History with purpose: MUDs and MOOs

I’ve bored friends and colleagues with my stories of discovering the power of MUDS in the early 1990s. I have a massive soft spot for the original virtual worlds (as pictured), but aside from sentimentality there remains a real role for these text-based worlds. Justin Olivetti over at Massively has a great article on MUDs that showcases some of the good ones and the people who play them.

The reason I believe these environments still have relevance is not just because of the dedicated community that still use them. They provide some great lessons in how to create engaging communities and content. Most people tend to think of MUDS as gaming-oriented platforms, which is essentially true. The thing is, their sibling the MOO (MUD, Object Oriented) has that real content creation focus that led to iconic communities such as LambdaMOO. My own experiences were with a MOO used to interact with music collaboration software and its power to engage people was incredible.

So, if you’re interested in getting people excited about a common purpose or just want a great social space, spend some of your development time wandering around a MUD or MOO. I’d also love to hear about your experiences: did you have or do you still have a favourite MUD / MUSH / MOO?

The history of Second Life

Over the past two months I’ve been pretty immersed in virtual worlds history in regards to health innovations (for this book), and it’s certainly been an illuminating experience. That said, this post from Tateru Nino over the weekend is the most illuminating piece of virtual worlds history I’ve read in a long time.

Coinciding with Second Life’s 7th birthday celebrations, the first part of the history covers 1999-2002 – do yourself a favour and have a read. There is of course further parts on the way and I’ll add them here as they are published. If you end up on a history binge, don’t forget the Virtual Worlds Timeline site either.

The full history of Second Life as seen by Tateru Nino:

Part 1: 1999-2004
Part 2: 2005-2007
Part 3: 2008-2010 and beyond

Another Perfect World

In late June, the UK’s Channel 4 ran a documentary called Another Perfect World. It’s a well structured look at virtual environments with a focus on the tensions in developing a ‘utopia’, with World of Warcraft, Second Life, Metaplace and Lineage scrutinised. A 30-minute preview can be viewed right here:

Macarthur Foundation and Bartle interview machinima

Over the past few days I’ve been sent two really interesting machinima that don’t really fit our Weekend Whimsy slot.

The first is a detailed tour of the Macarthur Foundation’s island in Second Life, created by Draxtor Despres. The Macarthur Foundation is a US-based philanthropy organisation working worldwide, with a well established pedigree in funding virtual worlds projects:

The second machinima piece comes from Pooky Amsterdam, and it’s a two-part interview with MUD pioneer and games researcher, Richard Bartle. There’s some awkward moments and some glitchy audio in the interview, but that’s well and truly outnumbered by Bartle’s insights into a range of topics. I found his explanation on the wider societal motivations for creating a MUD fascinating (essentially he was railing against the propensity of British society at the time to judge people too quickly and the MUD provided an opportunity for people to be themselves):

Part 1:

Part 2:

Over to you on the Bartle interview in particular – were there any new revelations for you or points you disagreed with strongly?

Second Life user retrospectives

This may be the future, but Im looking at the past.

This may be the future, but I'm looking at the past.

The Second Life sixth birthday is looming. What, I wondered, were the changes, for good or for ill, that made the biggest impacts upon the community of users, since the last birthday? While pondering this, I had the following thoughts:

“Don’t worry, users can barely remember what happened last week. 12 months down the track, they’ll have forgotten the whole thing.”

We’ve all had this thought at one time or another: we’ve held the expectation that the majority of users will not only not notice the impact of the Second Life event that causes us so much elation, or grief, or confusion, but will surely not remember it in times to come. Perhaps the majority of users have not even held an account for that long.

Maybe that’s true.

But stop to consider this: a minority of users are deeply invested in Second Life. If a minority of users both notice and recall events that occurred with respect to Second Life, perhaps that’s ok. If the minority of users are the people who use Second Life more of the time, then the impact of their memories could be weighty indeed.

Let’s take that as read.

Now combine this with the fact that memories are elastic in time. Things that you felt very strongly about at the time will tend to linger in the memory, and can seem to be more recent than other, less charged, memories.

So, we have a minority of users who, with their investment in Second Life, are more likely not only to have long and sustained memories of things that affected them, but also to continue to talk about those things, and to pursue restitution where things have gone badly. Their effect upon Second Life and upon the community is greater than you might otherwise expect, in this specific fashion.

During the week, I asked readers of Tateru Nino’s Dwell On It blog, and others, to leave a comment containing their memories of Second Life, highlights and low lights, over the past 12 months. I also asked them not to do any research, but to work from their own memories alone. I felt that it was important to ask users who have enough investment in Second Life to read blogs about it, and to respond.

As you might expect, respondents remembered quite a number of things that had happened previous to that time as actually occurring in that year.

The other thing that struck me was the overall number of events that were recalled by each user; i.e. many, many more than I had expected, or could remember myself.

So, with those thoughts, I present to you the list I compiled from the responses I received, in date order, with links to interesting and pertinent information.

Age verification: announcement to implementation.

4 May 2007 Age and Identity Verification in Second Life

5 December 2007 Age verification arrives on the Second Life grid (updated)

Ageplay: in the media, getting banned.

10 May 2007 Child Porn Panic Hits ‘Second Life’

30 October 2007 Virtual Ageplay Still Too Real

The gambling ban.

25 July 2007 Wagering In Second Life: New Policy

The banking ban.

5 January 2008 Virtual Banking – Linden Lab intervenes

Bay City announced.

22 February 2008 http://secondlife.wikia.com/wiki/Bay_City

Trademark issues.

25 March 2008 Linden Lab asserts control of names and images

Havok4 released on the main grid.

31 March 2008 Cry “havoc” and let slip the squirrels of war!

Mark Kingdon, new CEO.

22 April 2008 Announcing our New CEO!

Second Life fifth birthday: who and what is not welcome?

21 May 2008 Calling All Cultures to the Second Life 5th Birthday Celebration

30 May 2008 Calling all cultures? Not any more.

30 May 2008 Shape-Based Exclusion [Updated]

5 June 2008 M-rated avatars disinvited, then re-invited, to Linden’s birthday bash

16 June 2008 LL Hopes For Nipple Free 5th Birthday Celebration


“M Linden’s speech at SL5B viewed by many as a slap in the face of early adopters.” Marianne McCann

“The Linden Prize was also at SL5B. I remember how everyone was anticipating the “big news from Mitch Kapor”, and then scratching their heads at what it turned out to be.” Jacek Antonelli


21 August 2008 Mono Launch

Burning Life 2008.

Ran from 25 September to 5 October 2008 http://burninglife.secondlife.com/

New City Sims.

20 October 2008 New City Area Discovered

Immersive Workspaces.

20 October 2008 Linden Lab and Rivers Run Red launch Immersive Workspaces 2.0

Openspace controversy.

28 October 2008 Openspace Pricing and Policy Changes

28 October 2008 Lost in the void

Big Spaceship.

3 November 2008 Transforming the Second Life Experience


28 November 2008 Winterfaire! Coming December 19 – January 5

13 December Win a Space in the Second Life Holiday Marketplace! (The Holiday Marketplace got underway shortly before the holiday period was over).

Xstreet and OnRez.

20 January 2009 XStreet SL and OnRez to Join Linden Lab!


22 January 2009 Improvements to mapping and upgrade to SLurl.com

Linden Blog.

18 February 2009 After much ado with half-measures, the new Linden Blog is released.

Content Ratings.

12 March 2009 Upcoming Changes for Adult Content

21 April 2009 Update – Upcoming Changes for Adult Content

27 April 2009 What do Second Life’s new content ratings actually mean?

Second Life and Open Source.

30 March 2009 Intensifying Open Source Efforts

Finally, I noted that we noticed several Lindens leaving (Robin, Zee, Ginsu, Katt), but barely noticed those who came to take their place.

See this, Linden Lab? Users matter, and they have long memories.

A Second Life success story: NCI

It has been in Second Life for four years (having just celebrated its fourth anniversary), has over 150 staff, costs about US$13,000 each year to operate, holds 46,592 square metres of Second Life land (and rents quite a bit more), and is among the virtual environment’s most well-trafficked organizations.

It isn’t one of those corporate sites you read about, though. It’s a non-profit group, with little existence outside of Second Life. It’s NCI, a volunteer organisation that ranks among the most successful groups in Linden Lab’s virtual world.


NCI’s basic mission is to assist and support newcomers to Second Life. Originally founded by Brace Coral in April 2005, Coral named the organisation New Citizens Incorporated (though the ‘incorporated’ part was merely in jest), and founded it on the principle that everyone in Second Life was able to contribute to the orientation and support of new users. Even those with only a few days of experience would have answers and information that newer users lacked.

Originally a self-help facility with social events and a building sandbox, the scope of NCI was already expanding by the time Carl Metropolitan took over as executive director in a popular vote in September 2005, when Brace Coral scaled back her Second Life activities.

With Metropolitan at the helm of the organization, NCI expanded significantly both in land and personnel, offering large numbers of classes and events, funded by advertising and donations, and standalone ‘aid stations’ called Infonodes scattered all over Second Life near areas where new users are likely to be found. NCI’s financial picture isn’t always a rosy one, however.

Advertising and donations don’t quite meet the operational bills each year, usually falling about US$1,500 short, which necessitates periodic fundraising activities to make up the shortfall, often in the form of charity auctions. NCI’s charity fundraisers are supported by quite a number of Second Life creators, as well as some corporations, such as Microsoft who donated software to the last big fundraising auction.

In an environment where users only have a limited number of group memberships available, NCI’s free-to-join group sports nearly 9000 members at present, and provides round-the-clock live-help for new users with questions and queries.

The NCI’s watch-words are civility, respect and courtesy, but maintaining a safe space for new users, protected from those who would exploit them or intentionally disrupt or harass them isn’t easy. NCI maintains strict rules of conduct, and enforces them swiftly when staff feel that new users may become upset or disturbed by the actions of a disruptive or abusive visitor. Indeed, one of the main pillars of NCI’s popularity is swift and strong enforcement of local conduct rules.

Keeping an organization like NCI running isn’t an easy job either. While class instructors and event hosts recieve payments from the organisation for their duties, nobody is getting a wage from the process. Senior staff can be under tremendous amounts of pressure. In the wake of NCI’s 4th anniversary celebration on 18 April, executive director, Carl Metropolitan decided that he needed a sabbatical, partly from the daily pressure of work, and partly due to unavoidable circumstances related to the USA’s economic downturn.

Presently, a new interim management team are settling in, with Afon Shepherd and Gramma Fiddlesticks cooperatively managing the organisation until Metropolitan’s return to duty. That NCI works at all is something of a surprise, being an expensive operation, with so many people from all walks of life, from most of the countries in the world, bonded primarily only by the willingness to help others and to donate their spare time.

NCI does work, however, and it works well. If you’re new to Second Life, it’s one of those must-visit places.


NCI Major Locations

A year ago on The Metaverse Journal

Early October 2007 was a busy month. We interviewed Australian Second Life resident Wolfie Rankin on furries – it remains one of our most viewed stories.

The Melbourne Laneways build launched on ABC Island in Second Life.

Finally, potential Aussie virtual world Project Outback folded before it got close to public viewing.

A year ago on The Metaverse Journal

We toured Toxic Garden and discussed the potential of Metaplace.

A year ago on The Metaverse Journal

A year ago we covered the AIIA inworld-forum titled “Are Virtual Worlds relevant to my Marketing Effort?”

The same week, ABC Island ran a CSIRO forum on human life extension.

A year ago on The Metaverse Journal

August 2007 saw some new Australian areas in Second Life:

1. We profiled the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsundays in Second Life.

2. We also had a look at Lake View Waters Fishing World.

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