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Get a Life

The always brilliant Boris Anthony came to visit Rebecca and me in Cambridge today, and we found ourselves talking about virtual worlds. Berkman just participated in a conference in New York titled “State of Play”, focused on serious scholarly analysis of online spaces and games, especially massively multiplayer online games. Several of my colleagues – Rebecca included – came back from conference excited about learning more about these spaces, especially social spaces like Second Life.

I’ve had a hard time getting excited about virtual worlds. This isn’t because I find them uninteresting – I spent much of my teens and early twenties fascinated by MUDs and MOOs, early text-based multiplayer games and worlds. Early on in my time with Tripod, one of the teams I led focused on adding images to LambdaMOO to create a graphical online environment. I watched The Palace become the next big thing and then that thing everyone had forgotten about. In other words, I find myself wondering whether the new interest in online environments is, in fact, a very, very old idea.

Boris pointed me to an excellent post from Michael Lenczner about “the immersive web”, his term for these new multiuser social spaces. He makes the interesting point that, as people start spending more of their time, energy and creativity in these spaces, they’re living large pieces of their lives in environments owned by companies that may or may not have their best interests at heart. An important aspect of their life is tied to a specific company, its fortunes and its policies. Michael proposes an open source project to create a community space that’s free of some of these encumberances.

Whether or not 3D interactive spaces would be my top priority for new open source projects, I think it’s an intriguing idea – I’d certainly feel more comfortable putting time into a world I co-owned into one I was just renting. And I’m building a character for Second Life just to see whether this is something new, or just the most recent retread of a very old (and very interesting) idea…

7 thoughts on “Get a Life”

  1. Second Life is both something old and something new–definitely worth checking out.

    If you’re looking at it as a place you co-own, you’re looking at the wrong virtual world, depending on your definition of “own.” Linden Lab (SL’s maker) was generous to allow its customers to keep their IP rights, but have no responsibility to maintain/retain user-created data (and users have no means to back up their data). Furthermore, resident creations are automatically licensed to Linden Lab (and 3rd-party designates) for marketing and promotional purposes.

    I’m waiting (probably vainly) for Second Life to become a decentralized platform for which Linden Lab is truly a service provider as opposed to the exclusive governing body. When I own and control my own slice of VR like I own and control assets on my web site, then I’ll have something to get truly excited about.

  2. Thanks for the heads up, Tony. I’m exploring Second Life less because it’s got a property model I’d support and more because it appears to be an emergent phenomenon, at least in academic circles, as the people who study this stuff are now flocking to it to see what’s going on. I can’t resist the herd mentality. Moo.

    Sounds like the constraints you’re mentioning on Second Life are a possible support for Michael’s theory that we need a model more analagous to blogs that allow creators to control, own and back up their content…

  3. Recently discovered MMPORGs. Few months ago, at AAAI conference, I met a Stanford student who told me he was spending 6 hours per day (!) every day inside WorldOfWarcraft. I was totally surprised, so I searched the Web for some MMPORGs but I found nothing for GNU/Linux, until…
    PlaneShift http://www.planeshift.it
    I downloaded the client for GNU/Linux (hundreds of megabytes!) and boom there was a great, impressive 3d world with hundreds of real players! Really hundreds! And the world is incredible, really!

    Planeshift is released under GPL, free software, software that gives you freedom … freedom to use the code, and also freedom to study the code … well in fact how much freedom? Really a lot. It is something like being able to study the server code and understand how the world “behaves”. It is something like being able to totally understand how reality works: think about being able to understand why gravity happens, why my cat cannot live under the water, why I cannot flight (or I can?), …
    It is like having a totally predictable world… is there intelligent life somewhere on Mars? Just let me check in the code. Does this mean that you can reverse-engineer the universe? And if yes, so what? Well I don’t have clear ideas at all, in fact
    I have 3 or 4 posts in draft status on my blog about online worlds. Some of the topics that buzz around my head are:
    – economy of virtual worlds (and the different policies you can try “for real”: socialism, money that lose values with time, dictatorship, whatever your mind can think of, …) is really fascinating. Castronova has done some very interesting studies.
    – effects in real world of activities in virtual words is fascinating (have you heard of a chinese guy killing in the real world another guy with a real sword because he stole a virtual sword in the virtual world? This sadly happened)
    – someone that is not able to, say, walk in the real work (sorry I don’t know the world in English) might be able to do it in the virtual world, he might be able to get a “walking” life in the virtual world. While I’m not suggesting that this should replace the “real” world, this is something that I guess can have tremendous impact on many people! And on how they see themselves. And on how we see eachother, or not?
    – teaching in online world: is it profitable? for whom? how does teaching change in virtual world?
    – sweatshops in the real world of people creating value (gold) in the virtual world…

    Real? Virtual? How many years before we totally lose the difference? 100 years? less?

    Yep, well, as you can see I have totally cloudy ideas! This is the best part during the thinking-about-something part! ;-)

    So if you have time, read the article pointed in
    or try to play Planeshift
    (of course I’m a female character in the game … this is another interesting topic of course. Experiencing life from the other side of the se_x: yes I’m getting advances…)

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