Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is Second Life Like Amsterdam or Las Vegas or More Like Denmark or Singapore

From Wagner Au's New World Notes: "Lindens Limit Libertarianism: Billboard Advertising Restricted, Continuing Rollback of Laissez Faire Policies" The libertarian era of Second Life is quickly coming to an end. The latest in a long series of regulatory moves was announced by Jack Linden yesterday. Starting today, you'll probably begin seeing giant ad towers like this one in Gryzdale disappear. The new rule prohibits advertising on the Second Life mainland which impairs a neighbor's view, especially if it's done "to deliberately and negatively affect another resident’s view so as to sell a parcel for an unreasonable price"-- i.e. pressuring that neighbor to sell their land from sheer eyesore coercion. It's a necessarily vague prohibition, requiring a surprising level of hands-on regulation by the Lindens. It's also a reversal of Second Life's experiment with laissez faire society, which I track roughly from the beginning of 2004 and the sale of land, to the mid-2007, when the turnarounds began. Consider: 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. 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. Does this mean the Lindens are rejecting libertarianism as a failed experiment? Maybe. Just as likely, they're doing this mainly in preparation for the time when the Second Life servers will be open sourced. That's when the libertarians will move their unregulated banks, controversial sex, and other banned content to adjoining nations. The Lindens, by contrast, will offer a loosely regulated mixed economy, a market and society regulated and beautified by the Lindens. 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.

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