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Unpacking Linden’s “open source” announcement

Linden Labs, the folks behind Second Life, have announced that they’re releasing the source code for their client “viewer” application under a GPL license. This announcement has already inspired a good deal of conversation and debate, including a number of emails and blogposts asking me whether I’ve withdrawn my argument with Charlie Nesson in the light of Linden “going open source”.

Nope. Linden’s taken a great step towards opening up their code, but it’s still a huge leap before I would consider Second Life to be an open platform. The Viewer is the application Linden makes available for free so that users can interact with the worlds hosted on Linden’s servers. By making this source code available, Linden is allowing independent developers to create Viewers that run on different platforms – porting it to different Unixes, for instance, or trying to create a viewer that could allow Second Life interaction via mobile phone. It also opens the possibility that people could build lighter-weight clients – messaging applications that alert you via GAIM or IRC that you’ve got someone trying to reach you in SL, for instance.

This makes a ton of business sense for Linden. The current client is free (as in “free beer”) and is designed to upsell “users” into becoming landowners, purchasing space on Linden’s servers. If the FLOSS community is willing to improvements in Viewer’s performance or user interface, Linden benefits because more users are introduced to the world, and more (one assumes) decide to pay for the benefits of becoming a landowner. If an open-source Viewer emerges as a viable contender to Linden’s viewer, there’s the intriguing possibility that Linden could support that project and dump their internal Viewer team, saving on development costs and allowing developers to focus more on the server side of the project.

What Linden is not doing is releasing source code to their servers. If Linden made this code available, it would be possible for individuals or groups to run their own Second Life islands. (You could imagine these new spaces either connected or disconnected from the Second Life that runs on Linden’s servers.) Releasing this code would be a major threat towards Linden’s business model – it opens the possibility that I could run servers that were more stable or less expensive than Linden’s servers and compete head to head with the existing company. You could also imagine situations where groups that wanted to permit or ban certain behavior might run their own Second Life spaces following their own rules, ajudicated by their own administrators.

The core objection I raised with Charlie a few weeks back is the fact that Second Life, at present, is a monopoly. If you decide that, for whatever reason, you no longer want to do business with Linden Labs, you’re anchored in place by the content you’ve created within their servers. While Linden gives you IP ownership of this content – vastly more than what World of Warcraft gives you, as folks like Joi Ito have pointed out – the objects and code you’ve created within Second Life can’t be easily moved to another server not controlled by Linden. Furthermore, those servers are managed by Linden’s team, and, as Charlie pointed out, Second Life users have accepted a usage agreement that gives Linden a great deal of discretion over what constitutes “acceptable behavior”. And if you’re on the wrong side of Linden law, there’s nowhere else to run – your avatars and objects can’t currently be moved to another world with another set of guidelines or governors.

For Second Life to become a platform I’d be willing to encourage educators like Charlie to use, it would need to offer its server code under a FLOSS license, making it possible for anyone competent enought to run a server to do so. This would allow users to pick and choose between services on the basis of reliability, cost, community and content – I could run a dirt-cheap Second Life server, but it’s possible that no one would come because there’s no content or users in my universe yet. It would also allow communities to implement different strategies to define and enforce appropriate behavior, allowing exploration of the governance issues Charlie is so interested in.

Will this happen? Linden has been talking about making their code available under an open source license for three years – releasing the Viewer is certainly a reasonable first step. But it strikes me that Linden would have at least two major obstacles to overcome before they release the server code. One is ensuring they still have a viable business model in a world where anyone can run a server. The second – which may turn out to be harder to navigate – is the issue of brand identification. If users were able to build Second Life servers and enforce their own Terms of Service for those worlds, you can imagine Second Life-accessible or -affiliated worlds where very controversial behavior, like “age play” is permitted and, in fact, the norm. This, in turn, could be a very complicated branding issue for Linden – would the press view these new worlds as independent of Linden, or as part of the larger Second Life phenomenon? (Very few people blame CERN and Tim Berners-Lee for the seedier corners of the Web…)

I’m very interested to see what comes from making the Viewer code accessible. (By the way, Linden’s done a good job, from what I can see, of not only releasing the code, but including detailed build and dependency instructions, as well as making it possible for developers to share documentation, tips, etc.) Some of the reactions on the Second Life blogpost announcing the decision offer some ideas of what custom clients could mean for SL residents:

Offline building? Saving one’s work/rpims offline? Possibly even voice chat with vocoder plugins (I’m a dragon in SL and that what I’d like my voice to sound like rather than human). MIDI implementation? The possibilities are endless…

(Quote from Alazarin Mondrian)

One very real possibility is clients customized for the specific needs of the individuals who use them. Early adopters might use a very streamlined client, designed to let them navigate easily and learn the world, while experienced object authors might use the sort of offline-editor-enabled clients Mondrian is proposing. Looking at the sort of “dashboard” Joi Ito has built to lead his guild on World of Warcraft gives some insight onto what a customized client might look like.

Other commenters aren’t nearly as sanguine. Because a client has to download objects, scripts and textures from a server, there’s the possibility that a rogue client could make unauthorized copies of this content, ignoring the ownership permissions set on the server. An earlier attempt to reverse engineer a FLOSS client for Second Life – libsecondlife – led to the creation of a tool called CopyBot, which can clone objects and textures it encounters in Second Life. Content creators – who make money by designing and selling virtual clothing, avatar customizations, furniture, buildings, etc. – reacted to CopyBot with panic, inspiring Linden to rule that use of CopyBot was forbidden under the Linden terms of service. (Wagner James Au has done a great job of following the CopyBot story, and offered a very helpful followup to his first piece, which included hard questions about whether CopyBot actually was a problem for most SL users, or whether it simply inspired intellectual property panic without much evidence that anyone was actually having their virtual stuff stolen.)

Commenter Ryozu Kojima invokes CopyBot in discussing concerns about the new client:

I fear for the future of content creators however. Although I’m not a fan of security through obscurity, it’s going to be a very rough few months as people work out the best ways to duplicate content by analizing what the client does with that content.

I expect to see LSL script decompilers/rippers, object duplicators ala CopyBot and much more in the coming months

Nibb Tardis is even more blunt:

The silliest decision ever. We knew it was coming, but there is absolutely no security right now in the SL protocols. Once again LL is making the right decisions at the wrong time.

You thought copybot was bad ? Wait until someone comes up with a free L$ generator, a sim/grid nuker or a permission modifier. I’m pretty sure the server side of SL is creaking with the security holes that allowed that kind of hack in the past…

I predict that in the next couple of weeks we shall see at least one “universal object replicator” and one “grid nuker”. I sure hope I’ll be proved wrong.

Where I’d love to be proved wrong is on the question of when Linden will open their server code. I predict it won’t happen within 2007, and might not happen until significantly later. In the meantime, I’m hoping that the opening of the Second Life viewer (along with continuing development on libsecondlife) will lead to good strategies for exporting Second Life objects and scripts into another universe, like OpenCroquet. I suspect that having the ability to move objects out of Second Life and have them function would be a) a great way of seeding a future Croquet universe and b) a way to dilute some of the monopoly power Linden current exerts due to server control.

Cory’s got an interesting piece on the announcement on Boingboing. He and I are interested in the same issues – whether Second Life will make it possible for you to move objects off their servers and onto your own server. Cory reads the announcement as announcing this move is coming soon – I don’t. Dave Winer offered a very interesting comment to start the thread on this post – a sense that if the client code is readable enough, it should make it feasible to engineer a server that replicates the grid servers. That’s a really intriguing idea – I’d love a read from someone who’s started reading the client code on whether they think that would be an easy or hard hack.

27 thoughts on “Unpacking Linden’s “open source” announcement”

  1. Ethan, haven’t they taken the necessary step to enable independent servers by showing everyone who cares to know, exactly how a client talks to a server. Now it should be possible to reverse-engineer a server implementation, and servers could be developed using any license you like — including open source.

    It was certainly the first thought that passed through my mind when I saw they had released the client in open source.

  2. It’s a great question, Dave. I haven’t looked closely enough at the code – and, frankly, I don’t read C++ well enough – to see whether the protocols are documented clearly enough that reverse-engineering a server implementation would be a straightforward task. I’d love your read on that, or certainly the input of anyone who starts digging into the code in a big way.

    I also don’t know that Linden would react well to people reverse-engineering the server code – you could imagine Linden explicitly refusing to connect between existing servers and new servers built on a different architecture, or attempting some legal steps to prevent such reverse engineering from taking place. I’ll be interested to put that idea on the table tomorrow and see what caselaw exists around reverse engineering…

  3. You are completely right in noting how releasing the client is a clever commercial move by Linden but nothing in the way of letting users move the objects they create IN the world, since the code for the server is as proprietary as it was before. I think the mention to a network of servers could have fooled me a bit and the “I want to believe” blindness … I have to admit I blogged too quickly and too enthusiastically the news. ;-(
    (By the way, it was not my point to ask you to withdraw your argument with Charles Nelson, I totally loved it and agree with it.)

    I still think it is a positive news. For example now that the client code is available it would be easier to start from scratch a compatible server on SourceForge (or am I wrong again?) but thanks for your timely and deeper than mine post!

    P.s.: I downloaded and installed OpenCroquet but I was not able to figure out what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t see the videos on the Website because I probably don’t have the right coded on GNU/Linux for viewing QuickTime files, so I was wondering: would you make an incredible presentation like your “5 minutes history of the internet” but about OpenCroquet? Something like “5 minutes introduction to OpenCroquet”? Well, thanks anyway of course!!!

  4. Pingback: Paolo blog: Ramblings on Trust, Reputation, Recommender Systems, Social Software, Free Software, ICT4D and much more » Second Life source code now as Free Software!

  5. Great writeup, Ethan.

    And in partial response to Dave’s question, I’d say it is important to draw a distinction between open source code that implements a protocol, and an open protocol itself.

    For even if one were to reverse engineer the protocol in order to create another Second Life-alike island, there is nothing to prevent Linden from changing the protocol at will (aside from breaking the very same open source client, of course), and there is nothing that explicitly grants permission to use that protocol.

    No, if they want to do that then they’ll have to open the protocol as well. No easy feat, of course, but a necessary prerequisite.

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  7. ethan, did you see the press release by the Free Software Foundation announcing support for the Free Ryzom campaign? The aim is to buy the online game and universe known as Ryzom from a bankrupt company and release the entire game as free software.

    It says that this “would allow the development of a myriad of universes, each one evolving its own philosophy and unique content – but sharing in general technical improvements”.

    If, as you suggest, the opening of the Second Life viewer leads to ways to for export Second Life objects and scripts, perhaps Ryzome universes will eventually provide a home.

    Although I really admire Second Life for its creativity and ‘generativity’, I’m pretty uncomfortable with a virtual world based on the principle of property development, and I sometimes find it disturbing to read the SL blogs where people discuss their relationship to the SL gods. Seems to me a FOSS form of Second Life might be a better fit for those of us who want to use virtual worlds for social change.

  8. Excuse my bluntness, but I think you are moaning. Personally, I think that what Linden are doing makes great sense. Remember, Linden is a commercial operation as well as a part of the community. Whilst they should share, I don’t see anything wrong with them keeping some things particular to themselves. We should welcome generosity and reward it if we can, but we also have to recognise the right to keep something private and proprietary.

    Rather than complaining, I think we should just get off our butts and write a server for Second Life. I know nothing about it, but how hard can it be? It’s a database of objects that farms out a lot of the heavy-lifting to the client software. In principle it’s the same as a million databases, accounting programs or content management packages. I bet you could even adapt WordPress or MT to store Second Life worlds.

    On the business side, I think we should develop a model whereby the commercial and the free can live together in the Second Life world.

    Just like the web really.

    Personally, I think the big barrier to developing this stuff is the client-end. Developing for all those platforms is bloody complicated, and the whole graphical engine is something to contemplate.

  9. It’s a really good point, Antoin. I don’t mean to be arguing that Linden is somehow “required” to release their server code. I am arguing that someone like Charlie Nesson – who otherwise supports open standards and open code – would be better off supporting open alternatives to Second Life.

    As for getting off our butts and writing a server:

    – I think there’s a lot to be said for trying to build on the work Croquet is doing. Their code is open, does some fascinating stuff, and works on a peer to peer model, which addresses some of the concerns about governance and server ownership I tried to raise here.

    – I’d be very interested to see how Linden reacted to an open source SL server – would they attempt to block it, as DeWitt suggests, by changing protocol? Or try to use legal means to block it?

    – I wonder whether the enthusiasm for SL has taken the air out of the room for an alternative platform. It’s hard to rally folks to write a new search engine these days, in the shadow of Google. Is this a similar situation around SL and virtual worlds?

    Point taken on the moaning. Wasn’t the intent – trying to react to some of the excited, happy shouting I’m reading elsewhere in the space.

  10. Ethan,

    The experience of seeing open-source extremism in Second Life, witnessed by the libsecondlife CopyBot and other griefing, and seeing the way the governance issues, too, are shaping up, really, really gives me grave concerns about how the Metaverse as a whole is being formed — and these issues are not trivial. It’s not about FUD and tinfoil hats, but about basic principles of participatory democracy and transparence, values you espouse in your own blog.

    So often, open-sourcing something is seen as making it more open. But paradoxically, SL is likely to get more closed as a community, as elite programmers with the skills and connections to craft new viewers fast-track their creations to Linden Lab and bypass general community input, in the past made through informal institutions like the Feature Voting Tool or the Town Hall.

    The core of people at any open-source movement become tyrants — that’s been commented on many times in the movement’s own discussions, and there are obviously many schools of thought about this.

    It’s too bad you are accepting only the version of the CopyBot story supplied by those very closely tied to LL and libsecondlife. It’s not about fear or panic. We’re quite past that; even those unschooled in copyright and technical issues grasp that CopyBot didn’t work very well; that it was complicated; that it got broken on the next patch; that it was made a violation of the TOS; that it didn’t make very good copies anyway, etc. etc.

    There was an inherent contradiction in what those in charge and those responsible for CopyRight kept saying — on the one hand it was harmless, as you imply here; on the other hand it signalled an inevitable end to the copyright design movement that has been the bedrock of Second Life’s economy and everybody was supposed to scrap their old business model and turn to even more frantic creation to keep a steady supply of new designs in case the old were copied or to move to a complex of package entertainment like events, brands, pop stars, etc.

    So the issues are rather social and political: why does one elite group of residents get to reverse engineer the client in secret and unleash “features” suddenly on the unsuspecting and unwilling population in an interactive, immersive world — features on which they do not put their names, and which in fact aren’t open-sourced, but which they immediately make proprietary?!

    It seemed to fly in the face of all this GNU licensing culture we’ve always heard. You shouldn’t have to find out that somebody has reverse-engineered the Linden-only God-mode stalking by having them stalk and harass YOU. You shouldn’t find out about somebody’s ability to make megaprims by having someone entirely cover YOUR sim so it is not visible from the air. You shouldn’t find out about the abstract possibility of SL becoming like the whole Internet and being right-clickable and copyable by having people deliberately terrorize and harass you by deliberately planning to do so; selling the program that does this; then selling the antidote for this; then paying sources to lie to journalists about it.

    The real protest around CopyBot isn’t *about* CopyBot; it’s about how hackers behave. There are hackers, and there are hackers. Some are thoughtful and altruistic and community-oriented and explain what they do and when they find something that crashes the grid, they tell LL, they don’t crash the grid to show off. Others crash the grid and make giant replicating phalluses. See the issues? You don’t have to be a Bezroukovist (as I’m leaning towards becoming!) to point out that the open-sourcing and reverse-engineering gang at SL has been pretty controversial; perhaps it’s indicative that at least 25 members of the libsecondlife group have been permabanned. Read some of the extremist sorts of commentary you get from these folks on the Herald around the open-source controversies (and they are legitimate ones) and you’ll see:

    I’m less concerned than you are about being able to move objects off servers. Most people will feel no need to do this. It’s an abstraction that fascinates those inclined to build bridges between technical systems to make the backbone of the Metaverse, but the social networks are what are important for most, and the act of creation and expression itself as an outward part of socializing, but not intrinsically necessary in and of itself.

    The same groups of people migrate from Active Worlds or There or Sims Online to Second Life and then on to Project Entropia or Eve Online or World of Warcraft, ebbing and flowing, and they worry far less about the need for holding objects. What are those objects but merely 3-D representations anyway, easier made on Autocad or whatever? I meet in a cafe in RL and have a wonderful conversation with someone; I don’t become obsessed about taking sugar packets home with me and photographing the entire area to render it in 3-D later; the friend and the conversation and our work together is the point, after all.

    What I’d like to explore is whether or not having millions of people hosting their own servers produces a Better World and freedom and improved communication. We need to ask that question seriously. I’m not sure that it does — and yet those who aggressively advocate this sharding off and calving off from the main of a million isolated islands in a vast archipelago of egos must have some rationale.

    Everybody seems to have a dream of making Basement Pirates. But who wants to play Basement Pirates in somebody else’s basement when you can go on the mainland of Second Life and interact with people from all over the world not only for free, but monetarizing your time online as you do, in very creative ways?

    Only very large corporations are likely to offer something as robust as economies and inworld currency.

    While I can understand the beauties of being able to create educational, non-profit, and government realms free of the flying phalluses, I’d have to be convinced that the added value they provide by being cut off even from others of their kind is worth the splitting, or the demands that LL open-source.

    (I don’t accept the argument that with a buggy crashy platform like LL, that bringing on thousands of half-educated anonymous script kiddies to look at the code is the answer to fixing it either. I’m seeing a bizarre reaction now coming from tekkies as they open up yesterday’s gift package — some are gushing in embarrassing ways, saying that the code is a model of programming that should be taught in schools; others are ranting on forums that it is a “piece of crap” — there’s a huge amount of subjectivity and emotionality in this that seems tied up very much with the speakers’ own plans for getting LL’s attention — either by flattery or griefing).

    A lot of disruptive things are likely to happen in this disruptive technology that will go on giving “disruptive technology” a bad name — loss of people’s money, time, even privacy. The sacrifices may not be worth it. I do think we need to draw up some notion of what are the goods one achieves in terms of governance from this Balkanization of the servers that you and others wish to bring about — and actually want to hurry along.

    The governance issues are scary. They already involve things like having anyone who complains about brutality from one of many of the sadomasochistic cults in SL having their cries fall on deaf ears as LL would agree to route the complaint back to sim owners or community leaders.

    LL wants to get out of the policing business. They say they have 2,000 abuse reports a day and only put a tiny fraction on the “police blotter” — even the most serious offenses of serial hate speech, sexual harassment or RL disclosure are falling through the cracks. Everything is supposed to be solved by mute and ban — it’s a brute, weapon-like system for solving complex social problems that don’t go away, but escalate as there is an arms race with griefers (in the name of their not being an arms race with reverse engineers).

    I’ve written about some of the down sides to the notions of code-as-law governance here:

    In sum, if you cannot explicitly rationalize the move to open-sourcing as a real benefit for improved communication and media for people, then why do it? There is no need to fetishize open-sourcing if it cannot serve the purpose intended. And I say this as precisely the kind of person who dissents against the Linden rule and hopes for a better world.

  11. Dan,

    Re: “I’m pretty uncomfortable with a virtual world based on the principle of property development” and “Seems to me a FOSS form of Second Life might be a better fit for those of us who want to use virtual worlds for social change.”

    Why can’t property development be related to social change? What sort of social change would it be that undermines the notion of private property and its development? In what ways does property development hinder social change as you see it?

  12. Prokofy, thanks much for that thought-provoking comment. There’s a lot of excellent thinking in there and lots to react to.

    I don’t think I’m generally an open-source extremist – in many ways, my reason for writing about this topic was to raise some skepticism about the unquestioning enthusiasm for an “open source” secondlife. But it’s true that my critique of the release has to do with it being insufficiently open source for my needs. I should clarify that I don’t think it’s morally wrong for the Lindens – as a for profit corporation – to build their toolkit around closed code and protocols. But I do think there’s a large set of developers and users who might not participate unless the protocol is open.

    My recent critique of Second Life has been not so much that the software isn’t open source but that it’s a platform monopoly. Should you, as a content creator, find yourself on the wrong side of the Lindens, your content can’t be easily moved to another world. Given the governance issues you allude to and the problems the Lindens are having with abuse, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine scenarios where someone might decide they no longer wanted to contribute to this specific universe.

    I’m less worried about sharding than you are. It’s one of the things I’m most interested in with protocols like Croquet – what happens when you can run different spaces on different servers, each with their own rules regarding intellectual property, behavior, abuse, etc.? It’s a bit different from the goal you propose – how do you build the best possible World – and turns into “how do you build a great set of interconnected, interoperable worlds”. You’ve got a very valid point – this might not have the same social dynamics as the one world SL currently has.

    As for the copybot-like problems – I’m concerned as well, though I certainly don’t have much invested in the outcome as you do. You’re correct – this is less about open code and more about destructive hacking. As a number of commenters in this thread have mentioned, it’s possible to reverse-engineer the protocols that Second Life uses by watching network traffic. That’s what the libsecondlife guys did. Having the code accessible makes it easier… but it also reveals the security vulnerabilities in the underlying protocol. While that may make life harder in Second Life for the short term, it’s likely to make it safer in the longer term – security through obscurity rarely works, and since folks are already figuring out how to reverse-engineer the world, clearly obscurity isn’t getting the job done at present.

    My arguments in favor of open sourcing? Letting people build new worlds on their own servers if they don’t want to be dependent on the Lindens, and helping make the protocols more secure in the long run. But in the short run, I agree with you that this could be a rocky ride for Second Life residents.

  13. Dan, wasn’t aware of the Rhizome development until it came up in this context yesterday on one of the blogs I was reading. Very intriguing. This is one of those cases where I’d be thrilled to see people developing in multiple spaces and universes. I’ve suggested Croquet not because it’s the right answer, but because it’s one I’ve looked at a little and see some potential in – would be terrific if people could take up Antoin’s idea of SL-compatible open servers, and jumpstart that project with Rhizome code, for instance…

  14. No worries, Antoin – appreciated the comment and the post on your blog. SL has been a tough issue to write on without either overhyping or overcriticising – feedback in either direction is useful stuff. And your idea about writing servers for SL ourselves has sparked a really interesting discussion w/in Berkman, which I hope to share on the blog soon.

  15. I’ll re-read what you’ve said and think some more about it, Ethan, but just quickly:

    What will be the overarching principles under which you will do this interconnecting and bridging?

    Where and how will those be developed? Do you actually imagine that on one shard there will be socialism, on another capitalism, on a third CopyBot, on a fourth rigid intellectual property laws, and may the best man win?

  16. For your information, Ryzom.org offer to buy the source code of Ryzom and make it free was not accepted since there were bigger monetary offers. I made an update to my original over-enthusiastic point ;-) See http://www.ryzom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=159

    About creating content in a monopoly-world, I often make this point:
    would you feel more confortable to create your own Web page or the Web page of your company
    – in the current Web that has no central control and is regulated by open protocols or
    – in a Web contained in the servers of Microsoft or running on secret protocols defined by Microsoft (or Google if you prefer)?
    Of course, this point is somehow understandable only by people who created pages under their personal domains. And in fact in general I’m not too convincing ;-(

  17. >My recent critique of Second Life has been not so much that the software isn’t open source but that it’s a platform monopoly. Should you, as a content creator, find yourself on the wrong side of the Lindens, your content can’t be easily moved to another world.

    You know, I feel I have to put this comment also in perspective. I myself couldn’t get more “on the wrong side of the Lindens” short of being expelled from the world. I’m a known and very vocal critic of them and their favourites among the residents. I’ve been permbanned from the official forums and from their official blog (I believe these acts to be selective and unjust prosecution). The other day at a town hall I was ejected for an hour for criticizing the open-source friends they have. That sort of thing is routine in SL, sadly, and only when there are more and more RL businesses and nonprofits will we see an end to that kind of arbitrary stuff where they don’t even adhere to their own TOS, which is no stellar document of civil and economic rights by any stretch.

    Still, I’ve never felt that they’re going to arbitrarily seize my land or my created content or the purchased created content I have in inventory of other people — without just cause, by their TOS. We could argue their TOS on this is pretty squirrely, as they can seize it for “any reason or no reason” but we can also go by their jurisprudence over 3 years, which has rarely been arbitrary.

    I think you’d have to be really out there in terms of violations — a denial-of-service attack, some sort of gross and repeated hate speech against minorities or outrageous bombing of people or something like that repeatedly over many months to have them actually seize your property and expel you. I find it rare that they do seize property of any significance.

    So while I wouldn’t want to discourage anybody from making some sort of “offshore account” that could hold the value of Lindens (we used to have that with GOM) or actual creation depots (only scripts can be copied and held offsite) or even land/sim copy reserves (that’s been discouraged, too) that would be welcome.

    But I wouldn’t want anyone to be discouraged from coming into SL and using its amazing opportunities for fear if they look at a Linden cross-eyed their stuff will get swiped. They tolerate abuse far more than any game or service out there.


  18. Prokovy, that’s useful feedback, especially as you’re far more involved with the world than I am. My objection, though, is less with Linden governance and more with the general sense that monopolies cause trouble, and that people should always have the opportunity to emigrate.

    As for an earlier question you posted about different shards with different economic systems – yep, I think that will happen almost immediately after multiple servers are available. In the same way that WoW supports player versus player and player versus environment, I’d expect some people to be more interested in a SL that was less money focused and, perhaps, had full duplicability of all IP. Again, this is unlikely to contribute to a single, unitary world… but I’m more interested in the proliferation of a wide set of world around SL and other 3D protocols.

  19. Hi Ethan. I’ve been mulling over what you wrote, and what I initially wrote about it is something I’ll stand behind. Oddly enough, it ties into the comment by Prok:

    “Why can’t property development be related to social change?”

    This is the grey area. You say:

    “The core objection I raised with Charlie a few weeks back is the fact that Second Life, at present, is a monopoly. If you decide that, for whatever reason, you no longer want to do business with Linden Labs, you’re anchored in place by the content you’ve created within their servers.”

    Well now. Property development *is* related to social change – something that always seems to pass Prok by because the change isn’t something which Prok necessarily likes. What property development *is* has broadened to include other models of social change… and actually, marks a return to said social change.

    That said, certainly – SecondLife is owned by Linden Labs. And yes, in their very own terms of service (Recent change I found, as a matter of fact) – owning copyrighted materials within SL itself is NOT a reason to allow access to the network. Yet… all the critics along these lines, and who jump up and down and say that the servers should be opened, and what not… NONE of them seem to understand the implications of that; it seems to be an armchair discussion which lacks depth. Economy, assets and many other things have to be assessed. Where Prok is *almost* agreeable in all of her meanderings seems to be about the land values – something which she is concerned with as a land baron in SecondLife itself. That is correct. What value virtual land?

    So centalized ownership must remain necessary. To say otherwise would be like saying that Worldchanging.com writes about open content licenses but doesn’t use them – owning the very article which is about open content. Your blog is under a Creative Commons license, but WorldChanging.com is not. Where were you when I had that discussion? :-) Is that a path to social change, is it hypocrisy, or is it a matter of practicality related to social change? The latter is most likely true (at least I hope it is), and yet – the same applies to Linden Lab’s ownership of the core of SecondLife. Practicality.

    A few of us have written much of this before, and I for one would like you and others to catch up with the discussion so that you can participate in it. ;-)

  20. A quick response, Taran, with a promise to try to catch up on the larger conversation.

    – I’ve never said that Second Life must be open or that Linden has some sort of moral obligation to open it up. I’ve simply said that I’m not especially interested in using it while there’s implicit platform lock-in. If I’m going to put creative efforts into something, I’d like to be assured my ability to continue owning that content and to have it be functional on another platform.

    – While I personally think WorldChanging should use a CC license – and have argued for that with other board members – I’m not an open source or CC absolutist and I can see cases where using more restrictive licenses make sense. You’ll note that almost all content I’ve contributed to WC over the past 18 months is also published on my blog – licensing is one of the reasons why.

  21. I think a lot of people missed the memo in this debate. The protocol has been open and documented for almost nine months now; we’ve had custom clients logging in to the grid and the ability to write a custom simulator, although no one has stepped up to the task. The only thing that’s changed recently is we’ve gotten confirmation at the developers mini-townhall that LL doesn’t really care if someone attempts to write their own server, they don’t feel it would be a threat to their business.

    On the topic of exporting content we’ve had the export to XML part for a little while, the tricky part is figuring out how to take those XML representations of procedural Second Life prim data and turn it in to something meaningful in another world.

  22. Thanks, Eddy – that’s really useful information, and you’re right – most people (myself included) didn’t realize how well documented the protocol was. It would be great if Linden would declare it an open protocol and committ to a) not changing it substantially without warning developers and b) remove any legal uncertainty about people’s ability to build a server.

    On the XML export front, my concern still remains – until those objects can exist meaningfully in another space, I’m concerned about Linden’s monopoly on the space. But your comments adds emphasis to Antoin’s comment – the right move may be for someone to start building an open server to create a Linden alternative.

    Thanks for weighing in on the thread.

  23. Pingback: Open Source followup « Virtually Speaking

  24. Ethan,

    I wrote a short response asking what moral obligation we have, to demand the ability to be able to continue using [creative work] on another platform, before calling something truly open. One can imagine a project all of whose standards and processes are open, but which offers no form of export…


  25. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Chilean Senator Explores World of Warcraft: Scholastic Team Building or Time Wasting?

  26. It’s very good to return to this debate now and see what comes of all the celebration of open source — more destruction, more loss, more griefing, with the announcement that one development company that is in fact disgruntled with Second Life and is leaving it to go to its reverse engineered re-engineered clone OpenSim was announcing that it would unleash into the wild something even more destructive than Copybot, Builderbot, that would take copies of entire sims.

    For several years now, Ethan, there has been the opensource software that you insisted on having in the form of OpenSim, and Second Inventory, that backs up your inventory, (and other programs that back up builds, quietly used). All of this was very inexpensive, certainly far less than the Beekman Center spent on SL. Yet, you didn’t seem to use it (unless I missed it). Your argument has always been that really less about opensource than about the graphics cards and bandwidth and such required for a 3-D world — they were just too intensive for the developing world you work with. Of course, people in the developing world have joined Second Life, anyway, in droves, without waiting for you to pave the way for them, but I do take your point that they don’t log in just like that form Accra.

    Your demand to be able to copy your own build was a demand that we constantly heard from developers who refused to see themselves and the inventions that would have to go with such duplicating ability *in a social context* in which there should be *democratic participation and not coder diktat*.

    The extremists like Eddy (once in libsecondlife; today working for Intel, following the trajectory of many a reverse engineer who winds up in Big IT that benefits from this free labour the most!) who claim we “missed the memo” refuse to concede that the technical capacity to copy (not as widespread even then or now as he claims) and the technical incapacity to stop copying (not as futile as he and other extremists claim) are aspects of virtual worlds and social media that not only coders should get to decide on behalf of other people. It is not democratic; it is not just; it is even an incitement to crime.

    You know why this matters, and you know why this was not trivial and merely “a game”, Ethan? Because all these very same issues, having to do with opensource software, its coders, their culture, the devices they use, the methods they feel should be used to run communities, all of these are emerging in spades in the Gov 2.0 and “open government” movement that draws on many of the same issues and tools. And now there are people running not just the SL JIRA bug-tracker on the basis of fanboyz voting up or down proposals and killing those they don’t like, but people *running the U.S. government and citizens’ proposals on this basis*. That’s why it was always worth paying attention to Second Life; it’s a place where these processes are modelled and accelerated.
    Prokofy Neva

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