SL Reverse Engineering Effort Gets Imprimatur

libsecondlife, the reverse-engineering effort by a group of talented Second Life residents (which has caused no small consternation among some users of the virtual world) got a welcome imprimatur from Linden Lab chief technology officer Cory Ondrejka in his closing talk at Saturday’s sessions of the Second Life Community Convention in San Francisco. Ondrejka also gave a look at changes being made to the code-base, changes that should make building Web-based SL mashups easier for everyone, whether or not you know enough to pick apart the platform to build something like libsecondlife.

“The official position of Linden Lab on libsecondlife is, we like libSL, you guys rock,” Ondrejka said. “We are blown away by what you’ve accomplished, and we’re very excited to see you do more, so do not stop. But everything you’ve reverse engineered is changing, and for that I do apologize.” libsecondlife hackers that 3pointD spoke with at the convention remained unconcerned, however, as the changes Cory described will no doubt be slow in coming.

Among the upcoming changes:

• the internal messaging system over which various parts of the SL platform communicate is being moved to well defined XML
• the user interface is being refactored (more or less a fancy word for cleaned up), and also moved to XML
• the system will move to a “capabilities-based permissions structure”
• as much data as possible is going to be exposed in representational-state transfer (REST) interfaces, which will allow it to be much more easily accessed from Web-based applications.

“You’ll be able to hit things with browsers and with RSS,” Ondrejka said. “We want you guys to be able to get at the data, to be able to do things like build own Web-based parcel manager for parcels. Long-term, our goal is open, discoverable APIs for as much of the sytem as we possibly can. You guys are doing incredible things, we want you to be able to do more.”

Some Second Life residents had become concerned about the libSL effort after it was revealed that proprietary textures could be stolen using the tool, and a crude version of “god mode” could be entered that might give users access to data that normally wouldn’t be available. But the presence of the tool has not caused any widespread problems for SL residents. And Linden Lab itself clearly has no problem with the effort.

The changes Cory described may make libsecondlife obsolete, but they will open up broad new potential for SL residents to write Web-based apps that interact more closely with the virtual world. It will no doubt be some time, however, before the company can accomplish such a deep overhaul of its code. For now, look to the hackers.


  1. Tao Takashi

    IMHO the creation of libsecondlife has helped a lot to make that stuff happen. It was created due to the fact that SL is a bit closed and now Linden Lab is adapting to it and opening it up.

    I think this is a great example that resident driven initiatives can move something when they are constructive (of course I am not saying that every initiative will and maybe it was a bit luck that this did but for me it’s the best news from that event).

    And they said they are even changing the Terms of Service to reflect this change as under those it’s actually not allowed to create such software.

  2. Ordinal Malaprop

    Well, that all sounds very hopeful, though clearly I’m not going to count my prim chickens just yet. I hope that the emphasis is not too much on web interfaces, though – it’s all very well being able to sort your inventory by PHP or whatever, but there’s a lot to be tidied up and expanded as regards in-world scripting too, and I wouldn’t want that to fall by the wayside.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    So I want to understand how LindenLaw (TM) works differently than regular rule of law.

    In the TOS, it clearly states that reverse engineering is prohibited. Many residents have pointed this out with consternation. Some people end up in the cornfield for attempting to reverse engineer.

    But for the Cool Kids that Cory Linden personally likes, defined by the rigorous scientific criteria called “you guys rock,” i.e. you apparently went to the right schools or the right IRC channels or sucked up to the right lidnens, then, it’s ok to break the TOS.

    Just so we know.

  4. Prokofy Neva

    Oh, and Tao, I get it now, what they’ll do is say, “We found a group of our friends we especially like who we think rock, so we will now warp and nerf our TOS around just them but we reserve to the right to arbitrarily whack at anybody we don’t like well…just because.”

  5. Tao Takashi

    Some notes about this:

    It depends on the definition of friends in how far you can claim this being a problem. Besides I doubt that LL would change the paradigms just because of some friends. I think it’s more their effort plus the many people shouting for opening it up to make this happen and for LL to rethink their position.

    The libsecondlife team has always been (afaik) communicating with LL before releasing this stuff in order to check with them whether it is ok with them or not. I don’t know anything about those cases landing in the cornfield but maybe that’s a difference. Not sure, though.

    And I don’t get the point about IRC.. It can be the same about the right forums, the right places in SL, the right blogs to comment on and so on. I doubt that they will listen more closely to anybody just for being on IRC.

  6. Prokofy Neva

    Tao, for you, there are no principles. The law means nothing. It’s just infinitely slideable. For you, if I point out that there is a very clear TOS wording about not permitting reverse engineering *in effect now,* and I point out that some extra special people got to override that well, just because they were extra smart and brilliant, then it’s pretty clearn to me — and most who value upholding the rule of law, that the law applies to some and doesn’t to others — it’s as flexible and irrational as the forums moderation and the lurching or absentee enforcement there.

    So then your only response can be, well, we have to look at each case. How much is it a problem? Why, these are good people, doing a good job, and maybe helping with bugs and maybe finding stuff and clearing it with the Linden buddies in their old boy’s network premised on the idea that “we know better” and the law doesn’t matter. “The law is not for the likes of you or me.”

    This creates a legal nihilism, and a bending and breaking of the law and its meaning. Lindens even say, oh, let’s just rewrite the TOS around them! Because we need them! Let’s not be hidebound, etc.

    Of course, they feel in a revolutionary situation with revolutionary technology, erm revolutionary expediency of the Lenin type is allowed them. And who’s to stop them? Not you, because you judge things by revolutionary expendiency, too — what is good for the Platform! The platform uber alles!

    IRC is a special case. There are Linden programmers there and it’s a kind of hangout where they all chat and talk shop about tekkie programming stuff — and feel they are above the law, outside the world, to one side of it, as the sanctified creators. The rest of us are the feebs and choads who aren’t privy to this sanctified priesthood. We have to abide by the law, it’s for us, and can be wielded against us at any time. Tekkies not in the right place and in the right Linden space who try to reverse engineer for fun can find themselves bounced. A very arbitrary judgement could be made — “that person is doing this maliciously or for profit”. And…how can we be sure?

    The point is, it’s all entirely discretionary. It’s all at executive-level subjective judgement. And that is not a good thing to be doing when you are trying to set up a civil society with democracy and justice — which is something that at least Mitch Kapor has made some noises about.

    Now, what could be another way to do it?

    They could announce that they wish to have a kind of bug-hunting bounty type of situation, or they could say “we have a programming headache trying to make a better more usable UI, and we’d love people to fool around and try their hand at it, good luck, go for it”.

    But see…if they did that, and *opened it up to random bidding by people* they’d lose their old-boys’ network control over it. People that “might not be the right sort” might show up. They might be forced to more from “gut feeling” about whether “we like” a person to actually having to write down on paper what they want in the job description. The dynamic is very different. But I suggest that’s what they should be doing with stuff like this, not winking and nodding and saying privately in the IRC what clever lads they are; then appearing stealthily on their forums beaming with approval; then officially announcing they are “cleared”.

    Tao, all you have to do to see how unjust this kind of thing is, is to transpose it to another sector.

    Imagine if X Linden showed up on my blog in the comments and started beaming supportively, “Hey, love your idea about how to handle griefers and security orbs Prok! We approve!” — just picture the rage many others would sense at this sort of feting. Or imagine if Y Linden appeared on Neualtenberg’s blog. or SLOG, with beaming and approval about the idea that freebie sellers should be punished — suddenly departing from very long-standing and firm practice of Lindens to simply remain absolutely agnostic on this issue and do nothing (and God bless them for it). Suddenly, they’d be favouring and powering up somebody in a very contentious debate.

    Imagine if they blessed the Thinkers with their idea for mediation — and of course that’s what they did in the past and hinted at recently and that’s why I’d show up and scream. And people would scream if I were the one suddenly petted and cossetted and told I was a clever boy. It would enrage others — and rightly so. Why weren’t they included? Why weren’t their ideas heard? Why wasn’t there a *democratic process* to decide these matters justly in this society?

    Can you understand that? That’s why this libsl stuff is so enraging. It shows that the Lindens *don’t care about democracy and justice and a social contract* — once again. They just want to pick their friends, do their thing as a company, and stiff everybody else. There are droves of people who support them in that — and that’s only because secretly they always hope to get picked.

  7. bushing Spatula

    Prokovy — Your eloquence makes it clear that you are an intelligent person, and you obviously care a great deal about these issues. I think it’s my turn to try to understand why you’re so angry about reverse-engineering and hopefully to help you see the other side.

    Full disclosure — I
    * am new here — so have probably not seen many of the things that have upset you
    * am part of the libsecondlife team — but speak only for myself
    * went to SLCC, occasionally hang out on IRC, and have had a couple of conversations with Lindens on a casual level.

    First off — you have a habit of two kinds of name-calling — the sarcastic compliment which implies your opponents think they’re better than you (Tekkies, Cool Kids, Thinkers, “extra special”, “extra smart and brilliant”, etc) — and a self-deprecating style (“feebs and choads”?!) that seems meant to convey how you are seen by those who disagree with you. In reality, you’re putting words in other peoples’ mouths in both cases — if I’ve missed places where people have actually said these things, please point them out to me.

    If you respond to my post and would like to have a constructive discussion, I ask you to please refrain from that rhetoric, as well as other emotionally-charged language (hedonism, invoking Lenin, and the idea that for some reason any compliment paid to you would enrage others).

    A big part of your beef seems to be with the TOS and selective enforcement of the clause regarding reverse-engineering. I’ve seen it already pointed out to you in other venues that Linden gets to interpret the TOS however they want. Still, I agree with you — they should try to be clear in their interpretations and should apply them evenly. While the TOS does *explicitly* give them leeway to allow some projects and not others — the TOS talks about “unauthorized” use, and Linden had provided authorization in several forms and at several times for “positive” projects — more on that later. It could be clearer, and that’s why one of my libSL colleages stood up and asked Philip and Cory, point blank, to fix the language in the TOS to make it perfectly clear. Let’s hope they do; I think they will.

    Now, let’s step back from the “letter of the law” and try to put ourselves into Linden’s shoes to understand their motivations. You suggest that they are an “old boys’ network” who just wants to “pick their friends, do their thing as a company and stiff everyone else”. I see something entirely different.

    Accept this optimistic interpretation for the sake of argument (consider it a devil’s advocate exercise, if you must): “The Linden employees mean well, and are trying as hard as they can, within the resources available to them, to improve Second Life for everyone. To that end, they solicit help from the residents. However, it creates more work form them to do that coordination, so they will give preference to A. ideas that are positive and constructive, B. technical work that is mostly complete when it lands at their door.”

    With that possibility in mind, can you tell me about the times where they snubbed people who were being positive (i.e. not just complaining about problems, but actually positing workable solutions and actively working to help implement them) in favor of, well, anyone else? Friends from IRC? Whatever.

    You throw out the statement that they pick “clever” reverse-engineers to praise and relegate those who didn’t “go to the right schools” to the cornfields. When has this actually happened? Do you not see the distinction between those who find ways to create messes in SL, creating more work for the Lindens, and those who create technology that improves Second Life, presumably making their (the Lindens’) lives easier?

    I’ve seen you voice suspicion over individuals’ motives in reverse-engineering — “…how can we be sure?”, you say. That’s the reason that libsecondlife is being developed openly — you can watch what we’re doing, if you’d like. You can see the discussion that drives the decisions we make. You can even ask questions and raise concerns, and we’ll do our best to answer. Honestly.

    You gave two suggestions for “leveling the playing field” so that the “feebs and choads” could participate.

    1. “have a kind of bug-hunting bounty type of situation”. They already are doing this with exploits. Do you mean, instead, simpler or more common bugs, ones that are easier to find, the kind that show up every day but don’t rise to the level of causing damage? They already know about those. They’re on the list. They’re overworked, but they’re getting to them. Inviting people to more-aggressively submit them would only create more work for them (having to sort through known issues to find those that are new) — this would not be in their best interest.

    2. “they could say ‘we have a programming headache trying to make a better more usable UI, and we’d love people to fool around and try their hand at it, good luck, go for it'” – I don’t know if you mean UI as in “the way the second-life client looks on the screen”, the future XML solutions they’ve talked about, or something else entirely — but if you have some ideas and can *put them into practice, saving the Lindens time* — please do! It’s hard work. Unfortunately, actual working proofs of concept (like those created with / as a part of libsecondlife) will always be better received than ideas or even mock-ups — but please feel free to join us and lend a hand.


  8. John Hurliman

    Throwing another idea in to the mix, I call it the “ask nicely” hypothesis. Before the libsecondlife team released any software we spoke with multiple Lindens about the project. When controversial subjects were brought up (free texture uploads, griefing possibilities) we attempted to bring in official positions as much as possible, and so far have never been shot down on a piece of software or idea. So my theory is that anyone who wants to work outside of the guidelines of the ToS for a positive benefit need only to ask nicely. Are there any cases where someone asked nicely about writing third party software and was either shot down or given approval and later faced consequences?

  9. Maxx Monde

    I attended SLCC and the specific talk mantioned. Cory stated clearly in answer to the question regarding the TOS that it would be changed. Philip also concurred.

    That pretty much puts to rest all the TOS browbreating, lol.

  10. Psyke Phaeton

    Everyone has missed the point.

    Cory (and LL) have always wanted to make the Metaverse from the book called “Snow Crash”. To do this it requires that SecondLife take over the planet with its 3D internet.

    The only way to achieve this is open standards and open software.

    SecondLife will end up with the same problems (piracy) and benefits (speed, openess) as the web.

    The evidence has always been there but no one is noticing. Make sure to read these:

  11. Pingback: Outcry as ‘Copybot’ threatens copyright protection
  12. Delerium

    I think too many people think of the TOS as “Laws”. A TOS is just an agreement that you sign that gives Linden Labs the ability and right to terminate your account. It doesn’t bind them to do so. Linden labs is NOT bound by their own TOS, it’s the other way around. So if someone comes along and violates the TOS, then LL has the right to ban them and/or prosecute them. It does NOT state that they HAVE to ban/prosecute them. That is the difference. Sure the libsl people violate the current TOS, but it’s up to LL to do something about it, and if they don’t want to, then they don’t have to.