Friday, September 14, 2007

Join or Die

There are a thousand scattered islands and a million shattered dreams on Second Life. The flowers of old SL are falling, leaving behind denuded trees, but this is a cold spring, and most will not see the life of green again.

Old Second Life, if it wants to survive, must become a civilization. A civilization is interconnected, and it has close contacts so that ideas and competition can flow fast, and no one who has ability is out of work for long. To have a civlization means having a city. Once upon a time SL could be a town. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone could more or less get along with everyone else. But that was long before me.

The creation of a City which is Old SL at its best, a concentration of its best, is the topic that I am going to plow into.

Vint Falken, as usually is on top of the large stories quickly. The "Wal-mart" moment has arrived, when large sl organizations can use their cash flow from rent, to make content for virtually nothing. Did anyone think it would turn out different? Who, in their right mind, thought that with a government based on the writings of John Locke, apologist for monarchy leavened with money, that we would not take the same road of a favored few surrounding the king, as he waged war for power and prestige. People may think that Second Life is based on Snow Crash, but really we have more in common with The Baroque Cycle: masses of detritus, complex and arcane psuedo-alchemy in the form of the Linden Scripting Language, and a wobbly grasp of nascent physics, economics, and capitalism. In essence Second Life is 1720 with skyboxes. And don't think the sex was a difference, it was a very bawdy, sexualized age, that the Victorians spent decades "Bowdlerizing." We are even all bald under our wigs. For them, it was about lice. For us it is other bugs, but the same result.

As a pixel prostitute in this sprawling negalopolis, that is it is a drain on the world, not an addition to it, I have seen the sewers of human desire, and the pains of need and hope. It is suffering that drives our second lives. Suffering because in Real Life, people cannot find something so simple as a lesbian lover, or a girl to fuck to night, or a career that recognizes their talent, or a venue for their paintings, or a concert hall for their music, or a gallery for their sculpture, or a theatre for their plays.

It is suffering that is the brand on our cheeks.

This neo-baroque age will drive itself towards the same form: a king, his money that he prints at his pleasure, his land that he graciously allows others to use, and his close coterie of favored merchants, lords and patent holders. The nobility of SL. They get favored deals, inside treatment, special access, and policies designed to drive their competitors out of business. Is it no accident that mainland supply of land is broken at just that point where only people who have below market rate sims can make a living being land earls? It is certainly no accident that only favored people will be able to get their own open source sims and upload that content to the grid. Are you, the content creator going to compete with Anshe who has a flow of rent money, favored status on SLX, and her own sims to develop content, free of sl service interuptions and asset server problems, where she can have her people code around problems and then have those work-arounds for her content put in the main code? Of course you are not.

That's not open source, is oli-source, for oligarchy.

There are two and only two models for sl. One is that SL is AOL of VR. A few people amking content, many people searching for anonymous sex hook ups, and advertising raining down on them like mana from heaven which pays for it all. The other is the E-Bay of VR, where thousands of people make and package, and then millions of people shop and do.

The AOL model is the one that Linden Labs is working towards. The in world content providers, are basically standing in the way of LL having a circle of favored people around it who make all the real money. Up until now inside contacts and the trash that is the mainland have been enough to prevent much in the way of real business from flowing down from the favored few to other people. But even that situation is not sustainable, kings crush all potential opposition, they use the power of the coinage and land to do it.

LL's aristocrats told it that it needs to bring more people in, they fear that other content universes, particularly the teen friendly IMVU, are growing faster and will over take Second Life as the place that advertisers must go to "be VR." It will be that flow of corporate dollars that will make or break ACS, Sheep and Millions. And they don't want competition. The aristocracy never does.

Oligarchic mercantilism works. The king wages war to get colonies and power, the aristocracy extracts the money from everyone else to do this, and in turn gets part of the glory. A few members of the middle class are made into aristocrats by running everything. Other people put their money into the whole scheme, only to have it blown up, John Law style, by financial meltdown. Running an illegal bank is just as illegal as running an illegal stock exchange, and yet Second Life has done nothing about illegal banks that meltdown. Perhaps because the illegal banks turn around and pour their money into land, which becomes tier, which is revenue to the King.

King Linden is not particularly a good king. He's like most kings, in that he has grandiose dreams of conquering the world, and schemes to get there. He sees enemies all around, and believes that every coin should bear his likeness, and that it is really his.

The ASC Wal-Mart move was merely mishandled: she and they will be back. The reason it was furniture is because retention of paying customers, tier paying customers, is key. So every Linden they spend on an in world builder, furniture maker or other person is one less linden for land, which is tier, which is taxes.

The heart of every tax revolt is not that taxes are too high. Consider that property taxes in Second Life amount to 50% per month. I don't know any place rl that can collect that kind of tax. If it were about how high taxes are, then the taxpayers would be doing more than circulating an ineffectual open letter asking the king to oppress the peasants some more. That is what the Open Letter is: a request to the king to oppress the peasants. I am one of the presents that Christiano seeks to oppress, and so are tens of thousands of other people who are just as upset.

The heart of a tax revolt is "taxation without representation." I know, no one can be a zealot like a recent convert, but so I am. Democracy is the first step that must be taken, because without the power to limit King Linden to mess with the economy for the advantage of himself and his favored few, there is no hope at all. A friend of mine points out that E-Bay sellers are very fast to cry murder every time EBay the company threatens their livelihoods.

The second thing that Second Life needs, is capitalism. Second Life's population is the most anti-capitalist you will find in America. It is pro-property, but property is not capital, and pro-property is not capitalism. There was property for thousands of years before capitalism. There are societies without real property that are capitalistic, and there are societies with property that are not capitalistic. Equating property with capitalism, a egregious meme if ever there was one, is like equating hydrogen with fusion, sex with love, or Britney Spears with live performance. They might be associated, but there is nothing that requires it, and often nothing related about them at all.

Capitalism is based on, and I feel ashamed having to say something so obvious, capital. Capital is not property, capital is that which improves the productivity of labor. A prim is not capital, a script that rezes prims in a loop, is capital. Property is often against capitalism, and specifically against the spread of capital. Instead property wants to hide information, and then charge for it. This was the time when Newton didn't publish the calculus for fear that his competitors might use it. He wasn't paid very much for being a genius, he was paid for coming up with navigation aids, matching the various coins and their weights and so on. Thus, he did not release one of the single most important discoveries in the history of the world. It would be decades before Newton's ideas would spread outwards, even as everyone knew that he knew more than anyone else.

In Second Life people are constantly reinventing the digital wheel, and they then hope to turn around and charge for that. Well Anshe Chung will play that game better than you. She's easier to find, and can have many more digital wheels to hand to her artists and content providers. I make things, I spend 80% of my time doing things I am very sure have been done before. Only about 20% of what I do is new. Of course 10 creators who are spending 80% of their time each on rediscovering basic tricks and ideas are going to do less than 10 similarly talented creators who start with the 80% in a box and are told to go to work. Of course they can charge much less, because they are buffered by the rent income stream, and they are taking much less time to do everything. The task that takes me an hour, writing all new scripts, will take someone with those scripts in a box 10 minutes. I've amazed people by doing just that: pulling out things from my bag of tricks, and in minutes having things working.

But once the newbie is fleeced, he or she leaves. Since retention and growth are everything, the game of oldbies making money from fleecing newbies, is going to have to end, it will end by the oldbies learning that it must end, or it will be put to an end by LL/Millions/Sheep/Anshe. This is because every newbie you fleece, they can't fleece. They also believe that they can fleece that newbie for more than you can. They may be right.

Capitalism says that you should only be able to make money from what is new or unique, and that people should specialize. Since people right now are busy selling each other "the sky, is blue," no one trusts buying scripts or other capital, and no one releases basic capital to the world, lest there be competition. That is going to come to an end, and this week's furniture dump is part of that reality.

The cloudy obscure market, where people don't know what things cost, and can't find them to make good decisions, ends one of two ways. Either, and this is what LL wants, there is a trusted monopoly which everyone goes to and buys from, or there is a competitive market place, where people profit by letting information out, not by keeping it hidden. We all know who wins the monopoly game, and if you are reading this, it almost certainly is not going to be you.

Once the single trick pony content creators are gone, next comes the ones farther up the scale. Even June and Vindi are not immune. Then will come the network monopolies. How long would Xcite last, if every newbie who wanted it got free scripted genitals? Not long is the answer. Not long. And if almost every newbie is coming in through a community, then that will happen sooner or later.

The third thing that Second Life lacks is liberalism. This is the part that is going to stick in the throat of many people reading this, because I know that many of you, even friends and lovers, are anti-liberal. Liberal is the root of all evil. Liberalism is socialism. And so on.

While I will offend many people, perhaps people I need to get this project of saving Second Life off the ground, there is no saving second life with out Liberalism. What is liberalism?

Liberalism is no more, and no less, than the realization that a few infected rats can spread the Black Death. Liberalism is the realization that people do not have the right to let infected rats loose on the streets, even if the rats belong to the people letting them loose. Liberalism realizes that Democracy and Capitalism are robust, but they have weaknesses. This realization is not new, it started with all the people that we genuflect towards in the late 18th century: Jefferson, Smith, Kant, Madison, Hume. Those dead white European males, who were fumbling their way to the question of how to organize the world, without having a king and a church to do it with.

Liberalism then says that those actions which destroy Democracy and Capitalism should be banned or controlled. This is the part people don't like, but it is also the part which makes capitalism what it is. Capitalism is based on the idea that no on can get ahead, without making other people better off too. Capitalism works when there are no free lunches. But that is the right that people want out of unregulated property dictatorship: the hope that they will own something where there is a free lunch, and it doesn't matter whether other people are better off, they still have to pay. Libertarianism is the church of the free lunch. There is no such thing as free sex, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or at least, not for long. Could you turn over please? King Linden likes mustard on both sides of his sandwich (named for a corrupt earl who built bad ships and then gambled away the extra money, and needed something to eat without getting grease on the cards. You should thank him, it was his ships the French fleet sent to the bottom off of Jamestown leading to Cornwallis' surrender.)

This means restrictions, people don't like looking over their shoulder. But without those restrictions, money flows not to the people who make things better, but to those people who can make things worse and collect money. Ad farms. Land griefing. Camping pods. All reduce the value of being a renter, let's stop saying own since King Linden does not believe you own anything, and has said so in a court of real world law, in a particular sim.

Democracy is how people fight out the differences between restrictions of the few from griefing the many, and restrictions which are the many trying to hobble the few. Like capitalism, democracy isn't perfect, it merely argues that no one else can do better for any length of time. The market may not have the right price, says an economist friend of mine, it is merely that no one will consistently have a better price for everything and their relative values. Democracy might not make the right rules, but in its absence, the people with the gold will make the rules.

I have gone on a long time with abstraction and history. I am breaking my own rule against writing about the big picture. So let me get back to where I belong: the present, the small picture and what we should be doing next.

Right now dozens of groups have realized that making a community, having a portal and being part of the intake of new people is crucial to survival. But dozens might as well be zero. A dozen user continents will be driven out of business, or to the margins, one by one. There were 13 colonies.

All of these efforts must be in one effort, and all of them together, which will represent a great deal of revenue, must demand a free one time relocation of an island into this user super-continent for any sim owner who is part of it. The super continent must then strip the mainland of good second tier content providers by offering them the deal of: sell us your mainland for 0L and we will give you land in this new continent. Mainland must be turned into the place where newbies run around with one linden woodies saying "wanna fuck?" and a sandbox out of which new people learn the trade. The wasteland let's call it.

The last time I posted this I got a tirade from some individual of lesser intelligence about the free market, which we don't have on Second Life, King Linden's economy would not be judged a free market by the real world, and that's not a guess, I went and asked. It then ended with a plea to another commenter to interfere in the market! This individual said "who is going to invite people in, you?" Accusing me of being power hungry... how dull and typical. No dear dear, King Linden, and Millions and Sheep and Anshe is going to invite people. And you are not invited.

This super-continent would have to be a city, it would have to put vendors of the same kinds next to each other, so that people can quickly and easily compare offerings. China's cities have their districts, so do old American cities. Until search works, and that means a search not in the hands of the king and the aristocracy, this will be the best we can do. Sims must be gridded for high impact, medium impact and low impact use, so that we don't have the case of two clubs sinking each other in the same sim.

If all these little groups can get together, then it would be possible to have a thousand sim super continent. One bug that would have to be fixed is that user continents don't appear on the LL world map above a certain zoom level. There are other minor ones.

But the first step is to get a "National Assembly" or "Continental Congress" of everyone who provides services and produces good content to use the leverage of hundreds of thousands of dollars of tier to push LL to stop putting King Linden's fat thumb on the economic scales.

It is as old as "No taxation without representation."

And it is about coming out of this virtual wasteland, filled with its palaces built by aristocrats while the rest live in squalor, and building the city of tomorrow. Because that is what second life needs to become: a civilization.


  1. "Capitalism says that you should only be able to make money from what is new or unique, and that people should specialize."

    If this beautifully stated yet deeply flawed piece of logic were true, there would be no cover songs. If it were true, we would not have the same fashions in "new" colors, every twenty years.

    If it were true, there would be no such thing as a "mass market paperback".

    The need for specialisits assumes that either there is not a mob mentality or that the populace is well enough educated to know worth and value when they see it. Neither of which are true.

    There is a mob, it is poorly educated, it loves to be pandered to with old content in new clothes.

    Or, as in the case of the famous king, imaginary clothes at that.

    Revolutions can only be undertaken successfully when the majority populace is discontent. The majority populace, near as I can tell, is not discontent with SL - or not discontent enough, which may be more to the point, to bother doing anything about the "olgiarchy" as you term it.

    SL is the ultimate manifestation of a capitalist society. Not only do we pay for pixels on a screen, we pay through the nose to then dress up those pixels and playact. This is every capitalist's wet dream. (And, incidentally, an idea that is neither new or specialized.) Your complaint, in so many words, is that this capitalistic society (SL) is too efficient and benefits the ultimate shareholders too well. This has long been the complaint of the common man, but it has yet to be redressed rl and I, for one, am certainly not naieve enough to think that movement will begin in SL.

    Gira Bryant

  2. Dear, I can't say this nicely: your post is wrong on every single point. You've gotten not one thing right at all. The most important point being confusing the ability to collect rent and capitalism. The dream, as Smith pointed out, of every tradesman was to have a monopoly, and of the wealthy to charge the same price for unimproved land over and over again.

    Property is not capitalism. The ability to enforce payments for property is not capitalism.

    No matter how many times owners of property say that what they do is capitalism, it doesn't make it any more true that they day before. Private property and buying and selling go back to the time cities put little stamps on clay jars in Sumeria.

  3. Hmm Where can I sign up for the SL Nazi Party, or maybe I should start it?

  4. Lillie:

    I think your diagnosis of the problem is really pretty accurate and insightful.

    But I'm concerned about your proposed solution. You say "And it is about coming out of this virtual wasteland, filled with its palaces built by aristocrats while the rest live in squalor, and building the city of tomorrow."

    But isn't that what you're proposing? To ghettoize most Residents, especially the poor, while the rich and creative retreat into walled compounds where they can live their prosperous lives without ever seeing someone in freebie clothes?

    This sounds to me like everything that's gone wrong with the atomic world - when the people of intelligence and ability abdicate their civic responsibilities and sense of community with the less fortunate and retreat into "screw you, I've got mine."

    There are plenty of dystopais in SL - we don't need to turn the entire mainland into one through our own malign neglect.

    Shouldn't our goal be to ensure that every mainland sim is as pleasant, as welcoming and liveable as the private islands of the wealthy? Shouldn't we be focused on raising up the lowest, rather than lifting the highest out of reach?

    Did I miss something along the way? I'll freely own up to being "less intelligent" -

  5. I tend to agree with just about everything you say here, in principle.

    But you've put it very floridly, and with a huge dollop of self-pity, seems to me.

    Yes, SL is propertarian, and is more like a Russian quit-rent system for emancipated serfs paying nobles, than it is real emulation of property. And yes, we need a Magna Carta or a constitution to separate powers and restrain powers of His Majesty.

    And yes, we need a Constituent Assembly or National Assembly of landowners and content-owners or service-providers with stake in the world (these might wind up being different parties or factions) to try to draw up this Magna Carta that at this point, realistically, can only do one thing: force Linden Lab to spell how, under what terms, and with what benefits and damages, they will move to open source.

    It's no good them just assuming they can have little confabs with the fellow who made CopyBot and their other little pals in libsecondlife and decide the Architecture and tell the rest of us On this architecture to go fish. They have to enable participation in the social/political/land/content/economy side of this world too.

    I'm all for capitalism but I'm not sure you mean the same thing by it. Capitalism takes rapacious forms. The question is how to restrain it without hobbling it. I think there is perfectly good language in the TOS as it is now against spam, and against ruining the enjoyment of SL for others, that can and should be invoked against ad farmers. There isn't the political will for this however, and it will take a class action law suit against the ad farmers themselves using RL law to effect at least some kind of climate change and deterrent.

    For 3 years, I've called on LL to have 3 kinds of zoned sims: residential, commercial, experimental, to simply mark them as such at auction, and not even worry about enforcing it, as the community itself will enforce it merely by peer pressure. It isn't 100 percent perfect, but it would go a long way to improving what we have now which is stupid chaos and idiocy and selfishness.

    But before we can get too fancy with all this, we need to extract a statement and a commitment from LL that they will even *have* a mainland, or for that matter any islands they host that we rent, when they open source. Not everyone wants to go to the expense and trouble of owning their own server. So are we to be driven to chose from Adam Zaius or Anshe Chung in order to continue our businesses?

    I think actually SL capitalism in the existing market works pretty well, but there's a major flaw: depressed wages, kept deliberately low by Supply Linden who sells a half million to a million Lindens each month to devalue our cashouts. He does this so that newbies have lower-cost cash -- and so that he himself has profit. And this is the socialism/oligarchy at the heart of the world which ruins middle-class capitalism -- that and land-printing and land-glutting. The Crown's interests run directly counter to our own.

    So probably we will face either a revolt as people begin only to accept PayPal and the world is utterly dollarized (and we are moving in that direction), or the emergence even of land barons with their own currency, or the Lindens even closing the LinEx. Except...they can count on finding a new crop of chumps, especially from countries just tuning in to SL, who will take the low wages...

    Each time someone proposes making a National Assembly of tier-holders, or of land-owners, or of content-makers or major stakeholders in some defintion, there is a screaming from a tiny faction of the hard right or hard left that cries, "Unfair, you disenfranchise the poor," etc.

    But...if we keep the situation as it is, we are all disenfranchised when LL open sources. We need to organize the national assembly NOW out of those who BOTHER by PAYING for SL ALREADY. Those who do NOT pay but just consume or even create in sandboxes can organize their own party if they wish, if they have a way of identifying what their stake/claim is. But let them organize, and stop hobbling everybody else from organizing.

    Each time these types of bodies get started, whether "Metaverse Justice Watch" or "Resident Action Committee" or "Open Letter," people fight among themselves over elections and how to get nominations done fairly, and how to avoid the Soviet-style busing to elections implicit in large land owners like Anshe merely telling their droves of tenants to vote for them, even under threat of loss of good service. That rots.

    So the nomination and election process has to be run by some honest broker -- of which there are few in SL.

    Prokofy Neva