Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Speak up! Maybe... Emergent Voice in SL

I left a comment on the official Linden blog in response to Joe's announcement about the voice features coming to Second Life, yet felt it necessary to repeat my comments here, in a differently visible forum.

My general position is fairly neutral, I'll probably use voice within a close circle of friends, who already use voice extensively via Skype. Yet, I'm a bit disappointed in the implementation for a number of reasons. Here's the comment I posted:

It's interesting how proximity-based seems to mimic hard-wired phones. In RL, we live in a world where wireless communication allows us the ability to move about. That's one of the frustrating things about those Vivox phonebooths. We *have to* be there, and no other place. Group IMs and IMs in general, do afford us the luxury of moving around.

It won't be surprising to see Skype, TeamSpeak, or Vent continue to be used, because they exist regardless of where we may be.

The same exists with music streaming... the community over time, had decided to share URLs for people who couldn't get to an event, or had someplace else to be-- even though the SL client and the music streaming parts are separate, music is tied to a parcel. From my understanding, this has been done for purposes of immersion, and vetoed before (even before my time).

The thing I'd encourage everyone to watch is the emergent uses of the voice aspects of SL. It might be used for things far more creative than simple communication, since it is limited in its design.

While writing this, another issue came to mind: when building or camming about, I don't hear proximity-based sounds like typing and effects, especially if I'm zooomed out. Music, however will still play because my avatar is located on a parcel, and that system is not affected by my camera movements.

Will the voice system operate like this or is it true proximity that will be voided by the position of my camera? My thoughts are (if I read this correctly), that no, I'd not be able to hear you talk if I'm cammed out. Time will tell.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yet Another Second Life Wannabe

Better graphics, faster, less lag, more options, lots of avatars in the same island, better support of your hardware (so long as it is a 2007-built Windows PC, of course) — that's what all the new "SL wannabes" claim. They all have state-of-the art graphical engines, feature content upload, lots of avatar shapes and handle concurrency much better.

They also have a nice webpage and two blog entries on it:

But... it's the latest rage, since Scoble talked about it. So join in for the beta... or should I say, give them your email so that they can sign you on their newsletter! Because, really, that's all what they have to offer:
Outback Online provides an easy, free way to have fun with friends while creating 3D virtual worlds together. It combines a fun social environment like MySpace and Cyworld, a peer to peer communication network like Skype and a user-generated service like YouTube into a seamless 3D platform, that is infinitely scalable.
Oh, and don't hold your breath, either. Early alpha will be ready by summer. Who knows, when Outback is ready to launch, Linden Lab might even have started to integrate Mono and in-world HTML and the 5th attempt to use Havok 3.0...

The End of First Land

Linden Lab just announced on their Official blog the end of the First Land programme, effective immediately. This means that from now on, new Premium users will not have a "grant" to be able to buy a plot of 512 m2 for L$512. They will have to live like the rest of us: in a world of hyper-inflated land costs, and no way to recover your 'investment' in SL quickly by selling out your (useless) First Land plot to an over-eager land-baron-wannabe.

Why does abolishing First Land make sense from LL's business perspective? Well, we can all grief and complain about "putting it all in the hands of monopolies held by land barons". The truth is that the long-term land barons compete ferociously among themselves — and have done so for several years — and have no choice but to offer added value. You don't just buy/rent/lease a plot from them — you join a planned, organised community, and you get protection from griefers and nasty neighbours. How well each large land baron does their job will reflect their long-term success; it's obvious that many are doing well and will continue to be around.

On the mainland, the tiny landowner is a nightmare to manage — from the point of view of Linden Lab. A whole sim full of First Land plots, where you have to deal with your nasty neighbours every day without having a way to call for help is a nightmare. What happens? People pack and go — very often, to rent/buy/lease land on an organised, planned community. So, although I can understand why people can be furious for not getting their "promised" First Land, let's be honest — you wouldn't be holding on to it for long. As soon as you got an offer, you'd move out (probably with your friends and friendly neighbours) and go to a planned community or a rental business.

First Land, with a few exceptions, are the slums and wastelands of Second Life. People getting them will have fun for a few hours. Then they will face the naked reality of what it means — griefing, "physical" and mostly "visual". You won't be living on a "nice" place, but very soon you'll see that there are lots of nice places around in SL to live in — and all rather cheaper than being a Premium Account and a tiny 512 m2 plot.

So what is LL accomplishing by abolishing the FL programme? Well, let's ignore the deal with the "abuse". It's a comfortable excuse and a side-effect. But the real reason is purely economical, and, surprisingly, an encouragement to make SL look better. Let's assume, for an instant, that from those 60,000 Premium Users, 10,000 abandon their plots, in disgust over LL's new policies. These will be bought up by 'bots, start-up land baron wannabes, and short-term capitalists. But they suddenly see that they won't be able to sell them so easily, since the number of Premium accounts will decrease slightly, as people "tier down" and go to live on private islands.

What will happen next? Well, there is some inertia in the system — they will hold to their land and expect the next wave of freshly-minted Premium accounts to arrive with their pockets full of money. However, these "new" Premium accounts will not expect land to be cheap (ie. no more First Land, so...). They will expect it to look good. And where will they turn to? Very likely, planned communities organised by the long-term, established land barons.

So the quickly-bought-for-a-huge-profit ex-First Land will remain on "wasteland". For a while. To make a profit, land barons who just buy & sell land, without intention of improving it and adding value, will need to do it quickly. But in the mean time — Linden Lab will roll out more land on the next continent. On the auctions, for US$1000 as a base price. Who will buy these? The established land barons again. And they'll get it for a reasonable amount of money, improve the plots, and sell them for a profit … but at a much lower rate than the land baron wannabees are able to set.

This definitely means that the "former wasteland" will slowly need to have its prices dropped. Without encouragement to buy small, cheap 512 m2 plots, and a decrease in new Premium accounts, all that land hold into the hands of the wannabe land barons is pretty much worthless. What will they do with it? Sell it to the rental businesses, very likely. They will still make a rather reasonable profit that way.

So you see "aggregation". Less premium accounts holding more land in larger sizes. For Linden Lab, this means less technical support calls. It also means that the 60,000 paying customers will pay far more than just the bare minimum, since they will hold large tracts of land for their own rental businesses. The number of free accounts will only increase, and buy/lease/rent more and more from the established land barons/rental managers/mall owners. Yes, this means more concentration of power and money in a larger number of people — capitalism at work! — but that's exactly how it works in RL as well, isn't it? :) But for LL, it also means less work — land barons will continue to buy whole sims and plan them, and tier payment will be handled by a small group (well, 60,000-big) of people, who will also manage most of the more common issues in their communities and rental businesses. Providing added value that way.

So, does this mean that I'm for LL's decision? Well, it sounds to me that it would be inevitable. Consider the following: it meant a lot of support calls, way over what people pay for their tier zero Premium accounts. It meant a lot of time planning the landscape for the new sims, from talented LL designers that are always overworked anyway. It meant large areas with griefing of all sorts — physical and visual. It was abused in all possible ways, mostly because people don't know exactly how to set/manage their land (I know I don't). It allowed for hyper-inflation on those areas.

All that is now gone. Makes a lot of business sense for LL. And who suffers? Perhaps 10,000 or so Premium users who feel "cheated". Well, 10,000 in 3.8 million accounts is not really a huge number, isn't it? After all, we all know that LL is not making any money from the Premium accounts... just from tier and lease of private islands.

Dutch tolerance has it limits

A majority of The lower house(tweede kamer) in the Netherlands and the public prosecutor want legal action against virtual child porn, or as is it often called Age Play. Virtual child porn with images that are lifelike is already illegal, but now investigation has started to see how laws should be applied to environments like SL, where graphics are not(yet) life like.

Reuters and Menno already reported about it earlier.

It is interesting how this will turn out. Some claim that because it is virtual it shouldn't be prosecuted and the child in question is likely a adult in RL. Others wonder where the line will be drawn, will virtual speeding in GTA be a crime as well? It could be a slippery slope and in someways equals a thought crime.

They add that it would be better to use the funds and manpower to fight/prevent child-abuse in RL. I think one can't be watchful enough if it comes to child abuse even virtual. It could very realistically lead to real abuse.
J. Buschman who works as a psychologist for the Mesdag clinic in Groningen, said that Second life is per definition a "learning school for pedophiles" and he fears that virtually having sex with children will result in sexual child abuse in the real world.

What is a interesting aspect is how proof can be gathered to prosecute someone. All avatars have a high level of anonymity, a prosecutor first have to have proof that a avatar is a Dutch citizen and then has to request RL information from LL. It would be strange if they could request information on US citizens for instance.

But also the other way around, if someone is arrested for related crimes, and their computer is confiscated. I doubt much proof of age-play will be on the computer, if you have logging of your chat off, I would say there wouldn't be any proof.

Also added to that, in the US this isn't illegal at all, and I'm not sure if LL could be forced to provide the RL information.
In the United States, where Second Life creator Linden Lab is based, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law in 2002 which would have banned computer-generated images that depict minors engaged in sexual conduct.

But how ever this turns out legally, it is a good thing attention is being put on to it. Even if legally nothing can be done, research in it can only help confirm or deny claims that it will result in RL abuse. And it could lead to early warning system to stop abusers.

The inspiration of (epic) everyday places

After spending some time here in New York City, a much taller, busier place than I'm used to, I've noticed that I'm instantly drawn to architecture of tall things--- namely, any skyscraper that I can see from my rooftop perch here on the 43rd floor of my hotel.

In the year and a half I've been in SL, I have noticed consistently that my desire to go outside and stare upwards at buildings has increased dramatically-- even equating real world builds to SL builders. If you're ever in my town, I'll show you the new local YMCA--- it's a Juro Kothari build if I ever saw one.

I tend to be a skyscraper junkie, both pre- and post- megaprims. But materials be damned, the prim counts are high, and it seems that a favorite pasttime of people is base jumping off the top, floating 300 m down to the surface in most cases. Seigmancer Nino knows me well, as his towers are my little 3D addition; as well as our own Lordfly, whose Grignano Towers live again (because inventories are dumb places to keep Great Builds).

I'll be paying closer attention to the NYC-based SLers' work and take cues. I've seen Aimee Weber's signature all over this town-- not because she had anything to do with it, but because she carries the City That Always Rezzes forth into the virtual space.

Even the Reuters build in SL--- on an island, with a lot of trees and space, has video monitors that mimic the Reuters building's screens in Times Square. This, was an exciting discovery.

I'm certain my own personal moving-around-prims style (read: building) style will change the more I stare up and down at these monuments of urban existence. If all goes well, my camera will be filled with gigabytes of texture ideas and sources that I'm more than happy to share with those that haven't quite made the journey to the Big Apple.

Gawd, I love this town.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

On Linden Lab's Contingency Measures to Ensure Service as Second Life Grows

Robin Linden, on the Official Linden Blog, announced a new measure to try to deal
with the "peak" concurrency: if circumstances demand it, instead of shutting down the grid to all logins, they will only allow residents in which have given Linden Lab any payment information (basically, this means every Premium account — existing or former — as well as anyone owning a private island or having made an exchange on the LindeX).

Since the number of people with their payment info registered at Linden Lab is actually quite small (for instance, only about 60,000 Premium accounts...) this will allow the paying customers free access to an admittedly cramped full grid, while leaving the freeloaders outside. Obviously, once you're in, if you manage not to crash, you'll be able to stay. If you crash or try to login back again, you will have to wait until the number of online users drops below a certain threshold.

Formerly, Linden Lab had a different approach: they would shutdown new logins for all users, in a very egalitarian way — paying and non-paying customers. This, however, seemed to be unfair. After all, some are paying to be able to log in — the vast majority is not. The first differentiation between paying and non-paying customers was done earlier — access to free telephone support. Now Linden Lab went a step further and added "grid access" as a new privilege for those one who have been faithfully settling their bills with Linden Lab.

To be consistent with my own comments elsewhere, I'd like to applaud Linden Lab's decision, even fully understanding it's a "temporary" measure — they will, indeed, increase the number of concurent users on their grid. They're not crossing their arms and expecting not to grow any more, or abandoning all hope of ever being able to support more simultaneous accounts. Still, it's obvious I have to agree with any sort of measure that benefits paying users — the ones that actually account for Linden Lab's present and future economic viability. Also, Linden Lab is not demanding much — if you transact a single US dollar on the LindeX, you'll be in the same league as Anshe Chung with her hundreds of sims. It's not as if this is overly "discriminating" — in fact, all paying customers will be treated the same way. But they will have access to better service than non-paying customers.

We have to remember that at one point in time, not so long ago, premium accounts were only 1/6th of all accounts. Now they're a far tinier number — just 60,000 accounts out of almost 3 millions. Encouraging people to pay for something they can enjoy for free is rather hard. On the other hand, going in a year from a situation where 2/3 of all users were US-based to just 1/3 shows that SL is moving into an interesting direction — speaking from myself (and as an European) I think that nobody could have predicted that — and all due to dropping the requirements of having a valid credit card. It was a wise move that actually worked quite well. And one of the major reasons is that it allows SL to be "easily accessible".

I remember that I saw the first boxes for World of Warcraft in my country a month ago. How long has WoW been available? Several years. However, only now it has made a very timid entrance where I live — in Portugal, a tiny country which only has 16,000 users in SL or so. But for several years, lots of Portuguese have been in SL (even predating the official opening of Second Life in mid-2003 :) ). SL even has "Portuguese" as a translated language (mostly due to the Brazilians, of course). WoW has no such thing. You have to get a box, pay your account, and get the options you've been given. No questions allowed.

Except for There.com, who also allows free membership, I'm not aware of any commercial virtual world that has almost 3 million unpaid users. SL is truly the exception that makes the difference. Unlike what some people tend to make us believe, "fixing" the support for multiple users is not just "adding a few webservers", like, say, YouTube or MySpace can do pretty easily. Sue gets it right on one of her comments: although thousands of people claim the contrary (ie. that it is very easy to deploy a structure as complex as SL and make it infinitely scalable), there is no proof to that claim. It might be possible, but nobody ever attempted it. Comparing SL to "other games" or "popular Web 2.0 sites" is mostly unfair; SL is a beast of its own, and has to deal with new things that nobody knew how to do in 2003.

So, we have a temporary measure, which is based on a clear and simple assumption: the ones that pay to Linden Lab get better service. It only makes sense. There is a lot of open source software in the world (and we can consider SL as being, partially at least, open source as well). The best open source software comes from companies making a business out of support, consultancy, and training, instead of consultancy fees; good examples are things like MySQL, Alfresco, Zimbra, even Mozilla, but there are thousands more. These are all companies making a profit out of their license-free code. And you'll understand why some people pay for having good support on an otherwise free product: when something goes wrong, you'll definitely be willing to pay to get a quick fix.

LL is just using the same strategy. SL will remain free to use, in any part of the world, without complex verification methods. Just download it and join! But if you're serious about using SL, sometime, at some point, you should also be willing to pay for getting quality support, or better access, or more features not available to the "freebie" users. Having your priority on the login queue being bumped up if you're willing to pay for using SL is just a tiny example of what can be done.

SL had, in its past, a certain "community spirit". It was told to every new user that "paying" was not so important, but commitment to a community, and spending time doing positive, creative things. In a sense, who is more worth — the griefer that has a premium account, or the poor Mentor from Ecuador or Kazakhstan, without access to a bank account, who spends hours every day to tirelessly help out new users on their first steps in SL? It's a moral question. It used to be easy to answer.

There is not a "community" in SL any more, and it hasn't been ONE community for well over a year now. There are, instead, several communities, side-by-side, peacefully co-existing. A few of those, for instance, laugh at having volunteers doing the hard work of helping newbies — when they do the same for a fee, and probably much better. But each community has the same right to co-exist in SL. So it's hard to measure what is "better for SL overall". You can easily point out this or that person to be "better" for your own, local community, and praised for that. But what influence does that person have overall, or, for that effect, to Linden Lab? These days, the answer is "not much". Focus on your local community instead where you can be more helpful and more respected.

So any system based on people's personal worth and their work in a community is impossible to measure by a "machine" at LL's co-location facility. We're talking about interpersonal relationships that extend to perhaps thousands of people, but not millions. LL cannot measure a person's worth to the "overall good of SL", because the "overall good of SL" is impossible to define these days. It means different things to different people.

This means that LL has simply to focus on the only "fair" system they can devise automatically: paying customers have a priority over non-paying ones. The rest is an ethical discussion, but not a business decision. It's "fair" in the extent that all users — paying or not paying, griefers or helpful volunteers — consume precious, scarce resources. The ones willing to pay for those resources should, in a business sense, have better access to those. It's very easy, simple, and fair in the usual business sense of the word "fair".

I found it very interesting that so many Europeans have complained about their troubles of being unable to provide valid payment information, to either LL or PayPal. In all European countries — yes, all 27 of them — PayPal is able to tie their account to a valid bank account. I can understand the argument that some people are so deeply buried in debts that they can't even get a "cheapo" credit card — it's definitely possible, although one can only wonder how they are still able to pay for Internet access and electric power. I could also understand that people in Ecuador and Kazakhstan or North Korea would have a very hard time in getting a valid credit card that is accepted by either LL's payment gateway or PayPal. But in Europe...? I don't really buy that argument; if you have a bank account, you can use PayPal, you don't even need a debit card for your bank account.

I'm not saying that PayPal is a good solution. In fact, I have had lots of problems with PayPal in the past year. They're way worse in all things like technical support; and apparently, the more money you transact through PayPal, the more likely you'll have money lost (it happened to me, I lost US$100 when trying to buy L$ from the LindeX for a friend), or your account cancelled without any way to contact their support lines. PayPal is, for me, the worst possible example of "customer support" — the type that actually makes things harder on their better customers (ie. the ones willing to use it for large money transfers, and thus paying a lot of fees to them). But... it's simple to use, and available in over a hundred countries. Obviously, the kind of services you get through PayPal vary a lot from country to country; but at least in Europe you'll be able to use any bank account to tie it to your PayPal account, even if you can't have a Visa card.

There are, as said, reasons for not using PayPal. But there are still a lot of choices for Europeans. Take e-Passporte as an example: they create virtual credit cards tied to your name (even avatar name, if you wish) and can accept payments through a money order to an European bank (in Germany). That card can then be used either for validation with LL or with PayPal (I've tried both). The process is cumbersome and complex, but it worked fine for me. I'm pretty sure that if you do some searches for "virtual credit cards" you'll see a lot of operators allowing that type of service. Sure, they will charge you huge fees for that service — they're not offering it for free :) — but it works, and you can do a money transfer to an European bank.

Obviously, there are more payment gateways that LL could subscribe to. A few months ago, Robin Linden was actively looking into those, and I think she had a rather large list of possibilities. Things, however, are not so easy as people sometimes think they are. Global banking interconnection does exist to an extent, but it's not trivial and not always fully automatic. Unlike credit cards, which work "instantly" and use electronic means to validate payments and can be tied to a back-end system with just a few lines of code, international money transfers depend a lot on several complex transactional methods, some of those still manual (ie. requiring a human being to "approve" them). In many cases, each bank has their own system. Not all European countries have a "national" network where all banks are connected to (again, my country is an exception — there is just one national banking infrastructure, and connecting to that one is enough to be able to send and receive money from any bank operating here, even international ones. Moreover, the same network operator also offers virtual credit cards using a very safe mechanism, as they also handle the connections to Visa, Mastercard, and Eurocard — but other countries have their own networks, and sometimes they don't extend to all banks in the country).

I'm a regular user of all sorts of electronic payments over the Internet. Non withstanding the possibility that there must be a million sites accepting all kinds of weird transaction systems, all things I've seen so far neatly fall into two categories: credit cards/PayPal or local, national systems. I have made a few tests on some hosting services. A few are pan-European. When I log in to my country's page for that hosting provider (they have local offices here), I get the option for credit card, national bank transfer, or paying through an ATM connected to the national banking network. If I select the same page for their French operations (where they also have offices), I can select a credit card or a French bank money transfer. So far, so good — but what if I want to buy the service in France and have no French bank account? Simply said — I can't. I have to use a credit card. And the same happens when I visit the page for that particular hosting provider in all countries where they have local offices: you can always pay with a credit card. But if you want to do a bank transfer, you need to be a local resident with a local bank account. I can't simply use my own local bank account to pay for something on another country.

This particular hosting provider has far more paying customers than Linden Lab, so I guess they are not being "irrational" or losing business or whatever. They know how difficult it is to provide cross-country banking information. It's always easy to provide that type of information inside a country, but never across borders. But... for that, you can use a credit card, which will always work.

Now, I think it's unlikely that Linden Lab will set up offices in each and every one of the hundred or so countries where they have customers! This is simply not expectable in the next few years, and they don't generate enough money from just 60,000 paying customers to be able to support so many branch offices. It is unreasonable to demand that they ever do this. I couldn't find any example of middle-sized companies who managed that kind of thing. The only two companies I know that allow tying into your bank account are, respectively, PayPal and Google AdSense — but there are quite a few payment gateways that allow that kind of service as well. I can imagine that when LL is the size of any of those companies, they will be able to do more fancy things in terms of international payments, namely, be able to make a deal with the top-tier payment gateways. But until then, it requires a little more effort on our part to figure out a way to pay LL.

There is an argument here that I don't understand, this dichotomy of "getting a credit card in Europe". I can imagine that back in the 1960s, it would be a bit harder for Europeans to get access to a credit card than an US resident. But these days...? I would imagine that it's as hard or as easy to get a credit card either in the US or in Europe and can't possibly believe it's different. I can understand personal issues, of course, but surely they apply to any side of the Atlantic? I mean, if someone in the US has no way, due to personal issues, to get access to a credit card, I can imagine that the criteria is the same in Europe as well? But... I don't understand the "difficulty" or "impossibility" argument. I actually have a locked bank account which has a nicely working credit card tied to it. :) So long as I "somehow" pay for that card, it will continue to work — the bank is not too fussy about the way it gets some money — and I would claim that it's easier to get a credit card than a debit card (because credit cards are emitted by Visa/Mastercard/AmEx, while debit cards are emitted by the bank), but, obviously, this is a personal issue. Most people will have no problem.

I found it also interesting to watch in this thread that no US resident complained about being unable to pay! Instead, I can only understand that the US residents know their choices better, and either they are "able" to get a credit card/PayPal account, or they fully understand why they can't validate their accounts. Again, the complains only come from the European side, who "demand" more alternative ways of payment. I guess that's a bit unfair — the Europeans get exactly the same methods of payment, no more, and no less, than the US ones. Sure, I'd love to have a direct debit account to pay for LL automatically without worries and without paying any fees; but I'm also fully aware that for it to work, LL would need to have a bank account in my country, and that means they had to open a local branch here. That's unlikely to happen, so I obviously can't comment — it's up to me to find a way to pay to LL, and not make "unreasonable" demand on LL to create a way to accept my money, a way specially tailored for me.

At the end of the day, what I can see is that many of my fellow European residents are simply uninterested to pay for a service that they can otherwise get for free. As long as there was no "differentiated" access to SL, everybody was happy (and buying/selling plots on private islands even discouraged an increasing number of Premium accounts). The paying customers were mostly doing it "for the love of SL" (or because they made a business out of it), but the non-paying users of SL didn't complain — they got the same tools, the same opportunities, the same quality of access. Once LL started to give their first hints that they can't continue to give the free users the same things they give to the paying ones, the complaints started to rise in tone.

I frankly can't understand this attitude. Or perhaps I can — it's a new generation that "thinks" that the world — RL or SL — "owes" them something. This is the "I'm important, so you should pay to have me around, and not the other way" egotistical attitude which is getting more and more common these days.

We all are prim-a-donnas. But real life companies can't pay salaries based on egos; they need cash for that. And so the ones willing to pay for a better service are slowly getting it. Speaking strictly for myself, Linden Lab charges me too little for my Premium account :)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Haiku

4 haikus for Spin you.

To spin:
Spin is annoyed
I haven't posted
So here it is

Are you happy now
will you post some more
I will too

On SL:
The world is mine
Now the web
My Second Life

Concurrency is high
The gates will be closed
Kept in or kept out?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Great Builds of SL... creating the next edition

Just about a year ago, I put together a virtual book called Great Builds of SL, vol 1. It covered some of my favorite structures around SL, some of which still exist and some of which have moved on.
I've been thinking for a long time about doing a second edition, and have been getting a lot of requests, so it's time to make it happen. This year, the only requirement is that the build be somewhere in Second Life where any avatar can visit using a landmark or slurl.
This is a hearty call/plea for people to tell me about the builds in SL that really wow them, because SL has gotten a lot bigger and I'm sure there is stuff out there that I just do not know about. I promise to look at everything. Drop a landmark or folder of landmarks on Forseti Svarog, or send an email to forseti.svarog - at - gmail - dot - com. I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Video from the GNO Fashion Show

I had a great time at the iVillage GNO fashion show last monday and felt that the organizers did a wonderful job. As a personal project (the reason why I'm posting it here rather than Out to Pasture), I put some video footage together into the following machinima on blip.tv.

It will eventually be up on YouTube at the following link but I hate how YouTube destroys visual quality with that compression algorithm, so I prefer blip (plus blip.tv will stream into Second Life if you want to play this video in-world).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Everything black. With accents of black!

There are three little greeen icons that can appear on the minimap. The first, is a dot, representing avatars at the same elevation as you. The second, a "T" represents avatars above you, and the third is an upside down "T" for those that are below you.

In your travels across the great wide grid, you'll see lots of gray shapes on the mini-map-- representing things that other people own. This neon green icons are so vivid and so bright, you'll have no problem knowing where your fellow avatars are.

That is, unless, you own a good chunk of land with a lot of stuff on it. In that case, the items you possess, are colored in with delightful neon cyan.

Let's do some color math here. The kind of new math they teach the kids today:

light neon green + light neon cyan = impossible legibility.

I've explored the metaverse on both Windows- and Macintosh- based PCs, with a variety of cards and on a variety of monitors-- and the results are the same! Total and complete illegibility! (As an aside, avatars on the same elevation as you are green dots, that do have a hairline black outline, so that's at least easIER to see.)

Perhaps a preference where we can specify the color of our items or avatar icons? Some people might have a difficult time navigating this; others might be colorblind, and some might want the mySpace-ian trend of bright green icons on bright green backgrounds. Let the users decide. Put the front end team on this, while the backend team plugs away at the heart of the system.

It's the little things.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Understanding how the giving away SL servers *might* work

I'm a glutton for punishment. I love reading the 435,233,324 comments posted on a Linden Lab blog entry, particularly the ones that invite fiery debate-- pick any-- and the tremendous range of opinions and expertise (or non-expertise) about any given technological change. Since there are far more non-techies than techies, it seemed appropriate to make an attempt to illustrate (in layman terms) how the world (and worlds) might look if Linden Lab released the software that makes sims exist, into the great wild internet.

Let's use a famous band to make this point: Green Day. You, the resident, are Green Day.

You live on a grid, with a lot of different people. A big, wide open land mass where you can see others, add them as buddies, look at their profiles, visit their stores-- the whole world we know it today.

The Grid as we know it today, is like mySpace. Built in functionality, the same basic tools for everyone, one-two click, add, buddy. Searches, forums-- it's all in the single world of mySpace. Green Day has some land on mySpace. It's http://www.myspace.com/greenday.

Green Day also has a grid of their own. It's disconnected from mySpace. This grid, what it connects to, and everything else about it, is built from the ground up. This land would be http://greenday.com

And GreenDay.com is the example I use for running your own sim on your own.

Green Day has to do quite a bit on their own, but their official website looks nothing like their mySpace page. It lacks the functionality that is built into mySpace (on mySpace, Green Day has over 5.5 million 'friends'). If Green Day wants to put a list of their friends, forums, link to other websites, they have absolute control to do so--- and are not limited by the structure of mySpace. In fact, I'm sure Green Day might have a little bit less than 5.5 million links to their friends. ;-) And some might say that the Green Day site looks far, far better than mySpace. In grid terms, a private sim might look better because there's a sim owner-- someone in control, and can zone and make all the rules in the world. The mainland? Your castle might have a pink casino next to it. Some love this. Others hate it.

SL Server, hypothetically speaking, would be like managing and controlling your own website. You run the show entirely and may have more work to do.
SL Grid, hypothetically speaking, would be like having your own "sort of"-website on mySpace. You run the show in a predefined space, in a world with others, and this may work for a good number of people.

The issue of trust and reputation of someone's own personal grid? I'll save that for another post.

Phone lines are open!

What do you do for fun? No, not you. The other you.

In travels across the grid, I find it tough not to run across someone who is in the metaverse consulting and design business. Those that get paid handsomely to build something for someone, regardless of its origins in real life or Second Life.

Of the first generation (and I'm talking about you Forseti, hehe), I have noticed a shift from socializing to working. Work, work, work. And being early to the game, it's understandable and easy to forgive the scarcity of our old friends. We saw the change; they were new to a new industry; and work comes fast and furious.

I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about this new legion of design agencies and consultants-- those that show up, who we're not really show how much they 'get it'. Are they here and doing what's good for business and good for the community? How well do they understand the nuances of how things work in busytown? (Even if it's as simple as 'sims die with 40 people' to the more nuanced issues with various cultures, classes, and species native to the grid).

One question I've grown fond of asking to the design firms I meet is, "What do you do for fun?"

This is a question that some would ask of the Lindens as well. After all, it's okay to have fun-- there's lots to have fun with in SL, beyond 'oh I like shopping'--so, Mr. Design Cowboy. What do you do for fun? That answer, perhaps, can be more telling than the client list.

And hey, you might have gain a new friend to cruise around with and play with while talking shop.

All work and no play, makes Ruth a dull, er, boy.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

To Spin a Second Web

Ignoring the fact that I first found Second Life in June of 2004, yet suffered from the can't-run-this-how-do-I-get-this-tree-outta-my-ear syndrome so common with new users, my first real experience in Second Life began in September 2005. Immediately, I saw the opportunity and couldn't wait to share it with my world.

But my world wasn't ready. And *I* wasn't ready to clearly explain it.

I hail from the tech blogosphere, podcasting and vlogging-- oh yes, terms, terms, terms. Not crazy about them, but hey-- it's a point of reference. And I knew how people would react when introduced to this metaversian concept. In fact, we see it today as the pro-/anti- hype machine churns about our beloved grid.

So, I kept quiet for a few months while I hashed out the concept of SL and how to explain it to the people of my planet.

And speaking of planets, that was the first analogy I used. People knew I was involved in Second Life, they didn't know what it was, and I so desperately wanted to tell them! So I fell back on the notion that asking what Second Life was, was about as complex as a question to answer than if an alien came to Planet Earth and asked, "So what do you people do here?"

Around January of 2006, I started to figure it out, doing contrasting and comparing, finding the good, the bad, the ugly, and eventually getting at least the very basic points across. People running wild with their own interpretations? Well that's just the new user experience talking. (I did, for the record, get that tree out of my ear when my 2004 account was unlocked. My alt is older than me!)

And that brings us here to SLOG.

I've read SLOG on and off over the past year-- and lots of my good pals are here-- and talked to Frans about writing here. See, I don't want some gig writing about SL to be all expert-y. I just have ideas and observations and questions in my head that I want to get out. Like, all the time-kinda get out. And I don't want to deluge my own readership with too much All-SL-All-the-time. Moderation, even when being a cheerleader, is a Good Thing.

I'm stoked to be here, and hope I can contribute as well as everyone who has graced these pages since the SLOGging began.

Much thanks to Frans and Giff and everyone else for having me! :)


Friday, February 02, 2007

30K Inworld

Apparently SL has reached a max concurrency over 30k yesterday as Tateru reported on SLI. It was a bit over a month a go that we reached the 20k inworld. This is a amazing growth of 50% max concurrency in one month. I did some math to calculate what will happen if the peak concurrency keeps growing 50% a month. It ends with a frightening 2.5 million in December. I just hope my stats will be proven wrong, or that LL somehow manages to scale for it. :D
  • Month Inworld:
  • Jan 30000
  • Feb 45000
  • Mar 67500
  • Apr 101250
  • May 151875
  • Jun 227812
  • Jul 341718
  • Aug 512578
  • Sep 768867
  • Oct 1153300
  • Nov 1729951
  • Dec 2594926

Jan 28th was my second RezDay, and it is amazing how things has changed and stayed the same. Back in early 2005 when I thought about the future of SL, I only saw the technical improvements that would come. But while big new features came/come much slower then expected, the way how the 'community' has changed is greater then I ever thought.

We moved from one forum to a whole plethora of forums and blogs about SL. So much so that you can be busy with SL all day without even being logged in. More and more Europeans and Asians are joining. Suddenly there are lots of fellow Dutchies now, when I joined there where just a hand full. And it looks like the SL is a big hit in France, every other newbie that shows up on my doorstep seems to be French.
Translating devices are created to bridge the language gap that hook into and Babelfish to help with the new reality. And the massive use of them caused google/yahoo to block them because of spam/virus suspicions.

So many new people now that in essence everyone is a stranger and it is impossible to meet them all. Compared to when I joined it was easy to find out who was who, and meet them if you wanted. But it is also great to see that the people who you met toying around in the Sandbox learning to build are now on the payroll of Dev Companies. Whatever the critics are saying, Second Life is Booming.