The Second Life Philip Linden/Gavin Newsom Fireside Chat, Part 1


As reported here, today saw the meeting of minds between Second Life's Philip Rosedale (aka Philip Linden) and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at the New Globe Theater, a meeting held and sponsored by Millions of Us, a metaverse development company (MDC), with Reuben Millionsofus as moderator. This is the mp3 and transcript of part one of the chat. I have chosen to edit out of the transcript, for the most part, verbal tics that don't contribute to the content of the chat, but these elements remain in the mp3. If you're unfamiliar with Second Life, every now and then you'll hear what sounds like a Polaroid camera going off -- this is the sound of in-world snapshots being taken of the proceedings. You will also hear typing sounds from time to time -- this is the default typing animation sound.

Part two will go up tomorrow at this time. Enjoy!

[Mp3] Download the MP3 directly

[Thanks, Celebrity!]
Reuben Millionsofus (RM)
: San Francisco, represented by Gavin Newsom, and Second Life, represented by Philip Rosedale, respectively. So, without further ado, I'm gonna give you a little bit of a taste of how we're gonna do this. This is a Fireside Chat. The fire may be virtual, but the spirit of the event remains unchanged. Philip and Gavin are gonna discuss the challenges and inspirations of their respective domains, and afterwards we'll open things up to questions. So if you have questions, please IM them to me and I'll pass them along to Philip and Gavin.

With that said, thank you very much, welcome Philip and Gavin!

Philip Linden (PL): Thank you! Well, it's, thanks Reuben, it's great to be here, this is a treat! You know, Gavin, if I remember correctly, I think this is, this is certainly not your first time in Second Life. We've, you've been in here before, but I know it's the first time I've gotten to sit and talk to you.

Gavin Newsom (GN): That's why I look so casual up here, in spite of my arms being crossed, my shoes are very suggestive of a casual demeanor. [laughter]

PN: The rumors of Second Life being difficult to move around in and get used to can be completely put to rest. [laughter] So, well, this is great! There's so much stuff we could talk about. I usually get to ... I'm usually the person on the receiving end of the questions, you know, so I enjoy, like, getting an opportunity to try to do it the other way but I'm kind of a newbie at it, so I'll give it a shot here. You know, I guess of all the different things we can talk about, the first one that perhaps most immediately jumps to mind I suspect for everybody here is just kinda government in general. Second Life is a virtual world in the way that it's evolved as a very open place where people have been able to more or less build the world themselves and do anything they like. There's tremendous and fascinating issues and questions around government. Now I know that you're thinking a lot about what you call Government 2.0. You've just, congratulations, you've just started another term here as Mayor of San Francisco, so what's Government 2.0?

GN: Well, first, thanks for having me, and literally, you're not exaggerating; I just started, I was sworn in about an hour ago for my second term as mayor out here in San Francisco. So it's been in the interim between election day and the inaugural today, been a great opportunity to reflect upon what we want San Francisco to look like in the future and how we can shape it and how technology can play an integral role in the future of our city. It's interesting, Philip, when you ask the question, I mean, one of the great things about Second Life is you're able to start anew. One of the burdens and challenges of being mayor, the 42nd mayor of the city, is that 41 other mayors have helped shape where the city is today. And so there's that legacy that you've gotta respect and that legacy you have to work within, and around, or in the case, often is the case, through. And so, I think the opportunity to integrate the components that have made Second Life such a success and the virtual opportunities of developing a governing structure that looks at things with a fresh perspective is something that we're certainly interested in, it's one of the principal reasons I was honored to be asked to be here today.

PL: Well, great, you know, I think that we're obviously, we're a technology company first and foremost, y'know, so we started out focused entirely, at least I did, y'know, my background is technology, physics, on just making the enabling kinda capabilities of the virtual world, but as it's grown, y'know, from the few hundred people that were in it for the first few months, and even the first few year or so to the large number of people, couple hundred thousand people that are in there every day now, we've been confronted by the challenges of what government means in a virtual world. Of course the interesting and fascinating fact that all of the people in this world, in Second Life, are coming to it from all over the world, and so there's governance in it that relates to where they're sitting, y'know, as well. So it's this intersection, and I, y'know, think we're trying to do our best. I'd say that the high-level things which I know you've probably got a lot of thoughts about are that the thing that's unique about the virtual environment is that it's unusually transparent, it's, you can see everything in a way that is qualitatively different. You know, it really changes things. And I know that, y'know, well, I guess the question for you is, is government in ten years in the real world going to be more like, you know, government in Second Life as technology increasingly makes the things that happen here, here in Second Life able to happen in the real world?

GN: It may not be ten years, may be sooner, may be longer than that, but I think it's inevitable. One of the things, Philip, is interesting, is that you got people from all around the world that are organizing this governing structure, boy, that's what it's all about. The fact is, one of the great challenges we have in elected office now is that we don't have enough time to look to best practices, to seek out new ways of doing things, and to find solutions to so many of our problems, which, regardless of where you are, regardless of your race, your ethnicity, regardless of your national status, in terms of where you're living, the challenges are so remarkably similar. The gradations, the acuity of the challenge is really what separates countries from countries, and so the opportunity to bring people from all walks of life together in this world, so that we can develop something, a governing structure, where people can live together across those differences, is very meaningful. And very opportunistic as it relates to, now, the real world, the one that I'm trying to govern here in San Francisco, so, taking some of the cues, and taking some of the examples that come out of Second Life, the answer is yes, I think that creates great opportunity as well as great challenge. Because, again, the way things have been done around here is the greatest struggle that we face in elected office. The bureaucracy that tends to be bigger than some oftentimes, oftentimes the individuals.

PL: Yeah, one of the things that's really interesting between Second Life and San Francisco is, you know, for those who, for those many people in the audience here who probably aren't from San Francisco and don't know this, you know, San Francisco has a history where a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds were really forced to live together by the fact that the water bounded them on three sides. And as a result we've got this incredibly, you know, incredibly rich community very very close to each other with strikingly, you know, psychographics and demographics and cultural histories working together and, y'know, it's so much the same thing, I mean, I guess, Second Life is just kinda that on steroids in a way where, y'know, you walk up to somebody in Second Life and there's a forty percent chance they're from Europe. And there's a, y'know, there's a at this point probably an eight percent chance they're from Asia, I mean it's just amazing. So you just run into all kinds of ...

GN: It's amazing, and it's interesting, I'll flip that: it's about a forty percent chance in San Francisco you'll walk into someone from Asia. We have the largest Asian population anywhere in the United States and that's 'cause we're a gateway city, gateway to the Pacific and Asia, and of course have the first and largest Chinatown in the United States, and we're proud of that. You know, this was a small fishing village not so many years ago that was literally turned overnight into an international destination with the discovery of gold, where people came from all over the world for riches and new beginnings. And the history of our city has always been defined by just the point you're making. By remarkable capacity to look at the things that unite us, not the things that divide us. Thirty-nine percent of our population is foreign-born. The greatest strength of our city lies in that composite. And that's why this city is doing the things that few other cities have endeavored to do, like universal healthcare, and it's got the most prolific environmental policies in the United States, and we're doing things on civil rights and marriage equality that challenge some, sure, but are advancing principles that we think are universal in terms of people, people's rights being respected regardless, not just race, ethnicity, religion, but also sexual orientation and gender. So these are, these are the components that very much we are aligned in, and seems only appropriate, then, that your headquarters is here in San Francisco. [laughter]

PL: And we love it! You know, it's funny, even when you look at Silicon Valley, I mean, it's an aside, but you know, I'm really proud of the fact that we're trying to build a great, y'know, significant and probably large technology company here in the city. And I think the unique aspects of the technology challenges and the community of Second Life make it a perfect place just in terms of the sort of cultural orientation that a lot of people have here in the city, as opposed to where, y'know, most of the bigger technology companies you see are located farther down Silicon Valley and I actually think that positioning is significant. You know, it's fun to work on something where the nature of the technology project and of the company's mission and model makes it, make a lot of sense for us to be in the city, and y'know, my hope has always been that we can keep using Second Life to do our meetings, so rather than having to have, y'know, a four-hundred thousand square foot facility in San Francisco, which is pretty unfeasible, we'll be able to just have little pods of us all over the place.

GN: I like it. By the way, and government can take a cue from that. I mean, we tend to get so top-down so aggregated in terms of our approach, so siloed in terms of our mentality, it's a wonder why government keeps costing more and more but doesn't necessarily deal with the changing face and realities of the new world. And so I think that you are right on not to look to us to set an example in the literal sense as a government, but as a community to look at that more organically and holistically.

PL: So let's talk about education. Y'know, education has been a big mission for you. You've talked, just starting your new term here you've talked about really making schools here great, particularly in science and technology. Y'know, we've been watching, so when Second Life started out, everybody was using it more, and I think it's the nature of all new mediums, like television, which was, of course, invented a couple of blocks away from us here in San Francisco, you know, the path of Second Life has been from people using it playfully as a new medium that they sorta didn't know what to make of over the last few years, to now, people starting to use it for education and work. And I think that's what always happens. It's what happened with e-mail, it's what happened with the Web, and it's what's happening here with Second Life. So the question for you is, 'cause I know I think about it a lot, is how, y'know, can virtual reality, can virtual worlds play a role in that challenge of making education better, in the real world, in San Francisco?

GN: That's a great question; you're so profoundly right in that, y'know, the challenge, of course, in education, again, is it's an Industrial Age model that we're still governing. And the challenge as we continue to play in the margins not only in the city, the state, and across this country, the United States is being truly left behind. With programs like No Child Left Behind, that's left behind a lot of resources so that we can advance our principles of test-takers, but the challenge is now, without those resources, we got people that are being chopped out of the race, but losing their imagination, that quality of imagination that has defined what is making you such a big success, and obviously, taking advantage of talent and technology, those twins, that combined, can produce some extraordinary results, and education I can imagine to greater place. And it's not just a K through 12 education, it's pre-K education. It's people that are graduating from high school that are looking for secondary education, and that might not necessarily mean community college, or participating in a state system, or a traditional four-year university, but maybe vocational training, and how can technology be component to advancing the vocational needs of members of the community that are tailored to their unique skillset. And that's the opportunity. I mean, everything, I mean, I was talking to someone the other day, had a great chance to spend some time with the head of Genentech, and the person that discovered the Human Genome. And we started talking about how pharmacies are gonna evolve in this country, and you're not gonna get what everybody else gets, you're gonna get something based upon your own unique DNA. And how things are being tailored and specifically created for you. That's exactly what you guys are doing, you've evolved this construct, this sort of flat construct, or this three-dimensional construct, and boy, isn't that a perfect example of where education can go in this country.

PL: Y'know, I think absolutely, we have seen lots of anecdotal evidence, early on, that the people who are able to get access to broadband and access to adequate computers are able at any age to jump into an environment like this, which is essentially a blank palette, y'know, the world's Lego to you. You know, you can play with it, and therefore you can teach with it, you know. We've started to see some great anecdotal evidence that there's a powerful ability in here to teach. And so I know for me, I wanna figure that out, and I think that it's really gonna cross over into the real world, y'know, your efforts to get more ubiquitous network access to ... well, to everybody, but certainly schools as well, I think there's gonna be time in the near future where the pragmatic problem of enabling schoolkids to have the kind of powerful computers that they need to do this sort of stuff is gonna go away just with Moore's Law on our side, and it's gonna be fascinating to see how education can be changed. But I agree like with what you said, that the key is that you can teach in a distinctive way and in a different way for everyone, y'know, and let people do arbitrary and highly-customized things as a way of educating themselves rather than having it be structured.

GN: Who says that people are supposed to wake up at exactly the same time, regardless of their work patterns and their parents, that have a history that gets them to the exact same place when that school bell starts, regardless of their age and their unique experiences in life, and then they all can be educated precisely the same way with that same textbook that someone developed years and years ago, and then tested precisely the same way, it's absurd. The construct is so wrong in terms of addressing new world, again, realities, so this, you're absolutely right, and I like to hear it directly from you, your optimism about technology ultimately advancing at a pace that we can keep the opportunity for this kind of change going.

PL: Well, you know, I think that the, I often think that the basic building block technologies that we need to really, y'know, move increasingly into the virtual world are pretty much upon us, I mean I'm pretty optimistic about it, I don't think that, y'know, my background in technology suggests to me that there aren't really any big limits anymore on the last mile, if you will, of getting computers into the hands of people, I mean MIT has the One Laptop Per Child project, that's a, that's a hundred-dollar, y'know, product that is going to be something that is adequate for someone to have a complete, y'know, network connected Internet experience. So I'm not worried about it. I think the bigger challenge will be the models of governance and the way people interact. I don't think it's a challenge as much as an opportunity, but I think what we're gonna see happening in the virtual world is gonna be just unbelievable, regardless of whether you're looking at education or looking just more broadly at what people do to work there. Y'know, the opportunity to make money in a virtual world we can shift to sorta ... you know, another big thing for you is carbon, and basically how are we going to, y'know, reduce our emissions. Traveling in a virtual world, instead of traveling in reality as we often have to do, there's obviously a huge power cost difference.

GN: Funny you bring that up today, during my speech I talked about making San Francisco carbon-neutral, literally carbon-neutral by 2020. We're already the most prolific city in the United States in terms of advancing our local climate protection plans. We have a plan right now that we're meeting and exceeding to roll back our CO2 footprint twenty percent below 1990 levels by 2012. We are also replacing our payroll tax with the carbon tax, first big city in the United States to do that. We have a local carbon offset plant, but transportation and Green building standards we're advancing biodiesel and all kinds of really innovative and exciting ideas around solar, wind, wave, and geothermal. But transportation still is the most vexing. And you hit the nail on the head, I mean, one thing we're focusing more and more is telecommuting, and providing the incentive for people to stay at home, and to participate in taking advantage of these types of technologies. So that is a good part of the natural extension of that narrative as it relates to the environmental consciousness that we're all trying to advance, and appropriately so.

PL: Y'know, it's funny, as businesses have started to come into Second Life, which has happened more recently, y'know, as Second Life has been around, y'know, we started the company in 1999, in the early years people were using it playfully, now we have people starting to use it for business, when people –

GN: How can mayors make money in this? [laughter] Let's cut to the chase, here. That's why we're here. I wanna sell my tennis shoes. With the hole in the bottom. I like it.

PL: The next step beyond eBay; we used to think to think of Second Life in many ways. Kind of being like the, sort of, the next step after eBay. [laughter] I was gonna say y'know, when you look at travel and meetings, people look at Second Life a lot of time and they think of it as sort of more of a marketing, or sort of a captive environment than it really is. It's really this, y'know, about five times bigger than San Francisco, and much smaller in terms of live population, but this very diverse place that has a lot of stuff going on in it. When you look at what businesses are really doing in a virtual world, you know what they're doing is they're having meetings, they're saving on travel costs. When we take a look anecdotally at what people are actually doing, what the IBMs and the Suns and many many smaller businesses and the two guys in a garage businesses are doing in Second Life, what they're actually doing is they're doing collaboration and communication. They're not doing marketing. What they're doing first is, they're just having meetings. And, y'know, I can't tell you, I don't know how much, I would love to know the number of, y'know, dollars and carbon atoms saved in people having meetings in Second Life. But I can tell you that at a couple hundred thousand people there a day, it's already becoming significant. And I think that that's a fascinating, we thought a lot about, y'know, how do we characterize this sort of carbon neutrality that's created by activity in here. I don't know yet, but I know it's something we gotta figure out.

GN: Oh, I love it, in fact, we're actually, when I talked about that carbon offset plan, we're actually prescribing a price to all our travel. For the first time as city employees they will actually have to pay the true cost of that trip and we're doing through our local carbon offset we're actually going out of the budget of these departments and that trip to Seattle, so to speak, that flight, will instead of costing $152, will cost instead $163, and that net difference, the $12 will go to offset the cost, or the carbon emission by planting trees or doing whatever the local [unintelligible]. You know, the more you talk, the more I appreciate just fundamentally the thing that makes a city, in terms of one we're trying to build, and a governing structure around that, and what you're trying to do is so similar, and that is the aspirational components. Not as we are, but as we can be. That quality of imagination that we all talk about in the political and real world being advanced in very principled and significant ways in the virtual world. And what that ultimately creates is a mindset that stretches the imagination. And I think becomes inherent, then, in the psyche of the individual, and is carried forward in the real world. And I think that's profoundly significant. And that's not just coming from your marketing brochure. I haven't even read that. [laughter] But I really sense that, and I think that's, I think that's the natural fascination for people, and the importance, and something that I appreciate very much.

Part two tomorrow!
This article was originally published on Massively.