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Could Sadville break the internet with nakedness?

Look out - it's the virtual moral majority

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Anyone wishing to access adult content in Second Life will, in future, have to abide by the network host’s rules. This is not the case with the internet as a whole, which is built around the principle of a dumb network (whose job is mostly to deliver data packets to the end-user) and smart terminals.

Function resides mostly at the user end of the equation, making censorship that much more difficult.

Second Life, however, is a smart network. In addition to the function, provided by the underlying software, it is underpinned by an asset system - a unified backend database that provides presence and many database services, such as parcel mapping, groups and inventory – which remains wholly under the control of Linden Labs.

Experiments are now underway to create interconnectivity between virtual worlds. The key body in this respect is the Architecture Working Group, whose mission is to develop the protocols that will open up the Second Life Grid from something operated solely by Linden Labs to where others can run parts of the grid.

Last year, for the first time, it became possible to "teleport" an individual avatar from Second Life into IBM’s dedicated virtual world: embarrassingly, neither personal inventory nor clothes will yet transfer with them. Still, it can only be a matter of time before a non-naked clump of pixels crosses the barrier.

When that happens, expect a major boost to those providers wishing us all to make use of virtuality. As Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life, points out: one major difference in a virtual world is the ability to organise spatially and breaking free from the langauge-specific chains of text.

There will, however, be a price to pay. Control of a virtual web, if it follows the present model, will be far more with providers than it is now. At its most extreme, if government decreed that a particular opinion could not be expressed within the confines of a virtual web, it would find it far easier to get its own way than it does now.

If Second Life is just a game, we have little to worry about. If it is something more – and the investment being poured in by players such as IBM suggests it may be – perhaps it is time we all sat up and took notice. ®

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