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The Virtual Whirl: Questions from the virtual mailbag

Tateru Nino

This week, in The Virtual Whirl, we're going to take a selection of reader questions that we've received in comments and in the virtual mailbag and do our best to offer up some useful answers. Join us as we whirl through the mail.

What occurs when a resident cashes out his or her [Linden Dollars] into a government-issued currency? How does [Linden Lab] cover such sales?

This is quite a common question. Linden Lab doesn't behave like a bank or an investment fund. Indeed, they may not have even sold you the Linden Dollars in the first place.

The majority of transactions between government-issued currencies (let's just say US-Dollars here for simplicity) and Linden Dollars take place on a currency exchange. Those transactions primarily take place between users, with the operator of the exchange taking a cut. Linden Lab runs two exchanges (Xstreet and the Lindex), while the others are run by third-parties.

Whenever a user wants US Dollars in exchange for their Linden Dollars, they sell them on an exchange to another user who wants to exchange US Dollars for Linden Dollars. The system keeps the transaction anonymous and a combination of supply and demand economics (blended with a little fear and greed, as you'd find in any money market) keeps the exchange rate relatively stable.

Linden Lab itself never ever pays out so much as a dime for Linden Dollars so there's no need for them to cover anything. Your sales are covered by other people coveting the Linden Dollars you're selling and who view them as good value.

Of course if there were to be a major cashing out of large quantities of currency (representing a significant drop in desirability for the Linden Dollar), the Linden Dollar's value would plummet as fewer people would be buying them or willing to pay as much for them.

So, 'cashing-out' Linden Dollars basically means 'selling them to another Second Life user', and there's not really any need for Linden Lab to cover anything. Also, whatever the exchange-rate might be, they take a cut of the transaction. In the event of a drastic run, there might not be anyone willing to buy, but no such situation has ever occurred, and currency trading rarely takes much of a dip.

Hey, has anyone noticed that since Gene Yoon's departure from the Lab, that Lab representatives have reverted to routinely calling Linden Dollars a currency again in their official communications? Whew. "[A] limited license right to use a feature of our product when, as, and if allowed by Linden Lab" was such an unwieldy mouthful.

Why virtual environments? Why not virtual worlds?

Seems a bit like pointlessly splitting words sometimes, doesn't it? The problem is that while many of us are pretty clear on what is and isn't a virtual world, very few of us actually agree on which are and which aren't. We're all pretty clear on the 'virtual' part, but hardly anyone agrees on what is needed to qualify for the 'world' part.

'Virtual', of course, has two relevant meanings. In the first sense, a virtual something is a thing that is functionally or essentially the same as the actual thing, but not recognized or called that. The second meaning is for something that is simulated.

When it comes to 'world', we're all at sea. Everyone comes up with a different list of things that they consider absolute and essential minimum requirements for 'worldiness', and there's very little agreement on what those things are. Some are very relaxed, and others are quite specific.

In the end, 'virtual environment' is the catch-all, covering every kind of simulated space, though it is most commonly applied to those without an inherent game component.

Are mesh objects/uploads coming in the Second Life 2.0 viewer?

No, and in fact Linden Lab has so far declined to officially confirm that they're coming at all. However from sifting through a welter of unofficial public chatter from Linden Lab staffers, it appears that mesh-object support is being actively worked on somewhere in the Lab, though that support will not appear in the initial 2.0 viewer release.

The support for mesh objects may not differ substantively from sculpties and are expected to essentially be a small step upwards from how sculpties operate in Second Life at present. If it isn't coming in 2.0, then don't expect to see it before the 2.1 release slated for June/July.

I've heard that there's an annual inventory-cleaning day [in Second Life]. Is that true or is it a joke?

It's true, actually. It's actually Cleanup Week and takes place in the first week of November. The tradition was originally started by Alpha Zaius in Teen Second Life, but has since become popular on the main grid. Reducing the number of inventory items reduces the load on asset servers and improves overall viewer performance.

While it is something of an arbitrary tradition, it's one well worth observing.

We'll be answering questions every month, so if you've got something you'd like us to explain or get to the bottom of, or ask a developer about, drop us a line in the comments, or via email (tateru at massively dot com) and we'll do our best to find out for you. Your core questions this month were Second Life related, which is hardly surprising, but you can ask about other environments as well.

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