Heretics & superstition

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POSTED: November 16, 2006

More than fifty shops have closed in Second Life as a result of the copybot and the fact that “Linden Labs are doing nothing about it”. Some whole regions have closed down too apparently.

I found this discussion at Pixel Pinup where many members of the Sellers Guild announce their decision to close their shops, or their decision not to close. I found at least three aspects of these discussions worrying, in as far as I worry about these things at all.

Firstly many of those posting seemed to have no understanding of what copybot actually is, and how it works. Someone said:

Join the Stop Copybot Group to get a defender. I’m not sure how effective they are, but there are at least 3 that have been made today.

The answer is that they are not at all effective because Copybot lives on the client PC and intercepts the datastream after it has arrived on the PC. The so-called protectors are shouting “!Quit” all over Second Life at the moment and causing endless irritation for no benefit whatsoever. Think of them as a medieval keepsake: a piece of wood from the cross, or powder made from the bones of St Peter that will ward off evil spirits.

Fatal Raine at least recognised the need to understand it:

I’m curious, does anyone know how Copybot operates, or how you use it? I’m thinking if only we knew more about how it actually function other than chewing up and spitting out bits of used information, we’d be able to do more against it. And I fully intend to fight it.

In contrast Laura Leandros said:

Au Naturel closed 🙁 think i was too late. As i arrived at store I heard a whispered message from copybot but didnt get the name of the person using it and they poofed :’( this is utter crap!

Oh no, spook alert! Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! The truth though is that if something is whispering to you in Second Life then one of the few things that you can be certain of is that it is in-world and not an external program. And therefore not a copybot.

The second thing I found alarming was the tone of the discussion. A number of retailers who had decided not to close wrote long mails complaining about bullying and panic. Interestingly then, superstition and fear in Second Life proceed down the well trodden pathways as they do in real life. First stop: establish a hierarchy. Second stop: issue orders. Third stop: find a scapegoat. Fourth stop: get a lynch mob together.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the people who felt that they had been bullied were the people who, to my mind, were acting rationally about the situation and not giving in to panic. Their measured responses were being hysterically dismissed as selfishness, and a refusal to “show solidarity”; and, of course, veiled threats were made of making sure that they were punished later.

The third and most alarming point, though, was encapsulated in this:

I have 2 kids to support from my business here, so shutting down in protest, even temporarily as it may be, was a tough choice for me to make.

Taken together with some of the other posts this clearly suggests that people have been leaving real life jobs to take up the challenge of earning their living in Second Life making prim-based goods of one kind or another. WHAT??

Second Life is, has always been, and always will be fundamentally insecure insofar as unencrytped data (including the geometry and textures needed to reconstruct models on the client) flows from the server to the client’s PC. This is true of all streaming online worlds, as far as I know. Additionally, even by these standards SL is buggy and inclined to crash or lose things from time to time.

Furthermore its business future is, shall we say, uncertain. The history of computing is full of people who got there first, or made the best product, but still ended up out of business or out of contention: Atari, Word Perfect, Netscape, Friendster and so on. I sincerely hope that SL continues to grow and thrive, and I am very keen to be a part of it – but I would certainly not wish to bank on the long-term viability of becoming a clothes designer in there.

What if Google decide to buy Second Life? Even worse, what if Google buys Multiverse and, with their muscle, it does become the pdf of online worlds? Whither SL then?

I think that if I was throwing my lot into this (as in many ways I am) then I would be looking to make sure that my skills, my experiences and my contributions were transferable. I would be planning a future in which assembling the wagon train and moving on was an ever-present possibility.

This may or may not be new land, but it sure as hell isn’t solid ground.