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The Virtual Whirl: A brief history of Second Life (2006)

2006: More gold rushes, less griefing and the Second Life Liberation Army

Texture loading issues from the 1.7 update continued along with doom and gloom over point-to-point teleportation. To add to the rocky feeling of things, version 1.9 caused widespread instant-messaging failures. Come the first of April, wearing an all-grey set of textures was a popular jape.

Anshe Chung made the cover of Business Week on the first of May, 2006, which made the 2005 gold rush of new users look like a trickle.

Seven days later, we ourselves started the excellent Second Life Insider. Coincidence or a tawdry cashing in on the rush? Actually, we honestly can't remember which it was that we had in mind at the time. But it takes a lot longer than that to get one of our new websites live, so it must have already been in the works well before the Business Week cover story.

Second Life Insider became Massively in November of 2007.

As a part of the rush that built through May and June, several large groups of new users came from the *chan communities, but never seemed to get beyond small scale goo attacks, cage-guns, flying penises and annoying noises. It was all schoolyard stuff that didn't end up posing any widespread inconvenience, unless you were one of a small number of particularly outspoken and well-known users who were routinely griefed.

Three weeks after the Business Week article, Linden Lab announced that new basic accounts would no longer receive a weekly Linden Dollar stipend. This was presumably because of the extraordinary number of new basic accounts being created.

A Paper Tiger

What's more effective than actual griefing, though? Faked griefing, for a profit. A small corporate intelligence firm set up a group called the Second Life Liberation Army and created a series of faked videos of griefing, using a few friends or alts to simulate victims in acts of terror at American Apparel and other locations.

Press releases were written, democracy for Second Life was demanded and strong anti-corporate sentiments were espoused. People ate it up, especially the mainstream media, who don't know any better, didn't do their research and were completely gulled.

The SLLA used media manipulation to attract a following of disaffected, anti-corporate activists who were then used to spy on corporate activities within Second Life, which was then supposedly converted into saleable corporate intelligence by the shadowy firm behind the group.

Ultimately, however, group members saw through the ruse, the group cut loose from its corporate master, and after promising big things, sank into complete obscurity. While not directly heard of again, the mainstream media continues to recycle its old press-releases and fictitious exploits as if they were true, and as if the attacks had actually occurred. A genuine paper tiger.

Most of the false scares about terrorism and terrorists in Second Life can be traced back to those press-releases that fooled the newspapers, and are now broadly accepted as truth.

Black September

In September (known to many who were affected at the time as "Black September") an unpatched exploit in a piece of software used by Linden Lab allowed parties unknown to access customer information for many Second Life users, including real names, contact information, and passwords. There were reports that an encrypted block of payment information was also obtained by the intruder, and many users canceled their credit-cards and obtained replacements just in case.

All passwords were reset about two days later (just as everyone was starting to breathe a little easier) and many users had trouble obtaining valid login credentials afterwards.

Nevertheless, within days of the news of the security breach hitting the media (and it hit the media very hard indeed) new signups to Second Life more than trebled, and total signups hit one million in October as a result.

Linden Lab began outsourcing support and governance functions to third-party businesses and call-centers, this year, and has since been through at least two third-party providers (and perhaps more).