Second Life: The peasants are revolting

A quick note to virtual gods: If you create a virtual world, you’re probably going to wind up with virtually everything that occurs in the real world, and that includes crime, sex, economic upheaval and so on. No one knows that better than Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life, which has seen a variety of such behaviour over the years. This time, the virtual proletariat are up in arms about an increase in what might be called virtual taxes — the fees that Linden Labs charges for various features inside the world/game. In this case, it’s a fee increase for what are called “Openspaces.” Here’s a description from the Second Life blog:

“An Openspace is a type of private island that we made available for light use countryside or ocean … but Openspaces differ from normal regions in one particularly significant way; unlike normal regions that effectively get a CPU to themselves on the server, there can be up to four Openspaces on a single CPU (so 16 on a quad core machine), sharing the resource (hence them being ‘light use’).”

The issue, Linden says, is that people are using the Openspaces for things that they weren’t intended to support, and that is putting a strain on the company’s infrastructure. Just as cities and states raise taxes to pay for repairs to highways and so on, Linden clearly feels that it needs to charge more to offset the cost of maintaining these private islands. Sensible enough, yes? Not if you’re a Second Lifer. Or rather, not if you are a Second Lifer who has built a business based on the services and features that are attached to that Openspace. Here’s the problem as one person sees it:

“There is demand for the ‘original’ OpenSpace ‘void sim’ application: lower primcount, very few scripts, very few avatars–just very light load, and only in areas surrounding other, full-primmed sims. There is also a clear demand for heavier use OpenSpaces–still much lower density than full-primmed sims, but posing much more demand on the backend services than does the ‘void sim’ application. These need to be separated into two distinct products with different fee schedules; let’s call them ‘Void’ and ‘Low-Density’ sims.”

Don’t feel badly if none of this makes any sense to you. I’m pretty familiar with Second Life, and a lot of it makes my head hurt too. It’s a little like reading a science-fiction book, in which the author has made up new words for everything, and you have constantly flip to the index to figure out what everyone is talking about. The issue is whether Linden underestimated what people were going to do with Openspaces and priced them too low, or whether people are misusing the world somehow and should therefore be expected to pay more. Regardless, people are upset.

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mesh: we’re hiring — you interested?

As the mesh conference has grown — I find it almost hard to believe that we’re putting on our fourth next year, but we are — we’ve realized that we can’t actually do everything ourselves (funny thing, that) and so we’ve been reaching out more and more to the community. That’s what we’re doing now, in our search for someone to help with sponsorships and that kind of thing. Here’s the gist from Stuart’s post on the mesh blog:

In the past three years, mesh has grown from humble roots – five guys who just wanted to do something to talk about all the exciting things happening online – to become Canada’s Web conference. Now is your chance to be a part of mesh by joining us in part-time sponsorship sales.

So what’s involved? Mostly, it means working with the mesh gang to manage our existing sponsors and find new ones. So, what’s in it for you? You will earn a commission on each new sponsor you secure, and most importantly, an opportunity to help make mesh thrive.

Are you interested? We’d like to hear from you. Email your C.V. and other particulars to stuart (at) meshconference (dot) com.

Media: Okay, so is it time to panic yet?

I’ve been doing my best to remain calm, but I have to confess that it isn’t working as well as it usually does. I’m speaking, of course, about the tsunami that is currently wreaking havoc on the traditional media business, an industry in which I happen to have spent virtually my entire working life. The earthquake that created this particular tsunami occurred ages ago, and those who were paying attention have long since headed inland to safety, but the shock waves are now starting to hit with real force, accelerated by the economic uncertainty all around us.

Bad news has been trickling in for months, or even years — newspapers cutting back staff, closing editions, companies on the ropes financially. But it’s been a thousand small cuts, mostly at smaller publications, and so it hasn’t really had as much impact as it might otherwise. It seems to be accelerating though, and now it’s not just small papers or magazines but ones that everybody has heard of. It hit home recently while reading through a summary of industry news that I get daily from the folks at I Want Media. Here’s a sampling of recent headlines:

— “Newark Star-Ledger cuts 40% of staff”
— “TimeWarner to cut 600 jobs in magazines”
— “Gannett to cut 3,000 newspaper jobs”
— “Orange County Register to cut 110 jobs”
— “LA Times cuts 10 per cent of staff”
— “Thomson Reuters eyes massive layoffs”
— “Washington Post profit falls 86 per cent”
— “New York Times debt cut to junk”

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Moderators: Internet Evolution needs you

Internet Evolution is a site owned by United Business Media — the company that publishes magazines such as Information Week and Light Reading, and puts on conferences such as Web 2.0 Expo — and its goal is to create a kind of digital think-tank, where ideas and commentary can flow around some of the big issues facing technology and society. I write for them from time to time, and they asked me to mention that they are looking for some site moderators, whose job it is to keep an eye on things and to post thoughtful comments and links in order to keep the conversation going. In return, they get the chance to read some interesting and thought-provoking commentary, and they also get perks like Starbucks gift cards, T-shirts and even cash. If you’re interested, drop them a line at [email protected] and tell them I sent you.

Geek Alert: The Archimedes Palimpsest

I just love the Internet sometimes. Thanks to a link at Metafilter, I just found out that the entire text, data and images from the Archimedes Palimpsest have been released on the Web under a Creative Commons license. Palimpsest is an odd word that refers to a manuscript that has been scraped or wiped clean and had something else written over top of it, and that’s exactly what the Archimedes manuscript is. It’s actually what’s known as an “euchologion” or prayer book from the 11th century, but in order to save money the authors reused some parchment they had lying around — and that happened to include a copy of a manuscript by the Greek scholar Archimedes, including several treatises that don’t exist in any other form. It took four years to dismantle the manuscript and prepare it for imaging, something that was done with some help from the Canadian Conservation Institute, and then to scan and use optical-character recognition and translate the text. All of that material is now online.

Hulu doesn’t suck: Is that success?

Lots of talk about Hulu, the video portal from NBC and News Corp. that is celebrating its first birthday. Brian Stelter has a great piece in the New York Times about the site, and how it has succeeded in part by not plastering everything with ads (a lesson I sincerely hope others take to heart as well). I have to admit that like Mike Arrington at TechCrunch, I was — how can I put this delicately — somewhat skeptical of Hulu’s chances. Not surprising really, given how the major networks (yes, I’m looking at you, CBS) had screwed things up royally with online video.

And yet, Hulu arrived and it didn’t suck. It has a nice interface, it shows pretty good quality video in a nice wide player, and it lets you pause and even embed video. It’s not available outside the United States, of course, but there are ways of getting around those restrictions if you really want to. There’s lots of great content on Hulu too, including some of my favourite old TV shows like Time Tunnel and I Dream of Jeannie and whatnot. So all in all, it’s done pretty well for itself — and it has the numbers to prove it (although not enough for Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee).

At the same time though, I must admit that something bothers me about Hulu (and not just that as a Canadian, I have to jump through a bunch of hoops just to watch something on it). Andrew Baron, the founder of the online video show Rocketboom, came close to the mark with some comments he made on a Yahoo group recently in a discussion about Revision3 and some of the cutbacks they’ve made in new shows. I think what bothers me about Hulu is the same thing that bothered me about Joost: namely, the fact that all the content is… well, it’s just TV on the Web. Where’s the fun in that?

I mean, I like being able to watch or embed that hilarious episode of Saturday Night Live — which seems to have turned off the geo-blocking, since I’ve embedded one in this post — or a clip from South Park, or whatever. But apart from the ability to embed it somewhere else (which I admit is a huge step for a network to take with its content) there’s very little you can do with it. And there’s nothing else but content from major networks and studios — no related content from elsewhere, no uploading allowed, no way to get anything *into* Hulu at all. Maybe I’m just hard to please.

LimeWire media deal: It’s no joke

According to a report in Fortune, the file-sharing network LimeWire has signed a deal with Comedy Central that will make it easy for users of the peer-to-peer application to find and buy legal versions of comedy videos from Lewis Black, Mitch Hedberg (who appears in the video embedded here, a clip from the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal) and others. LimeWire opened a download store in March, but until now it has consisted primarily of content from small record labels and independent artists. The addition of licensed content will make for an interesting test: Are LimeWire users willing to pay for content that they like, provided it’s easy to do so? Or are they dedicated to pirating it no matter what?

Jack Vaughn, head of Comedy Central Records, said that the network doesn’t like piracy, but that it is looking for ways to expose its content to as many new audiences as possible, and LimeWire fits that bill: “We looked at the Lime Wire Store, and we said, ‘Are they going to pay? Are they going to pay on time, and are they going to expose our artists to a new audience?’ The answer was yes.” Whether this attitude shift will help the P2P network in its ongoing fight with music labels over the copyright-infringing content on the system remains to be seen. In an unrelated move, the co-founder of the Kazaa P2P network is also trying to help such networks go legit.

Wassup: The story of a sequel

Anyone who follows me on Twitter heard about this already, but there’s an interesting story behind the “sequel” video to that famous Wassup commercial that Budweiser came out with eight years ago. Much like BusinessWeek marketing writer Burt Helm, I wondered how the video had come together, and how it came to be a partisan election message for Obama rather than a Budweiser commercial. Unlike me, however, Burt Helm looked into it and discovered that director Charles Stone III (who also directed the movie Drumline) retained the rights to the concept, which he licensed to Budweiser for the original commercial. He made the sequel with some friends and colleagues from the movie business and $6500 of his own money, and in just 4 days it has been seen by 2.4 million people.

Does a Web Office hurt Google or MSFT?

So Microsoft seems to have finally woken up and decided to get serious about the Web — or at least semi-serious — by rolling out a cloud-computing platform called Azure and announcing the imminent arrival of Web-ized versions of its Office applications (my favourite response to these announcements came in a Twitter message from Sarah Perez of Read/Write Web). Obviously, the Web Office news is a shot across the bow of Google and its Google Docs — Microsoft is even using mostly Ajax just like Google, instead of its Flash-style Silverlight technology. But who does the rollout of a Web Office hurt Google more, or does it hurt Microsoft itself?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I still think it’s worth asking. No doubt many users of Google Docs will shift to Microsoft’s version, in part because it will make integration with their existing corporate systems easier, or because their employers will make its use mandatory. Others may find that Microsoft’s Web apps offer better compatibility with regular Office programs (something that Google Docs still isn’t that good at, at least when it comes to advanced page layout and that sort of thing). But what about the competition between Microsoft’s Web Office and the real Office?

I would imagine that Microsoft is going to try its best to make Web Office just useful enough to entice people away from Google, but not nearly nice enough to tempt them to drop the regular installed version of Office. But no matter how hard it tries, there are likely to be small or medium-sized companies that decide it’s just as good to use the Web version as it is to pay $300 or whatever per seat to get an authorized copy of the desktop software. That’s going to be money right out of Microsoft’s pocket, since Office generates truckloads of cash for the software behemoth.

Maybe Microsoft will be able to manage the process so that it doesn’t cannibalize its Office franchise too much, or maybe it will err on the side of crippling the Web Office so that it doesn’t harm the installed software versions. But either way, that’s a tricky balance to strike.

Christian Science Monitor says goodbye to print

Last year, a columnist for MediaPost asked which major newspaper would be the first to turn its back on print and try to create a future as an online-only publication, and now he has his answer: the Christian Science Monitor, a 100-year-old newspaper that has won seven Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, said today that it will no longer publish a daily print edition. The paper, which is financed by the Church of Christ Scientist but has won widespread acclaim for its reporting and commentary, is launching a weekly magazine but otherwise the print side will be shut down.

I confess that despite having spent the past couple of years watching U.S. newspapers caught in a death spiral, cutting costs and laying off staff only to see their advertising revenue continue to sink, the closure of the CS Monitor’s print edition came as a shock. It’s one thing to talk about what newspapers have to do to survive, how online is the future and so on, but it’s another thing to see a 100-year-old paper leap off a cliff like that.

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