Saturday, November 29, 2008

Peer-to-peer production

Here are three cancer spots:
You can take your pick, but everyone
Wants skin.
My friend, last night I walked outside
And watched the stars do nothing at all unusual.
Ask anyone:
Describe the stars.
That's exactly how they looked.
And even
If I dressed them up as children,
Gave them wagons, cakes, and birthday boots,
Then broke their fingers one by one until they said
It's only you they shine for,
I know what you'd want:
You'd want more.

(Excerpts from James Krusoe's poem "You Want More" in History of the World)

Type of activities

In SL, you don't need to eat, don't need to sleep. There's nothing you need to do. What type of activities would you engage in?

Currently people use SL mainly to manufacture desires and fulfill them. These desires are, mentioned by Philip Rosedale at his talk at SFAI, a big house, a Ferrari, to look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt...

Rather than constructing our identities via commodities and appearance enhancements, why not use SL to explore and model problems in real life to try to solve them? The most fun way to solve problems is collaboratively and SL provides a platform to do so.

Contrary to the belief that if values are left open (undefined) and the architecture and structures are left open (unconstrained), then society (SL) would self-order to be directed towards useful applications, promote innovation, and provide experiences that are exciting, thought-provoking and fulfilling, this is not the case as the main activity in SL is vapid consumerism. If we want certain values, goals, objectives for SL, we have to first define them explicitly, and then build the architecture, structure, and user interfaces to materialize them. (This is an application of Lessig's proposition for cyberspace to SL.

If some of these goals are to encourage widespread participation, to remove language barriers in order to promote communication and understanding in a transnational virtual world, and to explore and understand real world problems rather than consumerist fantasies, then put in the structures to enable them. Currently, these goals have not materialized: only a small portion of people continue to stay in SL after trying it out, providing seamless translations of languages across different countries and cultures is not a priority (even though this is a potential of SL that is stated by Philip Rosedale at his SFAI talk) and translators are not provided by default but need to be purchased. and the main activity in SL is shopping.


In Maneki Neko, a short story by Bruce Sterling, people carry a handheld wireless device similar to the iphone to organize, manage, and communicate work that needs to be done. The network keeps track of the tasks, and the interest and skills of participants, in order to assign the tasks to the appropriate participants. (

This is trivial to do in SL. Instead of assigning tasks as in Maneki Neko, participants pick whatever they want to work on. When a participant enters SL, s/he can open a window to see what tasks need help on, what avatar roles s/he can fill. This solves some of the current problems in SL: feeling purposeless, not having fulfilling experiences, going to a lot of empty places and not finding many people to talk to.

Avatar-roles may include animals, such as sharks, actors in an installation or play (to be described in the Narrative section) or roles that do not need a body (frees up attention to focus on the task, to be described in the Representation section). Trainers are on hand to teach participants who are interested in helping with any avatar role. Afterwards, the participant can herself/himself be a trainer.

The aim of peer production and processes is to encourage the most widespread participation. (Michel Bauwens writes about peer production in "The Political Economy of Peer Production,"

With immaterial production in the information environment, such as SL, Yochai Benkler writes that people will “apply behaviors they practice in their living rooms or in the elevators – ‘Here, let me lend you a hand,’ or ‘What did you think of last night’s speech’ – to production problems that had, throughout the twentieth century, been solved on the model of Ford and General Motors. The rise of peer production … is as rational and efficient given the objectives and material conditions of information production at the turn of the twenty-first century as the assembly line was for the conditions at the turn of the twentieth. The pooling of human creativity and of computation, communication, and storage enables nonmarket motivations and relations to play a much larger role in the production of the information environment than it has been able to for at least decades, perhaps for as long as a century and a half.” (

Appreciation, reward:  Participants send each other thank-you messages which are listed in the profile. Participants also award each other points for useful work, friendly behavior, artistic/original ideas that undermine the status quo. These structures are put in place to encourage and reenforce desired behavior — many online social sites already use this method effectively. They also make the participants feel appreciated for their efforts, an alternative to monetary reward.

A balance has to be struck between showing appreciation and encouraging participants to do a task in order to collect points and build up their status/self image. If this is done successfully, it would build a sense of community and encourage collaboration.

Some services should be paid &mdash services that are in need, that take a lot of effort to accomplish, and require monetary compensation in order to be available. A structure would be set in place to do this. A possible scenario: people who would like monetary payment indicate that in the database, and donations would be directed towards work that have been voted the most useful. People can also donate directly to a particular service, or commission or pay for work, in addition to donating to a general fund.

Research and knowledge production

What better place to collaborate and discuss how to solve FL problems in SL, than the social, collaborative environment of SL? This can be done both in SL, and outside on easily accessible web browsers. Discussions may revolve around:
What type of FL problems can be effectively and creatively addressed in SL? (E.g. gender identity and representation is a good match.)
Defining the FL problem — what aspect can be studied and achieved in SL?
Modeling the problem in SL, including communication structures that would be useful for collaboration.


What is unique to Second Life (SL), compared to other web social and collaborative spaces, is that participants represent themselves in the form of a 3D avatar that they create. This makes SL an ideal social space to explore gender identity and representation -- how changing one's representation in turn changes how one is perceived and treated by other people, and thus one's subjectivity.

The current user interface of SL turns it into a Malibu-land of Kens and Barbies. The first thing I am confronted with is the choice of two gender types, either female or male, and I have to choose one in order to proceed, and a list of starting looks which reenforce the female/male binary. Instead of pushing this binary to its polar extreme, why not build on the progress that has been made in gender studies over the past half century?

Why not have the default starting gender to be intersex, to be both female and male. Afterwards participants can change to one gender or the other, or varying degrees of both, and later, change again. This can be presented as an empowerment. Present a society where to be intersex is normative, and perceived to be positive instead of negative. Reenforce desired behavior. Online social spaces already do this effectively by putting in place structures of reward -- awarding points or listing messages such as compliments in each participant's profile. Make it hip to have looks and behaviors that are creative and original expressions against the binary female/male looks. This is not difficult to do especially if presented well: in FL we already tend to adopt the goals of people around us.

Because intersex is the starting gender, it will predominate, in the way that female and male predominate now. Doing so will not only put the issue of gender on the table, but interestingly, at the same time, explore subjectivity when biological gender is no longer a factor.

Just as in a fiction, SL can put participants into a society and culture where participants have to figure out what is going on and how things work, and in so doing, experience new ways of seeing, understanding, and interacting. "Since all of us as children are in this situation," Ursula Le Guin said, "it is a relatively interesting and relevant one." She explored the idea of an intersex society in The Left Hand of Darkness. The characters are sequentially intersex: for 24 days out of 26 of the lunar cycle, they are sexually latent, and for the remaining 2 days are female or male.

Gender identity would also be a good area for collaborative research and knowledge generation in SL, to have people discuss and share their observations and analysis.

Tony De Lucci's SL project

"Tony De Lucci’s project will explore the roles of gendered identities. The current proposal includes producing an appropriation of Vanessa Beecroft’s performance VB46 in Second Life. The installation, however, would celebrate differences in gendered identities made possible through the use of alternative avatars. The viewer would log on as a ‘gender neutral’ avatar to explore the performance installation on line. Users in Second Life would similarly be able to view and engage with the performance." (Proposal for Diego Gallery compiled by Krista Lynes)


Tony has a blog Third Gender - Second Life describing his experiences in SL creating this performance. Below are several images from his photo-journal.

Images: Links to

Related readings:

Julia Steinmetz et al, "Behind Enemy Lines: Toxic Titties Infiltrate Vanessa Beecroft," Journal of Women in Culture & Society 31:3. University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Therese Gelais, "Vanessa Beecroft: In Search of Lost Bodies, or, On the Mechanics of Bodies" Parachute 112. HighBeam Research, 2003.

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung's Gas Zappers at BAM (10.22.08-02.08.09)

'Gas Zappers, by artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, is an interactive online art game that tackles global warming. Hung is among the contemporary artists and educators who have adopted video games as a new platform for social debate and aesthetic experience by developing “serious games.” In Gas Zappers, the idiom of the video game is exploited to challenge and illuminate the simplistic notion of quick fixes to environmental issues.

Like much of the artist’s work, Gas Zappers is visually frenetic and colorful, referencing numerous popular and political sources. The animation style of Gas Zappers reinforces and goes beyond the game’s subject of global warming, caricaturing the exasperating and vulgar noise of the political media engine itself.'

(From BAM web site by Richard Rinehart)

Kenneth's Gas Zappers web site includes a video and a blog with many interesting links.

Lynn Hershman Leeson's Life² at SFMOMA (11.08.08-02.08.09)


'Explore Lynn Hershman Leeson’s animated archive of past projects, reworked in the virtual world of Second Life, and interact with other avatars in this dynamic environment. Also available is information on Lifeⁿ, a yearlong Bay Area exhibition series on Hershman Leeson’s work.'

Life², 2006–present (access this address from Second Life application)

Lifeⁿ, 2008–9

(From SFMOMA web site)

Related links:,
More pics at

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Adam Nash, Ways to Wave
Etopia eco-village
Second Front performances

Jonathan Cohen, "Second Life: A Failed Experiment"
Michel Bauwens, "A cultural critique of Second Life"

Jennifer Gonzales, "The Appended Subject: Race and Identity as Digital Assemblage," Race and Cyberspace (recommended by Krista Lynes)
Martti Lahti, "As We Become Machines: Corporealized Pleasures in Video Games," The Video Game Theory Reader (recommended by Chris Bratton)

More links
Leigh Blackall, "Sustainability and Second Life as a Design Tool"
Funny article about cyber-affairs


all around you is construct—
cybernetic animals wearing fashionable genes, and birds
that fly with the gravity and grace of a computer simulation
are turning to flesh that tastes like museli.

—excerpts paraphrased from John Kinsella's poem "The Savagery of Birds"

The Second Life 2.0 blog is for exchanging artistic ideas about Second Life. You are welcome to contribute ideas, critiques, feedback to the blog — just email me for a blog invite.

One of the most exciting potential of Second Life is to imagine how to do things differently or better than First Life, and to set up models or scenarios to try it out. Small experiments rather than a top-down totalistic vision of utopia... Currently most of the worlds created are claustrophobically predictable, and imitate a flattened version of First Life in an unimaginative way.

Think of the possibilities... in Second Life you can: be anything, do anything, create any world, create any type of society. A different type of economy or money-form... non-binary gender types... cities in the sky or underwater. Fiction writers, filmmakers and animators have done much more.

Let's come up with some ideas for what can be done with Second Life. Second Life is a remarkable creation and currently it has not lived up to its potential. Since everything is a social construction why not construct social conventions and structures in Second Life that will result in effects and consequences that we like? By immersing participants in a society and culture in Second Life where we have to figure out what is going on and how things work, we can come up with new ways of seeing, relating, and getting things done that will poeticize and improve First Life.

Philip Rosedale gave a talk at SFAI on 11.07.08 which inspired this blog.