Letter to Linden Lab Re: Mainland Policies

Ad Farm Alley in Mangyeong
An ad farm along the Linden Road in Mangyeong sim seems much unchanged, despite changes in Linden Lab policies about ad farms announced seven months ago.

The Second Life community is all abuzz over a recent post from Linden Lab about upcoming changes in mainland policies. Several vocal SL bloggers have chimed in, including Gwen and Prokofy, comments on this blog, the Missing Image, and SLUniverse, in Italian, Russian, and in Germany, and reported on by New World Notes, Massively, Silicon Alley Insider, and Reuters.

Because of my professional work in Second Life, it is very rare that I publicly discuss my frustrations. I still believe that the Second Life platform is on the leading edge of the hundreds of virtual worlds (or more accurately, virtual environments) out there. I am still committed to Second Life, I pay my tier every month even though it gets harder and harder in this economy.

Griefer fireball in Chilbo
A griefer fireball in Chilbo (slightly camouflaged by our bushes) that has been sitting undisturbed for over 14 months, despite abuse reports to Linden Lab, on a parcel of land that was claimed in October 2006 by a resident who has not logged in (as far as we can tell) once in nearly two years.

I am still a committed community leader, I founded a mainland community, manage Second Life projects at work, and have taken a lead role in organizing a portion of this year’s Second Life Community Convention through the Second Life Education Community Conference.

But in light of Linden Lab’s recent blog posts, I feel compelled to speak my mind as both a citizen of this virtual world. These are my personal views and do not represent any of the professional, community, or other organizations I work with or represent.

My post to the closed forum is cited in full below:

Dear Jack,

I have invested thousands of dollars in building the Chilbo community on the mainland over the past couple years, as have others in my group, and spent countless hours of time working with mainland residents, dealing with abandoned parcels, griefers, and ad farm jerks. This is a very serious investment for me. Further, I’ve extolled the virtues of Second Life and virtual worlds to literally thousands of educators and administrators at workshops and conferences all over the US. I can’t even calculate how many residents, universities, and colleges have come into Second Life directly due to my hard (uncompensated by Linden Lab) work. I feel I have paid my dues as a Second Life resident and then some with a cherry on top.

Regarding the mainland, in the past 6 months, representatives of Linden Lab have kicked me in the teeth in several ways: they have placed abandoned parcels for public auction despite the fact that our community owns the land on three or even all four sides, at least once resulting in me paying over $20,000L for a 512m parcel because it was literally right next to our Town Hall in the heart of our community; they have worked out private deals with other residents who are NOT members of or invested in the area around Chilbo, giving them abandoned land for $1L that they then turned around and sold for extortionist prices; they have sold huge tracts of abandoned land near Chilbo through private deals rather than putting them up on auction, which were then cut up into small parcels and sold for extortionist prices; they have left griefer objects on abandoned land for literally years; and they have failed to address nearly every single ad abuse report we’ve filed despite a supposed change in policy all those months ago.

I, too, am quite skeptical that a change in mainland zoning policy will do anything but hurt honest community building groups like Chilbo, and will indeed like so many other changes, only help those who want to make a quick buck. In all my years in Second Life, I’ve always been working towards creating open, diverse, pleasant mainland communities, and no one at Linden Lab has ever bothered to take the time to look and see that our community owns land in 6 neighboring mainland sims, that our community actually uses the group tier donation model, that we ALREADY HAVE community standards but no way to enforce them, that we meet regularly to resolve our own disputes and issues, and that we are very serious and dedicated in our investment into Second Life and the mainland. They just pop in when they finally address an abandoned parcel, sometimes dole it out to someone who has a connection with them and sometimes just throw it up on public auction, and it as if our community, our hard work, and our investment of time and money doesn’t even exist. We’re left to fend for ourselves and pay through the nose if we want to try to continue to grow and keep a cohesive feel to our little tiny spot of goodwill in the anarchy of the mainland.

My suggestions:

1. Remove blanket banlines and pay-to-enter barriers from the mainland PERIOD. If you want absolute privacy, buy land on an island or eject jerks and implement individual bans. Blanket bans and pay to enter zones are the bane of mainland existence, worse than ad farms in my opinion.

2. Make the process for reclaiming land absolutely transparent so mainland communities can plan ahead and not feel subject to Linden Lab’s whims. If you don’t pay your tier after X months, your land is cleared and reclaimed automatically the very day after that period expires. 3 to 4 months is more than reasonable.

3. When a parcel is abandoned or reclaimed for lack of payment, all landowning group owners and private landowners in the sim should be notified FIRST and get FIRST SHOT at a private, closed auction. This should be relatively easy to automate. This would allow existing residents to work it out amongst themselves who wants to compete for the land. This would encourage cooperation and self governance by people who already have an investment in that region. Only after a set period of time if no existing landowner in the sim bids should that parcel then be put up for public auction. STOP ALLOWING EXTORTIONIST PROFITEERS TO BENEFIT MORE FROM LINDEN LAB POLICIES THAN GOOD HONEST COMMUNITY BUILDERS DO. IT IS THE COMMUNITIES THAT RETAIN RESIDENTS, PROMOTE PREMIUM MEMBERSHIPS, AND INCREASE USER HOURS, NOT LAND FLIPPERS.

4. Linden Lab has for years claimed that they eventually wanted to put more governance in the hands of residents since they do not have the staff or the time to resolve all disputes. So do it. Where organized communities exist, empower long-term residents with established records of good payment, good stewardship, and good relations to manage the sims instead of Linden Lab. Enforce our community-generated standards or allow us to enforce them. Whether through appointment or elections or petitions or through some other means, give community managers the ability to remove offensive ads, griefer objects, and banlines. Put your money where your mouth has been for the last 5 years.

5. Do what you say you will do. Consistently. Across the board. In a timely manner. Quit making special deals with residents who are friends of Lindens at the expense of those of us who don’t cultivate insider relationships.

A short forum or blog post can barely do justice to the injustice I feel Linden Lab has done to its best customers. I rarely ever speak of it, I keep a good public PR face, I do my best to soothe the irritation of the residents of Chilbo, newbies, teachers, and students. I am a good citizen of Second Life, but I am angry, frustrated, and distrustful of the company who repeatedly says they want to do better but somehow ends up implementing policies that make my work harder. Maybe this time will be different, but I won’t hold my breath.

Sincerely,

Fleep Tuque
Founder, Chilbo Community Building Project
Web: http://fleeptuque.com
Email: fleep.tuque@gmail.com

Chilbo Community in the Mainland of Second Life
Web: http://chilbo.org
SLurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Chilbo/112/222/121

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9 comments

  1. Hear hear, Fleep! Huzzah and very well-said!

    ~ Tara

  2. I’m quite stunned to read of the Lindens casually letting anyone who does NOT own land on 3 sides (or even 2!) of a parcel, a complete outsider and land flipper, get at a small piece of land. And even more surprised that any large abandoned parcels would be sold off on the quiet like that. However, more and more, I’ve seen some odd things — land that is abandoned sequestered and held forever, never auctioned; land that was most definitely marked “Governor Linden Protected Not for Sale” land *for years* suddenly getting builds on it, or worse, being sold — there isn’t the transparency as you note.

    The removal of names making purchases on the auction wins has fostered that climate of unaccountability. Extortionists can spot a recycled plot on the auction and move in and run up the price, then make you pay a ridiculous price for it — or chop it to plague you with ad farms.

    I’ve also proposed that they have some kind of internal sim auction first, or a “for sale” that cannot be clicked on except those who already own in the sim. Surely this is scriptable, or even managed on a manual basis — there aren’t THAT many abandoned parcels, now that a major clean-up took place.

    I’ve had Lindens refuse to give me a 16 m2 abandoned by would-be extortionists with only 2 sides near it, but when I have 3 or especially 4, they will. I’ve also had them turn over a 448 m2 that had only 2 sides just because I happened to hit a goodwilled Linden that day. But other times, the requests do get ignored, or worse, they take my alert of abandoned land, and then put that little piece to sale for only $1 on the open market, letting it fall prey to extortionists again.

    I do wonder about the concept of people who chose to start mainland communities having some sort of “right of way” on neighbouring sims. It seems to me that if you want that, you need to either start out buying contiguous sims, or else buy private islands and string them together if you grow. It’s an awfully hard row to how to try to make mainland sims coherent — I know, because I’ve done it in a number of areas, and here I face a brand-new challenge from the reprehensive Woodbury University and specifically Shaun Altman with a new ad-farm specifically advertising to urge people to “come and buy next to Prokofy and do..whatever…”

    Still, the Lindens need to develop rational policies. They are absolutely insanely literalist about never touching a thing on land, even when the people never log on literally for years. I have a parcel near me owned by a Linden with all kinds of accidental newbie and griefer trash that no other Linden will touch, citing this extreme propertarianism that no land can EVER be handled. There really should be a clause that if you do not log in for 180 days or something, autoreturn will go on at least to remove non group-set items. I see newbie first land from *four years ago* where people somehow keep paying tier but never, ever come and take down their plywood half-finished builds. It’s nuts.

    I think the Concierge and Governance team have gotten better about responding to requests to clean up land and problems and get abandoned land in the queue, but this non-enforcement of their ostensible existing ad-farm policy is absolutely appalling.

    I don’t think the answer is to empower residents who make communities. It pits communities, which are always going to be few in number, against individual residents who may have accidently wound up next to them. I think the Lindens are the only fair adjudicators.

    I also think that frankly, Fleep, you can get the same lecture people give me. If you face these intractable problems on one sim, then you have to eye all the new land coming up that is fairly cheap, and move. Cut your losses, cut your frustration, and go to a new sim that you don’t have to face the agony of piecing together bits from.

    Of course I don’t do that, because I want to stay on the sims I’ve grown used to, with their names and geographical features. It’s sentimental. The Lindens don’t care about my sentiments. They’re here to make software and sell server space.

  3. Fleep, that sounds incredibly frustrating, and I think your proposals are just what’s needed. I’m concerned that they might not get serious consideration, because my sense is that Linden Lab doesn’t want to implement any public policy that officially gives residents any administrative power or select treatment. But I will cross my fingers that they’ll listen to you where they might not to someone less invested and will open the door to these kinds of changes.

    If they’re going to enforce and administrate, that’s fine. If they’re going to implement a reasonably fair system that lets resis do it instead, that’s also fine. But letting things go to seed like this seems like a very, very, very bad idea.

    ^^^\ Kate /^^^

  4. Make this a petition and sign my name to it as well.

  5. Fleep, that’s exactly what i thought reading Jacks blog post. And: Just another blog post telling us of best of intentions and doing nothing afterwards, making everything even worse.

    The poor condition of mainland is in the responsibility of Linden Lab. Ad Farmers or other racketeers are not to blame, you have this people in every real or simulated population and we will always have to deal with them. It is the Lindens fault.
    They made one policy after the other and never enforced them. Ad Farmers are laughing at them. One could think, there some special connections between some of them and the Lab.
    On one hand Lindens making policies to keep mainland population quiet, on the other doing nothing against Ad Farmers cutting their microparcels and behave more and more aggressive against neighbour residents.

    I got a bit suspicious after the Jack Linden Office Hour June 25th 2008 with a well known land extortionist talking absolute rubbish and Jack Linden replying ‘Austin.. thanks for that, and if you can drop me that feedback on a notecard that would be helpful’.
    I nearly spew my coffee reading this. I expected a harsh reaction, not friendly encouragement. It seems it is not longer necessary to keep up appearances.

    I agree: Someone has to take over administration. Either the Lindens or we residents. I lost my faith in the Lindens ability or will, to take any action in the case of mainland sims.

    Putting down banlines on mainland could be the first step. Perhaps making them last for max. 24h. then closed events can still be hold, even with pay to enter.

    An option to buy abandoned land for residents of that sim and transparent auctions would definitely making things better.

    Imagine where we could be today, what could have been achieved up to today, if Linden Lab would have enforced their own rules from the beginning. Oh my….

    Tommy Brouwer

  6. I left a comment on NWN’s article referencing your open letter. It’s not just you and Prokofy that have seen instances of favoritism and failure to follow the company’s stated policies regarding land by some Lab employees. I’ve heard the same thing, with specific examples, from other experienced Residents.

    If I were King Of The World, I think it might be time to declare that Second Life is well beyond its infancy. Time for the employees to act fairly and justly at all times, adhering to company policy in every instance. Treat the Residents in an equitable manner, keeping in mind at all times that they are the source of income which keeps this enterprise functioning. Privately held mainland by Lab employees should be liquidated, absolutely no businesses in world on an alt account and insider knowledge. No special favors or information for friends or friends of friends.

  7. Cosimo Urbanowicz

    Fleep:
    Thanks for airing this in such clear terms. Communities and corporations have a long, awkward relationship that has rarely been symbiotic. Second Life is great opportunity to work this out, but with the advent of Open Sims, we may move on to another paradigm sooner than Linden Lab realizes. It would be a loss to the ‘one world’ sense of unity that Second Life — and especially the Mainland — represents today.