"What is the end of our revolution? The tranquil enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice, the laws of which are graven, not on marble or stone, but in the hearts of men....
We wish that order of things where all the low and cruel passions are enchained, all the beneficent and generous passions awakened...and the people are governed by a love of justice; where the country secures the comfort of each individual, and where each individual prides himself on the prosperity and glory of his country; where every soul expands by a free communication of republican sentiments...where the arts serve to embellish that liberty which gives them value and support, and commerce is a source of public wealth and not merely of immense riches to a few individuals....
We wish, in a word, to fulfill the intentions of nature and the destiny of man, realize the promises of philosophy, and...become a model to nations, a terror to oppressors, a consolation to the oppressed, an ornament of the universe and that....we may at least witness the dawn of the bright day of universal happiness. This is our ambition - this is the end of our efforts.
- Maximilian Robesbierre, "On the Principles of Political Morality, (1794)
I must confess that I am at heart, an optimist, but one who at this stage of my life gets pretty mean-spirited when I find my hopes being frustrated and disappointed. For example, for quite some time, I have had great hopes for what Second Life could be and how it could make a positive impact in many lives. My hopes, however, did not always seem consistent with the idealistic vision that its creators, lead by Philip Rosedale, had for the platform. As I watched how it was managed, the seeming lack of commitment to the broad range of users, and the utter fecklessness exhibited by the stewards of this experiment, I turned mean-spirited and cynical like many long-time residents. But lately, there are a few odd events and hints that suggest perhaps there is cause to once again regain some level of optimism.
I started thinking like this recently when I heard about the experience of a friend who occasionally roleplays in Deadwood. Christine McAllister (a charming and law-abiding soul if ever there was one), found herself unexpectedly banned from Second Life for no reason that she could fathom. Her situation is described on her blog Lady Adventuress.
My initial reaction was much like that of many of her friends, taking this OUTRAGE as further evidence of LL's descent into corporate dementia. Then I heard the situation was fixed. When I asked her about it, Christine directed me to talk with the person who had approached the Lab on her behalf to attempt to have what was obviously a mistake corrected in a reasonable amount of time.
The heroine in this story is Steelhead's lovely and rational Tensai Hilra, who utilized her access to concierge services to actually talk to a real live LL hooman about what had happened. The real live hooman creature she talked to indicated that it had indeed been a mistake. It seemed that Christine had been banned on the basis of some action the lab was taking against an actual miscreant. Unfortunately, the lab sought to ban said miscreant on the basis of a MAC address that had either been fiddled, or that was targeted in a range of addresses (or something like that which Tensai patiently tried to explain to me for a good 15 minutes while I nodded and went "duh-ok"), and that Christine's MAC address got pinged in the action. And so it got fixed. It took a few days, BUT if it hadn't been for the blessed Tensai's intervention, it probably would have taken longer for them to get around to straightening it out.
Now, here's where my usual mind-set got challenged. I was all set to be off on another of my "someday-I'm-gonna-kick-Phil-Rosedale-square-in-the-balls" rants, but Tensai pointed out that
(A.) they actually fixed the problem, and
(B.) the fact that they were going after miscreants in this way may actually indicate that LL is being more conscientious in going after the kind of troublemakers they have in the past ignored, and in some cases apparently coddled.
Ah, well, you may say, "Hey Dio, you spitdribbling old doxie! That's just one little thing--this is not evidence of a trend!"
And you are right. HOWEVER, I would also point you to the recent series of events in which hundreds of retail content items produced by RH Engle and associated content makers were illegally copied and distributed all over the grid. This was done by some mewling puke who was trying to get revenge on Mr. Engle for some perceived affront. The Lab folks responded by immediately banning the accounts responsible for the theft, and "blacklisting" the illegal copies made and distributed by the thief (ie, the items cannot be rezzed). While not a perfect solution (and arguably not a completely effective one), the Lab did at least take this assault on a business very seriously and responded with quick and relatively severe action--unlike in the past when even something as egregious as this would have been largely left up to the residents themselves to sort out...
This probably isn't entirely fair of me to look at it this way, but in the past, the Lab leadership generally seemed to want to be above all the sordid realities of what actually transpired on the grid, or perhaps to just let it play out as some big jolly social experiment. But now there is something new going on. They suddenly seem to be more willing to get their hands dirty.
What do I mean by this? Well, recently, the lab conducted a sting operation in which they put out some kind of bait that was popular with the smarmy wanks who copy stuff. LL actually caught and banned a significant number of lackwits who fell for it. Yeah, I know, it's a "drop in the ocean," and a less than completely effective solution....BUT this (if it is true) is relatively important. They are not just reacting to some of those realities of life on the grid that have a negative impact on commercial, educational and creative recreational use of the platform--they are showing evidence of a new proactive philosophy. Using tools like sting operations to catch content thieves, or perhaps, maybe even carrying out policies such as hunting down and killing grieftards instead of treating them like pets will make a huge difference in making the grid actually usable by businesses and institutions--not to mention the sizable population of current and potential individual users who can see the platform as something useful for something more than just havin' some yuks at others' expense and pissing away those empty hours in Mom's basement.
Now I know what I have presented here are some random recent events--anecdotal evidence at best. Unfortunately, the activities of the lab lack sufficient transparency to allow us to do more than conjecture based upon that kind of fragmentary evidence. And yeah, I know they're a private company and they can do their business any way they want, even if it means they actually do sit around wearing big fiberglass chipmunk heads--it's just a shame because what is happening on SL is a huge and unique social experiment that somebody should be seriously evaluating...
Anyway, I digress. The intriguing thing is, that there is something else besides this anecdotal evidence that offers a reason for hope. Back in September, LL founder Phil Rosedale made a statement on the SL official site that included the following:
"...we should try and realize that we are working together on a small village that in a few years will be a gigantic metropolis. Everything will change, and needs to. Try not to cling too tightly to what we have now. The design, the UI, the orientation experience, the tools - all these need to change, a LOT, for Second Life to become accessible to hundreds of millions. Those changes are sometimes going to be disruptive and painful.....in many ways I don't want Second Life to change either. It is magical, and it is cool to feel like you are one of the brave and visionary few who came early. But a bigger part of my heart wants to see it reach everyone, and so we must evolve. Onward!"
In effect, even Philip is acknowledging that the hippy-dippy, wild west days of the big experiment are over and that things are going to have to change. Second life is in fact finally getting into its "second phase," something that Hamlet Au had talked about over a year ago in a post back when Phil stepped down as president of the company. It just seems that now the navigational orders have finally reached the engineering deck and the behemoth is starting to swing onto its new course.
Philip says it must evolve. But that includes not just fixing the "design, the UI, the orientation experience, the tools" as Mr. Rosedale says. It means bringing order and reliability and stability---and not just technical reliability--to the grid. And being the eternal fucking optimist that I am, I am seeing things that suggest to me that the folks at the Lab are trying the shove the elephant off that cliff.
Look, I know I've been kind of an asshole with regards to the Lindens. I know most of them are decent, hard-working people who try their damnedest to make the vision a reality. Like I said earlier, I've just been kind of disappointed by a lot of things--many people have. I promise I'll try to keep a more civil tone. And if I ever actually do meet Phil Rosedale, I promise I will just shake his hand and tell him how much his wacky invention has meant to us all.
No, I will not kick him square in the balls.
I don't envy the Linden folks--it's going to take a lot of hard work and getting their hands dirty, and doing crap that Ain't Fun. And not everybody is going to survive the transition. That's why I included the Robespierre quote at the beginning of this piece--for you non-history freaks, Max Robespierre was one of the great inspirational orators of French liberty, a real idealist and visionary. He subsequently became a dictator, directed the Reign of Terror and was himself ultimately arrested and sent to embrace Madame Guillotine.
Visionaries don't always do well as an organization makes a big transition into a phase where pragmatism is necessary.
But the fact that there seems to be movement towards a more pragmatic course--in which there is a more sustained attempt being made to address the needs and hopes and desires of business people, artists and content creators, educators and storytellers, and lots and lots of everybody else--yeah that is something that gives me hope.
Robespierre and some of his followers being taken to be guillotined in 1794. No, I am not suggesting that this should be done to LL employees who have trouble adapting during the transition that SL is undergoing. However, I would cheerfully do my Madame Dufarge impression if this were treatment meted out to content thieves, scammers and grieftards. And yes, the image is in the public domain.