Apr 11

Leadership Matters – Praise for Rod Humble’s Keynote at Inventing the Future of Games

In early March, I was honored to be a guest moderator for the Virtual Worlds Educator Roundtable, where I got to interview the folks who make the weekly meetings happen.  It was a really great session with lots of reflections about how far we’ve come in terms of using virtual worlds for education, and lots of brainstorming about where this field is going.

But one of the questions I asked the panel kind of stuck in my mind and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  I asked if the panel had any thoughts about Linden Lab’s new CEO, Rod Humble (SL: Rodvik Linden), and I was surprised to hear several panelists say that they weren’t following the employees of Linden Lab as closely as they had in the past.  To paraphrase, one of the panelists said something like the “the cult of personality phase” of their watching Linden Lab was over.  I can appreciate that, after last year’s downsizing at the Lab, many of the employees I knew and had spent years developing good working relationships with were gone, and it seems from the outside as if we’re almost dealing with an entirely new company.

Rod Humble in his office at Linden Lab.  Image courtesy New World Notes.

Still, I thought about the panelists’ responses and wondered if I was perpetually in some kind of fan-girl stage of watching the leadership at the Lab for clues and omens about the future of the platform.  Having given it some thought, I don’t think so.  Though I have many criticisms of Second Life as a platform, and of Linden Lab as a company, I still see Second Life as the primary consumer platform in the virtual world space – and as such, I think its leadership matters very much.  For good or ill, the philosophy of its CEO and other senior management can and will have a direct impact on my work, and potentially impact the direction the metaverse takes as a whole.

In that sense, I think it matters quite a lot what those leaders think, and as I’ve watched Rod Humble’s tweets and interactions with the Second Life userbase over the past few months, I’ve been more and more pleased that Second Life is being headed up by someone who seems to be, above all, thoughtful about what virtual worlds are, what impact games have on human behavior, and what the end goal is of our virtual lives.  In sharp contrast to the last CEO, who seemed more focused on monetizing and marketing virtual worlds as an economic tool, Humble appears to genuinely reflect on the same kinds of questions that sometimes keep me up at night.  And I find that comforting.

Humble’s Keynote at Inventing the Future of Games

I was having those thoughts about Humble’s leadership of Second Life (so far) even before I saw his recent keynote at the Inventing the Future of Games conference last week, but after watching the video multiple times, I am even more convinced that the Second Life platform is in better hands.

I should note, the audio quality of this video is not so great (part of the reason I had to watch it over and over) but I’m still grateful for the folks who made it available to those of us who couldn’t attend the conference.    If the audio troubles are too much for you, check out this synopsis on Gamasutra.


Asking the Right Questions

It pleases me to know that Humble is thinking about this stuff on a very deep level, and is asking the kinds of moral and ethical questions that I worry often get pushed aside in the pursuit of  making money for shareholders and investors.

Perhaps more importantly, I think he’s asking some of the right questions.   He accepts, as I suspect most people reading this blog do, that games and virtual worlds are an art form, and that games and virtual worlds can and do change people’s behavior.   The real question is – to what purpose?  And as designers and developers of virtual spaces, are we thinking about this enough?

I think it’s extremely important to look at it and say how can we take responsibility as game creators. What games should we ethically build? If you are going to be influencing those [players] you have an enormous weight on your shoulders.”   – Rod Humble at the Inventing the Future of Games Conference

Like Humble, I too hope to see virtual worlds and game worlds do more to explore the issues of power, class, and freedom – and what it means to be human in this increasingly virtual “real” world.  And I hope that this can be an ongoing dialogue  between the leadership at the Lab and the community of users who have invested in expressing their own visions of the future through the Second Life platform.

All too often in the past, it felt as if the Lab’s goals were simply to capitalize on the work of its Residents instead of recognizing that beyond earning a living, most of us are living out our digital lives in pursuit of answers to the same profound questions that govern our real lives.

Many cheers for a CEO who is engaged as deeply in those questions as we are.


Dec 10

Phaylen’s Take on New CEO of Linden Lab a Good Read

Wait, that’s not the new CEO, that’s Phaylen writing about the new CEO.  😉

The game of musical CEO chairs has finally come to an end at Linden Lab today, on the eve of Christmas Eve! The music has stopped and the gentleman finding himself at the head of the table is Rod Humble, which has sent some people into throngs of optimistic praise and others into brow furrowing dread. Why?

via Linden Lab Delivers New CEO For The Holidays : Phaylen Fairchild Productions.

Nov 09


Mission, principles and projects:
LoveMachine means several different things, some of which you’ll have to talk to us to figure out. We believe that the right band of people can work together, have a huge amount of fun, make a bunch of money, and try to save the world.

Dusan called it! Glad to see Philip’s still working on saving the world. (For those who don’t know, Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab and Second Life, announced he’d be working on a new project. The LoveMachine is part of Linden Lab lore, a system by which employees of the Lab give each other “love” in the form of.. tips or something, to let everyone else know when they thought someone was doing a good job. So Philip’s trying to take the concept global? We dunno exactly, but I’m sure many people will be watching this site closely for updates.)

Posted via web from Fleep

Nov 09

Educause 09, Copyright/IP in Virtual Worlds, Dusan’s War

This week seemed impossibly full of interesting, with not enough time to process.  Wait, who am I kidding, I never feel there’s enough time to process, but this week more so than usual.  So a quick roundup to remind myself to keep thinking about these things:


I made a vow last year to reduce my conference travel.  It seemed prudent to cut back on expenses in this tough budget climate, but more than that, all the conferences began to run together in my mind, all the sessions sounding the same, the airports and hotel rooms one big blur.  From time to time I’ve felt sad to miss seeing good netfriends, at SLCC09 especially, but it also felt good to take a step back and not be so darned harried.  Until this past week, when so many people I admire gathered at EDUCAUSE 2009, and for the first time I felt a tinge of real regret.  Because it sounds like maybe this year’s EDUCAUSE breathed a bit of fresh air into the room.

Fortunately, I was able to follow at least some of what was happening through the ever fascinating tweets of EDUCAUSE attendees, and the conference organizers (bless them) streamed many sessions on the web, so those of us who couldn’t attend don’t get too terribly left behind.  I haven’t watched all the sessions, but two in particular that I want to keep thinking about:

Point/Counterpoint:  Disrespectful and Time-Wasting, or Engaged and Transformative
The Mile High Twitter Debate (Gardner Campbell and Bruce Maas)

I first met Gardner Campbell (@gardnercambell) through an NMC Summer Conference several years ago (another conference I was sad to miss this year) and I’ve been a faithful reader of his blog Gardner Writes ever since.  His passion for teaching, and for exploring the use of technology in teaching in meaningful ways, has been illuminating.  He’s the kind of faculty member I want to learn from and collaborate with, and he’s always been unbelievably approachable for such a rock star.  ;)   So when I heard he was taking the pro-Twitter position in a Point/Counterpoint session, it seemed like a must-see and I wasn’t disappointed.

From now on, when administrators and faculty ask me what the point of Twitter is, I’m not even going to discuss it, I’ll just send them a link to this video.  If they aren’t convinced after that, there’s no hope.

Thanks to Gardner and Bruce Mass for a great debate and a terrific resource we can share with others.

It’s About Time:  Getting Our Values Around Copyright Right
(Lawrence Lessig)

The other “must-watch” video from the conference is really a must-watch for more than just educators.  Netizens everywhere need to be thinking about this issue, especially in light of the ACTA treaty negotiations that were leaked this week (see the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s take, ReadWriteWeb, Wired, and more – universal sentiment is “BAD – VERY BAD”).  I’m beyond outraged about ACTA and hope to make a separate post on that topic soon.

In any case, Lessig delivered a powerful talk about copyright that I hope you’ll take the time to review.  You won’t be sorry you did.

On Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, & the Rule of Law in Virtual Worlds

These issues, of copyright and intellectual property, are not abstract for many Second Life users.  Indeed, I often imagine that these Second Life content creators (the ones who make the virtual clothes, hair, buildings, cars, etc. that you can buy in Second Life or on the web) are likely some of the very people who downloaded pirated music, software, or movies without a second thought in earlier times, but now the tables are turned after experiencing what it is like to create something from your own imagination, market it, sell it, and have it stolen out from under them.  (Reminder to self, experience is truly the best teacher. )

I refer to the great angst and gnashing of teeth over content theft in virtual worlds.  Linden Lab responded to the lawsuit filed by SexGen bed maker this week, a group of content creators staged a 48 hour period of creating nothing to protest content theft, Ben Duranske urged everyone to register their copyright with the US government, and the very controversial Emerald Viewer team filed a DMCA notice to Google about the much vilified Neilife viewer.

Oh, and by the way, Michael Risch at the West Virginia University College of Law makes a compelling case that the rule of law has been an abysmal failure in virtual worlds.  From the abstract:

The article finds – unsurprisingly – that virtual worlds now lack many of the elements of the rule of law. Which aspects fail is more surprising, however. Provider agreements and computer software, the sources of regulation that are most often criticized as “anti-user,” provide the best theoretical hope for achieving the rule of law, even if they currently fail in practice. On the contrary, widely proposed “reforms,” such as community norms, self-regulation, and importation of real-world law face both theoretical and practical barriers to implementation of the rule of law in virtual worlds.

What are we to make of all this copyright/IP mess?  I dunno.  I don’t have any easy answers either.

But I have long argued that one of the greatest benefits of being involved in virtual worlds like Second Life is that you get to see some of the great issues of our time being played out in another context, a different context than the “real world” – a smaller context – and that this gives us a new perspective with which to view what’s happening in the “real world”.   It’s so difficult for me to articulate this thought, I wish I could do a better job of it, but it’s the primary reason I feel like educators – no – academics and intellectuals of all stripes – should be involved in what’s happening in virtual worlds.  This copyright issue is just one of many examples, it’s fascinating to see how it plays out in the context of a conversation at EDUCAUSE versus the context and conversations of Second Life.

On one hand, we hear Lessig imploring educators and edtech IT folks to find ways to honor the rights of content creators in ways that do not turn our kids into terrorists.  He says, and I agree, that the creativity unleashed by mashups in the digital age cannot be stopped.  We hear Lessig warning us that by forcing people to live a a life outside the law, we undermine the very rule of law that democracy requires.  He urges us to help find a third way, a middle road between copyright extremists on both ends of the spectrum.

In another context, in the microcosm of virtual worlds and Second Life, we hear that the rule of law has yet to even emerge, all while we watch from the sidelines as real life courts are asked to adjudicate a potentially precedent-setting case about virtual content theft.   We hear some virtual world content creators arguing they must have the right to back up their work, to port their work, the products and artifacts of their creativity, into whatever medium they desire, whatever grid they happen to be on.   Other content creators are arguing that so long as the tools to make this backup/portability possible can also be used to steal THEIR content and creativity, these tools should NOT be available.  Even though they already are.  And, I think they are here to stay, no matter how much Linden Lab tries to enforce some kind of 3rd party registration for viewers.

Much to think about.  And I wonder,  what would the content creators who staged the 48 hour “create nothing” protest say to Lessig’s point?

I’ve run out of time to finish this post, and didn’t even get to the other big stories of the week.  I’ll add some links to remind myself, because they all play into this conversation even if I can’t synthesize it all at the moment:

Linden Lab offers standalone “behind the firewall” servers at $50k a year price – are they crazy?

Dusan talks about the Lab being at war with itself, and humanity at war with ourselves, and with technology – what?  I want to respond to this, I want to argue some of us ARE stopping to think about it – obsessively thinking about it even -  but it’s just all happening so damned fast (see this post, I can’t even get a few hours to properly synthesize):

But there’s a Masonic feeling to the whole thing: we’re not just individual actors contributing to the common good, we’re individual actors contributing to the evolution of digital spaces that have no governing body, and we’re hoping that in so doing our collective contributions will lead to a common good, without always stopping to have much of a conversation about it, although we start to get worried if it happens all over again: if Google actually turns out to BE the next Microsoft, although it’s typically only the big, easy-to-spot targets that we worry about – the rest of it is too granular, too innocuous, the metadata is invisible to us, it’s all held in those windowless rooms.

Healthcare reform passes the House after bitter partisan vote – will it actually improve anything?  Is this REALLY what democracy has come to in the digital age?  Am I the only one disgusted with the sausage making mess?

A fellow from the team writing recommendations for the National Education Technology Plan comes to Second Life for feedback – did he get anything useful from the process?  I greatly appreciated the effort of the ISTE organizers and all the speakers, and that he made the effort to reach out to cutting edge educators, but I found the process chaotic, frustrating, and unsure what the take-away was.

I’ll have to stop here.  Too much to process this week.

Aug 08

Metanomics: Fleep “On the Spot” About SLEDcc 2008

On Monday, Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield (SL: Beyers Sellers) put Education Correspondent Fleep Tuque “On the Spot” about the upcoming Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 (SLEDcc), part of the official Second Life Community Convention in Tampa, FL from September 5 – 7th.

(Click the image to view video)

Fleep discussed the genesis of the SLEDcc name and gave an overview of the six conference strands and upcoming sessions in Tampa. She also talked about the SLEDcc Working Groups, a new component of this year’s program, that will bring participants together to address four topics to generate useful resources for members of the Second Life education community. Educators are invited to contribute to the SLEDcc Working Group discussions in the SLEDcc08 group on RezEd prior to the conference:

SLEDcc will also have a full program in-world, with streamed sessions from Tampa and an exciting schedule of tours, socials, poster sessions, and presentations. Register for the in-world SLEDcc here!

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Aug 08

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.


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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Jul 08

Google’s “Lively” Virtual Chatroom

Yesterday Google released a 3D virtual chatroom application called Lively that can be embedded into a webpage. A bunch of folks from the Second Life community headed over to the Linden Lab chatroom to check it out and I grabbed about a minute of machinima to give a sense of the visuals.

At the moment it isn’t Mac compatible and I couldn’t get it to work in my Firefox 3 browser at all. On IE7, it said “Joining…” for about 5 minutes before my avatar appeared, but eventually I was able to see and communicate with the others in the room.

My first impression is that this is very similar to IMVU, it’s a 3D chatroom with some options to “decorate” the space, but doesn’t appear to support any user generated content or even import Sketch-Up objects, which is surprising since that’s a Google product. The range of avatar choices is very limited and I didn’t see options for user customization there, either, though I assume that will change since all the research points to avatar customization as a key to engagement, immersion, and “stickiness” for virtual worlds.

On the plus side, these lightweight web-based applications only highlight the growth of 3D spaces online and it’s a nice transition point for people to get their feet wet with virtual spaces without having to download, install, and run something as resource intensive as Second Life. It was also easy to embed a YouTube video on a player in the room for a shared media experience, and decorating the space with the given inventory seemed fairly simple.

I can’t see any 3D virtual space impacting education if there aren’t options for instructors and students to create their own content, but I’d guess that will be an upcoming feature when they tie Lively to the Sketch Up object repository.

Certainly an interesting development, and I’m surprised Google was able to keep this under wraps so tightly! The rumor mills were going back in September of last year, but otherwise not a hint until it was released – impressive!

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