Enclosure of the Metaverse

by Alphaville Herald on 04/04/08 at 12:15 am

Special rules for select corporate partners?

by Forelle Broek

Seconded Life foot-in-mouth disease

Linden Lab and IBM have reportedly entered into a joint venture “to create an enterprise-class version of Second Life behind a corporate firewall.” The news comes on the heels of the latest in-world protests by IBM employees over the company’s outsourcing of work. I have to wonder whether the ability to insulate IBM’s Second Life presence from such activity is a motivating factor in the decision to create a walled-off environment.

Whatever the specific impetus, this move by Linden Lab and IBM illustrates an issue that SL Left Unity plan to highlight in the coming months: the corporate enclosure of cyberspace. Like the land enclosures in 15th-19th century England, the contemporary enclosures of virtual space constitute a massive transfer of common space from popular usage to private control, further enriching already powerful corporations at the expense of ordinary people.

Linden Lab’s recent unilateral and controversial imposition of “branding” guidelines — which enable Linden Lab to leverage their brand equity (to parrot the prevailing corporate jargon) at the expense of the SL residents whose activity has built that brand — is but one instance of this broader process. In this regard, it is worth noting that IBM does not appear to be in compliance with Linden Lab’s new guidelines. The IBM website, for example, invites “you to visit us in Second Life and to read more about our work in virtual worlds by downloading our brochure.” Under the new guidelines, the invitation should be to “visit us in the Second Life® virtual world ….” I guess Linden Lab’s corporate partners aren’t bound by the same rules that apply to mere avatars.

28 Responses to “Enclosure of the Metaverse”

  1. IntLibber Brautigan

    Apr 4th, 2008

    Enterprise level is merely another level of service above concierge. It has a hefty price tag and has a lot of spiffs, but its not “behind a firewall”.

    Think along the lines of Amex cards: normal amex, gold, platinum, and the famed “black” Amex card. All it is, is a higher level of service for those who already pay a lot.

    Drop the class warfare propaganda.

  2. anon

    Apr 4th, 2008

    shock-spoiler: IBM doesn’t want furries yiffing in their business sims

  3. Alyx Stoklitsky

    Apr 4th, 2008

    “I guess Linden Lab’s corporate partners aren’t bound by the same rules that apply to mere avatars.”

    You say this like it’s unexpected or in some way apalling.

  4. pn

    Apr 4th, 2008

    a trademark is not a copyright duh

  5. eric

    Apr 4th, 2008

    @pn: “a trademark is not a copyright duh”

    The point being …?

  6. General Cronon

    Apr 4th, 2008

    Enterprise level is merely another level of service above concierge. It has a hefty price tag and has a lot of spiffs, but its not “behind a firewall”.

    Think along the lines of Amex cards: normal amex, gold, platinum, and the famed “black” Amex card. All it is, is a higher level of service for those who already pay a lot.

    Drop the class warfare propaganda.

    Says the capitalist that lies everyday about the current status of his stock exchange ACE. Words of advice…Don’t use it.

  7. Latha Serevi

    Apr 4th, 2008

    I dislike cheesy commercialism, but don’t really agree with the analogy to land enclosures. It’s not like cyber real estate is a fixed commodity. We can make our own open grids.

    So, rather than “Evil comes! Take arms! Protest!” … I would say it more like “Another reminder that if we want to control our own destinies, we need to be doing it on open grids.”

  8. Hiro Market

    Apr 4th, 2008

    So IBM is committing a lot of resources to SL and want it’s own private sandbox to play in – and how can this be automatically a bad thing exactly? Of course IBM is a mega-corporate with everything that goes with that so a wary eye should be kept on it, but that doesn’t preclude actions it sees as being in its interest also being benefical to the community as a whole – as its contribution to Open Source software and Linux in particular testify. Closer to home it seems to be actively encouraging the Open Sim project too. Rather than looking for absurd 17thC parallels it’s rather encouraging that IBM and some other mega corporations seem willing to work with the Lindons – who for all their faults do at least seem to have some level of community commitment – than the likes of Sony and Google which seem intent on fragmenting the metaverse with propriotry software.

  9. Nikola Shirakawa

    Apr 4th, 2008

    Why does this surprise you? IBM is by far the largest investor in SL. They set the template for other big business in SL. All you people who complain that you don’t want them there, keep in mind, it is only by this influx of income that your basic account can be free. There is no limit, in SL, of how many objects or textures you can create, and aside from token upload fees, there is no added cost to you. It takes money to keep servers going to allow you that privilege, people. Simply put, there is no way SL could support itself if not for these corporate partners. LL knows this. Much as they may wish to do otherwise, they would be out of business within weeks if they were to try to go after IBM or other corporate partners.

  10. Witness X

    Apr 4th, 2008

    Shock spoiler: nobody gives a rats ass what any of you think.

  11. Darien Caldwell

    Apr 4th, 2008

    Actually it was confirmed on Reuters that the IBM sims *are* behind a firewall, they allow content in from the rest of SL, but not out. You can read about it here:

    and Here:

    Coincidentally I heard from an unoffical source that Intel has the same kind of deal going.

  12. higgleDpiggle Snoats

    Apr 4th, 2008

    unexpected, no – in some way apalling, yes.

  13. higgleDpiggle Snoats

    Apr 4th, 2008

    p.s. @ Intlibber – the author was merely quoting the linked source http://venturebeat.com in using the term ‘behind a corporate firewall’. They are hardly class warfare propagandists – quite the opposite.
    Thanks for your Amex card analogy, but i think for my money, Forelle’s original comparison is a lot more persuasive and enlightening.

  14. Fim Fischer

    Apr 4th, 2008

    As a content creator in Second Life, I will not allow the use of my design or any creations I did (or in which I was involved), to be used behind a corporate firewall.

    Fim Fischer

  15. Lori Elliot

    Apr 4th, 2008

    I am a Socialist, and I hate corporate domination. But even I can accept what Linden Labs and IBM are doing with respect to setting up what amounts to being a second world within Second Life. IBM is seeking to use Linden Labs’ expertise and resources to get a metaverse (on the cheap) to use for training, etc. It should have no effect, whatsoever, on Second Life as we know it, and it’s probably going to flop in the end, anyways (most corporate ventures like this do). It just seems like there are much bigger battles worth fighting in the world (both worlds).

  16. shockwave yareach

    Apr 4th, 2008

    shock-spoiler 2 – Furries don’t want IBM protesters yiffing on their sims, either.

  17. Forelle Broek

    Apr 4th, 2008

    @shockwave yareach

    That is unquestionably among the best and funniest blog comments I’ve read!

  18. higgleDpiggle Snoats

    Apr 5th, 2008

    “It just seems like there are much bigger battles worth fighting in the world (both worlds).”
    i agree but this is also the point the author is making. no-one is suggesting taking up virtual arms or storming the IBM firewall for the sake of having something to protest. what is highlighted is that there is an emerging contrast between the ways in which corporations are going to be able to make use the metaverse to best suit their purposes, and the older expectations of the metaverse community at large that were originally fostered by Linden Lab when it suited their purposes. the article also highlights the fact that big corporate interests *are* extremely influential in shaping the development of the metaverse – and that these interests will not necessarily coincide with those of other users, as we are now seeing in the way Linden Lab are intent on ‘repossessing’ so many of the terms in common usage which are associated with their platform and which helped build it. This is wide-reaching and marks a departure from being directed to thinking of Second Life primarily as a community and moving towards thinking and talking about it primarily as a branded, corporate-owned product. these are by no means trivial issues when viewed in a wider context, as Forelle is inviting us to do.

  19. A. Nonymous Source

    Apr 5th, 2008

    This is not in any way about “a massive transfer of common space from popular usage to private control”.

    It’s only this: there are a lot of IT people in a lot of companies out there who really love SL and and consider it to be the Best Of Breed. But they simply can’t use it for real business because of security issues: they don’t want vital meetings broken up by griefers, and also many companies have security policies that prohibit the discussion / storage of confidential company information on data systems external to the company.

    And so there is this initiative to ‘productize’ SL so that private instances of it may be set up inside of a company’s firewall, in much the same way that corporate intranets are routinely set up today. Except this will be a “3D Intranet” that is, in fact, a private set of SL sims, running on company-owned hardware inside of the company firewall. IBM and LL are working together to make this a reality. It’s about damn time.

    Note that this is not in any way about fencing off / privatizing any parts of the existing SL grid.

    I really don’t see a problem here. And I would think that the ability to create private ‘corporate’ SL grids would re-assure those people who complain that big companies are coming in and “taking over” SL.

  20. Prokofy Neva

    Apr 5th, 2008

    I’m not at all surprised that IBM is still able to refer to Second Life without the TM in an advertising context, and get away with it. After all, the Second Life Herald cribbing the hand-eye thing have also not received any notices to take down their page or face legal action, and may never receive them, just like secondlife.reuters.com Clearly, some web pages/companies are going to be more special than others, and the Herald, with probably the largest advertising market of all the SL-related publications (I think), is among the corporate FIC at this point.

    I’m concerted very much about the corporate enclosure of public space, too. However, I don’t overstate it and become hysterical and extreme like the SL Unity sectarians, because their plan, with unitary states that would control that public space, isn’t any better, and history has proven it is worse (they probably imagine they’ll get themselves on the government committee to control public space, and that will make it “OK” lol). The pluralism we get sort of by accident by having multiple private companies run whatever you could call the Metaverse now is actually ensuring a ragged sort of public commons. It is far from desirable, but it is hardly something one can call “a corporate enclosure” as long as newspapers critical of SL exist, even with trademark violation, and as long as we can keep meeting either on Linden land or private land in SL to criticize corporations.

    Oh, I quite realize there are all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle things going on with corporations scraping market data and manipulating your mind and stuff, but you, know, people fight back. I just don’t think the hysterical definition of this cause serves it.

    Class warfare need not be artificially incited but sometimes it is necessary in a struggle for justice, I would have to think about it some more. I don’t have a problem with an enterprise-level account that is above Concierge, that costs more, that therefore gives more. Currently, IBM can buy an island like any of us, can put up only 6,000 sign-ups that probably don’t generate more than 600 uniques in a month with 250 log-ons or whatever, and yet get this special FIC perk. God damn, I have more uniques per month than IBM, and Anshe Chung has more than 6,000 customers. And so on. Numerous businesses do. So when are we going to have a crack at having a thing like that, eh, should we have a need for it and the cash to pay for it, as it is a social good in short supply.

    I’m actually for creating the corporate class merely because I think it’s always good when you have built-in FIC situations that don’t lend themselves to natural democratic corrections that at least they be defined and given a set of transparent laws to operate under, so that it’s not just “Let me hook you up because I like you and you want to be first in the space and you’re loyal to me” but “Let me hook you up because you paid $7,500 a month per 4 block set of islands in tier with a minimum of 5,000 sign-ups just like anybody does who fits these simple criteria”.

    The idea that open grids are going to give us freedom for bankplay and all other “plays,” and customers who don’t mind a currency-free world, socialism of opensourceniks, and having our stuff copied AND freedom from corporate intrusion is just smoking dope. Who do you think is the biggest users of the OpenSim right now? IBM, which has countless islands there now.

    The firewall thing is still being worked out, I’ll be blogging more on this after going to VW08.

  21. Just Me

    Apr 5th, 2008

    So IBM will have private access sims behind a firewall.. so what ? If the sim is access controlled, you can’t get onto it even if it’s on the main grid, so the ultimate difference ? none !

  22. IntLibber Brautigan

    Apr 5th, 2008

    I can say with authority that you, and your references, are entirely wrong, and I’m right, because I’ve been invited to have Enterprise Level service. I know all the details, and I can say you and venturebeat are wrong.

    This isn’t about corporate walled gardens, and this isn’t about some socialist-fantasy economic class system. The features and services offered to enterprise level customers are necessary because those companies are engaged in a level of business operations in SL that necessitates such things.

    Whether its pricing for temporary use of a quantity of islands for a special event (a la CSI:NY, or simply one night or weekend events like concerts by RL bands), immediate response by LL personnell to issues (take for instance, the mass griefing of Dreamland several months ago, essentially a grid attack not on the mainland, which needed and should have gotten immediate LL attention to help clean up). Major estates provide services to a lot of residents, but do not have the resources to deal with all issues, or even the power to do so due to the limits of estate powers. Development companies similarly are limited when constrained to retail level pricing and services, and can bring much more business to SL if they get special services.

    The average avatar on the street may think that this is either unfair or is of no concern to him or her or it. This is where this article is most definitely wrong. As we who are in the estate and development businesses are essentially operating like webhosting resellers, our ability to provide services to you, our customers, is often very dependent upon the quantity and quality of service we receive ourselves from LL. We need these services because of the quantity of our own customers, and at the same time, we save LL money because we assume most of the cost of supporting customers who buy land in our sims.

    We deal with griefing, we help them adjust as noobs, we provide orientation resources, we even have our own Help Request system for the average resident in our sims to receive help quickly on, something LL abandoned a year ago. We provide multilingual support in many instances. We also provide land to those without payment info who cannot obtain such on the mainland. These are just some of the many things estate owners do that are above and beyond the experience people have with Linden Lab, and we help improve the SL experience for many who would be lost and disappointed on the mainland.

    At the same time, we assume the risk of keeping our sims filled with residents paying us tier for land, allowing LL to save money in this way, by only dealing with one billing customer, the estate owner, rather than their hundreds of residents.

    All of this is why, for instance, the sims of Ancapistan have a 95% occupancy rate, and some estates we compete against maintain 100% occupancy. Other estates have lower occupancy rates than us, some are really poor at keeping customers, and those that think scamming people out of land works, quickly go out of business. This is the free market at work: those who provide good service get the customers, those that do not, do not.

    This competition improves the quality of service in SL. It even drives LL to provide better service. Why else would LL have banned adfarmers and started the LDPW if only so as to compete better against the estate companies who provide a better SL experience than LL? They realized that dumping land on the market like they had been hurts LL the most, cause LL has the biggest overhead costs. Now they are focusing on quality of service. They realize that we in the estate and development companies elevate the quality of service in SL, while saving LL money, and they are providing the largest ones Enterprise Level service to help us raise the bar even higher.

  23. higgleDpiggle Snoats

    Apr 5th, 2008

    Prokofy, any ‘hysteria’ is purely in your own mind. Please point to the hysteria or overstatement in this article. Saying something loudly enough and often enough doesn’t make it any truer.
    Also you continue to misrepresent the aims of our group. We have no wish whatsoever to control or dominate public space. Or be on some centralised SL government committee (!!!). Maybe that’s another case of projection on your part, and a failure to comprehend that others might operate from different motives and agendas to your own. Where on earth are you pulling these flimsy conjectures from and where do you get off presenting them as ‘facts’? Our aim currently is to provide an alternative perspective to that of the corporate apologists like yourself and IntLibber and to allow people to formulate their own opinions.

  24. IntLibber Brautigan

    Apr 6th, 2008

    Lol, higgledpiggle, I remember when your group was called SLLA (SL Liberation Army) and you agitated to end the L$ economy, attacking people like myself, only to be exposed as a front for another businessman!!!!

    Whats even funnier is the SLLA’s political officer came to my virtual brewery to buy a keg which charged for beers, which the SLLA used to earn money to pay its tier!! HA! Some communists engaging in free enterprise to fund their anti-free-enterprise activities, all while acting as a front for a businessman trying to eliminate competition with leftist griefing.

    I will not be at all surprised when it comes out that SLLU is a similar sort of front organization used to attack competitors of another anti-competitive businessperson.

  25. Prokofy Neva

    Apr 6th, 2008


    1) your claim in the headlines and in the body of the article that “enclosure of the Metaverse” is occuring already and is a danger *is* the hysteria. You’re out of touch with how you sound.

    2) Your group ascribes to socialism and left unity and all of that, and that is a known body of ideology. What, you have a Eurocommunist version? Then…let’s hear it. I don’t see anything in your writings that tell us that you are full-throated for private property and a mixed economy. Not seeing it. Your problem is that you imagine there is “some thing out there called a decent and benign socialist governmentl likely with us in it” that will restrain these evil corporate monsters from sending all their pigs to feed on the commons grass. But you don’t have an idea for how that will be restrained. Pluralism of small, medium, and large business within a free-enterprise free economy *is not* your plan, and don’t pretend you are misrepresented when you *do not have* such a plan (being socialists).

    3) Your alternative plan consists of…a public commons not subject to public takings, you’re deliberately hazy about how that will automagically come about. So you prefer to mask that true agenda, and shunt it off to a false conflation of me and Intlibber (shudder) as being “corporate apologists”. Intlibber is all for blessing the competition of LL with mainland businesses, to exploit LL’s greed to remove his own competition as well, instead of understanding that libertarians that don’t believe in state intervention shouldn’t be harnessing the state for their own greedy wishes when and as it suits them. Yuck.

    4) the Enterprise level account shouldn’t be fought, as it is natural in a free market of goods and services, but it should work by laws and not discretion. It works by discretion now, meaning that IBM or Intlibber or other people with “I” in their name get to have it, but not others. It isn’t an open good and service available to the highest payer or bidder in an open market. And it’s also basically being used to remove a more serious competition, which is medium and small business. There’s a drive by SL to have everything on the grid reduced to a few big owners, rather than lots of owners. The way to fight the Enterprise issue is not to try to kill it off and declare it evil capitalism, but to use the same capitalism and liberal democratic principles to challenge it and make it work by rules, and make space for other kinds of property not at the enterprise level to have space to exist. Would this have to be done by protectionism? No, I wouldn’t favour that. I would say it could be done by *an end to destructionism* however, which is that Lindens compete with their own mainland customers with this DPW crap. And they shouldn’t provide anyone a higher level of anti-griefing service — that’s like saying that people in private suburban enclaves get more police than the inner city. They must provide security for all, and be more proactive in really contacting the FBI on those denying service by attacking others.

  26. higgleDpiggle Snoats

    Apr 7th, 2008

    “Lol, higgledpiggle, I remember when your group was called SLLA (SL Liberation Army) and you agitated to end the L$ economy, attacking people like myself, only to be exposed as a front for another businessman!!!!”

    Your grasp of SL history is tenuous to say the least IntLibber. SL Left Unity never was and never has been and never will be the ‘Second Life Liberation Army’. We vehemently opposed and criticised their methods at the time when they were still active and as a result of their obvious attempts to derail dissent in SL, we hammered out a group charter long *before* they were publicly exposed and forced to disband (our group had already been going strong a good six months prior to this). In this charter we made and continue to make very explicit to potential members and anyone else within or outside the group that we totally oppose violent means. The reason we were so explicit in highlighting the non-violence issue was partly in response to our dismay over SLLA’s tactics. The entire reason that SL Left Unity survived the insidious attempt by a real life businessman to discredit any and all incipient dissent movements in SL through his unsavoury and creepy operation is precisely because we did act with integrity and refused to give either SLLA or their ‘leader’ Marshall Cahill the credibility they sought from within the left. If any ex-SLLA members are reading your comments I am sure they will be tickled pink at the suggestion that I was a supporter of their group though and and I would go as far as to say some of them would even thank you for being so willing to pick up where they left off in trying to smear us.

    But as you yourself imply – SLLA were not in fact set up to damage ‘people like yourself’ were they? They were ulitmately set up to promote the interests of ‘people like yourself’.
    If others would like an example of how far certain corporate-led interests will go to cynically attempt to manipulate, divide and destroy, even in a virtual world, look no further than the whole sordid SLLA episode. NOT a credit to capitalism.

    The herald did a good piece on this story here:

  27. Plot Tracer

    Apr 7th, 2008

    Intliber, your group- SLLA- which was proven to be a phantom group set up by you and others to pharm information about activists- has no connection, or even similarity to SLLU. SLLU is a group set up in SL to help facilitate left education, SLLA was set up to attract pretendy soldiers and armchair revolutionaries.

    I don’t know who you refer to as the political officer of SLLU, but if you mean me- then make that accusation again, because I – and sl- have those conversations stored and you will find I said at the time your attempt through mark lock and another avatar to get me involved in slla was a stupid attempt at a sting. The SLLA were sussed a long time before it “fell” by real life acivists. It was such a cartoonish attempt, Intlibber, you should be ashamed of yourself. If people would care (and I am sure they really couldn’t give a TOSs) to search for slla, they will see there are already documents showing Intlibbers silly wee attempt at controling dissent was busted by SLLU and SLLU members a long time hence. Grow up mate.

    Prokofy, another attempt at defining socialism as Stalinism or Maoism. Either go do a bit of reading (I recommend Freire or even Chomsky) or stick with what we are talking about. Good to know you have concerns about the enclosure of the internet though. Just drop the attempt to paint us all with your fantasy of a Stalinist world.

    These TOS – especiallly the tm- are a small step in the corporatisation of the web. The MSN/ Yahoo goings on are a bigger manifestation. We are going to have the situation of rather than the free web we had back in the ’90s/ early 000′s, we have about three corporations owning the spaces we use to communicate through. How does this affect us? Ask the chinese- their news agencies and web searches did not report on the fact that the olympic torch was heald up and battered and bruised through the streets of London yesterday. That is our concern. If you are fixated with Stalinism, Prokofy and you are fixated with trying to link people to your wee spoiler group Intlibber, fine. The rest of us want to try to do something to claim our web back. And freedom of the web, as well as our real life social spaces will not be won by Trademarks.

  28. Forelle Broek

    Apr 7th, 2008

    @IntLibber (re: the statement that IBM’s private sim will be behind a firewall): “Forelle, I can say with authority that you, and your references, are entirely wrong, and I’m right, because I’ve been invited to have Enterprise Level service. I know all the details, and I can say you and venturebeat are wrong.”

    Cf. Ginsu Yoon, LL’s Vice President of Business Affairs, is quoted in Virtual Worlds News as follows: “Deploying regions of the Second Life Grid behind IBM’s firewall is a major milestone in the evolution of the Internet and will help accelerate the growth and adoption of all virtual worlds.” [http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/04/ibm-takes-secon.html]

    Hands up anyone who is surprised to learn that IntLibber’s “authority” is worth as much as his fantasy stock exchange!

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