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  ‘Second Life’ Copier Controversy  
Posted 2006-11-15 by Tony Walsh
I've been watching the controversy of "CopyBot" unfold over the last few days. CopyBot is a software tool that subverts the Second Life virtual-world system to copy in-world objects, however copies are neither fully functional, nor perfect replicas. Resident reaction to the tool has been overwhelmingly negative--store owners and content creators have been locking down their goods for fear they might be copied. Most residents seem to think that simply using the tool at all is illegal (the misconception that copying is theft is thanks to the RIAA and MPAA), although a small percentage recognize that this is an ethical, not a legal dilemma. CopyBot, like a photocopier, VCR, gun, or computer, is simply a tool that can be used illegally, but isn't in itself illegal. Interestingly, a similar tool to CopyBot named GL Intercept was discovered earlier this year, but didn't result in nearly as much fuss.

Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, rightly admits that it's not in the copyright-policing business, that there is nothing really it can do to prevent infringements, and that it can only try to put more mechanisms in place to make detection and reporting of infringement easier. The company has ruled that infringing use of CopyBot and similar tools is a violation of its Terms of Service, and therefore an offense punishable by banning from Second Life.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Copier Controversy
  Largest ‘Second Life’ Community to Punish Corporate Fakesters  
Posted 2006-11-12 by Tony Walsh
Dreamland, Second Life's largest resident community, has added "false claims of inventorship and fake pioneering" to its list of civil crimes punishable by exile. Founded in January, 2005, the community includes 10% of the virtual world's entire population (signups to Second Life exceeded the one-million mark late this year *), operating across 400 "sims," or tracts of virtual land. According to Dreamland founder Anshe Chung, outside corporations making false claims will be warned following assessment by a jury of Dreamland residents. "A ban will be issued if no adequate retraction and public apology is made by the offending party. In case of repeat offenses or especially severe violations a ban may be issued without prior warning."

In a prepared statement, Anshe Chung (featured earlier this year on the cover of Business Week magazine) said "We have seen a rush of organisations that have made the real world what it is today, trying to expand their activities into Second Life. Residents in our communities believe that most of these groups come with positive intentions and a solid set of ethics." Chung says that although outside companies are welcome in Dreamland, a few corporate players--particularly public-relations firms--have fouled the waters. "It appears to have become common practice in certain corporate circles to copy concepts that have long been pioneered by Second Life residents, to then make false claims of inventorship in the real world media," said Chung. "Examples are companies that falsely claimed to launch the '1st radio station in SL', '1st fashion brand in SL', '1st tabloid in SL' or to be the '1st company launched in SL'. All these concepts have already been pioneered for years in professional, successful and profitable ways by lesser known Second Life residents."

Continue reading: Largest ‘Second Life’ Community to Punish Corporate Fakesters
  ‘Second Life’ Transactions-Per-Day Stats Rigged? [Updated]  
Posted 2006-11-10 by Tony Walsh
The Second Life Herald broke news today alleging that Linden Lab has published inflated statistics on the home page of its virtual world platform Second Life. [Update: Flaws in the stats system have apparently been known to insiders for some time, see two comments here, and a recent Reuters update.] According to the Herald, stats that showed $1.6M USD were transferred in a 24-hour period were generated in large part thanks to a Second Life user, who gamed the system by repeatedly passing a fixed amount of cash back and forth between accounts. The user explained to the Herald "When I started the test, the 24 hour total was approximately 486,000 USD. After about an hour and half, my system pushed the total to over 1.5 million. What this means is that Linden Labs does in fact include transactions that net a zero sum."

If true, Linden Lab has potentially been overstating the value of its virtual-world economy--an economy which has been the subject of much media attention this year, and has attracted the interest of large, real-world corporations over the last half of 2006. Last summer, Linden Lab tightened up its population statistics, providing more realistic numbers than had previously been published. By that time, however, mainstream media outlets had reported some wildly overblown population numbers--this data is still commonly misreported. Seems like it's overdue for Linden Lab to tighten up its transaction data (if said data is indeed easily gamed). This might help companies make better decisions about establishing a presence in the virtual world--but what about the businesses who have already opened up shop in Second Life based on potentially-flawed data?
  ‘Guardian’ Fails to Protect ‘Second Life’ History  
Posted 2006-11-08 by Tony Walsh
The living history of virtual world Second Life continues to withstand injury by outside business efforts and lazy reporters. The Guardian Unlimited's Berlin correspondent Jess Smee reports that Bild-Zeitung publisher Axel Springer is about to launch Second Life's "first" tabloid focusing entirely on in-world society and culture. Smee's report is not only incorrect, but it inexplicably ignores the living legacy of the Second Life Herald, a high-profile tabloid that's been happily raking mud in-world and on the web since 2004 (and earlier as The Alphaville Herald). Numerous mainstream media reports have used the Herald as a source over the years in order to bring catchy insider stories to the outside world.

What happened here? How could a seasoned reporter screw up so significantly? I couldn't find Smee's contact information to send an inquiry directly to the writer, so I'll indulge in speculation. Ultimately this boils down to laziness on Smee's part. A Google search for "Second Life tabloid" lists the Herald in the top ten results. So obviously Smee isn't doing even the slightest bit of research. The writer probably just reprinted whatever Axel Springer communicated. I can forgive publisher Axel Springer for being oblivious to existing Second Life culture (although how it thinks it can cover something it doesn't understand is beyond me), but it's insulting when companies try to rewrite community history. Further commentary at the Herald and Second Life Insider.
  Cyveillance Sends Me a Nastygram  
Posted 2006-11-07 by Tony Walsh
I just received a hilarious nastygram from Cyveillance, a self-described "internet monitoring agency" that can't tell its ass from a hole in the ground. Cyveillance's robots believe I require the authorization of Nintendo of America Inc. in order to discuss trademarked Nintendo properties. The robots also believe that Clickable Culture is a sexually-explicit web site. The robots are wrong: I don't require any corporation's permission to criticize or satirize its intellectual property, and, obviously, this blog is not sexually-explicit. Not even the post cited in the complaint is sexually-explicit.

Nice try, Cyveillance, but you haven't done a thing to protect Nintendo's brand. If anything, you've raised awareness of the object of your complaint. Your overzealous and misguided request doesn't just make you look bad, it makes Nintendo look bad by association. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, but why take your client down with you?

As I wrote last year, Cyveillance is under the impression its system is infallible. As shown by its system's inability to detect my mockery, and with the automated delivery of its misguided nastygram, the company has demonstrated that its system is as deeply flawed as I'd guessed. Never send a robot to do a human's job, you knuckleheads. Following is the full text of the message. Note that the company hasn't actually accused me of infringement, but the language was constructed to suggest I've committed a serious transgression.

Continue reading: Cyveillance Sends Me a Nastygram
  AddictingGames Contest Grabs Rights to Entries  
Posted 2006-11-02 by Tony Walsh
On the surface, AddictingGames' $22,500 game design contest seems fair enough. Submit your entry, compete with others, possibly win a prize. But the legalese tells a different story: "Entries and all other submitted material become the property of Atom Entertainment, Inc. and will not be acknowledged or returned."

Wow. A blatant content grab, but a good business move. Pony up $22k, wholly own hundreds of games. Even if only 1 out of 10 is decent, that's still money well-spent, considering any decent Flash game costs upwards of a couple thousand dollars to develop. I'm not sure this is such a great public-relations move, however. Entrants should be informed more clearly and directly that they are giving up their rights by sending in their games--I'd certainly never give up my intellectual property so easily.

Thanks to Canada's NMBA for the heads-up on this.
  The Computer Says You’re Violent  
Posted 2006-10-27 by Tony Walsh
Have you ever wondered who might be watching any of the surveillance cameras mounted around your city? According to NewScientistTech, it's not "who" will be watching, but "what." A computer may some day review closed-circuit camera footage, deciding whether or not violent activities have transpired. The technology, still in development, analyzes footage frame by frame, trying to match pixel-clusters against a model of the human form. The makers of the system believe they can determine what an interaction means. "For example, when identifying two people shaking hands, their hands must not only be close, but must also move in synchrony." Asynchronous movement might not be a handshake, but a punching-match, believe the inventors. "On average, the system was 80% accurate at identifying these activities correctly."

I'm glad to read the makers of the system recognize it has a long way to go. Personally, I think technology like this is going to turn up too many false positives to be useful: How do we know when two people are play-fighting as opposed to real-fighting? Is playing paper-rock-scissors or doing Tai Chi going to alert the police? Daydreaming about the social ramifications, I see flash-mobs staging "false positive" events such as breakdancing, crunking, or pillow-fighting in public spaces--would the authorities then feel obligated to restrict our freedom of expression to make up for a technological failing?
  I Explain Why ‘The Internet’ Doesn’t Suck  
Posted 2006-10-25 by Tony Walsh
If you're within broadcast range of Ontario public TV station TVO today, you can catch me on The Agenda in a 40-minute discussion about the degree of suckitude present and/or lacking in "The Internet." The discussion was arranged after Maclean's magazine writer Steve Maich stole the cover of this week's print edition with the provocative declaration that "The Internet sucks." Maich's article takes an incredibly one-sided view, and there's so much I could easily pick apart here, but I'll wait until tonight's segment. Producer Daniel Kitts tells me that tonight's guests not only include Maich, but the McLuhan Centre's Liss Jeffrey (others TBA). The segment airs at 8pm Eastern Time, but will also be available as a podcast.
  Outside Businesses Revising ‘Second Life’ History  
Posted 2006-10-23 by Tony Walsh
Have we learned nothing from real-world history? Ages ago, imperialists planted their flags on "New World" soil, claiming to have discovered virgin territory, oblivious to the natives peering out cautiously from the treeline. Indigenous people, wildlife, and territories were viewed as obstacles to be conquered on the road to profit.

The virtual world is similarly in danger of becoming co-opted. Business interest in Second Life has boomed in the last half of 2006, fueled by a barrage of positive mainstream press about the commercial opportunities for outside companies. Although Second Life is now a few years old, and has amassed hundreds of thousands of "residents" during its short lifespan, some businesses imagine themselves as the first to innovate, planting a flag on digital soil and declaring "We were here first."

This is essentially what newly-announced marketing company "Crayon" has done. "[W]hen we launch on Thursday, we will be the first company to be launched in Second Life," asserts Crayon's Neville Hobson. Not only is this assertation incorrect, it's offensive to the early adopters--the "natives"--of Second Life, who have already been there and done that. Native innovators already broken ground on such productions as global banner-ad network MetaAdverse (2005), photo-sharing service Snapzilla (2005), real/virtual fashion crossovers (2004), real/virtual video game Tringo (2005), or real/virtual blogging system BlogHUD (2006).

Continue reading: Outside Businesses Revising ‘Second Life’ History
  Slow ‘Second Life’ News Day For ‘The Register’?  
Posted 2006-10-20 by Tony Walsh
UK tech site The Register raked CNET's Daniel Terdiman over the coals yesterday, insinuating that the correspondent's coverage of Second Life has been influenced due to ties with Linden Lab's CEO. Reg writer Ashlee Vance wrote that Terdiman "has spent years puffing up the Second Life online game with breathless coverage and grew close to Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale as a result." Vance claims that Terdiman "removed a reference from [Rosedale] on his resume after being confronted by The Register" and notes that despite the removal, "Terdiman continues to heap happy press on Second Life, and Rosedale in particular." Vance's article doesn't give Terdiman an opportunity to respond directly to the suggestions of a conflict of interest, leaving readers with a rather one-sided rant.

I contacted Terdiman via IM to hear his side of the story. "[Vance] emailed me to ask my why Rosedale was a reference on my resume," Terdiman explained. "So I told him I put that resume up about 2 years ago when I was a freelance journalist in the market for a new job. I had interviewed Philip several times for Wired News stories, and I felt he could be a reference about my reporting, interviewing and writing skills." Vance asked if Terdiman had accepted any payments or consulting fees from Linden Lab--he hadn't. "He basically accused me of being entirely one-sided in my coverage of Second Life," Terdiman told me. "I said I'm a culture writer and that, as such, I find SL fascinating, but that I had also written some critical stories. He asked me to prove it, and I told him about two specific stories: Age play, and one about looking hard at the infrastructure problems." Terdiman's Second Life stories can be found via a keyword search at CNET if you haven't had the chance to form your own opinion about his writing.
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