Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Interview with Prokofy Neva, Part One

By Bixyl Shuftan

While most in Second Life are known for what they do, Prokofy Neva is known more by what he says. Over the years, he's made a number of opinions on a number of issues, getting a reputation for never backing down from an argument. Besides maintaining some sims out to renters, Prokofy posts occasionally on his blog "Second Thoughts" under his real life identity Catherinne Fitzpatrick. Having met Prokofy recently, we agreed to an interview, and later on I traveled to his place at Waterfall Canyon in the Refugio sim (which has a security system - griefers don't bother trying to enter), and he welcomed me inside.

"We are at the site of what was once my First Land 512," Prokofy began, "in 2004. So it's 10 years old."

"That is pretty early," I commented.

"I came to it soon after it was born," Prokofy continued, "and Anshe Chung had already bought all the surrounding area for a telehub mall on the next sim. Well I wasn't the first here, it was taken over by some oldbies at first. There used to be a big TV and Radio store here."

Prokovy invited me to his den, "Have a seat."

"Of course," I answered, and did so as he took another.

I then asked him the first question, "So, when did you first hear about Second Life?"

"I first heard about SL from Barnesworth Anubis," Prokofy answered, "We were in the same group in The Sims Online where he had the name, Cornelius Vanderbilt and I had the name Dyerbrook. We had a group of parcels called 'Sim Arts' or something like that, and he was one of the first explorers to go from TSO to SL to see if it would be better, people were unhappy with TSO for a number of reasons. Eventually a number of us migrated from TSO to SL. This was back in 2004 for me. I actually made my first account in SL in May 2004, but then I didn't like it and left. Then (I) came back in September 2014 and made Prokofy Neva."

"How did your first days here go?" I asked him.

Prokofy answered, "The first time I made the account Dyerbrook was difficult because I didn't have the graphics card to see Second Life. I went to a hockey game and struggled through lag and blur to see it. I gave up that time, and came back later when I had a new computer and graphics card. I happened to land on the very day that Philip Linden was holding a Town Hall. I went to an oldbie's place to hear it on a relay radio, the old-fashioned way they held those town halls. They had them on one sim but then handed out relay radios to get it broadcast to other venues."

"So I struggled first to sit down on a bench -- no mean feat for a newbie -- it didn't work like TSO. Then I heard Philip utter the magical words ...  I can find the exact quote for you somewhere ...  but it was basically that he had a vision then of real estate agents now appearing in the world, and an avatar with a name like 'Buzz' would appear with a helicopter, and show newbies new land, and have a business, and that someone would build a golf course."

"Now, mind you, this was just a vision at first.  It took me about 3 months to figure out how land worked, how to buy it and sell it, how to work it. I am a slow learner on technical things like SL and it took awhile. I remember the very first newbie mistake I made. I flew around vainly clicking on land that seemed empty, trying to buy it. Why didn't it work like TSO? In TSO, you could look at a map, and if you saw a blank spot on the map, you could zoom in and buy it easily if it were an empty square. So I flew around vainly clicking on what seemed like empty woodland (laughs out loud)."

"Finally someone explained the 'First Land' thing to me. But then I immediately ran into the harshness of Second Life. An oldbie had already captured the First Land on this sim under his various alts. His plan was to put it all under his old account. This was an oldbie and a group of alts that bedeviled me for years and  years. He kept trying to get me to sell him my little rocky plot. It was a mountainous waterfront, more valuable than most even being rocky. But I stubbornly clung to my little turf. I put out a modified house from Barnesworth on it and struggled to try to build or edit things."

"So, he wouldn't take no for an answer?" I asked

"He kept trying to harass me off the plot," Prokofy answered, "It was amazing. Eventually, I had a friend who bought another plot and then two parcels went up on the auction. I bid on them, using the money I had made from selling my TSO avatar, rares and simoleons on eBay. So my very first purchase in SL was $250 US on the auction, and it seemed very scary to me, like throwing money down a rat hole. Essentially, that *is* the case with land in SL as I can explain more."

"But in any event, I was so scared at having that huge parcel for that huge (seemingly) expense, that I immediately calved off half of it to sell.  I had no idea how to price it properly. I had no idea about waterfront, snow prices being through the roof then. I was still in the TSO mode. I remember very distinctly trying to edit the land, trying to make a group with a friend and alts, struggling, struggling. Finally I got the thing cut in half, put it to $6 and Anshe bought it within minutes. Everyone said I was so stupid!"

"Anyway, then I made the other classic newbie mistake -- I overtiered by mistake, sticking myself with a higher bill. Linden Lab was ruthless on that, they would never forgive. In my entire 10 years hear I maybe got them once to forgive on an over-tier mistake. That's when you actually up your bill for the entire month by one rash click on a 512 that is over your tier mark -- or even 16 m,  doesn't matter. So now I had to buy other land there for sale to make it all worth it."

"For those who don't own land," I asked, "could you please explain over-tier?"

Prokofy answered, "Well, let's say you are at the $40 tier level. If you go and click on land -- even a small square -- and buy it, it will immediately simply put you into the next tier bracket. So you go from $25 to $40 or $40 to the higher levels in a flash and are stuck. Nowadays, they have a menu warning (for) you, 'Are you really sure you want to do that?' It says 'This will increase your tier level to X.' But in the old days we didn't have that, so oops."

"Anyway, we decided to try to recreate what we had done in TSO, which was also very naive. But you can only learn from your newbie mistakes. We made a club with trance music, and we also created an architecture club and contests. We decided to reward good SL architecture, the way we had in TSO. The problem is, the meter is ticking on your tier bill in SL, you can't just fool around aimlessly. Tier is a harsh task mistress. How to make revenue then? You can't live on tips. I started making some content to sell, but it didn't sell very well, because I sucked at making things (laughs out loud). My first thing I sold was the leopard-skin men's briefs from TSO (laughs out loud), not a barn-stormer I'm afraid."

I responded with a few chuckles.

Prokofy went on, "Anyway we tried to have these contests and bring in traffic, and in those days the Lindens had these awards they would give out. First you had the dwell payments,
remember those?"

"I don't believe I do," I told him, "sorry."

Prokofy explained, "If you could attract people to your land, you would get Linden dollars into your account. Well, they used to have a loss leader to try to get the community to entertain each other and be creative with events. So they had a system that rewarded you for traffic, and another system for events awards. So let's say I put on an architectural contest, I could get a $500 Linden award. They were handed out like candy. You could have a wet t-shirt contest at the beach and get the $500 creative award."

I chuckled again at the thought.

Prokofy went on, "The dwell was something that could be real money if you had enough traffic. There was a formula. So let's say I could put 5000 traffic on to my club, it would translate as cash. That cash would pay out every Wednesday, just like group fees now debit. It used to be group fees debited AND credited. However, again, this wasn't enough to pay the bills."

"So then I started trying to flip land, and of course, that was disastrous because I had no idea what I was doing and got stuck with 'end of the world' land that I thought was waterfront. In the old days, you could see the sims as they were being rolled  out. You could see a sim being born, often in the middle of the night. The sim would rise up out of the mist slowly and then these little green triangles would fill it. Those were tree buds the Lindens planted. The trees would appear, and it would seem as if the edge of that thing was 'waterfront.' They'd set it to sale, and an idiot like me would buy it. I remember Dyerbrook's first purchase of his newbie land was a fake waterfront like that. Then oops, a week later, the Lindens would lay ANOTHER sim down next to it. Then it became swamp or woodland with no waterfront. So you get the idea, lots of false starts and learning by idiotic mistakes."

"I remember once going on the forums and asking if an oldbie would be willing to be paid to teach me Sl for an hour. And I was scoffed at. This is when I began to see the class warfare in SL -- the oldbies, who were mainly coders and graphics designers, and this other class of people called 'land barons' whom Philip had encouraged to come in in order to have a revenue stream to sustain the development of SL. There were hardly any island purchases in those days. We were terribly scared of islands because they performed badly and had the 'void' problem."

"Void Problem?" I asked.

Prokofy explained, "Also an old SL problem where you literally could not fly to a location over the void. This was a terrible problem, yes. I once bought land on the auction and couldn't fly to my own land. Remember, (there was) no pinpoint teleporting from the map then. These were the very old days, telehub landings, then fly 1000 meters plus, very rocky stuff, sim seam crossings, and voids where you'd crawl around the edge trying to get to the next sim. Eventually, the Lindens filled those in better."

"Anyway, I went from making the club, which I have to say didn't do very well, and got removed and turned into condos, to making a mall, also a trial-and-error process. The Lindens eventually ended their event awards and the dwell system, and it's just as well as it got gamed. After they pulled that, however, they set the stage for the camping stuff -- remember camping?"

"I do, I knew some who did it a little while reading email," I answered, "How did the condos do?"

"The condos were going to be great at first," Prokofy Neva answered, "I had a beautiful building, art deco, and some other beautiful FLW houses. Not many people had tried apartment buildings. It was a bit counterintuitive because you're all on the parcel and you can't have dedicated media. But I thought there was a market for people who just needed a little space to change their clothes, sit with their friends, put out a few things. Not much privacy, but just a little area for newbies in particular."

"So at first I filled the condo and the parcels easily, life was grand. However, I still had that old oldbie enemy harassing me and shooting me on occasion for the crime of not turning over my first land to him (laughs out loud)."

"Then suddenly, disaster struck:  The Barbie Club. A club of hookers and strippers, in my beautiful snow mountain paradies appeared on a 4096 that I had sold to Anshe. At first, I thought, no problem, the working girls can rent my apartments and condos. Boy was I naive."

"The problem is that the Barbie Club sucked up the available avatar spots on the sim, 45 it was in those days, and still is. So if I had tenants, they literally couldn't fly home. They were blocked from their own houses by the Barbie trade. Not good. So everything emptied out. Then I tried to make lemons out of lemonade and rented mall space to Barbie and tried to get the Barbie people to rent. However, they then demanded full group perms to *re-rent* my cheap land. Plus as a club, it was endlessly griefed. Clubs always attrack shooting, grieging, low-lifes."

"That was the end of my club rental efforts -- I couldn't waste my time policing griefers and having Barbie girls sell clothes at huge mark-ups and earn gadzillions more than they paid me in rent, while the rest of my customers couldn't get home. The mall rental prices then were much higher than what I charged -- Anshe charged a fortune. I was trying to get into business by offering rentals cheaper than Anshe. The irony is, that Anshe even rented from me, to then re-rent to high-end customers she had. Trying to break the Anshe cartel was nearly impossible, until a group of land sellers made a stock market and collectively bought and sold land to try to diversify the market."

"Then there was the telehub story, remember?"

"I remember some about those," I answered.

Prokofy told me, "Well, zoom over to the next sim and see the old telehub area, now an infohub with a mall next to it. This was once heavily contested territory. Anshe bought up the immediate telehub area, and another oldbie bought up the island on Ross you can see out the window. They were the early way to teleport, but from one hub to another. That oldbie tried to sell content and have events. So as hubs, they had commerce naturally attach to them. That was in fact the urban planning Philip originally envisioned. It would be like subway stops in NYC with stores around them."

"And it was a great idea but here's what happened, again, class warfare: the oldbies who originally populated SL, the coders and designers, they didn't want to be around telehubs which they viewed as lagfests and griefer venues and blinger hangouts. So they had their boutiques far away in prettier, more expensive sims, and they arranged their communities around them, and bypassed telehubs, which they protested against. The rest of us embraced telehub malls because it was more democratic."

"To get into the circles of oldbie merchants, you had to practically marry into one of the old founder families. To get a spot to display your wares in another's store -- endless suck-ups and cultivation. But telehub malls brought more Western-style commerce where anyone with the money to pay could enter at will and rent. You didn't have to be friends with Anshe or be approved by Anshe. You had to right-click and pay and get the group. So these areas thrived with newer people, and also some oldbies, but not the Brahmin of SL, the privileged early adapters I called the FIC, the Feted Inner Core. So that's where people sold the music systems, clothing, shoes, hair, etc. and that's where I opened up rental offices."

"So I opened up offices on Anshe's telehub malls offering people to rent in my condos or parcels. I started to have a little bit more area then, I had the area around Ross, Refugio, and then I bought the sim of Ravenglass, my first sim on the auction. Cost me exactly $1501, I beat out an oldbie."

"Anyway, the Linden coders hated telehubs. They wanted to have p2p like they themselves had in god-mode. And the oldbies hated that now they had competition to their boutiques in the boonies. This is my social and economic analysis of Second Life that many don't like to hear, but it is really the truth. I once went to Philip and asked me to tell him the statistics for traffic and sales per sim to prove that telehubs did way better than oldbies boutiques. And he wouldn't give me exact figures but he conceded they did very well. And quite frankly, that's why the Lindens put them on the auction at a much higher opening bid, and sold them for FORTUNES, Mainly to Anshe, Blue, and some of those early land barons who made a killing."

"So then the issue came as I've been writing about lately of the telehub cancellation. Word was leaked of a screenshot of a map showing the ability to travel to pinpoints. Before, this was done only by a script, i.e. people sold a script you could load with landmarks that would "fly" you to locations, like a plane or bus. So when that map leaked, some people instantly understood its importance. Anshe immediately switched from *rentals* to *sales* of telehub land at huge prices. She saw the handwriting on the wall. Not everybody did, and kept buying it, obliviously. In fact, Anshe sold me some of her land at the discount price (for then) of only $6/meter. Here I was, newbie-happy, thinking, at last, telehub land for a mall, whee."

"OK, so here's what happened. By that time, land barons were organizing into a political group, if you will. There was a period in SL when people organized into factions or political movements with interests, because there were things at stake like Mainland policy, new group tool policies, and so on."

"Political movements?" I commented, "Interesting."

"Huge struggles were had on the forums," Prokofy described, "Some of these groups were huge, because Anshe would essentially bus in her tenants. I had a group, smaller, with associates and tenants. Then people li"ke Lordfly and oldbies who were coders and designers made their own groups. There was constant warfare on the forums -- this was the period I was banned from the forums 'permanently' i.e. for 2 years until the Linden who banned me left SL and then it was instantly undone."

"Basically what it came down to was this, the same struggle we see today as the news from Ebbe Linden unfolds. Will you have 'creators as customers' or 'customers as creators?' Will the platform provider focus on a core group of privileged customers or 'pro-sumers' as they are sometimes known, the super users who are coders, designers, service providers, and have them drive growth and the economy, or will they have more democratic policies, as I would call them, making easier entry to the market for unskilled laborers or amateurs?"

"In one sense all  of SL is a pretty much an amateur created market -- I mean, most really skilled high-end graphics artists in 3d will not be opening in Sl, they'd work for the gaming or TV industries. But still, (they are) skilled compared to me or you, skilled in Photoshop, Blender, etc. When Philip opened up the land market, and when he allowed the Lindens to be cashed out to Gaming Open Market and other exchanges, he created a more Western style open economy, free enterprise, not the old guild-style economy that you could say was Eastern, i.e. privileged classes of people allowed by the state to be merchants or Medieval even, guild style economies. Some people said SL had a feudal economy if you will."

"Anyway the land barons who were provided the service of land sales or rentals communities banded together. They demanded a meeting with Phiip. Somewhere I have a copy of our agenda in my never-loading inventory, but it involved issues like:

"No more invisible Linden visits -- all visits to sims must be 'in uniform' -- Lindens used invisible mode to spy."

"No more Linden endorsements of only some oldbie businesses and not others by going to concerts to DJ, or appearing in billboard ads (Lindens used to do that, yes, hard to believe, but true)."

"A Linden code of conduct that would be publicized."

"This was because of a phenomenon that happened. At that time 1/3 of the Linden staff was drawn from the oldbies themselves. So you had this awful phenomenon of conflict of interests. People who had successful businesses in SL on one account could go and be a Linden, and then have inside info that would help the businesses of them or their friends. Or it wasn't always so crass, it was more about group influence, some people having greater reputational influence, and being able to use that politically, to prevail on the issue of telehub removal for example."

"We strove in vain for weeks of political debate to prove to the Lindens that the hubs were not laggy, they were a good thing, they were good for business,  they were good for serendipity. I personally took Robin Linden by the hand and showed her 10 telehub related malls and communities to prove they were not ugly and not laggy."

"But - in vain, as the Lindens pulled them. We as land barons then demanded compensation if we had bought the land on the auction, not knowing they were going to do that. And to their credit, the Lindens made a compensation deal. They bought back the land on a formula, or you had another option which they came up with later. First they took all those hated telehubs and turned them into infohubs with hippos in them. These were widely ridiculed. Hippos is a Linden inside joke. The infohubs did terribly. Nobody wants to go to a state-sponsored propaganda stand, which is what it was. So they then said they'd open it up to resident developers."

"Where did that come from, for those who don't know?" I asked about the Hippo joke.

"It's explained on an SL wiki somewhere," Prokofy explained, "somewhere in the SL code or something when you turn up a page it says 'hippos.' It's a placeholder perhaps. I remember I used to see that "hippos" in the old days when things loaded. So they had actual hippos on all perms they handed out that people could modify and make into things, I have one in my infohub. He is very miniature, wearing a fez cap, and you can click on him for the history of the telehub."

"Then we entered the flourishing Renaissance period when we developed all those hubs, with Linden cooperation and blessing, then they abandoned us with them. For a time, they had newbies able to opt to go to them, or be randomly delivered to them. See that was the issue. People said, 'you've just cut off all our traffic and business, all our customers by pulling those hubs and re-directed it now to your oldbie friends and their boutiques or new sims that were being build WITHOUT telehubs.' "

"Imagine, first they build the continent called the Moth Continent with NO HUBS. Literally you had to take a boat or plane there. They thought this would be more 'organic' and would 'prevent blight.' We pointed out acidly that the people buying their shiny (then) new land were not the people who wanted 'nature' in SL who didn't have the money to buy land. So we deserved telehubs. I found out to my shock that the Linden who built Moth Temple, who came and gave a talk to us once on his ideas and where he drew his images from in real life, that they could have made it a telehub sim with one rez and click, just like you do on your own island. There was no 'complexity' to it -- just an ideology."

"FINALLY after a huge battle, they added the telehub object/script to Iris, the Moth Temple sim and some others. Then they put in p2p, changing the economy forever. In some ways I think it never recovered. The Lindens have always wanted content creation, not land, to drive the economy."

I asked, "So point to point teleporting wrecked the Second Life economy?"

"Here's the thing Bixyl," Prokofy told me, "for unskilled newbies, for unskilled anybody, land is how you participate in the economy. Not everybody is a computer programmer or a graphic designer. But single black moms from Detroit, and disabled retired postal workers in Cincinnati -- or a single mom in HUD housing in NYC like me -- could become business people in SL by having land as their opener. They could buy and sell it, they could put rentals onit, they could make a club, they could make a mall by commissioning others to build, they could make some other activity like live music, etc. None of this required skill, it only required sweat equity. A truck driver could become a famous dress maker in SL, but she needed to break into the market somehow, and the telehub malls gave her that opening. That was made possible by land barons."

"Anyway you get the idea I think. Land is very important not only for the Lindens' business model but the SL economy itself."

I asked, "Was there any proposed compromise, such as making point to point teleporting available only to premium account holders?"

"Oh no," was Prokofy's answer, "because they flooded in free accounts. A lot of people didn't want them. They brought griefers, they said. I personally was happy to have them because it meant that an Italian shoemaker who couldn't get a US credit card could make money in SL even if he had no premium account with a credit card. That was hugely important. I had many customers who had NPIOF who made money in SL as dressmakers or club owners and then they had a little bit to pay for rent -- they never cashed out. There were many people who never had a dollar leave SL, they lived, worked, paid for their content inside the world because the freebie accounts were made possible."

"What I discovered from 10 years of having low-cost rentals, there is a high number of women in SL from ages let's say 30-50, or even up to 70. Many are married, and their husbands don't want them to make frivolous expenses. They hate the idea of recurring monthly fees. So this enables them to thrive. Also a younger continent, let's say early 20s who don't have a lot of disposable income. We used to get the economic statistics. We could see the TRUE population of SL, not this "30 million sign-ups" crap, not even the '1.5 million uniques' with a lot of bots. But the real population of people who spent at least $1 Linden dollar inworld. That population was about 450,000 to 500,000 a few years ago. A tiny percentage of those people could spent the equivalent of $5000 US -- i.e. they made money and cashed it out as big land barons or big content creators. Then there was a huge population of people who spent say $25 US or $10 US That was my market of people, and most people's, people willing to spend the equivalent of a movie or a dinner a month. This market wasn't endless. It was growing nicely. but then various policies crashed it."

"Today we don't know its size because they stopped publishing that information. Remember, I am seeing Second Life through the reverse end of a telescope. I am trying to put together my understanding of it based on field experience. Griefers might reverse-engineer the scripts of SL or the code, which they did before it was open-sourced. I tried to reverse-engineer their social systems. So I made land groups or I made newbie villages or whatever to see how things worked, what made them work. If I had been sitting at their consoles I could have gotten this information from their servers, but they didn't publish it. So I would have to test it in world my self. I made my rentals not so much for a business, as I had a demanding RL job, but to see how SL worked, to see how virtuality works. So I would put stores in malls and stores in fields and test how they did."

"We used to get a LOT more information from the Lindens. For example, I once got a windfall from Philip that was published in the Alphaville Herald. We had this problem of the Leader Board. Remember that? or you weren't here for that?"

I told him probably not.

Prokofy continued, "The Leader Board showed the richest avatars, the avatars with the most friends, the most build skill awards. It used to be every avatar had a profile where you could 'posrate' or 'negrate.' I was famous for negrating Philip, which few dared to do.
Posrate got gamed. Posrates gave you dwell points on that Linden awards system too you see. So people had posrating parties, it was awful."

"Anyway, that Leader Board was sus. People wondered, how did certain people get so high on it? And the traffic was sus. People used traffic gimmicks, posrating parties to lure in traffic, later they had the camping gimmicks. It was impossible to tell what was organically doing well in search: i.e. what people really did go to, without gimmicks or bots."

"So I suggested that Philip calculate it differentlly, not through the traffic numbers in search generated, but looking at the profile of each avatar, seeing their 'favourites' and seeing what that yielded. And it was a very different list than the top traffic veniues. Not completely different, because sex clubs will sell without gimmicks obviously. But it was just very interesting. The people and venues the Lindens endlessly promoted in blogs and in-person appearances were not the same as the people's choice. I noticed that discrepancy instantly when I began to study the map."

"Second Life has always had a lot of different interest groups struggling. I haven't even begun to mention things like furries or Gor or elves. They all had enormous political struggles with the Lindens on various issues. The group tool period. See here's the thing about the group tools, Philip had that vision of the land economy and Buzz, remember, that oldbies hated but he encouraged? But the groups didn't support that vision as we quickly discovered."

"The problem was the old officers' election system. Let's say you made a corporation of 5 people and made a group and made yourselves all officers of the group. Let's say one or two of you paid for the land, the others were builders or just supporters, tenants perhaps. At any time, 4 of the 5 who hadn't paid for the land could trigger an 'officers' recall' and *vote an officer out of his own land group, so he would lose his land.* This was a horror of course. The tools were made by California hippies, techocommunists as I called them."

"Interesting name," I commented.

Prokofy went on, "So they didn't want to have 'tyranny' and wanted the ability to overthrow 'tyrants.' They thought of their own start-up culture where coders often end up throwing out founders of start-ups. But this was devastating for a land market. It ruined private property by collectivizing it. See here's the other thing I have to explain. Originally in SL, the Lindens put an incentive into groups to make them buy land and make communities. If you put your land in a group, it would generate an extra tier free 10 percent, so you could hold 10% more land in a group and pay X tier that without a group would cost more."

"So that's why there were even groups. But they were not suited to *business.* They were suited to communes."

"Devastation happened, like the infamous mall story where a few people, aided by their Linden friends, (threw) a guy who had paid for the land out of his own group. I had griefers join my group as members, then trigger an 'officer's recall.' Oh, what that did was freeze me in the group. I couldn't buy or sell or do anything while frozen. So the only way to prevent that idiocy was to put alts into the group. But you could only have 5 alts under their rules, only 5 accounts per credit card. Most people only have one credit card."

"The other problem with groups is that they lag out horrible and chat freezes, and griefing is a problem. So I solved that problem by making multiple land groups. But I didn't have enough alts to staff all of them. So I would find trusted people willing to donate tier, and give them a rental discount. I still have that system. Some people have been with me for 10 years."

"How has it worked?" I asked.

Prokofy explained, "I was hugely criticized on the forums as being a newbie deceiver by offering people to put tier in my group in exchange for $250/week discount, so that would give them a newbie house for $250/250 prims let's say. They would buy a premium account and put their tier in my group. If they seemed reliable, some of them I could make officers. Back then, I got ripped off only once that way. By and large people were decent."

"But we fought to have that idiotic hippie commune stuff removed from the tools. No one who bought land should be thrown out of their group by chance griefers or drama queens. So then they created levels of powers. You could make it so someone could deed media or terraform yet not sell the land out from under you. The nesting groups of powers were complex. Enormous debates took place over them in the forums, and the Lindens convened various town halls and then separate conferences inworld just on these tools. The problem is that the furries who were open source sandbox technocommunist types wanted to keep the old system without hierarchy. They had arcane reasons for this. They wanted to show 'co-ownership' like a socialist commune. The business people, the capitalists, if you will, wanted one owner, the person who paid for the land. Then underneath that, his tenants or workers, Say, if a club."

"The tools had to be flexible for all types of group use. But some insisted that their model of society like communism be welded into the tools. It was enormously frustrating because the Lindens wanted capitalism on the one hand to give them revenue, but wanted utopian socialism as a world model that they thought Second Life would help bring about. But eventually, those early utopianists left and now some of them cause major havoc in real life with things like Tor."

"Tor?" I asked

"It's the circumvention program for anonymous browsing," Prokofy answered, "Read my other blog called Wired State and you can see my discussions of that."

"In any event, the group tools finally shook out to what you see today,  which still contain some elements of communism regretably. That is visible in what I call a bug, and others call a feature. If I deed a prim to the group, a member in the group, whether or not I've given them the power to return objects from sims (one of the granulated powers in the group), can return that prim. That's horrible because it means griefers return TV sets, or anything that people put on 'share' not even deeded. Let's say they have a chair they want to move around. They put on share for others to move it. But then it can be lost because anything put on deed returned to the server is DESTROYED. The SL asset server, when confronted with collectivized property, destroys it."

"Eventually, the Lindens did two things to try to fix that horror. First, a warning, that did little good.But they also set it so that if the item was on all perms, it could go back to its original owner who deeded it. But if it is on no perms it is still destroyed. Most TVs are on no perms."

"Anyway, I talked to the original Linden who coded that. He conceded it was a flaw. But another Linden disagreed when I kept reporting it as a bug on the JIRA because he thought it was a great builders' boon. If you are in a collective, anyone in the group can return a prim that is in the way or they don't like. But it's havoc for rentals. That's just it again: 'creator as customer' or 'customer as creator?' Do you build policies and tools to feed the whims of a tiny caste of high-end creators who tend toward the open source cultism about property rights --they want to collectivize them away? Or do you build policies towards more typical mass market free enterprise types who want businesses where the griefers can't return the prims?"

"Protection of private property, this is a concept of the rule of the law the Lindens not only didn't grasp; they repudiated it. That's why we had ad farms and Impeach Bush."

"Yes, I remember the complaints about the ad farms," I told Prokofy.

"I have to wonder who was behind the ad farms," Prokofy commented, "I believe it was everyone from the RL Russian mafia who naturally gravitated to extortion schemees on line, to Lindens on their alts to Anshe and co trying to drive people to her island rentals. The plan was to exploit and ruin the Mainland and force people to islands. It worked. Only the hardiest pioneers remained through this awful 4-year period. That's a long time in business. 'Mainland Rentals' is almost an oxymoron, although you see more of them today now that there are less destructive policies. There are actually a lot of little interesting businesses on the mainland. I used to fly around and admire them and tip them sometimes or feature them on my blog. Some of them swiped my rental card (laughing out loud). I have an open source rental cube which I encourage people to use for business."

"This is my point about open source, that it is not to be rejected but to be used where appropriate, I'm not opposed to somehow removing open source from life, but I'm for removing the cult that goes with it which is anti-business."

Prokofy briefly went back to his business card, "Well I don't care if they swiped the card and its ideas. But then their customers would call me because they'd forget to remove my name from the card (laughing out loud)."

I chuckled a bit.

Prokofy went on, "Anyway there are plenty of newer people 2-4 years old doing interesting things. You never hear of them, they are not on the forums, they are not in the news, the sub-rosa life of SL. You have covered some of them of course."

I answered, "Yes, I have."

"I try to cover sometimes," Prokofy told me, "but my blogging is limited now. As we are sitting here, I just got ... let me count ... six new customers. Never heard of them before.  Some new, some older."

"And that's the amazing thing about Second Life. During that time I had one refund. It's a constant process, but SL is always regenerating. People have an amazing, amazing capacity to sustain the horrible storms and purges and blights that the Lindens have hurled at this world, mainly in the form of the technocommunist policies, and bounce back with free market initiatives time and again. The Lindens keep trying to destroy business. For example, they put in the Linden Homes. That undercut anyone with a newbies rental business. I had to close or revamp my communities after that. So many challenges like that, so hard a learning curve. But people keep coming, and amazingly, they start little businesses or clubs."

"So that's what keeps SL interesting to me."

*  *  *  *  *

To Be Continued, In Part Two Prokofy talks about matters such as the new Grid under development by Linden Lab, and last year's Terms of Service issues: Click Here.

By Bixyl Shuftan

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