Wednesday, October 31, 2007
City On The Edge of Forever 2
The land crash/casino ban/ginko collapse triggered an economic recession in Second Life. Our economy and demand have not recovered. We are also seeing inflation: gowns now regularly go for over 1000L. I remember when Vindi's 800L with shoes outfits were called "expensive." Now, they look like a steal.
This collapse hasn't been all bad, but dramatically reducing the price of prims, it has allowed many businesses to expand, and many people to buy land who could not. It has pushed down rental rates. The boom being over has also been matched by an increase in quality. My economist friends tell me about "reflation," and say that what is really happening in SL is that a professional class is emerging. People who can make their living in SL want to make at least a living wage. That means that hobbyist prices are beginning to be, well, for hobbyist work. I suppose they have a point, SL could not live forever sucking hopeful people out of their meager savings and tossing them aside. If nothing else the din of warning stories would gradually been to echo among the rent seeking classes.
Land prices have recovered somewhat, where as as recently as a week ago the first page of land sales for a mainland mature 1024 lot, the benchmark my land guru uses for the lowest price of land, was full of prices below 7L/m2 (Linden/square meter), now it is a page of 7L/m2.
At the same time the old problem of SL, that it is very hard to find anything, is with us. It is one thing to pay real money for real work, it is another to not find people who can do the real work. I want to start with looking at what may well be an iconic moment in second life's progress towards a the new SL. I've said there would be a new SL, based on the Real World coming to second life.
I am going to start with what may be an iconic build: the NBC universal build. Everyone involved in this triumph of the faux real style should be proud of the exquisite work and detail. However, it is also empty. Creating three D snapshots of the real world is an enterprise that is important and useful, and justifiably commands real world rates to do. It's might seem for a moment, that we are all going to be rolled over by people who can do this. But then go and look at where people actually go for actual amusement. Often the builds themselves are ... less.
The reason is that while money can buy time and talent, and no one should doubt Aimee's talent or the value of her time, it cannot buy activity. I've tlaked about "polydimensionality." What looks like three dimensions is really only one, the handling of space. The other dimensions of SL, however, are time, people and what might be called I suppose, the physics of Second Life, scripts, the behavior of prims, textures, avatars, animations and so on. While many builds from the large earldoms of SL are brilliant in the handling of the space dimension, they are empty of activity.
The poster child for this are the dozens of clubs that are built, and then have traffic that hovers around invisible. Most particularly the Playboy Mansion. More money was spent on it than I can imagine. And less has been gotten from it. While money has an advantage, it does not have avatars. Money can buy camping, and does so, but the very buying of camping reduces the activities that can be performed. One reason most big clubs are "poseball and shouting hosts" is because there is precious little else that works in a packed sim with 20 campers.
What we have inside of SL is the power of social content. I've seen this same conflict play out in other places: the people with money can build and buy and creating surfaces which are ohh so pretty. Or should I say: Oh. So. Pretty. As in: Worst. President. Ever. Or Get. A. Life.
It is life that is missing. Now life can be cheap. An orgy room is packed day or night with newbies and the nasty security people who ride heard over them, at least in the biggest places.
The combination that needs and wants to happen is that the outworlders start paying, and paying well enough to make it worth while, for inworld. So far outworlders want to pay hobby money. They think that because people come here for play, that if they throw out, basically, the same money they would pay for coupons in a circular, or free swag at a convention, that they hobbyists will play with them. This misses the very nature of Second Life, a nature that is not appreciated.
Second Life is not a world, it is not a country. It is a port city in the age of discovery, or a factory city at the brink of industrialization. Since industrialization and the emergence of what might be called "capital art" is something I do, let me take a short detour.
A factory is so named because what used to happen is that people carried parts from one stage of production to another. They had general responsibilities, and were not specialized. A "factotum" is a person with diverse responsibilities, and it is said to come from "fac totum" or "make everything."
The idea of a factory is quite old. We find pottery production which has been centralized quite early on, with all of the stages of production present in a small area. In medieval China, the centralization of production was common, and the Song Dynasty era saw production of iron, paper and other basic commodities in centralized places. On wag suggested that the printing of bank notes was important to the development of the factory, because the Song Dynasty needed so many of them, there was you see, a bout of paper money inflation that helped bring down the dynasty.
However the explosive moments in the factory come first with trade and then with the mill.
Trade between China and the rest of the world drove the creation of factories because the concentration of work was now more than convenient, it was valuable in making it so that changes in style, taste and materials could be rapidly spread, and control over the key resources made part of the advantage of the factory. For example, hard paste porcelain relies on two ingredients: the particular kind of white clay, and the particular kind of feldspar used. Without these correct ingredients, it does not form exactly the right result.
China, in exporting to Europe, did not merely centralize production of goods, it responded to demand, creating designs specifically for export. Concentrating control of resources, knowledge and creating the hothouse environment which made it possible for rapid changes in taste to be integrated from top to bottom made the factory a more and more important idea. There had been factories, even assembly lines, before, but what there had not been was a compelling reason to organize almost all of economic life around the model.
The second thing that made the factory take off, and what lead to what can be thought of as the modern factory, is combining production with the mill. A mill takes energy from some source, and turns it into usable mechanical energy. A water mill and a wind mill are the beginnings of this. However, the mill was not a factory, because it did one stage of processing. It took, say, grain in, and put flower out, which was then sent to bakeries. The combining of turning energy into motion, with the various stages of production is the beginnings of the manufactory, or the place everything is made.
Now rather than spin out the rest of the factory history, let's stop right there and think. Ports concentrate people for trade, there are easy entry level jobs available: moving boxes on and off of ships for example. There are jobs to support those jobs, bakers, butchers, coopers, whores. There are jobs to support those jobs: teamsters, doctors, police. The concentration of people near the new kind of activity, and means of life, creates a new society. The port factory city, and then the port industrial city, create new kinds of norms of behavior, new kinds of people to fill the new roles, and a new sense.
A good thing to look at is the games people play: with the coming of a higher standard of workmanship, and combined production, came the ability to create new textiles and clothes, instruments, and with them diversions. The harpsichord, for example, is an artifact of a far richer range of items than the medieval generally could assemble in one place. Shakespeare's time had seen a mania for tennis. Look at a tennis racket, and think about what that means for making it. The flowering of artisanship goes hand in hand with the flowering of the ways of making it
But just as the factory port city creates a mass of consumers who can also creates a mass of people looking for the new work and not finding it. The population of Second Life as it is should be regarded, then, not as an audience to advertise too, but as a core of "early adopters" who want to learn the technology, or who have learned the technology. The outworlders need to hire this core of people to turn their builds into sims. A sim, simulates. For a sim to simulate, it needs human activity. For that activity to work well, it needs people who can make this environment work.
One of the points I see repeatedly, and I would love to cite a couple of specific examples but cannot, is that beautiful builds make critical and obvious mistakes in set up and use.
So let me look at Second Life as Tudor London. In Tudor London real wages for skilled labor went up dramatically. Second Life, like Tudor London, draws people, not just from already existing cities, but from all over. Many people come to second life because they are from isolated areas and want to find the right kind of companionship or opportunity. This is not rare in these moments. The first people who are willing to put up with the discomfort and confusion of the factory city, are the people for whom the attractions of isolation seem vastly over-rated.
They are set to find a match, and this test becomes the baseline for which they drive.
This means that what people invest in is their avatar and the extensions of that avatar. These extensions can be a build, clothes, or many other things, but they are all part of the personal world that we bring with us and recreate in pixels, actions and connections. I am one of these people, insanely jealous and possessive of my presence in Second Life, I could never sell Lillie, even though she is worth more than probably any other single thing in Second Life I could sell.
Another fact of life in such a world is that many people have nothing to sell, and so they steal. One of the games in second life right now is to join groups and spam phishing sites. Sites that try and get people to type in their user name and password, which redirect them to autolog in URLs or ask them for such information as their ATM card. There are a host of other games. But this one is the one that is most designed to reap people's willingness to treat second life as "surfing." But while second life is part of the next wave of the internet it is not "web pages with 3D." Second life is 6D: space, time, people, physics. These dimensions interact in ways which physical dimensions do not. The vastpark model is the website model, Second Life is a city, and like cities, it has its pickpockets and pilferages.
What Second Life is is the combining of movement, the mill, with the ability to make everything. It turns processor in to a form of movement that we can, in a virtual sense, use. This means it aggregates energy in the same sense that blogs, wikipedia and social networking sites do, but not in the same way. This different way is harder to define the social value of, but easier to feel as it pours over you.
So what does this city on the edge of forever have to do next?
Find new worlds to conquer.
That's my next post in this series, and it is one where I get to the topic that really interests me, and that is the aesthetic needs of our new city on the edge of forever.