second life

Chuggers in Cyberspace

I'm starting to get a bit bothered by the innovative fundraisers in BINGO's who are pushing in to places like MySpace & Second Life, because I'm afraid that hunting for donations in the new virtual spaces will put people off the other things an NGO can offer (like opportunities for activism). It's ungrateful, I know, considering the fact that fundraisers bring in the money to pay my wages. And I feel quite ambivalent about it, because at least the fundraisers are agile enough to know that MySpace & Second Life are important developments, which is more than can be said for many campaigners!
So I applaud their drive to innovate, but I'm concerned about face-to-face fundraising leaking over in to experiments with social networking. (According to the Guardian newspaper, face-to-face fundraising "is the name given to the fundraising technique where teams of cheery, bib-wearing young people in the street sign up passers-by to give money regularly to charity via a direct debit. But people who are not fans of the fundraising teams have been known to refer to them as "charity muggers" or "chuggers".)

The participative nature of the social web makes it a place where people can go beyond a passive role, and potentially become part of the solution they want to see. Of course I understand that many folk don't have much time to give, and sometimes giving money is all that is possible (hey, i've got a family too). But what happens when folk in Second Life start to teleport past the office of the human rights organisation, because they don't want to get hassled for a donation? Or when people reject MySpace friend requests from campaigns because they can sense it's just a sting?

I know I'm pointing the finger at the wrong people. It's not the fundraisers' fault that they're being creative - that's a good thing! But it would be a shame to see NGO's written off because something as interesting as Save the Children's virtual yak gets hammered in the same way as Heifer's water buffalo (a critique that resulted in widely-watched YouTube video, BTW). The root of the problem is the strategic failure of non-profits to embrace the disruptive nature of the Net. Perhaps, as some suggest, the corporate model is no longer well suited to public benefit work, and the internet itself will play a part in the emergence of new structures for organising around social impact.

an open source Second Life?

Are we on the way to an open source version of Second Life? A press release by the Free Software Foundation just announced support for the Free Ryzom campaign (, which plans to purchase the online game and universe known as Ryzom from the bankrupt Nevrax company and release the entire game as free software.
"A fully free MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) engine and client/server architecture would allow the development of a myriad of universes, each one evolving its own philosophy and unique content - but sharing in general technical improvements. If successful, this campaign would allow any user to create their own universe and produce their own content based on the Ryzom/Nevrax architecture".
ryzomryzom Maybe I'm getting the wrong end of the stick, but this sounds like it could be a move on the way to an open version of Second Life, which I think would be great. I'm pretty uncomfortable with a virtual world who's founding principle is property development, and I sometimes find it disturbing to read the SL blogs where people discuss their relationship to the SL 'gods' (i.e. the owners, Linden Labs). Nonetheless I'm pretty keen on Second Life because I reckon it has that quality that Jonathan Zittrain calls 'generativity' . So the sooner we get truly open virtual worlds, the better.

Second Life and Bare Life

The last session i attended at the netsquared conference was a demo of Second Life , "a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents...inhabited by over 200,000 people from around the globe". Blow me down if there wasn't a conversation straight away about a 'Camp Darfur' that some people had built to draw attention to the Darfur crisis (& which, apparently, some other people tore down - 'virtual vandalism'). It so happened that i'd just got an email from my office alerting us to the imminent stepping up of our Darfur work, including the online presence. So this virtual Camp Darfur got my attention! How strange, that a prominent subject in this second world (which is essentially a luxury extension to a wealthy western technosociety) should be those who are stripped by displacement to the state of 'Bare Life' articulated by Giorgio Agamben. SecondlifeSecondlifeThen folk started discussing how people streamed music in to Second Life and even hold gigs there , as my new BBC acquaintance confirmed. (She also gave me the skinny on the controversy around the virtual Camp Darfur, which Ethan Zuckerman has pitched in on; he's always got something worthwhile to say so i must check out his blog on it). Whatever the nascent politics of Second Life, it does seems like a platform for remixing and creative intervention. Then I get back to my desk at work and discover that the American Cancer Society run a virtual version of their fundraising run online (Second Life Relay For Life). I'd already been chatting to Erin from ACS at netsquared about their adoption of Drupal so i know they're up to speed on the tech front. I passed the info on to Amnesty's fundraising crew & we'll see what they make of it. In the mean time it seems a no-brainer that, one way or another, Second Life is ripe for some kind of experimental intervention by Amnesty. Closing thought: one of the things I had heard before about Second Life is the size of it's economy, and how Linden dollars are traded for real dollars. Any place with an economy has the potential for economically-related activist interventions, no?
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