Monday, April 30, 2007

Open Letter to Linden Lab

Dear Linden Lab,

In the past eighteen months, Second Life has expanded, growing from a small community of early adopters to a platform supporting millions of users. Linden Lab has created a world that inspires a deep level of passion in its users and provides unprecedented opportunities to share creatively, socially, and financially.

With explosive levels of growth often come unexpected problems. In keeping with your company's policy and rich history of resident involvement, we the undersigned would like to take this opportunity to address some concerns that we feel have gone unanswered for too long.

There are some consistent, ongoing problems that are getting worse under heavy load, not better, and are not simply irritants but problems that are causing financial loss in some cases, which is unacceptable. Here is a brief list of the main concerns:

* Inventory loss - this is a devastating problem that is worsening. We have no ability to protect our own inventories through backups, and are trusting you to protect that data. This is the highest priority. Sensible inventory limits (on non-verified accounts only), combined with better management tools and ways to protect our inventory ourselves would help to mitigate the problem as well. Regardless, this cannot continue - we will not accept financial loss as a feature of Second Life. It is your responsibility as service provider to ensure our data is not lost, and you are failing us.

* Problems with Find and Friends List - we continue to see search outages on a far too regular basis. It is bad enough trying to get anywhere without being able to use search, but many users are also paying money for classified ads. Our friends lists just do not work reliably any longer, after years without an issue with them. If America Online/MSN/Yahoo can provide presence information for hundreds of millions of users, surely there is a way to make our friends lists work again.

* Grid stability and performance - teleports fail quite regularly, especially under heavy load. Attachments end up in places they did not start out in, and sim performance varies wildly. None of this makes for a very pleasant experience for users. Long promised improvement to physics and scripting would help dramatically to reduce these problems, but there are a lot of other scalability issues as well. It often feels like the grid is coming apart at the seams. The promised use of limiting logins of non-verified accounts during peak load has been severely lacking. This would be an effective interim solution to load issues, but Linden Lab seems unwilling to use it.

* Build tool problems - the importance of build tools that actually work as promised cannot be overstated enough - we rely on them to create content. Prim drift, disappearing prims, imprecise placement, problems with linking and other issues with the tools need to be addressed. Too much time is being spent trying to work around the problems.

* Transaction problems - inventory deliveries are failing with an alarming (and annoying) frequency, leaving merchants with the burden of replacing missing content and having to try to confim the transaction in the first place. We trust that our L$ balances are accurate, but given recent problems, that is a cause for concern as well, and one we place our full trust in you to ensure its accuracy.

We remain fully supportive of Second Life and are more than willing to continue doing our part to help, but our confidence is steadily being eroded due to a general lack of communication and the apparent failure to successfully address the many issues detailed above. What we are asking for is that these problems are addressed immediately, ahead of new features, and that we are able to see tangible improvements. We accept that this will not happen overnight but it also cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely either.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Frans Charming/Jeroen Frans
This is posted in support of projectopenletter.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Speak up.

Cristiano Diaz(creator of slpics) has written a open letter to Linden Lab, to address the continuing issues with Second Life. The goal is that many people sign it and on Monday post the letter on their blogs/websites, to give LL a signal. While i do think that LL is aware of the issues, I think it is important that we use this opportunity to express ourselves. Fixes won't happen because of it overnight, but I think it will force LL to give a more in depth response about what they are doing to fix these problems. Do we have to wait on a entire rewrite of the back end, or are there fixes on the way in a short time frame of a month or 2.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sexy Curves

I haven't blogged in a while, but I thought this was worthy of a NEWS FLASH. It looks as if a new type of prim is on the way: the Sculpted Prim. There's info about it over here on the Second Life Wiki:

Cubes with rounded corners, at last! It would take a long time to really think through all of the ramifications of this great new tool. But just think how many prims one could save, creating even simple shapes like rounded cubes . . .

Looks as if I'll have to get Maya. I'm always a bit bummed out when I have to use a tool other than Second Life itself to create content, because I like my virtual workspace in SL. I like shoving prims around the surface of the frozen pond between the cabin and the covered bridge on my snowy Second Life parcel, with my friends working around me and joking in Skype. Looking at a modeling program running in a window somehow just isn't the same. But I'll still be virtually "with" my friends/coworkers, and it'll be worth it to build even cooler stuff.

I wonder how things built with the old prims are going to look next to things made out of these sculpted prims. I usually design things so they are pretty compatible with the SL building system, so I think most of my stuff will probably look all right. But wow, there's going to be such a temptation to redo things!

Hope they get the Blender exporter working pretty fast, because Autodesk's Maya costs a pretty penny, and I would hate to see a lot of folks unable to make use of the new prims. There's a free Personal Learning Edition of Maya available over here for anyone who wants to give it a try: It's free to use for non-commercial applications, but there's a watermark, and I don't know how that might mess up a sculpted prim. And I don't know if anyone is entirely clear on where to draw the line between Second Life businesses as a game and Second Life businesses that are RL businesses.

MORE NEWS: Torley Linden just blogged about the new prims, with a bunch of info and images: Included is a link to this amazing video: .

Monday, April 23, 2007

XS4ALLmost all. [update]

A big group of Dutch Second Life residents haven't been able to use the grid for the last 2 weeks. Specifically customers of the Dutch ISP XS4ALL.
Menno Ophelia is one of the affected and he told me: "...basically i can login, but within a minute I can't move my avatar anymore, quickly followed after that ims stop working and then the mini map turns red and I get disconnected. This is going on for over a week now..."

The problem is big enough that a story about it appeared on the Dutch news site, they report that the problem is somewhere in the USA. According to the reports on the Jira, something is wrong in the connection between Sprint and XS4ALL. A more in dept explanation can be found in the comment of Jira. When i write this 111 people voted on the issue, making it the 2nd highest issue on Jira, showing that a large enough number of people see it as a big problem.

So far the problem seems out of the control of Linden Lab to fix. Hopefully they will be able to work with Sprint and find a solution. This reminds of the email problem between Dreamhost and LL, which seemed only to get fixed after a lot of people complained about it to both sides. So speak up if you can't connect and hopefully it will get you, Menno and my other fellow Dutchies back on the grid. They are being missed.

Update: The problem only occurs on sims that are located in San Francisco, and not on those in Texas. You can use to see where your favorite sims are located. The info might be old or incorrect, ask a buddy to grab a hud and go visit the sims so the info gets updated.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Humpty Dumpty (Alternative Ending) [UPDATE]

To those who have been asking about the status of my SL inventory loss (last Friday, a number of us experienced total inventory loss), I am happy to say that I am largely back in business. As far as I can tell at an initial review, it looks like LL managed to recover everything except for textures in my Textures folder which had not yet been placed into sub-folders [UPDATE: see below]. This happens to be a lot of textures, since I was desperately in need of a housecleaning session, but so be it. I have my new book and my Starax wand back, so I'm happy. It was definitely an interesting and frustrating experience going a week without inventory -- I didn't realize quite how often I dip into it until the option was gone.

UPDATE: my missing textures have been restored, so I am happy to report that as far as I can tell I have a full inventory recovery.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ponderings on the Future of Second Life

People often think my faith in those at Linden Lab is a bit too much. Seeing the current state of the grid and all of the problems it has, I can understand why. I guess part of the reason I have faith is that I can see a direction that I would be taking Second Life in the long term, and I believe that the path I see is somewhat similar to the path Linden Lab is walking on. The way I see Linden Lab's business model heading long term is a cross between MySQL AB and InterNIC. I don't think their desire is to be an ISP, which is currently their role in many ways, and there are quite a few other ways them to make money, since they hold the keys to the domain, as it were.

For those who don't know, MySQL is the world's most popular free, open source database server. There are literally millions of installations of MySQL out there, and some of your favorite Internet services use it: Linden Lab/Second Life, Craig's List, ClassMates, Google, Hot or Not, Yahoo!, Tomb Raider, the City of New York, and of course, SLBoutique and SLTrivia! MySQL AB, the parent company, gives away this amazing product for free. Out of the millions of installations, key customers (some listed above) pay for service. They charge on a sliding scale, based on level of service; some have up to "X" incidents per year where they can call MySQL AB in, and others have "all you can drink" type service. I believe about 15,000 total companies pay MySQL AB, the company, for service. They make a pretty penny, but compare that 15,000 versus a total of 8 million installations. They also control the source code; anyone who modifies the source code has to submit their changes back to MySQL AB, who can then decide whether or not to incorporate the change. They also employ developers actively working on the project. They're a profitable company. I can see Linden Lab heading in this direction with the code for both the viewer and the sim server.

Some things on the Internet need to be centralized, but distributed. An example of the central and distributed model is InterNIC and DNS. InterNIC is the authority where you register domains, like,, or DNS is the system that allows browsers, email servers, email clients, and basically anything that uses the Internet for communication to point these names at the correct servers world-wide. I foresee Linden Lab doing the same with the grid; you pay them a small fee of $X per year to have the right to plug into this "square" of the map. They maintain what squares go where. If you're Anshe Chung, and you have an entire continent, you'll probably want to host them in the same data center, so border crossings are smooth (relatively), and pay Linden Lab for a full joined block of squares. The land store is the infant-stage of this registry.

The long and the short of it is, Linden Lab could eventually host only a few servers: their master user server cluster, the "grid map" server cluster, the money L$ server cluster, and probably a few beyond my foresight. You could either host a bunch of private sims, with your own core servers, or have your sims subscribe to Linden Lab's master servers. This would plug you into the "main grid" map, use the Linden Lab L$ economy, and allow anyone with an account access your sims. Think of this option as how the world works today, except that instead of sims all being centrally located, they're hosted at various data centers world wide.

There could also be subscription servers for asset storage. It isn't a big leap of faith to imagine that the ( SL viewer + Linden master organizational servers for one virtual world + simulators hosted world wide + Amazon's S3 acting as asset server = "The Metaverse" ).

I've talked to various Lindens over the years about the possibilities, and none of them have said this is the direction they're headed. This is just the way I see things starting to play out, and the direction I would be heading if I ran Linden Lab. They're very bright, dedicated, capable people, and I think of lot of the problems that are occurring now are because something like I've stated above is the long term vision, and they're focused on long term goals instead of short term band aids. At least, that's what I hope!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Avatar Expression - A New Book

I am constantly fascinated and amazed by how people express their personality inside Second Life, and that interest has finally culminated in a new book called “Avatar Expression”, which you can get in either Second Life or in paperback form in that good-ole thing called Real Life. The book contains 56 color photographs of Second Life avatars.

You can see some of the images from the book and learn how to get the virtual or real copies at the Figments website or by going to the Figments Sky Garden in Bisque (there's a partial gallery set up). The virtual version is free, and the RL paperback is available for US$13.68 (priced at the manufacturing cost, i.e. as free as I can make it).

This project was truly a collaboration with the avatars who agreed to be photographed, and I thank them for their time and energy. My goal was to capture as much of the avatar as possible. I asked each person to pick their looks, their poses and their locations, and we went from there. As I noted in the foreword, this book is not intended to be a “best of” or “top avatars” or any of that nonsense. There are innumerable brilliant and expressive avatars out there in Second Life; this group just happened to be a few of the brilliant and expressive avatars I am lucky enough to know or have introduced to me.

Avatars included were: Ash Garden, Ben Vanguard, BushidoBrown Hightower, Celebrity Trollop, Cory Edo, Evangeline Suavage, Fallingwater Cellardoor, Haver Cole, HoseQueen McQueen & Zyrra Falcone, hyasynth Tiramasu, Ingrid Ingersoll, Kazuhiro Aridian, Makaio Stygian, Polyester Patridge, Psyra Extraordinaire, Salome Strangeglove, Satchmo Prototype, Toast Bard, Vudu Suavage, Vas Legend, Willow Zander, Wynx Whiplash (and accompanying Tinies)

Below: the Figments Sky Garden where you can get a virtual copy

Friday, April 13, 2007

Two SL Architecture & Design Competitions

Frank Koolhaas (Mario Gerosa in RL), who writes the blog Played in Italy and recently published a book on Second Life, informed me of a new Second Life architecture and design competition for the Italian publisher Meltemi. Frank is passionate about virtual design, and I look forward to seeing what emerges here. You can find details about the competition in English here. The final project must fit a 4096m2 plot, and come in under 937 Primitives (including architectural structures, equipment and furniture). CORRECTION: May 20 (not the 27th), 2007 is the first deadline for the competition, and the prize for the winner is 5,000 Euros.

When Frank first IMed me, I confused his competition with this other German Second Life design competition, which Chip Poutine blogged in March. Yes, more "firsts" which aren't really firsts, but, if it promotes great design in Second Life then I'm all for it. The deadline for this one is September 1, 2007.