January 29, 2010

I just signed up for Avatars United

Very much like Facebook Extra-Light. I'm not real keen on the organization so far but it seems to have the basic skeleton there. One thing I don't like is that the default settings are to have apps have access to everything even if you haven't specifically installed them. I'm not sure what the implications are but it doesn't sound too good to me. Also, I'm not sure what the point of having a Feedreader is if it doesn't put the feed on your main profile. Hmmm. Finally, as others have pointed out, the TOS need work and should be brought in line more with what Linden Lab does.

The site seems a bit slow at times but that could just be from the initial flood of Second Lifers joining up for the first time. Anyway, if you decide to join Avatars United, say hi!

Linden Lab Purchases Enemy Uknown (Avatars United)

Today, M. Linden (Mark Kingdon) announced that Linden Lab had acquired Enemy Unknown, a Swedish web development firm that is working on tools and widgets to connect various MMOs (massively multiplayer online games & worlds). Read his blog post here.

If this was the real reason behind Wallace Linden's blog post on linking real life information with Second Life, it would have been helpful to know it up front. We could have saved some 300 hyperventilating blog comments worth of electrons along with god knows how many external blog posts and forum posts.

Obviously, M was aware of the uproar because he took pains to make the following statement in his post about the acquistion:
"One thing I want to be clear about:  The first design principle in this social strategy is respect of your privacy.  We aren't going to take away any privacy or anonymity for those that want it. We are not going to "out" people.  We are not going to force anyone to reveal any private or personal information.  But for those who want to connect their various online identities, we do want to offer that option.  Second Life has always been inclusive, and although there are many Residents who keep a strict separation between SL and the rest of the Web, others wish there was a better way to actively link their SL account to other Web services, and do things like share screenshots, locations, wish-lists, experiences and stories more easily."
So anyway, I think it's an interest turn of events and one that could work out well for Linden Lab and Second Lifers in general. As long as the process is always opt-in, opt-in, opt-in with a clear focus on security, then I don't see any problems here. Sigh.

Linking Second Life to Real Life - Feeling Poll-ish?

I've been thinking about this issue a bit more and have some random thoughts. First, in the official Second Life blogs, there's been some recent discussion about two external polls showing wildly different results on whether people want linkage between their real life name and SL avatar. I looked at both and they both suffer from false premises.

Polling and Trolling in Second Life

One, in the Second Life forums, asks: "Are you Willing to Reveal Your True Identity if you Had to?". The false assumption is "if you had to" since it's not known if Linden Lab will ever force such revelations. The other, in Wagner James Au's New World Notes blog asks: "Do you publicly associate your Second Life activity with your real world name and identity now, or do you plan to in the future?" That's a mouthful (and a compound question) that doesn't directly address the issue of interest to most. What do those who DON'T already connect RL & SL plan or want to do? 

My guess is that those who already connect RL & SL or plan to have business, educational or other non-social reasons to do so. Also, the RL/SL connection is a continuum, not black & white. Some people will tell close friends who they are in RL while never exposing it to the world. Others make it an absolute to not share anything. I know quite a few people, including me, who would delete their accounts if there was a hint of public exposure of their RL identities.

Also, New World Notes is going to be self-selecting towards folks who are more inclined to reveal their RL identities since it's focused on technology, education, business and other issues that more social users of SL might care less about. (James Wagner Au also has very active ties to Linden Lab including being a former employee and, apparently, still having an active LL email address.)

So how should we approach this? First, polls need to separate responses by those already connecting RL & SL from those that do not. Those already making a connection aren't really affected. Second, the real issue for Linden Lab is what will those who do not already make the RL/SL connection do if they are either, 1. OFFERED increased linkage, or, 2. FORCED into linkage. 

Opt-in? Are You Sure? Are You Really Really Sure?

This is one of those issues that really requires extensive testing and surveying since a wrong step by Linden Lab could have disastrous consequences for the viability of Second Life. If there ever is a push for greater linkage, I would hope that LL is smart enough to make it very obvious that you are going to open yourself up to some strange new stuff.  If it is handled in a very strong opt-in/warning fashion, then I see no good argument for not doing it.

My vision of an opt-in sequence for this would be:
  1. Linden Lab is offering a new privacy setting which will publically expose and link your real life name to your Second Life avatar. This may have positive and negative consequences. Do you wish to change your privacy settings to expose your real life name? YES / NO
  2. (If yes) Are you sure? Answering YES will permanently connect and show your real life name to anyone within Second Life avatar and based on other choices you may make, will expose it to anyone outside of SL. Answering NO will keep your real life name hidden. YES / NO
  3. You have elected to link your real life identity with your second life avatar. CONFIRM / CANCEL
Now that may seem like overkill to some but given the potential awful consequences for many if they opt-in by accident, safety is the best course.

However, if it's done like Facebook did it, where the default was lower privacy and the choices weren't really clear, then the Lab will open itself up for lawsuits and a PR nightmare that would probably kill Second Life off. The first person who is accidentally outed, gets stalked and then injured would no doubt find attorneys lined up around the block to take her case.

That said, I've posted my own little bogus poll at the top of this page. Feel free to take it or not. :)

January 26, 2010

Is It Time for Some Name Changes at Linden Lab?

I was thinking about this today in light of the comments I've read, both from Wallace Linden and from very concerned residents, in Wallace's blog post ( Will the Real You Please Stand Up?) regarding mixing real life and Second Life identities. Two of  Wallace's comments in particular don't inspire confidence that Linden Lab has a clear idea of what it's doing:
Dusan, your assessment of a lot of the risks here seems like a pretty good take to me. We'll see how things play out.
I am confident we come out the other side with our culture intact.
Instead, they signal to me that "teh Lab" still looks at Second Life as an experimental playground for its engineers and developers while the residents are seen as lab rats in a maze.

So much of Second Life has evolved over the last several years from what was a very experimental playground for all involved into an actual world with rich cultures, social moires, real businesses, education, real relationships, and above all, fun, adventure and creativity. Yet, Linden Lab continues to think they need to "mess with the formula" for any number of reasons. Mostly, I suspect, there's some internal executive directive that keeps looking outside and saying to the cube warriors, "Let's be more like Facebook and Twitter cuz they haz more peepz."

So the experimentation continues.

Moving all the adult businesses to Zindra was a prime example of this "experimentation over thoughtful solutions" attitude that seems to percolate up from teh Lab. It's almost to the point where these meta issues are decided on high without taking into account the real world consequences of their actions.

Zindra could have been a wonderful opportunity for Linden Lab to create a fresh grid or region, untainted by the smexies, where people could use the Second Life platform for business and education. (In fact, based on some of the references to "green" and "sustainability" in the early Zindra builds, I suspect that may have been Linden Lab's original intention. God knows why they changed it.)

Instead of uprooting an established culture in Mature, LL could have started from scratch with a nice shiny world for the G-rated stuff education and business seem to want (if you believe Mark Kingdon). And building on this, teh Lab could have launched some kind of real name avatar test there. Instead, the Lab continues to experiment on live subjects without their consent.

Which gets to the point of my post. Maybe it's a culture thing? Maybe the very name "Linden Lab" inspires unwanted and unneeded social experimentation? Is it time to change the name of the company to Linden Worlds or something so their internal development and business culture changes from treating residents as "rats in a maze" to actual citizens?

Plus, while "Second Life" is a powerful brand, is it time to reconsider that name too? Perhaps the Second Life brand overshadows the message that SL can really be about business too. How about Second World? It might take away some of that "get a real life" stigma associated with the current name.

I'm just trying to think of some way to change the culture at Linden Lab so that the people behind the keyboards and screens in Second Life get some stability and sense of respect for their cultures.

Will this help or are things too far gone?

January 25, 2010

Real Life, Second Life. Blurring the Lines.

Linden Lab seems oh so desperate these days to get the Facebook, Twitter & (oldskool) MySpace crowd into Second Life and/or vice versa. So much so that increasingly, the Lab has been floating feelers in its blogs and elsewhere about ways to link your Second Life account to those services more directly. I guess all those millions of extra potential eyeballs, data mining and cross-promotion opportunities are too hard to resist -- even if it means the potential destruction of the social platform and contract on which Second Life was founded.

Separation of real life and Second Life has always been, for most residents, a sacred trust. Some of the things people do in SL and the people they do it with may not be the sorts of things they want their real life friends, colleagues, bosses, subordinates, peers and/or family members knowing about.

Yet the Lab persists. A few months back, a non-authorized (by Facebook anyway) attempt to more directly link Facebook with SL died an early death when the logistics of getting around Facebook's TOS (real names only, avatars not welcome) proved a bit much.

Even so, the Commerce Team recently launched an (apparently aborted) initiative to use Facebook as an external wishlist for XStreet SL. Perhaps the left hand hadn't told the right that Facebook's TOS would limit its use to only those real life people who wanted to link back to their avatars in SL. Currently, that's a very small universe. To make things worse, Facebook has been actively and systematically finding and deleting avatar accounts, including the well-known and popular Ener Hax (@iliveisl on Twitter).

So into this swirling cauldron of confusion, Linden Lab recently hired Walker Spaight aka Wallace Linden aka Mark Wallace (RL) as its new "Conversation Manager." No one is really sure what Wallace is supposed to do but its clear he's very capable of stirring up controversy without having done anything for the Lab yet.

In case you don't know, Spaight is one of the founders and former editorial director of the Alphaville Herald -- an online self-styled muckraking publication about Second Life. I can only describe it as a cross between the National Enquirer, Teen Magazine and a hacker's manual on how to do bad stuff. Could things get any juicier?? Oh yes they can!!

For his inaugural post in the Second Life blogrums, Wallace unleashed a mini-tsunami when he blithely discussed, once again, how great things would be with real life names tied to avatars. His insensitivity to the issue was evidenced by his post title "Will the real you please stand up?" AKA "How to freak out 90% of SL residents, especially those in Zindra or Gor Central, without having a backup plan."

A number of folks replied with comments ranging from "hell no" and "I'll delete my account" to "no really, hell no again" and "your momma too." Wallace backtracked a bit and reassured everyone (trust us) it would only be opt-in. But there was still quite a bit of the usual Linden Lab patented conversation management technique of selective responses to favorable replies and skipping over unfavorable ones.

There are some good cases to be made for real life linking of avatar and outside stuff. But it's really geared for people who do business within Second Life. The social aspects and reasons people come to Second Life in the first place don't, it seems to me, lend themselves to a strong desire for linkage. If the process is made very, very transparent and very, very tightly controlled to strict opt-in requirements, then I could see it. However, SL already has a "First Life" tab and a Web tab where you can pretty much do all the external linking you want. So I don't quite get where they are headed with this.

Regardless, the real reason for this long post, is that Dusan Writer made one of the more eloquent and thoughtful replies to anything ever blogged by a Linden that I've read. So I thought I'd use the above as a week excuse to link to it in closing! Dusan has some excellent ideas about what Second Life is all about -- even if I don't quite understand some of the more tekkie things. :)

Dusan Writer - Linking Second Life to Real Life Names

January 24, 2010

The Prok Twitter Block!

I have been blocked on Twitter by Prokofy Neva! Apparently, according to some who follow me there, it means I've "arrived". I'm now a celebrity. The sordid details are kinda funny but sad at the same time. Funny because the escalation that led to The Prok Block® was over nothing. Sad because, as others have noted, there seems to be a loose wire somewhere in the person behind the keyboard.

The Incident

Prok announced via Twitter that he* had been (mysteriously) banned from the official SL blogs. The next day he announced he had been (just as mysteriously) unbanned. I'm no technical genius and thought maybe it might not have been an actual ban but a glitch or other problem with the SL website. I've run into them before and, since Linden Labs can be incompetent at times, bad things happen and the reasons aren't always conspiratorial in nature.

Well you would have thought I was debating the existence of God with the Virgin Mary. Within three Tweets back and forth (where I tried to politely explain my looking at other possible reasons), yours truly became a troll, an "asshole" and finally someone who was threatening to orchestrate a boycott of Prokofy's Second Life business! WOW! Little old me?

The Tweets

This is just a sampling of Prok's tweets to me (newest to oldest):
Prokofy @Snickitty and I really don't care if you keep essentially threatening to incite boycotts of my business. You've been told where to get off
Prokofy @Snickitty yeah, because are being *an asshole*. Do try to stop. You don't need to follow me -- and I'm blocking you.
Prokofy @Snickitty so you've gotten your 15 minutes of attention whoredom, move along now.
Prokofy @Snickitty who cares? I've often noticed it makes no difference what you think of LL; you want to take multiple pot shots at me to feel big
Prokofy @Snickitty er, I don't "assume" dark motives, I read what you right which is just shitty, nasty behaviour. Read what you write.
Prokofy @Snickitty you were told 10 times how I came to that conclusion but were too stupid to comprehend it and kept trolling.
Prokofy @Snickitty stop being a trolling ass. I know what it means to be banned from Linden blogs as I've *been banned before*. I get how it works.
Here are all my Tweets to Prok (oldest to newest):
@Prokofy Sounds like a network problem. Happens to me every so often.
@Prokofy I meant a problem upstream not your network. You couldn't login? You couldn't see anything? What?
@Prokofy Yeesh. Just asking you know. You get so mysterious and all.
@Prokofy You said you were perma-banned, then unbanned in 24 hours with no explanation of either. I was not trolling you.
@Prokofy Clearly you don't want sympathy when I was about to agree with you. Now I'm sorry they didn't make it longer.
@Prokofy You seem to default to assuming a dark side to people's motives.
@Prokofy If you've ever read my blog, you'd know I'm no big fan of what Linden Lab does with its communications or decisions.
@Prokofy Have a nice Second and First Life anyway.
I may have missed a few but that's the nature of Twitter. Communications aren't linear so I can't put these in a strict post/reply format. It also shows the limitations of 140 characters. There's no chance for real context so, too often, things can be taken badly. For the record, Prok did not explain anything to me about the ban 10 times. Maybe 3 tweets worth. And I've never taken "potshots" at him previously other than a mild disagreement in the official SL blogrums over policy stuff.

Oh well. I just had to vent and share. I feel like such a star now.^_^

* Those who know, know.

January 22, 2010

Thoughts on Second Life Viewer 2 Public Beta

Yesterday, Howard Linden posted on the official Second Life blogs about the impending release of Viewer 2 to public beta (click here). He made a few "interesting" statements. First, the rationale for Viewer 2:

Over 50% of new Residents who register and download the Second Life viewer log in once and never come back a second time.

And second, and perhaps more disturbing:

With Viewer 2, our revamped web site, a new Orientation Island and much more, we've taken a step back and tried to create an end-to-end experience that will be much more compelling and relevant for a new Resident.

Both statements juxtapose two completely different concepts and assumes a relationship. The assumption seems to be, "our software is difficult to learn" therefore people won't stay in Second Life so we're going to throw resources at the software.

While the viewer may indeed be part of the problem, I think it's actually a relatively small part. (Indeed, if the organization of the "revamped website" and the horrid design of the blogs is any harbinger for the future of SL, may the great Flying Spaghetti Monster save us all!)

Here's why I don't think the interface is the big issue. For one, there are far more complex interfaces out there than the existing SL viewer(s). I don't play video games but I am constantly amazed when I watch friends playing some incredibly complicated game with controller movements that are nothing short of contortionism combined with chess and psychological warfare strategies. If Grand Theft Auto can sell some 3.5 million copies, the difficulty of the user interface can't be that huge a barrier. Now consider this -- every time a NEW video game comes out, buyers have to learn a completely new (and very complex) interface all over.

What's really at issue is the new user experience on the other side of the screen. 50% aren't walking away after their first use of SL because the interface is too hard, they are walking away because:
  1. They're being griefed and harassed at the very welcome areas that introduce them to Second Life.
  2. There are no clues on what to do next once the basics are learned.
  3. They've been dumped into a world full of strangers many of whom aren't particularly interested in meeting clueless newbies.
I honestly don't have good solutions to these other than throwing real people at the problem. Maybe you can create a quest or hunt that helps with #2. However, my feeling is that the Lindens would rather spend their time in cubicles figuring out the next cool thing to code rather than spend it in-world figuring out how to keep a potential customer. Or maybe they believe that customer retention can be completely automated? Second Life is first and foremost a social and creative platform!

Viewer 2 doesn't address any of these issues. Yet, it's where Linden Labs has plowed a LOT of its own internal resources plus those of third-party developer, 80/20 Studios. So I just don't see how it addresses retention in any major way. In fact, if it significantly degrades the experience for long-term residents, it might accelerate user losses of paying customers.

Anyway, I'll be curious to see what the retention numbers are after Viewer 2 comes out. I reserve the right to be wrong. In fact, I hope I am.

January 9, 2010

Two new outfits from Inga Wind

Yin and yang. Black and white. Casual and formal. Two opposites from one of Second Life's top designers.

First off is, Dayana -- a cocktail length formal with a detachable shawl. The look is fun, flirty, feathery and above all, truly amazing to look at. Really, the photo doesn't do it justice. From the peekaboo top to the peplin and prim skirt, the detail is incredible. Shoes included!!! I wore this outfit for New Year's and the compliments were non-stop! "Lovely" hair by ETD, skin by *Snickers* (me).

And then there's slightly bad girl Sadie -- the yang to Dayana's yin.

So what do you call a full leather mini-dress with tweed shoulder pads? To me, it's just flat out cute. :) Boots included! "Haruka" hair by Novocaine, skin by Snickers, glasses by Lucky Card.

SLURL - Inga Wind Fashion

January 6, 2010

FreeX Street: Second Life freebies site?

It's in the development stage right now and it will be interesting to see where this goes. FreeX Street

From the site:
We aim to be the place to search for free and promotional items within Second Life®, at no cost to the buyer or the seller!
The creation of this site is in direct response to changes proposed to XStreetSL by Linden Lab®.
Our aim is not to replace XStreetSL, nor compete with them, merely to offer an alternate venue for all the things XStreetSL have made impossible to distribute via their service..