Chimaera

I have never been much of a political activist. The way I see it, however passionate you are about an issue, politics have a way of wearing you down by making you argue the same things over and over again, until anything you say is but the n-th rehash of things said countless times before. And while repetition might hone your skirmishing skills, each pass blunts your heart as much as it sharpens your tongue.

That, and the fact that I am a hopelessly shallow person of course, have been enough to keep me away from the nitty gritty of political work. Oh, I might cheer and wave, I might even run that first, glorious mile when events are still fast paced and exciting ; but don’t look for me when the going gets slow — unless it is in the boutiques we passed on that first mile. It has always been that way. I have always been that way. 

But life moves in strange ways, especially when you have two of them, and in one of mine at least things have been… different, lately.

Not entirely surprisingly, this has to do with trademarks ; trademarks as made into policy by Linden Lab, and as protested against by so many in the blogosphere. And then again, more surprisingly maybe, it has not. It has not because when all is said and done, what the issue really boils down to is not a silly set of writing rules for bloggers, nor even the presumption to enforce these by brute force if need be, but one simple and far more general question :

What kind of world do we want to live in ?

Yes, yes, I know how that sounds. Don’t call the orderlies yet (later, maybe : being put in a straightjacket and manhandled by burly men, then locked into a cell, only ever to get out for an ice bath or some electric shock therapy … but I digress).

Let me explain what I mean. Continue reading

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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 : Continue reading

Linden Lab en route to Hell, at last

The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions. The same might be true of other destinations held akin to hell by individuals and organizations, though it is a matter of debate if these destinations would be considered such by anyone but the traveller. Take Linden Lab and governance for instance. One could argue the point that for the bunch of laid back coders and start-up entrepreneurs that constitute LL’s core, the notion of governance is by its very nature indeed hell. If it is, LL has taken a big step down that road, the biggest to date, and — of course — out of good intentions.

Hell ? Governance ? Girl, what are you gabbing about ?

Well, you will not have missed the fact that, with its New Policy Regarding In-World “Banks”, effective from January 22nd, Linden Lab has decreed what amounts to a total ban of in-world banking activities. This has been hailed, or at least acknowledged as inevitable, by observers as diverse as Benjamin Duranske, Prokofy Neva, Nobody Fugazi, Tateru Nino and Dusan Writer; dissenters have been few and in between, easily dismissed as either obvious lobbyists (for instance Arbitrage Wise, « CEO » of JT Financial) or as missing the point (see Lillie Yifu’s angry retort to Robert Bloomfield’s plea for a continuation of SL Y-K-W banking activities as a sandbox for RL studies). Not surprisingly, the decision sat far less well with depositors, who, on hearing the news, panically flocked to the ATMs to withdraw their deposits en masse before the impending closure of their « bank » (see Prokofy Neva’s superb on the spot reportage ; also the articles on Your2ndPlace and Massively), as well as being accompanied by cries of « despotism » on the comments everywhere. The whole thing simply reeks of RL déjà-vu.

Now I’m not going to discuss the pros and cons of the banking ban, nor of its implementation (try aforementioned Arbitrage Wise on Your2ndPlace, or Aldon Hynes on SLNN, a man also on record for saying it needed Colgate to bring smiling to SL Y-K-W avatars, for criticism of that). There is little my gut feeling and homebrew reasoning can contribute to what brighter minds have written. Neither am I going to ponder the question what the balance between scammers and little boys playing bank might have been ; being neither a lawyer, nor a theologian, I find the degree of inherent malice pretty irrelevant to my opinion of the impact of people’s actions.

What I do find interesting is why Linden Lab felt necessary to step in — and what this means for the future of Second Life as a society, a topic I hold dear since the spectacular failure of my first and only recurrence to in-world policing.

Gwyneth Llevelyn has summarized the three current theories about LL’s motivations. In a nutshell, these are : Continue reading

Wild, wild west 2.0 continued

Sometimes, you just stumble over something and think « my thoughts exactly ». Now I admit this happens rarely to me, as I am a chronic dissenter, but Doug McMahon’s statement « Why » he is developing a Constitution for the Metaverse (while admitting to not using Second Life You-Know-Where actively, fancy that) strikes me as the straight continuation of my own thoughts in « Wild, wild west 2.0 ».

The question of why I would seek to draft a constitution for the metaverse, and why I think it might need one, is an obvious one. I genuinely believe that any online world in which users seek some kind of autonomy from the real world cannot function satisfactorily without one. To this you might reply that Second Life You-Know-Where, the leading metaverse, seems to be doing just fine. But I would question whether the benevolent dictator model for metaverses is really sustainable. All the power in Second Life You-Know-Where is concentrated in the hands of Linden Labs, they are the archetypal judge, jury and executioner with the added twist that they are also the law makers and the executive in the world. I am by no means accusing Linden Labs of anything underhand in this, I recognise the efficacy of this for their business model and that without it the world may not exist, but I am questioning whether this is a system under which one would or should chose to live.

The fundamental goal of a constitution is to distribute power in such a way that it allows for a fully functioning society whilst protecting the individual from the state. The goal is the rule of law – power under law, not under men. To those who resist the introduction of law into the metaverse I say this: first, it need not look like the law of the real world, indeed it should not look like the law of the real world; second, law is already pervasive in the metaverse, in the form of the ToS document, copyright and contract law, law suits brought in the real world concerning metaverse events. The only way to restrict the impact of laws not suited to the metaverse is for the metaverse to have its own.

I think we might have to watch this one…

Wild, wild west 2.0

Two weeks ago, I had my first experience of griefing. Somebody entered my home unasked (and we are talking of a skybox over 500 m up, with closed privacy drapes at that) ; I hit « eject and ban » in reflex, and after some fruitless IM exchange my « visitor » started some silly scripted device flooding my screen in green chat. I then did what a good SL Y-K-W citizen is meant to do : I filed an Abuse Report in world, complete with the required screenshot, location and situation resume. Shortly afterwards, I got a polite if obviously boilerplate mail from the abuse report team telling me my report had been received, would be investigated and that I would be notified of the results.

That was two weeks ago.

Now, I could wave this off and tell myself I have learned the hard way never to forget re-enabling my alarm system after a visitor left. The fact is that I do use a scripted alarm and ejection system since I built my skybox — I never relied on the Linden’s enforcement of the TOS, my co-Second Lifers’ You-Know-Where denizens respect for other resident’s privacy and what should be common sense and good manners enough to believe I could leave my home unsecured.

But the Lindens’ complete failure to react rankles. All right, I can hear the old hands hooting with laughter at the thought of anybody in SL Y-K-W below concierge level expecting any kind of reaction to what was, ultimately, « only » a breach of privacy and some minor harassment. It still sucks. So much, actually, that it begs for some thought what kind of environment we live in. Continue reading