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Is Second Life's Libertarian Experiment Over?

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The virtual world Second Life announced yesterday that certain kinds of billboards will be restricted–those deemed to be "harassing behavior or visual spam." Second Life blogger New World Notes charts the rise and fall of virtual world libertarianism: "Philip Linden has memorably said he's building "a country" in Second Life. That country is beginning to look less like Amsterdam or Las Vegas, and more like Denmark or Singapore."

New World Notes chronicles the world's "experiment with laissez faire society" thusly:

in 2005, when a landowner began peppering the world with ugly billboard towers, Residents protested. However, the Lindens generally refused to intercede. "It's not for us to decide the relative merit of construction in Second Life," Community Manager Daniel Linden told me then. That hands-off stance has apparently changed. The same could be said of other libertarian principles, like legalized gambling, unregulated banking, and permissible sexual extremes.

In 2006, for example, Philip Linden refused to intercede against Ginko, the SL bank with a high rate of return, which many Residents accused of being a Ponzi scheme. That same year, in response to Residents protests against age play (i.e. simulated avatar-based pedophilia), Robin Linden said it would be forbidden "[i]f this activity were in public areas"– implying that it was still permissible in private. Casinos and other gambling institutions, of course, were rampant over the land.

But then the regulations started kicking in:

The reversals started last year, continuing into this one. Age play and other vaguely defined "broadly offensive" behavior was universally forbidden in May 2007. Gambling was prohibited in July 2007. Unregulated banks were banned this January. This February's prohibition against "ad farms" was preceded by the debut of a Linden Department of Public Works, also overseen by Jack Linden, "all about improving the experience for residents living on or visiting the Linden mainland." Of course, some of these decisions were at least partly motivated by concern over real world laws, but the pattern is still hard to miss. The Lindens are restructuring the mainland into a communitarian society it once was in 2003. Expect more prohibitions to go into effect soon, also aimed at curbing other libertarian externalities– bot farms, for example, and camping chairs.

Ah well, at least Michael Gerson will be happy.

NEXT: Drug-Sniffing Tax Collectors

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  1. Considering it was always essentially a benevolent dictatorship by its creators…yes.

  2. I predict SL will become Soooo yesterday. A new, less regulated, virtual world will become popular.

  3. Persons writing through LVMI blame SL’s monetary system for this turn of events, by the way.

  4. Are there any Second Life people around here, or is that the kind of thing that once you’re in it, that’s all you do when you’re online?

    I’ve known a couple of people who play WoW, but this Second Life stuff is like an internet legend to me.

  5. I created an avatar, and got bored in about 15 minutes courtesy of slow laggy movement, mediocre graphics, and the fact that it’s not a game as much as it’s a social community. I did find an interesting sex shop in 6 minutes,
    so take that for whatever it’s worth.

    WoW, Guild Wars – those are actual games where you play to kill mobs and other PCs, and you do all that other RPG stuff with other people online. It’s fun. 2nd life seemed like a way to have internet sex with random weirdos. Ah well, the experience depends on the end user, just like most things.

  6. It seems like a virtual version of the United States. It was largely unregulated and all sorts of things were just done because people wanted to do them. Then as more people showed, with less libertarian ideas about society, more rules and regulations were “voted in.” If Earth weren’t a finite place, there would be somewhere we could go to establish the libertarian country we want, but Antarctica is fucking cold, dude.

  7. WoW, Guild Wars – those are actual games where you play to kill mobs and other PCs, and you do all that other RPG stuff with other people online. It’s fun. 2nd life seemed like a way to have internet sex with random weirdos. Ah well, the experience depends on the end user, just like most things.

    It is a sad sad comment on our culture, that having sex with random weirdos is regarded as less fun than killing other people.

    1. I’d rather kill people with an awesome gun than have pretend sex with a fat, hairy mouthbreather.

  8. Look to Singapore and Dubai as the model. These are holy cities of capitalism, devoted to deregulated and untaxed economic activity, but at the same time they have zero-tolerance policies on ‘social deviancy’, which one might assume is according to design.

  9. It is a sad sad comment on our culture, that having sex with random weirdos is regarded as less fun than killing other people.

    the SL engine is definitely not up to snuff (film).

  10. Second Life? Is that where they keep the tubes?

  11. It is a sad sad comment on our culture, that having sex with random weirdos is regarded as less fun than killing other people.

    No way, this is a good thing if it’s virtual, because, theoretically, they like random sex and don’t like killing people in meatspace…

  12. It is a sad sad comment on our culture, that having sex with random weirdos is regarded as less fun than killing other people.

    No, no, no. Virtual sex is less fun than virtual killing. It’s a long standing tradition going back decades. Being a virtual paperboy is awesome…not so much in real life. And have you seen the crazy shit plumbers get to do in the virtual world? Don’t even get me started on eating right and working out.

    Once we actually get our brains hooked up to the internet we’ll see whether people prefer the little death or the big death.

  13. What the hell is SL?

  14. “Freedom of choice
    Is what you got
    Freedom from choice
    Is what you want”

  15. SL=Second Life

    Was SL all private property or a lot of unowned territory?
    Did they have civil courts?
    Did they use common law?
    Or was it set up as a free-for-all?

  16. MayorO’Suxs,

    Have another cup of coffee.
    The origin of the abbreviation is in the title of the post.

  17. If libertarians really want a virtual world that is run by libertarian principles and stays that way, it’ll have to be designed and owned by libertarians. Given how many computer geeks there are within the libertarian movement, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already.

    Easy libertarian solution to the Second Life billboard “problem”: pay the person putting up the billboards not to.

  18. LOKI
    Our last four days on earth. If I had a dick, I’d
    go get laid. But we can do the next best thing.

    BARTLEBY
    What’s that?

    LOKI
    Let’s kill people.

  19. It is a sad sad comment on our culture, that having sex with random weirdos is regarded as less fun than killing other people.

    The thing is I can’t help but think that the cute Asian girl in the school outfit is really a 54 year old fat bald guy.

  20. henry with the Devo reference. Nice.

    Online sex is stupid; there is no tactile contact. Online killing is great, as nobody actually dies.

    See the difference?

  21. I created an avatar, and got bored in about 15 minutes courtesy of slow laggy movement, mediocre graphics, and the fact that it’s not a game as much as it’s a social community.

    Ditto. It’s boring as hell.

    A new, less regulated, virtual world will become popular.

    For about five minutes. It turns out that–as in real life–people don’t actually like living in a free-for-all. Go figure.

    pay the person putting up the billboards not to

    Um… what?

  22. “pay the person putting up the billboards not to”

    Or simply buy an island and make your own rules.
    There are many ways of solving this through property rights and without prohibitions.

  23. I was bugged when Magic: The Gathering banned the X=0 options. Playing with my friend (who owned all the cards) David Lindelof, getting these cards with variable X capabilities, I would burst out laughing when I realized the possibility of X=0, which led to interesting play on my part, and really bothered later when they issued the “clarification” that X had to be a positive integer. Dammit, clarific’n should be reserved for cases where the letter of the rule isn’t clear, even if they fucked up in writing some.

  24. If libertarians really want a virtual world that is run by libertarian principles and stays that way, it’ll have to be designed and owned by libertarians. Given how many computer geeks there are within the libertarian movement, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already.

    It has happened…it’s called the internet

  25. My 11 year old has been on board with SL for almost 3 years. He has no interest in the sex thing, but is an expert (of sorts) on using the 3D manipulation to build virtual stuff.

    Last summer, he had an ill managed kid fit after being banned for “owning too many prims” (whatever that means). The real world fit earned him a libertarian lecture (and an authoritarian mandated week off the internet).

    Since then, he’s been more interested in something called “Garry’s Mod” . To judge by the kid chatter overheard, the “rag doll physics” found there are very, very exciting.

  26. This isn’t surprising, given what people are presumably looking for when they sign up for Second Life.

    Second Life boils down to avatar creation and environment creation. That makes it an aesthetic exercise. People may make noises about the appeal of “freedom”, where “anyone can be anything”, etc., but they don’t really mean that. What they really want is for things to be “cooler” than they are in real life. That is ultimately an aesthetic judgment, and naturally people jettison the “freedom” part as soon as anyone creates anything whose appearance they don’t like. Even the new sex rules sound like they’re motivated more by the “ick” factor than anything else.

  27. I popped on briefly in Second Life a few months ago and was quickly bored. I came back on recently to give it a second chance, and have been having more fun when I joined a combat role-play group run by “Spartans”. It’s all PVP between training sessions, and outings against “Romans” and “Vikings”. In some sense it’s more fun than other MMORPG’s because you really do interact with other people, and there’s not mindless MOB slaying. It’s also cheaper. And it’s more community-oriented since all the content is user generated, so if you DO waste enough time on there, you have a hand in shaping the world and how it functions.

    Going away from combat sims, SL in general still has that anarcho-capitalist feel since there are advertisements and sex EVERYWHERE. There are just no casinos and pyramid schemes anymore. Apparently slavery-fantasies are still legal, if nanny-staters want something else to bitch about.

  28. Rhywun,

    pay the person putting up the billboards not to

    Um… what?

    Its an application of Coase’s Law, I think.

    If someone has the right to do something that you dont like, you can always pay them to stop doing it.

  29. If someone has the right to do something that you dont like, you can always pay them to stop doing it.

    Hm. Suppose I’m going to demand ten dollars from each of my Libertopian neighbors to stop me from wrapping my house in flashing neon signs–a thing which I have no intention of actually doing. What’s to stop me from making a tidy living this way?

  30. Suppose I’m going to demand ten dollars from each of my Libertopian neighbors to stop me from wrapping my house in flashing neon signs–a thing which I have no intention of actually doing. What’s to stop me from making a tidy living this way?

    The fact that if they had to pay for it, rather than relying on government fiat, most people would decide that neon lights weren’t so bad?

    The disconnect between “How much would I be willing to personally pay to bring about circumstance X?” and “Am I willing to vote to enable someone else to bring about circumstance X by force?” explains a lot of petty injustice.

    I think you also need to consider the possibility that certain patterns of life in the US only exist because people built them around having the power to micromanage the lives of their neighbors. Would you construct a home the same way if you knew your neighbors were free to put up neon signs on their property? In all likelihood, no.

  31. If you guys believe paying a person to not do something works, I suggest you read Feakonomics and also that you look up “blackmail” in the dictionary.

  32. Given how many computer geeks there are within the libertarian movement, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already.

    No offense to the (likely several) computer geek libertarians lurking about, but my impression of the “Techie Libertarian” cohort was that their commitment to liberty begins and basically ends with the notion that people should keep their hands off of the geek’s compy. Sort of a 21st century version of that guy who wants people to keep their hands off their guns, but doesn’t much care if their next door neighbor gets arrested for buggering or smoking a joint.

    Of course, this is a crass generalization, but I think more useful than break-even.

  33. The fact that if they had to pay for it, rather than relying on government fiat, most people would decide that neon lights weren’t so bad?

    Well, the way it works now, I suppose I pay extra to my landlord in order to enjoy a neighborhood zoned to exclude neon exteriors. In Libertopia, neon-guy extorts the money from his neighbors merely on the threat of installing his signs? I don’t think I would prefer that situation.

    Would you construct a home the same way if you knew your neighbors were free to put up neon signs on their property? In all likelihood, no.

    In this case, I very much prefer the government fiat to having to live in a house without windows. Especially considering that zoning law is pretty far down the government chain, closer to “the people”.

  34. I suppose I pay extra to my landlord in order to enjoy a neighborhood zoned to exclude neon exteriors.

    The question is whether you pay what it is worth. If you avoid paying what it is worth by getting the state to dictate your neighbor’s use of their property, you’re just another expropriator.

    How do you know if you’re paying what it’s worth? By comparing what you actually pay to what you would pay to obtain the same outcome in the absence of zoning laws.

    In this case, I very much prefer the government fiat to having to live in a house without windows.

    For centuries houses were built with little window frontage to the street or property line, but with central courtyards. I find it strange that someone would argue that living in some Levittown shitbox is inherently better than living in, say, Nero’s Golden House.

    I guess I would love looking at my neighbor’s property too, if I was comfortable with the notion of forcing him to conduct his affairs in a way pleasant for me to view. Maybe I can pass a zoning ordinance mandating hot chick nude sunbathing in all front yards.

    Especially considering that zoning law is pretty far down the government chain, closer to “the people”.

    You know something? I hear that sort of logic a lot, but is there any doubt that pettiness, corruption, venality, irrationality, and plain old bullheaded defiance of rights tend to increase as you shrink the unit of government, and not the reverse? I don’t understand where the “government close to the people will be better” meme came from, really. All the examples I can think of tell me that it’s much, much worse.

  35. You know something? I hear that sort of logic a lot, but is there any doubt that pettiness, corruption, venality, irrationality, and plain old bullheaded defiance of rights tend to increase as you shrink the unit of government, and not the reverse? I don’t understand where the “government close to the people will be better” meme came from, really. All the examples I can think of tell me that it’s much, much worse.

    All that I know is that local government taxes me at a small fraction of the federal government, and I the local government does a lot more good for me than the federal government could ever hope to accomplish. Also it’s much easier to change asinine policies at the local level than at the federal level. And this is coming from living under the thumb of Cook County for most of my life, and King Daley the Second for the past two years.

    And also it’s quite easy to vote with your feet when local policies go heinously wrong, than if federal government goes amock.

    It’s pretty easy to choose whether or not a neighborhood allows or bans neon signs, and not that hard to change a neon sign policy if you tried.

  36. The thing is I can’t help but think that the cute Asian girl in the school outfit is really a 54 year old fat bald guy.

    That would pretty much kill it for me, too.

    SL has always sounded like the biggest waste of time imaginable. I’m a bit surprised it has lasted this long.

  37. How do you know if you’re paying what it’s worth? By comparing what you actually pay to what you would pay to obtain the same outcome in the absence of zoning laws.

    Or, by comparing it to what I would pay in a neighborhood zoned for neon.

    For centuries houses were built with little window frontage to the street or property line, but with central courtyards.

    Some were. Most couldn’t afford that luxury.

    is there any doubt that pettiness, corruption, venality, irrationality, and plain old bullheaded defiance of rights tend to increase as you shrink the unit of government, and not the reverse?

    What Egosumabbas said (“vote with your feet”). Your insistence on pure orthodoxy flies in the face of the desires of the vast majority of the public, who are reasonably content to trade a small amount of freedom for the convenience of not having to pay their neighbors to stop being inconsiderate pricks.

  38. Any synthetic world, be it a game or not, will buckle to Law and consumers. This is the way of all things.

    Anyone who tosses around ‘Libertarian’ should really look to their own motivations.

  39. No one plays 2nd life. I believe some market research showed that the average player now logs on for less than 20 minutes a month or some such thing.

  40. Or, by comparing it to what I would pay in a neighborhood zoned for neon.

    Wow. Could this be more false?

    The cost difference this would measure would be the price preference for other consumers for a neon-free neighborhood. It would do absolutely nothing to measure the price you would have to pay to secure effective control of all of your neighbor’s properties. Those other consumers and their preferences are irrelevant to the question.

    Your insistence on pure orthodoxy flies in the face of the desires of the vast majority of the public,

    1. So what?

    2. What does this have to do with the portion of my post that you quoted? The odds of a national political figure singling me out and behaving in a venal, corrupt, petty, or irrational way against me are virtually nil. The odds of that happening with a local official are actually pretty high. To me that means that placing important decisions in the hands of local authorities increases the chances that I will be treated in a petty, corrupt, venal or irrational way. Sure, I guess I can always move – but the same enabling of local douchebaggery exists everywhere.

    reasonably content to trade a small amount of freedom for the convenience of not having to pay their neighbors to stop being inconsiderate pricks.

    Except that isn’t the trade. The trade is “give up your freedom to use your property the way you want in exchange for the imposition of mediocre taste on the entire nation”. I’m just not that excited about giving up my property rights in order to allow guys like joe to impose their aesthetic tastes and land use preferences over the entire population.

    And I also won’t pretend that when I use the mechanism of law to try to control what my neighbors do I’m gaining the equivalent of a monetary benefit by force. If I developed a fetish for Amish culture, and wanted to persuade all of my neighbors to redesign their properties as Amish structures and go around wearing Amish clothing and riding in buggies, it would be extremely expensive to achieve that. But if my fetish is for a mid-20th-century Robert Moses aesthetic and lifestyle, I can force my environment into that box using the power of the state via my local planning committee. The difference between the large expense and the nil expense is something I’m stealing.

  41. @Paul – the report to which you’re referring was pulled by the research group. The Guardian and others have instead reported that Second Life is actually the “stickiest” application on the internet… including Facebook. This is not, however, to say that it is more “successful”, only that actual users (not meaningless “residents”) spend a surprising amount of time logged into SL. Feel free to do some research of your own.

    Regarding graphics, I thought this – http://www.flickr.com/photos/-lano-/2055051721/sizes/l/ – was pretty nice. Certainly better than many videogames I’ve played. Unfortunately, as there is no Art Director, the general aesthetics are probably what one should expect… from people who shop at Big Box retail for cheap products supplied by ODM’s operating in third world countries.

    Regarding what can be done inside SL (or any virtual world), I thought this tie-in to real life fashion design and production – http://www.thestreet.com/video/10401962/ibm-creates-the-chic-accessory-for-designers.html – rather important (speaking as a product developer). As so few people actually design/develop/produce products (aren’t we all grateful to be a Service economy?) I suspect the significance of this will be lost on most. I guess there isn’t much imagination and/or out-of-the-box thinking, even on a site called “reason”.

    1. Too…early…

  42. Sort of shocked I’m the only one to say this, but who gives a shit?

  43. @csven

    Absolutely correct. Some designs are mediocre and don’t take advantage of bump mapping, or even lighting. But some designs are mindblowing. I was in one area that had a 100 storey tall statue with all sorts of special effects. Also, there was one room that reproduced the Pit Of Death from the movie 300, and you could wear a realistic Spartan outfit and prance around the set.

  44. @Joe

    To answer your question “who gives a shit”:

    1) researchers at Amazon (who are conducting tests linking virtual worlds to their e-commerce system)
    2) the people behind eBay (who were early investors)
    3) IBM (which is heavily involved in numerous activities including the one I linked to in my previous comment)
    4) Cisco (which has been heavily promoting this technology and will benefit greatly from hardware sales as a result)
    5) Google (which is reportedly working on a mirrorworld and will likely link it to local advertising)
    6) Microsoft (which just bought Calagari to help spark user-generated content for Virtual Earth)
    7) Dassault (which besides supplying aerospace has announced an effort to create a “3D Flickr” and has partnered with MS on VE)
    8) Siemens/UGS (which is reportedly working on their own virtual world PLM… Product Lifecycle Management… app)
    9) the Chinese government (which is now pouring a *ton* of money into virtual world commerce technology)
    10) Technology people like Mitch Kapor (the guy behind Lotus and angel investor to some well-known tech start-ups)
    11) MTV (which is investing heavily in virtual worlds; they have several custom ones already)
    12) Consumer goods companies (which are trying to find ways to *engage* consumers now that television ads aren’t providing enough bang for the buck)
    13) Educators (who are perhaps now the largest segment of virtual world adopters; including Harvard)
    14) Engineers (who are beginning to find uses for simple planning exercises and see future potential in 3D simulation)
    15) Architects (who are already using virtual worlds for pre-vizualization and other activities)
    16) The physically impaired (who can operate on a more level playing field inside a virtual world)
    17) Soldiers stationed overseas (who use this tech to virtually visit their families back home)
    18) Military psychiatrists (who have been using this technology to successfully treat PTSD)
    19) Indie musicians (who actually report earning more money performing virtually than playing local establishments)
    20) People like me (who hope to develop niche products in conjunction with virtual sales, which is an increasingly lucrative arena)

    Need more?

    @Egosumabbas

    My interest in this 3D tech revolves around product development as it reminds me of CAD systems from 15 years ago.

  45. Maybe I’m missing something, but what exactly is unlibertarian about the owners of a virtual world putting restrictions on the use of that virtual world in an attempt to attract or keep customers?

  46. Bah. SL is, and always has been, geared towards developers and creators. As such, it is not a game, nor would it ever make a decent game. But that’s alright, because it was never meant to be a game, and personally, I don’t like games anyway.

    SL was modeled after the Metaverse concept in Snow Crash, in which there is a virtual world that is used for socializing, prototyping, and commerce. Sure, SL currently doesn’t have all the really neat-o features of the Metaverse in the book, but it still fits the bill decently. For a company who keeps running things for years without any major payment level changes even though they have not yet broken even, who has made their software open source quite possibly only because they needed a way to get rid of the crappy, unreadable code made by cheap outsourced labour, they have done a decent job.

    Personally, I run my company out of second life, and I’m not alone. IBM and Sun have both invested lots of money into SL, building networks of islands consisting mostly of offices and conference rooms, so that they can do conferences across the web in real time without the shoddy non-3d, barely-interactive, non-intuitive elements of pure text chat or mailing lists or *gasp* phone conference calls. Even video conferencing doesn’t do as good a job as second life, believe it or not. Google is reportedly looking into it, and Amazon has already done some work with it.

    I’ll admit, it’s not FPS-quality. However, the difference between SL and a game is precisely what makes this quality important. In WoW, there are a very limited number of ways that someone can look, and thus you have a lot of people who are indistinguishable. That’s okay, because mostly you’re just killing them. In SL, it’s possible with the standard tools to make yourself look like anything from a very realistic simulacrum of your real life form to a realistic simulacrum of your WoW Orc avatar, to something no one has ever seen before, and that’s not including custom AV shapes. This is important for social communication, role playing, and certain business things, and also for the ability to easily recognize a given person. So what if the graphics are a little dithered? By the way, if you run the linux alpha, the lag is far less than if you run the windows stable or the OSX stable. I don’t know why; when I ran the linux alpha, I was using a card that wasn’t even supposed to be supported on the linux alpha, and the same card on windows was rejected. All the same, I *would* like a new MMUVE that has different principles than SL, but it’s not the lack of game elements that is the issue for me — it is the fact that you are bound to a simulacrum of earth’s physicality.

  47. What you are missing, as I understand it, is that the owners of this world are functioning as the government of this world. From the outside, of course no libertarian should feel that there is anything wrong with SL writing their own rules. Within SL, their world is moving from anarcho-capitalism to some kind of governed community.

  48. I like SL because it’s not a game: the world has more than enough first person shooters, and I have no interest in making it to the next level or the end of the dungeon. SL is what you make of it, rather than some goal imposed by a game designer.

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