One of the principles of free software is the ability to develop on a platform for your own personal advantage without having to pays IP fees to the framework originators. As we see from the free software movement this principle evolves itself into different models both in software and in other domains.
One of the more revolutionary developments, that of having “consumers” participate in developing their own participation elements, has been captured by Second Life. Second Life has taken this concept of building a framework which enables “consumers” or residents to develop IP within a unique framework. If you haven't yet discovered Second Life, you soon will. One of the Bay Area's latest and fast rising stars in the Web 2.0 space, Second Life has more residents than the cities of San Francisco and San Jose combined. Second Life is a virtual world, using gaming technology, Second Life has created an on-line virtual 3D "second life" where you can create an identity (avatar) and participate in the real global economy via Second Life's virtual economy. Second Life is like a game, but isn't, as there is no object other than living and is somewhat like the "SIMS" franchise, but the characters are all extensions of real people in real time, i.e, no bots or AI generated individuals - at least not until someone creates one.
In Second Life, one can buy land, build buildings, rent out apartments, create stores, sell one's own art or created clothes, set up casinos, dance clubs, porno theaters, surfing centers or Zendos... it's open to your imagination and if you move around in Second Life you can get a very good assessment of the state of imagination within the "real" world today as well.
It is free to set up a Second life account and more than 2 million people have done so; but if you wish to participate in the economy through purchasing or selling any goods or services you set up a PayPal account and you can begin to trade Linden dollars for real US currency.
How does this fit with free software? Linden Labs, the owners/initial creators of Second Life don't make the content. The fun and value added components, some 99% of it, is created by the individual residents who participate in the virtual economy. This is a free software model of development.
I am free to purchase a plot of land, build a home for my character (using supplied on line tools) decorate it through either purchasing ready made furniture from someone's furniture store or build my own. I can create security around my home and can either sell it or rent it out... all for real Linden dollars which as of today have an exchange rate of 267 Linden Dollars to one US dollar. In the last day more than US$1 million (267 million Linden Dollars) have been spent within Second life.
So it's the users who make Second Life worth participating in and all the features are created by this wide community of users for each other... much the same as in our “First Life”. Second Life, of course, encourages the development of these world elements and all the IP rights rest with the creators and not Linden Labs, the “hosts” of Second Life.
However, openness comes with a price
All is not necessarily “Eden-esque” in Second Life as the “openness” of the platform can cause grief due to the dark side of human nature. Malicious hackers have occasionally taken to creating disruptive “gray goo” programs which mess with the world. The most recent attack was on Christmas day where a worm spammed obscenities at random Second Lifers, while replicating itself as green genitalia wearing Santa hats. It wasn't long before the problem was taken care of, but it is an indication that as in our first life, we are never completely free of terrorists.
One of the benefits of Second Life which may yet to be explored is the value in the virtual identities for people with disabilities in their first life which may cause prejudice. Second Life may offer these people opportunities for economic and social participation their forebears could never have even dreamed of. I can imagine a certain amount of independence generated for the physically challenged who may find employment difficult to come by but who may be able to participate in this economy which is only limited by one's imagination and ability to use a “mouse”.
Who knows? It's “Day One” for the new economies. Happy New Year!
Maybe I'll hold my next meeting at a conference center in Second Life.