Second Life’s Anshe is on fire when it comes to PR. At the same time as s/he graces the cover of Business Week -leading this story on virtual economies, a fight has broken out on wikipedia about whether s/he should even have this entry.
I hardly know where to start with the questions that all this raises, so I’ll just list a bunch and you can jump in where you want.
First, I think this is more evidence of the WoW Wave that I wrote about a month or so ago. When TerraNova started, virtual currencies were still 'out there'. The fact of Castronova’s paper was as controversial as the content. These days – who has not covered virtual currency? What’s more since writing the blog post the phone and the emails have not slowed down with people from all kinds of odd places suddenly deciding that they need a virtual world and they need it now, but could I please tell them what exactly one is. The way it looks there certainly are going to be a raft of new project hitting development houses and possibly a few innovations along the way. Though whether this generation of virtual world designers and fans with recognize these products as ‘real’ virtual worlds is another matter.
Next up we have a set of what might be seen as nested questions about knowledge and the nature of Wikipedia. At the top level the Anshe discussion is yet another example of the contested nature of wikipedia. Is wikipedia a valid source of information? Is self-promotion or personal criticism a valid use? Should any reference to SL's sex industry be made at all or is wikipedia stricktly PG?
Getting deeper we might question whether it is possible to make true assertions about Anshe – here Ludlow’s philosophical work on the nature of truth assertions about fictional characters is an interesting guide (From Sherlock and Buffy to Klingon and Norrathian Platinum Pieces: Pretense, Contextalism, and the Myth of Fiction).
Linking back to the physical / virtual / legal. For some time I’ve been banging on about the nature of identity online. In the past I’ve speculated about virtual identity being just as important as physical identity – for certain commercial and thus legal purposes. Notions of right of publicity applying to avatars just as they might to TV stars and their characters, such as Norm from Cheers (see: Wendt v. Host International, Inc., 197 F.3d 1284 (9th Cir. 1999)), seemed a fancy when I started to argue about their application in this context. But this I think is one of the first steps carved into the stone of slowly shifting custom and practice that calls for identity in online spaces to be taken seriously and separate from the property rights in artifacts, and for the evaluations of virtual spaces as ones where rights such as free speech and privacy might to get a wider airing than the just those legal scholars such as Crawford and Balkin that have ‘got it’.