second loop on Thu, 7 Aug 2008 02:50:20 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> [Augmentology] _A Warcry for Birthing Synthetic Worlds_

My first article on went up last week! Mez invited me
to write some articles for them, and I'm very happy to be included in
their site, because the writing there is so interesting, and has
affected my thinking about synthetic worlds a great deal. Here it


If we think about the synthetic environment of Second Life as a
metaphor for the web, where are we at today? In the early days of the
web, only universities and advanced scientific laboratories had
websites. I remember - as a kid - buying an issue of Scientific
American that came with a map of the whole web, all 100 or so websites
on a foldout poster. The web then proceeded to become popular with the
rollout of Netscape, but really gained mainstream status through the
development of _America Online_ (AOL). Now, I'm well aware just how
awful America Online is; I'm not sure how many people continue to use
it as ISP's and web hosts began to dramatically multiply and offer
alternative services.

I would argue that we are currently at the AOL stage of synthetic
world development; beyond the stage of university and military
applications but mostly dominated by one or a few corporations (think:
AOL or Compuserve as roughly parallel to Linden Labs, Blizzard).

In this metaphor, I'm trying to be clear about distinguishing
particular components. At this point, Linden Labs' main function is
serving a synthetic world as the client is open source. Yes, they're
also developing the server software, but the _client_ is open source.
This is much like a situation where a single company is acting as the
only web server where customers build their websites, just as users of
MMO's build their synthetic homes and characters. Yes, AOL did more
than host user's websites, but for many people their homepages were on
AOL's servers. Similarly, Linden Labs does create some content
in-world with most people accessing other's virtual creations through
Second Life.

Given the situation today, one can argue that it is ridiculous to have
one or a few companies as exclusive web hosting corporations. Some of
these reasons include scalability, freedom of expression and developer
freedom. We can also see all of these issues within Second Life, with
reports of:

- Multiple avatars in a single sim causing performance problems
- Issues like the recent SL5B celebration rated as PG
- changes to server code breaking existing client additions (as in the
University of Michigan's stereoscopic patches).

If we want to encourage substantial synthetic world growth and
continue to use the environments as spaces for creativity and
experimentation - not just for corporate profit - then it is critical
that we work on open standards and interoperability. Through the
employment of software like OpenSim and RealXtend, we can attempt to
become independent from the corporate restrictions of Linden Labs.

The recent debate over "prim limits" (ie limiting the number of prims
allowed in a sim) reveals the importance of this issue. For Linden
Labs, limiting individual users processor power is critical to their
ability to make a profit and to continue to operate as the primary
server of synthetic worlds. While they present themselves as our
benevolent benefactors, this position also allows them to ultimately
maintain control over what is and is not allowed in this environment.
Why is there the strange familial naming of every Linden Labs
employee? Is it to give users the feeling that they are part of one
big happy family? Or that Linden Labs are our avatar's loving parents?
Would we stand for a world wide web that was hosted by just one

I propose that we would not seriously invest as much time in web
use/web content creation if it was all owned by one corporation which
had ultimate say over freedom of expression. What makes the web
reliable and open and therefore important is decentralization.


>From _Augmentology 1[L]0[L]1_, with links and images at:



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