The Amazing Benlinden-man!

(This is a post that I have been thinking about for months, it’s a bit introspective though, so if you don’t care about me, and just want to see thoughts about LL and SL and, skip below the break, but don’t expect me to call up and sing you happy birthday next week.)

I should have read more superhero
comics as a kid.  Those things were chock full of advice on how to
manage dual identities.  Unfortunately, at that age I was encouraged
to read books without pictures (and play games outside instead of on
a Nintendo as a matter of fact), and never had the chance to learn
the lessons presented by the various brightly uniformed heroes and

Now that I am old and wise, and get to
choose my own reading material, I am drawn by the gravity-like force
of my own geekyness to the comic book store.   I am not a collector,
and I can’t stand having to start reading a story from the middle, so
I tend towards the graphic novels and collections.  My misspent youth
gives me very little in the way of navigating what is good, but
luckily, I have plenty of friends who can point me in the right

I tend to shy away from the standard
superhero story – they have their merits, but I distrust a universe
so cleanly cut into good and evil.  I like the darker stuff that
started seeping into comics in the  80’s – where the reader is
confronted with the possibility that the hero isn’t so good, and the
bad guy might not be so bad.  Comics where the line between freedom
fighter and terrorist is blurred.  Stories where heroes become human,
and normal humans might get to be heroes.

I have a confession to make.  I have a
mild mannered alter ego.  Except he might not be so mild mannered.
That’s kinda the problem.  I’ don’t want to tell you who he is –
some of you might know, or think you know – I’d like to keep the
alternate in my ego.

Why do I have an alt?  Well,
originally, Ben was the alt.   I was immersed in the community before
I was ever offered a job at Linden Lab, and it was a time in my life
when the escapist nature of the virtual world was very attractive.  I
made friends, and I created a space in this world that was a kind of
home.  When I was offered the liaison position, no one knew exactly
what it entailed.  At that point, the $L was worthless, but the world
was so small, it was easy to be famous.  I requested that my alt name
become my linden name, ala Torley, or at least “Benjamin? which I
enjoy more than “Ben.?  That didn’t happen though (and at the
time, I was so awestruck by the company I would be working for, I
didn’t argue.)

Inadvertently, I now had a second
identity (third, if you count the real world, but that is soooo 4
years ago).  At first, I was free with revealing who I was, after
all, I was even more famous than before!  Soon enough, I found that
it meant that the second life I had cultivated to that point was
suffering – I couldn’t just log in to pursue my own projects, or
just socialize – I was always working.  I don’t think it was a
conscious decision to stop telling people who I was at first – I
just  wanted to keep my freedom to “play.?   

This created a few tensions.  First,
some people knew who my alt was, but I didn’t want them to pass on
the knowledge.  Second, there were some people who I formed
friendships with who I did want to know.  These tensions exist to
this day, and occasionally it flares up –  if I “out? myself to
someone, it means that I have decided to trust them, and if I am
outed by someone else, I feel my trust is betrayed.  There are a few
solutions to this.  First, I can remove an identity.  I can end my
alt, or I suppose, end my linden.  I don’t want to do that – I have
invested too much in both identities.

The second one is transparency – I
can tell you who I am, and make it public.  This is something I have
wrestled with for a few years now.  Even as I write this, I flip back
and forth between thinking it would be a good idea to tell everyone
and thinking it would be a bad idea to tell everyone.  The benefit,
of course, is that it relieves those tensions, the cost is that it
makes my it harder to lead a normal second life.  Of course, this is
only my personal level – Ben Linden is a public figure, and as
such, I need to consider the costs and benefits to both my Company,
and my Customers. 

At this level, there are more tensions.
For instance, by having an alt who is active in the community, the
community worries about what the alts are doing there.  Some of the
worries that I have seen are those of Lindens spying on users with
alts, either for research, or for policing.  This is exasperated by
the fact we don’t often reveal our alts – why are we hiding?
Another worry is that we might use our power to benefit our alt self
unfairly.  For a while, it was Linden Lab’s policy that employees
couldn’t earn money in-world, but we rescinded that when we found
people we wanted to hire who had come to depend on money they were
making from in-world businesses.  What if a Linden  slips an ad to
their alt’s store into the welcome area? 

Perhaps the greatest tension with the
community is favoritism; when Lindens have active alternate accounts,
they will make friendships in-world with other residents.  What
prevents them from helping their friends? 

All of these concerns have been raised
more times than I can count.  The fact that our customers do worry so
often about these topics means that we have a responsibility to take
them seriously.  I need to apologize, because now I am only going to
look at them from the narrow view of transparency of Linden alts.
However, they are each worth an in-depth look, and if you want to
know what I think, let me know. 

On the Company side, there are two
major tensions.  The first is professionalism – as a Linden, I need
to behave in a manner that does not reflect badly on the company,
especially when I am in a public forum.  How do I behave as an alt?
Secondly, there is the issue of implied authority – as a Linden, I
have a certain amount of authority in the eyes of the customers –
if I make a statement, it is implied that I am doing so with the full
permission and desire of the company.  In fact, our lawyer asked me
to put a disclaimer on the top of this blog to combat this issue, as
the 70 headed hydra that is Linden Lab does not always agree with me.
Does my alt have authority with Linden Lab?

again, I could solve this in two ways. I could destroy an identity,
but in this case, Linden Lab wouldn’t want me to.  If they wanted Ben
Linden gone, they would fire me, and part of my value comes from
having such an active alt.  I do have a pretty decent idea of what is
going on in the community, what it needs, and how it will react to
specific changes, because I am part of that community. The second way
is to give visibility into who my alt is again.

 So what are the benefits of outing myself on these tensions?
It would solve the spying one –  as spying relies on no one knowing
you are a spy.  It would also probably help with the worry that my
alt has unfair benefits – although it would not solve it
completely.  There is enough visibility in the community that someone
would notice most abuses of power, but there is not much transparency
into what extra powers Lindens have.

I do not think it would help much with
favoritism, unfortunately.  It might make more transparent who I am
friends with, which would broadly be a good thing, but it is not full
transparency, which often means that assumptions are made about my
participation that may not be correct.

As for the identity tension with the
Company, I think that transparency on who my alt is would not benefit
on either point.  With a company like Linden Lab, there probably
wouldn’t be an issue if a customer found me 500 m up sitting on a
poseball with a attractive young avatar in my arms – but I’d rather
not take my chances.  If my identity as a Linden is known, then I
have certain responsibilities, even if I don’t have that Linden last
name.  I should be polite, helpful, and present SL in the best
possible light. I probably shouldn’t go on about how I have been
playing a lot of DDO, or say that everyone should march naked on the
Welcome Area right now.  That wouldn’t be professional.

Also, anything I said as an alt would
be taken the same way anything I say as a Linden is.  Of course, my
dear readers know to take everything I say with a good handful of
salt, but I do enjoy discussing features and design with people, and
it is troublesome if I say “Linden Lab should implement
Smell-O-Vision? and a few days later I see someone has a new blog
post “Why is LL working on smell-o-vision when we have been waiting
for taste-o-vision for 3 years now?!?!?!?!111?  This is only
slightly an exaggeration that we would make you wait for 3 years for
something as exciting as taste-o-vision.

So we end back up in the middle of the
road.  Half of me wants to tell – I probably won’t be able to enjoy
SL as freely as I have in the past, but it would relieve the issues
of who knows and who doesn’t.  It would also provide more
transparency for the community, and help relieve some fears.  On the
other hand, I still really enjoy living my Second Life as a non
linden, and I don’t think it would be the best thing for LL.  Because
it can go either way, I think it’s really up to the Linden.  In my
case, I’m not going to tell you. 

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7 Responses to The Amazing Benlinden-man!

  1. Aimee Weber says:

    Well, if we are going to be outing our Linden alts I guess I may as well come clean too. I am actually…

    oh telephone…brb.

  2. Elle Pollack says:

    “Every Resident has a right to their Second Life”…and that should include Lindens as well. They’re residents too.

    Just my (tired) half-cent.

  3. Oz Spade says:

    I recommend Watchmen by Alan Moore, I just finished reading it, it’s a great comic from the 80s with retired superheros that are in alot of grey.

    Just like superheros I believe Lindens should be able to keep their privacy. If I had a Linden account, I’d keep it private, because I’d hate to not be able to shout out random curse words and push people around, among other things.

    Isn’t Ben[jamin] Linden a griefer anyway?

    I shall call you Benjamin from now on and it shall catch on!

  4. Ice Brodie says:

    As a MUCK wizard, I’ve had this mental debate myself, for there, I had no pay, so I opted to run around as a wizard and do my own thing.
    Though in a paid operation, one’s freedom to ‘run around rooted’ so to speak, comes with a lot of negatives.

    Torley honestly is part impartial friend to many, part celebrity, but mostly Torley. Someone like him would find hiding hard, as the temptation to be himself would eventually give away a differently named Linden alt.

    The fact that you’ve had to live this double life is strong indication of your character. I know not of your alt, but I know you to be a kind intelligent developer of Second Life who’s always had the spirit of Second Life (development, and improvement) on your mind.

    I’d honestly rather not have smell or taste-o-vision, in leu of proper features and bug fixing.

    Little peaks into moving prims, including attachments has indeed perked my interest, and I’m eager to see how those are designed.

  5. Timeless Prototype says:

    Hey Benjamin. Nice post, a really nice summary of the effects of living multiple identities.

    But when you use your alt, you get to see people for who they really are, and more importantly, you can be yourself without the pressure of the public image.

    It should be your Philip-given right to remain anonymous in your alt and prosper and live as you see fit (except where ToS forbid of course).

  6. Ben Linden says:

    Via Prokofy Neva:

    Ben, many of us see Lindens as public officials or public servants in a country or virtual world, not game-masters and game devs only. Much of what you’re saying rightly resonates with a former MUCK wizard — because the entire way you are framing this issue comes from MMORPG culture and IT culture, and that’s of limited value in the vastly grander enterprise of the Metaverse, that will intersect far more with non-MMORPG cultures and societal norms.

    I find this post entirely self-serving, frankly, as you neglect to discuss what triggered the need for your post: residents speculating on your identity because of your use of your resident alt to advertise your projects and business on the general forums, instead of in classifieds. Indeed, the very notion that a resident goes on engaging in high-profile work like that with huge publicity, and a situation where only a small circle knows that he is a Linden.

    This is the sort of thing that non-Linden residents and those who aren’t Friends of Lindens find unfair.

    You claim “here is enough visibility in the community that someone would notice most abuses of power, but there is not much transparency into what extra powers Lindens have.” While there might be visibility, there is no process or procedure to do anything about these suspected abuses of power — and indeed we have no catalogue of what the special powers are.

    Can a Linden alt, for example, fall into conversation with someone they are working on a project with and gossip about a resident, and can that alt, using his Linden account, go and look into that other residents records, and then circulate claims about them, such as their true identity, or the fact that they may have defaulted on their tier? Just where are these firewalls and how are they supervised?

    You make an eloquent case for why public officials should have privacy in their off-hours. Elle Pollack says everyone should have a right to a Second Life. But that’s not at issue — have a Second Life all you want on the most private and secret of alts. But if you use your resident account *also* to catapault yourself into the public eye with business or other activity, then expect people to raise an eyebrow as to why you get pride of place in any SL-related venture.

    If you loved your resident activity or business so much, perhaps you should have remained only a resident, and thereby enriching the world, and making it less of a top-heavy world, where the administrators often seem to have to come in and build or script or perform because their residents don’t quite pass muster?

    No one expects that Lindens should have to forcibly out their private alts used for their down-time.

    But that’s not what this is about, and you know it. It’s about residents who have prominent roles in the community either doing non-profit work or running businesses, and then elect to keep those roles and leverage their status as Lindens to become more privileged than other residents. That’s wrong.

    When Jeska modeled for a resident, when Shaun DJ’d for a resident, when you promote your projects on any forums you chose, when dozens of Lindens join all kinds of cool residents’ groups and amplify their coolness by their presence, that’s not creating a level playing field.

    I personally think that Linden Lab needs a much more stringent code of ethics governing the behaviour inworld by all these Lindesidents — residents who become Lindens and keep their original accounts as alts — such as to prevent every kind of violation from theft to sexual harassment. Any company will have a standard guidebook on these practices, and a company that has to deal with many people in vulnerable situations should be even more sensitive to these issues.

    All residents who chose to become Lindens should be required to give up their prominent roles inworld — either you live by the slogan that it’s “our world, our imagination” or you don’t. That doesn’t mean they can’t be actively engaged in the world, but there should be more ground rules about Lindens who stage events, earn money, and post to forums, classifieds, etc. to promote themselves.

    Most importantly, the terribly intimidating shroud of secrecy over residents who become Lindens really ought to be rethought. At this point, there are at least 4 Lindens who openly give their resident-Linden connections and names inworld and in real life.

    When that’s the case, it’s very wrong for any special old friend of these residents-turned-Lindens to go on resident websites and threaten to abuse-report, or get banned, or harm in any way, anyone who raises the question about, or publicizes, the alt of a Linden, or who rightly asks questions about the misuse of alts leveraging the Linden connection. Intimidating the public in this thuggish manner is wrong.

    While “disclosure” is a TOS rule we all respect, there isn’t any specific guideline about “outing Lindens” such as to invoke such banning or suspension over these issues — it’s far too harsh and punitive an approach to what has become a very controversial and permeable area.

    The world is growing by leaps and bounds. Do you really think the special and intimate relationships of beta-testers and early adapters can be the culture by which the whole world has to be defined?

    Any person who decides to serve the public, and become involved in customer service, design, programming, or creation of a virtual world, has to realize that in a *massively multiplayer online* environment, he is in the public eye, and has to give up a certain amount of privacy — or at least not expect that he can have his cake and eat it too, enjoying a prominent life as a resident in business or non-profit projects, and not expect the Linden connection to be scrutinized.

    Honestly, you really can’t be taking this subject as personally as you are, even implying that anyone who speculates about your identity or purposely or accidently caused some harm. This issue is larger than you, and your company has no clear-cut policy on it. Worst of all, you seem to have no awareness of what it means to make and maintain this special little group of friends who know you are a Linden, but the rest of us don’t. This sets up a situation where the rest of us are second-class citizens — ultimately, it means that we cannot participate in decision-making about features, and in the economy, at the same level as these special friends.

    The status of Linden is a sacred public trust — don’t violate it

  7. nakeit says:

    chonnt do au öpper us de schwiiz?
    wenn jo…

    i tschegge ne wie me sech do cha iilogge.*pein*

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