August 29th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
The picture below? That’s my avatar in Second Life. His name is ‘Benjamin Noble’ and he’s been my representative in that virtual world from the beginning. But why should you believe that? So far, you’ve had no way to know the real name, geographic location, gender, or age of the person controlling ‘Benjamin Noble.’ That’s about to change, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I even think that somewhere in his little pixelated cortex, my avatar is happy too. (Sidenote: thanks to Nobody Fugazi from Your2ndPlace.com for the custom shirt for ‘Noble’).
Why is ‘Benjamin Noble’ about to become so much more closely tied to me? Because Linden Lab just rolled out details on identity verification.
The system is ostensibly focused on verifying age for access to adult areas, but Linden Lab didn’t limit it to age. So the long term impact will not be limited to adult content providers (though I suspect they’re mostly just fine with knowing they’re not letting kids access their material). The people who will most benefit from this are business people and professionals who have been limited by an inability to prove who we are, know who we are talking to, and make enforceable agreements in-world.
That all changes, once verification goes live. The long-term possibilities are huge. Off the top of my head, I see contracts executed in-world, legal representation that starts in-world, and virtual employment that goes beyond warming camp chairs. And that’s just the beginning.
The important details are:
- Verification is voluntary.
- You can verify your age, location, gender, and/or name.
- You can do it piecemeal (e.g. just age, for access to restricted content).
- If you don’t verify age, you can’t access restricted parcels.
- It will be free at first, but there will be fees imposed later.
Some readers aren’t going to like this, but it will help ensure the success of the grid as a place for business, which is good for everybody in the long run. Previously, the lack of any way to prove who you are in virtual worlds made contracts functionally impossible. Not any more. The full impact won’t be known for a while, and there are sure to be some snags, but overall, I am convinced that this was a necessary, positive step that will help move the economy beyond point-of-sale transactions.
As the post from Robin Linden says:
[F]or Residents, it gives them the chance to independently verify certain aspects of their identity (their name, age, location and sex for instance) if they choose to. This will help establish trust by removing a layer of anonymity for those they interact with. It’s much easier to trust someone who puts their name behind their words and actions.
For lawyers who are contemplating a virtual world practice, it’s fantastic news. I have, in the past, cautioned attorneys against giving legal advice or taking on representation that is entirely in-world on the grounds that if they didn’t know who their clients were and where they were located, the lawyers would run a serious risk of creating a conflict of interest, and potentially be on the hook for unauthorized practice of law. Now, I’d modify that advice. Attorneys who are giving legal advice to anonymous avatars are potentially making a big mistake, but with verification on both sides and sufficient attention paid to local rules on attorney-client confidentiality, contact with clients and potential clients via avatars is much more reasonable.
[Note: Edited August 29, 2007 for clarity per comment #10.]
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