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The Metaverse Republic, a “legal system for Second Life, with real powers of enforcement originating in user-created tools, and a democratic parliament,” publicly opened its website today. Metaverse Republic WebsiteThough the MR is a relatively new project (“Metaverse Republic” is a great name, but somebody has to be the first to abbreviate it), the organizers are obviously dedicated to the effort, and it appears to have real potential.

You can learn quite a bit about the nuts and bolts of the project by reading this Executive Summary of the MR’s Founding Charter, and by listening to this podcast interview with one of the people driving the effort, from the blog Metaversed. (VB pointed readers toward the podcast yesterday.)

I’m making this item a “Reader Roundtable” and specifically soliciting comments because I think it’s a topic that is going to be important to a lot of readers, and of course, to the organizers — who I know read VB.

So what’s your opinion on the project? Will it work? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Is it good or bad for the grid? If you’re a land owner, is it something you’d participate in? See you in the comments.

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18 Responses to “Reader Roundtable: The Metaverse Republic”

  1. on 17 Jul 2007 at 4:41 pmBenjamin Duranske

    I’ll start this off: who exactly is behind the project? I know Ashcroft Burnham and Mondrian Lykin are involved. Who else? Also, are you guys willing to take some questions here?

    If so, I’ve got to quote omnipresent metaverse gadfly Prokofy Neva on this, who wrote: “I find making governments, as a life activity, falls right up there with things like having an induced delivery of pregnancy or root canal. Not fun, expensive, time-consuming, lots of labour, and the outcome is definitely uncertain — and you often have to go do the same thing again anyway.”

    I, at least partly, agree. You’re signing up for a lot of hurt here. So why go to the effort? It’s a .org, so you’re not planning to get rich. What’s the motivation behind this project? People who are going to trust you to enforce a code of justice on their land are going to want to know.

  2. on 17 Jul 2007 at 5:11 pmMike Gunderloy

    I view this with pretty much the same respect and admiration that I extended to the student government in high school, which is to say, none whatsoever.

    One could nitpick the executive summary (where does one propose to find “qualified professional judges” in SL? Who sets the qualifications? Who pays them? How do you run a verifiably fair democratic election? and so on), but why bother? Given that Linden Labs has made it quite clear that sim owners have completely dictatorial powers, including the power to abrogate any agreement they might make, the whole thing strikes me as one giant waste of time.

    If I’m going to role play, I’ll go for Dune or Gor, not Congress.

  3. on 17 Jul 2007 at 7:09 pmProkofy Neva

    Um, I don’t understand why I’m “bombastic” just for pointing out the obvious truths here, and the obvious problem with Ashcroftian “democracy” — it puts all power and discretion into the hands of a magistrate, which is him, of course.

    I don’t see how or why a system that requires people to cede power to their land in which they invested (even for some “greater good”) or which involves giving the magistrate (Ashcroft) access or hold over land as “collateral” to obtain “justice” can possibly get any serious subscribers.

    I sure wouldn’t come near it. There can’t possibly be any good in giving away something you paid for to an anonymous and ambitious stranger in the misplaced belief that you’ll gain “protection” from it. It’s unnecessary. Various forms of informal cooperation, or even more formal cooperation could be established without making the blanket and harsh weapon of banning or shunning as the centerpiece, or risking one’s land.

    Whenever you drill Ashcroft on this bit, he always gets defensive and evasive, and says it’s all “voluntary”. Oh? And how reversible? There’s always a “confederation” in his schemes that puts him at the pinnacle.

    You would think his much-discredited adventure in Neufreistadt trying to draft a judicial system with himself as chief magistrate (again) would have permanently ended the trust people would put in this avatar. Yet gullible new types keep being found to participate.

  4. on 18 Jul 2007 at 1:15 amTyffany Flintoff

    Somebody tell me this is just being done for fun; that it’s all role-play of a particularly nerdly nature.



    I mean really; Second Life is a platform for human interaction – it’s a playground and sandpit. It’s also a platform which is in truth an absolute dictatorship run by the company which controls it. Sure, we “residents” may come here to play and create and build and script. But come people, we do so at the whim of Linden Lab, who are able to remove the rug from underneath our precious sandcastles at any time.

    Let’s not pretend that: (a) the “residents” of Second Life could actually govern ourselves under the Linden hegemony (I’d love to see you get Philip recognise your “parliament”) and (b) that anything more than a fraction of a percentage of those same residents could care tuppence.

    The comment above about the high school government is accurate. What springs to my mind is a picture of the schoolboy William Hague addressing the Tory party conference with Thatcher looming over his shoulder. Surely, didn’t all of us understand there was something… wrong… with this picture? I’d go as far as to suggest that most people would look on this “government” with amusement, derision, or distaste.

    There are more satisfying ways to spend your time in world gentlemen than bothering us with taxes, limitations of our freedoms in return for “protection”, ceding further control over our virtual land and more bureaucracy.

    True, the Lindens don’t act when they should (I find their inattention to issues such as griefing and land swooping frankly disgusting) and do act when they shouldn’t. But we are playing with their ball, if they want to change it, or the game, or simply take it away and go inside for supper they will. Your Metaverse Republic will have to find another sandpit to shovel sand in.

    In the meantime the population of the grid will be content to live their Hobbesian lives in this virtual world.

    But thanks for the amusing read of your Executive Summary – it contains some comedy gold.

    And there’s a spelling mistake in it.

  5. on 18 Jul 2007 at 10:52 amAshcroft Burhham

    Ben: undoubtedly, the task of creating a virtual world justice system backed by a democratic parliament is a difficult and uncertain one, but it is one worth undertaking because of its great importance to the virtual world economy: a sophisticated economy requires a sophisticated justice system; SecondLife’s economy is presently founded largely on software-encoded systems that prevent (more or less) exploitation in the case of simple transactions. Consequently, SecondLife’s economy is almost exclusively founded on simple transactions.

    To have any hope of building a serious service-sector economy, with sophisticated transactions and arrangements, a sophisticated and enforcable means of resolving actual and potential disputes about such transactions and arrangements is necessary.

  6. on 18 Jul 2007 at 10:58 amAshcroft Burhham

    It is amusing to note that Prokofy has not read the executive summary, and is confusing the user-created tools being developed for enforcement in the Metaverse Republic (a system of automated distributed banishment) with the proposed tools for Linden Lab to implement suggested by the LGSG (that Linden Lab no doubt won’t have the time to implement any time soon).

    As to whether we’ll get any serious subscribers, there’s already one person with 25 rental sims to his name strongly backing the scheme, one person starting a community of two sims working for us, and more sure to follow when the system is running.

    Mike: you’d be surprised at the (increasing) number of serious legal professionals that there are in SecondLife: search the classifies for law offices and you will see what I mean. A large number of eminently qualified people have already applied to join us, and more are sure to follow.

  7. on 18 Jul 2007 at 11:07 amAshcroft Burhham

    As to the point that several people have made about Linden Lab, two things are important to note. Firstly, Linden Lab does not have to do anything other than what it is planning to do in any case in order to make this project work: it is founded entirely on user-created tools and co-operation from landowners. Secondly, although Linden Lab could, in theory, change SecondLife somehow to prevent this sort of thing from working, doing so would require a considerable effort on their part, and not only have they no motive to do so, there is no precedent for such intervention: BanLink, for instance, has never been interfered with. Indeed, what reactions that we have had so far from the Lindens are encouraging.

    For those who generally dislike governments, there are two important points to make. Firstly, the Metaverse Republic is less like a modern regulatory (some might, probably quite correctly, say over-regulatory) government, but a pre-modern nightwatchman state, whose primary function is to resolve private disputes. The system will not make provision for the levying of tax, and, although it will ultimately be up to Parliament, it is not expected that there will be any significant positive regulatory burdens any time soon.

    Secondly, those who dislike organisations of this nature often see themselves as the “victims” of rule-making, without appreciating that they are at least equally likely to be the victims of individual wrongdoing, of the sort that a system such as that of the Metaverse Republic can either prevent or rectify to at least some extent in at least some cases, or be involved in what would, but for a serious justice system with true means of enforcement, be an intractable dispute.

    Prokofy suggests that banishment is a harsh penalty: indeed it is, but any system of enforcement must have, as its ultimate penalty, something sufficiently harsh to make it effective. Do not be under the illusion, however, that every unsuccessful defendant before the Metaverse Republic’s courts will be banished: the penalty is to be reserved for the most serious of cases, including the breach of existing court orders. The useful thing about having at one’s disposal a harsh penalty is that one can use the prospect of that penalty to enforce things that are, in themselves, far less harsh, and so build a sophisticated graded scale of penalties and remedies that are ultimately enforcable but also fair.

  8. on 18 Jul 2007 at 2:05 pmBenjamin Duranske

    Mitch Wagner weighs in on the Metaverse Republic in today’s Metaversed Podcast. It’s linked here. (Sidenote: I’m starting to get addicted to these things. Wilson is a pretty good interviewer.)

    Anyway, Wagner seems to be responding off the cuff, and though his comments are not overwhelmingly negative, they’re certainly not positive either. Here’s an excerpt: “We had somebody behaving badly at the geek meet on Friday. He had almost a macro that was blaming everything on the Republicans in America … and made salacious comments to one of the avs … Several of us who run Dr. Dobb’s island conferred … and we banned him. … I don’t see how adding a layer of avs running around in prim wigs is going to help the process.”

    The host, Wilson, essentially agreed with Wagner, and added that the probability of corruption seems to outweigh the potential benefit of the system.

    My take… I’m a little surprised (though only a little, I guess) that I’m seeing such a universally negative reaction, here, there, and other places. I suppose I’m surprised because it looks like a largely self-regulating system to me. It can only be as powerful as it is widespread, and the only way it can get widespread acceptance is if the people running it don’t turn out to be power-mad, wig-wearing, banstick-wielding, maniacs. If they run things badly, or make terrible decisions, or use their powers to ban their personal enemies, nobody will trust the outcome of their proceedings and so only an insignificant number of people will subscribe to their tools.

    It seems, to me, like there’s very little danger in the system, given that participation by landowners is entirely optional and instantly reversible, but that’s what people are keying in on in their critiques.

    Isn’t it true that if it turns out that they’re actually good at running a justice system, then great — the grid benefits? And if they turn out to have corrupt, stupid, or incompetent judges, it’ll be a non-issue since no one will use their tools? That’s not a rhetorical question — am I missing something about how this is supposed to work?

    In any case, it seems very likely to me to me that some kind of in-world alternative dispute resolution mechanism is going to catch on sooner or later, in order to move the economy from an instant transaction/barter-based economy to one that supports contracts.

    Whether that’s something like this, something that is more personal (e.g. contracts with liquidated damages provisions and mandatory disclosure of real-life information, with mandatory in-world ADR as the first line of enforcement), or something else entirely is up in the air, but in the long run, people are going to demand better business/law tools than Linden Lab is providing, and the marketplace is likely to provide them.

  9. [...] Following our recent public launch of the project that will lead to the creation of the constitution of the Metaverse Republic, Benjamin Duranske started a reader roundtable on his blog, the well-known Virtually Blind. You can follow and partecipate in the discussion on Benjamin’s blog. We are eager to have your feedback, so don’t hesitate! Related PostsNo related posts [...]

  10. on 18 Jul 2007 at 3:31 pmMondrian Lykin

    Thanks Benjamin, that is exactly what I tried to explain in the first interview you mentioned, the one Nick Wilson (who I agree, is good as an interviewer) made to me about the Metaverse Republic. On top of what you say, and to answer Profoky’s objections, I would like to stress one thing: there is a parliament who will be elected by the very people who use the system, who is basically going to decide on what the judges will judge on. We, as the Metaverse Republic, for the reason that we are not elected, are going to provide a framework, a constitution, in which all these powers will operate, subject to the decisions taken by the different bodies of the Metaverse Republic.

    To answer your first questions (comment #1): other avatars involved in the project include Michel Manen and Kristy Laval. Those, together with Ashcroft Burnham and me, are going to work in the three teams we structured ourselves into. And yes, we are willing to take any question your readers would like to submit. Feedback is very welcome in this phase of the project.

  11. on 18 Jul 2007 at 3:56 pmBenjamin Duranske

    Tony Walsh has a post up on this now. He asks a couple of questions I’d not yet considered: Are the judges paid? And if so, by whom? Good questions, especially if you’re concerned about the potential for bias/abuse of process, which a number of people seem to be.

    Here’s a link to his post.

  12. on 18 Jul 2007 at 4:12 pmAshcroft Burnham

    Ben, excellent response and analysis: as you point out, both the need for the system and whether it will be good and/or effective are determined by economics. ♦

  13. on 18 Jul 2007 at 9:26 pmnectarine

    Isn’t that kind of political gaming what Eve Online is for? Except there it has a point.

    It just oozes pretension.

  14. [...] Il progetto ha ora in programma di completare la stesura di una costituzione, e mettere in funzione tutti i diversi organismi previsti. Per i dettagli, vi consigliamo di consultare l’Executive Summary (in inglese), e le altre informazioni che potete trovare sul sito Potete trovare altre notizie in inglese su (intervista podcast di Nick Wilson a Mondrian Lykin) e VirtuallyBlind (tavola rotonda con i lettori da parte di Benjamin Duranske). [...]

  15. on 01 Aug 2007 at 8:04 amSLJustice

    Dedicated to virtual freedom.


  16. [...] Virtually Blind blog has an interesting discussion underway on the whole concept. What do you think – does Second Life need a [...]

  17. on 06 Apr 2008 at 8:29 pm“We teh People” « Ilse’s Blog

    [...] in virtual worlds than they do now. I’m not too worried about that anymore. Judging by the overwhelmingly negative response on the roundtable post at Virtually Blind, they’re going to have a very uphill battle trying [...]

  18. [...] [10] Comment by Mike Gunderloy, July 17, 2007 at 5:11 p.m., [...]

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