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Pathfinding Panic

August 8th, 2012 by Marianne McCann

Usually I spend a lot more time being thoughtful before I post here. It means my entries are usually few and far between but, I hope, worth the wait. With all the brouhaha about pathfinding today, I opted to hop right into it.

First, let me start with a critique for anyone from the Lab who might be reading this: this is why you need to communicate. I am doing your job here, but if you guys would do a better job at communicating to your own paying customers, people would get better information than what I’m about to lay down here. Please rethink your communications policies.

So today Pathfinding code went live on the main channel of the Second Life server software (the code that runs all the regions on the grid). Tomorrow it hits the LeTigre and BlueSteel Release Client server software. That will mean that every public region on the main grid will be running server software with pathfinding code, including a Havok physics update.

Pathfinding is something the lab has been hammering on for months now. Makes prims that can act sort of like critters. They can wander, attack, evade. Kinda cool, if you’re into that. I’m not so much, but who knows. Maybe I’ve just not see the “use case” that I can use.

Meanwhile, a blog for a third party viewer went out, claiming that the pathfinding code will use up to 18% of your sim resources, and provided information on how to either optimize or disable pathfinding for your region.  This, in turn, led to what one might call “the usual panic.” Instantly, it became fact that “the evil ol’ lab was out there hurting its users, and it was up to all of us to fight back my immediately disable the code.”

The usual talking points were trotted out. The lab has clearly not tested the code. It is deliberately trying to “kill” SL by rolling this out, etc., ad naseum.

The thing is, this code did not just pop up on the main grid today. It was used in The Wilderness project and Hairy Hippo Fun Land months ago. It was sprinkled around the grid then as well as a “PF” release client. Five weeks ago, it was promoted to the Magnum release client server software, and has been chugging away ever since. Just ask anyone who uses mesh vehicles, and they’ll tell you all about the fun of trying to cross out of a Magnum viewer and dealing with the mismatch in Havok versions.

But what you won’t hear much about is how their regions were crippled by a staggering 18% of sim resources being tied up in pathfinding. The regions themselves have been running fine, albeit there have been a few bugs along the way — and there are still a few things that need to be ironed out. Some issues with the way some prims travel on the navmesh, for example.

Now, to be fair here, the code can use some resources. It is designed to throttle itself, however. It does not use all the resources all of the time, and is intended to deliberately not take resources from other uses. It is not going to be crippling your region.

So really, what I want to say is this. Enough with the knee-jerk reactions. I understand that the lab has not always thought things though, and was even fairly antagonistic to their userbase during the “M” era. Their current lack of clear global communication, too, doesn’t help to get people beyond that time.

But rather than seeing a blog post and instantly reacting to shut it all off, do your own tests. Go visit other regions that are running the code (which by the time you read this may well be all of them). Heck, try your own region on for size, and see if its running poorly compared to, say, this time last week. Don’t take the word of any blogger — even me. Go look with your own eyes, and form a rational opinion of your own.

SL9B – Proud

June 16th, 2012 by Marianne McCann


SL9B Candle

I am so very proud of my co-collaborators at SL9B.

When Linden Lab posted on their blog that they were not going to host the land for SL9B this year, a lot of people were very disappointed. Even though SL birthday events have been plagued with controversies — SL4B and Mature content, SL5B and kid avatars, SL6B and theme, SL7B and “Barbies,” SL8B and purple hats — and have shown a declining interest in the last few years, it was still part of Second Life’s culture. It was a touchstone in the Second Life year. And now it was seemingly gone, replaced with shout outs on the Second Life Destination Guide.

On my mySL feed, I put forth a proposition. When SL5B “respectfully declined” child avatar participation, kid avvies were understandably upset. We considered boycotts, protests, and all sort of actions to vent our displeasure. Then we got creative. We made our own celebration, Kids5B, and packed all the awesome we could muster into two regions. It was epic. And even though SL5B did eventually move towards full inclusion of kid avvies, we in the SL kid community still had this incredible, positive, amazing thing that brought our community together.

So, I said, ” I wonder if the same could apply to SL9B. What would be a good way to turn this negative into a positive?”

That same day, or close to it, Crap Mariner put forth a proposal to have the LEA and others chip in some space, and hold our own event. Saffia Widdershins started to ask around and see if a separate sponsor could be found (this lead to DreamSeeker Estates being so heavily involved). Doctor Gascigone and I both began to ask about, as I’m sure others did (if I forget anyone, it’s not intentional – mea culpa).

Many began to offer space. A parcel or two here and there. Pallina60 Loon jumped in, offering a big chunk of the LOL region. Others too. Then an anonymous private owner stepped in offering six full regions to me for the event. Then DreamSeeker Estates ponied up 10 more. Later we’d get two from Fruit Islands and two from KittyCatS. All of a sudden, we had 20 regions and as big as the last two Second Life birthdays. The event was a “go.”

Volunteers stepped up. : greeters, moderators, exhibitor assistants, and more. Builders submitted applications — over 450 of them, far more than any previous birthday event. Last year we had troubles filling all our spaces, this year we had to turn people away due to the sheer number of requests. The stages filled with amazing acts from all over. We still have people wanting to perform, and even added a fifth stage to help make that happen.

Tomorrow, the SL media and press will be in to see our works for the first time. The builders have done great things. The volunteers too. In spite of a blog or two attempting to gin up controversy and claim this year’s big drama, things have been pretty smooth. Smoother than I’ve seen before, and I’ve been at the SL birthday event since the 3rd. The builds are at an all time high, and I’m not just talking about the build height. They’re great.

In the blog post that started it all, Linden Lab said, “No one throws a better event or party than the Second Life community!” In our own way, we proved that to be 100% true. We did not do it for them — but for us. This is one for the record books, and one we — as a community — can be very, very proud of.

No Fooling

April 1st, 2012 by Marianne McCann

I enjoyed looking at all the Google gags, the EFF newsletter, the fake products on Think Geek, and all the jests on the web today. It reminded me of when Linden Lab used to do April Fool’s jokes.

I don’t know much about them before I came into SL, though I do know that Ben Linden hid several pictures around the grid, showing some of the changes coming to the viewer back in 2005. Oh, and while he mentioned that the screenshots would be removed… some of them remain hidden hither and yon to this very day. Kinda fun to come across them now and then, actually.

The first I actually was involved in was a little more than a month after I joined Second Life. It was post about Second Life Tax soon being due. Seemed an obvious joke to me, but I know some took it pretty seriously: I did not know the history of the prim tax and such as that point in my second life.

I did get the t-shirts that were given out that day: I only seem to still have the “greedy” shirt that you’d get if you clicked the giver more than once.

Then came 2007. The prank that year? The “Connecting to Region” text you see when teleporting was replaced with a number of silly sayings. It was a great joke — or would have been, if the day was not also plagued with teleport failures. There was a lot of outcry, and they went away. No more April Fool’s gags have been attempted by Linden Lab.

It could still be a remnant from the M Linden “serious business” era of Second Life, and maybe Rodvik would be keen on this. Yet at the same time, we have a lab that has seemingly retreated from inworld visibility, and the shuttering of other traditions such as the Linden vs. Resident snowball fight.

I think it’s unfortunate. So many tech companies embrace this faux holiday, from Kodak’s printable kittens to Blizzard Kidzz, yet the Lab — likely cowed by fears of torch and pitchfork wielding Residents — avoids it. Being involved with these, IMO, helps humanize the company and its people.

Land’s End

March 30th, 2012 by Marianne McCann

No Land Needed

So I noticed the above on the ad for the Direct Delivery Linden Bear as well as other Direct Delivery items (including those – to plug shamelessly – in my own store). The highlight is mine.

The somewhat more paranoid side of me looks at this, looks as the premium sandboxes, looks at Linden Homes, and looks at The Wilderness premium hangout spot, and wonders if the end goal here is to make a world where personal landownership is deemed unnecessary (outside of the homogenized Linden Home style experience). I’m sure, though, that such a notion is silly, given that land has long been king in Second Life.

Nevertheless, I often find myself unable to make sense of why land – particularly the mainland – feels so often ignored or, at the least, put second to estates. Why isn’t more being done to make land ownership be even more attractive to Second Life users, versus working on things that seem to push people away from owning their own little corner of the grid?

Anyway, while I personally don’t “get” Linden Homes, I know they’ve been popular enough to clone the Nascera continent a time or two, to increase the offerings of popular styles, and all that. For some, they seem to be all that and a bag of prim chips. That’s cool.

Also, I like the Premium Sandboxes. They seem rather underutilized, but that gives me a bit more space to spread out on those rare occasions I need to rez something out that can’t be easily accommodated in my workshop.

I have been enjoying exploring the Premium WIlderness area, too. Certainly, I’ve never been much to criticize the public spaces of Second Life (just read this blog a bit!), and I feel no need to now. Sure, some things could be better there. The animals are a bit… cartoonish, especially compared to the detail of the ferry boat, the shacks, and other details, but the overall experience ain’t bad. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed going through the Wilderness, finding people who actually do want to hang out and talk, and who are also enjoying their time there. It’s nice, compared to a lot of other spaces inworld.

Yet I wish more were being done to encourage people to create places like this on their own, and do whatever can be done to make land ownership – particularly Mainland land ownership – attractive. After all, we need places for those direct delivered couches, and lamps, and garden benches, and stuff!

Back on the mainland.

March 19th, 2012 by Marianne McCann

Nascera

Some of the most successful parts of the mainland — and I am basing success on “retained higher than average land costs and low amounts of for sale/abandoned land” — have been the city regions. The double prim allotment has been huge for these regions, as has the theming by the Linden Department of Public Works’ “Moles” (or dedicated Linden staff in the case of Nova Albion). Having a strong community group like the Bay City Alliance of the City Slickers has helped these areas as well, creating events and other things that build awareness of the area, providing a space for residents to meet and discuss their area, etc.

As an aside, it was even better when a Linden often attended these meetings. It gave us someone who could help us with the Linden owned spaces, help us focus our needs, and also give us a sense of where the lab might be going from time to time.

Beyond these are other spaces that have done a great job of building successful, popular Mainland communities on their own. The East River community, Chibo, and the Luskwood come to mind. Beyond them are smaller individual or group-owned builds that are shining examples of what one can do on the mainland, such as Cowell, the Lost Forest, the Bhaga ironworks, Lakeville, etc.

But for each Bay City or East River, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of examples where mainland has not turned out well. As many long term resident of the mainland knows, all it takes it one person to cause an otherwise beautiful region to become an eyesore. Lately, there’s been issues with people covering parcels with large, sometimes brightly colored and glowing blocks in a misguided attempt to drive others off. Beyond these, you have other blights: Skyboxes set too low to the ground, ban lines, lost cars, squatters, and random junk left on no auto return lands, “breedable farms,” ‘bot farms, gambling dens, and other sim resource gobblers, and so on.

The Mainland, by its very nature, encourages this. There are no rules (beyond the TOS and CS), no covenants, no zoning (aside from a few early examples, a’la Boardman). You are welcome to build your tropical paradise in the Snowlands, your winter wonderland in the Volcano Island regions, and put your spaceport up in the middle of Nautilus City. As one person put it to me, after building something wildly out of theme in Bay City, “well, there’s nothing that says I can’t.” They’re absolutely right, too!

Indeed, the only thing one really can do is wait them out. Speaking as one who has faced having a bestiality stable go up behind my home, and a ‘crash a plane into a building every two minutes” in front of my store, I have developed a lot of patience. Yet where in Second Life to have fun, not grit our teeth!

Meanwhile, the Linden Homes are almost the exact opposite experience. With a strict covenant and public lands that really can’t be fully utilized, the Linden Homes are the virtual equivalent of a modern, HOA-driven community. They’re off on their own continent – Nascera – which further isolates them. There’s little attempt at personalization, and much self-expression is quashed. The Linden Homes are not “Your World, Your Imagination” nor are they “The Weirder The Better.” They’re also not the “Frontier” Rodvik is seeking. If anything, they’re the “Anti-Frontier.”

So what to do? I’d hate to suggest blowing up all those Linden Homes but… blow them up. Replace them with City-style (double primmed, themed) regions, for example Future City, Fantasy City, Anime City, Cyberpunk City, Bayou City, Old World City, Farm City (a contradiction in terms!). And heck, make some attempt at positively enforcing the theme in these places while you’re at it.

Oh, and sure, why not also include a handful of regions in each of these that do work as the current crop of Linden Homes. But rather than put them in their separate safe place, integrate them with the world as a whole. let them be part of their communities, not just some place far away from the action, tucked off in some private corner. Bring them all together.

One more thing on integration: one of the great features of the Mainland is the ability to cover large distances. You can drive the roads all day — or sail, or take a train, or boat. Not so much with Linden Homes. If there was some attempt at integration, Imagine the possibilities! The best features of the Mainland combined with the best features of the Linden Homes. It’s just that much better.

The old frontier feel

March 4th, 2012 by Marianne McCann

Signs of renewal

Rodvik Humble kicked off March with the announcement that last names would not be returning to Second Life, at least not in the form they exist now. While I don’t think the solution may have been the best, I can agree with him that there’s not much of a way to make a policy that would have satisfied everyone. For what it’s worth, there’s not a lot of things the lab can do with Second Life that would have universal approval.

It wasn’t the discussion of last names in the post that piqued my interest, however. About half way down, he said the following:

“Conversations with many old Lindens and Residents have led me to conclude that we have lost something of the old frontier feel.  Like we were exploring the world together, you knew people, you would bump into them more. I have some ideas on how we can bring this back more (something along the lines of a new mainland like region or making mainland better or rethinking the whole way Linden Homes works.) This will be the subject of the next little roundtable, which will follow this one.”

He also added, “I will be kicking off another monthly roundtable (probably Monday) to chat about getting that family/frontier feel back with an eye to some area-like project.”

First off, I’m a fan of the mainland. I like the possibilities. I like the scale of it all. I like being able to sail off for kilometers at a time, and I like being able to call a small part of it “mine.” I feel more hometown pride being involved with Bay City and the surrounding area than I do with my first life community. It’s a vibrant place with all sorts of strong, amazing people.

I know that Bay City is not alone, either. The East River community, Cowell, The Luskwood, and many other mainland communities populate the grid, making it better and stronger.

So I have to be a bit concerned to hear about changes to it. Perhaps no more so than the notion of a “Mainland Like” area. The Mainland was already split apart by the Linden Homes, why must we further move people away from the mainland into yet more regions, yet more servers, and end up even more isolated on this grid of ours?

Second Life has always had “mainland like regions” with that “old frontier feel.” It started with the “can’t get more frontier sounding” Newbie Corral in Natoma, then the Ahern Welcome Area and the various telehubs, then the Infohubs of today. They’re the places people (and more than a few ‘bots) get routed to when a region is offline, the place that some new Residents get routed to, they’re the home of toughened regulars, and a regular source of griefing. In fact, as I write this, Violet infohub is spewing “Joker” and “Goldeen” particles while a collection of prims shouted about the “owning” of the region.  This would seem to be no solution to Rodvik’s desires.

Now, rethinking the Linden Homes? I’m with you on that. Perhaps it was expected that these would foster micro communities. Certainly these have formed similar structured settings in SL’s past. Yet the Linden Homes ended up becoming more of a modern housing tract than a vibrant community place: many may not know their neighbors, or care to. There’s no unique personality on display, no sense of place in a sea of similar structures. So yes, maybe Linden Homes do indeed need to be rethought. They’re not the frontier.

I would first look at the communities already in existence on the mainland, finding out what works, and what doesn’t for them. Look, too, at the successful island estate communities.  The steamlands, Raglan Shire, and others may have answers for you.

Speaking as one heavily involved in Bay City, I’d say this: It is remarkably hard to foster and maintain a community on the mainland. Here’s five things that come to mind, each of which I think any mainlander can understand.

• We have a themed Linden area that has no way to manage the theme. Bay City was designed by LL as a mid-century styled urban area, yet there is nothing to stop someone from, say, butting out an oversized, anime snowman, or a medieval castle, or anything else. There’s not even a covenant that simply states what the theme is to the area. This is an even bigger issue elsewhere on the mainland, where some have set out to make their land as undesirable as possible, to cause a high dollar sale just to get them to leave, to force neighbors to sell low, or even just because they want to be annoying to others.

• In Bay City, we’re at the mercy of our Linden overlords. Who is to say I might log in one day to find the area fundamentally changed — or even removed? I faced this very issue two weeks ago, when a busy infohub region within Bay City was suddenly not an infohub. An accident, it seemed, but still a wake-up call. it’s hard to keep a footing when you the ground can shift under your feet at any time.

• Related: a long time Resident of my corner of the grid awoke to find the majority of his legacy build just… gone. A glitch or a griefing had wiped all but a fraction of the region. In spite of his time in SL, his regular tier payments, and a general sense of what is right, the Lab was unwilling to rollback the area or even try to set up a second instance to recover the lost items. It’s a basically and potentially show-stopping issue that rollbacks are available to islands, but are impossible on mainland — even when a whole region has a single established owner.

• Last summer, we faced a chronic series of griefings as two infohub regulars decided to throw lolcubes at each other every other night or so. We required a lot of Linden involvement to try and manage this situation — and there wasn’t a lot of involvement to be had. Other areas have had it even worse: I can’t imagine living in the shadow of Waterhead, for example.

• From 2008 to early 2011, we had a Community Manager who worked closely with Bay City and other mainland communities, helping to facilities our community, land, and support/governance needs. This was a huge help for our community, and helped us to grow. While we have managed to continue to thrive on our own, there are still times where it’s clear we lack that voice and involvement. Much of the rest of the mainland didn’t even have the benefit of this level of involvement from the lab.

So yes, I would love to talk about getting that “family/frontier back,” but I hope it can be done without sacrificing what we have in the LDPW, in the existing mainland, and in our communities. Let’s not reinvent the wheel nor take away from what we have now – instead, let’s make things better and add value.

Now, enough from me for now. :-)

Compare & Contrast

March 4th, 2012 by Marianne McCann

More on the second quote in a moment. A lot to write about on it!

“The pioneer era in Second Life is beginning to draw to a close. It has been five years and we are at the beginning of a transition and I think it is an irrevocable transition.”Linden Lab board member Mitch Kapor, 2008

“Conversations with many old Lindens and Residents have led me to conclude that we have lost something of the old frontier feel…. I have some ideas on how we can bring this back more.”Linden Lab CEO Rodvik Humble, 2012

It’s hard to pull a short quote from Kapor’s piece. I recommend reading the whole thing, or re-reading it. It gives a good glimpse into where SL was way back when — and in retrospect, a lot of where we may be facing troubles today. I often ponder that “pioneer versus settlers” notion in there.

Still, are we at a reversal, a moving back to pioneer days — or is it “irrevocable,” as Kapor suggests?

A few thoughts on SL8B

June 26th, 2011 by Marianne McCann

I find I did much the same last year, finally blogging about SL8B as the event wound down. There’s still one more week to see the builds, though, so please, by all means, do so.

I want to talk about my own builds, but first I want to talk about SL8B in general. This year, the overall mood of the event was much brighter than it has been for years. Probably back to SL4B. That was my second SL birthday event, and one I still look back at fondly. It had this whole basis on history, with two sims (one moderate, one general) for every year SL had been around since the end of Beta. I got to see a lot of cool, old stuff.

It is probably what made me an SL history nut and – given my druthers, I wish I’d had the chance to go back and see it all again. I’m sure there were things there that would only be relevant to me now.

Then SL5B hit, and I don’t think I need to even mention what a drama that was. I think it was bad for everyone, not the least of all for Second Life as a whole.

SL6B was on a dark, always-nighttime asteroid. Cool, but not exactly a cheerful birthday party due to the very nature of the theme. Also, it happened right at the height of the big Zindra/Adult content move.

SL7B had its own dramas too, not the least of which was Linden Lab shedding a large number of staff members and losing their CEO during the buildup and run of the event. That really cast a pall over the event, as people went to the graveyard in Rogue rather than celebrated.

This year is different. While it is not without its dramas, including the loss of more Linden staff members, a content theft issue, and other troubles, the whole mood is a lot more positive. This is reflected in the builds. While the last couple years contained some a few grains of wheat amongst a lot of chaff, this year is full of many good things worth seeing. Everything from trick performing dolphins to builds that form before your eyes. Brilliant and beautiful stuff. It’s not all home runs, but you’ll find a lot more of them than  you might have in previous years.

If I had a complaint, however, it would be this. Much like Lalo Telling said in his own blog, there’s a lack of history to the event. One of my builds is next to the time capsules, which haven’t really been promoted or mentioned, and which last the creative display of some of those time capsule’s alluring contents. There’s nothing to thank those who came before for getting us to where we are today, nor displays that show where we came from.

I’d also love to see some attempt at grouping similar builds together. There’s four kid-themed builds, but they’re each in different, not nearby, regions. The Bay City build is some six regions away from the Nova Albion build, when these sister cities could mutually benefit by being closer.

That said, these are relatively minor issues, and I don’t offer them to tear down what is/was the best SLxB is many years.

One thing I don’t think of as minor, however, was the lack of front-facing Linden involvement. Yes, there was some, sure, but I think it would have been better for Rodvik to make a speech of at least some nature. Cheer us on. Ditto Kim, who’s somewhat rushed-feeling 90 second speech was a shock to many, given the much longer presentations by Philip Linden and others in the past.

More like it

February 26th, 2011 by Marianne McCann

Bay City Alliance Meeting

Shortly after the most recent round of auctions ended in Bay City – Dennis, I got an IM from a friend, Liz Gealach, telling me she’d scored the parcels she wanted. I logged in and went on over. While there, I noticed a kid avatar (who also happens to go to the same RP elementary school as me) setting up on one of the other recently auctioned parcels, next-door to a location promoting the GOHA organization. Across from there, Marx Dudek — another friend — has set up the Kerfuffle store.

As I talk with my friend, Harleywan Haggwood from Never You Mind — who bought a couple 512s over in Bay City – Mashpee — goes by on a segway. We exchange pleasantries before he decides to ride on.

Back on my own parcel, Bryce Carter is setting up his detective agency over ahkenatan Grommet’s Primouth dealership. Robin Sojourner has rented my other storefront, too, bringing in her new line of furniture.

My friend Molly Montale, who has already set up a great vintage burger joint in Bay City – Sandwich, manages to score a bit of Bay City frontage herself. She’s test fit a gas station, but is still pondering what she’ll do with it in the end.

In the Bay City Alliance group IM, Holocluck Henly is checking out the route for the big Giant Snail Race through Bay City this weekend, making sure it’ll all work okay. Later that night I’ll also see RacerX Gullwing and Tindallia Soothsayer checking out the route while I hang a “Welcome Snails” banner.

Also while hanging the banner, another friend and Bay City Resident — Ever Dreamscape — tromps by in a giant monster avatar, “terrorizing ” the city and noting I’d likely taste good with ketchup. A few minutes later, two young furs will be hanging out in the store, watching Superman cartoons on my television.

Now that’s the Bay City I’ve always wanted to see and be a part of. A vibrant city, a community full of really great people. Things to see, do, and enjoy.

This is what Second Life can be, at it’s very best.

Legacy

February 8th, 2011 by Marianne McCann

SL's 3rd Birthday Flames

Pardon if this post turned out to be very much too long. It’s actually a couple of blog entries, all smushed into one the longer I thought about it.

You see, I was thinking of Rodvik Linden, and what the legacy he is inheriting from Philip’s stint as once-and-future-CEO, and M Linden’s two years in the driver’s seat. In the course of doing so, it caused me to think about what Second Life is, what matters, and — in my opinion — where things may well have gone a bit off the rails.

Two big things

I think there’s two big things with Second Life, and these are what makes Second Life what it is. It’s the things that keep me coming back to this place and, I presume, is at the core of many other peoples’ interests.

The first is building. In a December 2001 presentation given on a little program called LindenWorld, would-be investors heard that 5% of LindenWorld users would build the content that 100% of the users would enjoy. We can argue how close the numbers are, but I think it is the tools to build your world — and even make some modest profit from same — that drive Second Life.

I think that a majority of users, if not most, have at least a rudimentary knowledge of building. I don’t mean that everyone is a content creator: I mean they might know that they can right click and edit their hair to resize it, or how to move a rezzed object.

When Viewer 2 came out, one of the biggest complaints was that it was antagonistic to builders. This was fairly true. Not only did builders have to re-educate themselves to the basics of finding their build tools and learning how to upload a texture, they also were faced with the inability to rez a prim on top of another prim, and the removal of a much-loved “build” button at the bottom of their screen. Likewise, a new Welcome Island that hit the grid around the same time did not include ll but one mention — in a shared media video — about the fact that it was we, the Residents, who build things.

One of the most enchanting things with Second Life is that we not only get to explore and consume content, but we get to create the content. We’re not tied to whatever the game company’s staff put there. If we want a better mousetrap, we have the tools to build it. This is so very key to the fabric of this world.

I think some of that vision was lost. I think we see that at the heart of Viewer 2, and I hope that we can see this change.

In a meeting with some of the creatives of Burning Man, T Linden defended Viewer 2 in part by suggesting that maybe a third party would make a viewer “for builders.” Indeed, his view was that maybe there should be a whole lot of different, specialized viewers for builders, and machinimatographers, and so on.

I don’t think we need a lot of different viewer, however. We need one viewer that works. We need the existing tools made that much better.

In seeing Rodvik’s first blog post about building his crude log cabin and raft, well, maybe we will indeed see an increased focus on providing a quality experience for Second Life’s builders.

One caveat: Mesh. It’s beautiful stuff. Far more robust and a lot less tricky than sculpties, and in the hands of a good designer, it’s almost magical to see the results. Yet the downside should be obvious. All you need do is upload your mesh model to second life and pay an upload fee. There is no inworld tools to it, no manipulation — and therefore less of a reason to even put it in Second Life in the first place — because the second big thing is socializing.

Second Life is a social medium. Sure, we build, we explore, and we shop. But to what end? While we do these things, we build a network of friends and acquaintances in this world, people who we share similar interests and desires. We explore not only so that we can see the cool stuff, but so we can show others the cool stuff we found. We shop for things to make our avatars represent us better, and we decorate our spaces with items we’ve built or bought to make them more comfortable for us ad our friends.

Over the last several years, people have banded together, creating communities, affinity groups, and cultures within this world. The Luskwood has become a vibrant home for furries, the SL children have their schools, neighborhoods, and camp. Steampunk has flourished stretching out into Caledon, New Babbage, and Steelhead, amongst others. Even the mainland has its own unique culture, as do some of the cities — both Linden and Resident formed — that populate it.

You can create the most beautiful things here — but without the people, it’s all just ones and zeros.

To this end, I have never understood why Linden Lab have continued to hobble the ability for people to come together. The backbone for friends, groups, chat, and Instant Messages have been problematic for as long as I’ve been in Second Life. The obvious example: group chat has always broken down, and conferences are just as unreliable. There remains no good way to communicate to your friends what you are doing in SL on a large scale without resorting to other social media sites like Twitter and Plurk. It was only with the addition of the “Share” feature in Viewer 2.2 that one could even send an object to more than two people at a time.

The ability to socialize is so key in Second Life.

Yet in the last year we’ve seen the community team more than decimated, and the focus being on marketing over community. This, IMO, is a mistake. Without a grasp on ones own users, you cannot effectively market to the people who may well be attracted to your product and have not yet taken the plunge. The existing userbase can make or break the product. Speaking of which…

Viewer 2

I had the dubious pleasure of being part of the private beta on Viewer 2. Really, what this means is that I’m able to say “You should have seen it before public beta!” to those that hate the V2 UI. I’ve actually continued to use it since then, only logging into 1.23.5 on those rare moments that I have to use my creaky old MacBook Pro to access Second Life.

but I need to go back before the beta. Back at SLCC 2009, the crowd was wowed with screen shots and video of what was to come. By wowed, I mean some catcalled the need for things like, oh, working group chat over mesh, advanced graphics, and shared media — but many seemed to like what they saw.

Nevertheless, this was the “SL 2.0” we were being sold at the time. A redesigned UI (although we were told it would look nothing like what we were seeing on screen), shared media, advanced lighting and shadows, and mesh capabilities. This was called, at the time, “Viewer 2009.”

Now 2009 came and went without release, and the private beta started in earnest within the first quarter of 2010. Many of the beta testers were not what you’d call enthusiastic with what they were testing. Things were radically changed, with a sidebar that had to be slid out to get to most of the much-needed components. There were no media controls aside from the ones buried in preferences. The UI was unusable for those with special needs, and the small, white-text-on-black-background caused us all to get used to squinting.

Now a majority of the troubles with the UI are ones I call “moved cheese,” based on the book title from a couple years ago. After years of doing things one particular way, changing your methods to V2 makes you feel like a noob — and no one wants to feel like a noob.

Consider what everyone who used V2 for the first time got to experience.

You load the software, get past the “we’ve set this based on the specs of your computer,” type your information in, and hit the login button. So far, so good. Then things go wrong. Your avatar — your very representation in the world – just won’t load. This is only one problem you face, because the audio and video feed of the parcel you’re on are blaring through your computer’s speakers. Both, at the same time. You fumble for the sound controls, which are not just two buttons in the upper right hand corner. If you were lucky enough to be on the first public beta, you even had to stumble over the fact that the play and pause buttons were reversed (a feature, we were told).

So your heart has stopped racing from the noise. You still have no shape, you have to fumble around looking for your inventory. You’re friends and group chats are all coming in within these little windows, you’re confused and upset, and suddenly everything your friends told you about V2 makes sense. You log out, reinstall 1.23.5 or a third party viewer, and join the ranks of those who hate viewer 2.

For what its worth, Viewer 2.2 is around where a Viewer 2 user like myself begun to feel like the severe bugs were ironed out and we could start to move forward. That said, Viewer 2.3 and up cause my iMac to hard lock. “Logging out” by clicking your computer’s power switch is never a good option.

Back to the UI. Yes, much cheese was moved, but it’s deeper than that. No one needed to feel that way. The UI was poorly developed, and is still flawed.

Now I don’t mean “zOMG teh sidebar,” though I know many point to it as an issue. I don’t think it is in and of itself — but the way it was presented was. People were used to working with multiple windows open, and at launch you had a single, fairly inflexible dock. Sending group notices with attachments became difficult, viewing two profiles at a time was impossible.

But this was a symptom of the bigger issue. The UI is inflexible. It was seemingly not designed with extensibility in mind. While it was designed to be simple, it was instead constraining. Features were hidden, and workflows were hobbled. I would go so far as to say that the UI was the very antithesis of what Second Life should be. In a world of infinite possibilities, why impose arbitrary constraints?

Almost done, promise!

We have needs

Early in the release of Viewer 2, I saw my avatar Ruthed. Later, I saw her folded over. She would sometimes be invisible, or her textures would go solid black. She might even end up with the textures of a completely different avatar.

Some of these bugs had been supposedly resolved ages ago, yet here they were again. It was as if all the bugs that were squashed, weren’t. They were merely brushed under the carpet, left for someone else to deal with, some day. Or maybe the SL codebase is so labyrinthine that its nigh-impossible to straighten out these issues. After all, there has to be some reason why blocking a prim will get stuck offlines to load, or changing a group tag will get “cloud” avatars to load.

Meanwhile, we saw support and governance staffs cut to the bone in the last year. Support is now even more nonexistent for free accounts (a move I don’t necessarily disagree with), while other support tiers have been given outsourced service or limited hours to contend with.

Meanwhile, governance — the people who take care of terms of service and community standards violations — seem to be rare birds nowadays. So rare that few even know who is handling governance. While they still do seem to handle big issues fairly quickly, it is the more complex — and often more necessary — governance issues that are falling through the cracks.

I understand the need to cut costs. 2010 was a rough year for Linden Lab, and things simply had to happen. Nevertheless, there are things that need to be tended to in order to keep the existing userbase feeling like they’re more than simply the cash cow that gets milked every so often. And this brings me to my last point.

Communicate.

Communication has long been difficult in Second Life — and this time I don’t mean failed group chats. From support staff that offer responses to problems that don’t fit the trouble, to SL seemingly being the only company that actively does not advertise itself, to “conversation managers” who don’t well, have conversations, it’s always been a sore spot.

Like I said above, one of the big things in Second Life is socialization. Many of us are here because of this. we need that from the Lab, too. No, I don’t expect Rodvik to come by my inworld residence and leave a mint on my pillow (besides, I don’t have many prims there). What I do expect is for them to give us a clear vision of where the Lab is heading, what we should expect in the next weeks, months, and year.

So often, life on the grid has been a gamble. Tomorrow, some piece of code and/or some policy change could wipe out my way of Second Life. I know what its like to log in, having friends and acquaintances pouncing on me to let me know that something is up — from the original “notecard policy” that child avatars faced in 2007, to the June 8th layoffs.

If things are going to be rough — tell me. Let me know what you face, so I can try to make things easier. Let’s weather the storm together. If there’s some new shiney in the pipeline, let us know. We may need to make changes to our own products and services to accommodate it. We may even have ideas on improving it.

In 2008, we were told in essence that we did not matter. In my opinion, the shock waves from that — and later actions that buoyed that opinion — are still feeling felt in 2011. Now’s the time to change this.

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