Editorial: Lessons Decentraland Can Learn from the 15-Year History of Second Life

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Carl Fravel (whom I first met in Sansar, but who has since moved on to become a sort of unofficial ambassador for Decentraland), responded to me when I commented on the Cryptovoxels Discord this week that the creators behind Decentraland have not really paid attention to the history of Second Life, and the problems and scandals that SL has encountered in its 15-year history.

He asked me to give him some more details, which he has promised to pass on to the founders of Decentraland. Instead of a direct message to Carl, I decided to make this blogpost, in case other people were interested in my opinions. As you know, I have written extensively, and with a critical eye, about the Decentraland project in the past.

So, what can the folks building Decentraland learn from Second Life?

First, casinos. Linden Lab shut down the casinos in Second Life in 2007 after an FBI investigation into gambling in SL. I have already written about this on my blog:

I posted a comment to the busy Decentraland Reddit channel, reminding them that the FBI investigated gambling in Second Life, which had led to them shutting down online gambling a decade ago, and asking if anyone had stopped to think about whether the U.S. federal government would step in to stop Americans from gambling using cryptocurrency in Decentraland’s Vegas City district. That Reddit post was taken down by the moderators less than an hour after I posted it. I can only assume I was censored because they didn’t want to spook investors in their platform. I’m not impressed.

Now, Decentraland may be able to skirt around this by setting up in a jurisdiction where online gambling is allowed. However, you can bet that the FBI will get involved again if it is found that American citizens are gambling in Decentraland. They’re probably going to have to set up some sort of system to block users from certain countries; have the developers (and the people who contributed virtual land to the Vegas City district) stopped to consider this?

Second, “banks” and get-rich-quick schemes. Linden Lab was forced to ban “banks” in Second Life after reports of scammers making off with people’s investments (for more details, see number 10 on this list). Originally, Linden Lab’s excuse was: hey, we just host the software, and residents should avoid deals that sound too good to be true. But then, they were essentially forced to implement a ban after a story appeared in the MIT Technology Review. And, if Decentraland does not take steps to ban financial get-rich-quick schemes on its platform, it is likely that scammers with lofty promises will also descend upon it and set up shop. The world of blockchain/cryptocurrency is full of stories of people taking advantage of other people’s greed and ignorance. Remember what happened with BitConnect?

Third, ageplay. Linden Lab was forced to confront a public relations disaster when the news media reported that pedophiles were using the platform to engage in sexual roleplay with child avatars (see number 4 on this list for more details). The resulting scandal led Linden Lab to enact and enforce a strict ageplay ban.

To this day, when “Second Life” is mentioned, sexual roleplay tends to be the first thing that the general public thinks of; Second Life’s reputation has been pretty much tainted by that association ever since. Decentraland needs to think about this before a scandal hits, and set up similar bans, and a means of enforcing them.

Fourth, intellectual property and copyright issues. I have already written about this at length here and here. Go read those blogposts. I suggest that Decentraland put a report mechanism in place, as well as a procedure for dealing with DMCA filings. It will happen.

This is just a start. I suggest that the Decentraland founders and investors read through my list of the top 20 controversies in Second Life, and see what else they can learn from it.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1

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