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  Digital Decay  
Posted 2006-11-23 by Tony Walsh
Is there a practical use for decay in a digital world? Data doesn't normally degrade over time, through usage, or by replication--except by design. Nicolas Nova points out a 9 year-old Lucent project that introduced decay into electronic documents. The function of this artificial decay was to communicate the amount of "handling" a given document receives over time, "aging" a page by simulating rips, stains, and wrinkles.

Wired contributor Momus notes how we once scorned the analog audio crackles associated with vinyl records, but have since artificially re-introduced "snap, crackle, and pop" into recordings.

Decay already exists in some games, such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxies. These MMOs stimulate their economies and provide tasks for players by forcing virtual items to degrade over time and with usage. This sort of system doesn't seem to be used in (non-game) virtual worlds. For example, Second Life doesn't intentionally degrade items, but has been known to introduce unintentional flaws in objects over time.

Veteran Second Lifer Andy Burton wonders if decay might be a way to cut down on disallowed item copying through tools like the recently-revealed CopyBot. He suggests that content would have to be re-uploaded periodically due to artificial degradation, but the problem is that this punishes both the originator of the content and the copier--still, there might be something here to consider. Introducing decay into Second Life would be a form of forced obsolescence that would keep the economy moving; degradation could communicate how "used" an object is (thus justifying a market in previously-owned virtual items); an occupation could be introduced to allow penniless newcomers to make money by "repairing" or "polishing" degraded items. Some users, like myself, might actually enjoy exploring a virtual world in various states of decay. I wonder about how long others will enjoy living in a digitally-perfect world--like those who once loathed vinyl noise, perhaps some day we'll actually put dirt back into our data.
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Comment posted by csven
November 23, 2006 @ 6:12 pm
This is something I've been thinking about for a month or so. It's an interesting quality to add to virtual stuff.
Comment posted by Secureplay
November 24, 2006 @ 5:04 pm
I believe that this is the basis of Project Entropia's business model.

The real way to control this in Second Life (at least to start) is to have much stronger identity controls fo the ability to create objects. Then, it doesn't matter if the copiers can copy the item, they would not be able to re-introduce the items into the game.
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