Take Your Base

or, “Fake War II”

My favorite story by Crap Mariner is a lot longer than 100 words… It takes up most of this post in his blog, from almost exactly a year ago: “How to take a punch”.

The latest schoolyard bully turns out to be Google… or people claiming to be working for and speaking for them, with regard to the “permitted identity” doublethink at GooglePlus. This guy may only be a lone nutjob, or he may be another tip of the same iceberg that occasionally sinks avatar accounts on Facebook.

Andrew Bunner – Yesterday 9:59 AM – Public
If you see a person with an obviously fake name, go to their profile and find the “Report Profile” link in the bottom of the left column. Report it as a “Fake Profile”. We want Google+ to be place for real people to connect with other real people.

Outside of Google — and allegedly in Second Life — there’s this guy. I’m not even going to bother quoting him. Whatever…

Turns out my post of last week was pretty much right. Whether or not we were misled by Google back in February, we expected too much from the company who, if they didn’t actually invent datamining and targeted advertising, certainly turned it into The Way Thing Are.

And the purges have begun.

I have been a consistent user of Google products since before the first post in this blog, when I installed their Picasa photo editor on my hard drive and began using the associated website to share photos of virtuality. Blogger and Picasa are interlinked, making it extremely easy to insert photos here. That “public policy” blog of theirs from February states, in part:

Pseudonymous. Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely—they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don’t want people to know about. People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self. You can use pseudonyms to upload videos in YouTube or post to Blogger.

[emphasis added]

What did they mean, then — that pseudonymous use is permitted only on those services? Was Picasa omitted intentionally? Does the February statement still mean today what it seemed to? Or, will the announced integration of Blogger and Picasa with Google+ remove the permission to use them pseudonymously?

I’m not waiting to find out the hard way, by being locked out of my own blog and photo collection because my Google profile is avatarian. And I will not succumb to attaching my wallet identity to my avatar’s. That’s nobody’s goddamn business, unless I say so — least of all the data scavengers who will try to make it, literally, their business.

All my base are belong to me, motherfucker… and I’m going to take my base… elsewhere.

This blog will (if it hasn’t already) have its 15,000th visit some time today. It may have a different address before the weekend’s done. Once this is posted, I’m going to export the whole thing (153 posts, plus ancillary pages) to an XML file on my hard drive. I’m looking at the option of actually paying (gasp!) for blog hosting service: Squarespace looks pretty nice, and costs less for a year of basic service than two months’ tier in InWorldz. I’m going to join Flickr, too… just in case.

I’m not fond of how Mitch Wagner expressed his opinion in this G+ thread, but I do have to agree with his central point, one I’ve made a few times as well: “If you don’t like the rules, don’t go there.”

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Identity "Crisis"

(a review of the literature)
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Readers of this blog (thank you!) should also be reading most, if not all, of the blogs listed down the right margin out of habit, just like I do.  Regardless… Once in a while I feel compelled to single out their words about an important issue.

The issue of the moment (get ready to be unsurprised) is yet another battle in The Fake War: the argument precipitated by the statements of Facebook’s CEO, followed by the actions of FB, regarding the identity of their account holders and the disposition of information.  It has particular impact on the Residents of Second Life for a number of reasons; chief among them being the occasional vague references from the likes of M Linden (CEO of SL) and Hamlet Au about some form of “integration” between SL and FB… as if a mere population increase will solve SL’s problems, rather than exacerbate them.  (That began before Facebook dropped the nuke on privacy — see the list of articles at the end of “Vaporworld” for background).

Along comes Wallace Linden, fresh out of the test-tube, with his inaugural piece on the the official Second Life blog: “Will the Real You Please Stand Up”.

A lot of us have — here are some of the best minds in the SLogosphere, doing just that:

Dusan Writer: “Linking Second Life to Real Life Names”

Snickers Snook: “Real Life, Second Life. Blurring the Lines.”

Honour McMillan: “Connecting Real Life and Second Life – a Personal Opinion”

Dale Innes: “The real me is having a nap, tyvm”

Dio Kuhr: “I am Spartacus — linking real life identities to SL personas”

Emily Orr: “oh, I’m scared of the middle place, between light and nowhere”

and Botgirl Questi, with appropriate humor: “The REAL STORY Behind the Wallace Linden Controversy”

Department of Redundancy Department:  In my “Vaporworld” post below, and in comments scattered around the Web, I have used the phrase the identity in your wallet.  It’s a deliberate reference, not just to your driver’s license but to the other contents of your wallet: cash and credit cards.  The drive to link “real” identity to pseudonyms is what the latest jargon calls “monetization”.  It’s quite simple: data-mining hits a brick firewall if the account name can’t be matched to purchase activity.  Therefore, the data being mined has less resale value, and neither the miners (EquiFax and their ilk) nor their clients (Facebook, ad nauseum) like that very much.  You need look no farther for the motive of the anti-“fake” side of The Fake War.

Speaking of monetization…  Remember this?  Second Life Affiliate Program, which you can use to place an ad for SL on your blog or other website, and receive a whopping U$D 5 kick-back for any Premium memberships initiated by a click-through from your site.  I love the irony that not one of the blogs about SL that I’ve read since that program began displays one of those ads.

Heh heh

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Vaporworld

Or: “Make sure that bandwagon you’re jumping on isn’t actually a hearse.”

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There’s a lot of buzz buzzing around about the growth of virtual economies — that is, the amount of real-world cash converted into them — in spite of the global economic fiasco.  [Here’s an example]  To me, it seems exactly parallel to the near-cliché about the film industry during the Great Depression: people spend what they can on a chance to get their mind off their problems for an hour or three.  But, to paraphrase a different cliché, that particular honey is attracting a lot of flies.

The latest of these announced its presence last week (13 January), through a press release that was quoted more or less verbatim in various places all over the web.  This newcomer has the audacity to call itself “United Nations Citizen” (UNC, hereafter; not to be confused with the excellent institute of higher learning in Chapel Hill), and — in spite of the 5-part joint venture touted — appears to be the brainchild of one Anthony Loiacono, founder and CEO of “Heads & Tails TV”, an independent advertising agency.

I belong to a group called “Transworlders” (there’s a link in the sidebar here, please join if you’re inspired to). We’re intensely interested in — and generally encouraging of — any new entrants into the Metaverse.  That, coupled with the potential of meaningful in-world employment, caused me to take a hard look at what information was available on the site.

There isn’t much. 

Dio Kuhr, cantankerous author of The Ephemeral Frontier (sometimes I think she channels Sam Clemens), did what I agree is an accurate review of the textual content of UNC’s site in her post “Hell is Watching Other People Shop.”  I haven’t a thing to add, except congratulations — you should click away from here and read it, and don’t forget the comments!  Come back, of course — there’s lots more.

Dio’s blog also references a post by Botgirl on the same subject: “United We Consume: New Virtual World Sees Future as Giant Shopping Mall”. Also worth reading — including, as always, the comments, wherein it is revealed by your obedient serpent leopard that the application for employment pretty much requires the applicant to have a Facebook account. We’ll get back to that… but there’s something even more important to consider. Three lines from the bottom is the (unpunctuated) question: “Do you agree to our terms and conditions set forth by United Nations Citizen“. More (and younger) eyes than mine have looked, to no avail: there are no terms and/or conditions posted on that site.

Now, about that Facebook thing… Anyone who cares, by this time, has probably read more than they need to about the evils thereof — and if you haven’t, I’ll put a handy reference list of links at the end of this. Suffice it to say here that their management all but proclaims “Privacy is dead”, and they’ve declared ethnic cleansing against pseudonymous accounts, particularly those in the names of SL avatars, branding them “fake” as if the people behind them didn’t exist.

Let us move past what I call The Fake War — an intentional double pun, since the culture war over being “fake” is itself fake, in a Wag the Dog sense — and examine the real reason behind the push to integrate social networks with virtual worlds in general, and the raison d’etre for UNC: Money.

Two important and revealing clues appear in UNC’s website. The first is the Flash video in the upper right corner of this page. The second is this text:

“EquiFax provides the backend geo-targeting real-time data mining to ensure that content distributed matches the consumer demographics, psychographics and profiling opportunities only available in-world.” [source] [emphasis added]

Can you say “captive audience for 24/7 advertising”? I knew you could…

Can you perceive the irony in using a few seconds’ worth of footage from Minority Report — a work of dystopian science fiction! — as a positive allusion to the putative advantages of this virtual world? Christ, I hope you can.

The motivation for integrating virtual worlds with social networks, and the push from some directions to link avatar identity to the one in your wallet, could not be more clear. It is to extend the reach of data mining about your private life in order to sell you stuff. Predictable? Unfortunately, yes. Ethical? Maybe. Orwellian? It’s got potential…

Distasteful? Absolutely.

Now let’s get back to UNC specifically, and why the subtitle for this rant almost became “The Lame leading the Blind”. There’s a tagline you can find scattered here and there, including in that Flash video: “where faithful friends(R) unite”. Faithful Friends TV is also listed in the press release as one of the five members of the joint venture.  When you look at the website of Heads & Tails TV  (H&T) — the ad agency, remember? — you find that Faithful Friends is one of their clients.  When you go to the Faithful Friends website, you learn that its Executive Producer is Tony Loiacono. Mr. Loiacono’s biography page at H&T also lists him as creator and writer.

I have no reason to doubt that Faithful Friends advocates responsible behavior about pet care, and animal care more generally, and they seem to be tackling ecological issues, too; all of which could be called Good Works.  Look at the clips available on that embedded Flash on H&T’s entry page, and decide for yourself about the production qualities (and the writing…).  It may just be the way the clips are grouped, but I was strongly reminded of Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  In other words: good works or not, Faithful Friends is a slick piece of showcasing for their sponsor, Drs. Foster & SmithTM pet care products.  Guess whose client they are?  Now, refer back either to Dio’s blog (where she quotes the promotional copy at length) or to the UNC website itself.  Did you find the passage strongly reminiscent of NeoPets?  Where do you suppose that came from, and whose virtual pet care products will be prominent?

Oh, and just in passing… One of the character voices in Faithful Friends — the dog “Racer” — is done by Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR driver.  Guess whose client he is?  And on this page, there’s a lot of talk about the in-world currency.  It’s called the CONO.  [caps in the original]  Gee… I wonder whose idea that was…

By now, you probably see why the title of this rant is “Vaporworld”.  I seriously doubt UNC will ever hit closed beta, let alone a full launch.  I also have the impression that Mr. Loiacono has never been in a virtual world, let alone done the necessary homework… else he’d know that avatars don’t need food or drink, to say nothing of waitstaff to bring it to the table!  And, as to Dio’s complaints about the copy?  It has to have been approved, if not also written by…

[I think you can finish that sentence yourself ;) ]

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Blog-liography:  Facebook, Privacy, and The Fake War

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over” by Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb, Jan. 9, 2010

Is Facebook Killing Avatars Again?” by Senban Babii, The Alphaville Herald, Jan. 9, 2010

Facebook’s move ain’t about changes in privacy norms” by Danah Boyd, apophenia, Jan. 16, 2010

Dumbing down may actually work as a strategy for Second Life” and “Second Life stymied by the secrecy of its avatars?“, by Roland Legrand, MixedRealities, Jan. 14 & 16, 2010 respectively.

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