Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Formal Proposal: Revamping the Second Life Calling Cards/Friends System, and Privacy Controls


Second Life's calling cards (and now friends) system has changed very little since the beta period. The separation of "Friends" from "Calling Cards" was barely a blip on the radar in terms of change. Privacy controls have not been changed in the slightest since the beta period. While appropriately designed for the number of residents during that time period, they have fallen behind severely to cause some of the older residents to literally have to abandon their primary accounts.

My main account, FlipperPA Peregrine can no longer log in to enjoy an evening with friends, build, or script, without constant annoyances. A constant barrage of Instant Messages comes in whenever I'm online, even after dealing with the initial instant messages I receive while offline. Despite messages in my profile not to instant message me as soon as I log in, many people do, some of them thinking they're always "above the rules."

When I've asked about solutions in the past, the suggestions I have been given are not satisfactory: to delete all my friendships and calling cards, and so forth. Deleting friendships or calling cards creates a perceived slight that hurts feelings, is bad for business, and unpleasant. The one time I cancelled a great deal of calling cards (pre-Friends list) led to many, many long conversations where I had to explain that I didn't hate the person who's card I had cancelled, and that I just wanted some privacy. Also, the FIND menu still allows people to see if you are online or not, and now with P2P teleporting, I literally have people teleporting right next to me if I don't respond to IMs right away sometimes. This is an unacceptable situation.

While I will not do a full functional specification regarding how I think these systems can be improved, I'll give a general outline on what I would consider a much better system. This will still allow people to track each other as they wish, leverage the Find menu to a greater extent, and remove many elements of cyber-stalking.

The Solution

First, I propose completely eliminating Friends and Calling Cards. When someone offers friendship, if you decline, the perceived slight can again lead to hurt feelings and be bad for your business reputation, much like deletion. Do you think that people would use SLBoutique.com if I went around rejecting everyone's friendship proposals? Of course they wouldn't.

Replace Friends/Calling Cards with a white and black list that each avatar controls. Instead of people being able to offer friendship or trade cards (for which the find menu works just fine), let people control who can see (or never see) them; reverse the current paradigm.

I currently have about 3000 calling cards / friendships; if I were to proactively manage a white and black list, I would have maybe 75. Think of the drop in inventory loads! Think of the drop in total assets! That's half my inventory right there I would gladly see deleted.

Privacy Controls & the White List

How would the white list work with the Second Life system? The next step is to move to standard IM-style privacy controls. To the right of the chat bar, and the left of the Gestures drop down, insert a drop down for your current status with the following options:

(1) Available
(2) Away
(3) Busy
(4) Invisible
(5) Offline

Modes 1, 2 and 3 would function much like the current Available / Away / Busy modes do, however, IMs and inventory passes should be saved, and displayed the next time you are no longer in Away or Busy mode (even if in the next log in session). Having inventory passes and IMs be rejected instead of queued is ridiculous; while you’re at it, get rid of the horrid IM-cap. Delete queued IMs and inventory passes that haven’t been picked up after some time period; say 30 days. Even avatars need to go on vacation.

Mode 4 would remove your green dot from the map, and make you appear offline to everyone BUT avatars on your white list.

Mode 5 would remove your green dot from the map and make you appear off line to everyone, INCLUDING avatars on your white list.

Only people on your white list would be able to map your location and teleport directly to you. If you delete someone from your white list, the person should NOT get notified that they are no longer on your white list. Let’s try to minimize drama while we’re improving the system.


Privacy Controls & the Black List

People on your black list will always see you as being offline, regardless of which of the five modes you are in. They will never be able to map you or see your green dot on the map. (This removes a way I've been stalked in the past; people have seen one green dot in Indigo, and figured out that most likely the green dot is me, then come to harass me.)

Support for These Ideas

There are a bunch of proposals out there right now which are all calling for this functionality:

http://secondlife.com/vote/index.php?get_id=721 -- 180 votes
http://secondlife.com/vote/index.php?get_id=541 -- 25 votes
http://secondlife.com/vote/index.php?get_id=479 - 225 votes
http://secondlife.com/vote/index.php?get_id=52 - 965 votes

That is a total of 1,395 votes, just from those four proposals - and there are many more similar proposals.

In Summary: Pros

Better level of privacy; older, social avatars will be able to work without being swamped by requests
Removes a huge load from Linden Lab servers
Moves in line with a more IM-style privacy paradigm
Shouldn't take too much development time

In Summary: Cons

Will take some development time
Higher level of privacy than available in Jabber

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Creator Spotlight: Lo Jacobs

This is a first in what may be a sporadic series of interviews with Second Life content creators. The goal is to not only highlight an interesting craftsperson, but to discuss the challenges and opportunities relevant to all. My first step was to sit down with the talented Lo Jacobs. Sadly, there has been a large time delay due to work load preventing me from blogging, but I wanted to get this up nonetheless. Lo is one of those people who places a definite stamp on her creations – you can usually tell something is a Luxe (her store brand) product right away. So with no further ado, here is our conversation, edited for readibility:

Forseti Svarog: I always like to hear how people get started in SL. How did you hear about it, and were you hooked right away or did it take a while?
Lo Jacobs: I was going through the Internet .. probably looking for a game walkthrough for PS2, which is in itself unusual since I'm not much of a gamer in general. I saw an Internet ad for SL on some site like Gamespy or Gamespot, and I clicked on it and there I was!
LJ: I was definitely hooked right away. I have been looking for a game like this for a long time -- one where I could make my clothes and avatar and stuff like that. Have you heard of the Palace? Palace chat? It's this 2D chatroom where people have little 2D avatars set on a .gif background which can be anything (the interior of a castle, for instance).
LJ: Now people had these little 2D paper doll avatars, and you could actually make your own and make your own clothes. Tiny, tiiiiny pixel drawing, really --- most people on Palace are teenagers. Anyway, I always liked fashion and stuff, it was always my intention to make clothes here as soon as I learned that I could.
FS: did you do a lot of non-digital art or craft (including clothing) before SL?
LJ: Hmm… well I have always drawn and taken art classes and all that, and I do websites, so yes. My drawings are usually young women in fah-bulous clothing :P
FS: so you were already proficient with some graphics tools I imagine?
LJ: Yes, though it's thanks to SL and PSP being impossible with alpha channels that brought me to Photoshop.
FS: I've seen some of your tablet drawings from Nylon & Toast's threads. Is that your primary tool -- Photoshop?
LJ: Yes ... for clothing design I don't use anything else. I am interested in trying to use 3D programs for lighting and things like that. But I just don't know anything about those programs. I got Lightwave but I really need a comprehensive tutorial or something for that. I have no clue how to do anything in those programs and I don't really know if it's necessary.
FS: Can I ask if you opened a store right away or did something happen to make you do so?
LJ: No, I actually flew around being a newbie for like 3 months, and went to Show & Tells and newbie Q & A even after I didn’t have to because everyone was so friendly there. I went to a lot of Siobhan Taylor's events, then she stopped having them *sniff*.
LJ: I started doing skins first, actually, because it just seemed ... well, whereas I was familiar with the human body, I was not familiar with how fabric looked in SL. It just seemed easier at first for me. So I started up a skin shop in Galleria City with some really dreadful skins and just worked up from there. No one ever bought my first things or my first clothes, lol.
FS: how long did it take, and what do you think helped you crack in? Just improving?
LJ: Yeah -- I found some helpful tutorials and stuff, but clothes-making is really not a ... I mean, there's many ways to skin a cat, which is why it's essential that you do it yourself and figure out what works for you. I'm still trying to improve.
LJ: One thing that definitely helped me was that I also started hanging around the forums some more and posting. Sounds silly, right? But considering the amount of people who lurk there and read stuff you post, it helped me with visibility, which I think is a big reason why people started buying stuff from me. They were like, "Hey, it's Lo Jacobs who said that mildly interesting thing the other day and now she makes clothes."
LJ: Anyway, before they stopped the bumping and commenting of the Classifieds, I got some comments now and then. When I was new I didn’t get *any* comments (which also had to do with the fact that my clothes were complete crap). It didn't happen fast; it happened slow.

FS: do you have any interest in describing a typical Lo "process" from idea to completion?
LJ: Sure. One thing I looooooove is fashion (well obviously) but I just LOVE it. I always have fashion magazines lying around, and I like to read through them and get inspiration. I also get inspiration from movies, music, and other decades.
LJ: I get an idea in my head and then I draw an outline of the outfit in Photoshop and I try to make what works within the confines of the SL avatar. Like, it is impossible to make a perfectly draped off-the-shoulder dress in SL, so you don't make it. I make sure it works, and then I start in on it. Sometimes I use fabric swatches found on the Internet.
FS: your work seems more hand-drawn than photosourced a lot of the time.
LJ: I have never photosourced anything. What I look for is fabric swatches if I need them -- like if I am making something plaid, I look for a big square plaid picture and then manipulate that plaid image in Photoshop.
LJ: I use a lot of layers, because I mess up a lot. It's easier to add buttons on one layer, collars on another, etc. I recently have been having fun with the drop shadows. I love drop shadows. I love dodge and burn and I got a Wacom tablet in August for my birthday so most of my shadows and highlights are done by hand using the tablet.
LJ: So once I get down my shadows and highlights and stuff, once it looks "good enough" I then upload it onto SL and see if it looks ok. Sometimes it is perfect, sometimes it takes a few tries especially if I am trying to match up important seams. I try to match up seams as closely as I can but if it's not paramount to the design it doesn't matter. Vertical seams are important, like in jackets, but horizontal seams aren't *that* important for me.
FS: do you do prim clothing -- skirts and such?
LJ: I don't really like messing with prim skirts
LJ: I never really tried. It's just that, it's hard for me to make something look exactly the way I want it to with prims and I am so picky about the way things look -- like a fit. Some people are amazing with prim dresses.
FS: do you do season collections or just release constantly?
LJ: Oh man, I would like to do season collections but that's just too much work. I make what I am in the mood for at the time, and that usually goes with the season, so yes I do keep the seasons in mind but I don't really release seasonal collections at once.

FS: do you have any thoughts for new designers thinking about trying it out?
LJ: Hmmmm… basically, just do it for yourself. Read the tutorials available and ask for help on the Design & Textures forums -- people are friendly there. But no one should hold your hand -- only you can improve yourself.
LJ: One thing that is also very important is that you think of a store "image" for yourself. Make a logo and think of a good name. Keep it short too. Don't call it "Jenny's Fashions" or "Jenny's Designs" -- those are boring names. You can name it after yourself but there shouldn't be a "Designs" or "Fashions" after it because a lot of people here in SL do that too. Try to be original.
LJ: Pick a color scheme and stick to it. If you want a change, just pick a new color scheme and stick to that one too
FS: for the store and advertisements you mean?
LJ: Yes, for the ads, and the logo, and the building's colors should complement them too.
LJ: Malls are bad. It's best to buy your own plot of land and set up there, or rent from someone like Azure Islands or Hiro Queso. Just make sure you show up in Find if you do a search. Include keywords in your store description, but don't just have a bunch of keywords without any description.

FS: what's up next for Luxe? or what kind of fashions or era's really have you jazzed right now?
LJ: I would like to do more complete outfits. I'm also just in love with the 70's and 40's. I am probably going to be doing more dresses because that's what I wear a lot. I really wish they would have some sort of draped fabric capability. I don't know if that's possible… I mean I just love draped dresses and loose things. You can't really do that here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why SL Should be Focused More on "Ease of Use" - Because it Pays Off!

What lead me to this post were two events in the past two weeks: the introduction of a functionality for buying L$ right in the client and a user lamenting the lack of a "manual" for Second Life on the forums. These seemingly unrelated events are heavily related. Both are about ease of use! "Ease of use", usability etc. are nice catch phrases and sometimes get a little overhiped. I admit! But the the new functionality for buying L$ shows why it makes a lot of sense for any business to focus on usability. It is good for the bottom line!

The new "Buy L$" dialog box in the Second Life client. Simple!

Make it easy for them to spend their money - and they will!
When this new functionality was introduced, the trade volume on the LindeX jumped to 7,2 Million L$ the next day, to 7,4 Million L$ the day after that. Over the weekend more than 21 Million L$ changed hands - with the value of the L$ rising! Nothing else changed. It was only much more convenient suddenly to buy L$. Granted, that does not mean much for LLs bottom line. Dealing 1 Million L$ more on the LindeX just means 35,000 L$ more in commissions. But it shows the principle: If you make it more convenient, less confusing and less intimidating for your potential customers to spend their money at your website - they will spend more money. And the old way was significantly less convenient, more confusing and more intimidating. have a look:

The old "Buy L$" process; only available on the website!

What's to learn from this example?
This simple learning might show the way for a solution to one of Second Lifes biggest problems: the very high churn rate. While the number of residents is growing at an impressive rate, we all know that many of these new residents are on a free account and probably will not stay very long. One - not the only, but an important - reason for is "Ease of Use"; or better: the lack of it. The first hours and days in SL can be very hard for someone who is not a seasoned gamer or a little afraid of new software (which many in some important target groups for SL are).

There are many ways to make SL easier to use. The client has many aspects that are horrible from an usability, for example. The inworld support structures could be much better. etc. etc. Removing theses hurdles would be costly and take a lot of time. I still think it would pay off. I am willing to accept nearly any bet, that the balance between effort and result (more paying residents) is much better for usability improvemens than for the introduction of Havok 2 or other "sexy features".

Give us a manual!
But there is a much easier way to make (Second) Life harder for newbies: Give them a good manual. Let's face it: Second Life is not a small piece of software. Its is not a small, simple utility. Yet there are not many small simple utility programs that come without a manual. Why? Because it makes the software easier to use. More customers will understand how to use the software, keep it after the trial period and pay for it.

There are many excuses for not having a manual - or at least a good "Introduction to SL" - but they are all just that: excuses. Let's look at some of them.

No, manuals are not for wimps. While a seasoned PC user might "just install an try out" a new product, many people would simply refuse working with a new software, unless the have access to a manual, a tutorial or took a training course. That's rather "normal" and if LL wants to cater to non-geek target groups it has to accept this attitude.

No, a wiki is not substitute for a manual or tutorial. A wiki can be a nice part of a software documentation. And SL has some nice ones advertised on the website. A wiki has a lot of advantages - and some disadvantages, too. And a lot of people just love something more "sequential". That maybe hopelessly oldfashioned - but ... that's how people are. And, honestly, as a customer, especially as a new and inexperienced custumer, I don't want to have to click through a website and try out half a dozen differently structured wikis, FAQs etc.

No, a collection of notecards is not substitute for a manual or tutorial. While "plain text, cut into convenient lines" is sufficient for many purposes in a less-is-more attitude, there are much more easily digestable forms of presenting information. Pictures, tables, diagrams, a little bold text, a bullet point now and then etc. have their uses. Having a notecard covering half of my screen while fiddling around on some problem inworld is not a very stress free situation either.

No, a helper island is not substitute for a manual or tutorial. Don't get me wrong: what is done at helper island, what the helpers, greeters and volunteers contribute to SL is great. But many people - for whatever reasons - like the self study mode. Or they like to read up on it in advance, or read about it after a F2F session ... And - like with notecards - having someone describe to me in chat how to do something is not really the best way to teach every aspect of a (sometimes frightening) new software; especially while I am still fighting with chat and IM and walking and flying!

No, manuals and tutorial are not for boring old ladies who will never use SL anyway. When some of the Suicide Girls joined SL last week I checked a few blog pages on their website. And guess what? There were actually complaints by these cool kids about SL being "to hard/complicated". No everyone grew up in front of a PC screen.

No, an O'Reilly "Hacks" book is not substitute for a manual or tutorial. I guess, I don't have to elaborate on that topic.

No, a manual would not cost the world! Working with the material already collected in the various wikis, FAQ, forum arcticles etc. a good technical writer who is proficient with SL could do a an adequate manual including a nice tutorial/intoduction (but excluding details of LSL) in 20 - 30 days, a good one in 60 and an excellent one in a 100 days.

No, the weekly updates don't kill any effort to keep a manual up to date! A huge number of updates does not change anything at the frontend in a significant way. Even some of the last .X updates have not changed much at the front end of SL. Most updates could be reflected in the manual with a few hours work. This would cost less probably than the free coffee that developers get during the night shifts for that update.

So ...
Please give as a printable manual and an Introduction to SL.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I won't show pictures because your mind can already assemble the shards. GRAY is what is seen before textures "properly" load in Second Life. Used to be a translucent, amorphous mesh of blobs—now, we've got gray, opaquely Tronnish panels with white outlines. But nevertheless, the GRAY. Gray which could mean, lifeless, in the middle, ambivalence, has-yet-to-take-shape-and-form, or any one of a number of other word association snippets. Markedly, definitively: the GRAY.

It might seem like reversion, if our loading texture was rainbow, and what rezzed in was, infact, GRAY. Or as my favorite, the watermelon that calls me dear. For to have something uniform as a placeholder is not only applicably predictable, but practical, uniform to a X. Like the gray with black X on a devoid profile piccie. Check up a new Resi, look at their profile. Look at the X. Look for ratings (probably 0), and what they have yet to fill in, the story of their Second Lives to be lived.

And if I could replace the loading texture, I might, perchance on a whim, choose to make it a static pattern—a dynamic static one, much as how "when nothing's on" a TV is never such a dull din, but a comb-filtering of a salt and pepper silkscreen, auto contrast applied to remarkable ends. A snow crash. Even so much as a test pattern would do this good, pixellated clock counting upwards, color bars the prison of the active imagination, with one, ominous hi-pitched tone like the domino effect of so many discreet beeps, sliding us into the following sequence du jour.

My biological father used to mute and/or simply turn off the television when I fell asleep next to it, which I did, many times. Somewhere enroute to the eleemosynary berth of sleep, I would hear the Canadian national anthem, all stretched out and druggy, some kinda vapor trail like that moment where you dip your feet into summer's waters and aren't quite sure if you want to immerse yourself fully into the drink, or stay at the shore. But tugged into Hypnos's domain, the mind doesn't censor.

This ended up being one of my New Year's resolutions: when awake, to be more like when I am asleep. In embracing this contradiction, I, too (in addition to all who have come before), now more competently realize the suggestive tug of screensavers from the software graveyard of yesteryears past. For I had a dream, staring into the ripple water, of blissful satoris and geometric weave patterns, appreciating this visualization art for what it is: when I am dreaming fully awake.

An amusing cap to this is, just several days ago, ripple water did undergo some aesthetic changes. Runitai Linden will be changing it back because many Resis declared the current appearance to be unnatural. And I thot to myself, "What good can come out of this?" As I went on a 50-island tour, it quickly dawned on me: alien landscapes will need alien aqua. To rise out of such oily, reflective goo, like an androgynous lifeform from an Amiga tech demo's bastard child.

Immediately, there's a contrast: the saturated, luxury car paint-tones of the sky gradient (perhaps even approaching the glare in Don Johnson's Miami Vice glasses), coupled with the crimson-streaked entanglement of the pooling alien aqua viva the 2nd below; vs. the GRAY.

One doesn't believe otherwise there's progress to be made.

And on an endnote, if you're wondering why I'm writing for SLOG... first, let me get it out of the way that "favoritism" is a cockeyed term that braying donkeys use when they can't get any jackass. Second, please give me the car keys and I'll drive my watermelonmobile over and happily write for your group blog too. My only three open conditions are that it/I must be 1) Fun, 2) Friendly, and 3) Fantastical. I wouldn't be me without being me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Lordfly's take on the $L compared to the US Dollar.

Crossposted from the forums, but I think it's vaguely important. To wit:

Okay, seriously guys, gals, alts and trolls.

Let's have some thinking.


The yearly cost of a premium account is $US 72.00.

In a year, a premium account will accumulate $L500 * 52 = $L26,000.

$L26,000/$US 72.00 = $L361.

So, the "true" value of the $L is roughly $L361.

Obviously it's not there (yet). Why, you ask?

From version 1.2 onward (January of 2004), the driving force of the $L has been land demand and land novelty.

When land was in extremely short supply, the price of land shot through the roof (we're talking average prices in the double digits per square meter here) as the Lindens scrambled to meet demand. As a result, during this time the value of the $L against the US dollar rose dramatically as everyone was pushing against the money supply to get some land. High land prices meant a high demand for a lot of $L in your account at once to pay the land barons (who, by sheer coincidence, were then selling the $L right back on the market, and the cycle repeated itself).

The moral of this story: When there's something to BUY, the price of the $L goes up.

Eventually, the Lindens got a hold of the demand problem, and the price started to skid. But lo! The snow sims came out, and suddenly there was a mini-rush of snow land. A slight spike in $L prices again! Alas, no one wants snow land now; it's dead territory.

Anyways, the price of the $L goes up when there's an incentive to buy things.

Currently there is STILL a higher pressure to buy things than there is money in the economy. That's why it's at $L280/$US 1.00 rather than $L361.

There are other factors, too; a burgeoning amount of basic accounts is keeping the price up, at least initially, as people pay money on the exchange to satiate their spending habits.

Eventually, though, the current economic climate of SL is what is dooming it to its slide towards the magical "floor" of $L361. That is, there's almost nothing you can't get for free, including $L.

Want a house? Gnu store. Vehicle? Tons of free ones. Clothing? Geez, there's so much free clothing it's sick. Scripts? Lots of free ones, or sandbox kiddies who love to tinker for you.

Entertainment? You're kidding, right? Who charges for events?

And if you want $L, all one has to do is camp on the camping chairs or play Tringo until their head explodes. OR both at once, I hear that's popular nowadays.

So here we are; the constant push for things to be affordable and free in SL has forced the $L on a downwards slide. That, coupled with the fact that there really isn't any compelling need to buy $L20,000 at once, means the value will continue to slide down.


1) The Lindens cut premium stipend (unlikely, given that would anger even more people than last time)

2) People stop handing out things for free (will never happen, probably a good thing for the SL culture, but bad for the SL economy and, possibly, indirectly affecting LLAbs' bottom line)

3) People stop providing $L sponges to satiate dwell desires (will probably happen once the Dwellclubs go under because of DI going away)

The $L is going to continue marching towards $L361.

Some other things:

1) Basic stipend isn't going away; that doesn't make any sense for anyone for any reason, and don't let the economic trolls/alts on ehre tell you otherwise. If basic accounts didn't get any sort of stipend, the economy would grind to a halt, and the $L would deflate so quickly your head would asplode. Also, no one would have any customers because -- gasp -- they have no money to spend.

2) The Lindens have no plans to implement any sort of tax, investment bank, income tax, property tax, land tax, or land price cap. Why? Because that's a ton of insane variables to tweak every week.

Taxes were tried once to curb prim usage: it was a complicated failure.

Investment banks don't make any sense, because you're just adding to the inflationary nature of the $L.

Income tax? Easily avoidable by gaming any sort of system you kids can come up with.

Land tax? Hurts the economy by forcing Land Barons to charge more to cover the land tax, and hurts smaller land sellers unfairly.

Land price cap? Un-capitalistic, and entirely subjective; it breaks the lassiez-faire capitalism that the market currently works under.

Other factors that may or may not affect the $L price: People gaming the Lindex, people dumping millions into the market at once (hi Anshechung.com), the actual strength of the [B]US dollar[/B], the sheer number of basic accounts vs premium accounts, and the affect the economic money sinks have on the money supply vs what's coming in.

For those of you keeping score at home:

Money Sinks: Upload fees, classified ads, anything paid to a Linden, the defunct land auction process, dormant accounts, deleted accounts, banned accounts

Money Creators: Stipends, Traffic, Linden payments (for services rendered), Linden prize money, Linden promotions, referral bonuses, ninjas

So there we go: A crash course of SLeconomics 101 by someone who's been here since before the $L was worth anything, and public land was plentiful.

$L361 or bust, much to our chagrin. Get used to it.



Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The SL Economy in Review – 2006 January

2006 promises to be a very “interesting” year for Second Life and its residents – especially for those who are active or interested in the business life in our small world. The first month of the new year already brought major changes to this economy. And with the already announced changes to the group tools (see below) and version 2.0 looming on the horizon life in our Second Life surely won’t miss more excitement in the comings months.

Looking back to the past month I can only identify three major events with a significant impact to the economy (if you think I missed any, just send me an email):

  • The Land Bulksales Experiment
  • Better Tools for SL Corporations
  • Inflation or no Inflation?

Resident-created mainland!

But first ... the raw numbers:

Cold facts
In the last month the official population of Second Life grew a whopping 23% from 105,000 to more than 130,000. This number is disputed by many. All I can say is that all available data on the economics of SL indicatse a growth rate of between 10% a
nd more than 20% per month! In the same time the average number of concurrent users inworld present at 8pm SL time grew some 20% for example. Even the number of sims comprising the world of Second Life has grown by more than 10% (that’s even harder to measure because of all the islands; some hidden).

Second Life grows! Fast!

The growth rate of concurrent users online is not as visible as the number of residents because of the large fluctuations. It becomes apparent in the 90day-view, though. It is quite obvious that it is not only the abstract "accounts" that are growing. There are real avatars coming inworld, too - at a growing rate.

Folks, Second Life is growing; fast! And anyone who denies that confuses personal experience (“What Growth? Me, I did not see more people than last month”) with hard facts.

The average daily trading volume at the LindeX grew to 5 Mio. L$ per day. That is nearly 18,000 US$ per day at current exchange rates; more than 525,000 US$ over the course of January. That’s another example of a growth by nearly 20% (already corrected by the falling exchange rate!) The exchange fell significantly from 265 L$ to 282 L$ per US$. But that’s another story in itself.

And now back to "events" mentioned:

The Land Bulksales Experiment
The most important event in January was the bulksales test for land IMHO. The Lindens auctioned off blocks of 5, 10, 20 and 50 sims. All of this land is flat but fully terraformable at first. It can be designed by the winning bidder, will thereafter become part of the mainland, and can be sold like any other land. “Land production by residents”, so to speak. This is clearly a sign that Linden Lab wants to retract (completely or in part) from the land creation business. Predictably, the first large blocks went to the only development group in SL which has the resources to digest such a huge chunk: Anshechung.com. And, predictably too, this made some residents furious.

The famous square islands of Anshechung.com's "Islandia". She can do better than that ... (and did)

Many facets of this experiment are debateable, IMHO. I would like to see a little more time for preparation and more flexibility afterwards (like it was described here). All in all I guess this is the only way to go with an SL growing as fast as we see it. I am not sure that is was necessary to use the surprise-surprise tactic typical of Linden Lab information policy again and giving the interested parties only one week between announcement and start of the program. But Linden Lab is a “surprising company” in many ways …

The first results of these experiments can be viewed now to the east of the Old Continent: some areas which are patchworks of flat sand islands in the “tropics”, barren snowland and some more varied landscapes too. Of course Anshe and Guni, who signed responsible for the first block of flat little islands, were criticized wildly. (She did some more interesting land later, but that was obviously ignored.) On the other hand: the land sells fast, at least not slower than other mainland areas.

Another example of mainland created by Anshechung.com

But it seems a little early to me to already pass the verdict on this experiment. I would view all the sims developed so far only as first attempts and I am sure we will see much more interesting solutions (and many more even uglier results) in the coming months. If Linden Lab continues on this way (and I bet they will, with little modifications), in less than 10 months there will be more resident-designed land in SL than the Lindens ever created.

Mainland created by the Cyberland group

This is the future of Second Life land creation – and real estate business. That the business side has changed dramatically was already visible in January. The business model for the “input side” of the real estate market was changed dramatically. Until January, this part of the market consisted of residents with a few thousand US$ in capital, who bought whole sims at prices between 1,000 and 1,500 US$ and resold the land for between 300,000 to 500,000 L$. (I leave the profit calculation as an exercise to the reader. Warning: it is more complicated than it seems.)

Anshechung.com bought the first sims in the new process at 1,000 US$ and tries to resell them at roughly 600,000 L$. Sounds good? Maybe it is good. But please don’t forget that you have to terraform the land in between paying for it and selling and that you have to invest at least 5,800 US$ now (that was the cheapest block sold) to enter the business. Interesting times for the medium sized Land Barons.

This is what happens when the ideas of different Land Barons about the perfect land clash (hard)

In the long run this new process will influence not only the Land Barons but all residents. It will affect the price of land all over Second Life. It already affected the exchange rate of the L$ (because all players, who want to compete in the market needed US$; fast!) It will of course affect the landscape of Second Life. And it is the harbinger of a new area, where residents will design large areas of Second Life as their personal taste and business plans demands it.

Together with the new estate tools and the new group management tools we will see the growth of large sub-grids, larger than Anshe’s Dreamland today, managed by groups of residents. Before the year is over, we will see at least half a dozen operations of the size Anshechung.com is today.

Better Tools for SL Corprations: New Group and Estate Tools on the Horizon
The Bulksales Experiment can be seen as just one step in an obvious direction. Another step in the same direction is the announcement of new tools and functionalities for groups and estates (private sims). The detailed specifications for these new tools is not available yet. But skimming over the transcripts of the focus group meetings on these topics makes two aspects very clear:

With the new group tools, it will be much easier to build corporations in Second Life than it is now. The days of only three “roles” in the groups (founder, officer, member) with a fixed set of permissions will be gone. It will be possible to give members to have some rights that are now reserved to officers (for example, the right to terraform land, invite new members etc.) but denying them other rights (that to sell land, for example). The pizza guy can’t steal the company anymore to phrase it like a famous resident did it once.

Why is this important? Well, lets look at an example how the current officers in the current groups work: If Anshe takes another officer into one of her land holding groups, this officer can sell all the groups land to himself … for 0L$. So you better be very careful with inviting officers into such a group. On the other hand: one has to be an officer to be able to terraform or cut up land.

This new granularity with group permissions will make it much, much easier to delegate tasks to SL employees with different levels of trust. And this will make it much more practical to have larger corporations.

Another set of new functionalities will come to the owners of “estates” (private sims). They will get the right to sell land (again) and there will be a way to display a kind of binding agreement (“covenant”) before a resident joins a group connected to a private estate. This covenant could describe zoning rules – a kind of “local TOS”. Add two and two together and you get … no, not five, but at least the basic tools to build your own subgrid on a group of private sims. And that is exactly the intention of Linden Lab – as officially stated by Robin Linden in two of these meetings.

Inflation or no Inflation?
One event which “happened” not only in January is the continued de-valuation of the L$. In November one US$ still was worth 252 L$. Now you need more than 280L$ to get one US$ at the LindeX. A loss of more than 11% in less than 90 days. In January alone, the L$ fell by 6%. This development is debated heatedly on the forums. Philip Linden himself mentioned that he does not consider it special. Other currencies (like the Yen) would fluctuate as wildly against the dollar – which is not completely true. Others rejoice in the fact that they get their L$ now cheaper. And some are arguing that because a premium account holder effectively gets 26,000 L$ at a price of 72 US$, the “real” value of the L$ is only one 361th of a US$ anyway (26000/72)…

It is hard for me to subscribe to any of these views. An economy, where the currency falls 6% in one month against the currency of the most important trading partner does not look healthy in RL. And I don’t think it is a good sign for the economy of SL, too. All businesses owners which depend on the exchange of L$ to US$ (most prominently real estate businesses, but others too), will suffer or will have to step up their prices.

I am no expert on monetary policy, but let’s just say: my trust in the Second World economy and the L$ could be greater if

  • I knew that Linden Lab cares for the L$, too
  • will watch this development closely and
  • take some action of deemed necessary

Currently the amount of devaluation can be handled by most profitable businesses. But should this ever develop into a "run", the trust in the economic side of Second Life (which plays an important role in Linden Labs marketing and PR efforts) could easily be lost.