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From: Glenn Petersen5/29/2023 3:53:19 AM
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From: Glenn Petersen6/13/2023 6:20:54 AM
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Who needs the Metaverse? Meet the people still living on Second Life

Mark Zuckerberg’s grand vision for an online existence has been laughed off as a corporate folly. Meanwhile, those still existing happily on a virtual world launched 20 years ago may be wondering what all the fuss is about …

Simon Parkin
The Guardian
Sat 10 Jun 2023 08.00 EDT



Virtual worlds: Second Life and Metaverse. Illustration: Nicolás Ortega/The Guardian
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On 14 November 2006, 5,000 IBM employees assembled in a digital recreation of the 15th-century Chinese imperial palace known as the Forbidden City. They had come to hear IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano, deliver a speech. Palmisano’s physical body was in Beijing at the time, but he addressed most of his audience inside Second Life, the online social world that had launched three years earlier. Palmisano’s trim avatar wore tortoiseshell-frame glasses and a tailored pinstripe suit. He faced a crowd of digital, animated dolls dressed in the business attire of the day: black heels, pencil-line shirts, Windsor-knotted ties. Looming out of the throng at the back stood a 10ft IBM employee, his digital face plastered in Gene Simmons-style white makeup, with shoulder-length, Sonic-blue hair.

It was a historic moment, a journalist for Bloomberg reported at the time: Palmisano was “the first big-league CEO” to stage a company-wide meeting in Second Life – “the most popular of a handful of new-fangled 3D online virtual worlds”. IBM, just like any other denizen of Second Life, paid ground rent to own a “region” of the game, one region representing 6.5 hectares of digital turf, currently rented at $166 (£134) a month. Renters could build whatever they wanted on their turf.

The pitch proved attractive. While in cities like New York or London you might never own a flat, in Second Life you could design, build and inhabit a mansion. Institutions followed. Some used their space to stage art exhibitions and theatrical performances; others built kink palaces. The retail outlet American Apparel opened a virtual store on a private island called Lerappa – “Apparel” spelt backwards – selling costumes for avatars. The US universities MIT and Stanford established faculties in Second Life. Someone claiming to represent the far-right French National Front joined in (their HQ was the site of virtual clashes with anti-racism demonstrators in 2007). The world used its own currency – the Linden dollar, withdrawable into local currencies – to establish a global, user-to-user economy. Transactions and withdrawals were subject to a tiny fee, which contributed to the cost of server maintenance – a revolutionary, influential business model.

While Second Life’s world was viewed by many as rudimentary and its inhabitants eccentric, in hindsight it represented a bold, pioneering experiment, launched while Facebook was still a website for rating the attractiveness of Harvard students. It remains both the first and the most successful manifestation of a so-called metaverse, a compelling if somewhat imprecise term coined by American writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. Definitions vary, but most experts agree the metaverse is, put simply, the internet made metropolis: an immersive, contiguous representation of data and the active user communities within. One might walk from, say, eBay marketplace to YouTube cineplex; or take a virtual Uber from the great library of Wikipedia to the twin towers of TikTok and Instagram. No need for a thousand logins and passwords: in this Internet World theme park, each of us could embody a single body and consistent identity.



An avatar of Mark Zuckerberg at a virtual Meta Connect event in 2022. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images
--------------------------------

Second Life did not replace the internet in this way. And even at the height of its popularity in the late 2000s, it attracted only around a million monthly users – a fraction of the number enjoyed by some online video games (the makers of Fortnite claim a consistent 80 million) and far fewer than would be necessary to sustain a business such as, say, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook. But the dream of a coordinated manifestation of websites and users, built on current technologies (VR headsets, blockchains, cryptocurrencies and all) and opening unprecedented opportunities to virtual landowners, marketers and advertisers, has persisted at the highest levels of corporate Silicon Valley, up to and including Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg.1

Zuckerberg first outlined his vision for the Metaverse, the “successor to the mobile internet”, in 2021. According to Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, the project would take a decade to revolutionise the way we browse the web. But less than two years and $36bn later, the project has stalled, with little to show for it. User numbers for Horizon Worlds – Meta’s first draft of an interconnected world entered via a VR headset – have steadily declined during the past year. According to internal documents, most visitors do not return after the first month and a feature to reward users who have created content within Horizon Worlds generated just $470 globally in revenue in its first year. Zuckerberg recently announced 21,000 redundancies and hinted that all Meta employees may soon be required to return to physical offices, a rather self-sabotaging policy at a company committed to erasing the distinction between the physical and digital. As it sheds employees and investor focus impatiently shifts to the get-richer-quicker possibilities of generative AI, the vision fades. Almost every national newspaper has run a variation on the article: “ Whatever happened to the metaverse?

The message seems to be that, as the real world becomes ever bleaker, a new digital world offers a place to reconnect

Yet Second Life – and its more modest vision of an Internet World – persists. This month it celebrates its 20th anniversary; a mobile version is set for release this year and its developer, Linden Lab, estimates the virtual world’s GDP to be $650m. According to the company, around 185m items are sold each year in the Second Life marketplace, with an average cost of $2 each, and 1.6m transactions – also including tipping, services, currency trades – occur every day. During the pandemic, new registrations soared, with close to a million visitors logging in each month and some building viable businesses trading in virtual goods and services. This is nothing close to the world-conquering figures Zuckerberg would need to justify his sunk costs, but Second Life has nonetheless endured as a profitable and, crucially, populated metaverse.

And while the world’s largest tech companies continue to seek ways to more intrusively monitor and monetise our online lives, the metaverse idea is unlikely ever to disappear.

Second Life’s creator, Philip Rosedale, claims his vision of an accessible digital utopia long predates Stephenson’s invention of the word “metaverse”. As a child, Rosedale – who, having left Linden Lab in 2010, returned in January 2022 as a strategic adviser – built go-karts and gadgets. He installed a parabolic antenna on the roof of his parents’ house which he could angle to eavesdrop on friends’ conversations down the street.

Rosedale – who, at 54, still has the appearance of a boy-genius inventor, with colourful glasses and a cartoonish floppy shock of grey hair – was also a dreamer. “I had dreams in which I imagined myself building in space, wearing a spacesuit, using tools I had on my belt to make walls appear and move surfaces around,” he recalls, speaking over Zoom from Linden Lab’s office in San Francisco. “I could build great architectural structures in space. But the idea in my mind was always that was something you could do inside the computer.”



‘I figured everybody would want one’: an avatar of Second Life creator Philip Rosedale …


… and the real thing at SXSW 2022. Photographs: Getty Images for SXSW; Second Life/Linden Lab
---------------------------

Rosedale read both science and science fiction: Stephen Wolfram’s work on cellular automata in Scientific American, Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, William Gibson’s Neuromancer. “I became fascinated by this idea of creating a world that had some simple, low-level rules, but that would become alive from these elemental basics, you know, like a real world does.” When, in 1992, his wife bought him a copy of Snow Crash, she told him: “You’re going to love this: a science fiction book about that thing you’re always working on.”

Two years later Rosedale moved to San Francisco. “The first thing I wanted to do, of course, was use the internet to create a giant pool of server machines to simulate an immense world,” he says. “But even I was not crazy enough to try to do that in the early 90s, when the internet was still incredibly slow and computers were unable to properly render worlds in 3D.” By the time Rosedale founded Linden Lab at the turn of the century, he felt the technology was nearly ready.

Persistent online video game worlds were becoming commonplace ( World of Warcraft, the most famous, launched a year after Second Life). While he wanted visitors to stake plots of virtual land and build virtual homes, Rosedale was determined Second Life would not become a video game filled with quests and errands. He wanted the creativity to be user generated, not prescribed – a place, perhaps, where people might try out new identities, proclivities and modes of escapism.

Still, Rosedale kept a close eye on video games, which provided the inspiration for Second Life’s burgeoning economy. “EverQuest, which was a well-known online game before World of Warcraft, had an economy,” he says. “There was a common meeting area people used as a marketplace, where they would cry their wares in text. That was one reason I was convinced we’d need to use an open economy, because it would allow for very complex outcomes.” A marketplace, he reasoned, would provide incentive for users to “build weird things”, then sell them to each other. “I tried to not get in the way of people being their own creators of narrative and content.”

On Second Life’s launch in 2003, Rosedale’s plans to pay for the project were unsophisticated. Initially, Linden Lab charged visitors a “basic access” fee of $9.95, with monthly premium subscriptions of $9.95 thereafter (or $6 if paid annually). After a year, the company switched to a real-estate model. Anyone could visit for free, but those who wanted to own and shape pieces of the world had to pay. Land renters could do anything they wanted with their patch: erect a billboard, build a skyscraper, dig a mine, even run a company. “That turned out to be a great business model,” Rosedale says. “The people buying land were happy to pay for it because they were hosting other things on it, often to make money.” Some opened stores filled with digital outfits; others became estate agents, selling or renting land in desirable locations. In 2006, BusinessWeek featured the first Second Life millionaire on its cover.

We auctioned off an island on Second Life and when people found out the buyer was a real company, they were up in arms

Linden Lab won’t provide a breakdown of its current revenue, but Second Life generates income from several sources in its virtual economy: land sales, maintenance, fees on certain transactions, premium subscriptions. The remainder comes from tiny fees added to every transaction made or by any user attempting to cash out. “These are typically single-digit percentages,” says Rosedale, who points out that Second Life has higher revenues-per-user than YouTube or Facebook, yet does not rely on advertising driven by behavioural targeting and surveillance, which he describes as deeply unethical practices the public would never accept in the physical world.

It’s unclear, Rosedale says, which corporate interest first acquired land in Second Life: “People just use their credit cards, you know. It’s direct-to-consumer.” He remembers the first noteworthy acquisition, however. “We auctioned off an island.” A London-based marketing and content development company, Rivers Run Red, bought it for an estimated $1,600. “At the time it seemed like a lot,” Rosedale recalls. “And I remember when people found out it was a real company, they were, like, super pissed. Everyone was up in arms.” (In 2008 Rivers Run Red partnered with Linden Lab to launch Immersive Workspaces 2.0, virtual meeting rooms in Second Life that could be tailored to the specific needs of a client – an idea that now seems eerily prescient, and another key area of interest for Zuckerberg’s Meta.)

The idea of encouraging real-world businesses to set up in the metaverse, turning their webstores into polygonal buildings, seems key to Zuckerburg’s vision today, too. Meta’s ecstatic 2022 Super Bowl ad featured a mascot dog, forced into redundancy by a restaurant closure, suddenly able to reunite with former colleagues in the Metaverse, a virtual high street on which his former place of work had been miraculously reopened. The message seemed to be that, as the real world becomes ever bleaker and more disconnected, a new digital world, accessed via VR headsets, offers a place to reconnect with old friends and restore bankrupt businesses.

Yet for every true believer there are 50 detractors for whom every metaverse is a joke, or at least a solution looking for a problem.

To people of my age – “digital natives” who grew up at the same time as the internet – Second Life was a punchline: World of Warcraft but with terrible graphics and no purpose. Why would you want to hang out there, laying white picket fences with bald men pretending to be furries (there are 18,000 items for sale in Second Life stores under the tag “Furry”), when you could be rampaging across the hills of Azeroth, broadsword held aloft, on a mission to take down a giant cave troll?

Unlike the vast, interconnected video games of the time, with their arcane rules and Dungeons & Dragons-esque aromas, Second Life was beloved by mainstream journalists who could more easily communicate its appeal – and report human, sometimes salacious stories – to a non-game-playing audience. Even completely offline people could understand the Daily Mail headline: “Mom-of-four dumps husband for pole dancer she met in online game Second Life”. Nobody at the time referred to Second Life as a metaverse; it was just another online space in which slightly nerdy misfits found community – albeit one that, via its crude graphical representations, made the usual sexual frisson found in online spaces manifest via explicit digital representations.

Second Life has never quite shrugged off that slightly seedy, tragic association. Yet during lockdown, when many people craved social connection, visitor numbers began to grow again. Wagner James Au worked for three years as a journalist embedded in the virtual world and has written a book, Making a Metaverse That Matters, charting Second Life’s rise and fall and rise. According to him, today the population skews middle-aged and around 20% of users have a disability that makes real-world interaction difficult.



Furry wrestlers …


… shoppers …


… and friends hanging out. Photographs: Second Life/Linden Lab
---------------------

While other projects have shrunk and closed, Au believes Second Life has endured because of its capacity to facilitate human creativity. “The power and freedom of its creation tools encourages subcommunities to grow, thrive and adhere in the virtual world,” he says. Neither is it seen as a rip-off: “Strong and fair creator economies are rare among metaverse platforms. But Second Life creators earn roughly as much as Linden Lab.”

Most people first join Second Life out of curiosity or boredom, but the reasons for staying are as numerous as the residents, as Fabrizio Laceiras (known as Aufwie) tells me. A musician based in Birmingham, Aufwie, 26, first visited Second Life aged 12. After experiencing bullying at school, he found it hard to make friends and socialise. “Second Life offered a safe environment in which I could be social on my own terms,” he says. Music was his chosen icebreaker. “I would just pop by some virtual land that allowed microphone usage and start playing guitar and singing until someone approached, and we’d start talking.” Often Aufwie’s performances drew a small crowd, so a friend encouraged him to play a proper concert, building a small stage on her land where he could perform. The pair chose a date and time, and distributed leaflets beforehand. When 50 people turned up, Aufwie’s PC struggled to render the throng on screen: “I was forced to log out momentarily, which gave me a bit of time to process what was happening.”

Then, during the pandemic lockdowns, Aufwie attended a Second Life concert staged by another user, known as Skye Galaxy, that inspired him to professionalise. He has now played at least 300 concerts in Second Life, and continues to receive bookings from users all around the world to play at their virtual events.

In a virtual world you actually have neighbours. And they have different personalities and come from different backgroundsWhile the rise in new Second Life users has tailed off since lockdown, it remains the largest non-video game virtual space predominantly populated by adults. Still, it never quite grew to the scale Rosedale had once believed inevitable. In 2006, he said of Second Life, in a quote that became infamous: “We see it as a platform that is, in many ways, better than the real world.”

There are many long-term users of Second Life who, to one degree or another, agree with the statement. For over a decade, one YouTuber, Draxtor, has recorded the stories of Second Life creators who choose to spend much of their day inside the virtual world, where they can find social connection or physical freedoms unavailable to them in the physical realm. Others, such as Erik Mondrian, a former graduate student at CalArts, have found in Second Life a place for self-expression. Mondrian created a series of elegiac films of Second Life structures and locations accompanied by poetic readings, part of a long tradition of artworks created within and around the virtual world. He remembers the date he made an account: 23 March 2005. He picked his real first name and chose “Mondrian” after his favourite artist, from a drop-down list of options. (In 2017, he tells me, he had his name legally changed to Erik Mondrian.)

In the 18 years since he first made an account, he has drifted in and out of Second Life. “Two things kept me coming back, even after the occasional extended absence,” he says. “One was the people, the other the world; I have a strong fascination for place in all its forms, and I wanted to see more of the amazing virtual spaces people had made and continue to make here.”

Today, Rosedale admits he was naive to believe Second Life would become ubiquitous. “Of course, I shouted it from the rooftops, I was so youthfully excited with what was happening,” he says. “I figured everybody would want to have an avatar and that we would all spend a fraction of our lives in something like Second Life, or hopefully Second Life, for the purpose of doing an interview like this, or shopping, or hanging out with people or just having fun. We would wander and explore the world together. In retrospect, that didn’t happen.”

In part, this is because Rosedale overestimated the difficulty some people have with embodying an on-screen avatar. “I had a utopian belief that most people would be comfortable moving their objective selves into a digital reality,” he says. “That turned out to not be the case. Most choose to identify with only one embodied representation of themselves, and that is their physical body. The difficulty of sustaining a second identity is considerable and the number of people willing to do that is smaller than I thought in 2006. So I don’t think metaverses are going to be able to grow in a way that, for example, would sustain Facebook’s business enough for them to survive. They would need a good part of a billion people doing this.”



Second Life virtual events …


… include music and dance in Peak Lounge …
----------------------

More positively, Rosedale says he was heartened to see how Second Life users predominantly get along. “It’s not divisive, or polarising,” he says. “Obviously I’m biased, but there is a lot of independent research to back this up. Second Life delivers on the dream that a lot of us had about the internet at the beginning, which was that it would be this civil, interesting, thoughtful place where people would, if anything, overcome differences between themselves and find new ground.”

This is where, he argues, the idea of a virtual world built in 3D space offers non-gimmicky advantages over a traditional social network. “In a virtual world you actually have neighbours,” he says. “And they have different personalities and come from different backgrounds, so what happens is people are forced to frequently interact with people who are different from them.” Compared with a Facebook group, which gathers like-minded individuals and encourages self-polarising, Second Life forces interaction with a variety of users.

If it seems as though Rosedale has essentially invented the revolutionary concept of “a village”, he is quick to point out the virtue of virtuality is that there is no threat of physical altercation in disputes; this can encourage a bottom-up civility, easing the burden on traditional top-down moderation techniques deployed by the social media giants. “If somebody’s having an extremist gathering in Second Life, other people are going to wander by and challenge that, because it is occurring in the same physical space. That is a lot healthier than what we’ve seen with the echo chambers and hard boundaries of social media.”

Second Life, to Rosedale, affirms the essential virtues of humanity. “The fact is, most of us almost all of the time are good,” he says. “We’re social, we’re collaborative. Our primary reason for interacting with each other, even with strangers, is to help them. So it’s appalling to me that, via business motivation, we’ve actually managed to create these social media terrariums which manipulate people into being bad to each other, when it’s not their instinct.”

Rosedale believes a ubiquitous metaverse, whether it’s made by Zuckerberg or someone else, has the chance to be a kinder, less invasive online environment. But he fears that most of the companies working on such a project have missed one essential component of lasting success: the fact that people are as much creators as they are consumers. “There isn’t as yet any evidence that people want to have a purely consumptive entertainment experience in social virtual worlds,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any evidence in human history that you can get a billion people to just kind of sit there and veg out, watch stuff. You can’t get to the kind of usage levels that metaverse brands want to get to with a consumer non-participatory experience.”

In Snow Crash, the allure of the metaverse is inextricably linked to the climate crisis. As the real world inside the novel becomes less habitable, human beings retreat further into virtual spaces that allow for increased shelter from heatwaves and biblical floods, combined with greater degrees of exploratory freedom that do not rely on air travel. Yet a valid criticism of virtual worlds is that they draw human focus away from the social and environmental issues that threaten the planet. These comforting playpens are not, critics say, so much a solution as a contributing factor.

Here, Rosedale appears to endorse Meta’s vision for a world of VR meetings. “One of the largest problems around our impact on the environment is travel. When metaverse technology gets to the point where you and I could have had this meeting as avatars, there is a tremendous positive impact on that.” Likewise, if we begin to express our tastes in the digital realm more than the physical one, the cost of creating and “shipping” virtual goods would be negligible. “If you just stay in your room from now on and only use your computer, your carbon footprint is enormously lower than what it would be if you got up out of your chair,” Rosedale says. “I get really mad when people complain and say Second Life avatars take up energy. Sure they do. But they take up, like, 1% of the energy that you do.”

Rosedale’s suggestion that it is, by some metrics at least, preferable for human beings to predominantly live in a digital realm is an idea shared by investors eager to extract capital from digital real estate (which is, for now, far cheaper to buy than real real estate). Whatever the motivation, the quest to build a ubiquitous virtual world with rentable plots and a functioning economy will remain a persistent goal, even if Facebook’s failed efforts demonstrate its expense and elusiveness.

Second Life’s endurance demonstrates that, whatever the configuration, a metaverse’s success can only be founded on human qualities of social interaction and self-expression. “I obviously don’t feel as excited now as when I started roaming around Second Life,” Aufwie says. “But I still feel gratitude towards this apparently everlasting pioneering metaverse that allowed me to express myself, make friends, learn and share thoughts and all the good things humanity has within it.”

Who needs the Metaverse? Meet the people still living on Second Life | Second Life | The Guardian

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From: Ron6/13/2023 6:44:33 PM
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A Romanian hacker who ran the infrastructure behind several malware strains was sentenced to three years in U.S. federal prison on Monday.
therecord.media

Prosecutors said 39-year-old Mihai Ionut Paunescu helped run “bulletproof hosting” service PowerHost[.]ro, which helped cybercriminals distribute the Gozi Virus, the Zeus Trojan, the SpyEye Trojan, and the BlackEnergy malware. Cybercriminals used the malware strains to steal financial information, among other purposes.

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From: Glenn Petersen6/17/2023 3:17:57 PM
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This has to be a big employee morale booster:

Reddit CEO praises Elon Musk’s cost-cutting as protests rock the platform

Steve Huffman said in an interview that Elon Musk's cost-cutting at Twitter was inspiring and that the two have chatted "a handful of times."

June 16, 2023, 2:51 PM CDT
By David Ingram
NBC News
Twitter owner Elon Musk may have had an influence on Reddit’s CEO ahead of changes to the website that have resulted in a user-led rebellion on the platform.

In an interview Thursday with NBC News, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman praised Musk’s aggressive cost-cutting and layoffs at Twitter, and said he had chatted “a handful of times” with Musk on the subject of running an internet platform.

Huffman said he saw Musk’s handling of Twitter, which he purchased last year, as an example for Reddit to follow.



Steve Huffman at Variety & Reddit An Evening With Future Makers at Wynn Las Vegas on in Las Vegas, on Jan. 5, 2023.Greg Doherty / Variety via Getty Images
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“Long story short, my takeaway from Twitter and Elon at Twitter is reaffirming that we can build a really good business in this space at our scale,” Huffman said.

“Now, they’ve taken the dramatic road,” he added, “and I guess I can’t sit here and say that we’re not either, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity here.”

Musk shocked Silicon Valley peers with his deep-cost cutting at Twitter and began his ownership of the company last fall by axing most of the company’s employees in a chaotic series of decisions that left some people doubting whether Twitter would be able to stay online.

Huffman is trying to turn Reddit profitable after decades as a money-losing website punching above its weight in internet culture.

This week, influential volunteer moderators who manage the communities that make up the site walled off large parts of Reddit, making them inaccessible to most users as part of their demonstration. The protest is a response to part of Huffman’s business plan, which includes potentially charging other tech companies large fees for access to Reddit data.

Huffman said there’s one concrete area where Musk’s example has been clear: job cuts. He said he had often wondered why Twitter under its previous management had struggled to be profitable on a consistent basis despite revenue in 2021 of $5.1 billion.

“As a company smaller than theirs, sub-$1 billion in revenue, I used to look at Twitter and say, ‘Well, why can’t they break even at 4 or 5 billion in revenue? What about their business do we not understand?’ Because I think we should be able to do that quite handsomely,” he said.

“And then I think one of the nonobvious things that Elon showed is what I was hoping would be true, which is: You can run a company with that many users in the ads business and break even with a lot fewer people,” Huffman said.

Musk ended up hiring some employees back, but corporate headcount has remained well below where it was before the acquisition. Musk has also imposed other severe cost-cutting measures, such as not paying some of Twitter’s bills including rent, leading to an eviction order in Colorado.

“They had to do some pretty violent changes and violent surgery to get there,” Huffman said.

It is not clear if Twitter is profitable because some advertisers have left, cutting into revenue, but Huffman said the lesson was on the other side of the ledger.

“People are talking about a lot of things on Twitter, but I think that’s the part that’s the most interesting from my point of view as a business person, is that there actually are good businesses at this scale,” he said.

Reddit’s recent layoffs have been far more modest than Twitter’s. The company said June 6 that it was laying off about 5% of its workforce, or 90 employees.

Huffman did not say how often the chats with Musk have taken place or where they’ve happened.

Twitter and Reddit are both headquartered in San Francisco, and the privately held companies both share Fidelity as an investor. Reddit is majority-owned by Advance Publications, the parent company of Conde Nast, according to CNBC.

Musk’s representatives at Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Huffman said that many ordinary people do not realize that there are “two classes of company” in the world of consumer-facing tech businesses: There’s internet heavies such as Google and Facebook, and then there are much smaller but still well-known companies such as Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit.

“From a user’s point of view, you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re just as big. They’re just as successful. You know, maybe a little less so,’” Huffman said.

“But you wouldn’t realize that it’s like a 20, 30x difference in revenue. And, you know, not really profitable — maybe a quarter here or there,” he said.

Twitter had $5 billion in revenue in 2021, the year before Musk’s acquisition. Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, reported revenue that year of $117.9 billion. Alphabet, the owner of Google, reported revenue that year of $257.6 billion.

Huffman said he has not adopted Musk’s thinking across the board.

“There’s a lot of other things where our platforms are just different — how they think about moderation versus us,” he said.

He didn’t cite examples. A Reddit spokesperson Friday declined to cite any specifics but said Reddit is different in multiple ways, including that ordinary users have the power to upvote and downvote posts.

One specific difference is their handling of former President Donald Trump and his supporters. While Musk reinstated Trump’s Twitter account, which prior management had suspended after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, Reddit has kept in place its ban on the subreddit r/the_donald, a gathering spot for Trump’s supporters.

Elsewhere in the interview with NBC News, Huffman criticized the organizers of this week’s blackout, saying he was considering pursuing rules changes that may allow ordinary Reddit users to vote them out. He compared the long-tenured, difficult-to-oust moderators as “landed gentry,” and some moderators fear Huffman may force them out.

Reddit CEO praises Elon Musk as protests rock platform (nbcnews.com)

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6730)6/17/2023 5:01:08 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
 
The Reddit Blackout Is Breaking Reddit

When the user revolt ends—if it ever does—Reddit’s community won’t ever be the same.

Boone Ashworth
Wired
June 17,



PHOTOGRAPH: ILONA SAKHNO/ALAMY
--------------------------

IT’S PRETTY EASY to piss people off on Reddit. Less so to piss off seemingly everyone on the platform.

Still, Reddit’s management has succeeded in doing just that as it weathers protests over its decision to charge for access to its API. That ruling risks putting the company in a death spiral as users revolt, the most dedicated community caretakers quit, and the vibrant discussions move to other platforms.

The company’s changes to its data access policies effectively price out third-party developers who make mobile applications for browsing Reddit; two of the most popular options, Reddit Is Fun and Apollo, which together have over 41 million downloads, are both shutting down. After some initial backlash from users and disability advocates who said Reddit’s changes would adversely affect accessibility-focused apps aimed at people with dyslexia or vision impairments, Reddit said it would exempt those apps from the price hikes. Those apps also have far smaller user bases than Apollo or RIF.

Reddit’s plans—driven by an urge to make the company more profitable as it inches toward going public—sparked a protest across nearly 9,000 subreddits, where moderators of those communities switched their groups to private mode, preventing anyone from accessing them. Many of those subs remain inaccessible four days later, and their moderators say they plan to keep up the blackout indefinitely. (Disclosure: WIRED is a publication of Conde Nast, whose parent company, Advance Publications, has an ownership stake in Reddit.)

However unfazed Reddit execs appear to be, this subreddit seppuku sure does seem like a surefire way to sink the company. But does it really signal the death of Reddit?

“I can't see it as anything but that,” says Rory Mir, an associate director of community organizing at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (Earlier this week, Mir wrote about what Reddit got wrong.) “Like with Twitter, it's not a big collapse when a social media website starts to die, but it is a slow attrition unless they change their course. The longer they stay in their position, the more loss of users and content they’re going to face.”

The unrest at Reddit is the latest in a string of social media upheavals that have seemingly pitted profit-hungry companies against their users. Platforms like Reddit, Twitter, or even Amazon that started operating at a loss in order to grow their user base eventually face pressures to further monetize their traffic. When a site sidelines the wants and needs of its users in the pursuit of profit, that leads to a downturn—and potential death of the platform—that author Cory Doctorow has termed “ enshittification.”

“Any plan that involves endless and continuous growth is bound to run into scale issues, which is where I think Reddit and Twitter are running into problems,” Mir says. “You can’t inflate the balloon forever. It will pop at some point.”

Amy Bruckman is a regents' professor and senior associate chair at Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing. She has also contributed to WIRED and is a moderator of several subreddits, including the very popular r/science, which is restricted until Monday. Bruckman says this era of social media has been rife with sudden changes. “There was an extended period of years, maybe even a decade, where it felt like the way things are is the way they always will be,” she says. “And everything is suddenly shifted.”

Reddit charging for access to its API is also about more than just third-party clients, Bruckman says. A move like this has angered so many people on Reddit because it feels like a betrayal of the community’s trust. It might be a vocal minority of users who are pissed off about the changes, but they’re the people who volunteer their time to keep communities functional—and they’re arguably the most important users on the site.

“Beyond the fact that it’s in a dozen ways harder to do our job, it’s also just the case that Reddit felt more like an open platform where innovation by committed users was encouraged,” Bruckman says. “And this feels like it's trampling on that.”

Reddit has denied that it is specifically targeting third-party apps like Apollo and RIF. The company initially said that limiting its API access is a move meant to control the flow of data being gobbled up by generative artificial intelligence companies like OpenAI training their large language models. But in an interview with NPR, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said limiting third-party access will also help Reddit keep control over how it displays ads—the company’s primary source of income—to users. Force everyone to interact on one app, and it’s easier to fill their feeds with whatever advertising you want.

“They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” Mir says. “The content of the users is what makes the platform worth visiting. These hosts kind of run into this confusion that their hosting is the reason people are going there, but it’s really for the other users on the medium.”

And those users are bailing. Bruckman says she knows a moderator who has already quit, saying it wasn’t worth the energy to devote so much time to a company that can just toss all that effort aside. Like with Twitter, no clear alternative has emerged as a replacement. Bruckman advocates for public funding of a nonprofit version of something akin to Reddit. Some more casual users say they’re going back to Tumblr, which is still recovering from its own corporate sanitization in 2018.

Still, Mir says, there’s a real hunger for stability on a platform. It’s part of the reason sites like Reddit and Twitter have gotten so big. There are people who have had the same email address for 30 years or the same username on Reddit for a decade. If users have invested significant time in a community, it’s going to be a pain to find something amid the sea of federated upstarts that all claim to be the next best thing.

Clearly, Reddit is hoping that inertia and customer loyalty keep people on its site. Even if users grumble about losing their favorite app, the company is expecting they’ll just cave and download the official app. That may work on your typical user, but it’s not going to be as easy to convert the mods—especially ones who feel burned by Reddit’s monetary machinations.

Mir offers another business metaphor for the tension on Reddit: “If you have a really good music venue, but you break relations with every notable artist, you’re not going to be a very successful venue. You need to really prioritize the needs of the folks providing the value on your platform.”

The Reddit Blackout Is Breaking Reddit | WIRED\

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6730)6/17/2023 5:06:47 PM
From: Ron
   of 6761
 
-- influential volunteer moderators who manage the communities that make up the site walled off large parts of Reddit, making them inaccessible to most users as part of their demonstration.

Noticed that earlier on Reddit. This is going to be interesting.

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To: Ron who wrote (6732)6/17/2023 5:22:38 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
 
A self-inflected wound. I wonder where the users are migrating.

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From: Ron6/17/2023 5:22:52 PM
   of 6761
 
The Untold Story of the Biggest, Boldest Supply-Chain Hack Ever:
Hackers May still be inside corporate and government computers, years later: Solar Winds
archive.ph

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6733)6/17/2023 5:40:26 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
 
I just bought the only physical encyclopedia still in print, and I regret nothing

The still-updated World Book Encyclopedia is my antidote to the information apocalypse.

BENJ EDWARDS - 6/9/2023, 6:30 AM
Ars Technica



A photo of the 2023 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia on the author's family room shelf. / Benj Edwards
----------------------

These days, many of us live online, where machine-generated content has begun to pollute the Internet with misinformation and noise. At a time when it's hard to know what information to trust, I felt delight when I recently learned that World Book still prints an up-to-date book encyclopedia in 2023. Although the term "encyclopedia" is now almost synonymous with Wikipedia, it's refreshing to see such a sizable reference printed on paper. So I bought one, and I'll tell you why.

Based in Chicago, World Book, Inc. first published an encyclopedia in 1917, and it has released a new edition almost every year since 1925. The company, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, claims that its encyclopedia is "the only general reference encyclopedia still published today." My research seems to back up this claim, at least in English; it's possibly true even for languages. Its fiercest competitor of yore, The Encyclopedia Britannica, ended its print run in 2012 after 244 years in print.

In a nod to our present digital age, World Book also offers its encyclopedia as a subscription service through the web. Yet it's the print version that mystifies and attracts my fascination. Why does it still exist?

"Because there is still a demand!" Tom Evans, World Book's editor-in-chief, told Ars over email.

Today, up-to-date information flows freely thanks to the Internet. It's only a Google search away. Many people rely on Wikipedia, which is a nonprofit collaborative resource, for reference purposes. Despite that, some people and organizations apparently still buy paper encyclopedias. Evans said that sales of the print edition are "in the thousands" and that World Book always prints just enough copies to satisfy demand.



The Encyclopedia Britannica, a competitor of World Book, ended its print run in 2012. / Encyclopedia Britannica
------------------------

A World Book rep told Quartz in 2019 that the print encyclopedia sold mostly to schools, public libraries, and homeschooling families. Today, Evans says that public and school libraries are still the company's primary customers. "World Book has a loyal following of librarians who understand the importance of a general reference encyclopedia in print form, accessible to all."

As a kid, our family owned a 1968 edition of World Book that I relied on for school reports and projects all the way until my high school graduation in 1999, although I briefly used Microsoft Encarta on CD-ROM and a CompuServe encyclopedia in the 1990s. At the time, even with electronic references, instantaneous, up-to-date information didn't seem as important. We were still largely operating at the speed of paper. While that concept seems foreign to us in our current world, there was a certain kind of comfort in that slowness.

Speaking of slow, a paper encyclopedia set certainly can't run away from you. Back in the day, our family's encyclopedia set took up a large dedicated shelf in our family room. Just like my old 1968 edition, the new print edition of World Book is a physically hefty reference. The 2023 version spans 17,000 articles spread over 14,000 pages in 22 volumes. The company says it features over 25,000 photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and maps.

All this paper-bound content can't possibly come cheap, you might think. And, of course, you're right. At a time when most information comes to us for free online (with strings attached, of course), it's easy to have sticker shock at the $1,199 retail price for the 2023 edition of World Book, although shoppers might occasionally find it for as low as $799 on Amazon (to compare, the online subscription costs $250 per year). Earlier editions are available for much lower prices.

I know it may seem weird to prefer the print edition since you can get the same content in the online version in a space-saving and portable format. But with the paper version, the World Book will always be yours. It can't be edited stealthily or taken down if the company needs the server space or goes out of business.

So I took the plunge.

Why I bought an encyclopedia



Unboxing a print encyclopedia in 2023 is a somewhat surreal experience for a tech writer./ Benj Edwards
----------------------------

First, I'll be honest: The existence of an up-to-date print encyclopedia in 2023 took me by surprise. I experienced a range of emotions, from glee to confusion to sadness over the past. "The last of the dinosaurs" metaphor sprung to mind. But then I suddenly felt that I had to have it, and that's when the rationalizations kicked in. I have two kids, 10 and 13, and maybe the kids could use it for school, just like I did? Or maybe they could use it as a steady source of offline information in a world where unreliable information seems to be coming at them from all sides?

I'm an AI reporter for Ars Technica, and I often write about generative AI tools that could potentially pollute our online spaces (and our historical records) with very convincing fake information. Some people think these tools may destabilize society. At best, they may merely decrease the signal-to-noise ratio of online information. Years ago, The Guardian and BuzzFeed called this presumed coming age, where true and false information are almost impossible to distinguish, "the Information apocalypse." Never one to shy away from the chance to coin a term, I've called it the "cultural singularity."

Although I've warned about AI-generated misinformation on Ars Technica as well, I'm still optimistic that people who are cognizant of these issues can get through the coming decade with factual electronic knowledge at hand. But just in case I'm wrong, a little voice in the back of my head reasoned that it would be nice to have a good summary of human knowledge in print, vetted by professionals and fixed in a form where it can't be tampered with after the fact—whether by humans, AI, or mere link rot. That's appealing to me.

So I pulled the trigger and bought the 2023 edition. A week or so later, the entire encyclopedia set arrived in a single box that looked small but was massively heavy. Each volume came individually shrink-wrapped. It may sound silly, but as I carefully pulled them out of the box one by one, I enjoyed feeling the weight of the information in my hands. It felt like stepping back onto dry land after a long boat ride. It's hard to put a name on that emotion.



An example of The World Book 2023 Encyclopedia, turned to the entry on "Television." / Benj Edwards
--------------------------

Opening up a volume of the World Book took me back in time. Memories of school libraries and book reports came flooding back. Notably, each volume has nothing to distract you from reading. No pop-ups, no requests for donations, no ads. It's just you and the information, curated by World Book's editors.

As for its content, the 2023 edition doesn't shy away from the contemporary. New biographies of notable figures such as snowboarder Chloe Kim, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, find their place alongside hundreds of article updates on topics varying from homeschooling and indigenous peoples of the Americas to space exploration and television.

To test its accuracy, I looked up articles on subjects I'm knowledgeable about, including "Artificial Intelligence," "Computer," "Video Games," "Internet," and "Communication," eagerly checking for updates and additions to the 1968 edition I had as a kid. It's surreal to open up a reference book familiar to me from my childhood and read (in the familiar World Book typeface) an up-to-date article that mentions Instagram and Snapchat and includes a photo of a smartphone.



Smartphones appear in the 2023 edition. That feels weird when the last time you looked at a World Book was in the 1990s. / Benj Edwards
--------------------------

World Book's authoritative, neutral tone feels refreshing. For example, the 2023 edition pulls no punches regarding its concise analysis of our previous US president's legacy, but it doesn't go out of the way to attack him, either. Every article I've read so far is accurate and well-written.

It hasn't been a perfect product, however. The 2023 edition of World Book that I purchased includes a binding error that replaces the first 60 pages of the "G" volume with pages from the "U" volume. Judging by a review from an Amazon customer who noticed the same thing, it's possible that defect is present in the entire (likely small) print run.

When I told Evans about the print error, he replied, "We were recently made aware of that manufacturing problem. The printer has assured us that it is an issue for only a very small number of sets." World Book offered to replace the faulty volume for free.

Reaction from my family



The shark photo on the World Book 2023 spines didn't win fans in my household. / Benj Edwards
---------------------

After I ordered the encyclopedia, I kept it a secret from my family until it arrived because I wanted to surprise my wife and kids. Who would expect an encyclopedia set to show up on the doorstep in 2023?

Upon first telling my wife that I bought an encyclopedia, she was confused, then excited. She, too, recalled the thrill of researching projects in encyclopedias as a kid. But that's where the fun ended. While she wasn't looking, I placed the set on a prominent bookshelf in the family room of my house, then unveiled it to her. When she saw the large photo of a shark spread across the spines of the 22 volumes, she frowned and said, "I don't want to see a big-ass shark every day when I walk in the room."

(I have since moved the set to a new shelf.)

According to the press release announcing the 2023 edition, World Book selected the shark photo (which it calls a "Spinescape®") because sharks are "a high-interest topic to students K-12 and World Book has a desire to support shark conservation." It's not a bad photo—it's just not the handsome set of formal reference volumes that my wife was apparently expecting.

Later, I introduced the encyclopedia to my kids. They had never used a print encyclopedia, and they looked at me like I was an alien, almost as if I were speaking a different language (such a trite expression, but man, is it accurate). I had hoped they could use the encyclopedia as an old-fashioned reference, but so far, they have completely and utterly rejected it, not even expressing interest or opening it once. That aspect of my plans for the encyclopedia has been a big failure.



A promotional photo of The World Book Encyclopedia 2023 edition, complete with shark. / World Book
--------------------------

My family's reaction was disappointing, but I don't mind that the encyclopedia set is just for me. Every morning as I wait for the kids to get ready for school, I pull out a random volume and browse. I've refreshed my knowledge on many subjects and enjoy the deliberate stability of the information experience. I feel confident using it as an occasional personal reference as the online world slides further into AI-augmented noise. And it's definitely more accurate than an AI large language model at the moment.

Aside from the shark photo and the print error, I am genuinely proud to own a modern World Book Encyclopedia. And I say that freely, having purchased the set out of pocket myself. In fact, World Book did not respond to my initial request to provide a sample volume to examine. Who knows—maybe they had to print out my email and physically mail it to Warren Buffett for approval first. I may eventually get a reply next year by steamship. But that's the comfortable, slow speed I'd expect from the world's last general-subject print encyclopedia.

For now, I was happy to chat with World Book's Tom Evans via tempered electrons, who says his employer's commitment to the print edition is ongoing. "We will continue to produce the print edition of The World Book Encyclopedia while there is still a demand. We believe in supporting teachers, librarians, and students and are committed to supplying content to them in whatever form is required," he said.

I'm no information prepper, but I'm glad that no matter what happens online, the information inside my World Book set will never change. Sometimes it's nice not to always be magically up to date.
----------------------

Benj Edwards is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. In his free time, he writes and records music, collects vintage computers, and enjoys nature. He lives in Raleigh, NC.

I just bought the only physical encyclopedia still in print, and I regret nothing | Ars Technica

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6735)6/17/2023 5:46:27 PM
From: Sultan
   of 6761
 
Interesting.. $1,199 for 22 book set..

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