Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Second Life Community Convention 2007 Update

As most of our loyal readers know, I'm one of the founders and organizers of the Second Life Community Convention. This year's convention is looking like it will be the best yet, as we're moving to a multi-track format and have a diverse and wonderful organizational team. Here is some of the latest news regarding the Convention:

  • Registration is open and going fast! You can register at http://www.SLConvention.org/register/
  • Rooms at the special rate of $159 per night at the Hilton in Chicago (where the Convention is also happening) are also going fast: http://www.hilton.com/en/hi/groups/personalized/chichhh_slc/index.jhtml
  • The social & entertainment track is going to feature discussions, DJs and live musicians.
  • The machinima track is set to have keynotes by both Buhbuhcuh Fairchild of Alt-Zoom Studios and the Ill Clan, as well as teen-made machinima highlighted by Global Kids.
  • The business track has put out a call for papers and will feature discussions on successful business strategies, open source, the future of the metaverse, and a panel of attorneys with experience in Second Life doing a presentation and Q&A session on IP rights of content creators.
  • The education track is locking up a keynote speaker which will definitely garner some attention and has a call out for papers.
  • RatePoint is our music sponsor, helping our with Friday night's entertainment as well.
  • Eros 3-D is throw a party Saturday night, the first ever SLCC Masquerade Ball.
  • This year's in-world Convention may feature some high-profile panels not available at the RL convention.
  • Phreak Radio is going to audio stream all four tracks and the parties to the grid.
  • SLNN and the Metaverse Messenger are both doing RL publications; for more information contact doeko.cassidy {at} slnn {dot} com for SLNN and advertising {at} metaversemessenger {dot} com for the Metaverse Messenger.
  • We really can't thank our sponsors enough. Without their generosity, there is no way this event could happen, at the low cost we offer. Please be sure to give all of our sponsors (listed on the SLCC blog) a pat on the back for keeping out prices low and supporting the SLCC!
We're hoping the multiple options available this year allow everyone to have a rich experience and a good time, maintaining the SLCC tradition of attempting to enrich your mind and tickle your funny bone at the same time. As always, if you have ideas or want to help out, feel free to contact any organizer. More info is available on the SLCC blog at http://www.SLConvention.org - here's hoping you can attend this year, and we look forward to seeing you!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Age Verification Makes Sense - A Lot of Sense

A few weeks ago I wrote a column for the english/german SL tabloid The AvaStar on the separation between the teen and the main grid. I concluded with the prediction that Linden Lab will add ways to identify certain characteristics of the people behind avatars, soon. This prediction does not require a sixth sense. Such tools are the only way to avoid some serious legal hassles coming towards us. It took Linden Lab just two weeks to announce the first such tools: in the near future, land owners will have the ability to ban avatars, which don't have their "adultness" verified. Actually, land owners will be obliged to use this banning ability, if they are displaying "mature" content on their land.

Robin Linden's posts about the introduction of this feature here and there were greeted with the angry outcry, which seems to be the usual reaction of some vocal parts of the Second Life community to nearly every change of policy in our society. But actually – not judging every little detail of the planned policy and processes – I think this is a step in the right direction. As Second Life grows, it becomes virtually (<- pun intended) impossible for Linden Lab, to control what is happening on the grid. Computer software just can't do this. And human intelligence is much too expensive for policing a platform, which is basically free for the majority of users. So – from a purely pragmatic point of view – it is necessary to shift this responsibility over to the residents. But I think it is not only pragmatic, but fair, too: it is the residents responsibility to make sure that what they do, complies with the relevant laws. But to do this, they need effective tools – like age verification.

This is only a first step. Expect to see more kinds of "verification" in the near future! Why? As Second Life grows and becomes more important for business and other aspects of society, legal problems stemming from absolute anonymity will grow.

This does not mean, that we will have to give up anonymity. Like in physical reality, we will be able to do most day-to-day activities without telling anybody, who we are. But for certain other activities we will have to prove that we are "qualified".

I am fairly certain that there will be a way to optionally "deposit" your complete RL identity info with Linden Lab in the not too distant future, for example. At least for those of us doing substantial business within Second Life the national tax authorities won't be satisfied with anything less. Until now the Lab still tries to formally upheld the illusion, that the L$ is of no value and is no real currency. But when you have assets worth a few 10,000 US$ in Second Life and you are able to convert them into US$ with a few mouseclicks - through an application which suspiciously looks like a currency exchange ...

Actually, your account in Second Life is not too different from one with PayPal. And PayPal is very insistent on verifying your identity as soon as the transaction volume reaches a certain level - because local authorities would shut them down, if they wouldn't.

We might not like this development but "the powers that be" will try to make sure, that a virtual world is no save haven from the laws that govern our lifes. And Linden Lab's reaction to the allegations of child pornography going on in Second Life shows, that our benevolent rulers are more than a little interested in placating First Life goverments.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Peak concurrenct of 42k+ For Second life.

It took longer then I expected, but the peak concurrency of Second Life has today for the first time gone over 40k, to be precise the max concurrency was 42.285. I actually logged in to see how the grid was behaving and everything seemed to be doing fine, all the searches worked, profiles loaded, scripts uploaded and objects rezzed from inventory. Even sim border crossings where causing no extra troubles. Only thing that didn't load for me was my friendslist, which I understand is a the cause of a bug and not due to the high peak concurrency.

I was just to late for a picture of the peak.

Makes you wonder why on other days the grid is behaving so poorly? Are there still some unknown factors in the system, or are Sunday users just less demanding of the system?

Friday, May 04, 2007


A cosmetic change was made by Linden Lab several years ago, when the decision was made to change the name of the land parcel popularity statistic from "dwell" to "traffic." In the most recent town hall, Cory Linden has announced that the statistic, which has been gamed since it was introduced, will be removed: "Removing the current traffic metric is part of the new search project, so the goal is to pull it as soon as possible." Many artificial systems were put into place by Linden Lab to encourage community building in the early days, to attract the initial user base. Many of these programs, such as subsidizing events with money, and giving bonuses to more social players through rating systems, have already long since departed our grid. Once a system can be gamed, Linden Lab either morphs it into something else, or removes it, which is completely understandable. Dwell had actually replaced an earlier system with voting booths, where avatars would click a booth to register their vote as approving a place, once per day. You can still see some of these booths around the grid, although they do nothing.

The benefit of gaming traffic hasn't been what it once was for some time now. Traffic used to pay out a daily bonus to the land owner, and determine the monthly "Developer Incentive Awards", or "Dwellopers," as they became nicknamed. Frankly, it amazes me the amount of money and server resources people are willing to waste just to seem popular, which is the only current benefit of having an obscenely high traffic number. While I will miss it as a metric of how much foot traffic my plots get, it was always a fuzzy metric, at best. More accurate systems are now available, that track actual visitors, and how long they each stays on your plot. Traffic was always somewhat tainted as a metric, since camping chairs and other methods ruined the purity of what a single traffic point was worth. The only way to get a truly valuable metric is to have one that isn't tied to popularity in a search listing or financial rewards in any way. Hopefully the end of traffic will lead to a better reporting system for all of us.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Havok 4, for Real?!

Upgrading the physics engine has been a long, long wish by Linden Lab and the second life community. It was always pushed back and left us with the old Havok 1.0. Havok 4 could bring us better vehicle physics, springs and other nice features. Most have give up hope that it would ever arrive after many disappointments, but reading Cory's latest blog post might give us hope once more.
Havok 4 is in testing prior to hitting the Beta grid and the Mono project has fixed the major blockers for us, so we are waiting for resources to free up from other projects there.
I can hardly believe it is for real, but who knows, maybe in a couple of months it will finally arrive.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A future for Live Music in Kaneva?

Oftentimes, when exploring brave new worlds or re-visiting old and forgotten ones, the ever-churning mind of the futurist sometimes has to endure the very things that others would be so quick to dismiss. It's not an easy job, and it certainly thrusts the futurist far outside the comfort zone.

I find this when studying Kaneva, one of the other virtual worlds that may surpass There.com to be one of Second Life's major competitors. One of the areas that I see success for Kaneva is with music-- live and otherwise.

But before I go into that, I have to explain a bit about how I have to prepare for the exhibition of Something New: I must know what the criticisms are before they are said (I probably share them too!) and I must understand how people react when presented with Something New. I am aware of the following behaviors:

More often than not, a loyal user is a loytal user-- if something is better, well, frankly, it doesn't matter.
In other cases--and this is especially true for the techie mind--if Something New does not match 'item for item' then it is immediately disregarded as inferior, a waste of time, pointless or, simply, "I don't get it".
There are valid flaws and room to grow in the future. Just because something doesn't work like A,B,C *today*, is not necessarily how it might work in the future.
And naturally, the presence of the strawman will always exist. "It's Windows only, ergo, it sucks for all time!"

Now, with the place settings of expectations neatly arranged at the table, let's talk about Kaneva, another virtual world, that might hold much promise for live (and not live) musicians that currently perform in Second Life.

Kaneva (kaneva.com, windows-only), is curently an interior-only virtual world that feels a bit like There.com. It is in no way as flexible as SL is for content creators, and building is probably one of the more frustrating exercises I've ever engaged in (Second Lifers will be inside Kaneva, most certainly complaining about how crappy their hair is. Trust me, I'm a hair geek. We SO have it better).

One thing that Kaneva does right out of the gate is something Linden Lab is possibly working on for our own grid: a web-based interface to do SOMEthing, although the release date has not been announced. Kaneva's web-based front end is online, active, populated and resembles the architecture of mySpace-- this is important.

Before I go a step further, let me attempt to adjust thinking on mySpace, because there will certainly be an eye-roll or bashing of mySpace. What I look at when I talk about or use mySpace is not the oftentimes *hideous* designs or performance, but the structure of data. Indulge me. :)

If you go to kaneva.com/spin, you'll see my profile-- everything starts with a profile. I can receive private messages there; I can maintain friends; I can blog; I can share media (audio, video and pictures). Other users can comment on my blog; other users can comment on my profile; and most importantly, I can start my own group-- my own community.

When you first start in Kaneva, you are given a place-- an apartment, which can be upgraded later. That's a concept that doesn't exist in Second Life or There. Instead of being on the street, on the beach, in the forest-- you have a roof over your head (amusingly, you can't go outside in Kaneva but hey, you start someplace where you can stash your stuff).

And more importantly, when you click that 'start a community' button on your profile, you are essentially creating a group, complete with the functionalities I mentioned earlier-- blogs for the group, media files just for the group, access control *just for the group*. And that community creation process also generates a community hangout in the world of Kaneva, which, like your apartment, can be upgraded into a conference room, coffee shop, or nightclub.

Now let's talk about inventory inside of Kaneva, at least, the inventory of media--- textures, audio, video, photos. It all starts on the web site-- something which is certainly not foreign to us in the Web 1,2,3,4,5.0 era. If I want to put a texture on something, it has to be uploaded web-side. If I want to make a playlist of music or video-- it's uploaded to the web, and I can access it in-world.

This makes what I create bi-directional-- something of great importance to the performing musician. Upload media to a player that others can embed on their own sites (or their own profiles), very much a la YouTube, and have it readily available in the world.

Having even a fraction of that group/inventory management inside of SL would be a blessing-- sadly, it's not for a long time to come.

The final point to illustrate is about who is a creator and who is a consumer. It could be argued that in the event of a live concert, there are concert-goers (shut up and dance!!) and the musician and finally, the venue owner (which can very well be one in the same). The *need* for content creator certainly leans toward the musician in this case, while everyone else is there to consume, watch, listen or dance.

The figures aren't a secret that most people in the world consume and a much smaller percentage of the population creates. Forrester Research has yet another testament to this by way of the graphic shown here.

This whole idea is a very early, high level overview of what *could* be. Live broadcasting is on its way as indicated by a brief conversation I had with a VP from Kaneva at the Virtual Worlds 2007 conference in New York a couple months ago.

But put those pieces together--- mySpace-like structure to managing media inventory AND community, that is accessible to the outside world AND the in-world world, with pre-fab places to get started. That could be a recipe for expanded success for a musician or band that wants to tackle those new frontiers. Your hair won't necessarily be as hot, but you'll have an infinitely larger amount of control over groups and announcements.

We're not yet at the point where an industrial indie band can perform atop a mech in Battlefield 2142-- but who knows? Second Life, Kaneva, and many others to come-- they might very well change the video game industry to evolve to a social platform. It's the same conversation all over again that we had about blogs and podcasts and videoblogs and of late, Second Life, and that's what excites me the most.

See ya at the show?

Upgrade of network between Datacenters

Linden Lab has selected Level 3 to provide high speed internet access and Wavelengths via two 10 gigabits per second (GigE) ports, connecting Second Life's data centers in San Francisco and Dallas.

Quote from the Press Release.:
"During the past 15 months, Second Life's population has expanded from 100,000 to more than five million registered users worldwide," said Joe Miller, vice president, Platform and Technology Development for Linden Lab. "Level 3's tier 1 infrastructure and 10 gigabit capacity will help us to enable Second Life's 'Residents' to experience fast, reliable access, and allow us to increase bandwidth as our needs and user growth dictate."
We can only hope, this will mean any positive difference for our inworld experience. TP and border crossings might get faster between San Fran and Dallas sims. But likely this more a upgrade in anticipation of further growth of the grid and residents number.