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A few steps of my own

July 29th, 2010 by Marianne McCann

So in an article by Wagner James Au, known as Hamlet Au in-world, or to oldbies, the former Hamlet Linden, he offers seven “easy steps” for saving second life. the piece caused quite a bit of reaction on Twitter, mostly because Second Life happened to be down at the time it hit the wire. No better way to get attention from SLers!

For fun, I decided to take a look at these suggestions, and offer a few more thoughts.

First off, “Save Second Life?” I think that’s a bit of a reach, title-wise. Is Second Life in need of “saving,” and do Hamlet’s suggestions do the job? I don’t think either is quite right. If anything, most of his suggestions — some of this he’s advocated for months — would only build on the established platform without fixing some key issues that rate quite a bit higher than “point and click movement” or “prepaid cards.”

Most controversial of his suggestions, and one he’s wanted for a long time, is an achievement or leveling system in SL. First off, we’ve had that. It did not work well. The leader boards were horribly gamed, then dramatically altered before finally dying off. The most recent failed attempt at anything remotely resembling such a thing — the Resident Choice Award — proved to be a rather embarrassing failure.

It’s not that the idea doesn’t have some merit. There have been many Resident attempts to implement their own systems, which indicates an interest. One could even call “Bloodlines” an achievement system, or perhaps Ozimal bunnies, Sion chickns, etc.

For that matter, the Orientation experience before the current one — the one where you had to dance the hula, drive the car, etc — was its own closed achievement system, “requiring” you to finish all the steps before entering the world at large. Perhaps as a result, I doubt you’ll find many who look back on that Orientation Island with much love.

Indeed, I think that the achievement/leveling idea isn’t necessarily the best fit in Second Life. Will I be be to earn the “Prim Rezzing Badge” or some of categories like those humorously suggested by Kanomi Blake? To what end? How does this improve my Second Life experience?

All that said, some of Hamlet’s suggestions do hold water, even if some don’t quite cover the whole story. Consider his suggestion for improving text chat. For some time, I’ve felt that Linden Lab was — deliberately or otherwise — making it harder to text chat. The biggest example is the size of the text entry field in Viewer 2, which is little larger than a search field.

Yet for years now we’ve known the group and friends system was painfully unscalable. Group chat is always unreliable, and lacks a lot of features that would bring it up to speed. In my opinion, improving and modernizing this system is about the most important thing Linden Lab can do to improve Second Life. Groups could use a lot more useful features, and we need a higher group limit.

Heck, give me a higher group limit as a premium feature. You can get the Linden Home, thanks.

Hamlet also asks for an “In World Now” display. This reminds me of the old Second Life webpage when I started, where you could see the map and places of note marked on it. I like this idea by and large.

One of the biggest issues, perception-wise, has been that Second Life is empty. Once you get past the welcome areas (an issue all their own), you are pretty much on your own to find others. So yes, tell me where others are. More than this, tell me where others with a like mind are. Much like the marketplace wanting to tell me where the vampires and goths are (I can dream for a kid category, no?), tell me where they are inworld. Help new furs find the Luskwood, or help direct the steampunks towards New Babbage. The destination guide doesn’t seem to be doing it, you know?

But more than this, bring more of this INTO the world. Give me information there. Not just the mission critical stuff like I suggested on the JIRA, but devise a way to tell me (without me having to search) about events inworld. Allow me to metafilter this to items just for my community or interest. Stop sending me out to the website, Avatars United, or even Facebook to get information I should be getting without leaving Second Life. Ultimately, you want to keep my eyes inworld.

By the way, this is the big folly with XStreet/Second Life Marketplace. IMO, the Marketplace competes directly with Linden Lab’s biggest market: the buying and selling of virtual land. If the marketplace is wildly popular, we can all close down our stores and by 16m parcels to store our magic boxes. Then all those servers will be sitting out there burning power and dollars (US$, not L$) with no one using them. This doesn’t pay the lab’s bills. We’ll be the prettiest avatars that no longer exist.

Mari Was Here

Now here’s a couple things I think Second Life could use that were not on Hamlet’s list:

Recognition
When I had my First Life birthday the other day, I got several automated notices wishing me the best. Likewise, on systems like Plurk, it announced to my friends that it was my special day. But when one has a birthday or rezday in Second Life, there is nothing.

It would seem trivial to set up a system that automatically sends a “thanks for being with us this year” message on a person’s rez day. It might even be possible to have an automated system that offers a person some tchotchke come rez day, or even adds a specific rezday “character” to their name tag.

Or — and now I get frightfully close to that achievement system I panned — you could apply similar things to an avatars 100th, 500th, 1000th, etc day inworld.

This should be easy to do even simple, and I think would actually have a positive effect. Which leads to…

Communication
This has always been an Achilles’ heel of Linden Lab. They do listen, but it doesn’t tend to go far. They communicate by talking at us, then don’t seem to understand why people get upset.

As I said in another recent post, the Residents are the best possible evangelists. We can also be the company’s worst nightmare. the key here is involving us.

Communicate openly. Talk with us, and assume that some of us might have ideas to share. @workinginworld on Twitter is, IMO, one of the stellar examples of a Linden Lab employee doing communication right. Rather than just mindlessly Re-tweeting Hamlet’s post, she turned it into a conversation. She read the replies. she responded to them, even hinted at places where Linden Lab was considering courses of action. This is how you do it.

Don’t go dark when we need information — we may assume that no news really is no news and find other places to play. Some of the biggest stumbles have been when people perceive a core shift at the lab that may have been in the pipeline for some time — but confidential. It leaves them blindsided and non-trusting. This is bad.

To borrow a somewhat smarmy statement: help us help you.

Eat your own dog food
Use your product. Every time Jack Linden has to fly into SF, you are not using your product. Every time a contest is run through Facebook, you are not using your product. This is simple stuff: lead by example.

Enhance the product
A no brainer. I touched on it with the improvements to chat , etc.

While doing that, give me a better inventory system. Make so I can see my full inventory every time I log in, rather than once in a blue moon. Let me make custom groups of items that can have their own tab, or even be top level folders.

Unlike most, I like Viewer 2, but I know it could be made that much better. For one, let me tear off profiles, group panes, the destination guide, and other windows as easily as I can only a new inventory window.

And let’s look at land, shall we. Let’s improve the beauty of it all. Find some way to enhance those old Linden Trees and plants, rather than continually depreciating them. Allow me to “paint” my ground textures on a private estate, and give me more control over same.

Likewise, allow me better access tools for my parcels, including the ability to make an access list of individuals who can res or run scripts beyond just a group role. You don’t even need to lower the price on tier, but make it more of a “value” to your users.

Bring back the fun
Do what you can to enhance the overall fun of Second Life. The LDPW did a great job of enhancing what is here, and providing good, fun, entertaining places for users.

but we’ve lost much of the community team that worked on special events, as well as helping to promote Resident events. You have scores of people griefing infohubs and crying about how bored they are. Give them something to do or, barring that, send them to Residents who will give them a fun time.

Anyway, I went long yet again, and I’m sure others have plenty more to add to this, so I’ll stop here. Food for thought, I hope!

Camping is in tents

July 29th, 2010 by Marianne McCann

Two weeks ago was Camp HardKnock, which was one of the best events I’ve been at in SL. after four years in Second Life, and attending every birthday, burn, winterfest, and other thing, that is not something I’m saying lightly.

Camp HardKnock, Summer 2010

For those not in the know, let me paint a piccie f’r ya. For about nine days, 100+ avatars (few are all logged in at once) share two second life regions. In that time, these avatars remain on site (barring the occasional sneak away). At the end of this week or so, the majority of those same avatars want the experience to not end. Most will be about when the next camp is announced, standing in line for the privilege of paying a stack of Lindens to come back.

What happens during those nine days that counts, though. The background is this. It’s a sleep-away camp, where all of the participants (child avatar campers and teen/adult avatar counselors) play a part. It a place for games, cabin wars, dances, parties, competitions, and just about anything else that can be brought to the party. There is nearly always something happening – and even if there’s a dead time, there are games and other past-times all over.

Funny Faces

It’s a time for some serious fun. You’ll hear laughter — both canned gestures and voice chat guffaws — all over the place. Everyone is always cracking jokes, being silly, and just having fun. The jaded cynicism I see so often across the Grid does not tend to seep into Camp HardKnock. It’s amazingly refreshing.

Pizza Party

The event brings together old vets – like me – with new kids. A majority of child avatars stick to the places they know, particularly their family homes and neighborhoods. Many of us are storeowners and builders, and spend a lot of time in our workshops. Some are alts that usually end up not getting a lot of time while other avatars hog the screen time. Here, we come together, form and strengthen our friendships, pick up tips and tricks (and a metric ton of gestures) from each other, and just… grow.

Few who go through Camp HardKnock leave the same as they were when they came. That might be the biggest thing about it. It’s something special, and not what you’ll find elsewhere on the grid.

At this camp, like all the others, I took a pile of piccies. You can see all of mine on Snapzilla. If you want to see a bit more, set aside about an hour and watch the “Designing Worlds” coverage. It’s about the most positive, honest coverage of anything involving kid avatars in Second Life that you’ll ever find. If anything, it is a shame there is such a stigma towards child avatars. People could learn a thing or two from events like this.

Not Gonna Leave Camp

Will I be at the next camp? Look for me near the front of the line again, ready to sign up for a bunk!

Three days

July 26th, 2010 by Marianne McCann

(Sorry, it’s tl;dr! next one will be shorter and less serious – honest!)

To the Grey Havens

It’s June 9th, and I’m working on my build for SL7B, the annual celebration of Second Life’s birthday. It’s an event where we celebrate making it another year, and look to the horizon. While I put the finishing touches on the oversized toys that made up the Unexpected Childhood build, a friend tells me that things are “not happy” at Linden Lab that day. Pressed, she could offer no additional information — but I soon did not need any. I begin to hear about various Linden Lab staffers who’ve been given their walking papers. I start IMing and e-mailing those Lindens I know, asking them if they’re okay.

Lists of names begin to circulate, and I too start doing searches on those I know, seeing if their accounts are still showing up. Many of them did not. I stop by Mia Linden’s office, which appears largely intact. Then I notice that many of her prized “Resident Bears” are gone. It has the feeling of someone who made a hasty retreat, or who did not get the chance to finish collecting her possessions. Blue Linden’s chair has a simple sign of thanks.

I know that my experience is not the same of most Residents. Living in the SF Bay Area, there are people I’ve known before they had the last name of “Linden.” There are many who work for the lab who I know outside of Second Life, who I have a friendship beyond the confines of the virtual world. find myself sorry to see them gone from Second Life, but more concerned with the real-world people beyond their pixelated selves. I find myself growing sick with anxiety, finding that some of my closer friends at the Lab have now joined the ranks of the unemployed.

I think of friends lost:

Mia Linden

Mia Linden, who I first knew under her Resident avatar. Someone who would spend crazy long hours putting together hundreds of special events armed only with an XStreet account and an inventory that makes mine look miniscule. She encouraged my own desire to volunteer my time and talent within Second Life.

Blue Linden

Blue, the big ol’ dragon-ish monster who helped develop Bay City. Someone who I could take a problem to and — when he could — he’d kick it upstream. I look fondly on his old office hours, and seeing his passion for the world and its Residents. I was glad to sneak him into the background of one of my Bay City shots, a monster in fedora and pipe.

Teagan Linden

Teagan, who was in a chibi kid avatar the first time I met her, floating over one of the stages at SL5B. She made her way over to Kids5B a bit later, showing herself as a voice of compassion in a time when the future of child avatars seemed very dim. She was someone who I felt I could come to if I needed a Terms of Service issue discussed — and even if the answer wasn’t the one I might have wanted, I’d still feel like she was being fair.

There were others I knew who lost their jobs that day, and many more who had been phased out in the months leading up to June 2010. One thing I would say about most of them is that they did use this world we share. They “ate the dog food,” shopping and socializing alongside the rest of us. They grumbled about the same troubles we did, and dealt with all we dealt with. Yes, some of them still do, and are not gone from our world simply because they no longer have “Linden” at the end of their username.

But I think we’ve all lost something. While they’ll go onto other jobs, I’m sure, our world has long some people who did genuinely care for this place — and did what they could to make it a bit brighter. That’s our loss.

Linden Graveyard

It’s June 22nd, and I’m at SL7B. Philip Linden did a nice, inspirational speech about the future of Second Life. It was far better than the SL5B calls for the “Pioneers” to step aside for the “Settlers,” or SL6Bs nostalgic — but largely unsubstantial – speeches. It was someone who both acknowledged the missteps of Linden Lab while laying the groundwork for making things better. That same night he was out roaming the SL7B lands, asking people one on one what they did not like in Viewer 2, and what features in Emerald LL really should look at incorporating.

Philip Linden

The next day, M Linden was scheduled to speak, but ducked out due to an emergency. Philip spoke again, giving a very similar speech to what he did before. Only to be expected, I suppose. M’s emergency, though, fueled the rumor mill — and the rumors became reality soon after, with M joining the roster of lost Lindens, and Philip taking the “interim CEO” role.

I felt the confidence I’d lost on June 9th coming back to me — with Philip sailing the ship, maybe we’d have somewhere to go.

It’s July 26th. What now?

Philip has not said a whole lot since those speeches. A bit on the blog about his return, as well as a call for an inworld meeting this month and a notice about the Burning Life event. To be honest, given the depth of the layoffs, I have to assume that not everything is happen at Battery Street, and I’m sure they’re doing all they can to streamline efforts and remain profitable.

But I hope one more thing is going on, and maybe I’d too hopeful. I hope that Linden Lab will not continue down the “Residents versus Settlers” construct from SL5B . During the M years there was a long focus on people who were *not* in Second Life. A continent’s worth of people was moved to make way for these imaginary people, and additional lands opened up to give those people a place to set up a home. A viewer was created in order to bring those people in — but they’ve not materialized.

They may be out there, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like a very important part of the equation was missing. While the focus was put on people “out there,” a lot of those already in Second Life grew disenchanted with the world. Long time residents grew frustrated with any number of issues. Search got worse. the “mono bug” continued to confound. “Copybotting” and other IP infringements became epidemic. Proposed plans to up the charges on XStreet and elsewhere caused people to simply shutter their stores. More and more was put in the way of the users of the world, all the while that Linden Lab was courting those “settlers.”

The Residents who are here are Second Life’s best evangelists. They know that if Second Life is successful, we all benefit. They found something to love in this world, and enjoy their time here. But all of the above has hurt their enjoyment. Many long time names have scaled back or left altogether. Many who might have once been the first to tell their friends to come to Second Life might now pause.

By no means are witnessing the death of Second Life — but at this point, the interim CEO needs to tread cautiously. If the goals are only to build on what works *in spite* of existing users, then we’re in trouble. But if — as Philip has promised — the goal is for all of us, Resident and Linden, to work together to build this world, then there is hope left.

Philip, if you are out there, please have a listen. Your sibling Residents want to be heard. Please help make a company that will listen to its Residents, who will talk with us, not at us, and who are worth Linden Lab’s time. Please consider the losses of June 9th — as necessary as they may have been to keep the company afloat — and know that OnTyne support can never fill the gap of real, honest-to-goodness community managers. Develop a true social media strategy that involves more than simply a one way street, and bring tools inworld that help to energize your established and new Residents.

Like many others, your return has come with a lot of good will. On June 9th, I know I was considering what I would do in a post-Second Life world — and on June 23rd, I began to feel like there was still life to be had. Please, together, let’s keep that going and make things better.

A proposal: the Emergency Grid Broadcast System

July 3rd, 2010 by Marianne McCann

Earlier today was yet another incidence of login and asset issues. When I’m inworld, a box in my workshop will alert me to any posts on http://status.secondlifegrid.net/ , which gives me a heads up. Unfortunately, not everyone has such a device or a place to put it.

But it led me to think: if this device could parse a simple RSS feed of the grid status, surely the viewer with all its “web link” features, http-in, and so on could handle this?

This led me to make my second ever feature suggestion (my first, on parcel-level build rights, sits mostly forgotten): the Emergency Grid Broadcast System.

Essentially a glorified RSS feed reader built into the browser, this would prove a method to get people inworld to see when when big issues are at hand.

Anyway, my write up about it all is available on the JIRA at https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-20081. I think I have all my bases covered, all my “T”s dotted an “I”s crossed, but would love feedback. Please read, vote, and/or comment, and also please feel free to tell others who might be interested.

Unexpected Childhood

July 1st, 2010 by Marianne McCann

I’m awful late at getting this prepared. I was hoping to do it before the event, but time just got away from. Anyway, while there’s still a couple days left to see it, let me introduce you to “Unexpected Childhood,” my build at SL7B.

Unexpected Childhood

The theme of SL7B is “Unexpected Collaborations,” and while we did tie a lot of the work to that theme – s well as just empathizing the birthday aspect itself – we wanted to look at how unexpected our Second lives have been. Few come to SL thinking “I’m going to be a kid!” So we decided to call it “unexpected childhoods” and focus on how we can to be kids on the Grid.

I wanted to get away from the whole, political, “having to defend the existence of child avatars” stuff that had to be done a bit n the past. We exist. Some don’t like us. Others do. To me, the arguments are largely done since the last Terms of Service update. Rather the defense, I wanted to take the opportunity to educate and have fun.

We – myself and Pygar Bu, who did a lot of the heavy lifting – decided to build it out of oversized blocks to really make any avatar feel a bit smaller, and see the world a bit like how a child avatar sees it already. Also, we used items like blocks and tinker toys and legos to try to emphasize the creative aspects of both SL kids and Second Life.

The crane in the build, BTW, was a happy accident. I had originally put it up during the build to show that it was “under construction.” But we all liked it. We tried a tinkertoy crane or two, but they all ended up far primmier and not as effective. So it stuck. Besides, it was made by Arcadia Asylum, who was no stranger to SL children as it was.

The build has four distinct parts to it. First, on the back of the “Happy Birthday Second Life” blocks are different photos child avatars, and clicking their block gives you a notecard with their story and reasons for being a kid in SL. Myself and Sage Kostenbaum, who put together a similar display at Kids5B two years ago, decided that the best way to talk about our SL childhoods is to let our community speak.

Tunnel

Second is a tunnel through the large architectural blocks. It displays words and phrases that came to mind when we asked on the Second Life Children group for their description of what life as a kid in SL was all about. Some are funny, some are thought provoking.

Behind the build you’ll find the third section, which is resources. Weblinks to various kids blogs, a Second Childhood Network kiosk, and other good to help further the information about kids in SL. Finally, hidden towards the top of the tower, is the adult to kid transmogrifier – for those who want to explore their *own* unexpected childhood.

Also, you’ll find numerous “little people” throughout the build, each with a thought bubble, answering some of the more common questions about child avatars. They’ll even speak to you if you click the “voice dot” over their head.

I hope you get a chance to visit and check it out, and enjoy the rest of SL7B’s builds and stuff. It is up ’til the end of July 3rd.

Camp time again!

July 1st, 2010 by Marianne McCann

I’ve a couple other entries I wanna write about (stuff like SL7B, and Philip Linden, and the “restructuring” an stuff), but first iI wanna jes do this quick one.

Camp Line-up

Twice a year there is a week-long sleepaway camp called Camp HardKnock. It’s become one of the biggest deals in the SL year for child avatars. Imagine a real-life sleepaway camp and all the events you can have there. It’s a great role-playing opportunity and a heck of a log of fun.

Registration was today, with a start time of 6:30 p.m. SLT for those who were in camp before (specifically, those still in the group from the Winter camp), and 7:00 p.m. SLT for other folks. A spot in camp this time is L$1000 per person, which helps cover the cost of renting two full sims for the time needed for the event. Registration is capped at 100 people due to the limitations of Second Life regions.

At 4:30 p.m. SLT or so, the location for camp registration was announced. By 4:40 p.m. SLT, when I got there, 17 people were queuing.

And by 7:30 p.m. SLT, every spot — plus an additional 10 they decided to try to squeeze in — were gone.

That amazes me. I mean I was glad to also be in that line and get myself registered. I’ve been buzzin about f’r days now planning what to wear and what to take. Yet I can’t imagine any other such event in SL selling out so fast, and having such rabid fans that they’d sit there for a couple hours just waiting for the chance to participate.