Earlier in the year I helped Josh Sanburn and his team put together a podcast series on building Second Life for the Wall Street Journal called “How To Build a Metaverse” which I’m now really enjoying. It’s great to hear all of the amazing stories about the origin of Second Life told by some of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with, but the stories I’m enjoying the most are the stories I hadn’t heard before.

An incredible example from the most recent episode is the story of how Second Life’s moderation began. Peter Alau tells the tale of how he cribbed together a 20 paragraph Terms of Service using examples from other virtual worlds before Philip stepped in and mandated that the terms of service should be “Be Nice”.

My life was changed forever when I read Julian Dibbell’s article “A Rape In Cyberspace” while working on the literature review for my PhD in Persistent Virtual Environments at the University of Nottingham. The article made me realize that virtual worlds were not just a collection of interesting technical challenges, but that they could become real, meaningful communities and that the people who met in them could be hurt, just as they can in real life. Reading Dibbell’s article made me want to work on commercial virtual worlds that enabled those real human communities rather than experimental worlds that only existed as technical proofs of concept. I left academia, started working in the games industry, and quickly found the Terra Nova group blog that Julian Dibbell was contributing to along with Cory Ondrejka, the CTO of Linden Lab.

Given that the path that led me to Second Life, I was saddened to hear that the origin story of moderation in Second Life didn’t mention it. Peter should have known that people wouldn’t read his epic Terms of Service, but at least he tried to apply best practice. “A Rape In Cyberspace” was already 10 years old when Second Life launched and Linden Lab were talking to many of the pioneers who worked on early virtual worlds. Philip should have known better, but pursued a wishful, naive approach to moderation and Second Life ended up learning a lot of lessons that had already been learned the hard way.

Grey Goo

This wasn’t the only occasion that Second Life’s design was optimistic, naive and didn’t give enough thought to how it might be abused by bad actors. When I first visited San Francisco I hosted a party on Russian Hill to get to know my colleagues only to end up huddled in the living room with other engineers battling a plague of grey goo spreading across the grid that was enabled by an over-permissive API. The API allowed scripted objects to self-replicate and so exponentially overwhelm regions until firewalls of shut down simulators limited the spread and space lasers were able to delete scripts to purge the world of the menace. Shortly after I returned to the UK I woke up one morning to my first encounter with the infamous Goatse image which a resident had pasted across the world so that it would show up on the live map that had been naively been added to the front page of secondlife.com without enough thought about how it might be abused.

Eventually Second Life’s moderation policies and processes got to a good place (Robin Harper was one of the people I spoke to about best practices for moderation when I was working on building safety into Oculus Venues) but the story of how moderation began in Second Life is one of missed opportunities. We shouldn’t just laugh off Second Life’s failings as the stories of swashbuckling hackers while at the same time pointing fingers at the similar failings of the current efforts to build a Metaverse. Multi-user virtual worlds were already 20 years old when Second Life was built and many lessons had already been learned.

“How To Build a Metaverse” is incredibly entertaining and illuminating, but this part of the story is a good example of how not to build a metaverse. You can’t just read the fiction about virtual worlds and ignore the non-fiction. You can’t just talk to people who built early virtual worlds or hire them: you have to actually listen to them and apply the lessons they learned.


Virtual Worlds, Real People

Thu 17 March 2022 by Jim Purbrick

Last week I gave a lab talk to my former research colleagues at the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham about the work I’ve been doing since leaving the lab over 20 years ago. Rather than talk about technology I focussed on the lessons that todays efforts …

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The Art Of Social VR

Wed 03 February 2021 by Jim Purbrick

The recording of my recent Stereopsia 2020 talk about the art of designing social VR experiences is now online. The talk summarises a lot of material covered in more depth in my posts on The Conversation Around Content, A Tall Dark Stranger and Small Places Loosely Joined, so if please …

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0 to 1

Thu 20 August 2020 by Jim Purbrick

Facebook badge

8 years ago London was hosting the Olympics and I met Philip Su for the first time at Browns in Covent Garden to talk about the engineering office Facebook was planning to open in London. By the end of this year Facebook London will have thousands of people working in …

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Replicated Redux: The Movie

Tue 22 May 2018 by Jim Purbrick

The recording of my recent React Europe talk about Replicated Redux is now online and I’ve written several other posts describing designing, testing and generalising the library if you would like to know more about the details. If you’d like to play the web version of pairs or …

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Free Tests For Everyone!

Thu 11 June 2015 by Jim Purbrick

Modern software development is sometimes colourfully described as being similar to firing tracer bullets at a target. Rather than spending time doing a lot of research, design and specification up front, the smallest, simplest version of the software is built and the feedback gathered from its use is used to …

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Investing In Testing

Wed 10 June 2015 by Jim Purbrick

Last year I was talking to an engineer at Droidcon London who was working on an Android app with 100% test coverage. I immediately asked whether he thought 100% test coverage was worthwhile: many software engineering teams strive to achieve 100% test coverage, but few succeed because it’s an …

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buckd

Mon 18 August 2014 by Jim Purbrick

BuckGraffiti

One of the things I’ve been working on since joining Facebook is Buck, an open source Android & Java build tool which is significantly faster than many other Java build tools for a number of reasons.

As well as being fast, Buck gains a lot of power and flexibility by …

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Following In My Father’s Footsteps

Mon 12 November 2012 by Jim Purbrick

Tintin Hair

From 2 years before I was born, until just before I started working on Second Life at Linden Lab, my Dad worked at an innovative technology company with a large consumer photography business: Kodak. From January next year I’ll be working at an innovative technology company with a large …

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21st Century JavaScript

Sat 12 March 2011 by Jim Purbrick

The slides and video of my talk at AsyncJS on Thursday are now online. The video is pretty murky, but the sound has come out fine and you can see enough of the slides to be able to follow along at home. The talk focuses on ways to bring useful …

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Spawning Django Blogs

Mon 18 October 2010 by Jim Purbrick

Since leaving Linden Lab I have been talking to a number of people about doing freelance consulting and development work while I get my start-up off the ground and last week got round to setting up a UK limited company so that people will actually be able to pay me …

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FOSDEM X: The Movie

Sun 14 March 2010 by Jim Purbrick

A video of my FOSDEM talk about Mono in Second Life and our plans for the future of scripting is now online (the slides are also available here ):

Watching back, I was surprised to hear myself say “Hooray!”, “Shit” and “Crap” quite so often…

While you’re catching up on …

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FOSDEM X

Wed 10 February 2010 by Jim Purbrick

Last weekend I went to the 10th Free and Open Source Developers European Meeting in Brussels. This year was the first time that FOSDEM had hosted a track on Mono, so I went along to find out what’s going on with Mono, tell the Mono folk what our plans …

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@scalecamp

Mon 07 December 2009 by Jim Purbrick

On Friday I jumped on the train to London to attend the first scalecampuk, an unconference about scalability, at the Guardian offices.

The sessions were all very interesting and mostly very relevant. I learned new things about XSS and CSRF and Django’s defences against them from Simon Willison, new …

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Bouncaline

Tue 03 November 2009 by Jim Purbrick

Last week I took some time off to spend with Luke and Natty during half term and we spent Wednesday having a lovely time finishing off a game we started a couple of months ago: Bouncaline.

Luke has been interested in making games for a while: he made a level …

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New Widgets

Tue 25 November 2008 by Jim Purbrick

It’s that time of year again where people start asking what I’d like for Christmas and I start wondering what they’d like in return. It’s just the sort of problem that should be solved with social software. Over the last few years I’ve had an …

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dConstructing dConstruct

Thu 18 September 2008 by Jim Purbrick

A couple of weeks ago the great and the good of web development descended on Brighton for the wonderful clearleft produced dconstruct conference and once again I’m glad I went along.

Steven Johnson kicked off with a talk about how Dr. John Snow’s innovative data visualization of a …

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