[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor
aschiffler at ferzkopp.net
Mon Mar 5 09:08:33 EST 2007
Michel Bauwens wrote:
> I say we need strategies which work with the passion of the peer
> producers, that take them seriously (does not assume they are dumb and
> unaware of exploitation).
In response to this very good analysis, I want to throw in an comment
about the technology dependence of these strategies (aka, I am a
technologist and can respond best in those categories).
What has arguably worked best in the past are systems that require a
minimum of technology for the individual participant - allowing them to
"plug in" easily. A good example is Wikipedia. Wikipedia allowed people
to contribute with "just a browser" - even the text based "lynx" browser
works. What's more, the interface was designed so that one didn't even
have the hurdle of "logging in" - just click the [Edit] button and type.
The servers and software that run Wikipedia were similarly "minimal" at
the onset and only needed to be expanded when traffic grew due to the
popularitly (see http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_servers and
Going back to the strategy argument: the simple fact that a system such
as "Wikipedia" can run with these relatively modest hardware
requirements helps greatly to keep the system operational through
individual support and donations only - thus keeping it a relatively
"corporate and ad-free" zone. Currently the Wikipedia system is run on
about 100+ machines which are mostly caches. Now if we compare that to
the 4000+ machines of SecondLife mentioned on previous threads - about
20 times more - it is easy to see why a system like SL is only viable in
a "for-profit" scenario.
One conclusion that one can draw from this observation, is that systems
operating at the high-end of technological capability such as SL are not
very viable to be open (although that can change over time, as
technology becomes better). This is similar to and extends the arguments
about our digital divide: access to the Internet requires a certain
amount of $ leaving behind the part of the world that has only 2cents.
Access to a Virtual World requires requires even more $$$ further
skewing the economics of "free and participatory".
Getting back to a strategy: What has to happen to facilitate a truly
open virtual world? I think is likely best done as a massively connected
distributed-computing system - a fragmented amorphous "Matrix" with
minimal central server requirements similar to some of the P2P networks
in existence today.
I could envision an open collaborative effort where participants
contribute not just give their "labor" and their presence but also some
bits and bytes form their harddrive, the idle CPU cycles of their
screensavers and some connectivity to provide the resources that make up
the VR in the first place. Thus what would be needed is a software that
allows participants to contribute "Micro-Matrices" to the whole pool. I
could see this being build out of existing OpenSource software; Linux as
the base to get the hardware to go, building on networking technologies
such as BitTorrent and Tor (http://tor.freehaven.net/), enabling grid
computing similar to distributed.net, adding creative tools such as Gimp
and Blender, supporting existing document technologies via OpenOffice
like apps, providing communications via HTML, JXTA
(http://vop2p.jxta.org/), H.264 and Jabber protocols.
Such a software might actually challenge the "Operating System + Deskop"
metaphor sold by Microsoft and Apple. What if operating a PC means
actually "plugging into a virtual world" in an equally give-and-take
manner. If this would take hold, it might help free the Internet from
the stranglehold of the "Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line" (ADSL)
economy: the A means that most current broadband connections are too
slow for uploads, disallowing individuals to operate servers effectively
from home, hence inhibiting technologies such as the ones described above.
While at this point in time such a software or developments are more
Fiction than Science, keep in mind that Nintendo is probably working on
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