Second Life's Security Breach: Do We Care?

It was widely reported in the past few days that there was a security breach in Second Life's user database. That opened up a discussion in the Terra Nova backchannel about whether this was worth reporting here. It seems to me that security breaches are old news and germaine to a security blog; there's nothing inherently virtual worldy about them. On the other hand, I received emails from people claiming that we are SL fanbois for not posting about it. So, OK, we can post about it. Your thoughts?

While we're in an editorial moment, the impression is growing on me that Second Life is Web 2.0 more than anything else. So the question arises, is 3D internet something that Terra Nova should cover?


Comments on Second Life's Security Breach: Do We Care?:

Edward Castronova says:

I'd also like to report that after Newsweek repeated my "Horde is Evil" claim, I was once again bombarded with hate mail by trolls who really want to be good. I'm so easy on this, folks. Just come up with a persuasive argument for the Goodness of skeletons who trap humans so as to subject them to horrific experiments.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 10:27:18 AM | link

greglas says:

Ted nailed it -- and this isn't the first time we've felt like we *should* post about something that none of us really have anything to say about... so I'm waiting too.

I vote "yes" on talking about Web 2.0 and locative web and all that other stuff here. What the heck, it's just a blog. God forbid we're limited to endlessly rehashing the structure of DikuMUDs.

(The skeletons are just misunderstood.)

Posted Sep 12, 2006 10:32:33 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

"Terra Nova is a collaborative weblog experiment. It is about an emerging social phenomenon called "virtual worlds" -- computer-generated, persistent, immersive, and representational social platforms."

SL is a virtual world. It may work on web 2.0 ideals, but it's not Wikipedia. It's an immersive and representational social platform. I have to infer from the way you phrased your question that you see SL as an example of the 3D Internet that you're questioning the relevance of to Terra Nova.

Maybe TN needs a new mission statement if the subjects of preference are to be limited to virtual theme parks which centre on simulated combat, rather than, erm, virtual worlds where people interact with each other and the virtual environment in more interesting ways.

All that said, in opposition to the accusing emailers, I don't see all that much about SL being discussed on TN anyway.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 10:43:26 AM | link

says:

Greg> The skeletons are just misunderstood.

Not least by me. I now see the error of my ways. Let the joyous word be spread! The Horde is Good! The Horde is Good!

Posted Sep 12, 2006 11:13:59 AM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Web 2.0 is a concept that is getting mindshare, including worldy worlds and gamey worlds. It goes into UI design, the integration of 3D worlds, internet, annotated RL maps, etc.

Security breaches may be a bit technical, but if it has major effect on the userbase I think it's good to mention the implication of such in the bigger context.

Frank

Posted Sep 12, 2006 11:36:28 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

Taking a page out of Raph Koster's blog, yes you should cover it. Why? Because it doesn't have to be a game to be a synthetic world.

The second paragraph in "About TN" is in fact erroneous: the most popular virtual world is currently MySpace.

Raph made a post some time ago about similarities or whatnot, but I can't find it. This one was good enough.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 12:00:47 PM | link

Tide says:

Well, it's a pretty egregious technical failure. Why wouldn't you mention it? Particularly since it's not something that's been seen by other large VW/MMO providers. But I see the point there's nothing really to cover or analyse.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 12:05:32 PM | link

Tom says:

Tide> "But I see the point there's nothing really to cover or analyse."

I think it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on SL's growth rate and user retention. Given the availability of data on registered accounts, active users (i.e. 60-day logins) and concurrency, if there is a significant effect we should be able to see it percolate through in the next 60 days.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 12:16:57 PM | link

Jonas Karlsson says:

The security breach is relevant because it potentially exposed real names and contact information. What privacy expectations can we have when we sign up for these services? Is it valid to assume that our in-world reputations will always be separate from real-life?

I will not get into the "Horde is evil" thing, beyond noting that I've played an orc who spent most of his time picking flowers, and a dwarf who kills gnolls for pants. Can't we all just get along?

Posted Sep 12, 2006 12:22:14 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

I'm following this event, because I'm very interested in the consequences (LL's response, etc), but I don't have a post about it (yet). There is a broader trend that I'm interested in, which I introduced (a bit clumsily) here, and which connects to the issues of complexity that Michael and I are chatting about here; that is, do we have reason to feel confident that, over the long haul, we (users and producers) can handle (in a broad, technical sense) having much of our lives mediated through architected environments of such scale and complexity? Just how much faith do we have in human ingenuity as applied in and through technology?

Of course, this becomes pretty much a moot question, in the sense that, whether we think it's a good bet or not, clearly millions of people are proceeding as if it *is*, at least for now.

As for "Horde is Evil," all I need to know about whether one's actions or one's past (whether individual memories or cultural history) determine one's moral status I learned from Philip K. Dick ;-).

Posted Sep 12, 2006 12:57:48 PM | link

chas says:

Security is relevant from an economic standpoint as well.

Many of the items we "value" online have a perceived level of permanence figured into the economic equation (or one that should be figured in). Gold in WoW has a sense of permanence that wouldn't be as common in ATITD (with its "new tales" virtually wiping things).

When we discuss virtual economies, societies, and the things they value, this perception of permanence is very important.

Security breaches have the potential to destroy assets or deny us access to them, but they also affect the perception of permanence (a good incident response might raise consumer confidence, a bad one might destabilize it).

Posted Sep 12, 2006 1:49:11 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

The most interesting part, to me, about the SL security breach is this quote from the SF Chronicle this morning:

Linden Lab required all of Second Life's 650,000 registered users to reset their passwords after Wednesday's intrusion. As of Monday, more than 100,000 people had reset their passwords.

The 100k figure strikes me as a MUCH more accurate picture of how many active users SL actually has than the typical data that Linden releases.

--matt

Posted Sep 12, 2006 2:29:09 PM | link

dmyers says:

"Just come up with a persuasive argument for the Goodness of skeletons who trap humans so as to subject them to horrific experiments."

The eviler the better.

"I don't see all that much about SL being discussed on TN anyway."

Boggle. Corey get fired or something?


Posted Sep 12, 2006 2:30:41 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

I reset my SL password, but I haven't logged in for at least three months. ^_^

Posted Sep 12, 2006 2:58:17 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

I don't feel there is much to say about this event because there's no news story yet of these alleged hackers actually having stolen any money, items, or identity, or having published any sensational RL-SL connections. People are resetting their passwords and life moves on. It was interesting that Reuters reported that it was a "fantasy" site and that most people would be worried about having their "fantasy lives outed". So the effort of LL to portray SL as a place where there is a lot of serious business, including RL big business, and serious games and serious education, was sorely challenged by this unexpected event, and in the end, Reuters called it -- "a fantasy site".

I'm not understanding Edward Castronova's apparent snarkiness about Second Life, however. Web 2.0 will likely be a mixture of web and world, but SL isn't even there yet. It's a world, thank God. A synthetic world. With a robust and interesting economy. That's why I don't understand why Edward Castronova doesn't study it; care about it more; take interest in it; visit it publicly; pronounce on it more at length. I don't think he's ever written on it at length, that I can tell, and his sound bytes for the RL media seem to be limited to things like saying he's "worried about the business model".

Why is this? I can't figure out whether it's because SL isn't game enough for Castronova; or whether Castronova isn't game enough for SL. It's a real puzzle to me.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 3:22:44 PM | link

Arnold Hendrick says:

Given the large amount of sexually oriented characters and content in SL, and the generally puritanical attitude of America toward such, especially on the internet, the security breach is important to many SL users.

On a larger scale, MMOs present the illusion of confidentiality. There is an implicit agreement between user and service provider that RL identities are kept strictly secret and strictly confidential.

Users certainly BEHAVE as if they believe that confidentiality exists. Lots of TN contributors have seen their research affected by that assumption.

The fascinating research question here is, what happens when confidentially disappears, but only periodically? Do people continue to behave the same afterward, or do they change their approach to how they "live" in SL. If they change, what changes do they make?

Posted Sep 12, 2006 3:53:38 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Prok. I think Ted prefers worlds with more explicit magic circles. But I don't presume to speak for him, even though I just did.

I don't think the seriousness of SL was too sorely challenged by the label of "fantasy site". There's bound to be plenty of people still unconvinced by LL's campaign, and perhaps one of them did the write-up. Do recall that SL is a fantasy site, the fantasy of being able to have a second life. That does not, and should not, challenge its position as a serious economic entity, as most obviously demonstrated by Ted's treatment of Everquest, et. al. as a serious economic entity.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 4:42:12 PM | link

Peter S. says:

I don't think there's any question that the strict policies of WoW and other serious VW/MMOs to keep user data confidential is what keeps them alive.

Think of it this way: if somebody had breached the security of WoW and sold the stolen accounts on ebay, do you think the WoW community would be as nonchalant as to say 'Oh, that was a security issue, not a World issue.'

Security issues affect whatever the security was in place to protect, at the very least by affecting the user's faith in the security.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 5:40:59 PM | link

Steven Davis says:

As "virtual worlds" only exist in the "real world".

Identity, privacy, and economics all depend on trust.

Security would seem to be right at the center of the study of virtual worlds: without security nothing much is going to happen in a virtual world.

As online game / virtual world security issues are the topic of my blog, anyone who wishes to talk on the issue is welcome: http://www.playnoevil.com/

Posted Sep 12, 2006 8:15:49 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Second Life's Magic Circle is just as magic as any game; made all the more magic by being like an invisible mark seen only under infrared light.

I don't view having a second life as a "fantasy," any more than a second car, and second job, a second husband, a second opinion. It's just second. You're contorted on contradictions there, Michael, on the one hand lecturing me not to forget that "it is a fantasy," in your view; on the other hand saying that Castronova took Everquest seriously as a "serious economic entity". So that then begs the question -- why isn't he out there taking SL seriously? Well, maybe he's on an NDA for all we know. It's that kind of place.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 8:47:57 PM | link

greglas says:

Re the comments from Steve and Peter -- no one is contesting that security is not important to VWs or that this is not a serious issue. What we were struggling with was how this happening to Second Life is any way remarkable, since similar things happening w/r/t AOL or any of the other recent breaches of subscriber data out there.

By contrast, I blogged PWSteal.Wowcraft because I thought that had some curious dimensions.

I can't speak for Ted, but I think we do talk about SL here a good deal, though not as much as WoW, and not as much as SL appears in the media. SL gets talked about in academic discussions of virtual worlds -- in fact, it's probably bigger than WoW among the university crowd. E.g. I mentioned MMORPGs to a professor this summer and got a "Do you mean Second Life?" That's hardly unusual. Charlie Nesson's Harvard Law class is not meeting in WoW, it's meeting on Berkman Island.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 9:37:06 PM | link

Jim Self says:

I'm not reading the part where Ted said he didn't think the news was worth talking about here due to it being Second Life related. I understood that he questioned talking about a security breach, which has nothing directly to do with the abstract VW itself.

Blizzard's approach to morality is that evil is a power that compels people to do evil things. The Orcs are free of the demons and the Tauren were never really evil. The trolls are (conveniently) a different race of trolls than before. The undead...?

Uh, they're going through Lich King withdrawal? But as I understand their alliance with the Horde proper is tenuous at best.

Posted Sep 12, 2006 9:46:28 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Nah, Jim. I'm liberally putting words into Ted's mouth. I'm half-hoping, but not really expecting, him to pop in and actually say it flat out. But I do want to say that I am putting words in his mouth, and I will stop if asked to. I don't feel as though I'm insulting him, so I'm okay with it; I think he has my email.

Anyways.

There's a magic circle for some people, and there isn't for others. A magic circle is cultural, not technological: it is created by the willing submission of participants. In other words, what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom.

When you don't view it as a fantasy, then for you, there is no magic circle. This (sometimes) hurts people who still believe in it. The unique situation in SL is that it explicitly doesn't hurt them. The economics of gold farming and RMT can hurt the experience of immersed Everquest players.

Ted, I have seen, really likes the magic circle. Part of his study is borne from the desire to point out that the magic circle should be kept alive and sacred, for whatever reasons. The magic circle in SL seems just as special as the psychiatrist's office: in other words, not really anything remarkable.

Some people go to SL in order to have a fantasy. Other people go there to make money in the real world. This is not contradictory: it happens in just about every virtual world, nowadays. The case of SL is that it is an occurrence explicitly encouraged by its operators. They want both to happen.

SL is that avatar-based, three-dimensional, and in all other economic respects, no different from the real world. In fact, the only economic curiosity of SL I can think of... is that it's a nation of infinite land (well, policy has made it not so) with zero immigration and emigration, though the boundary is permeable such that websites can pass back and forth pretty easily.

And like Greg said, SL is comparatively well-connected to reality and academia. Every other MMORPG is reached out to by researchers haphazardly, and most of them end up here; SL reaches out to them, and it's doing quite fine getting academic interest without TN's help. I know I got some people interested when I showed it off, and I'd be surprised if half of them haven't at least messed around with it.

Actually, I get the feeling there will be a collective growl of disgruntlement when an economics paper about SL appears, because I bet the guy will have screwed it up. =D

Posted Sep 12, 2006 11:01:02 PM | link

Christy Dena says:

I cannot believe that there is even a discussion about whether a virtual world that is not a game should be included in discussions about virtual worlds. The uptake of 3D space tools and the continued experience of 3D worlds by non-gamers can only develop the area for everyone. Imagine if film was governed by only documentary makers or the like? Or if documentary makers only learnt from documentary makers. All forms benefit from experiments and approaches of many, not few.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 2:38:14 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

I don't know if I was reading Edward's original post too negatively. Reading it back it could just be a call for a widening of the scope of discussion here, though I still can't shake the feeling that's because he's saying "Because you know we talk about SL which doesn't really count anyway."

And I don't see all that much here *about* SL. I see things like research into whether people distance and orient their virtual avatars in ways comparable to their actual bodies when socialising, that happens to have been conducted in SL, or research into cybersex or identity play that again has been done in SL. These articles aren't about SL in the same way that discussion over the work/fun balance of level grinding is about WoW or how RMT ruins EQ or what have you- they just happened to use SL as the location of the study. In any case it wasn't a complaint- there are plenty of other sites to read about SL.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 5:35:00 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Michael said: "...the most popular virtual world is currently MySpace."

Oh, dear. If we're going to push the definition that far, then we can call the whole freakin' Web a "virtual world." If MySpace is a VW, then StarBucks is a VW. And a movie theatre is a VW. And a playground is a VW. And my cube at work is a VW. And the inside of my head is defintiely a VW. Specifically, a VW Microbus.

It's an interesting semantic proposition, but is it useful? I'm not sure.

The original post seemed to, at first, ask if the *security* portion of the story made it an appropriate topic for TN. I'm not sure. You could argue that security poses specific issues that are TNriffic and highly applicable to VWs and MMOs but not, say, to sites that do straight-up eCommerce but don't deal in game-related, social behavior. OK. So we've seen some talk about magic circles, trust, etc. So apparently that has been enough to say, "Yea." Security = OK as topic as it relates to VWs.

But then it swerved into entirely different territory. Ed said: "...the impression is growing on me that Second Life is Web 2.0 more than anything else. So the question arises, is 3D internet something that Terra Nova should cover?"

Holy crap, Ed. Web 2.0? You're telling me that you're lumping SL with Wikipedia, Flickr, blogging, etc.? I mean, yes... It's on the Web. But now you're going down a path that, like Michael, is more (I think) about semantics than the reality of the experience. It's like that line from "Back to School" where Robert Downey Jr.'s character says that football is a "crypto fascist metaphor for nuclear war." Sure. And, if you read it right, the Wizard of Oz is a dirty old man.

At some point we have to draw a line. Yes. Right now, I'd say that SL is a "virtual world" and what goes on when I monkey around on MySpace, frankly, is not. It does not allow for very many "world-like" activities. By which I mean methods that I exercize direct, personal, and dramatic control over my own communication or environment in real-time. It is a "published" world. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I blog, I wiki, I push out standard HTML. Love it all. Good, good, good. Yea for Web 2.0. But it ain't a virtual world until I can have some kind of experience that emmulates something that is like what I know as the original world.

MySpace is a VW? Second Life isn't?

This is a weird, weird post. But one that might help clarify a few things for us readers, eh?

Posted Sep 13, 2006 9:37:46 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

No. SL is unquestionably a virtual world. I consider MySpace to be one, too, but apparently this is disagreed with. But consider that MySpace is used very effectively as a third place. A place. Just because it's rendered in HTML doesn't make it any less of a place; text-based MUDs are merely rendered in a command prompt with scrolling text. It does lack physics, in Bartle's definition of a virtual world, but I've also noticed that most definitions of the term don't actually consider physics. Otherwise, it's persistent, multiplayer, there are individual pages that act as avatars (not counting the pictures). The reason I'm willing to apply the "virtual" label is because it's online, and cannot be offline. You can't replicate MySpace in a brick-and-mortar environment.

My argument with Prokofy has nothing to do with this.

We're arguing about why Ted's not studying SL. I think it's pretty obvious that Terra Nova will talk about SL in general no matter what.

Also, if you have been here long enough, it should be pretty obvious that some of us are willing to argue anything, especially the apparently trivial. =P

So... maybe that discussion should be truncated in favor of peace of mind. My original point was grounded in the About page of TN itself. Here's how it defines a virtual world:

"It is about an emerging social phenomenon called "virtual worlds" -- computer-generated, persistent, immersive, and representational social platforms".

Think about that. The only word that could conceivably exclude MySpace is "immersive". But I am not certain that Second Life is any more immersive than MySpace. This isn't a matter of degree, I don't think; sure, it's easier to immerse in 2L, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to in MySpace. There are plenty of roleplayers there, and hell... they do a way better job than a lot of the roleplayers in our dinky fantasy worlds.

SL may or may not be Web 2.0. But that has nothing to do with whether or not it's covered in TN, IMHO. There is certainly no reason to cover Google Maps, for instance, even though that's definitely Web 2.0. It's not social. It's not a space. But there is reason to cover social networking, if only obliquely (because others are doing just fine without us; part of the reason Terra Nova is important is because no one ELSE is doing it): because DOPA applies to virtual worlds, too. It may be intended to do something about MySpace predators, but have you ever realized that it's just as possible that MUDs and MMORPGs would permit the same predators? Can you tell me that this would not affect, say... Second Life? Or Ted's world of Arden?

Young, vulnerable teenagers do not ALL flock to MySpace for their community needs. A lot of them, such as myself, dived into virtual worlds and found what was needed there. As such, problems for places like MySpace will rapidly become problems for places under the more conservative notion of virtual worlds. And we are SO ripe for the picking.

Remember that, despite the fact that nearly every virtual world thus far has been a game or is mainly a game, this is not at all a limitation of virtual worlds. It's an important facet of the discussion, but virtual worlds don't actually have anything to do with games. If anything, virtual worlds belong in the greater subset of "social spaces", and legislation about online social spaces is something that should worry us just as much, because the basic function IS the same thing. People. Together. Online.

I get the feeling I'm arguing something completely different from what I expected to be. =P Oh well, *glances at cards in hand* hit me.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 11:38:14 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Michael: I love ta hitcha ; ) That's what we're here for, eh?

We're talking, I think, about different classes or orders of things that are certainly related. Ontology, classification, systems, KPCOFGS, right? I'm not a librarian (though I work for them), but at some point you say, "This is a planet and... whoops! Pluto ain't one no more." And in even more startling astronomical news, Tom Cruise is no longer a star (rim shot).

At the top of the VW heap (ontologically speaking) we have any kind of social systems that are outside of the "daily." What is being called variously the "third space" or "other space." In library land, we sometimes talk about libraries as inhabiting this area, too: not work, not home; the 3rd space. Church, bars, clubs, sports, Starbucks, discos, salons, theaters, etc. All are worlds, in a very loose sense, and have, to some degree, things in common with games. There are rules that are somewhat arbitrary in these spaces; they are defined by "the 4th wall" or "the magic circle." There is nothing immoral about talking loudly in church, the library or the theater... but it's just, well... boundary/rule breaking.

Is church a VW? Is a bowling alley? Many of the behaviors that are observed in SecondLife or MySpace are interesting to the world outside the MMOgnascenti specifically BECAUSE they mimic the social behaviors of discos, clubs, teen youth centers, etc. The MySpace page with all its pictures and messages looks, to a parent or teacher, like the inside of a locker with indecipherable graphiti and strange, cryptic lingo.

These "3rd spaces" already exist in the real world; in meat-space. They have magic circles. They are game-like. They are, in a sense, "virtual worlds" if we use the world "virtual" to mean "the essence of the more formal (work/home) world without the same legal and social restrictions thereof," which may be one definiton of virtual. A fully Newtonian, non-compuerized, fleshy experience at a rave can be highly, strangely and completely "virtual" in this sense, and completely cut off from "the real world" of my day job, my family life and "the real world." The rules of everyday life can be suspended and superceded, the magic circle redrawn, and I can become Lord of the Dance (well *I* can't, but "one could") within this realm. "Virtual World" in this sense has nothing to do with computers.

When we use the adjective "virtual," here on TN, my assumption was that we are referring to simulations of worldly experiences. A "virtual world" is a simulacra of another world that exists and that I can smack around. Can a text-based world be that? Sure. If it seeks to replicate a real or imagined "world" through the use of the technology. If the *function* of the system is to be a 3rd space, rather than to be *features* of another space.

And that's a distinction I get into all the time in a number of social networking discussions. For example, the *function* of Wikipedia is *not* a social one. It does not exist to facilitate social relationships. That is not its purpose. It uses social-ness as a *feature* in order to serve its function, which is to be an encyclopedia. Now FaceBook, MySpace, etc., are social in function. That's what they do.

So... feature vs. function? Does MySpace exist in order to enable another, pre-existing virtual world (or set thereof), or is it its own VW? Does it seek to be "a 3rd place" or a *feature* that can enble "3rd-place-ness" in many other environments?

One thing I look at when trying to make this determination is the "fuzziness" of the magic circle. MySpace isn't keeping people local. It is very porous. Yes, you have your friends list, and that's a strong argument for it being a VW... but a lot of the SEO and click-through data I've seen suggests that MySpace users are driving both their own use and visitors "through" their pages to other destinations as well. It's a "meta space," more like Google than WoW. More like a phone book than a novel. Yes, it's important. Yes, it's social. But it's not a club as much as a locker or bus stop, if I can really torture this metaphor.

What can I do on MySpace that I can't do with a blog? Or a web page? Again.. I'm not saying it's not important or special... just that it's, essentially, too feature-driven to be a VW.

SecondLife, on the other hand, only exists to be what it is. The tools there are all made to model other experiences. Yes, some are imaginary, but they are linked to ideals of "worldliness" not "webiness." Same with WoW or SWG or EVE.

MySpace is, to me, a computerized (virtual, if you like) toolset of the real world. Many of the sub-groups being formed there are real-world focused, too (click on "Groups" on their top nav to have a peek), not MySpace focused.

So... if we mean that people getting together, creating any "3rd space," in real life or online, where their set of rules transcends the home/work "ordinary..." then, sure. MySpace is a set of VWs and good tool for creating them. But, then, so's the whole web. And so is plywood and duct tape and bed sheets.

I hold out for a stricter definition for TN. One that requires "virtuality" as a primary function, not a feature.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 1:03:42 PM | link

Steven Davis says:

Since we're arguing definitions, what about some of the Asian services like Cyworld and QQ or Maple Story?

Maybe some of these "greyer" cases will help set the definition in a more useful manner.

All have some sort of internal economy and persistence (I just posted an article about a wife suing to divorce her husband because of a virtual marriage in QQ). They are more "iconic" than most Western VW candidates.

Maple Story is 2D - is 3D necessary? I think a text or 2D world should be allowed, so presentation is not key.

Why is World of Warcraft considered a virtual world - the world doesn't change in response to player actions (much)? If we used the ability to change the world as a part of the definition only Second Life and Eve would seem to meet the definition.

Persistence and internal interaction seems to be key - as noted for MySpace, a buddy list does not a VW make.

But, what about LinkedIn? They definitely focus on the "gamey" level-grind element of "completing your network"....with a "level cap" of 200 contacts or is that just good viral marketing?

Posted Sep 13, 2006 3:15:39 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Your post breeds confusion within my mind, Andy. *grins*

When I reference the placeness of MySpace, I am trying to convey that it is possible to "be there" or "not be there". This is the same thing that a text MUD conveys.

What do you mean by "keeping people local", and how does any virtual world do it?

When we use the adjective "virtual," here on TN, my assumption was that we are referring to simulations of worldly experiences.

That doesn't make sense. In that case, the term "virtual world" is redundant: it would mean "worldy world" and a bit more. In which case why is it a virtual world? I think "virtual" refers to the fact that you cannot duplicate this in the real world. It is not a copy of a physical phenomenon made a touch better. It has an innate separation from physicality. That's what I think virtuality means, here.

Are libraries virtual worlds? They can be. A library's web page is not a virtual world; a library that's arranged like a sphere, with all the shelves on the inside walls, and you fly around to browse... that'd be a virtual world.

What can I do on MySpace that I can't do with a blog? Or a web page?

What can you do with Second Life that you can't with some modeling software? The reason we call these spaces "virtual worlds" has nothing to do with the core mechanic of why we use or participate in them. What can I do in World of Warcraft that I can't do by firing up a quick game of WC3? Sure, there are plenty of details that are different, but why are they different? Because there's something else, something important about the fact that it's a virtual world, that cannot be ignored.

Your list of "third places" in meatspace are all valid. They ARE third places, and they DO have magic circles. But they are nonetheless not virtual, because they're in meatspace. They are worlds, not virtual worlds, and thus are necessarily based on the physics of meatspace, which is why virtual worlds differentiate themselves by being virtual, or unbound by those physics. (And to anticipate a counter: Just because they're mimicked does not mean they are bound.)

It is very porous.

So are most virtual worlds. In MySpace, the avatar is the webpage, as I've said. This facilitates the flow through you describe. In a MUD or MMORPG, the avatar does not facilitate the flow through, but it does connects others to you, and you happen to be just as outside. The flow through is to you and to you alone (though you can continue it onto wherever).

Many of the sub-groups being formed there are real-world focused, too (click on "Groups" on their top nav to have a peek), not MySpace focused.

Very valid point. However, I don't think it disqualifies MySpace from being a virtual world. I think that the reason most virtual worlds don't have outward-looking groups is because they're geared towards fantasy, and fantasy does not take kindly to outsiders. Imagine the Relay for Life in WoW. Your first hurdle would be to make two. One for the Horde and one for the Alliance. Why should fantasy care to look outwards, when the world is shaped such that you are forever in-fighting?

if we mean that people getting together, creating any "3rd space," in real life or online, where their set of rules transcends the home/work "ordinary..." then, sure.

So, to repeat, the key thing you seem to be missing is that I do not equate "third space" to "virtual world". I equate "third space" as a proof of the existence of world, and further note that this world is virtual. It must be virtual, and MySpace is, indeed, virtual.

Steven Davis says, If we used the ability to change the world as a part of the definition

But we don't. Maybe we should, but that's an unnecessary restriction on the definition, in my opinion; I think that such worlds should be classified as a subset of virtual worlds. Maybe "dynamic" or "player-mutable". But nothing about a virtual world really mandates it.

That's not to say we shouldn't make them; I'd love it if we did. I'm just saying WoW shouldn't be disqualified from the broader category of "virtual world" merely because a bunch of us get a bad taste in our mouths.

Persistence and internal interaction seems to be key - as noted for MySpace, a buddy list does not a VW make.

MySpace is persistent. I didn't notice them resetting all the pages to blanks every few weeks/months/random-time-interval. It also has internal interaction, one of the mechanisms of which IS the act of friending someone.

what about some of the Asian services like Cyworld and QQ or Maple Story?

Are they virtual worlds? According to me, yes. Maybe Andy has something to say about that. =P

Posted Sep 13, 2006 4:40:41 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Michael: Is this blog, then a Virtual World? My handle my avatar? My posts my domain? I am a lesser denizen than the Gods of TN (All hail Yee!), but I "live" here more than I live on WoW these days, eh?

Nope. I don't buy it. If this is a VW, then so is any alternate, non-direct communication experienced through paper, TV, phone, radio, etc. It seems to me to be a difference of degree only.

The purpose of MySpace is not to be, within and of itself a particularly tight, defined place. The rules there are either "code-is-law" -- I can't do something because it's not allowed by the publishers, or "externally-motivated." IE, those outside groups I mentioned. There's no reason beyond the feature set to do MySpace on MySpace. Which is one of the arguments some make against it as an investment; there's no "there there." See: Friendster.

Whether we're talking about virtuality that comes through a computer mediated construction (which I think this site is primarily about) or real-world 3rd spaces, there is a need for uniqueness or else... it's not "a world." It's a way to connect, influence, play with, etc. OTHER worlds. IE, a tool. A set of features.

I can't duplicate the WoW experience elsewhere currently. There is content and rules and, yes, features, that are specific. But they are within one, specific magic circle. I can have a WoW chat outside of the game... but that's like whistling about skydiving; you ain't in the world, you're just messing around.

I can't duplicate the library experience in a coffee shop, even if that coffee shop has some books. I can't duplicate SL unless I get so close to providing the same tool set that I have, essentially, created a "parallel" virtual world. Oooh. Virtual Star Trek. I wonder what Corey Linden would look like with a beard?

I haven't -- yet -- seen anything on MySpace that convinces me that it has an internally consistent rule-set that makes it "a world." Is it virtual? Sure. If, again, by "virtual" we mean "in cyberspace," or "on the web." Is it a complex communications matrix? Of course. Do people hang out there? Sure. And, as I said, they may be using the MySpace tool-set to create their own virtual worlds... internally consistent spaces in which they agree to all kinds of hyper-specific, atmospheric stuff that would convince me, yes... *these* folks... this gang on MySpace... they are using it as VW. But the whole damn thing? Nope.

Same for the Web. Some people use a wiki or a bulletin board or email to creat intricate, text-based RPGs. I'd be fine with bringing those into the fold of discussions of "virtual world." In fact we often talk about text-based MUDs here.

Is Google Earth (Globe? World? I can't keep my Googles straight...) a VW yet? No, I don't think so. There are some tools that overlap. At some point, it may get to where you can create a VW with those tools. But I have a feeling that I'll end up having this same discussion then; the whole Google Thing itself is not a VW. It's a platform for many possible VWs. But it's too loose.

Calling MySpace a VW feels, to me, like calling a box of crayons "art." There's color and form and shape and design... but until the kids themselves instantiate something, it's just crayons.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 6:21:34 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Hm... alright, I feel pretty convinced. Let me see if you agree with this.

MySpace does come close to being a virtual world, precisely because it carries many of the functions that you see in them. So a lot of similarities can be found. But there is one more critical function that MySpace does not deliver: boundedness.

There's a territorial line, in VWs, that mark the inside as in and the outside as out; such a line is too fuzzy in MySpace to be noticeable. So while it's definitely virtual, it's a place, not a world, because it's not self-contained.

Does that sound right?

Some people use a wiki or a bulletin board or email to creat intricate, text-based RPGs. I'd be fine with bringing those into the fold of discussions of "virtual world." In fact we often talk about text-based MUDs here.

That reminds me again of Tolkien's Faerie and Secondary Worlds, which I wonder at the relevance of to the discussion.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 7:33:02 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

I disagree. This hanging too much on a boundary as distinguishing virtual worlds from other spaces introduces a misplaced formalism into the question. I find debates over categories in general to be a bit misguided. As I see it, on TN we group a set of complex and open-ended domains with a certain amount of culturally-accomplished (rather than inherent) boundedness together for convenience here, as I see it. Like "species" for (good) evolutionary biologists (as I 've said before), "virtual world" is a pragmatic category; we don't gain anything by trying to find its edges in a final sense. This should not make us feel asea, however; instead, we should simply pay attention to the kinds of questions we're asking, and whether these concepts will bear that weight.

As for "virtual worlds" as a label, I have my problems with "virtual," which I've come to use because it follows convention and conveys the 3D graphical quality of the major synthetic worlds to audiences easily, but it always runs the risk of reintroducing the very boundaries that we should be questioning. Of course when we look at how people talk about and act with respect to virtual worlds, we will find boundaries to be important to them, but this is just as true of My Space as any other medium. This is because the boundedness we're talking about is a cultural accomplishment.

So what about the other word, "world"? This is a terrific word for conveying the richness and open-endedness of these domains (in fact, I prefer the word "domain"), while still running the risk of suggesting too much separation between them. In that sense, MySpace isn't necessarily prohibited from discussions here, it's perhaps just just that so many of the close-to-the-ground particulars change as to make its inclusion more obfuscatory than useful, at least right now. Doeds thinking of MySpace as a "synthetic world" advance our understanding of it? That is the question we should be asking.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 8:18:34 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Michael > I think "virtual" refers to the fact that you cannot duplicate this in the real world. <

The original “virtual image” was the image in the mirror. An exact duplicate of the real world, except not physical. With the coming of computer graphics, we’ve detached that “virtual image” from any physical copy. In my book, to qualify as a “virtual world”, the world has to have a physics and a spatial dimension. Text based world can have this, but mySpace doesn’t.

Thomas> This hanging too much on a boundary as distinguishing virtual worlds from other spaces introduces a misplaced formalism into the question. <

In my mind, one of the vital reasons for constructing virtual worlds is that they can be a boundaried space distinguished from any sort of other spaces. The physical world is dangerously close to a mono-culture, which seems to me a precarious position to be in. We need some “separate” spaces where new ideas can be tested with some isolation from the everyday world.

Of course we carry our everyday culture into Virtual Worlds. But I do believe human behavior is somewhat modified by physical context, and we have a lot of control over “physicality” in Virtual worlds. I don’t think it is a question so much of “finding” edges to Virtual Worlds, but of deliberately creating edges to them, so they can function as an alternative, experimental space.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 10:23:16 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Thomas said: "Does thinking of MySpace as a "synthetic world" advance our understanding of it?"

Zackly. See, that's the big bite in the ass with every one of these types of discussions -- is it useful. Does it profit us in our beardy ramblings to include MySpace in the same chunk o' blather as SL, WoW, EVE, etc. Is badminton a "ball sport" because the shuttlecock has a weird, little, red ball lodged in the head of the... feathery... thing? Is a paint-ball gun a "gun" when discussing gun laws?

Boundaries are important in this particular discussion, I think, because when you are talking about both "virtual" and "world," these are words that imply a "this-ness" and an "other-ness," which are inherenty bounded concepts.

My world is a place with boundaries. It has to be, or else it is all other worlds. Whether I mean "Earth" as opposed to "Mars," or "the land" as opposed to "the sea." Or use the term "my world" more metaphorically to refer to "the things I experience" as opposed to "your frame of reference," all of these meanings impose a boundary of "this world -- mine" compared to "some other."

Similarly, "virtuality" is explicitly removed, completely boundaried, from at least one thing -- that which it emulates. As soon as a virtual world breaks through the boundary with the world it is a virtual representation of... it ain't virtual no mo'. It's real. So there is a very clear difference between a "virtual shirt" and a "shirt." Between my "virtual land" and "land."

This doesn't mean there isn't overlap, of course. When MP3s are played in SecondLife by a DJ in a virtual club... I hear real songs, not "virtual music." There is no such thing as "pretend sounds," though... so perhaps I need to take some LSD and think about "virtual music" at a later date ; )

My point is that if we want to discuss the important concepts of VWs here, and how they are relevant to social networking, games/gaming, play, creativity, etc... that's great. That's what I thought we were up to. And if we even want to discuss how they are different from and begin to blur with similar tools in other arts and industires -- e.g., gamelike GUIs and HUDs in design -- that's cool, too. But if we can't make some kind of distinction between what is a virtual world and what seems to me to be a communications tool that has some overlapping features... that is, well... somewhat odd.

Posted Sep 13, 2006 10:38:14 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

So, I suppose, there's no chance we'll discuss Ren's Civic Worlds here, then? =P

Posted Sep 13, 2006 10:45:06 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Michael said: "MySpace does come close to being a virtual world, precisely because it carries many of the functions that you see in them."

I don't know. It's like Frankenstein and his creature. Many of the parts are there, yes. But when you put them together and light the bugger up... Monster! It just doesn't seem to quite work.

I'll keep thinking about why a simple, text-based MUD or a wiki where people agree to play a GURPS RPG seems, to me, to be a better example of a VW than does The Great And Powerful MySpace. I got nothing against that site, btw. It's a wonderful medium. But it really, really doesn't *feel* like a world to me, nor like it's a virtual manifestation of any other single world. Something ain't cooked under the hood. I know that's not a good explanation, but I'll keep on it in my think-bone, and see if I can do better.

Maybe it has something to do with rules. Maybe it has something to do with purpose. Maybe it has something to do with the idea of "other" -- i.e., that almost every Third Place/Space we that is created in the real world does so in order to fight, escape from, dominate, compete with, mitigate or challenge some outside agency.

As Pooh says: "Think think. Think."

Posted Sep 13, 2006 10:46:33 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Sorry for the double post. I realized people might not have any idea what I'm talking about.

The original post:
The Four Worlds Theory

Posted Sep 13, 2006 10:46:50 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

But it really, really doesn't *feel* like a world to me, nor like it's a virtual manifestation of any other single world.

Ask any computer illiterate person to pop into a text-based MUD. 9 times out of 10, it won't feel like a world to them, either. The illusion does not manifest unless we're interested in exploring it. The exploration process yields discovery, which results in immersion.

Many linear texts are just as capable of creating immersion through this process. The places in which their plot takes places can feel just as worldy as a MUD or MMORPG.

Maybe it has something to do with rules. Maybe it has something to do with purpose. Maybe it has something to do with the idea of "other" -- i.e., that almost every Third Place/Space we that is created in the real world does so in order to fight, escape from, dominate, compete with, mitigate or challenge some outside agency.

Rules aren't only defined by operators; original purpose does not connote actual purpose or purpose of usage. One of the higher lessons of Web 2.0 is that people will use your stuff in ways you didn't expect.

As to the bit with third places, I have been following danah boyd's blog for some time now, and her writings have had significant influence on my perception of MySpace, which I don't use and don't want to. In this conversation, danah calls MySpace a "digital public". To me, this signifies an identical notion of "virtual world"; obviously, we disagree.

Insofar as usefulness...

How, exactly, are any of you so sure that the consideration of MySpace as a virtual world, and the consideration of virtual worlds as contrasted against MySpace... is useless? I think it would be insanely insightful perspective, both of them. And that's only academic usefulness. There is also the fact that they're both in danger of blind fear-based legislation, and both need to be championed by voters and researchers.

Thinking of MySpace as a nifty communication tool fails to value its presence as a place people go to to be together. I can describe MMORPGs as a communication toolset, too. The architecture, after all, is exactly the same. It's just presented a bit different.

Thought experiment. I render the locations in the Silmarillion in 3d. I put it on my server and let people connect to it to look at my work. The rub is you can't touch anything. Stuff happens (ze Elves be marchin' on Mordor!) without you, but you can watch. You can talk to other people who are connected and you might be able to see them. And to turn it into a game, you get points for seeing certain events. Now, is this a virtual world or not? What if I connected it to, say, Everquest and when you died, you were allowed to explore it? Would it be a world then? Would it be its own world?

And I will try to make shorter comments, but I don't think I actually can...

Posted Sep 13, 2006 11:17:28 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Michael> Thought experiment. I render the locations in the Silmarillion in 3d. I put it on my server and let people connect to it to look at my work. The rub is you can't touch anything. Stuff happens (ze Elves be marchin' on Mordor!) without you, but you can watch. You can talk to other people who are connected and you might be able to see them. <

Lets see, you have space, physics, an ongoing history, and I can move around in it. I would rate that a virtual world. Substitute a fixed path camera following the elves to war, and it would probably just devolve into a movie set.

Michael > Many linear texts are just as capable of creating immersion through this process. The places in which their plot takes places can feel just as worldy as a MUD or MMORPG. <

But linear texts create imaginary worlds, not virtual worlds. What is new in virtual worlds is that there is a machine behind the curtain enforcing a particular space, and particular physics, and a particular set of allowed interactions between people. When I read the Silmarillion, I am free in my imaginary world to march with the Elves to Mordor, or fly over them on a dragon. In Silmarillion Online, the designer gets to decide whether PCs can fly at all, and if so, that elves can only fly eagles.

Its that new capability that I am interested in discussing here. mySpace doesn’t have it. I find the social effects of mySpace, email, IM etc. fascinating and worthy of discussion. But there are plenty of other venues for that. Not so many to discuss the specific effects of computer generated worlds.

Posted Sep 14, 2006 1:05:19 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Michael said: "How, exactly, are any of you so sure that the consideration of MySpace as a virtual world, and the consideration of virtual worlds as contrasted against MySpace... is useless?"

I never said it was useless. I think that contrasting MySpace use, numbers, viability, expresstion, legal issues, etc. to VWs/MMOs is very interesting and potentially useful. I just don't think it *IS* a VW, by my definition. I also think, for argument sake, that comparing VWs/MMOs to live sports clubs, golf, retail shopping, libraries, etc. is very interesting. But I also don't think they're examples of VWs/MMOs. So it becomes an issue of *why* the contrast is interesting, not *whether.*

I'm not saying "let's stop talking about MySpace on TN." I just think, if we do, it should be in the context of saying how it relates to the entire phenomena. By itself? Aye, there's the rub. What can you say about the usage of MySpace that is not going to be true of either; A) the Web at large, or B) the world itself? Those are my points. It's too unbounded, and too undefined. So other than the fact that an issue may accrue to it because of its size... I'm not sure if there's a "MySpace World" specific issue that is going to be really relevant, absent a discussion about the industry.

We've seen many great posts here that are hyper-specific about particular publishers, games, worlds, developers... even clans... on other systems. Is there a MySpace group (tribe? gang? coterie?) doing something so extraordinary that it warrants discussion? And is it something that couldn't be done on another Website/social engine with minimal effort?

Much of WoW's success, as has been discussed, was based on the brand; that's a content issue -- a copyrighted work of fiction. Raises an interesting question. Does a "virtual world" need a *created* domain? Can users trump up one on their own? Or do they need writers, designers and editors? I don't know. But most of the several hundred MySpace pages I've looked at either seem like Madison Avenue ads, individual blog pages, or total, random collage. They are to "world" as "salad bar" is to "meal." It may be there for you, yes... but you've got to go a-lookin' and a-pickin' on your own.

We use the word "world" incredibly loosely from a metaphoric standpoint. A now defunct competitor of Toys-R-Us in New England used to be "Child World." That's where I went to sate my young lust for Legos. Was it a "world" for me? You bet. A world of greed and envy and disappointment and joy. If you use the word "world" to mean the exact bounding of the feelings I experienced while I was in that store.

When we say, "He lives in his own little world," we mean that he's not accepting the one *we* live in. That his rules have superceded ours. It's not, usually, complimentary. But we can then turn around and say, romatically, "Let's you and I run off. We'll create our own world, where we can be together. A world where they won't judge us. A world of our own." Hunh? Oh. Right. A world where our parents won't interrupt us making out. Excellent.

World this, world that. "I am a little world made cunningly," said John Donne. Who then went on to say in another piece, "No man is an island." So I'm a world, but not an island. OK. That makes sense... I guess.

Is MySpace a "digital commons?" Of course. A "virtual meeting place?" Sure. A "social network?" Yeah. Keep 'em coming. But I'm still feeling like there's a fundamental difference between a "place where you can do things" and "a place that is about a certain type of things." A church vs. a mall. A baseball diamond vs. a playground. A coffee shop vs. a super market. SL vs MySpace.

I don't mind discussing this, Michael. I never mind discussing anything. At great length ; ) And, clearly, MySpace is in "the zone" of phenomena that is important to those of us interested in MMOs/VWs. So discussing it at TN don't bug me at all. It just feels like it's further from the center.

Posted Sep 14, 2006 9:41:03 AM | link

Cael says:

Second Life is not a virtual world.

A world has a fixed set of physical laws, SL doesn't.

SL is, no matter what Prokofy may say, a collection of websites in 3D form with no intuitive connection. SL is, in other words, more of a protocol than an environment.

And naturally, as with every protocol from Telnet to UDP to FTP to HTTP, users have filled it with pr0n and done their best to make it useless.

We humans really are appalling, aren't we? On a moralistic scale, i'd be tempted to side with the skeletons.

Posted Sep 14, 2006 10:44:07 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Instead of retreating to a positivist litmus test for "world," wouldn't it be interesting to suppose that what we mean to convey by "world" is a certain "thickness" or "depth" of possibilities, whether we mean an architected one or our everyday life?

On this view, rather than a hard divide, a domain is a world (or better, is "worldy" [I like that one, Ted!]) once it comes to have a rich interplay between one's own performance (performative actions) and multiple complex other generative factors (produced by, minimally, other people and a [synthetic] architecture), and yet remains consistent and semi-bounded enough that we can develop a reliable disposition for acting within it. This would be the empirical basis for emic claims by users that they are in a different "world."

What this directs us to think about with respect to MySpace and SecondLife is something I would hope approaches Andy's (correct, in my view) sense that there is an important contrast between them (but a relative one!). That is, MySpace is not complexly contingent (and I really tried hard not to trot that word out until now!) to a sufficient degree that it generates for its users distinctive and reliable dispositions for action within it (nor, corresondingly, do they widely talk about it as a "world" or similar), while SecondLife is. To be clear, I'm sure that MySpace does this to a certain degree, but not enough that it becomes, as Durkheim would say, a "social fact".

Just a thought.

P.S.: Just to clarify, when I said that the important question was whether it advances understanding to think of MySpace as a "world," I was not doing so with presumed skepticism toward the idea; I think this is not an interesting question, and it is the one that best characterizes, in my mind, what we're doing right here. :-)

Posted Sep 14, 2006 11:17:05 AM | link

Nicolas Badano says:

Well, first of all, I introduce myself. I´m Nicolas Badano, a student of Social Communications in Rosario, Argentina. I´ve been following this site (in silence) for the past four weeks, because I have an interest in MMOGs being my thesis subject. As there is little "local" research about them, I´ve turned to the web and found you.
Well, the reason that ultimately made me think of posting is because I feel that this post is one of the most interesting ones I saw since I arrived here. And also because it made me think about two particular things, that I believe would be interesting to share:

1) The much-needed discussion about concepts. What are we talking about when we say [insert concept here]? As long as we understand different things out of the same words, it´s a very difficult task to agree about the appropriateness of one concept or another. It seems to me (and I think that this post also shows it) that building a concept of virtual world, in first place, is absolutely necessary in order to define a specific study object for this discipline (what IS that we study). Without that, we are very much in the dark.

2) My contribution to this virtual-non virtual discussion, is this: I would say that in order for a "space" to be defined as a "virtual world" it MUST be "stand-alone". It must be able to exist WITHOUT the "real" world, thus having a qualitative difference with it. And this difference is that a virtual world, in opposition with other "worlds" or "spaces" is COMPLETE without the real one. We could almost say that it doesn´t need it, because is not an extension: is another thing. I don´t know if my point is clear, but I strongly believe this to be a key in this discussion. Given this difference, then we could see why MySpace is not a VW: because it cannot exist without the real one. In words of others, is a 3rd place FOR the real world (not a different thing in itself). Could it be used as a VW? Well, thats a different discussion, but truth is, that it is not in its core (in its "concept") to be one.

Well, there goes my two cents. Please keep the posts flowing, as I am very interested in seeing how this discussion unveils. :)

Posted Sep 14, 2006 12:30:47 PM | link

says:

Is nobody using the word "ontology" anymore these days?

How about comparing ontological maps of the "usual suspects", i.e. "worlds"? Should be easily derived from their underlying object-class structure (i.e. OO code).

Don't tell me this hasn't been done already ;-)

Posted Sep 14, 2006 1:09:15 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

It must be able to exist WITHOUT the "real" world, thus having a qualitative difference with it.

This is a highly problematic qualification, because strictly speaking, it is a qualification that is impossible to achieve. Virtual worlds, no matter their definition, depend in particular on both real world hardware and real world immigrants; in game lexicon, players. And further, every virtual world in existence draws upon the real world for inspiration in its particulars; the fact that we can describe them in real world terminology makes this very apparent.

And welcome. My personal primer to newcomers can be found here. Others also have primers written up in various places... I don't have a list handy.

Is nobody using the word "ontology" anymore these days?

Andy did. Word search, man. The ontological maps... not to my knowledge.

A world has a fixed set of physical laws, SL doesn't.

This isn't true. Second Life does indeed have physical laws just as much as any other world, like EQ or WoW: the fact that you can suspend many of these rules while building does not mean they don't exist.

And "intuitive" is a surprisingly slippery term. The real world has plenty of spatial transitions that are intended to break our intuitive expectations so that we are more free to consider new surroundings. This is actually listed in "A Pattern Language".

We humans really are appalling, aren't we?

Only to those who are appalled. The moral high ground does not necessitate disgust or condescension.

MySpace is not complexly contingent

You don't expect a world to be contingent, aside from its physical laws (which are necessarily mind-blowing, when it comes to a webpage-only world); you expect a game to be contingent, possibly complexly so. I don't see any of the alluded contingencies in Second Life... perhaps you could elaborate on this point?

A church vs. a mall. A baseball diamond vs. a playground. A coffee shop vs. a super market. SL vs MySpace.

This is an odd list of dichotomies. Do I understand you to mean that churches, baseball diamonds, and coffee shops are all worlds, whereas malls, playgrounds, and supermarkets are not? More pointedly, you suggest that the latter list are not "place[s] that is about a certain type of things." That they are purposeless.

There seems to be an extraordinarily anti-simulationist notion underlying your argument. One of the reasons I believe so strongly in virtual worlds is because I see them as potentially places where you can do anything. My simulationist manifesto declares that you should be able to derive the laws of motion by observation. This is very extreme, which is why I don't bring it up often, but the potential of VWs is freedom within a world, not freedom to make a world. Which segues nicely into...

Does a "virtual world" need a *created* domain?

There are two answers from me to this question. One is the literalist response: Of course. VWs do not spontaneously drop out of the woodwork. The second is a more honest response. =)

It's a theological question, ultimately. While someone is certainly involved, the manner of his involvement is nevertheless varied in potential. The theological question, "Does a world need a god?", should be split into two questions: (1) "Does a world need a Creator God?" and (2) "Does a world need gods?"

My answer to the first question is "No", and the second is "Yes". The second question, for me, is ultimately philosophical, and has to do with the fact that men make gods of other men. Democracy is impossible in a random sample of human beings, because it is inevitable that some will rise above.

But the question of Creatorship is different. Certainly, you need a Sustaining God: he who runs the server. But he may cede creative power to the users, as has happened in Second Life. The level of this power is questionable. Shall they have root access, or merely toys to tinker? And so on.

Just as traditional art forms do not require single creators, this new "art form" (if I dare call it that here) can be just as emergent. A world may be a single painter's vision, or a thousand people may donate a brushstroke each. It can be chaotic, but the chaos may result in beauty nonetheless.

It just feels like it's further from the center.

The center moves. A lot. I was here, two and a half years ago, and I've found myself less inclined to post because of some shifts in interest.

Consider Richard Bartle's post on paradigms. I might ask, today, why do we have to imagine avatars to be person-shaped? Why can't they be web pages? Once upon a time, we talked about Friendster. People never realized that Greg Lastowka was the first to bring up evil races in virtual worlds, not Edward Castronova. And it had nothing to do with Warcraft. (Sorry Greg, hope you don't get troll--er, elf, er.. uh. mail..) And the line between real and virtual has also been done. But not finished, obviously.

I'm a world, but not an island.

Perhaps the term "Metaverse" should be pondered. This was my not so great write-up. One of the worlds that is not an island is the "real" world, perhaps better termed as "objective reality"; it connects, more like a lithosphere than an archipelago, to all these islands that are their own worlds, and arguably more distantly to those worlds we consider synthetic or virtual, peppered cunningly with worlds that might be described as "subjective realities" or people or groups of people.

I've decided (quite artifically! =P) that my motivation for arguing in favor of MySpace and the 3d Internet (different things, yes) is because the effects of these things as highly similar phenomena to the standard notion of virtual worlds (listed conveniently on the left) are important to be aware of. I never argued that they should become the focus of discussion; as a number of people, including myself, have said: we don't need that. But to me, they're both highly relevant, and anyone watching virtual worlds in general (as opposed to MMORPGs or games) should keep an eye on them because of that extraordinary similarity.

Posted Sep 14, 2006 6:10:43 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Lol. I just realized I have a very unfortunate "not" in the last sentence of my last post. Please ignore (if that isn't already obvious from context).

@Michael:
(Well, since you asked :-) ) SecondLife is complexly contigent in a way that generates a distinctive disposition because it is so game-like, just like everyday experience. It is designed to be open-ended, and -- in my view -- draws deeply upon the design principles and techniques of (computer) game-making to make it so. A lot of this is embedded in the avatar-based interaction itself (although too much interaction is still dictated by text, but that's a longer story). It is possible to succeed or fail in actions (before others) within SecondLife across a wider range than on MySpace. What is more, things like weather and day/night that appear in the environment add further dimensions of contingency and meaning-making possibilities. The potential for success or failure in the reading of others (social contingency) is also greater in SL, because of the wider range ("bandwidth") of interaction.

This complex contingency has powerful effects on meaning and experience. Meaning is only created or sustained through the mixture of the expected and the unexpected (one of the things that information theory did such an elegant job of demonstrating in the 50s-60s). The meeting point of existing interpretive frameworks and unique circumstances forms a generative point for meaning. Additionally, as games themselves show most powerfully, the shared engagement of contingency is a powerful means for the development of trust and belonging.

Together these implications suggest that, if a domain is rich enough in possibilities, it can generate for its users a distinctive disposition (Mauss and Bourieu's habitus) about how to act within it. I'm suggesting that one way to think about why "world" may not be helpful for describing MySpace (right now) is that it doesn't generate this disposition.

Hope that's helpful.

Posted Sep 14, 2006 6:35:14 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

A world has a fixed set of physical laws, SL doesn't.

Baloney. Of course it has physical laws. The makers went to a great deal of trouble to make a physics for this virtual world, where things bounce, move, can be pushed, hover, turn, etc. -- Philip Rosedale, the CEO of Linden Lab has degree in physics. There's changing of the sun, wind that changes so that people can sail boats using the same principles of RL sailing, etc.

I don't think you can be too particular and strict about the idea of "cannot exist separately from the real world" as the definition, because every single one of these worlds poofs the minute you pull your plug out of the wall.

Posted Sep 15, 2006 1:18:23 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

I think I was planning on mentioning that, Thomas, but I did figure it out; you might be an academic, but you're not self-contradictory. (In my experience, anyways. =P )

I don't think I have a good conflicting response to your explanation, but a recent gab on Raph's blog has moved me to realize that even if we don't quite agree on definitions, it might be time to think about terminology.

You mentioned earlier that you don't like the term "virtual world". Since these corporation-funded spaces are rising, I think that we need some term to collect the right ones together, and it has to stand up to hype: one a reporter is willing to use in an article. We need vocabulary; is the term up to task, or do we need a new one, having tenuously discarded "MUD" and "MMORPG" as categories?

Posted Sep 15, 2006 1:50:26 AM | link

Endie says:

Since trackback doesn't seem to have worked, I commented on aspects of this here.

Posted Sep 15, 2006 6:44:53 AM | link

Cael says:

A world has a fixed set of physical laws, SL doesn't.

Baloney. Of course it has physical laws

Baloney? Bologna? Who cares?

In one SL area, you might be able to fly or walk through walls. In another, you can't. A third might be set completely underwater. All these are subject to the paying subscriber's whims.

That's not a world. That's a collection of worlds, each with individual characteristics. I could see the relevance in examining any single SL area or island, but not the thing itself as a whole.

Because it isn't a whole.

Posted Sep 15, 2006 7:43:19 AM | link

Anyonymous says:

Uh-oh.

Cael makes an interesting point... at what point to the "rules" become "laws," and begin to break a "world" into "worlds."

SL still feels like "one world" to me. But, then again, Toledo doesn't feel like part of Ohio, but more like a part of Michigan. A suburb of Detroit.

But if we want to call "SL" the "Virtual Worlds" of SL, that dinna fash me. It's an archipellago, fine. But they're still pretty distinct. MySpace? Can't tell the difference from Xanga most days.

Posted Sep 15, 2006 8:31:06 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Michael: Well, I've used "synthetic worlds" in my work, because I like the way it draws attention to the fact that they are made by people, something that we are still working through the deep effects of. I like "domain" as a general term, as I've mentioned, but that wouldn't (or I wouldn't want it to) flag the group we're talking about here. While "virtual" causes problems, it also has its pragmatic advantages, primarily in the way it instantly gets a good chunk of the lay audience into the ballpark of what we're talking about, and this is its primary advantage over the arcane acronyms. In any case, I think we may be stuck with it, at least for now.

Posted Sep 15, 2006 9:40:05 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

That's not a world. That's a collection of worlds, each with individual characteristics.

It's a world with a lot of worlds in it. Didn't I go over this?

I like "domain" as a general term

Your usage of it is too academic, though. Most people do not think of places as domains; it feels too medieval. So, while it's fine in the context of research, putting it into a newspaper article isn't quite a good idea.

I've used "synthetic worlds" in my work

I like that one, too. I think we ought to promote its usage without discouraging "virtual world" and see what comes of it. If it comes up in a mainstream news report without mentioning Ted's book, I'll be satisfied. =P

Posted Sep 15, 2006 12:02:26 PM | link

Gwyneth Llewelyn says:

I guess that as I watch this discussion unfold, I can only feel that very strange feeling one gets when the paradigm switches so quickly, that one is desperately trying to grab anything to hold unto — but there is nothing there to grab.

It'll be fascinating to watch this discussion unfold. I'm quite sure it will be quite a time until someone effectively will be able to point to something and say "that is a virtual world and that isn't one". There simply isn't a common reference set that everybody seems to agree with.

Second Life is Web 3.0. The social Web 2.0 of the early 2000s, but in 3D (the next generation of protocols on top of which SL will be deployed, using a RESTful architecture based on HTTP, will even make it look much more like a "development" of the Web 2.0 concepts). It'll all make more sense in ten years. Hpefully TN will be still around by 2017 to comment on those early years when everybody was confused about what "virtual world" means :)

Posted Sep 17, 2006 5:05:58 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Oh great godz of marketing and buzzgibberish, whom I am forced to worship and feed by day, and who, in turn, crank the wheels of commerce.... did we really have to start hearing "Web 3.0" already? I mean, it was inevitable, I know... We already have "Everything 2.0" that's totally and completely Unconnected 2.0 to Web 2.0 and the Ideas 2.0 that actually have Anything 2.0 to Do 2.0 with the original Concept 2.0 of what Tim O'Reiley and others were talking about. I mean, I read a bunch of "Career 2.0" articles recently.

I'm a gentle man, truly. But... BiteMe 2.0.

And, no... SecondLife is NOT Web 3.0. Whatever the hey-nonny-nonny Web 3.0 is or will be, besides an additional term that makes me itch. It may not even quality as a good example of Web 2.0... in that you have to download a great walloping what... 19 meg executable to run on your own machine? Web 2.0 is primarily about platforms that are deliverable and executable in the "space" itself.

It's also not Web 2.0 in that it doesn't allow for user "mashing" of the space. Before anyone jumps on me with a prim stick and beats me to virtual death... yes, I know. I'm an SL user (if they'll ever get my password back to me). You can do all kinds of machinations INSIDE the SL world (see? it's a world!), but you can't change the world itself on your own. You can't take the SL API and put it on your Web site, overlay it with your blog, etc. etc. Not much. That may be changing. In which case, perhaps, it will stop being "a world" and be more "a part of our world."

Posted Sep 17, 2006 8:43:55 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

I thought about answering on the Web 3.0 bit, but I thought better of it. If it's any respite, Andy, I think that when we get to this "next stage", it will be the result of a true technological shift (which Web 2.0 is not) and we'll be back to 1.0 again and you won't hear "2.0" for another generation while we get up to speed to the point where a culture shift occurs.

Posted Sep 17, 2006 10:21:09 PM | link