Wednesday, April 8, 2009

forgive me pretty baby but I always take the long way home

This may have already made the rounds, but I stumbled across it today. I want the pedal-powered tomato blimp!

Now, then. Deltango Vale's entire post, as promised:

Sanity, Not Sanitation

Originally Posted by Linden Lab, December 2006
[W]e cannot play the role of arbitrating personal grievances or defining behavioral standards. This is particularly important as Linden Lab becomes more international. We don’t want to force a California-centric set of rules on the virtual world.

These pages once again groan under the weight of hair-splitting detail concerning the best method of classifying sexuality within Second Life. Again, Linden Lab asks the wrong question.


The establishment of anonymous accounts in June 2006 opened the doors to underage players. This resulted in international legal scrutiny, increased exposure to legal liability and damaging media coverage. Linden Lab responded by intruding into residents' sexual relationships and expelling two consenting adults for underage roleplay - even though no underage players were involved. Refusal to close the anonymous accounts and dogged insistence on an ineffective and unsound ID-based age verification system cost Linden Lab considerable political capital with no benefit.

Many of us who came into SL in 2006 (and brought money with us) were horrified by the policy changes of 2007. The deal was that LL would provide a basic property rights structure and act solely as a referee in property disputes. We sighed with relief when LL reassured us that they had no intention of applying overarching codes of morality on the community. I also vividly recall LL announcing that [there] would be no change in gambling policy. Then came 2007 and bitter disappointment. All the reassurances given only weeks before were abandoned as Linden Lab slammed the gearshift into reverse. For thousands of people, the trust and faith they had in Linden Lab was badly damaged.

During 2008, the company's reputation slowly began to recover. Yes, the openspace pricing model was flawed and, yes, there was a second round of mainland supply problems, but at least LL were not bungling policy anymore. The micro-parcel issue was resolved within reason. LL seemed to be developing the ability to handle complex issues...then bang! We are back to square one with a crude policy on social behavior.

The Right Question:

The right question, then, is a) how best to prevent underage players from mingling with adults and b) how best to zone the mainland in a tolerant and efficient manner? Needless to say, eliminating anonymous accounts solves the first part of the problem. Instead of creating a complicated system of filters to prevent kids accessing adult content, keep them out of SL altogether.

As for the second part, when constructing the mainland, Linden Lab established a patchwork of Mature and PG sims such that a loud BDSM club can open next to a quiet, residential home. The introduction of a third sim type, 'Adult', though badly named (all SL is adult by definition) - let us call it 'Xtreme' instead - makes sense. Constructing an 'Xtreme' continent and allowing residents to migrate there - at their own choosing, at their own pace - also makes sense. It may take a year or two, but I believe most 'Xtreme' players will prefer to be free of the moral harassment they receive from PG residents.

The New Problem:

As has been known since the dawn of time - articulated again recently by the US Supreme Court - one man's obscenity is another man's beauty. To attempt to codify the wide range of human social norms into a regulatory system is counterproductive. At best, it will generate high monitoring and enforcement costs; at worst, it will lead to confusion and conflict within the SL community.

Context and Perspective:

1. Second Life is VIRTUAL, VOLUNTARY and ADULT

Seeking to apply RL standards to a virtual world is silly. There is no safer place on Earth than the privacy of your RL home. It is voluntary in that one must sign up for an account and it is adult in that everyone in SL is an adult (or should be). That means one has passed through puberty, has learned to relate to people and become responsible for one's decisions - including the decision to be in a virtual world with other adults. As an adult, one recognizes and accepts that people have different styles and tastes and that rudeness or harassment should not be confused with sexuality.

2. Creativity needs VARIETY, COMPLEXITY and SYNERGY

Second Life is unique in catering to a broad, international population of adults. Because of its richness and diversity, SL attracts a wide range of entrepreneurs who provide a wide range of services to a wide range of residents. The organic nature of this mix is itself creative. The functionality of a BDSM collar may benefit another entrepreneur making improvements to a 'PG' hugger; Gorean silks may generate new ideas in traditional fashion design; techniques learned to make vampire animations are transferable to dance animations. As for 'deviant' behavior, Penicillin was the result of dirty dishes. Post-It notes were a mistake. Lord Byron was a scoundrel. Virginia Woolf was a manic-depressive. Alan Turing was a homosexual. History is littered with the corpses of the brilliant heretics.

The founders of Second Life understood this. They recognized the organic nature of the IT industry and that 'creative destruction' had to be embraced rather than shunned. They were amazed by the fall of IBM and inspired by the Burning Man festival in the desert of Nevada. They built Second Life - against all the odds - and it was hugely successful. Sadly, in 2007, the regulators, lawyers and bureaucrats arrived. All this organic stuff had to go, they said. The time had come to strip away risk and uncertainty, to seek the lowest common denominator and penetrate the mass market. I summarized the spirit of this new direction in my profile: "In the name of safety and security and to protect residents from themselves, all activities requiring intelligence and maturity will be banned."

3. Don't micromanage the rainforest

Getting rid of snakes may seem like a good idea, but they play a vital role in the natural ecology/economy. Without the snakes, there are too many rodents. Importing hawks to solve the rodent problem disrupts other birds, causing a new problem. Soon, like a vast cascade of dominoes, the whole ecosystem goes out of balance. Hiring 1000 managers and forming new committees to provide more control only makes things worse. In an ever-descending spiral, the managers scramble to repair the ever-increasing damage until the rainforest is finally paved in concrete. Problem solved.


While my criticisms may seem harsh, I feel it imperative to warn Linden Lab of the long-term consequences of 'cleaning up' Second Life. Yes, improvements can be made in the property rights structure to enable residents greater privacy and control - I am very much in favor of this - but Linden Lab does not seem to realize that the lowest common denominator is poison for any creative enterprise.

I implore Linden Lab to note the howls of protest against this new policy drowning out those voices raised surreptitiously beforehand in its favor. Please reflect on the nature of the world you have created - that became a wonder BEFORE you began meddling with it. Please remember that Second Life is VIRTUAL, VOLUNTARY and ADULT and understand that Disneyfication will buy you at best a temporary advantage before the whole edifice slides gently into banality.

And, while I disagree with certain points, in the main this is exactly what Linden Labs needs to hear and consider.

I do not believe that the Labs handled the openspace issue particularly well. I also do not believe that eliminating all anonymous accounts will solve the problem: some very responsible people have anonymous accounts, by choice or by current circumstance. I don't believe "Xtreme" is any more acceptable a name than "Adult".

(I also believe that it's not a truism that all RL homes are safe, but truly, that's a separate quibble; I understand the point he's trying to make by saying that.)

I also don't believe we're sliding "gently" into banality; I think that we're falling from a great height, at speed, on fire. But that also is an argument for other places.

Aeona Barthelmess commented a page later:

Beyond the foreseeable devastating effect this will have on SL’s frequentation and dynamics, beyond the big mess that the implementation will generate (think big adult SL-businesses filling lawsuits against LL, think black-market of “adult content”), what worries me the most is that the image LL is giving of itself is one of an un-coordinated, incoherent, mismanaged and self-righteous corporation and that doesn’t bode well for Second Life’s future.

It's a point. But then, as I have maintained here and elsewhere, it's not the first time the Labs have come across as vague, misleading, uncoordinated and incoherent in their policies and their proposals.

Katheryne Helendale brings the point home technologically:

Linden Labs: You can't even do something as relatively simple as update a vBulletin-based forum so that this SQL bug goes away and so we can use vB code again. How on Earth do you plan to pull off something far, far more technically complex as what you are proposing here?

Further - How do you expect us to TRUST you in carrying out this highly-charged, sensitive, and technically-complex idea of yours when you have shown you can't even manage the technical complexities of a vBulletin forum?

Another clear, precise point, and one I'm sure hasn't even been considered--the perception that mishandling of a clear (and clearly) technical problem will indicate that large sweeping moral rules will be effectively mishandled as well.

Several pages later, Robbey Trefusis missed the point entirely:

We would like to see a phasing in of a "blanket" verification system for all residents either through credit/debit cards or a more streamlined method of age verification. The benefit of a "blanket" verification through cards, would to encourage residents to buy Lindens "in world" through their viewers. Hopefully this would help to further stimulate the economy....also in additition, a data base containing Real 1st Life names/addresses could be built!!...those who persist in creating new account after new account in order to Sim Grief at leisure, will know they can be tracked, and their real names could be used to ban them in a much more effective way!

Suggestions like this scare me, and not because I'm secretly a child who runs from the thought of age verification. I have age- and name-verified to the Labs before, I have little issue with that on a case-by-case basis. But the widespread verification process including RL names/addresses being saved to internal databases....that just sends chills through me. Of course it's not easy to hack the Labs, but considering it's already happened more than once? It's not in me to completely trust their assurances that my RL data is safely secured.

Someone--more than one someone, but at least one--asked if BDSM furnishings would be considered "Adult" by definition and would have to move. Blondin Linden responded:

Clothes and furniture themselves would not be considered Adult.

Taking yesterday's research into account, let me lay out some broad (and potentially specious) definitions, then.

* Sex beds by themselves are not "Adult". Sex beds that include a waterfall grotto that is clearly intended to be used outdoors, that feature poseballs for active penetration by one avatar whilst holding the other avatar underneath the water: "Adult".

* A "King's Cross" bondage device by itself is not "Adult". A "King's Cross" that includes a small fire in a firepit to the left of it, with poseballs that allow for one avatar to brand another while the branded avatar screams and shakes realistically: "Adult".

* Latex, leather, rubber, PVC, and lingerie by themselves will not be considered "Adult", even if nipples can be seen. Latex, leather and lingerie that include writing on the material to indicate directions for use of said avatar: "Adult".

Am I getting the point Blondin's trying to make? So places like Briggi Bard's Sexgen emporium, FW Designs' Latex Station, Kayliwulf's Latex Kingdom, Shiny Girl, Sexy Jesse's and Riann Maltese's deviant are all in the clear; the distinction is towards the extremity, not the existance?

Think this is a good stopping point, then, because I don't want to know that one page over Blondin began explaining why that's not what Blondin meant to post...

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