OpenSim Takes a New Direction – April Fool’s Day in Perspective

I was stunned to read more of the reactions to the The Great 2009 OpenSim April Fool’s Prank. There have been people threatening legal action on the OpenSim Users mailing list. The most thought out reaction that I’ve found so far is OpenSim, You’re Losin’ Me, Punking is for Punks. I must say, I take a very different perspective.

I’ve already made my comments about being thankful for developers that give us something for free, even if they include a April Fool’s day pranks in the version of the software intended for developers. Yet the reaction seems to be so over the top, I thought I would try to put it into some context.

Back in 2007, I wrote 1994 all over again where I compared OpenSim with the dispersion of text based virtual worlds called MOOs back in the 1990s. People interested in understand online communities often read articles about LambdaMOO, the grand daddy of the MOOs, and, at least in my mind, the precursor to the three dimensional virtual worlds we now visit. Usually, they end up reading some variant of Julian Dibbell’s article A Rape in Cyberspace.

They move on to learn about how LambdaMOO dealt with community and governance issues. If they are diligent, they read LambdaMOO Takes a New Direction and the follow up LambdaMOO Takes Another Direction. One of my biggest criticisms of the folks at Linden Lab and also perhaps of many others going out and setting up their own OpenSim based virtual worlds is that they haven’t read what happened in the early text based days of virtual worlds and seem destined to repeat many of the mistakes.

Indeed, the uproar about The Great 2009 OpenSim April Fool’s Prank reminds me of so many discussions in LambdaMOO ages ago.

There is another aspect of history that people need to be aware of, and that is the history of April Fool’s pranks online. Perhaps Amy Bruckman said it best in the syllabus to a class she taught, The Design of Virtual Communities, back in 1998.

On the Internet, the most important holiday of the year is April Fools Day! Poke around the net today and gather your best April Fools' pranks. Bring them to our next class. On LambdaMOO, please note *ballot:AprilFools!

*ballot:AprilFools! starts off:

We used to have a lot of fun on April Fools Day, but now the wizards are afraid of being disputed, and wizardly pranks are minimal.

On April 1st each year, the LambdaMOO Wizards may freely make any temporary changes they like to the database and server for the amusement of the populace. These changes must be reversible, and will be undone on April 2nd. The changes also must not compromise the privacy of any individual in any way.

While @ballot:AprilFools! does not apply to OpenSim Developers, perhaps it should. I, for one, hope that every April 1st, there will be some developers prank, meeting the criteria described in the ballot.

So, with that, let’s go back to the earliest prank in a virtual world that I know of. In The Incredible Tale of LambdaMOO, Pavel Curtis, the archwizard of LambdaMOO wrote:

On the morning of April 1, 1992, when I first got to work, I checked out the transcript of my perpetual connection to LambdaMOO. Amid the usual paged questions and the like, there was a cryptic little message about how a major fire had just swept through the house. Curious, I began wandering around the core of LambdaHouse; it was marvelous. Clearly, some of my staff of wizards had been very busy preparing for this wonderful April Fool's Day hack.

At some point in my wanderings, a worried player paged me to say that it really, truly wasn't his fault, but he seemed suddenly to be a wizard! I didn't believe it, of course, but I checked it out just the same and discovered to my shock that it was true; when I inspected his player object, it clearly had the "wizard" bit on! He pointed to the latest article in the LambdaMOO newspaper; that article, written by my wizards, described the fire and said that, in order to hasten the repairs, all players had been made into wizards so that they could help out. I was utterly aghast.

There may well have been other great virtual world pranks prior to 1992 and I’m willing to bet my Google Chrome 3D Glasses and my Google TiSP spindle that there are going to be more great pranks in the virtual worlds to come.

I’m also willing to bet that the humor impaired will gripe as much about them as they have about The Great 2009 OpenSim April Fool’s Prank, and the many directions the wizards of LambdaMOO have led their community.

Meanwhile, I’ll sit back, observe, comment, and try to have as much fun myself, as I possibly can.