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Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Prokofy Neva, Part Two


By Bixyl Shuftan

This is the second part of an interview with Prokofy Neva, a longtime resident in Second Life whom is best known for being a sometimes controversial commentator on his "Second Thoughts" blog and various Second Life related forums. In the first part of the interview, he discussed his earlier days on the Grid and his opinions on how conflict and debate shaped it's evolution over time. In the second part, he had a few comments about more recent issues in Second Life, such as content creator rights, the temporary ban of third party currency exchange services, and the announcement of a new grid in development. He also talked some about his idea of "virtuality," and why Second Life truly hasn't succeeded in appealing to the masses with it's version of it.

To read the first part of the interview: Click Here.

To one of Prokofy's earlier comments about Linden Lab, I asked, "You thought they were trying to wreck businesses rather than a case of 'It seemed like a good idea?' "

Prokofy's answer was, "With Ebbe Linden's announcement of a new world, we are going to be dealing with a larger whack than we've ever been given. This is like telehubs, island discounts, homesteads, VAT -- all those scandals -- copybot -- all rolled into one. The Lindens have only one goal: how to make money from land long enough to get rid of land as a business model so that they can move to content fees and currency fees instead. It's also about power-sharing in my view, as I said about the thread on SL Universe (forums)."

"Yes," I responded, "many, including my old boss, wondered just what the Lindens are up to."

Prokofy continued, "Instead of saying to their customers with rental communities, 'Advertise in our welcome areas, help us with our new customers,' or saying to clubs and live music venues 'Advertise in our welcome areas and our splash screen, help us with our customers,' they do completely different things to serve their interests which are short-sighted for the world itself. They create special builder and scripter dev groups and throw them out-world business, they put in Linden Homes and give special contracts to certain designers to build for them, so their business is helped even as ours is screwed, because they really don't believe in the user community outside their own very special and trusted friends who are coders/designers. They can't share power with a class alien to them in values. There isn't a parliament or a constitutional court to solve these things through law. There is only warfare."

"So they put in the Linden homes to try to drive people to buy premium accounts which languished, and to guide newbies toward content purchases. In the end, they couldn't completely ruin the low cost newbies rentals business, or I wouldn't be here or others wouldn't be here."

I brought up, "Two controversies in the past year were the third party linden exchanges, and the Terms of Service change in reguards to content creators. Anything to say about those?" (Note, SL Newser is partialy sponsored by the Podex Exchange)

Prokofy answered, "Well to take it backwards, the content creator stuff is in a way standard Silicon Valley legal boilerplate in Instagram or anywhere, and done deliberately so that the platform can retain the ability to first display your content as a technical matter but then also reserve the right to grab it for advertising or ultimately any reason or no reason. And it's about failure to share power even with their own FIC. Qarl nailed it on the forums although he sounds like a whiner."

"But here's how they will solve it, and I don't think it will be pretty. They will create a privileged class that has license to create, but must supply SS number and ID, or passport number let's say. They have a huge problem on their hands of liability themselves. The world is filled with content swiped from the Internet, textures and pictures and ideas." He drew my attention to the floor, "say, look at this rug here I make and sell! It comes from Malevich's painting for example, which is public domain. But not every thing is. So the Lindens already got some lawsuits from real-life furniture makers. They can't share power and give rights to people who may themselves have violated other rights."

"Now to the third party exchanges. My own view is that this was an evil and vile move, and it significantly depressed my interest, involvement, and purchases of content and land in SL. Why? because I couldn't cash out instantly. In the past, I could do business and instantly pay a bill that came up in real-life, instantly buy groceries for my family if my real-life contractors were slow in payments. Now, I have to set it up to wait 5-7 or more business days. So I really mourn that loss. It was also a huge boon to my customers. I don't think any fraud vulnerability justified it because they had given out essentially licenses or risk APIs to people. I don't know what your take on it is."

I mentioned two opinions I kept hearing, "Some thought it was Linden Lab's legal department overracting to the Treasury Department's sudden interest in virtual currency. Others thought it was a simple power grab."

Prokofy answered, "I think the latter quite frankly, because the reality is that the Treasury Dept never defined the currency inworld as taxable. It's a game point, a limited license to use inworld game currency, if you will, like a Mycokerewards.com bottle cap, not true currency. So they can't tax my bucket of Mycokerewards.com bottle caps I turned into a coupon for Olive Restaurant yet. If I turned that into $5 real money, they could tax it if it built up. And everything cashed out of SL they should tax. I personally and other business people have put SL revenue as revenue in my tax return. It's not much after costs but it's something. So maybe they were gun-shy, but I think they just hated the idea that people were getting a revenue stream they didn't have. Any money cashed out through those other services paid THOSE people currency fees, not Lindens.  Lindens need a non-land revenue stream model. Their hope was currency exchange fees, subscriptions, and content charges would carry it. But it's like all media that can't live by subscriptions or classified ads alone. All media needs advertising, and buying sims is the equivalent of big advertising revenue for any media property."

I brought up, "After their initial decision, there was a particuarly large outcry from overseas residents. I heard of one entire German community talking about up and leaving."

"Well that's just it," Prokofy told me, "I used to use that European company myself, can't recall its name. It had the option to buy Euros and even bitcoins. I thought it would be a place I could put Euros that I earn in Europe from my RL business which lose so much on transfers here. But it was not to be as they had to close, or rather, I think they sell Lindens but they can't cash them out now or something. No one can provide the cash-out service, correct? That's just it, it hugely retards business progress."

"The Lindens are not here to help your business. They are not here to promote the inworld economy. They are here to run their own business. Their interests and ours do not harmonize. They clash. That is the harsh reality that no one has solved, and won't solve as long as you have those with either a techocommunist view about mass culture or mass free economies in charge, or technolibertarians that only care about their own business and not how their customers make a living."

"Google with its Google buses taking over cities, driving up rents, and not caring how the non-Google people will live. I understand Ebbe is now saying something about making the transition to the new world smooth with regard to land. But sorry, that's not specific. I call for 1:1 transfers of sims or compensation of X pennies on the dollar, to be negotiated. But we don't even know if there will *BE* sims in this new world, sims as we know them."

"so -- right click, SELL LAND for Prokofy, while that lack of clarity and that self-interest on the part of (the) Lindens prevails. And remember, I'm just a tiny self-aware unit in this economy who thinks and blogs, there are hundreds more who don't blog and maybe even don't think about this issue, but they have thousands of dollars at stake not tens or hundreds, and they will act, and that action will influence the outcome."

I followed his comment about the Linden Lab CEO, "Yes, at the third party viewer developer meeting the other day, Ebbe Linden mentioned the development of a next generation virtual world."

"Yes, and it was immediately bruited about as good news that it was closed source," Prokovy commented, "but bad news because no backwards compatibility. None of the things in this room could come with me. Pr let's say I could get their builders to re-rez them as mesh. But what about my outfit? It's made by Osprey Therein, who died in real life. Now there's no way to port it," he frowned, "Sure, I could possibly copybot it or something. But it's not the same."

I sadly nodded, having attended and written about Osprey's funeral.

"Or my Moth King staff Osprey made. Let me show you." Prokovy got it from his inventory, "See the staff?"

"Yes," I answered, "When did she make those clothes?"

"These are very old school clothes," Prokofy told me, "made on that original avatar outfit maker, which is why I like them. Look at what she did with this. Even fur-lined boots, Russian style, all on that old thing. I tend to like the old things better and I only have recently started putting in prim or mesh hair. I think this is prim hair."

"It does look unique," I told him about the outfit.

Prokofy went on, "I don't like mesh. Occasionally I'll find a good house made out of mesh my customers have. I haven't bought them because I can't *see* them half the time-- they don't rez right, even with my computer and new FIOS blazing Internet."

"That's something I've heard from many content creators," I spoke of his dislike of mesh, "and more than one who aren't buying it."

"Well again, to speak of classes," Prokovy commented, "and mind you, I'm certainly not a Marxist and not a European, I'm American and for a more democratic and classless society and upward mobility. But there are classes in SL, and there are those who can see mesh and those who can't. There are entire groups of people living still only with prims not even sculpties, like aboriginals. It's hard to make the world develop uniformly, the 'future is here, only unevenly distributed.' This new world of Ebbe's is definitely one of those futures arriving unevenly distributed. We don't know if we will have graphic cards to view it. We don't know if we will have to buy Oculus Rift headsets to view it, etc."

"So basically, 'It's being developed, that's all we know?' " I asked.

"Well read the latest," Prokofy suggested, "lots of happy speak shy of details. But here's the thing, the model for the economy, which tends to then dictate governance and new user experience is 'the customer is the creator.' The creator class (is) what is top and most important, NOT the consumer class or amateur creator. So what that means, tools for high-end creativity are featured. Which means I can't rez a prim, or edit a prim. Those things are important to rental agents who adjust everything constantly, for customers, ordinary people."

"So basically, it means we are mere spectators at the Renaissance Faire. We're to buy some of the guilds' expensive items and  put them in our homes which are under limited control. That is incredibly dull for me. I could watch TV if that were my purpose. I don't want to watch, I want to interact, as an amateur."

"So what I see then is that once again, they can't conceive of how to make a world mass-user friendly, except by their very old formula, which is 'have a privileged class of people or the game devs themselves make content, bring in the rubes.'"

"And when I talk about compensating those of us who were not in that class and still made the world what it is. Lordfly says 'Game designers don't give you free stuff in the next sequel.' To which I can say, this isn't a game, it's a platform. I can also point out what is coming then for those fancy creators, which they themselves don't seem to realize, which is the other Silicon Valley model that goes with the prosumer model: HUGE FEES, like Amazon, where I sell my e-book."

"Sure, I sell my ebook for $2.99 a pop and buy my family groceries. It actually sells everyday, it's about Snowden. But Amazon takes out 30%-70% of every sale, huge cuts."

"Oh, What's the title?" I asked.

" 'Privacy for Me and Not for Thee' -  http://www.amazon.com/Privacy-Not-Thee-Invincible-Transparency-ebook/dp/B00I2CJKI6 . So sure, be a seller on Amazon or be a merchant on Third Life -- but pay huge fees then, guys"

"Snowden's certainly sparked no shortage of conversation," I commented.

"Yes, well I know a lot about the Snowden story as Russia is my field of expertise," Prokofy told me. "So I have unique materials there translated from the Russian press. But more importantly, I write about hacker culture, which I learned about in SL. And I have two chapters just on SL in that book. So it might be interesting to you."

"I'm sure it would," I thought out loud.

"What I hope is that there will be an outcry and a debate about how the new world is made," Prokvy expressed, "so that it is not all decided by LL itself. But I see little opportunity for that frankly. If it were Philip doing it, there would be. But it's not. I have a whole theory about virtual worlds in general I've written about."

My next question, "I was going to ask if you felt today's Linden Lab was less interested in
the residents' opinions than the early one."

"Oh no question," Prokofy answered, "Philip was integrated into the world, he did Town Halls, walkabouts, he answered mail. M Linden was more removed, he started by making his name impossible to pull up in search. Then the one before Ebbe, he was completely incommunicado. He didn't have a tweet or a blog hardly the entire time. I honestly don't know what he did all day with this world. He developed LL's OTHER products to be sure, so they could say now they are a game company with multiple products. I don't think those products do terribly well, but then, I don't have a tablet. Like most people, a computer and a phone in the family for each member already strains the budget. (A) tablet -- just too expensive."

"Anyway, Ebbe makes a show of communicating with the swells on Sluniverse.com. Call me when he holds an inworld town meeting with the top land barons. Of course, I may be in the dark, they may have already had secret meetings. Who the hell knows? But let him have meetings with furry or Gor or elves or fairies or whatever communities. All of these people sink money into SL, they pay his bills, what do they think? They aren't on sluniverse.com as creators necessarily, although some of the key power brokers are. In any event, I have tried to write to Ebbe multiple times, no answer, no bear, no nothing. And I am busy in real-life so I can't chase him as I used to other Lindens."

"But here's my concept of virtuality in a nutshell: Virtual worlds as a destination is an obsolete concept and will fail as a new project. The direction of the future is virtualization of reality itself, not destination worlds. Destination worlds will remain niches of course for half a million or 500 million. But not billions like Facebook or Twitter. People don't avatarize and immerse well and the learning curve and technology is too hard. We don't realize that, we're acclimated. Most people can't acclimate. They can't live in the mountains with less oxygen."

"In my real-life jobs, I use Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Google Maps, and other various chat clients. And I live in a virtual world that is the sum total of those tools, it's the virtual world called 'The War in Ukraine.' With the tools, in that virtualized space, I can ... watch the tragedy of the Odessa fire live. I can interview people with Skye standing at a demonstration in Kharkiv. I can chat with my colleagues and translate the news. I can watch Twitter and see a citizen journalist has uploaded a picture of a Russian tank not in Russia, but Ukraine, where it should not be, and find experts who can confirm, yes, that's a Russian tank. I can geolocate that tank using Google Street View even for little towns in Ukraine."

"This *is* the virtual world, not a destination called "Second Life" with a sim called 'Ukraine.' So eventually 3D will enter that space by Facebook or by somebody, Google or Yahoo or whoever, so that we can manage those tools, those images, those chats, those experiences. And not as a destination but as a kind of rolling layer over things. Does that make sense?"

I nodded, "It does."

Prokofy went on, "Somebody in Ukraine can't log on to SL because either Internet is spotty or graphics poor on their laptop, but they can use their cell phone and call on Skype. They can set up a stream, so eventually less heavy virtualization where you can avatarize or project yourself into the interstices of these outworld tools will create worlds of sorts. That's how I see it."


"Also I've written about how the Internet of Things will play out as a virtualized world you control with a console. This is the analogy I think of from my father's business. He was a ceramic engineer. He used to explain that bricks are very heavy, very old fashioned, too expensive to move, to build, to maintain. So going into the brick business was a very heavy, expensive old fashioned thing to do. But if you worked on carrier beads in Xerox machines, they weren't heavy. And people were motivated to buy and move the Xerox machines themselves. So I realize that those of us who made bricks are obsolete in a world that wants carrier beads which have ceramic components for Xerox toner. You may not have realized that what happens with a Xerox copy, ceramic pieces of toner are fused to paper, i.e. toner is a kind of ceramics, if you will."

"But even Xeroxes are going out of style in a world of mobile phones with pictures. On the other hand, the metaphor works both ways. People who make destination worlds are in a sense obsolete too, because people need much more portability. And frankly I don't mean having open source and free content, which is how everyone understands this issue. I think permissions systems can and should be built into every world and every virtuality -- it could have been built into Instagram but wasn't for ideological reasons."

"What I mean by portability is usability in everyday life across various platforms and settings. Google Street view is easy to port, Twitter is easy to port, Skype too. Second Life isn't, even if on a phone. It's about culture and about settings and expectations and not just technology. It's about user control. People join things on mass that have two features, 1) devs provide enough of the bare bones so you don't have to fight the platform to use it, 2) but you can easily generate your user content.  Twitter really hits that sweet spot and so does Facebook. SL doesn't."

"Anyway," Prokofy relaxed a bit, "I've bored you with my theories quite a bit, I should get back to work."

"Well, you mentioned where the outfit came from," I brought up, "But one other question about what you're wearing," I directed my attention to an ornimentation he had with a number of country's flags in small cicular disks, "What kind of necklace is that?"

"Oh this is my Peace on Earth hunt necklace found a few years ago," Prokofy informed, "I like it because it has all the countries on it, their flags. It's part of my International Bazaar, which is a project I have where you can get notecards to go to all real-life foreign country sims. It's what I had set up in the infohub for years and years, which sadly I just had to remove because of ridiculous buggy Land Impact issues. But I will get it back. I still maintain the main hall for it with the notecards, so you can go to Russia, China, France, etc. My hope was to encourage exploration. I used to have a discussion group called Council on Virtual Relations to discuss foreign affairs and those sims. But like all things in SL it got griefed, had problems, etc so I had to suspend it."

"Oh, sorry," I told him.

"Well as I noted to you," he went on, "I used to spend a lot more hours on SL. I would average say 4 hours a day. I would make things, explore, think up ways to improve my business, etc. I made a tutorial for new businesses. I would help people in various ways. But since various real-life challenges occured, I had to suspend this and limit myself now to pure customer service, and perhaps occasionally some card updating. I can't say when I will be back to normal as I have a rare illness now and the treatment is worse than the disease. And all my energy has to go into my real-life work to make a living. But I'm sure it will get better in a few months. I certainly understand better now what Osprey went through, what a brave brave and creative soul."

"Sounds like you were both good friends," I expressed.

"No," Prokofy corrected, "I wouldn't say we were such close friends or anything like that. It was more like this, she was a very kind person and even though she was among the oldbies who hated me, she was very kind to me personally. And we got together around the Moth Temple years ago. I was the one who thought up the idea of the Moth Swarms. She then immediately picked it up and made the moth feelers, moth wings, and this kind outfit. Yes I thought it up actually, although people think she did, but we were creative partners, I had the idea, she made it work. So she was a creative partner. We did those moth swarms and other moth things, including the moth lanterns that she made to replace the Linden ones that mysteriously disappeared."

"Then the other area where we collaborated was the Resident Developed Infohubs. I ran two of them and she ran one of them. We made a group of like 10-12 of us doing that, tried to make some uniform content for them like newbie help, and tried to lobby Lindens on their issues. So we did that for several years. Hers was Ambat. I hope they didn't take it down, it's probably still there."

"What I like about SL is that you don't have to be friends with someone, they don't have to be your best buddy, you don't have to share real-life news, etc. But you can meet as minds and souls and make something and share a deep connection and then move on. They could be your enemies, politically or lifestyle wise, but they are shared collaborators in the business of making the world. So I have furry or BDSM tenants, or neighbours who may be antithetical to my world views, let's say. But in SL we could collaborate on some shared interest like 'let's keep the view nice,' 'let's make nice builds,' 'let's help newbies,'  'let's have live music.' And those things can be done without having to even know that person votes Republican or Democrat or whatever, which real life does not enable."

"I don't mean to idealize that shared creative existence as it is frail and can rip and be in tatters soon enough. But it's an interesting basis for community. And that's why I liked the foreign sims idea, or 'international sims' as foreign implies they are foreign to us, but they aren't foreign to themselves. So when the London terrorist attack happened, I could TP and say 'I'm sorry,' Or the Poles lost an entire planeload of leaders -- I could say 'I'm sorry,' or the Egyptians were killed in demonstrations, I could say 'I'm sorry' with a translator. Or just show up to light a candle or buy something or whatever. The virtual world enables things like that which are interesting, not part of real life, but to make them work better."

"Lindens have to establish better governance tools. The thing they care about the least is managing the world as a world society. They do not want to be in the governance business. They want a customer service state and that's it. And you can't blame them. World governance is endless as a proposition, especially with open source cult ideals."

Prokofy chuckled, "Anyway I've babbled on quite a bit. Hope that was interesting."

"It was," I told him, "Thank you for your time."

"Sure," Prokofy bade farewell, "nice to talk to you."

I tipped my hat, and we went our separate ways.

To check up on the latest from Prokovy, he continues to post in his blog "Second Thoughts" (http://3dblogger.typepad.com/second_thoughts/) under the avatar's real-life identity Catherine Fitzpatrick, occasionally a long commentary, sometimes just a picture. He also has a Twitter account: https://twitter.com/Prokofy .

Bixyl Shuftan

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