Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Virtual Legacies

I mentioned that I was giving a presentation at Jaymin Carthage's relaxed Beyond Blogging Conference yesterday. I did and everybody survived. However there were problems with my mic - although many came up to me afterwards and said there weren't. Sigh ... at least some people managed to miss some of my pearls of wisdom. For those who care, this is a brief synopsis of my portion of the agenda. :)

Why? As a content creator it is intriguing to think that my creations will live after me.

Context? I will touch on a variety of sites/virtual worlds but my comfort level is in Second Life. I also need to emphasize that I’m not a lawyer and nothing included in this presentation could be considered a legal opinion. It is simply my understanding of the language published on various sites.

I have blurred out the name of this store because I don’t want to contravene the SL T of S and reveal real life information about a resident. However, please understand that much of what I’m going to discuss is well known within this resident’s circle.

This woman’s profile discusses the values she applies to her creations and their sale. It also has a link in her picks to her store – this store. I took this photo a day ago. Her real life talents have been brought into Second Life and she shares them with the rest of us in these fabulous creations. Her store of course sells them and gives you the opportunity to add one of these clocks to your inventory.

What you will not find in her profile, what is not mentioned in her store, is that this resident’s real life persona died in July of 2008. So, although she no longer exists in the physical realm, her account and creations live on in Second Life.

Whenever I encounter this in Second Life it makes me, as a content creator, consider once again the possibilities of my own ongoing legacy in this virtual world. In addition though I start to think about all the other ways we touch the greater virtual space and the additional legacies I might leave.

To encourage you to start thinking about this I want you first to start creating a mind map of your virtual footprint.

This is not an exhaustive display of the possibilities for those of us dancing around in the online jungle. I hope, however, that you can look at it and start to realize how widely most of us are making our presence felt – if only in a small way.

Once I had started thinking about my virtual footprint, I then started to wonder how likely it was that what I did in those venues might exist long after my active participation ended.

My first question concerned how easy it would be to ensure that my virtual identity continued long after I was no longer around. I read a lot of Terms of Service (almost went blind) and this is my understanding of the contents (remember I’m not a lawyer).

There are 3 basic approaches as exemplified by these sites:

1. Second Life - explicitly allows for an account to be willed to another person – however, be prepared to do a lot of proving that the original holder is in fact dead and wanted the new owner to have it.

2. Blogspot - implicitly allows blogs to be handed down through generations – they do this by allowing more than one person to operate a blog. So if you wanted to ensure its continuation you would add another blogger (one you’ve chosen specifically to carry on if something happens to you) and use the blog as a baton in a relay race.

3. World of Warcraft – explicitly denies you the ability to transfer, share, leave your account to another.

My next question was related to the probability that my creations would live after me. I felt I should expand the definition of “creation” from just an SL product to include this blog, my photos on Flickr or Koinup, etc. The answer was a bit surprising and I think the same lawyer wrote most of the clauses in the various Terms of Service.

In most cases you grant content rights for material you submit to the site in some paraphrase of “a royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to reproduce and distribute your content”. In some cases they include the provision that the content may be used by/on technology not yet conceived of or invented.

My conclusion is that it is probable, not just possible, that Honour and her creations, photos, blogposts and even comments on other blogs, will exist in the virtual realm long after her real life persona has died.

I would like to extrapolate now and suggest how this ongoing existence might look. Jessica Qin discussed the future of virtual worlds this morning and my vision would seem only different in architecture (and of course depth, but I’m not a technical person). To paraphrase from the 80’s, I see the management of our virtual data developing along a relational track.:)

There’s a lot of discussion in blogs and panels about a Universal Identity. In my mind this would mean that Honour would have one profile, one set of friends, one inventory etc. and would bring that with her to the various virtual worlds. Her need for Facebook or MySpace, Plurk or Twitter would be non-existent because all of that profiling/journaling would take place in her profile.

Her ability to communicate on an individual level, with the world at large, through voice/chat/photos/videos would be facilitated by a real world HUD which expedited publication in a central forum.

However, and I recognize that many adherents will disagree, I think that games like WoW will find themselves marginalized if they don’t allow for your primary virtual identity to participate in the same way the rest of the virtual world does. They may become what board games are to real life today – an occasional diversion. But they won’t have the appeal that they do now simply because they won’t “play nice” with the rest of the metaverse.

To illustrate the many ways our legacies could be realized I’d like you to consider my virtual descendant.

  • This incarnation of Honour McMillan is into vintage and antiques, so she operates her business out of a SteamPunk Castle built by Alex Bader in 2008.
  • She oversees the marketing and distribution of all creations by the various Honour McMillan’s to all of the virtual worlds. She also responds to queries from people who own antique Honour McMillan creations that have been handed down in successive inventories.
  • This Honour is the 17th generation voice on the blog – originally entitled Honour’s Post Menopausal View of SL, the title as well as the scope has changed over the years to reflect the wider metaverse. The original posts on this, as well as all other contemporary blogs, provide valuable information to future researchers.
  • Honour’s plurks/tweets/ and other daily journaling venues were merged and musings are currently made by voice which is transcribed by the rl HUD and added to her profile. This HUD also allows her to publish visual recordings in real time. Material from the original Flickr and Koinup are still available and provide many people with full times jobs curating exhibitions. Many very wealthy individuals collect visual art works by their favourite virtual artists.

I won’t continue this flight of virtual fantasy but I hope you get some idea of the ways in which our current contributions to the virtual world might still be a part of the future metaverse.

I do like the idea that my creations and even my virtual identity will live long after me. My concern would be that the movement towards that future would appear accidental/disorganized.

It won’t be technology which dictates the future of the metaverse … it will be policy. And I readily admit that a virtual legacy is not world peace and isn’t something that the entire community needs to shut down and address.

However, it seems to me we all, providers, hosts & residents, are part of the beginning of the metaverse. We are by commission and omission defining the future of the virtual realm.

We all know how badly the virtual world deals with changes to direction or policy. Waiting 20 years and then deciding that history will be deleted is not a strategy designed to ensure success. :)

I think it’s time that we got together and proactively decided some fundamental policy statements. Something that everybody can live with and something that ensures the kind of future we’d like our descendants to have.

One last comment. Since I am talking primarily about legacies. I think it’s worth thinking about what you’d like your legacy to be. Personally, I don’t want to be remembered for say making fun of the way other people look. So if you know how you’d like to be remembered, then it is incumbent upon you to live your virtual life in that manner now.

There, lecture over. :)


Anonymous said...

Honour - It was a great presentation and I learned a lot from it. Certainly you mentioned a lot of issues that had never occurred to me. I wish that the audio had been better (although I could hear you) and I REALLY wish it had been recorded. There was a lot of good discussion in the chat afterwards as well. Thanks for making the effort to educate us all!

Honour McMillan said...

ahh you're too kind - what I did was ramble on about something that interested me :)

Cristopher Lefavre said...

Great summary Honour! Thanks for publishing it:-)

One thought occurred to me though: I actually would not want the avatar Cristopher Lefavre live on after my RL death. He is closely connected to me, so he should really die with me.

If I had a thriving business though I'd certainly would like to let it live on, especially if some of my RL (or virtual?) descendants wanted to run it, or sell it for that matter.

But in SL per now there is no such thing as a company that can have an inventory of its own and be transferred between avatars in a controlled way. That is a missing feature I think would be useful for further developing the business world in SL.

Honour McMillan said...

interesting Cris - I wonder if it's possible to use Group for the transfer of inventory associated with a store.

So I won't plan to meet you for coffee in the next century :)

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