YOU AND WHAT ARMY?
Is there a widespread uprising against the decline of Second Life utopia? Reading the Los Angeles Times last week, you'd assume so. After all, the Times reports, a clandestine band of rebels known as the Second Life Liberation Army has been launching attacks on numerous corporate-owned sites, demanding all Residents be given the right to vote, while other Residents are departing SL with complaints that the world has lost its otherworldly freedom.
A galvanizing story, to be sure, which has the only flaw of being, as far as can be discerned, not strictly true. Instead, it's more likely that the Times has fallen prey to a phenomenon that's so common in the mainstream press, it has a name: astroturfing. It also represents another variety of confused mainstream coverage of Second Life, in which the world is taken seriously enough to devote feature length stories to, but not seriously enough to apply traditional standards of accuracy.
I should start by saying that's there's nothing wrong in itself with roleplaying the political rebel; seen that way, the SLLA fits somewhere to the right of the more rigorous social architects behind the Neualtenberg/Neufreistadt experiment in virtual democracy. Indeed, there's actually something, well, adorable about the SLLA. After rushing the Reuters' Davos stage in the middle of a January interview, a chatty SLLA lieutenant told me recently, Adam Reuters praised their enthusiasm and invited them to have a pleasant talk. (Not exactly talking the Symbionese Liberation Army here.) And their calls for a direct, one Resident-one vote democracy have the charming kind of idealism that's only possible when past history is ignored, or just unknown.a feature voting mechanism-- which attracted, at most, a mere 478 voters. Nor perhaps do they even remember the Resident-led petition in 2006 against a widely reviled property rights abuser-- which despite so much acrimony, tallied less than 100 signatures. This is not to say Residents are socially apathetic, as the anti-CopyBot revolt proved. Residents' collective sense of Second Life reminds me of Americans' relation with their country: deeply patriotic to its ideals on an emotional level, eager to rally in its defense, when threatened by external forces-- but come most election days, still not likely to show up at the polls.
Meantime, the SLLA's attacks against American Apparel and other corporate sites caused minimal and temporary damage, if that, and more striking, seem like strange targets, if what they sought was attention. As I've reported before, most corporate-funded sites in Second Life are scarcely and briefly visited, including (one assumes) by the very corporate officers who funded them. Were these SLLA assaults really comparable to a terrorist attack, it'd be like Al Qaeda passing up Los Angeles so they could firebomb a Dairy Queen drive-thru off the I-5.
Which suggests another problem with the LA Times' story: judged by their scant foot traffic, corporate sites aren't threatening the SL community as a whole, because there's little evidence the community as a whole is even aware of them. (That most of these sites are on private islands which Residents must voluntarily opt to visit is left unmentioned by the Times, either inadvertantly, or perhaps because this fact would irrevocably muddy its narrative.)
And while corporate sites still struggle for relevance, even a quick glance at Search suggests roleplaying is thriving. Elf roleplayers still total over a thousand, as do the controversial Goreans. The very new cyberpunk realm of Midian already has some 400 members, and (one of their developers told me) had to cap their membership, for fear of becoming overcrowded. Gleaned from numerous groups, many of the above numbers probably overlap, to be sure, but still far eclipse the SLLA, which as of last week, has all of 70 members. (Not only does the utopia of roleplaying seem to be thriving, so does the utopia of the intellect, with the long-running Thinkers group totalling some 250 members.)
Are the early adopters leaving to any significant degree? (And does it count as "leaving" when a Resident just gives up their land but retains their account, as is probably more often the case?) Perhaps, though from my vantage, it doesn't seem to be.