For the longest time, the official Second Life viewer had a cute if unspectacular Easter egg, whereby hitting Ctrl+Alt+Shift+H simultaneously would cause the word "Hippo" to flash across the screen. (As I recall, a Resident told me about it when SL was still in Beta, in mid-2003.) Somewhere in more recent development iterations, however, the Hippo command has been removed, and Residents have been lobbying for its restoration in JIRA, the Lindens' online bug/feature tracker. JIRA has a voting function to track user interest in a particular request, and after developer Soft Linden promised to add it back to the client "If this gets 1,000 votes", campaigning has been fierce. At the moment, over 900 votes have been received. (Want the Hippo command restored to your Second Life? Go to this JIRA entry, log in with your SL user name/password, and vote on it.)
Here's the strange thing, though, and it suggests the challenges inherent with democratic processes in general, especially with Web 2.0 voting systems:
The Hippo's 900 plus supporters currently make it the most popular feature/bug fix request on the entire system, by far. (Far more, for example, than a request to fix group chat delays, which you'd think is more important in users' day-to-day lives.) And let us be clear: the Hippo easter egg is not, for example, a flock of animated, sculpted hippos suddenly dropping from the sky in an explosion of fireworks. It's the word "Hippo" on your screen. Why do so many clamor for its return anyway?
Two factors seem to be at play: when people don't perceive their votes will make a difference or the stakes aren't high, they're less likely to vote-- unless a particular vote comes with drama and a modicum of fun. (It's why more Californians were way more apt to vote in the gubernatorial race, when the Terminator was running.)
Even more than that, however, is the fact that a Linden developer agreed to act on the issue, if an acheivable number of votes were received. (Lindens have previously said they only use voting numbers on a JIRA request as a non-obligatory guide, which largely defeats any incentive of voting on it at all.)
Which may be the most important lesson here. Democratic action is not enough-- it's also crucial that the authorities also actively participate, and commit themselves to respond.
Heed, oh Lindens, the wisdom of the Hippo.
Hippo image credit: