Last week, President-elect Obama appointed Kevin Werbach, assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton, and Susan Crawford, who teaches communications and Internet law at the University of Michigan, to co-chair his FCC transition team. In preparation for his incoming administration, the two, both seasoned Net Neutrality advocates, will be tasked with providing information on U.S. government Internet and telecom policies, along with advising on budgetary and personnel matters.
This is clearly good news for Net advocates, and as it happens, it could also be good news for online gamers. The Wharton professor is a hardcore World of Warcraft player, a member of two guilds:
“One of them,” he wrote on his blog in 2006, “was started by my friend and inveterate tech connector, Joi Ito…The other guild is very different — it’s composed primarily of academics and other thinkers who study and write about virtual worlds.” [digg=http://digg.com/politics/Obama_s_FCC_Transition_Team_Has_MMO_Background]
Werbach’s involvement in WoW is worth noting as it raises the possibility that in the coming months, he and Crawford will craft strategic policy positions relevant to online games and worlds, including broadband usage, content regulation, etc. Along with Ito and like-minded academics, Werbach sees both as important to the future of work and technology:
“What [Warcraft] does,” he continued in that post, “is provide an incentive for people to develop new software and ideas for collaborative production. Many of those ideas will translate to other group activities, including those within the business world. I think MMOGs will be, at a minimum, a significant testbed for these new technologies, because users see a direct benefit and are willing to experiment with new things.”
Unsurprisingly, this perspective extends to virtual worlds like Second Life, which has been an important component in Werbach’s Supernova technology conference. On her own blog, Professor Crawford, a board member at ICANN, also counts herself “a huge fan of Second Life” for the way it lets users retain IP rights to their content (though she confesses to difficulty when it comes to moving her SL avatar around.)
What all this means for specific FCC policies Crawford and Werbach may recommend is too early to tell, of course, but one thing is clear: For perhaps the first time, FCC policies will be drafted by a team who clearly understand the potential of online worlds in a fundamental, and first-hand, way.
Photo of Werbach by Joi Ito, from his Flickr stream.