Avatars Air Grievances

A virtual town hall meeting has Linden Lab's CEO trying to alleviate concerns about pirating.
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For a second time this month, Linden Lab President and CEO Phillip Rosedale had residents convene for a town hall meeting in order to discuss issues facing Second Life's ever-growing population.

Second Life is a massive multiplayer online world, akin to

Electronic Arts'

(ERTS)

The Sims

. Players explore an endless, sprawling 3-D virtual reality where their Internet avatars interact, buy land, set up shop and even (possibly) make money.

Responding to fears evident

earlier this month after San Francisco-based Linden Lab announced it would be raising the cost for new purchases of private virtual islands in Second Life, Rosedale assured current landowners that they would not face a price increase until at least 2008.

Thursday night's rendezvous saw Rosedale focus on issues stemming from the illegal copying of user-created material to customer service complaints and booming user growth in the virtual landscape.

With the surfacing of

CopyBot in Second Life, business owners have become increasingly concerned about having their hard work pirated. Others are afraid that as some rogue residents use CopyBot instead of spending currency, the virtual economy will come to a halt.

Before fielding any questions Thursday night, Rosedale made it clear that, regarding the impact of CopyBot, "there's no evidence that it has any visible effect on the economy."

Pirating the Second Life Economy

Rosedale said he closely examined sales of in-world objects, whether they be virtual shoes from

Reebok

(RBK)

to shirts at

American Apparel

to individually created clothing by residents, and has observed no noticeable repercussions from CopyBot.

"Looking at Wednesday vs. a week or two weeks ago, the number of buyers and sellers is higher than before," Rosedale said. "Again,

top clothing sellers are making more money the past few days than less. That doesn't diminish the importance of the conversation of copying, but you shouldn't be worried about the economic stats."

However, some residents remained skeptical and voiced complaints about Linden's inability to protect residents' work. After Rosedale likened copying computer-language scripts in Second Life to copying material from an HTML Web page, one resident angrily pointed out that users "do not pay to look at Web sites,

but pay to be here. How are you protecting our rights when your slogan is 'imagined, created and owned by residents'?"

"What people pay for in Second Life is

equal to that on Web," replied Rosedale. "Free to be here, pay for land, which is like paying for

a Web site. We'll do everything we can to stop the CopyBot

from breaking people's business. But there's no more way of stopping that than there is a way to stop music from being copied."

Rosedale did announce that Linden Lab is prepared to add attribution information to user-created items in Second Life, providing residents with the ability to see when an object or texture was first created.

"It will help file Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests," Rosedale said. "The second thing is it will help with the formation of groups and policies for people setting their own rules, like someone setting a trade bureau."

Enormous Growth, With Bumps

Rosedale acknowledged the need for Linden Lab to publish more data publicly on in-world sales, especially in the wake of CopyBot fears. Second Life's economy shows that the number of Linden, the in-world currency, has grown right along with the user base. Rosedale pointed out that Linden transactions grew 23% in October, which he called an enormous growth rate.

"Touching on issues of scaling, we've grown a lot," Rosedale said. "The number of people using Second Life daily

has grown from 40,000 to 75,000 in the last three months."

Rosedale said that his company is doing the best it can to deal with double-digit growth numbers each month. But "there will be bumps," he conceded. "I don't think the architecture we have is wrong, but I can tell you, even doing double-digit growth each month is hard."

Residents have already observed extra data being provided by Linden. Within the last few days, the company added the "LindeX activity last 24 hours" stat to the Second Life homepage, which displays how many U.S. dollars were converted into Linden currency over the past day.

"This number is updated every 30 minutes," said John Zdanowski, chief financial officer with Linden Lab, in a separate statement. "Linden Lab has always been tracking these numbers, and decided to pull it out to the Second Life homepage."

Faced with complaints regarding Linden Lab's customer service (or lack thereof), Rosedale turned the tables on critics by inviting them to apply for real-world jobs with Linden Lab.

"I'm sorry we haven't responded faster," Rosedale said. "We're hiring as fast as we can. In our defense, appreciate there are 75,000 people in Second Life each day, and 100 Linden

employees.

"The biggest problem we're seeing with growth is the number of people working here," Rosedale continued. "I'd like to invite everyone out there to consider joining us in working here at Linden Lab. We need more jobs faster. Most people don't realize how small a team this is."

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.