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  “Research Ethics” Edict Boggles  
Posted 2005-02-03 by Tony Walsh
The role of academics, researchers, and writers has been spelled out by Linden Lab, operators of Second Life. In short: "No one may use Second Life or its forums for their own purposes without the explicit consent of Linden Lab."

I've seen a great deal of legalese and semi-legalese in my professional career, and can't say that I understand what this Linden Lab statement means. What are our "own purposes?" If Second Life subscribers aren't in-world for themselves, who are they in-world for? Everyone in Second Life is there for their own purposes... so which purposes are specifically allowed and which ones are not? It'd be nice to know in advance, in case I decide I'd like to do another article involving Second Life. Or another blog post. I hate to go way out on a limb here, but I expect anything that paints Second Life favourably is bound to get the go-ahead. Conversely, one wonders how long sites critical of Linden Lab and its operations will last.

As with many Linden Lab regulations, this one's both poorly-worded and clumsily-enforced (if at all). Not to mention that trying to regulate a gray area is ridiculous at best.

Since the delivery of the Research Ethics edict, New World Notes, the official corporate blog of Second Life, has continued to promote independent blogs covering this digital domain. The list of independent blogs numbers around 40. I'm on the list, and I don't recall ever having to ask Linden Lab permission to observe, research, and interview Second Life residents. I'm guessing not one blogger on that list has approached Linden Lab to verify they are operating within acceptible parameters. Inconsistency is no way to rule, yet what choice does Linden Lab have? Try killing off your citizen journalists and see what happens.

Academic, journalistic and creative freedom leads to innovation, discovery, and growth. If regulations like the Research Ethics edict had existed ten years ago, we wouldn't have seen such groundbreaking work as Julian Dibbell's "My Tiny Life." If other games were regulated like Second Life, troublesome insights into contemporary game culture such as "Bow Nigger" would never have been written. If I wanted a digital world governed by evil overlords, I'd sign up for The Sims Online.

Linden Lab head honcho Phillip Linden went on the record recently to say "We are not in the game business. We are in the digital world business." One must assume, therefore, that Linden's world isn't yet complete: While China and its repressive government have been admirably emulated, some of us are still waiting for the more egalitarian and free parts of the world to show up.

On a personal note, I intend to continue my journalistic writings until I'm shut down. I had been considering a research paper involving Second Life, but I'm not so interested in begging for permission.
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Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2005 @ 2:10 pm
Some insightful commentary about this entry can be found at _blackbored, the message board for, home of Bow, Nigger.
Comment posted by Walker
February 8, 2005 @ 6:45 pm
Say, Tony, we love the attention, but I'd just like to point out that it's not entirely accurate to call the Second Life Herald a "site critical of Linden Lab and its operations." We certainly are from time to time, but we are also very supportive when the spirit moves us.

We are never critical of Clickable Culture, of course!

Walker Spaight
Editorial Director
Second Life Herald
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2005 @ 7:10 pm
Hi Walker, thanks for dropping by. I'm surprised you object to my description, given the subject matter and editorial tone the Herald is known for.

I didn't mention that the Herald isn't exclusively "critical" because I didn't think it needed to be mentioned. I am not obligated to describe every facet of a person, place, or thing, particularly when it's a passing reference and not the focus of a story. If I was to mention the fact that you sometimes support LL, I'd also have to mention all the other things the Herald is known for, such as its lurid, sensationalist stories and gossip-mongering. And I mean that affectionately (really).

When I used the word "critical," I meant it in the sense of being a critic. A critic discusses the various merits and faults of a body of work. I don't know what role you think the Herald plays, but I see it as a critical one.

It seems you would like the Herald to be known for supporting Linden Labs. If that's the case, you might want to talk to Ludlow about not using colourful language to deride the Lindens. It tends to outweigh anything supportive the Herald might have to say.

More importantly, since when are virtual-world journalists in the business of supporting virtual-world governments?
Comment posted by Walker
February 9, 2005 @ 10:05 am
You're right up and down, Tony. I wasn't lobbying for a more complete description of the Herald (which would then have to take in our oft-lurid tone, you're right). I just wanted to note that we're not exclusively gunning for the Lindens. We're mostly hoping to be unbalanced and entertaining. Uri can indeed be colorful!
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 9, 2005 @ 10:13 am
I think the Herald is the most entertaining when it's unbalanced ;) Keep up the good work. I'm particularly enjoying Neal Stewart's reportage.
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