the internets: open versus free
Saturday, December 29, 2007

It's pretty awesome being at the frontier of the Internet--and I really believe that the Internet is just as revolutionary as the Gutenburg printing press--just because it expands the ease of transmission and sharing of informaion. However, at the same time we're seeing a societal reaction to this development: music sharing and the RIAA lawsuits is a prime example of how, as a society, we're trying to grapple with and hopefully accept the Internet as a new medium of information dissemination. "Stealing"--in regards to "intellectual property," outside of the physical world--has become a somewhat more nebulous definition--mostly because judging the loss of value (especially electronic value, mostly in "micropayment" format) from such acts of "electronic theft" becomes that much more difficult the medium of the Internet. At the same time, "sharing," as well, takes on an entirely new meaning for the same reasons--duplication and transmission of any such intellectual property across the Internet is close to nil--especially as bandwidth increases and cost of access decreases and becomes more ubiquitous.

One response to the new way of distributing information via the Internet medium is the "open source" movement that's been gaining traction in the last few years. The motivation behind "open source" seems to be the belief that information is better when shared--that information comes into being from people, and the more people who contribute to developing and shaping that information, the better that bit of information will become. It's not just software like Linux, but such entities as Wikipedia that have been leveraging this ideal, and even Linden Labs have made both their Viewer and Server software "open" (it's arguable to say whether or not sites like YouTube and MySpace have also been encouraging a degree of "openness"--but their nature as social sites acknowledge the underlying "open source" philosophies that information, in its very essence, is social and better-off when made accessible to society as a whole--it's also sorta related to the whole discussion about "open" and "democracy"--but that's really another discussion for another blog ;D).

More specifically, I think there's something to be said of the difference between stuff that's "open" and "free." Mostly, these terms apply to software, but I think it's readily applicable to just about any sort of intellectual property--both on-line or off-line/real-world.

"Open" happens to be free a lot, and a lot of times it's even synonymous with "free," so what's the difference really? I'm not going to really delve into a discussion of "copyleft" (a sorta anti-copyright, where instead of limiting usage/modifcation/distribution rights through legal means, such rights are expanded, extended, maintained, and required via legal means), but more about the fine line where "open" is "free." In my opinion, when "open" is "free," "open" still kinda means a little more than "free"--not necessarily "free, but with strings attached"--but "open" seems to be a kind of "free" that implies and encourages a certain social responsibility--a responsibility to further expand upon the knowledge and benefits of such "open" information. Of course, someone could easily utilize an "open" item as if it were merely a "free" item--and there's really no problem with that either.

The difference further between "free" and "open" further extends when one examines the ultimate utility of the item in question: "free" items seem to have a "final" and "consumerist" utility--its utility ends upon its "consumption;" whereas "open" items are constantly evolving--their usefulness transforms and adapts to new situations and scenarios. Granted, an "open" item may eventually become obsolete where its utility is no longer suitable to current situations; in fact, any "open" item that stops evolving will become obsolete just by being unable to fulfill its original destiny of continual improvement and evolution.

That said, I don't believe that I'm necessarily in the empire-building segment of SL (e.g. Anshe Chung, various others, etc...)--I'm not trying to destroy any fledging skin creators out there by offering free, full permissions skins. My response to those who'd accuse me of undermining their business and livelihood: download my skin textures, ask me for my PSDs, and incorporate whatever improvements, bits and pieces you'd like into your own developments and sell them--my skins are "open," and that's what they're there for. I'd like to think that I'm not an empire-building magnate trying to destroy you, but more of a culture-changing hippie giving you free stuff!

At the same time, I'm not really trying to compete with any of the major, successful skin creators--simply because I can't and I won't: I don't intend on expanding my "store" beyond my 496 square metres of foggy land in Lippert, nor am I really targetting their prime demographic of spendy fashionistas. In fact, a large portion of the comments I'm getting about my free/full-permissions skins are in regards to the fact that they're free--not so much that they include full permissions textures. I guess I'm really only targetting Photoshop ninjas, like Noam, with my textures, just because anyone who only wants a free skin isn't going to care so much about having its full-permissions textures included (and, in contrast, anyone who wants a full-permissions skin is aware that such a thing previously only existed at exorbitant cost and that mod'ing someone else's stuff in SL is pretty much taboo--even moar taboo than babyfursex).

So, it's a lot like this whole "open" versus "free" thing--yes my skins are both "open" and "free," and I'd like them to be thought more of as "open," but at the same time it's ok if people assume that they're "free"--just because the concept of "open" hasn't quite become mainstream yet, and that's why I'm here offering full-permissions skins. I'm really hoping that the idea of "open" takes off--and maybe it's just because I'm too enamored by its potential, but if even a small portion of what it promises to accomplish actually happens, it'll be more than enough.

And lastly, should there actually be any kind of Second Life Skin Creators Union, Local 204 that's pissed off that I've violated some kinda sacred magician-esque code to secrecy, come and break my SL kneecaps. I dare ya. (well, you'd probably hafta gimme a knee-caps-breaking animation first, and then setup a photoshoot thingy...)
Anonymous ( December 29, 2007 at 4:25 PM )

i would have liked to have commed with you before you attained this new level of notoriety from the gift you provided us all. i've had this aversion to spending exhorbitant amounts of lindens on skins since the moment starley thereian came down on me for expressing a point of view that may have threatened the collegial nature of skin creators having an anointed place amongst us. your earlier pricing and now full permission releases are and were the next logical step to the plan. you are fulfilling your rightful place. and it is good. peace and love to you and all who adopt your view. sanity does reign. even here in sl. haha. wild maniacal laughter will surely abate.

Alyx Sands ( January 3, 2008 at 12:08 PM )

Heh- I was more like, "OMG! I can fiddle with a PSD!!!" than "it's a FREE skin"....

Eloh, if you ever Do want to run an empire...can i be your bodyguard? ;)

Alyx Sands (I work at the Johannes Gutenberg university...go figure. I'm all for teh open internets!)

Cluis ( January 9, 2008 at 9:52 AM )

Kudos to you my dear.
I am utterly blown away at the merky mystical aura surrounding the production of skins. This elitism is silly. Photoshop has been around for eons, (well i have been using it for atleast 12 years) and anyone with an idea can (with the help of folks like you and chip midnight) make passable skins for their avs, without resorting to changing who you are, to the closest approximation of who you are that someone else made. I am not saying skinning is easy, far from it. But the basics should be accessible to all. I have been on secondlife all of 2 and a half weeks and it amazes me how few people make skins. It seems like every skin i come across is churned out by the same machine somewhere or some Guru on a mountain. I am on skin 5 or 6 now, and I think it is a blast. However my time these days isn't free so I do ask folks for compensation. It turns out I am to some degree still a capitalist pig at heart. But I am also a big softie. I recently did a full custom skin to spec. for someone I met because they were nice to me. I will certainly take a drop by your "shop" and talk if you are around, seeming as apparently we who do the skins make up only 1% of the total population. I need input from someone who does it...and i don't want to be charged for a consult. :) ok, this is long. keep doing what you are doing, let me know if you need help in your fight against the man.

Your Brother in Skin,

Curt Fitzpatrick
(aka Cluis Republic in sl)

Funn Lim ( January 10, 2008 at 11:55 PM )

Hi! I have been looking for good qualities ever since I know there's such thing as make up ready to wear for my avatar and was always surprised by the price tag. I do understand it is difficult to make in the first place and to my biggest surprise I found links to your little tiny shop (yes it is very foggy over there) and found your amazing freebie skins. Not just good quality, they're gorgeous! I always wanted to thank you inworld but I suppose I can do so here. For all those who threaten to knock your kneecaps, they have to get through mine first. I think what you did was not only noble but in the end will benefit SL as a whole. I am motivated to learn how to create skins/make up and I hope you will put up a tutorial soon. I can understand the fuss with those who makes creating skins their livelihood but look, your range is limited to what, how many types? A girl, even an avatar can never say they have enough make up so I don't see the fuss.

Thank you very very much and I hope you will read this comment because your detriment to your business (well it is so) is all residents in SL's benefit. You have just made an ordinary avatar stunning. How I wish the real world is as giving as what you did.

Camilla ( February 10, 2008 at 1:35 PM )

I'm very excited that you released the psd files. I would never have the confidence to create my own skins from scratch, but I can practice on your files, and learn. Thank you!

Maybe that is what your naysayers are afraid of? That people like me can learn from you, and maybe become, horror of horrors, COMPETITION?

Come on guys, there is room for all of us here. Let's all be friends. There is nothing to be gained by attacking, flaming, and fighting. In fact, it interferes with your creative process. Get back to work!

Princess Ivory

Alzubra Jetaime ( February 12, 2008 at 6:42 PM )

I truly wanted to say thank you Eloh, your skin psds are so much fun to play with and very helpful with learning. I haven’t actually made anything worthy of being uploaded but I'm getting better!

I always just wanted to learn so I could customize my own skins with tattoos, makeup and what not. It is far too expensive to have a skin designer subtly change or add one or two things to a skin. Not to mention a lot of them don't do custom work.

You are revolutionary!