[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

Andreas Schiffler 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 
it. ;-)

.. Andreas

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