Saturday, January 19, 2008


Almost everything that exists in SL has been created by its residents. LL's greatest contribution has been to have the initial vision of starting this world and then putting it in the hands of the residents. "Your world, your imagination". But that is pretty much it in terms of what LL has done good for SL. It has not done anything special either in building the technical platform or in governing the new world that it has given birth to. As a matter of fact, lately it is even straying away from its own initial vision and it is hurting SL.

And yet, LL holds a tight control over SL and it acts as if it owns it fully. It is taking governance measures like the recent ban on unregulated banks and the previous bans on ageplay and gambling. What's worse, these measures are made with little transparency and accountability. To add insult to the injury now, LL released new data this week on the SL economy and Zee Linden acts as if it's an act of greatness on the part of LL:

"I really enjoy the fact that we are such a transparent company. Throughout the good times and difficult times in 2007, we posted our numbers in a consistent fashion. [...] I wish other companies believed in transparency the way we do. I’d love to see our registrations, active users, user hours, economic activity and anything else comparable on lots of virtual world and MMORPGs."

First of all, "our numbers" as in numbers owned by the LL company? It is true that LL can be the only reliable source for these numbers, but they have a moral obligation to release these numbers to those who are making the economy. That is the major difference between SL and other virtual worlds and MMORPGs and it is what has made it successful. Yes, LL deserves credit for putting the economy in the hands of the residents but they can't have it both ways. "Your world, your imagination" must mean also "your data".

In another example of having it both ways, LL recently appealed to residents to participate in what looks like a new wave of media hype in the making. There is an implicit statement in making that appeal that we, SL residents, and LL are in this together and we are to work together for the good of SL. However, if we are in it together, then why are the comments closed for that blog entry? No, the reality is that we are not in it together. There is a great divide between LL and the SL residents and working together is becoming increasingly difficult.

There is so much criticism being thrown at LL and a common reaction to it is to deflect it as criticism of SL. Or, "If we enjoy SL and we stay with it, then LL must be doing a good job." SL is not LL though and our criticism of LL is just that. Criticism of LL.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What Choice Do We Have?

The recent ban on unregulated banking is indicative of a general problem in Second Life: the lack of choices in services providers. LL has full control over Second Life and they do not have to give us choices but choices is what we want.

Second Life has a single currency and a single method of payment in-world, the Linden dollar. And Linden Lab acts in fact as a bank. A bank with limited services and, more importantly, now the only bank. Yes, a bank. We all have an account where we deposit money that we can withdraw later and Linden dollars are issued only as more RL money comes in than goes out. Therefore, all the Linden money that sits in our accounts represents real US dollars in the (RL) coffers of the LL company and LL can invest that money in any way they want. And that is what banks do.

The services of a regular, RL, bank are more extensive. They offer loans, credit, and also pay interest on deposits. LL doesn't offer such services. LL has also been doing very poorly (no pun intended) in handling financial transactions with customers from across the world. Local banks do a much better job at that. In other words, LL is not a very good bank and we shouldn't expect them to be. We should just get those services from other providers.

I am not arguing with the present ban on unregulated in-world banks, I am all for having only regulated banks. But right now we are left with no other choices but the "LL Bank". The way I see it, there should be different providers for the service of an in-world Linden dollar account. I should have the choice of using an institution from my own country. I should have the choice of paying on credit or otherwise to receive interest on the balance in my account. And LL should just be the Cirrus of Second Life.

Similarly, the lack of choices in server locations is at the root of many of the networking problems. The lack of choices has been also at the root of much of the discontent with the implementation of ID verification. There may not be many global choices for that type of service but, whatever they are, LL should have opened the door for different providers instead of choosing one themselves and closing the door behind them.

Yes, the vision of open source servers and especially an open source architecture and open, standardized, protocols holds the promise of enabling all those choices. However, that vision is distant and is not well presented and we cannot see what Second Life will be like in that rosy future. In the meantime, we get more and more restrictions instead of more choices. We can just keep our fingers crossed for the future.