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  Hamlet: A Linden No More  
 
 
Posted 2006-02-08 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Wagner James Au is better known to the residents of virtual world Second Life as Hamlet Linden, "embedded reporter" at New World Notes, a blog partly owned by Linden Lab (makers of Second Life). Contracted by Linden Lab back in April, 2003 to cover Second Life culture and society, Au has produced many intriguing stories--so many, in fact, that he's now producing a book based on New World Notes... and, perhaps more significantly, concluding his contract with Linden Lab at the end of the month.

"New World Notes will go on pretty much as it is now, except as my own independent project, financed by ads and/or other forms of sponsorship," writes Au on his soon-to-be-indy blog. "I'll continue to chronicle Second Life's evolution from an emerging society (it's already emerged, really) to becoming what I believe is the next generation of the Internet. That's the story of my career, so no way am I letting it go." With Au severing his Linden ties, I believe his already-excellent reporting can only improve. He was previously in the position of reporting about the product and customers of the company he was contracted by--a point of contention for some. Now his voice will be indisputably free. Congratulations, and best of luck James!
 
     
 
   
 
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  12 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 8, 2006 @ 12:07 pm
     
 
OK, let's try to translate this out of Linden Newspeak, shall we? It's important to try to parse this objectively, especialy given the long and penetrating discussions right here on these pages about just how "independent" this "embedded reporter" is.

My immediate reaction is to think just how insidiously clever LL and Hamlet have been with this, to make it seem like Hamlet is now "independent". It's kinda feels like an operative of the CPSU CC ideology department setting up a "citizens' peace committee" with Party sanction, then writing as a journalist as an "independent peace activist".

Hamlet has been terminated by Linden Lab, with evidently some kind of golden handshake. Just how golden, we'll probably never know. Instead of being given, say, a tier-free 4096 for life, he's been given -- apparently -- a "settlement" or a "termination grant" or some other kind of "arrangement" that enables him to survive financially for awhile while he looks for his next gig AND keep a friendly relationship to this company with which he is very heavily associated, especially with the book contract.

Hamlet has shown some signs of going *further* then evolving company policy by openly picking sides in certain inworld conflicts (pro-Aimee, anti-Prok, etc.) but nothing that visible.

But...Journalists don't just keep up blogs for free -- obviously, after he gets the book done, he'll move on to the next gig.

It's a win/win, because LL doesn't then have a formerly-embedded reporter with lots of knowledge who suddenly breaks free and then "tells all" or something -- especialy right when he's doing a major book about them -- and Hamlet gets to end forever all this speculation on blogs and conference panels about just how independent he really is.

In fact, if we see him behaving like an ardent fanboy now and continuing to write what looks like house-organ copy, he'll be able to handily brush us off and say he's no longer under contract, and even has a new avatar without that "Linden name". Indeed, Flipper summed it up when he gushed on the forums, "Hamlet Does a Reverse Torley", i.e. Torley nee Torgeson got herself Lindenized and took the Linden name in "marriage" and LL wound up then decoupling her from her inworld partnership, and now Hamlet is getting "divorced" but has visitation privileges intact and the "coupling" that continues will be invisible. Neat trick!

If we ever impugn his independence by pointing to what appears to be a "generous" settlement even by his own admission, he might well brush us off the same way the FIC brushes off claims about their eternal 4096s, by saying they were "earned" and "paid for" etc. That is, if he had problems admitting his dependent relationship now, he might continue to be defensive about the sweetheart relationship he enjoys still.

On the other hand, it's a good step for Wagner James Au's continued career as an independent game journalist or metaverse reporter, and we can only applaud this move based on the face value of it, even if there are still open questions about the relationship and his objectivity. It's a very interesting idea to call for ads and sponsorship. I wonder if he'd take an ad from inworld businesses like Ravenglass Rentals ROFL.

Now..an additional indicator of how to understand this "new relationship" is whether Hamlet will be *replaced*. Will LL hire *another* contracted inworld journalist? I'm thinking they probably won't, because they won't have the subscription conversion rates from the blog itself (one of the purposes of a recent poll Hamlet did was to see if anybody subscribed to SL due to his blog -- I'm actually one of those people who *did* subscribe directly because of finding and reading his blog but I can't imagine the figure is very high). They won't have the page traffic, and they can't justify the negative static they get from the gameworld press about the "non-independence" of such a "journalist".

It will be interesting to see if the Lindens will continue the age-old concept of the house organ in any form. Now they have Linden Radio, Help Radio, the InfoHub InfoNet, increased control over the forums (under the guise of the resmod system which is supposed to look like residential control but isn't), etc. They have the propaganda front pretty well wrapped up inworld and metaworld in the immediate gamesphere -- except of course for the SL Herald -- but it will be very interesting to see what they do next for the website or related blogs read by the games sector readership or the general public.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by qDot
February 8, 2006 @ 12:40 pm
     
 
Man. Sorry to see Hammy go, but it's nice that LL is letting someone else step up to the plate o' bloggin' fame.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2006 @ 12:42 pm
     
 
Hi Prok, I've replied to your bolded comments:

My immediate reaction is to think just how insidiously clever LL and Hamlet have been with this, to make it seem like Hamlet is now "independent".

He'll be independent at the end of this month. No details yet on whether or not he's keeping the same URL or his Linden surname. Not being on the Linden payroll counts as independent to me, but it's going to be spoiled if he keeps his Linden surname. I'm happy to wait and see how things pan out.

Hamlet has been terminated by Linden Lab...

We don't know that. The only information source on the split is from Hamlet, and he says "I'll also be ending my current contractor relationship with the company-- a totally mutual decision between Linden and me." Anything outside of this is pure speculation.

In fact, if we see him behaving like an ardent fanboy now and continuing to write what looks like house-organ copy, he'll be able to handily brush us off and say he's no longer under contract, and even has a new avatar without that "Linden name".

I'd be fine with such a brush-off, provided he's not being paid or otherwise being given preferential treatment by Linden Lab.

Now..an additional indicator of how to understand this "new relationship" is whether Hamlet will be *replaced*. Will LL hire *another* contracted inworld journalist?

That's my question, too. I doubt he will be replaced. There are now a handful of other bloggers who can satisfactorily bring LL enough attention without having to be paid. With Weblogs, Inc. hiring a SL blogger, LL will get plenty of regular, free press.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2006 @ 12:46 pm
     
 
Qdot, I corrected my article where it mentioned a new blogger would be taking on Hamlet's role. I misunderstood what Hamlet wrote on his blog--he isn't being replaced (that we know of). He's being "reborn" as a "new" embedded journalist under his control. It's interesting to hear him talk about control issues after the debate we had here recently concerning his independence. One of his chief objections was that he was not Second Life's "official" blogger, but based on the language of his recent post, he suggests that neither the blog or his role were fully under his control.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by qDot
February 8, 2006 @ 12:49 pm
     
 
Hrm. I'm betting he'll want to go for more mature issues than LL was letting him too, since NWN had the same PG clamp as the forums.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2006 @ 12:54 pm
     
 
I'd like to read about other virtual worlds on New World Notes. I wonder if he'll expand his horizons. I suppose I could just ask him.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 8, 2006 @ 2:04 pm
     
 
Tony,

Re: "He'll be independent at the end of this month. No details yet on whether or not he's keeping the same URL or his Linden surname. Not being on the Linden payroll counts as independent to me, but it's going to be spoiled if he keeps his Linden surname. I'm happy to wait and see how things pan out."

Well...that's just my point. HOW independent are you when you have a "settlement," with an undisclosed amount (he made reference in his blog to a "generous and cool" arrangement with LL -- AND a book contract out of the company's product? AND you go on describing yourself as "embedded"??? What that means, just like the Iraq war, is that you have PERMISSION to be an embedded journalist under control of that state controlling the territory, i.e. like the USG in Iraq. Other journalists who do NOT ask for permission can find themselves in trouble. What are the strings that come with permission to be embedded?

THAT is the discussion I want to have. Sure, his contract is terminated. But his relationship is still ambiguous given that essentially, Hamlet Linden is still subsidized by Linden Lab for a time, he has a shelf-life for a time, even with a new name and "going indie".

Hilarious, no? After all these debates about his independence that he supposedly *already* had, he's now going "indie" -- which you have to wonder why he went to, if he was already so independent LOL.

In fact, he's already clarified the avatar name issue on his blog. He said that he will be taking out a NEW NAME, i.e. NOT the Linden name he used to have, but Hamlet Harbinger or Hamlet Snickleberry or whatever -- or maybe he'll lose the "Hamlet" completely.

Also we don't KNOW yet if he will be replaced. The Lindens will delink his page from www.secondlife.com but they will relink it under resident blogs and I'll bet give it frequent and precious frontpage space in the left-hand running ticker of media coverage of SL.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 8, 2006 @ 2:07 pm
     
 
And yes, Tony, you're absolutely right, LL may have no motivation to replace Hamlet, with SLOG and other totally LL-tropic and LL-positive blogosphere blogs, and the Weblogs hire, they may have enough free positive advertising. In fact, Robin Linden has advertised herself in the SL forums to try to get someone to apply for the Weblogs job, and I'm sure they'll want to heavily massage that hire. In fact, watch for one of the most ardent fanboyz known to simkind show up as that hire.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2006 @ 2:10 pm
     
 
I can't fault James Au for getting a decent termination package (if that's even actually the case). I don't know how much he was making before, and I don't know the details of the separation. After February, I'll be comfortable calling him truly indie, even if he's living off the severance package for a while. It's not like LL can take that package away if he no longer writes about Second Life.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 8, 2006 @ 2:13 pm
     
 
Re: I said "Hamlet has been terminated by Linden Lab..."

You said, "We don't know that. The only information source on the split is from Hamlet, and he says "I'll also be ending my current contractor relationship with the company-- a totally mutual decision between Linden and me." Anything outside of this is pure speculation."

Tony, I read the same Hamlet statement that you did. Even when you end a contract "by mutual decision" the company still terminates you. He is terminated. It's over. How mutual it was we may never know. And how over it is, isn't clear, either, if he has a generous settlement, a book contract, and an embedded status, which will likely include all kinds of really special stuff that he has now -- like hits on that left-hand column media site scroll, constant messaging from his "philanthropic" work like promoting inworld appearances from people like Lawrence Lessig, the group Free Culture, etc. etc. all featured on the home pages.

All of this bears a closer look in months to come. And the other factors are whether something comes in his replacement, and what ends up sponsoring his blog, i.e. what if anshechung.com or Electric Sheep Company were essentially to buy his blog by becoming major sponsors? Wouldn't that be interesting? The King Biscuit Flour Hour!
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2006 @ 2:20 pm
     
 
Prok, I've signed dozens of contracts, and the termination of a contract doesn't necessarily mean one party terminated the other. In any contract I've signed, there has been an escape clause for each party. A contract is not a person, it's an agreement. Any termination of the contract, therefore, is a termination of the agreement between parties, not a termination of either party. I appreciate if you want to argue this particular further, but I'm not interested in discussing it any more.

I agree that Hamlet's future as a fully independent blogging journalist has some potential hurdles and pitfalls. It will, indeed, be telling to see what advertisements or sponsorships are taken on.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 8, 2006 @ 2:40 pm
     
 
Tony, I've signed dozens of contracts, too. When a contract is over, it is terminated. It's done. You may still exist. Your relationship to that company may exist in some fashion. But your job, your contract, your official relationship, is over. And when a feature program on TV is over, it's done, over, finished, too.

To say the company "terminated an employee" means he is fired, usually. I didn't mean to imply that -- he himself said it was "mutual" -- which can sometimes be a fiction but is likely not a fiction in his case. But "Hamlet" -- the character called "Hamlet Linden" who maintained this fictional persona maintained by the RL James Wagner Au -- is finished, terminated, done.
His name is going to be taken out of the database.

A contract of course isn't a person, it's an agreement. I'm well aware of that. But "Hamlet Linden" is a role-playing embedded journalist in a virtual world, and his character, his show, his series of episodes, if you will, it terminated, done, over.

CBS cancelled the show. LL discontinued the Hamlet Linden blog.

Well, don't be interested, if you don't want to be, in parsing what it means for game companies to have worlds that they put "real" journalists in as "virtual characters," that's ok, I get it.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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