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Oct 07, 2007



Can you clarify a bit what you mean by "policy"? If what you are referring to congressional intervention, you might get some good ideas when I interview Dan Miller on Monday at 2pm EST/11am Pacific on Metanomics . Join us in Second Life on Metaversed Island, or watch live or archived on SLCN.tv. Details are here . Dan is a Senior Economist for the US Congress, and I believe pretty much a free-markets Republican. So I expect him to talk about things he doesn't want to see happen in the legislative/regulatory arena, but I am sure he has a good sense of what others might be pushing for. And questions from industry will probably give a good sense of what topics interest the audience of the VW Conference.

Alternatively, you might be thinking of the "social benefit" meaning of policy: how can virtual world technology can be used to accomplish public goals, like education, health care, or environmental protection. You already mentioned education. The Washington Post has just published a very interesting article on virtual worlds' potential for mental health care. Stephanie Gerson at Berkeley has written about using virtual worlds for environmental protection (Stephanie, care to add your two cents on this one?).

See you in San Jose (if not at Metanomics).


The two most important policy topics that the industry & government need to engage in are jurisdiction (where is the virtual world, really) and identity.

The Second Life jurisdiction example of paying VAT via SL is curious if Second Life is actually located in California.

There are a multitude of issues related to identity, privacy, and anonymity. Businesses have a very different view of this issue than governments. The rise of highly anonymous payment card systems may be a mixed blessing for the industry as it substantially weakens identity.

I'm in town, if not at the conference.


@Robert - I guess by policy I mean any action that in the UK I would think of as mainly government action or regulation either positive i.e. encouraging some use of virtual worlds through funding etc, or negative i.e. prohibiting uses (I frame these as negative thought the may in tend to have socially positive outcomes). In the US context this probably caches out as Federal, State or local governmental act or one by other bodies (not sure what your word is for them) such as school boards, trade or other associations.

I think the broadness and range of actors in the US is what I’m having trouble with when engaging with US industry people.

Also the fact that these non-game worlds still have highly nebulous and indeed contended meaning making it doubly hard to frame debates about them.


@Stephen - identity, yes, I always end up back there. I wonder if there are broad industry / Federal views of how online identity should be treated.


Equally as important as jurisdiction, in my opinion, is ownership. Who owns what is created in SL? In online game spaces, such as WoW, should "gold farmers" be prosecuted for selling in-game items for offline currency? As this article mentions, what about the rights of artists in virtual worlds?

Ownership, and what uses are protected under ownership, are huge points of contention between both corporations and the government, especially the legal system, and the people who use online media (the biggest evidence for such a statement being the recent RIAA lawsuit against Jammie Thomas).


Perhaps it might help to flip the question around:

"What topics / angles that fall broadly into the arena of public policy and fit within the context of the US debate would a crowd primarily interested in commercial / serious uses of a technology called paper be interested in? ... considering all the demonstrated flaws found in this paper technology. Who actually owns the paper when it's transfered? Who owns the words on the paper? What if the paper has the words of several authors on it? If you scrape the words off, who owns the toner? Is that destruction of someone else's words? What if you cut the paper so that it folds and pops out into a 3D pattern that the authors and original owners didn't intend? If you change the 3D form of the paper, have you changed its policy of ownership or use?

... uses of wire transfer of money be interested in?"


There are many good answers to your request. Here are just three: education (in a broad sense), education, and education. :)


I think the most immediately pressing policy issues have already been mentioned (jurisdiction, ownership, identity), and the taxation/RMT/rights questions will be asked sooner rather than later.

I also think that the topics recently mentioned on behavioral modification will be addressed from a policy perspective. If we've got structures to try to prevent kids from being exposed to violent and sexual videogames (which aren't applicable to VWs, 'experience may change with online play'), their lobbyists are probably going to take shots at labeling and restricting VWs even without a debate on whether the behavioral changes inherent in most models is ethical or beneficial to the user.


The ideas of effects and legal angles are all obvious and others will cover them. How about preserving and enabling a commons for expression and user-created content? Nothing builds community, IP, wealth and grassroots democracy better than tools given to regular citizens.

So please toss a dash of people using these things in addition to the top-down perspective.


Following on from Dmitri's comments, another rarely-considered use that has great potential right now but that is in a window which will eventually close is public diplomacy. If the BBC is the reason that Britain isn't quite as hated in the rest of the world as it should be after invading other people's countries, well, perhaps the government should be looking at ways of continuing public diplomacy in whatever medium eventually takes over from television.



I think there are important and difficult questions regarding the use of digital media, including virtual worlds, for political speech and debate -- i.e. the public sphere.

Our laws and regulations regarding political content and "equal time" provisions were built in an era of a newspaper, radio and broadcast television. With a proliferation of communications channels, and online fora, what might be a government interventionist strategy that preserves a relatively level-playing field for political candidates and ensures a rich and diverse public debate?

The current government strategy has been to let industry lead on this, with Yahoo! running online candidate debates and CNN allowing people to email in questions for politicians. Is this the kind of democracy we want? Where will a more coherent, forward-looking policy come from? Certainly not the FCC.


Hopefully you see this before the talk. I am guessing that your audience is relatively uninformed so I would keep the talk simple and high level.

My gut is that an audience new to this topic is not ready for a discussion of property rights, after all how many of them know there is a market for virtual goods?

I do think that the use of virtual worlds for training disaster response agencies is worth mentioning since it is practical.

If your audience leaves with the idea that virtual worlds have practical applications in solving problems faced by adults you will have accomplished a lot.

Good luck

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