Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Eternal September's Long Arm

In this op-ed piece for the Toronto Star entertainment section, author Murray White paints Second Life as a dystopian present. One gets the impression that the flood of corporations getting involved in Second Life is ruining a virtual world and community that was once Utopian and ideal. He interviews several residents and commentators to support his story and in all it turned out to be pretty good.

What I take issue with is the lack of research. I'm finicky with details. Granted, it's an op-ed — but is that any excuse to not provide at least one counter-point? It seems more like the journalist got interview with a bunch of whiny one-sided residents and wrote a story using choice quotes that support his point of view. Would it hurt to offer a little balance to support an argument?

Case in point: all of these residents that complain about the supposed "corporate invasion" of Second Life obviously forgot to mention that all these corporations occupy private islands in-world; sequestered far from the mainland. In fact, one would have to willingly teleport themselves to these islands. For all intensive purposes, it could be possible for a new resident to go about their business in-world and never even notice that there are all these evil corporations ruining their experience.

"The corporations come in and they don't understand the delicate aesthetic that's in place. And all of a sudden, all of the brand pollution we're exposed to in real life exists now in SL," says Douglas Gayeton, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who made a documentary on SL using footage captured in-world. "They've taken a beautiful place and made it quite ugly."

Talk about melodrama! The mainland in SL shows scarcely a single sign of the existence of these brands. Perhaps if the author actually logged into Second Life and wandered around to backup this quote, he'd find it was misleading. There is no evidence of "brand pollution" and hardly anything has been, "ruined."

And then he goes on to talk about the common pattern of emergent online communities — the unavoidable Eternal September effect...

It's a path well-worn by SL's online ancestors, from The Well, a proto-online bulletin board community founded in the '80s through chatrooms, message boards and networking sites Friendster and MySpace. Early adopters shape the community as they wish, then have no choice but to stand by and watch it endlessly reshaped by the chaotic deluge of new users – some troublemakers, some commercial exploiters – that flood in as it gains popularity.

This is true of any community. It's cool until everyone else likes it. When an emergent trend reaches a critical mass, the original supporters find themselves disenfranchised and move on to new frontiers. It happened with punk, it happened to the Internet, it happened to MOO's, message boards... you name it.

But not all of the early adopters of Second Life have moved on from the world or harbour intentions to join competitor communities. Many of the avatars I've known for years (come to think of it, I think I've lost track just how long I've known some of them) are now developers for companies like Electric Sheep or else are still involved some how. While I myself still join in, I've yet to join in the corporate invasion of SL. I may be disenfranchised, but they are for entirely different reasons.

I recommend reading the article and drawing your own conclusions. Maybe you'll agree with the views and opinions expressed. However, I would suggest putting some of the points to the test. The world has certainly changed with the deluge of new users; but the future is hardly grim.


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