Virtual Worlds. Having about 6 years of MMORPG experience (Asherons Call 2, World of Warcraft) I know the developing sides are always being ‘criticized’ by their user base for doing things the wrong way rather strongly, and often rightfully so – but this is because of an unusual commitment of the user to their product.

    On that same point however, I completely agree how the Lindens (Robin in particular) do nothing to discard the image of this governmental institution some hold Linden Labs to be by being too political in their answers or other outings. Its really tiresome to listen to her babble about ‘encouraging user intervention in Resident Disputes’. But it has been a longtime problem no one seems to be able to ‘punish’ Linden Labs with some serious competition.

    From my Twitter: Lindens talk like Politicians ‘we are in a situation of constant evolution, we’re all in this together, i hope we can make this work’… 09:00 PM January 07, 2008 from web

  2. @Digado : do I see the Lindens as government ? Yes and no. I agree entirely with you they are a company catering to a user base though a product. That is, if you’ll allow me the expression, the RL reality of SL Y-K-W. If you take a wider stance on virtual worlds (as you obviously do) and consider Second Life You-Know-Where to be just one product (albeit the leading one currently ?), it is also perfectly accurate to state that the Lindens do not rule or govern virtual worlds.

    If, however, you take an in-world stance, meaning you consider yourself the member of a society, not the user of a platform, then the Lindens do in fact rule that society. Despotically through private law, as befits the translation of company to customer contract into the realm (feudalism was founded on private contract, weird as it sound). That makes them the de facto governing body, even if they do their possible not to assume this role — though, as I suggested in my previous post, this might in part at least have to do with the vague realization that the vision of a New World and private law do not go well together.

    Bottom line is that for the colonists, the New World does indeed need a government, and that the Linden Lab one is not what it should be. To those still sampling the choice of colonies before settling on emigration (or not), the matter will of course always seem parochial and irrelevant 🙂

  3. I don’t think Linden Labs rules Second Life You-Know-Where at all even from a residential point of view. They manage it to be a profitable platform, and aim to keep it that way. Like Nike manages their brand, not the people who wear sneakers. What do you think will happen if say – they banned any adult content, or limited Linden Income to 10.000 L$ a month? People would leave and choose another Virtual World.

    Why is this different from what you say? If people leave, LL doesn’t continue to make a profit, SL Y-K-W will close. Continuation is the common goal of the residents, and Linden Labs. We can disagree, or agree with LL on how they achieve this goal, but I think its key to see them as business decisions rather then social, moral, or political statements.

    Law is made by the institutions already in place, the real governments, and so far I have no reason to believe The New World needs new laws, just existing ones properly applied where needed. This comes with an understanding of Virtual Worlds, or even the internet – something which will take another several years for those same institutions 🙂

  4. @Digado : ah, I’m not contradicting you. From the point of view you have taken (that is point of view as in « the spot I am standing on and from which I am looking at the world », not as in « my preconceived opinion on things », mind you) your conclusions are entirely correct.

    I share them wholeheartedly when I put myself in your place, i.e., I think of SL Y-K-W as just one example for a virtual world, a part of the new wave of products coming, and of its residents as users / early adopters of that product. This is what I would call the outside point of view, and it is perfectly valid. When I say it is not all, I am not trying to substitute another point of view for yours, I am merely suggesting that there is an additional one, which I would call the inside point of view. Because to those who have firmly established themselves in Second Life, you will find that it is more than a product they use and can replace any time. This is one of the points where your Nike simile falls apart (which, soit dit en passant, will make me personally come over and pull your ear should you trot it past me one more time 🙂 ).

    Not even addressing the issue that SL Y-K-W has a de facto monopoly as there is no valid alternative at the moment for what one might call the full adopters (all other VWs are either still technology studies, vapourware, or so restricting they can hardly compete for these people’s attention) — being the only manufacturer of sports shoes on the world would make quite a difference for Nike’s customer relations too, I think —, Nike users do not constitute a society, while the core of established SL residents shows all signs of being one. We don’t just use SL Y-K-W. We live there (part of the time, agreed). This is not Facebook on steroids ; it is a second identity, the marketing spun name ringing more true than anyone could have expected (and yes, it would still be a second life if it was called Linden World).

    To the society of SL Y-K-W residents, government is a must, and it happens de facto all the time. The problem with it (and I think it is a problem at least Philip Rosedale is aware of, see the Guardian interview) is that matching the outside reality = a company running a business onto the inside reality = governing resident society translates into despotism.

    To quote Lillie Yifu :

    One discussion [is] over whether [LL] is a government. Yes, it is. It has its own currency, its own laws, and claims a monopoly on violence within its own control. Analogies to consumer products companies don’t apply, because I don’t sign a contract with Colgate saying they can pull my teeth out “for any reason, or no reason at all.”

    I’ll repeat myself : I am not saying you are wrong : you are not. But I would invite you to take into consideration that there might be other valid points of views out there than only the outside (or meta) one you are taking. It might stop you wondering why so many people think there is a government, or that they should be one, in SL Y-K-W, and maybe even add another dimension to your own understanding of the metaverse adoption process. Lest one day someone asks you, you who were so bright and knowledgeable about the new colonies, and could discourse so well about the future of the Empire when people would move from one colony to the other and back to the mainland as economic and societal needs and biographies dictated, why the hell a tea shipment is floating in Boston harbour. 🙂

    Feel kissed for your kind words to Void.

  5. I don’t understand all the buz around the topic.
    LL is a commercial company, as explained by Digado, and we are customers even if we would like to be called residents.
    When we register we know that we will have to abide by some rules that not everybody has time to read…
    If I am not satisfied by LL I have the freedom to leave them and see if sky is bluer in another virtual world.
    If LL are making mistakes in managing their customers it’s their problem.
    They will bear consequences as any commercial company in the (real) world.
    Ah, yes! I forgot to precise that LL is a real world company 😉

  6. There are commercial companies and there are commercial companies. It isn’t one giant vat. If you have studied the law or economics, there are companies which are monopolies, or which impose high switching costs. LL is one of those companies. As such, and this is understood by the law in the cast of LL, their relationship with their customers is different. People are not “free to leave” in the same way they can switch between brands of fizzy high fructose corn syrup water. LL also has possession of private data, and can take actions that have repercussions far beyond sl.

    I should also note that it is the legal theory of corporations that they are chartered by the government and given special privileges before the law for state reasons, specifically the state interest in growing the economy. Every corporation, no matter how small, as a certain amount of the force of government behind it, and special recognition. For example, the corporate veil prevents you from suing corporate officers for corporate acts in many cases, and prevents attachment of their assets.

    So this fiction that LL is no different than our tooth paste brand is absurd, and really the polemical nature of the comments indicates a lack of understanding. We don’t sing agreements with people we buy ordinary goods from. Ordinary goods companies are sued, but not over the issue of whether the tooth paste tube is property and belongs to the tooth paste company or the consumer.

    Some weeks ago a lawyer came to sl and argued rather persuasively that yes, LL is going to have to start respecting notions of property and commerce beyond simple contract, if, indeed, it does not already.

  7. I don’t understand all this tekkie prostration before the Company All Hail the Company. My God, you don’t do that with Bush, the U.S. government, your university president, do you? Of course not. So why be so supine about Linden Lab?

    My God, we pay them 80 percent of their bottom line. We are the greatest adventure capitalists of them all, our tier funds the entire enchilada. They wouldn’t exist without us. We are their revenue stream. Let’s act like we belong here, people, and stop crawling and snivelling.

    All corporations are subject to law. And good corporations have social responsibility. LL prides itself on being the hippie socially minded type of responsible corporation, and we can draw on that. I fail to see why we can’t treat this as a new kind of company in which we are co-owners.

    Toothpaste isn’t something you have sex with, or rent from, or learn something from, or prototype something with. It’s just to clean your teeth. Virtuality is something we get all up inside of. And they had better behave better, like we’re there, or they lose.

    Please, enough with this forced migration policy to solve problems. I’m not free to leave something I like and put money into. That’s ridiculous. I don’t say that about my country, my job, or my university unless I have another one lined up. Let’s not be so prostrate before these awesome game gods.

  8. An interesting footnote to the whole debate is delivered by Anita Ramasastry in her column titled « Second Life You-Know-Where Bans Cyber Banks and Unregulated Financial Institutions: Why This Solution May Only Create More Problems, At Least in the Short Term » (the column proper is far less unwieldy than its title, mind you). I find it of particular interest because a.) Ramasastry is a bona fide RL professor of law, b.) she is only connected to Second Life You-Know-Where as an observer as far as I can tell, and c.) she wrote the whole column for a decidedly non-SL Y-K-W legal site.

  9. Okay, so I got to be carefull here or I’ll get my ear pulled 😛

    But yes – I am open to the fact many have found something personal in here, and trusted this to Linden Labs. Even though I may not mention Nike again i don’t agree on why you say it doesn’t work but thats okay – ’nuff has been said on that. But don’t dismiss me ‘wondering over the goverment issue’ as misunderstanding ‘the inside point of view’ – even in the most immersive experience of the Metaverse as a ‘new frontier’ I am quite happy to apply logic and reason as ‘dictated’ by western RL law – they make sense to me, provided they are translated correctly to a virtual enviroment.

    Just because Virtual Worlds can be a ‘New World’ if you want to look at it that way, doesn’t mean we have to reinvent the wheel or discard logic and start over – and I don’t think LL descisions in this are have been controversial to common sense. This is my point of view from both an outside (meta) point of view, aswell as inside. (on which you might agree or disagree, I am just explaining why I don’t think the ‘point of view’ has anything to do with it)

    You have to concider what binds you to Second Life You-Know-Where in particulair – psychological ties, emotional, social, or whatever reason you say you will not find these anywhere else, and reflect them on YOU, not the platform. Because what ever meta, gaming or multiverse you are in, thats the one thing that doesn’t change. Its still you doing the experiencing, socialising etc. The way I read your point of view is you say you will not be able to find that anywhere else and thats impossible to say at this point. 🙂

    P.S. I demand more blogposts!

    @prokofy – thank you for dispelling those stubborn rumours about you being one of those toothpastillioacs. I can sleep peacefully now I know your toothpaste is safe once more.

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