Burning the Cyber Man

Remember Second Life? The virtual reality “game without a purpose” multiverse swept through the tech world like the latest Pokemon craze, about 10 years ago. The makers, Linden Lab, minted their own currency and people became overnight millionaires building cool virtual spaces, then renting out other virtual spaces to people with less cyber presence. Divorces happened because of affairs taking place solely in the online world. Gang-like “Assaults” happened, where eccentric real estate moguls were pummeled with flying penises. Beats drones falling from the sky!

burn2 2011Well, believe it or not, Second Life is still going after 14 years – 36 million strong. They may have lost some more casual users to World of Warcraft and other MMORG’s, but for the million that are still logging in every month, advances in technology are making the Second Life metaverse more fun to explore than ever. And it’s only going to get better – I’ve heard rumors that Playstation 4 on the new 4K TVs looks amazing (that’s right folks, Burners.Me hears rumors and sometimes even shares them with you if they’re from trusted sources; we make sure we tell you that they’re rumors if we can’t verify them with at least one other source). A huge convergence is going on today between open source hardware, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, sensor networks, wearable technologies, social media, the maker world, and high-definition immersive virtual environments. And San Francisco, and Burning Man, are smack bang in the middle of it. Forget smart phones, WE are going to be the smart phones – as Reallocate founder, Burner Scopecreep Doc North explains in this talk at Le Web. The line between cyberspace and Meatspace will inevitably become blurrier – if it ever existed in the first place.

At any given time these days, there are around 50,000 people in Second Life processing 1.2 million virtual transactions per day. More than $3.2 billion dollars of virtual goods have been sold to date. And Burning Man has a regional there: Burn2. The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, is a Burner – in fact he credits Burning Man for giving him the idea. A colorful, weird and wacky world of creative freaks where people are free to express themselves as whoever they want to be, and regular commerce doesn’t fly? Yeah, I can see some similarities.

Burning Man would do well to learn a lesson from Second Life – enabling their customers to re-monetize their spaces and make personal profit from all the hours they spend developing art to share with the other citizens of Second Life, is a “win-win-win” strategy instead of an “only we win” strategy – or, as Larry Ellison likes to say, “it’s not sufficient that I succeed, everyone else must fail“, a strategy he adopted from Genghis Khan. Genghis didn’t want the villages he absorbed into his empire to have crops, prosperity of their own. He burned the villages, burned the crops, took their women. Unless you genghis khanwere close to Genghis, you got nothing. Feudalism was a better life for the indentured serfs, than being on Genghis territory but not being a total slave to Genghis. Victory for him meant crushing the spirit and destroying the independence of the vanquished. And he was victorious with this strategy. Most tyrants are – but such empires don’t stand the test of time. It’s good to be the king! The king is dead – long live the king!

I’m not saying that Burning Man can’t win with their “only we win” Genghis-style strategy – clearly, they are winning from it, and have been for some time. The party keeps growing, we keep spending the hundreds of millions to put it on for them, they get paid royalties from the saturation coverage in the mainstream media. But just because a strategy works, doesn’t mean it’s the best, and must be pursued whatever the cost. There are values and principles underlying Black Rock City, that are sacred to the people who populate it and have built it, culturally as well as physically. Not all of them are listed in the “10 Principles”, guidelines and reflections on culture that Larry Harvey first shared almost 20 years into Burning Man, in 2004. He says he never meant for them to be a dicktate – which would make him, or whoever is at the head of the pyramid, the dicktator. Burn2 seems to me much more about getting back to the original spirit of Burning Man, culture jamming. Jazz meets urban planning. Burner City was about anyone can do anything, everyone can participate, no strangers, no spectators. Light touch on the earth. People put hundreds or thousands of hours and dollars into art, just to share with us for free. Not merely to show us – to let us interact with it, ride on it, participate in it, co-create with it. In Burn2, it doesn’t cost them tens of thousands to get the art there. The art can be reused and installed elsewhere. Anyone is welcome, all ages, from anywhere in the world. Except…and this is important: no dicks!

Win-win-win created millions of customers for Linden Lab and hundreds of millions, maybe even billions, of dollars for the founders, just like it has done for other marketplace enablers such as eBay, the App Store, AirBnB, Lyft, Uber, Amazon…I could go on, since this is now a proven strategy in tech (and business). Just like Genghis Khan’s strategy was great thousands of years ago, the sharing economy and the freemium model are the “killer app” strategies for 2013 and beyond.

A lot of development has gone on in the virtual Burning Man world in the last ten years since Burn 2 began. It’s like the processing power required for the CGI in Lord of the Rings when they first started to make the trilogy, compared to the technology used in the Hobbit now. Faster, cheaper, better. The movie’s the same, the story’s the same, but the culture richness is enhanced by technology. In the case of Second Life, we can all contribute images and elements. The culture is enriched by the contributions of the entire community in co-creating the space. Back in the day, Burn 2 (aka Burning Man 2.0) was known as Burning Life. Although they have imposed some theoretical constraints based on physics to simulate the real world experience of the desert, development of this city is unrestricted from rules of BMOrg…other than, of course, even in this cyber world they can’t post photos of the party or use the words Burning Man, if there’s any dollars involved be it Linden or Greenback$, the BMOrg intellectual property ca$h machine needs their $lice. You can see how Linden has grown in this time, compared to Burning Man. Although Burning Man’s growth is impressive, and they’re a household name in some circles, they have 450,000 Facebook likes and a smaller number of people who have attended…a lot less than 36 million. Openness works. Sharing works. Valuing the contributions of your user base works.

You might recognize some of the artworks in the Second Life world from Burn 1 – the new Defaultia.

photo by Yordie Sands, Creative Commons license

photo by Yordie Sands, Creative Commons license

Burn 2 takes place for 8 days, just like Burning Man. It starts this weekend, October 19, and the Man burns on Saturday October 26. You can get a Second Life viewer here and avatar here, you don’t have to spend $400 to attend and the only sniffer dog is called N.S.A. (you can exchange your Linden Dollars for Bitcoins, crypto-freaks).

Last year’s Burn2 generated a surprising amount of media coverage for something that only exists in the Ether.

This year’s build has been going on since September 21. People have been competing to get the best plot sizes and locations in a “plottery”; people have also been buying plots. There are art cars and DJs playing. The theme is Cargo Cult, just like Burn 1.

Imagine! Just up Gate Road, you see a crowd playing around in your build. The Man stands tall in the background, arms raised. Zany art cars fill the streets, winding their way through hundreds of builds of all shapes and sizes. Greeters welcome you excitedly, and helpful Rangers are on hand. Dozens dance to a live performer in Center Camp, while others rock out to a DJ in another sim. Lamplighters will dance the evenings away, illuminating the playa. You know that the week is filled with events; the Man will burn Saturday, and the beautiful Temple on Sunday.  

If your name is on this list, then you’re a winner! Congratulations and happy building! Juried Art and Theme Camp winners receive a free 1024sm or 2048sm plot; Plottery winners each receive a 512sm plot for this year’s BURN2: Cargo Cult.

Artist/Builder           Build Name                    Awarded plot size
Giovanna Cerise         “The magic of objects”  2048sm
Alesha Hax “Cult-Ure Queen”  2048sm
MORLITA Quan “Sokofa”  2048sm
Loki Eliot “The Sand Fairy”  2048sm
Caro Fayray “Anomaly”  1024sm
Ginger Lorakeet “Inside Art”  1024sm
Juliana Burns “Camp Marshmallow”  1024sm
catboy Qunhua “Catboy’s Camp of 
Cuisine, Culture, and Comedy”   1024sm
Sarrah Docherty “Cargo Train”  1024sm
Marianne McCann “Inner Child Camp”  1024sm

Dr Who's Cybermen - now in Lego

Dr Who’s Cyberman – now in Lego

Plottery winners (512sm plots):
Neo Deezul
Calla Cela
Further Monday
Faewyn Silverweb
Xiija Resident
fredx resident
Professor Bimbogami
Zipper Moomintoog
mick lunasea
polkamatic feller
Andy Burroughs
Namor Xue
Isabelli Anatine
KT Syakumi

Congratulations, plot winners! We’ll see you on the playa!

Building begins September 21, 2013.

They employed a full-time staffer at Linden Labs to manage the Burning Man joint venture, then after downsizing in 2010 made the event an official Regional. Burning Man founder Danger Ranger got involved – yup, they even have virtual rangers. The history of how this all came about is surely the most unique of all the 125 24 Regionals.

"dreamy guy" Philip Rosedale rocking some electronic beats

“dreamy guy” Philip Rosedale rocking some electronic beats

In 1999, a dreamy guy from San Francisco decided to go explore this Burning Man thing he’d been hearing about. Into his car, he tossed a tent, water and everything else he needed to survive, then he drove 300 miles out to the Nevada high desert.

He arrived at a featureless, 40-square miles of cracked mud, ringed by distant mountains. Hot. It was terribly hot. Except when the sun went down. Then it was just plain cold. The Black Rock Desert is an ancient dry lake bed. “The Playa”, geologists called it; harsh, foreign, unforgiving and so shockingly barren that it *begs* to be your empty canvas. A strange encampment had been erected there, ringed around a 40-foot tall anthropomorphic wooden statue destined to be burned the last night.

What the Dreamer found there— a huge group of people, self organized into a city, collaboratively creating a different reality— tweaked the direction of the project he was working on back in San Francisco, and filled his head with ideas about the nature of reality, creativity, identity and community. He worked some of these ideas into the very fabric of his project “Linden World”, which you and I now know as Second Life. That Dreamer was our Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale

…Fast forward to 2003. Numerous Linden Lab employees were regulars at Burning Man, but by 2003 they were too busy getting Second Life out the door to visit the real life Playa. So Phoenix Linden approached the Burning Man organization for permission to build a tribute to the real event in Second Life. With permission duly granted, the Lindens built a Man statue much like the real thing, and “burned” it in-world. While Phoneix Linden (and Haney Linden)- started the Burning Life event, other Lindens facilitated over the years: Hamlet, Torley, Jeska, Iridium, and Everett.

By 2007 the Lindens were too busy to be directly involved with the event, and other SLers were running the event. These residents had never been to Burning Man and did not really understand how to represent its principles – yet they were using Burning Man’s symbols and vocabulary, and representing it inworld. Understandably, Burning Man was becoming concerned about what was happening to the vibe, the message, the community and it’s principles as represented and enacted by Burning Life. It was decided that sending help and getting involved was the Burner way to improve the event.

Everett Linden, the head of Community Initiatives for LL (and also a Burner), was aware of the issues involved. In 2008, the Lab hired Dusty Udal, an experienced burner, as a contractor and gave her a Linden name tag in order to help reposition the event. Also at this time, Danger Ranger – founder of the real life Black Rock Rangers at Burning Man – got involved and helped with reorganizing the Burning Life Rangers into a more community-based organization, truer to the principles of the RL Rangers.

In 2010, Linden Lab experienced a sharp downsizing, and ownership of Burning Life was transformed from a partnership between Burning Man and Linden Lab into an entirely regional Burning Man event held in the metaverse. This was seen as a win-win, as Linden Lab was focusing on it’s core business and technology, and less on suplementary activities, while Burning Man wanted a higher fidelity representation in the metaverse.

If you look at the history of BM, it has also undergone a dramatic shift. 1996 was an evolutionary year for BM. After that, BM found a balance between anarchy and organization. In a sense, BURN2 is where Burning Man was in 1997. We are establishing a firm base for evolution and growth in the future.

With the birth of Burn2, there is a sense of renewal, a sense of community and a sense of hope as Burning Man and the metaverse intermix. The Burn2 community is established and viable, and the future is at our doorstep.

What do I like about Burn 2, compared to Burn 1? First of all, it really is a Leave No Trace event – no MOOP to pick up, no bags of trash on the side of the road, no bike theft, no crime or medical emergencies, no carbon pollution from cars and generators. No stinking, paperless port-a-potties. Wear all the feathers you want, hell you can probably pee on the Playa and Burnier-than-thous won’t complain. Even better though, whatever they build in Second Life for Burning Man one year, is there for ever to be enjoyed by all citizens of the Universe, for free. It’s an additive strategy – it only grows, and the more it grows, the more valuable it becomes. In the tech world this phenomenon is known at Metcalfe’s Law, after the main guy who invented networks (who is a Burner). Also called “the Network Effect”, and technically coined by George Gilder, Metcalfe’s Law states that the value of the network is equal to the number of nodes in the network, squared. So the way to increase value the most, is to add more connected nodes. NOT monopolize the flows of information and currency between the existing nodes you have, throttling everything towards the black box at the top. The Internet is valuable because many people use it, and it is free. AirBnB works, because there are a lot of users looking for places to stay, and a lot of people wanting to rent out rooms in their homes. The more users of either type they get, the more valuable they are. eBay doesn’t say “buy from us”, they say “buy from each other”.

BMOrg's new IP Battle Tank: "exterminate!"

BMOrg’s new IP Battle Tank: “exterminate!”

Embrace the sharing economy, BMOrg! It’s the 21st Century now, the dinosaur strategy of “I must own everything and others must own nothing” has been demonstrated to be sub-optimal. Help Burners raise money, sell camp memberships and tickets, throw events. Help – just by getting out of the frikking way! Create a marketplace for costumes and art cars and photos and art projects. Let’s find a permanent location where we can keep our art cars and installations, work on them, and display them for others to enjoy. Let us use our photos for whatever we want, just require them to have a Burning Man logo watermark and impose a low cost royalty for the use of that. Hey presto, instead of one tiny city of 68,000 people for 1 week per year (making $50 million or so revenue, but supposedly very little profit for the founders), you would get an infinitely scaleable Burner universe (potentially making billions for the owners). And the loyalty of Burners to you would be assured, if you are enabling commerce for them. Next time you get in an Uber, ask the driver if he likes Uber. Next time you buy something from Etsy or eBay, ask the vendor if those tools are useful to their business.

Burn2 shows what the future could be like, and opens a vast range of possibilities for hijinks and capers. There are some ways that more fun can be made in the virtual world, than the Default world.

Flying penises…the new shunning. It’s as close to sex as you’re gonna get in cyberspace, that is until the next breakthrough in teledildonics. Some things are always going to be better in Meatspace.

6 comments on “Burning the Cyber Man

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