Saturday, 29 December 2007

Second Life Loudmouths

In my first week on Second Life all I did was fly around the mainland, taking in the sights. I would connect to the SLURL website and teleport to the default entry point, which is the Ahern welcome area. Arriving there, I would leap up into the sky, zoom away from the crowd, and drop back down to explore nearby builds that looked interesting. I did this for about a week, gradually going farther and farther afield, across the continent.

I might have gone on touring aimlessly for a long while. But in the meantime I discovered another dimension of the Second Life experience, which is the world of blogs, forums and websites that have grown up around Second Life. I was using Google to search for maps of the places I had been visiting. I did find a few highly informative old maps of the grid at the website of Bino Arbuckle. But at Bino’s site I also found a link to the Second Life History Wiki, and that changed everything.

Through the SL History Wiki, I discovered the Confederation of Democratic Sims, which is now my home. I also discovered the story of how Ulrika Zugzwang created the first democratic sim, and then later attacked the fledging democracy that she herself had initiated. In search of more details about Ulrika’s story, I discovered the Second Life bloggers, such as Prokofy Neva, Hamlet Au, Gwyneth Llewelyn and Tateru Nino. These are the Second Life "loudmouths," as Gwyneth calls herself. Some of these loudmouths are obnoxious, pushing provocation to the limits. Prokofy has been banned from the official Second Life forums, and Ulrika was banned from the sim she helped create. The others are more diplomatic, but they are all consistently interesting. One could call them the intellectuals of Second Life.

The biggest loudmouth of them all is Prokofy Neva. Before Prokofy showed up on Second Life, he made waves on The Sims Online (TSO), under the name of Dyerbrook. Dyerbrook campaigned against the Sim Shadow Government (SSG), which was a group of TSO users acting as an informal police force, in response to articles about the sims underworld appearing on the Alphaville Herald blog. The articles were written by a user called Urizenus Sklar, in real life the philosophy professor Peter Ludlow, who interviewed TSO users to study the sociology of the online community. Urizenius found evidence suggesting that an adolescent was paying underage girls to participate in on-line sex chats. Dyerbook supported Urizenus but nonetheless set him a trap, leading Urizenus to publish a totally fake interview of a 16-year-old girl supposedly wooed into witchcraft by adults, thereby showing the dangers of “virtual” journalism. Dyerbrook claimed that the Sim Shadow Government was as much a mafia as the underworld it purported to combat, and he whimsically delivered lamps to SSG property in Alphaville in order to "disperse the shadows."

Urizenus later founded the Second Life Herald, and was thus on hand to salute the arrival of Prokofy in Second Life in December, 2004. Prokofy promptly began aggressively posting on the official Second Life forum, and also created a blog called Second Thoughts.

Prokofy criticized what he called the Feted Inner Core (FIC) on Second Life, which is reminiscent of Dyerbrook’s criticism of the Sims Shadow Government. As Prokofy explained in an interview, he saw the FIC as a group of highly-visible content-creators that is deliberately favoured by the Lindens, thereby establishing an elite, which then tends to oppose anyone seeking a more democratic and open process. Prokofy has also accused Linden Labs of favouring selected land barons with inside information.

Another aggressive loudmouth was Ulrika Zugzwang, who was born into Second Life in June 2004. Within a month, she had won first prize in a Second Life video contest, with a dance video of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller." From Prokofy’s point of view, Ulrika was part of the Feted Inner Core. However, like Prokofy, Ulrika purported to defend the smaller users against a privileged elite. She created a leftist Second Life group called the Social Democratic Faction (SDF), and protested against Linden Lab's regressive land-use fee, which she claimed unfairly placed the cost burden on small land owners.

In August 2004, when Haney Linden called for proposals to preserve the Snow Sims, Ulrika submitted a proposal for a Bavarian mountain town called Neualtenburg. The project was approved and construction began in September. In December Ulrika published the Neualtenburg Constitution and created an in-world voting machine, in time for the first Neualtenburg democratic elections to be successfully held in January 2005. The Neualternburg democracy thus got off to a good start, but participation declined rapidly thereafter. To attract new participants, it was proposed to move the city to a private sim, and to set it up as a nonprofit cooperative. The sim was moved in March 2005, and the first plots of land were put up for sale in June 2005.

The democratic process that Ulrika set up for Neualtenburg, with an elected Representative Assembly meeting once a week, proved to be an effective mechanism for self-government, tolerating political disputes and even political parties. But when Ulrika at one point found herself at odds with the elected government, she termed this upset a “coup”, and in January 2006 she announced her intention of abandoning SL. The established group therefore settled the pending accounts with her, as she requested, selling her land and electing a new official to replace her. But a few months later Ulrika reappeared, and claimed the rights to the name and concept of Neualtenburg, which she wanted to move to another place in Second Life. The existing city-state therefore entered into negotiations with her to purchase the rights to the name “Neualtenburg.” During the negotiations, however, Ulrika claimed that the negotiating group did not include the democratically elected officials of the city-state. She therefore banned certain members of the group from the Neualtenburg forum, which she still had control of, and filed with Linden Labs a rights infringement claim under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

In response, the group officially banned Ulrika from the Neualtenburg sim. With his typical brazen crudeness, Prokofy Neva openly rejoiced in Ulrika’s problems, and concluded that they only proved the dangers of socialism. In a comment to an article in the Second Life Herald, Prokofy stated:

"Ulrika of course is a loathsome creature. I wouldn't elect her as dog-catcher, let alone as head of my socialist theme park. Still, it's indicative of how socialism always breeds these closed societies that get brittle and can't cope with dissent."

The conflict was nonetheless resolved with help from Linden Labs, who changed the name of the sim from Neualtenburg to Neufreistadt. Ulrika kept the original name and created Port Neualtenburg, a small seaside village and artisans' cooperative, which still exists, although Ulrika herself seems to have completely disappeared from Second Life.

Both Prokofy and Ulrika were interviewed numerous times by the official loudmouth of Linden Labs, an in-world journalist called Hamlet Linden. As Hamlet explained in one of his blogs, he was hired by Linden Lab from April 2003 to February 2006 to cover the emerging Second Life society as an embedded journalist. Hamlet claimed that: “All published stories were chosen by me, without any oversight by Linden Lab, based only on my editorial judgement as being relevant to this mission.” When his contract ended, he changed his in-world name to Hamlet Au, and carried on his blog New World Notes under his real life name, Wagner James Au. His articles are the source of much of the information presented in this present post. He has also recently written a book called The Making of Second Life.

Another Second Life resident often interviewed by Hamlet Au is Gwyneth Llewelyn, whom Hamlet describes as "The Visionary." Since her birth in Second Life in July 2004, Gwyneth has played a major role in several in-world projects, notably steering the democratic sim through the transition from Neualtenburg to Neufreistadt, and driving the Thinkers Group, the foremost in-world intellectual salon. But as Gwyneth herself explains, her renown is primarily due to her blog. In early 2005 she already noted that: "google-wise, my SL pseudonym is more ‘famous’ than my RL self, which is weird, since my RL email address has been on the spammers’ lists since 1995." She recently expanded this reflection on the changing relationship between real-life celebrity and virtual-life celebrity into a guest post on Hamlet’s blog, comparing the emerging virtual celebrity to the "Idoru" concept of cyberpunk author William Gibson.

The articles on Gwyneth’s blog explore in depth many of the major tendencies underlying the evolution of Second Life, such as the drawbacks of the general absence of urban planning on Second Life, the possible future configuration of an Open Source Second Life, and the use of crowdsourcing by Linden Labs.

Recently her blog has hosted several guest posts by another Second Lifer called Extropia Dasilva, on subjects such as post-humanism. Some readers seem to have assumed that Extropia Dasilva is an alt of Gwyneth Llewelyn, but Extropia is British, whereas Gwyneth is Portuguese. Extropia was a fellow participant with Gwyneth in the Second Life Thinkers Group.

Another prominent Second Life blogger is Tateru Nino. She is the most discrete of the "loudmouths," as befits someone who started actively mentoring on her first day in-world in August 2005, and who devoted much time to improving the organisation of the volunteer teams. Tateru’s role in the creation and development of Help Island was such that a group of her fans placed shrines to her around the island, giving birth to the term Cult of Tateru, the symbol of which is a red rose inside the red outline of a heart.

For all of her low-keyed approached, however, Tateru is a highly influential blogger. In addition to running her own blog, called Dwell On It, Tateru writes a monthly column for Hamlet Au’s New World Notes, and was a staff writer on the Second Life Insider website. However, Tateru’s input to Second Life Insider has recently been shifted to the Massively website, where her Second Life material continues to appear alongside of articles by other contributors concerning the many other on-line worlds in the Metaverse. Tateru specialises in presenting detailed analyses of Second Life’s day-to-day activities, including use statistics, grid outage reports and bug issues. However, she also presents news about prominent residents. In addition to all the rest, Tateru produces a webcomic made with Second Life photos.

There are many other fascinating Second Life bloggers that deserve a mention here, such as Torley Linden. There is even a website that lists the top Second Life blogs, though many of those listed seem to have climbed high using all-too-familiar web marketing and search engine optimization strategies. And most of them lack a certain something when compared to the blogs mentioned in this post. The critical element would seem to be a clearly identifiable individual persona, however virtual that may be, with a wilful character and strongly vocalised opinions.

The most interesting Second Life blogs seem to be the work of loudmouths.

Monday, 24 December 2007

First days in CDS

I made my first visit to the Confederation of Democratic Sims (CDS) on December 4th 2007, about a week after I was born into Second Life. I teleported into the Colonia Nova park and then flew around a bit. I saw two people on a frozen river downhill from an office building, and tried to land next to them. With newbie awkwardness I missed the edge of the sim and landed in the ocean, finding myself under water. Someone said “lol.” I leapt back up into the air and came down near Rose Springvale and Michel Manen, with whom I spoke briefly. I then flew uphill across the Alpine Meadow covered in snow, and came down in the village below the city of Neufreistadt. I saw a mat saying “Welcome” in front of an open door, and went in to meet Jamie Palisades. After a short chat I visited the town’s main square, and was about to enter a bookstore when I crashed.

The next day I visited Colonia Nova again, and ran into a group made up of Rain Ninetails, Bjerkel Eerie, Sonja Strom and Jamie Palisades, discussing how to make a snow bridge, so that skiers could cross the road at the bottom of Alpine Meadow. They invited me to join them, so I watched them fabricate an experimental snow bridge. Arria Perrault joined us for a while, and Jamie Palisades complimented her on her coat. A bit later I saw a larger group seated outdoors in Alpine Meadow. I walked up and listened, but had trouble following their talk, which was about topics such as the Linden Lab carbon balance. Moon Adamant sent me an IM telling me that it was a meeting of the CSDF faction. I excused myself, and though someone said I was welcome to stay, I left to explore Neufreistadt city.

On December 7th I met Symo Kurko in front of his house in Alpine Meadow. He offered me a cup of coffee, and taught me how to drink it by "wearing" it. I liked his deers, and he pointed out the eagle flying overhead. I returned to Colonia and ran into Rose Springvale, whom I asked about buying land. She showed me a plot for sale in a corner of the Colonia Nova city, with a house on it which pleased me. Brian Livingston, who had been working on his club next door, dropped by and said hello.

The next day I met Lilith Ivory, in front of the plot she had just bought in Alpine Meadow. She told me about her shop in Neufreistadt, where her heavy scripts create so much lag that she can hardly move. The day after that I succeeded in buying my house in Colonia Nova, after talking with owner Jo Sapeur, who gave me a tip on how to buy Lindens through SL Exchange (for some reason my regular account was blocked). After making the purchase I roamed through Colonia Nova and met Alexicon Kurka in his gallery. He was soon joined by friends, so I went my way. And on Sunday December 10th I attended a Guild Meeting, where there was much talk about modifications and additions to Alpine Meadow. At the end of the meeting I admitted that I still had to learn to make a plywood box....

Over the next week I tried to learn to make things. In the privacy of my house I experimented with making a plywood box. Wanting to expand one of its sides, I accidentally grabbed a wall of my house instead, and pulled it out of place. I then suffered torture trying to put it back into just the correct spot. I more or less succeeded, but a few days later an even worse mishap occurred. When trying to grab a silly plywood box, to put it into my inventory, I instead grabbed a wall of my house, and pulled the whole house into inventory! The only way I knew to take it back out was to "wear" it, and then detach it, but doing that would put the house back in the wrong position. I rushed outside to find someone who could give me advice. I ran into Alexicon, but he was very busy preparing an event. Not wanting to disturb him, I tried to figure it out by myself, and experimented with “wearing” the house and then dropping it into the street. That seemed to work, because the house I had dropped sat there astride the road, although its orientation had changed (I had turned my body when the house was on my head). I took the house back into inventory and returned to my plot, but when I tried to drop it there something very strange happened. There was a bit of reality warp, with a few colored fragments strewn about, and what looked like spit on the screen. The house was gone, and was no longer in my inventory either. I think part of it was over the sim boundary, in non-existent space, and so the software just eliminated it. I sent IMs to Rose Springvale and Sudane Erato, and went off line.

When I came back on line later, Sudane had left me a message saying she had no copy, but would rebuild the house (in fact, she had copies of similar pieces). I flew around looking for someone to talk with about my destroyed house, and found Delia Lake in her office in Neufreistadt village. She showed me her dog, and spoke of Michel Manen and Al-Andalus, which had just opened a few days before. I left Delia and her dog, and teleported to Al-Andalus to have a look.

On Sunday December 16th I found my house put back into place by Sudane, who joined me there to show me how to take ownership of it. She then had to rush to the Representative Assembly meeting. On learning that the public can attend, I went along and sat through part of a discussion about creating a CDS tour.

In the week following that I decided to buy some furniture for my house. Brian showed me the Roma shop, where I bought a Roman chair. But when I tried to put it in my house, I lost it. I tried to wear it and drop it (newbie mistakes), and like the house it just disappeared, and was no longer in inventory either. I sent an IM to Torin Golding asking him if he could replace it. The next day I went to the Cleopatra shop, where MT Lundquist and ThePrincess Parisis offered me a free Egyptian chair to replace the lost Roman one. But when we went to install it in my house, the Roman one was back again. Maybe I hadn't lost it after all, or maybe Torin had given me a new one. At any rate, I now have two chairs.

The evening of December 22nd there was the CDS holiday ball, on the frozen river in Colonia. I arrived when it was in full swing, with about 30 or 40 residents dancing to music that I couldn't hear. Many IMs later ThePrincess realised that I needed to change my preferences to allow audio streaming, and I was finally hooked into Gabrielle Riel's podcast. I also learned to activate the standard eight dance steps using short-cut keys, and got into the party. At a pause the ranks thinned out, leaving the hardcore partyers, including notably Michel Manen, who had been dancing with Rose Springvale, and who now went on dancing alone. Other late-night dancers included ThePricess and MT, Bjerkel Eerie and Rain Ninetails, Gabrielle Riel and Rascal Blanco, Jamie Palisades in a kilt, and Binta Amat, dancing in a flash of streaking lights. I finally said goodbye, and went back to my house, where I tried to arrange my two chairs. Wanting to turn one of the chairs, I accidentally grabbed my house again, and found it pivoting around wildly in all directions. After a long hairy struggle, I finally managed to put the house back into more or less the right place. And then I went to bed.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The virtual rose garden

Danton Sideways was born into Second Life about three weeks ago. I soon discovered the Confederation of Democratic Sims, and bought a house in a corner of Colonia Nova. A few days after purchasing the house, I accidently destroyed it. The plot remained depressingly empty for a few days until Sudane Erato rebuilt an identical house in its place. Thank you Sudane!

I've already been to a CDS Guild Meeting, and observed part of a Representative Assembly Meeting. When I tried to slip discretely out of the RA meeting, I got very lagged (my processor is a few years old). It took me forever to stand up, and then I suddenly flew across the room and crashed into the wall! I hope no one noticed. I had the presence of mind to teleport away immediately, instead of trying to walk down the stairs.

A word about the name of this blog, and the title of this post. I find Second Life very realistic, almost like a mirror of First Life. Which of course implies that it is more of a jungle than a rose garden. I expect to find as many hassles here as I find in Real Life. At least that way I'll be right at home! READ MORE...