Another train ride and some time for writing. This time I wanted to reflect a bit on the copybot discussion and I might even follow up on that later. And please excuse typos 🙂
Recently in conjunction with the big CopyBot controversy there was also lots of talk about Open Source. In this case of course in the scope of Second Life and thus the project in question was libsecondlife.
Some people were demanding to ban the whole project and it’s people from Second Life as apparently the result of libsecondlife have not always been pleasing. And especially the CopyBot episode showed that lots of uproar can take place because of it.
But is it fair? Of course at the first glance CopyBot poses a big problem to many content creators in Second Life. But then again it has it’s restrictions. Also blaming the whole project is probably not fair as the potential of good uses are big and probably bigger than the bad ones. Moreover the actual problem is not the result of libsecondlife but immanent to the system, created by Linden Lab. So what libsecondlife did was mainly bringing it to the surface. Of course things could have handled better, e.g.
- there was some sort of advertising of the CloneBot going on (I think the predecessor of it which copied just your avatar’s appearance without saving it). Sometimes demonstrating inherit featured and problems of a system might be good but knowing how alert sometimes one has to think about the consequences. You also need to explain things, how they work, what the limitations are and so on. This opportunity was missed in the first place. Later they added it to their blog but it was a bit too late and most of the residents are probably not reading that particular blog.
- Most of the anger did arise from the fact that this is a very technical problem which not many people do fully understand (because they do not have technical background but therefor are great fashion designers etc.). So they need to get this explanation in a way they understand. I am not sure Linden Lab sees itself in that role but IMHO it would have been good to explain much earlier what the system can and can not do. The Linden Lab blog is at least a very popular place compared to the libsecondlife blog (I also tried to explain it as you can read here).
So the result of that uncertainty is of course fear of your business. Now it seems to have cooled down a little again and as Hamlet writes here, people start to get back to normal. And I also want to state here again that you as content creator are more than just your items. You have a name, people come to you because they know they get good quality stuff and hopefully also good quality service. I personally also think the latter is as important as the creativity.
Now what about Open Source? Linden Lab stated again that they are supporting the libsecondlife project but maybe they missed a little to explain why they actually do. We can only guess but I can at least talk about why I personally like Open Source.
I am running a company based on the Open Source CMS (Content Management System) Plone which is a tool for non-technical people to make it easy to manage their website. There is a big community supporting this product (e.g. we have 200 people with checkin rights to the repository which means this amount of people is theoretically able to add to the project). They are all over the world, communicate via mailing lists, IRC channels, a little now via Second Life, the plone.org developer section and via personal email. Additionally we meet for sprints (meetings somewhere on the world where some people meet to program together mostly on a certain topic) and conferences.
Now why do we work together on the project and how do we manage to actually run a company on top of it? The main reason for doing stuff in an open source fashion is for better quality. Code you produce is constantly checked by others for bugs. It is also in the public which means just everybody (with the technical skills to do so of course) can obtain the actual state of the code, install it on their computer and give it a try. You then eventually report bugs or even fix them directly and feed them back to the main code repository.
It is also some sort of business collaboration because you have much more manpower to work on the project than your small company alone. Everybody involved profits from that.
Of course the product itself (actually more a framework) is free but people still need help in installing it or customizing it as it does not fit every use case directly. This is what the companies involved make money with. They also might create custom extension for it which eventually flow back into the community for everybody to use.
And for the quality argument also look at commercial software and how long it sometimes takes to fix a bug. And they might even just get fixed if there’s enough attention to it. And as the code is not visible to outsiders they also cannot check for potential problems in the code which the original programmers have missed. In an open source environment many more eyes look at that code and thus potentially spot more bugs, exploits and so on. These sometimes get fixed even the same day (we happened to get told about a big at the last <a href=”http://europython.org”>EuroPython</a> conference during a lightning talk and the same evening the hotfix was out).
Another example if the browser field. Once there was the open source alternative Firefox/Mozilla Microsoft started developing on Internet Explorer again because it seemed to them like a potential threat. So without Firefox one could also argue that there would be no big innovation anymore in that field. Other fields might be similar.
According to Eben Moglen, General Counsel of the Free Software Foundation, Open Source also has the ability to change society. What in the last century was steel for the world is today software. While I don’t see software as commodity as he sees it he nevertheless did give a great keynote at the last Plone Conference about it. IMHO it is a must-listen and can be found here.
Open Source and Second Life
Now libsecondlife is not that much different from other open source projects. It also has the ability to better spot possible exploits and get those fixed quickly by Linden Lab if possible (like Megaprims). It also has the possibility to create business (ok, mainly for programmers) but also to help people for a better Second Life experiences.
Here are some things which might arise from it:
- a complete new and better client as it happened with Firefox
- better tools for managing your own(!) content like sorting your inventory or even create a backup of it
- better tools for dynamically interacting with the world
Now Linden Lab also was talking about someday releasing their client as open source. Probably it’s a long way since then as I think they have some licensed code in there which needs to be removed first. Additionally they need to create the logistics and policies in place. Just releasing source code without anything further will probably not work (although the libsecondlife guys will most likely pick it up). They need to have some clear guidelines on how the client will get developed and who has the final word on design decisions. This is normal in Open Source projects, you need to have one big leader who has the final word. Usually this is the founder, sometimes people somehow arise from the group of developers. This does not mean that people cannot follow their own decisions but they won’t be the official client than anymore.
The question is still the support for libsecondlife. Actually it’s not really big support except that they said it’s legal (once at the SLCC and then in terms of changing their TOS). If they wanted to truly support them they would give them all the information they need. But they don’t except maybe some hints here and there. One reason I can imagine here is that they want to test their protocol in small steps for problems. The libsecondlife team will probably not find them all at once but one by one. And thus Linden Lab has time to fix them that way. So it’s maybe a small transition towards open source, trying out how it works.
Now libsecondlife is not completely like other open source projects around because they interact with the inner workings of a complete world :-)This means they need to be careful and need to think twice about what they do, release and how they explain it. If they don’t we have seen the results.
The team has shuffled and changed a bit and now we will see how they handle it next time! And eventually media should make sure that not only the bad aspects are presented but also the good ones as I expect many of them to come.