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7/27/2007
01:32 PM
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The Cleaning Up Of Second Life

Once upon a time, virtual environments weren't just places where you went in order to meet people in a more interesting environment than that of a chat room or an online whiteboard. They were places where you could reinvent yourself: slay dragons, look like Marilyn Monroe, be rude to your elders. Now, things are different -- at least, in Second Life.

Once upon a time, virtual environments weren't just places where you went in order to meet people in a more interesting environment than that of a chat room or an online whiteboard. They were places where you could reinvent yourself: slay dragons, look like Marilyn Monroe, be rude to your elders. Now, things are different -- at least, in Second Life.The ethics, laws, and social mores of the real world are beginning to intrude on that popular and heavily hyped virtual universe. From what I can see, Second Life is now being touted not as a place to escape, but as a place to do business -- and as a result, the less market-minded denizens of this social world may have to bear the consequences.

For example, Linden Lab, the owner of Second Life, has instituted a "no gambling" policy that takes in any type of wager involving real-life sporting events, be it in real-world currency or the world's virtual "Linden dollars." And IBM has told its employees that when they're wandering around Second Life's online hallways, they'd better behave, because their standards of etiquette will reflect on the company.

Now, admittedly, Second Life hasn't been that much of an alternate universe for quite some time now. There has been a lot of commerce conducted there; for example, one of the users who's angry about the new policy said he'd invested about $3,800 in a Second Life-based casino and added that he spends about 12 to 14 hours per day there -- which is actually not an unusual amount of time for somebody founding a serious small business.

In fact, Second Life has -- at least until now -- apparently encouraged all kinds of commerce within its borders, including not only gambling, but a lively trade in sexual favors as well. One has to wonder if IBM's rules of conduct will eventually include something like, "Don't do anything virtually that you wouldn't do in reality." Or if companies like IBM and the many others that are staking a claim in Linden Lab's environs will influence the same sort of cleanup in Second Life that Disney initiated in Times Square.

Many years ago, when the Web had just hit the Internet, some of those who had been happily trading messages and code via text-based systems worried whether, once the Net became business-friendly, it would lose some or all of its sense of freedom and fun. I'm not a Second Life resident, but I do wonder whether some of them are wondering the same thing today.

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