April 23, 2010

Jump, JIVE and fail!

Phish out of water!
As if things couldn't get any worse, yesterday Linden Lab was forced to shut down all Private Messages (PMs) in JIVE SBS as well as several other program features due to a successful phishing attack that used a security hole in PMs to gain access to people's passwords and account info. The other proggie features disabled include embedded images and vids as well as some formatting stuff.

I wondered why I saw a PM notice in my email account but when I went to the flogs to read it, a message simply said that feature was "unavailable". So did Linden Lab notify everyone up front? Oh no no noooo!. They buried it in the Community section. Did they do a MOTD? Oh no no noooo! Trusting our real life information to the current regime at Linden Lab is becoming increasingly suspect. Now on to the original article....

Jump, JIVE and Fail!
Today's topic grrlz, boyz and furrehz is JIVE SBS, the software platform that Linden Lab uses to power its dreaded blog / forums aka the "blogrums". First a disclaimer, I'm no expert on bulletin board software except as frequent user of different forums and as a beginner/intermediate LSL scripter. So take what I say with many grains of virtual salt. :)

I'll admit I was thoroughly ticked off when teh Lab shut down a perfectly good, working forum at XStreet SL (aka SLX) and moved it to their fancy, shiny Clearspace (JIVE Software) platform. And I was likewise ticked off when they moved the Resident Answers forums over to same. Why? Because the old vBulletin forums were searchable, organized reasonably well, used screen real estate efficiently, had a functional editor and allowed signatures. Plus they were in a "standard" format that most other web-based forums use. You didn't have to learn to drive the car all over again.

What we got with Clearspace was flashy looking (yeah it "looks" like Web 2.0) but offered nothing more usable and in fact gave us broken search, an editor from hell (jumping cursor, no multiple quoting, random indenting, no embedded spell check, etc.), took up huge amounts of screen real estate for minimal content, no signatures, no real thread tools, poor organization, reduced readability, etc., etc.

And of course, when asked why Linden Lab moved to Clearspace in the first place, we were told that vBulletin simply wasn't "scalable" or "capable enough" to power the new, improved SecondLife.com. (The fact that some of the largest web bulletin board sites in the world use vBulletin seems to escape Teh Lab -- more on this later.)

The failed upgrade.

Needless to say, thinking the blogrums couldn't get any worse, most of us SL'ers were eagerly looking forward to the long promised upgrade to the second generation platform, JIVE SBS ("SBS" = Social Business Software). We were told it would address many of the usability issues, fix bugs, improve speed, yada yada.

And what happened? JIVE SBS got installed and just about everything went to hell. Let's see:
  • search is worse than ever
  • editor is still borked -- jumping cursor, broken quotes, broken indent, HTML no longer works
  • can't edit (change) your own post once posted
  • serious security flaws that exposed real life email addresses and apparently, for some, their real life names.
  • history for many was deleted
  • password integration was used from XStreet SL but doesn't translate correctly to the blogs so you don't stay logged in
  • many residents can no longer login period and are now forced to using alts to post
  • logins treat "Snickers Snook" and "snickers Snook" and "snickers snook" as separate accounts
  • recent activity is blanked
  • response has slowed down dramatically -- sometimes taking minutes for new pages of posts to display
And yesterday, we got this acknowledgment by Wallace Linden of the problems:
Thanks, everyone, for your patience while we continue to iron out the upgrade to our blogs and forums software. We're actively working on the issues that have been brought up in this thread (as well as others we've uncovered) and have already begun pushing fixes to the software. Each of these, of course, requires additional testing, so you won't see all the bug fixes all at once, but you will start to see the effects of things over the next few days and early next week, and going forward from there. It has definitely helped to have people reporting these bugs to us. Again, thanks for your patience, and thanks as well for your feedback.
Another JIVE SBS failure - Harmony Central

So once again, WHY did the Lab roll out such a flawed piece of software and WHY are they using JIVE in the first place?? This led me to do a bit of internet searching for other sites using JIVE SBS. While my search wasn't real productive (hey, there aren't that many sites using JIVE), I turned up an interesting one called Harmony Central. It's a very popular bulletin board / web portal for musicians featuring product reviews, user-to-user discussions and user-to-expert posts. Lo and behold, Harmony Central JUST converted to JIVE SBS from vBulletin, much like Linden Lab. Apparently the rationale was similar -- scalability and integration with their other web shinies.

Well guess what. Users on Harmony Central hate JIVE SBS! (Click to read some of the posts.) The level of vitriol being thrown at Harmony Central's management is nothing short of astounding to me. It makes the invective often directed at Linden Lab sound mild in comparison.

They rolled JIVE back and out!

In fact, the hate and rate of attrition from the site obviously became so bad that HC's management actually did something about it. (SHOCKING!!) The CEO announced a rollback to the original forums (vBulletin)!! OMG!! I think I'm gonna faint. If Mark Kingdon ever admitted a mistake like that and actually did something similar about it, I'd expect the world to stop spinning on its axis and look for the immediate second coming of Jesus. Now admittedly HC does not appear inclined toward rethinking their whole JIVE move right now but at least they're "looking" at it. So half the site was rolled back to a previous version of JIVE while the other (most important) half reverted to vBulletin.

What more on the JIVE front?

The next part of my search adventures led me to another interesting site -- http://rankings.big-boards.com/ where you can find most of the large web-based bulletin boards ranked according to number of posts, users and software. Well guess what? Most of the largest BBS are either running phpBB or vBulletin! The largest site running JIVE is Sun's Java forum ranked #748. I guess Sun would use JIVE since it's the only one of any size written in Sun's own Java.

So my conspiracy twitchy nose says this smells like a backroom venture capital or board-level connection between Linden Lab and Jive Bunny Software. On the surface, there sure doesn't seem to be any rational explanation for a company that so clearly depends on user-to-user communication to want to shoot itself in the foot with JIVE SBS. Is there?

April 20, 2010

Microsoft Guided Help - Amazing!

OK, I think I'm a fairly smart cookie -- or candy bar -- but sometimes I overlook the obvious.

Due to a horrific crash and an accumulated slowdown on my PC, my tech friend and I spent the better part of Sunday and Monday reinstalling Microsoft Windows XP and my software. Now I'm back up and running (mostly) with a few things left to do (like install all my Adobe stuff -- ughh). Anyway, after the install, I couldn't figure out what happened to my old favorite icon -- Show Desktop. It wasn't there. So I did a Google search for "missing show desktop icon". What pops up? This page from Microsoft.

Several solutions are offered including Windows Key + D (which I didn't know) plus an icky script thing which I'm too lazy to do. And what's this?? A "Fix this problem" button. I've never seen that before. Being a curious kitty, I clicked it and got the usual download request for something mysterious called GSA ACW packages.
Hmmm OK, I'll run it. Told you I'm a curious kitty. (Which is probably why my system was so junked up it needed reinstalling. My tech friend was like uggghhh.)

Anywho, next thing I know, I'm getting a guided tutorial on how to fix the problem including a moving cursor, dimmed Windows and highlights. What it did was tell me the icon was already installed and activated my Quick Launch bar (see I really do sometimes miss the obvious). Yay! It was very cool watching it do all this automagically while showing each step. So Microsoft, you have a winning approach with this one!

April 6, 2010

Two new outfits - Hope & Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Venusdesign
OK, I admit it, I'm a sucker for inexpensive stuff. When a notice came in from FashCon for a $5L outfit from Venusdesign that looked pretty cute in the photo, I hit the TP limo immediately! And there I am to the right wearing it! What you see is what you get -- boots, skirt, top (with prim cuffs), stockings and an adorable hat that just happens to fit my rather fluffy hair (Pya by Damselfly). Click the photo for a larger view.

My only criticism is that some of the details aren't very sharp -- the buckles on the top look hand drawn and the boots are newbish. But hey, what do you want for only $5L??? The concept is great and it could be the perfect outfit the next time you need a goth girl/french maid look. I also looked around Venusdesign a bit and found lots of interesting looking outfits with much more detail in them than this. There's also stuff for guys including some nice looking suits if you're so inclined. Prices are very reasonable.

SLURL: Venusdesign

Hope in Yellow by Inga Wind

I covered the original Hope outfit in my blog about a month ago and was amazed then. Well I'm even more impressed by Hope in Yellow! I think it complements the textures much better than the peachy color of the original. It also sets off the green leafs in the prim dress much better and has a more "spring" feel. Plus I love lemon yellows which you don't see a lot of Second Life clothing.

The outfit includes everything you see in the photo plus a tiara (not worn), special diva hair (not worn) plus a cute swingset for your yard (note shown). Click the photo for a larger view. Visit my older blog post on Hope to see the hair and tiara worn.

Hope is $1200L regularly but Inga usually has a special deal for group members on new releases. Last time it was $800L

SLURL: Inga Wind Fashion

So that's it for now fashionistas! Next it's back to our regularly scheduled Linden Lab bashing.

April 3, 2010

Open Source and the Second Life Viewer

I got to thinking about this today in light of a number of different blogs I've been reading about the new Second Life Terms of Service and Third Party Viewer policy. One of those was Rob Lamphier's (aka Rob Linden) who wrote a piece about dual licensing and contributor agreements which I THINK was obliquely referencing Linden Lab's approach to the issue.

I won't pretend to be an expert on Open Source since I'm really just a user of the end results. However, I have an appreciation for what goes into the development process since I do a little scripting myself and am a connoisseur of third party viewers. Here's the punchline:

Linden Lab completely misses the point about the Viewer and where the value lies.

The Second Life Viewer (in any form) is ONLY a means to access content. It's like a browser. The real value is on the Linden Lab servers! It's the content. The financial system. The uploads that cost you money. The SIMs they rent. The XStreet SL commissions. The virtual land they sell.

I would argue that ANYTHING the Lab can do to make it better, easier or more convenient for the end user (Resident) to access all this and fork over money to them should be a good thing. It's a win-win for the customer and the Lab. If Emerald or Hippo Viewer make my SL experience better, then why should the Lab really care much beyond ensuring that nothing malicious is going on? The Viewer is simply a means to an end.

Yet, every move the Lab has made over the last two years says to me that they think the Viewer has some sort of intrinsic financial value. The TOS & TPV seem designed to stifle new development and push it into the Lab. Numerous bug fixes have been offered up by the 3rd party developers but never incorporated (Nicholaz for example). New features have been developed but never used (multiple attachment points, breast physics, better chat, etc. -- Emerald). Inventory backup that respects permissions (Emerald & SL Inventory). Most of these are features and fixes that users love and want. JIRAs go unresponded to for years.

Yet the Lab continues in its own narrow path developing a "new user experience" in Viewer 2 that has almost universally been panned with the exception of a few cool features. And I don't believe for a second it's because they really want to address copybotting or griefing -- hell the new TOS says they're not responsible for anything that happens at any time or any place.

The question is why? Why spend all those resources on something that really has no value? Why make it harder and harder for 3rd parties to add value? Maybe they think someday the Viewer is something they can sell? They look at MySQL and think, hmmm, that's the model we could use and make millions. Or maybe they think the code has value if the company is sold?

Whatever strange view the Lab holds, it's wrong. The Viewer should be a commodity. Free. Open. And easier, not harder to develop for. After all, it's the end user that's important and the server-side that makes the money.

April 1, 2010

Second Life mother files for child support

You can chalk this up to “just when you thought Second Life couldn't get any weirder”. In my three years as a resident of SL, I've read many stories about SL crossing into real life -- from broken marriages due to playing around to Stroker Serpentine suing Linden Lab over copyrights to his virtual sex toys. Yet now, I think I've seen it all.

The original link to this article was sent to me by a friend, Toysoldier Thor, in Texas:

Women files child support lawsuit for "virtual babies"

PROVIDENCE, RI via URA Newswire - Erita Sasti, female, age 41 of Pawtucket, RI has taken the groundbreaking action of petitioning the court for monthly child support payments for "virtual children" she allegedly had with a male companion in the virtual reality world of Second Life. Second Life (SL) is a 3D computer game simulation featuring realistic avatars and fantasy worlds whose players often engage in role play including virtual sex, gender switching and simulated pregnancies.

Sasti "lives" in SL as Yllis Norom (her avatar name) with twin virtual "daughters", Latota and Joram, also being role played by two (unamed) real life humans. Sasti filed her petition to the Rhode Island Family Court (Providence) today  against "Lirpaloof Frychester", the avatar name of the alleged virtual father. Because Sasti apparently does not know the real life name of the human behind the avatar, the petition also contains a demand notice on Linden Lab, the California-based makers of Second Life, to release Frychester's private information to her for service.

In the petition, Sasti claims Frychester had virtual sex with her as "Yllis Norom" and that the two of them had agreed to extend their role play by having virtual children. It goes on to detail how "Lirpaloof" abandoned Yllis after the children were "born" and that Sasti continues to support their "feeding, growth and education" in the Second Life world. Because this form of role play apparently requires buying virtual clothing, food and shelter using virtual currency or Linden dollars ($L which are converted from real US dollars), Sasti is asking for $15,000L per month for child support until the virtual children are two years old plus $65,000L in emotional distress.

When we contacted Sasti for more information, she referred us to her lawyer and real life husband, Mac Sasti who explained, "Mrs. Sasti has suffered humiliation in Second Life of having been kicked out her partner's virtual mansion and of being obligated by convention to continue to care for her two daughters. Since the eviction, Yllis and her girls have been forced to live as a homeless family in welcome centers and to breast feed in public.

While this may be somewhat ground-breaking, we feel that legal precedents for similar situations in virtual games like IMVU and World of Warcraft establish her rights as both a real person and as an avatar."

When asked why the suit wasn't filed as a breach of contract, Mac Sasti said, "The humanitarian aspects are more appropriate for family court which, in Rhode Island, can also deal with property division and abandonment."

Wow, just wow!

So either this is a major publicity stunt or someone has a few screws loose. I guess we'll have to wait and see how things evolve. I put a few emails into some of my contacts at Linden Lab to see if they'd heard anything but no replies yet. The whole thing seems a bit foolish but then again, when it comes to Second Life, nothing surprises me any more.