I thought I’d flip the topic around, Mark Kingdon opened when giving a keynote address (via MetaMeets TV) to the MetaMeet conference being held in Dublin, The topic being ‘Old Myths and New Realities’, and talk about some of the new myths that are forming about Second Life today and some of them are new myths that I’ve been helping create; and since I’m helping to create these new myths, I’d like to try and debunk some of those new myths…
What follows is a 22-minute insight into the future of Second Life directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
And it is both a fascinating and worrying insight into how those at the top see SL developing over the next year or so.
On the fascinating / welcome side of things Kingdon is candid in his view that while the core emphasis of his tenure to date at LL has been a drive to bring in new users, he is well aware that this is not enough to ensure the continued growth of the platform. Indeed, he openly states both consumers (“new users”) and creators are vital gears in the engine of SL’s economy, and both need to be supported. He then goes on to point to shared media as being a prime example of supporting creativity in SL and the forthcoming (i.e. end-of-year) arrival of mesh imports.
But then things start to get a bit worrying, as Kingdon intrinsically links “creativity” in SL with “art” and the Linden Endowment of the Arts (LEA). The LEA is a hand-picked group M and his colleagues have determined to be the “thought leaders” in the SL arts community to set a direction and curate submissions which we can display in our new arts centre. so Linden Lab’s contribution to this venture is going to be to contribute land…and lot of sims…maybe 70 sims…
SEVENTY sims? Pardon me, but that is one BIG land mass. Now, art in SL is not a new thing – as Kingdon notes – and much of it is currently supported out of the artist’s own pocket (in terms of tier payments) or- more pertinently – by sim owners themselves who lease & run arts-related sims entirely out of their own pocket. If nothing else, the prospect of having to compete with up to seventy sims being provided (apparently) gratis to the arts community is something of a slap in the face with a large, wet fish for those who have supported arts and artistry for so long and so altruistically.
And it isn’t even as if this new facility is going to by open to any and all artists within SL: the selection of whom gets to display what on these sims is to be left in the hands of what amounts to an appointed quango.
Now, obviously, when setting up something like this, there needs to be a filtering of content to some degree – but one cannot help but wonder just how the filtering of submissions to this new “art continent” will be skewed by the “thought leaders” appointed to the LEA – and how many are simply going to find themselves excluded from participation on grounds that have less to do with the quality of their artistry and more with how the LEA’s own perceptions of what constitutes both “art” – be it visual or performance – and the “artist” making the submission.
Another niggling concern that tickled my mind on listening to Kingdon arose as I casually flipped through recent e-mails…and found one advertising LL’s latest “competition”: the chance to win L$50K in return for hoping your way through the Destination Guide.
Ciaran Laval is my hero on the call to arms over Search. He’s been unremitting on his calls to get Search fixed – and rightly so; and LL are promising “incremental improvements”. But…one cannot help but look upon a sudden and incentivised (to the tune of L$50K) drive to get people to use the Destinations Guide as perhaps being indicative of something deeper: could it be that LL want people to use the DG in preference to the borked-up Places in search? If so, then one cannot help be feel concerned for those that try to maintain private art-related sims; if they are reliant on getting listed on the Destination Guide to attract visitors…they are liable to be very small voices crying out against the background “noise” of LEA-approved offerings…
Another worry that crossed my mind while listening to M on this, was whither goeth the mesh creators? He seems to strongly align “art” and “content” as being one-in-the-same. Questions have already been raised on the subject of mesh and its potential to impact the economy (and creativity) within Second Life – by both myself and others. Tom Hale himself admits that the concerns need to be addressed….are we going to see the LEA somehow involved in this as well? Combined with some new “Gold Content Providers Program”?
If so…whither then for the “amateur” content creator?
Beyond this, M did lay to rest one welcome ghost: that LL are trying to “out” everyone. The paranoid androids of the blogrum have been rattling on about this every time words such as “face”, “book”, “tweet” and “plurk” have ended up strung together in sentences uttered / printed by LL. So much so, that this isn’t the first time Kingdon has sought to slay this particular beast – but this doesn’t make his clarifications here any the less welcome. And, to be honest, while I am no “social networking” fan (I don’t facebook, I’m no Twit and I still think “plurking” to be the kind of sound a man makes after a particularly filling meal) – but I can see the value in making tools available that make broadening the social reach people can enjoy while using SL as being potentially beneficial.
Another welcome point Kingdon made was around the subject of third-party development and the recognition – at least around the Viewer – that LL cannot possibly meet the demands of every single segment of the user community in terms of wanted / needed Viewer functionality. As such, M was at pains to point out that LL in fact need TPV developers if the needs of the more experienced users are to be met, and that Viewer development is very much a symbiotic relationship – with the given caveat that LL must gate keep the safety and security of the SL environment.
If there was anything here I would really liked to have heard, it would have been that the TPV policy itself is not the end of the process: there is much going on around SL that is causing concern due to a lack of some transparency that really needs to have LL themselves to be more forthright about. While I am not suggesting that there is anything remotely nefarious about these “private sector” programmes, one cannot help but feel that much of the FUD, misinformation and outright angst that they are causing could be done away with were LL to issue guidelines to help govern such activities.
Perhaps the most fascinating element of the presentation was in Kingdon’s “look ahead”, which formed both a part of his address and an answer to a question from the “floor”. I’m not sure I go along entirely with all of the ideas and memes he set up at this end of the presentation, but there can be no denying he has a deep-seated belief in what he perceives as being the future for SL and the Internet as a whole. But that said, I’ll leave you to listen and judge for yourselves in this aspect of things.
This is the second such “free talk” event at which I’ve hard Mark Kingdon speak – and, as with the first time at his February “meet’n'greet“, I was impressed by his sincere passion for SL, although I remain genuinely concerned for the future of arts in SL. This whole LEA thing, while it has been on the cards for a while now, smacks unpleasantly of a further effort to control, define and promote by proxy, and one that if “successful” could well (like Linden Homes) see further sims thrown at it “magnanimously” by LL – to the death of “art” anywhere else in SL.