Friday, July 6, 2007

Woodbury University Island Deleted by Linden Labs

On Saturday, Woodbury University's Second Life campus was vaporized. Not by mis-behaving Second Lifers, not by technical difficulties or incompetence, but by Linden Labs as a disciplinary action for Terms of Service (TOS) violations. In March Dr. Edward Clift paid Linden Labs for a six month lease and built Woodbury Island. In early April the region was suspended for 3 days for various abuses. Later in April Linden Labs contacted him by telephone to warn him that the island would be discontinued if the problems continued. According to Dr. Clift, that was the last communication he received from Linden Labs. "There was never any communication from Linden until the disconnection as to whether they thought we were doing a good job or not and certainly no chance to take corrective measures in any kind of cooperative fashion."

The island was yanked on July 1 with no further warning. From the Linden Labs notice:
Many members of the Woodbury University group (which controls the region) have been detected before and after that date causing severe problems in Second Life, in violation of the terms of service. These problems include incidents of grid attacks, racism and intolerance, persistent harassment of other residents, and crashing the Woodbury University region itself while testing their abusive scripts. Due to the ongoing problems, Linden Lab has no option but to immediately close the Woodbury University region.
The main events have been covered by the Second Life tabloid The Second Life Herald, and has now been picked up by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Herald's article comments are full of the bickering back and forth between the (ir)responsible parties, and illustrate what can happen if an organization does not take a firm hand in policing itself.

After reading the articles, interviews and comments, I gather that Woodbury U. was naive and negligent in monitoring the island it provided, and that Linden Labs is very bad at communicating to its customers about problems. Anyone who has land where avatars are allowed to build or script could face the same situation, including the Info Islands, Cybrary Cities, EduIslands, or Harvard. An educational sim designed to expose its students to the tools of Second Life must allow its members to build and script, but that also makes it a magnet for SL jokesters and griefers. You may not like it, but those are the facts. It appears that Woodbury U took a hands-off approach to management of their sim. It appears that the lack of communication by LL led them to believe the problem was under control. And it appears that LL has no clear protocol or progressive process in place to warn its institutional customers about terminal violations.

There are at least 150 colleges and universities with a presence in SL, many with their own islands. Perhaps they have assumed that their status as educational and non-profit institutions gives them a protected status and more latitude for students who are pushing the limits. Evidently they are wrong. I would suggest that there are some steps each institution should take if they want to protect their SL assets:
  • Restrict building and scripting to their own groups
  • Restrict the groups to their own students, and require that student accounts be verified
  • Require anyone who joins their group to agree to a code of ethics and behavior
  • Have an administrator available at all times to enforce the code
  • Form an association of SL educational institutions and demand from Linden Labs a protocol for communicating about and resolving problems
Griefer U (April 22, 2007) The Second Life Herald
Woodbury University Island Destroyed (July 1, 2007) The Second Life Herald
Interview with Woodbury University's Edward Clift (July 6, 2007)
The Death of a Virtual Campus Illustrates How Real-World Problems Can Disrupt Online Islands (July 6, 2007) The Chronicle of Higher Education

1 comment:

Eva G. said...

Wow! I've got to get back to SL, I'm missing all the action!