Back in March, Second Life operators Linden Lab announced plans to create a new segregated area for adult content in their popular virtual world, and announced plans to solicit feedback from Second Life users, content creators, and business operators to work out the details. Now, the Lindens have a plan to deal with adult-oriented content in Second Life, which includes a three-tiered rating system, search filtering capabilities, and a separate “adult continent” the the virtual world’s most explicit content. The move makes Second Life a more appealing place for businesses, educational institutions, organizations, and others (including many residents) who want to take advantage of virtual world capabilities without being (sometimes literally) pelted with adult-oriented content; however, viewed another way, Linden Lab’s policy makes Second Life essentially the only virtual world that specifically welcomes adult content…and that’s very much in keeping with Second Life’s open-ended, diverse, individualistic style.
“From the beginning, Linden Lab has led the way in the development of virtual worlds and has set the standard on many cultural and social issues involved with virtual communities,” said Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon, in a statement. “Preferences and community standards vary tremendously across industries, countries and cultures; our goal is to retain as much of the freedom as possible while continuing to push the medium and our platform forward.”
Ostensibly, Second Life is restricted to users at least 18 years of age—Linden Labs runs a separate Teen Second Life for teenagers, and the new adult content policies have no impact on the so-called Teen Grid. Under the plan, landowners will be required to rate their parcels as either PG, Mature, or Adult; by default all residents will be able to travel to (and search for) PG and Mature content, but access to Adult content will be limited to residents who have authenticated their accounts, either through an age verification service operated for Linden Lab by Aristotle, or through having verified payment information associated with their account.
Further, adult-oriented locations and businesses will be migrated to a new adult virtual continent, geographically separating them from the rest of the Second Life “mainland.” Users will need to have verified accounts to travel to the adult continent. Landmarks for relocated spots won’t update automatically, but Linden Labs plans to let parcel owners leave a notice at their old locations for at least a month after the move.
Users will also be able to filter their in-world search results according to maturity and content preferences; only users with verified accounts will be able to access search listings with adult keywords. Linden Lab says it is being very careful that terms like “breast cancer” and other subjects not get caught up in its sweep of adult content from the mainland and search listings.
Linden Lab plans to introduce the new features available in a release candidate viewer next week, with the official roll-out expected by the end of June 2009; the company expects the migration of adult content to the new continent to last through August 2009.
The new policies for adult content mark the latest in a series of broad policy changes for the virtual world: Second Life banned gambling and introduced ID verification in mid-2007. More recently Linden Lab has been courting enterprise and education markets.