Beyond Second Life Toward V-Economy
In light of the groundswell in interest and argumentation around virtual worlds, especially Second Life, Clay Shirky, Henry Jenkins and I decided to do a 3x3 posting. The first round is “blind”––we riff on what we are thinking. The next round will be in response, so check back in for that next week. Here is the first offering from Clay, Henry, and see mine below. For the background on this conversation see my post from a few weeks ago here.
The time has come. Virtual worlds need a standard of measurement and protocol across platforms. In roughly a year, the field has gone from Wild West outposts to a place of accounting on all levels: politically, procedurally, and economically. The recent Le Pen Front National conflagration and the announcement of a virtual Swedish consulate mark a new level of seriousness to this format. The tiny worlds are growing bigger and more real. Of course, Linden Lab, the Second Life (SL) creators, have been able to track every avatar gesture, in-world instant message or digital purchase from day one. Exhibit A: Second Life CEO Philip Rosedale and CTO Cory Ondrejka in a Google TechTalks 2006 talking about use and design of SL. It’s for everyone else that a standard needs to created.
Sociologist/statistician Dmitri Williams, among others, is working on a Standard Metrics of Use for population gauge. In a peer-to-peer gesture, Williams has offered up the following categories of measurement as a start:
Marketing designer Mario Menti of GMI has developed with the recently open-sourced Second Life client an automated data-collection system for surveys (consensual, I’m sure). This is not trivial.
In a recent Reuters video interview, when asked what most people do in the world, Second Life’s Rosedale responded, “shop.”
I guess mutant-indie-minority culture is not what it used to be. OK, perhaps the future tense of virtual world development will not be dominated by radical experimentation in nation building and identity play. The cyber-strip joints will get moved to the periphery of town as it were. There is a civilizing mission going on, but it is not from the top down.
These are worlds made by user-generated-content. The “world gods” have provided the code, servers, and procedural aspects. On these collaborative grids, world building is done in the image of its users: us. This stage of open-ended development parallels, in many respects, the early moments in the popularization of the Internet. The shift from multi-format Internet to World Wide Web, with its html code, coincided with a population of net citizens represented by an explosion of individual Web pages.
In the mid ‘90s, people had doubts that this “e-commerce thing” would work. Uh, guess it caught on.
At present, IBM is reportedly investing $100 million dollars in 3D-Internet development (that’s U.S. not $Linden). V-commerce, if one follows the lead of IBM’s Irving Wladawsky-Berger, is the natural evolution of e-commerce. Wladawsky-Berger suggests that the success of the 2D-Web page for commerce is based upon the common experience with mail-order catalogues. This makes virtual shopping a long-standing American tradition invented by none other than Founding Father Benjamin Franklin in 1744 to distribute scientific books. Direct marketing proceeds from that point to the heyday of the Montgomery Ward catalog at the end of nineteenth century. In the virtual world model, the 3D Internet exploits a form of distributed marketing that looks, feels, and smells a lot like…a real store. Actually, the tactile is lacking, but the social and spatial aspects are robust.
Let the wild rumpus begin in earnest. On February 1, 2007, Reuters reports “$1,033,762 US Dollars spent in Second Life over last 24 hours as of 11:00am PST.” In analyzing gaming worlds, the economist Edward Castronova developed the terms of semi-finite virtual economies. We now get to see how this works with a much more porous economy. The first rogue Second Life server was announced on Tuesday.
Until now, land had been the highest valuable commodity in Second Life because it was scarce–virtual space based upon actual server space. The open-sourcing of the world promises to destabilizes an economy based on real estate, as some have already complained. Linden Lab board member Mitch Kapor makes clear in his “billion dollar business plan,” that Second Life’s business model in the near future will not be in land owning but transactions and software.
3. Be @ home
A virtual world plan for Net domination calls for a merger of the experiential with universal standards––amongst worlds and even across media genre. Yes, I want my Blog to talk to my Webpage, which should, in turn, be in close communication with my avatar…who skips merrily ‘cross portals. That said, let’s keep some perspective on why this is interesting in the first place. What virtual worlds promise is an augmentation of human-to-human communication. We seem to yearn for synchronous connectivity and virtual worlds promise to deliver exactly that. Looking at the 150-year build out of telecommunications capabilities, what we find with many of the current platforms from text message to instant messaging to virtual worlds are designs for simultaneous connectivity. Putting a human face to things is a lot of what this is about, even if that human face is a codebot. These platforms are not simply to facilitate shopping but to develop further (or perhaps more massively) the ways in which virtual and “portable” spaces can be inhabited as a home. Hello worlds.