Thursday, December 10, 2009

Virtual World as Company Town

Traditional settings for company towns were where extractive industries — coal, metal mines, lumber — had established a monopoly franchise...Typically, a company town will be isolated from neighbors and centered (figuratively, if not literally) around a large production factory such as a lumber or steel mill or an automobile plant; and the citizens of the town will either work in the factory, work in one of the smaller businesses, or be a family member of someone who does. The company may also operate parks, host cultural events such as concerts, and so on. Needless to say, when the owning company cuts back or goes out of business, the economic effect on the company town is devastating, and often fatal. from Wikipedia
For those of us who see Second Life as a community, rather than a game, I think it is fair to say that the virtual world operates much like a company town. We live there at the sufferance of the company owner. They can change any aspect of virtual life without consultation, notice or justification, including modifications that significantly impact the value of land, money and livelihood. Clearly, this situation is only tenable to residents because of the perception that there is no workable alternative. In a sense, leaving Second Life feels like the death of your avatar identity.

Fortunately, technology is advancing and viable options are emerging. One of the most exciting projects was well-covered in Zonja Capelini's June post on new Hypergrid technology. As the article noted, there are many hurdles to cross, including authentication and security. But it will eventually enable a worldwide network of connected Virtual World grids and sims.

Instead of being under the thumb of a single quasi-monopolistic vendor, we will be able to choose from a diverse range of options, including hosting our own sims, either in rented cloud computing or on our own machines. For now, we can get a taste by trying out a few of the fifty plus OpenSim grids that are up and running, or even install a server locally and start learning the ropes. In the photo below, I'm in a sim hosted on a MacBook Pro.

If you're interested in extending avatar identity between worlds, please join us at the new Transworlders Ning Community.


1 comment:

Lalo Telling said...

There's another feature of company towns directly analogous to Second Life: scrip.

I was born in a RL company town that was one of the studs on the Rust Belt, and I can offer this hope: Once a viable alternative emerges where we can leave one virtual world for another with our identities intact, we will find a sense of liberation.