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


  1. Flipper, excellent post! I've only been an SL resident for a couple of months and the privacy issue is already becoming a problem for me. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for some of the older residents that have accumulated thousands of "friends" over the years.

    I just wanted to comment on the item in your "Cons" list that states that the proposed solution has a higher level of privacy than available in Jabber. Can you be more specific? The reason I am interested in this is because I've heard that SL is thinking of moving towards more open standards. Jabber would be an excellent replacement for the IM protocol that the game uses. And it is highly extensible so any SL-related features can easily be added as Jabber Enhancement Proposal (JEP). This would allow for things like white/black lists, map location, etc... And it would let you do cool things like chat with in-world residents from an external Jabber client (I know this is going in the opposite direction from more privacy but it could be a useful thing to have in some cases).

    I'm being extremely optimistic here, but I saw on the SL wikipedia page that they may be overhauling their IM system and switching to something like Jabber. This might explain their reluctance to spend any major effort on redoing the current IM implementation. I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

  2. I vehemently oppose this proposal. It creates a system of white and black lists that will be misused to create arbitrary and unjust barriers in the society and reduce its freedoms -- as people begin to trade and merge these lists and band against others, and as they get the Lindens to accept their notions of what is "black" and the Lindens develop their own "master black list". It's wrong, and it creates a closed society, and that's a recipe for the death of democracy and freedom.

    Flipper, get an alt. That's what most people do when they want to get work done, or socialize privately. If you have a business associated with your avatar, you have to expect to wait on customers when you log on. If you don't like waiting on customers, get out of the business or don't log on, or log on with alts. Don't nerf the entire game around your need not to ruffle somebody's feathers.

  3. Vince, thanks for the comments. I'm not very familiar with JEP, but it sounds like that could work out quite well! In reading up on Jabber, it seemed from the documentation that the newer version allowed for one level of invisibility and previous versions did not. That could just be a case of bad documentation, however; I'm honestly by no means a Jabber expert.

    Prokofy, already got an alt, but that's a mediocre solution at best. I've been rated as having excellent customer service, but that doesn't mean I want to do it 24/7. The very fact you're opposed to this - as usual - let's me think I'm really onto something!

  4. I really like this proposal, especially the privacy controls and the white list. There's a very small handful of people I want to be available for at all times, others only when I'm not working.

    As the system stands right now, using an alt to work is highly ineffective (transferring all the content and textures, full perms, to your alt to work on a project, setting previous work to sell to your alt so you can link it, etc. etc.)Its just a piss-poor workaround for not having standard-issue IM privacy controls that virtually every other application has.

    Considering the number of votes the other privacy control proposals have recieved, it looks like this is an idea that a large number of people want to see implemented in some form.

    I don't understand what Prokofy means by "trading lists" - I don't trade my privacy lists from other instant messaging applications, and why would I care who other people have on theirs? Even more than that, why would Lindens care? Someone that I don't want to talk to while I'm working could be someone else's close friend and on the white list of a dozen people - how would that affect my decision, or vice versa?

  5. Your problem is SL is both businesses and pleasure. I have been issued devices to communicate with my firm 24/7 and it tells them my location as well! I work in a secure environment surrounded by armed guards and high fences. In Second Life, I do not have any such issues and am probably annoying enough not to have to worry about friends interrupting me. In any case my SL is completely separate from my rl one.

    My point is this. Are there enough residents in SL to warrant a complete rewrite of the calling cards/friends software? Will Linden Labs go to this effort or will they just deactivate carding cards and friends. You will still get those "annoying" IM's even if the above is done. What would you want next, disabling the online function and Instant messages? Would you want then to limit who and when someone can IM you?

    I am not sure myself as to the proper way to do the above in SL. Perhaps your solution is the way to go perhaps not. I just have no disagreement with the status quo.

  6. Lecktor Hannibal11:27 AM, March 16, 2006

    /stamped emphatically !

  7. Perhaps a simpler solution would be to have a way for you to crash a calling card without the person you are removing being notified at all. Your name should just silently vanish.

    This allows removal of folks you talked to once three years ago without hurt feelings, AND preserves the current system, which works pretty well most of the time.

    -Zorin Frobozz

  8. I don't see anything in this that mentions keeping IMs out of the scrolling up the screen proximity chat. I also don't see any mention made of group IMs at all.