Monday, July 21, 2008

The Second Life Kindergarten

Excuses * Then and Now * Zen and the art of virtual worlds maintenance * On the nature of Linden Lab * We are the world - not * A plan for the future

It's all Hamlet Au's fault, really. I wanted to post more stuff. But the juxtaposition of Second Life today - a laggy, crashy place with rude newbies and an aloof, blundering Linden Lab - with ye olde Seconde Life and a dynamic Linden Lab, doing all it can to make some sense out of this world they have created, as described in Hamlet Au's book, was just too much to bear.

While "Making of Second Life" is a fairy tale (or "based upon a true story" at the most), the difference between then and now was still surprising. I needed more insight into Second Life residents, so I continued my literary virtual world sojourn with Tom Boellstorff's "Coming of Age in Second Life" and completed it with Castranova's "Exodus to virtual worlds". By then, the pieces were starting to fall into place. I retreated to my yak hut and meditated in the rain of prims - until understanding dawned.

IYan in meditation

Linden Lab is *old*

Linden Lab is far from a spry start-up, frolicking about, ready to challenge the world. It's been around the block and tried it all - so that now, when new and energetic employees have an idea, they can always be assured by their senior colleagues that this has already been tried in the past and failed. So, why bother? The asset server architecture, as it is, has always been enough - why update it? The users have always grumbled - so why listen?

Guess which one is LL

We can only count on Linden Lab to make a mess of things occasionally. For all the rest, there is only us.

Second Life is not a world

A crucial element of the world, according to Castranova, is a shared mythos - a story that puts the world as you see it in a larger context. Another crucial element is a set of values, shared by the residents. With those, the world mythos can create and sustain itself; and, as long as the ratio of new users keeps under a certain limit, everything works - the old users are numerous enough to explain the world and the etiquette to the new users. Unfortunately, with exponential growth, this breaks down and we get what's called an Eternal September - a deluge of newbies with no comprehension of the world. This is the reason for prominent bloggers rueing the passing of the golden days of yore, when users were friendly (and Second Life never crashed, I imagine).

Second Life as a whole has no mythos; therefore, it is not a world. To make Second Life a world, we need to give it a story and put the user in context.

Given these two points, my proposal is simple: the users should create the Kindergarten of Second Life.

Call it the "Second Life Academy" or something appealing and mask it as a beginner's guide to UI and building; then, while explaining the dark arts of the SL client, teach the users the mythos of Second Life, based upon Tom's and Hamlet's books and recollections of respected oldbies. Teach them the story of Steller, who logged into the empty world one night and left the generations of users to come the jumping bean stalk; regale them with the story of Gibson sim and the transience of being; and instill in them the values of helping new users, respecting the old users, and revering the content creators.

It's up to us. Will we keep waiting for Linden Lab to make everything all right? Or do we want to accept and assume responsibility for making Second Life a world?
Zemanta Pixie

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Loco Pocos: The tiny revolution

It's a holiday for us Tiny fans: Damien Fate and Washu Zebrastripe, the amazing content creation duo, have created a new line of Tiny avatars called Loco Pocos.

Loco Pocos at Metanomics

While tinies are great fun, they have some problems: can't sit in ordinary sized chairs, can't use normal gestures, and it's hard to find good fashion and accessories for them. Well, not anymore - the Loco Pocos can do all that, and more!

Despite the recent mega-linden UI challenge from Dusan Writer, SL inventory is currently still a drag. While I've kept my inventory rather thin (a bit more than 3000 items, until I fell prey to the insidious 7S fishing game), finding the correct shoe in a forgotten folder - named "shoe", of course - is still a challenge. Or, at least - was a challenge. Loco Pocos include an ingenious HUD that allows users to change their outfit, colors, shapes, attach or hide ears with a simple click of the button. The same HUD allows access to a variety of emotes and gestures - from laughter to sleeping on the ground, beautifully animated and wonderfully voiced.

As an added bonus, the Loco Poco sim is an amazing place which features an interactive back-story about the island. By retracing steps of an earlier explorer, visitors ar drawn into the story, led to several fun mini-games and awarded with Loco Poco goodies.

Second Life has had its down points lately - from the ill communicated SL5B, ill communicating M Linden or uncommunicated grid stats; but Loco Pocos will help you remember the fun side of SL.

Join us for the Grand Opening of Loco Pocos Island with a massive scavenger hunt today, July 9th at Noon SLT. Visitors to the sim on this date will have the opportunity to win a unique avatar which will only be available during events at Loco Pocos Island.
Zemanta Pixie

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Event chat transcripts considered harmful

For a number of months I have been familiar with the observation that the quality of an event recap is a decreasing function of event chat transcript density they produce. Recently I became convinced that event chat transcripts should be abolished from all "higher level" event recaps (i.e. everything except, perhaps, business meeting transcripts). At that time I did not attach too much importance to this discovery; I now submit my considerations for publication.

You've all seen it before. The event is nearing its close an an enthusiastic host exclaims "Oh, and we'll put up a transcript online!". True enough, the transcript shows up in your RSS reader - but although you had missed 10 minutes because of a phone call or something, you never, ever read the transcript. It's not because you are lazy. It's because transcripts are useless - they not only have zero informational value, they actually decrease the information content.

There are several reasons for that. First, a large portion of event chats is simply people socializing - saying hello, wawing to one another, laughing or nodding in agreement. As virtual worlds make non-verbal communication rather hard, a lot of it has become verbal. Second, a lot of the time the log is full of system messages - people signing on or off, which adds to the clutter. And third - even if we prune all the non-essential parts, the transcript is still too long. It's one thing being present at an hour-long event - you pass the time during less interesting parts IM-ing or camming around. Reading the whole transcript, however, takes a lot of concentration - and, to be frank, I'd rather invest 30 minutes focused reading time in something well written, not pore over old event transcripts.

OK, so the transcripts are useless. So what if people publish them? Where is the harm? Simple - the transcripts kill the Google search, or at least, maim it. Here are some of the search results for IYan Writer:

Is it really helpful to someone searching for me? Even worse, as Google usually displays the first occurrence or two, you're very likely to seem like some weird "Hello"-saying and madly wawing maniac - heaven forbid that the search would show a cutting question you posed at the end of the event.

So what are the event organizers to do? Again, it's simple: provide actual value. Don't do the easiest thing and just slap the transcript online. Take the time to go through the transcript, identify a few key issues raised at the event and write a paragraph on each one of them. Some Metanomics event recaps are stellar examples of it. If you're taking the time to remove the "XX has signed off" lines already, chances are that this will not take much more time. Event visitors, readers and the hamsters powering the Google servers will be grateful to you.

PS: Why the title? Hint for non-CS grads :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Virtual Africa opening in Second Life

My dear friend Alanagh Recreant's Virtual Africa project is finally opening tomorrow. Join us at the opening! I'm attaching the official invite below.

Please come and join us on Thursday 24 April for an exiting programme on the first annual Africa Day in Second Life, hosted by Uthango with support of Orange from their island. ‘Virtual Africa’ and the adjacent ‘Robben Island’ with its African Rain (club) will be launched on the same day!

The popular DJ Doubledown will conclude the day at 16:30 SLT with a party for our guests at the new, spectacular African Rain, a club for Virtual Africa, designed partly pro-bono by Eshi Otawara.

this is the SL Africa club slurl:

Virtual Africa is an initiative of Uthango Social Investments, a registered NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa. You are welcome to check CIPRO the offical SA Registrar of Companies for our details or contact us via our company’s Co-Founder and Director in-world, Alanagh Recreant.

Virtual Africa is currently in development and will become a unique Orientation Gateway that may add value to the SL experience for old and new residents in the metaverse. Uthango drives the project together with a small team of volunteers and (soon) professional developers, and welcomes you to collaborate and discuss possibilities. We were delighted to hear Philip Rosedale, CEO of LL, speaking about the importance of these gateways and look forward to bring you a special african immersive environment.

Together with Virtual Africa, we plan the Bottom-of-the-Pyramic Innovation Centre that will showcase ingenuity in Africa and for Africa - specifically in relation to the strategies of companies and social entrepreneurs to make the world a better place. This is one of our main reasons for being in SL - to connect with creative, lateral-thinking people that could solve complex problems - like the ones we face daily in our first world. In this context, we are also busy with the pototype of the Uthango African Roundtable aimed at educational institutions that would like to spend time researching the views of people in Africa. Hopefully, we will soon be able to bring in the voices of african residents as well, as SL is currently a bit skew in its global diversity

You are welcome to join our group: Second Life Africa to keep track of our developments, or the following blog:

Uthango has been extremely fortunate to be in the media the past few months, which has hightened the SL profile in Africa and globally: Here are a few links:





Your financial support is appreciated, but more than this, we really treasure the interest in our work and your own social network. Please feel free to tell others about our projects and visit our website:

We can only be here with integrity if we find specific ways to harness the power of virtual worlds for Africa and our 18 461 real life clients that are NOT here today… Please assist us in doing so! We need all the help we can get…

Thank you very much!
See you soon!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We apologize for the momentary interruption of service

This blog will not update until 18.4.2008.

To be honest.. Did my blog drive traffic to Linden Lab and help popularize Second Life? No - I only started it a few months ago. Would I have posted something in the next few days? Probably not - still searching for the topic for my next post. Do new trademark rules directly impact me? Not really - I added the legalese and I doubt they will come after me. Will the protest make Linden Lab think? No. So why am I doing it? Because the issue is important; because Linden Lab's community mishandling is reaching new heights; and because I was always partial to symbolic gestures :) More explanation in my blog post On the nature of protests.

Come protest with us next Sunday! *shakes pitchfork*

Friday, April 11, 2008

A zebra and its stripes

Marty the Zebra: "I'm ten years old. My life is half over and I don't even know if I'm black with white stripes or white with black stripes!"

I've followed Clever Zebra with interest since they launched, but after some four months, I believe they have the same problem as Marty. Their value proposition is "SL entry made simple" and they promise to achieve it with a pack of business oriented builds and utilities - from an amphitheater to a slide show presenter. Their offering is RL company friendly - a stated up-front price of $4,950 and $395 per month enables companies simple cost calculation and moves them from perilous and possibly expensive project territory into the safe product zone. They will definitely get some customers and expand their presence. However, after some 6 months, I think they will have to reconsider the nature of their stripes.

Clever Zebra's basic fallacy is in their value proposition. Is the price and complexity of creating a Second Life presence really the major hurdle the real world companies must overcome? I believe not. The major problems are the unwillingness to invest human resources in SL; the complexity and immaturity of Second Life as a business platform; and the biggest one of all, the difficulty of forging lasting and valuable relationships with Second Life community.

How does Clever Zebra help companies overcome these difficulties? Their corporate product page is quite devoid of information; it's hard to discern exactly what services the list price includes. If it's consulting, there can't be much of it - let's say 30 hours at $100. Is 30 hours enough to get company personnel to grasp the UI complexity and get to know Second Life so well that they can begin to use it productively? I sincerely doubt it.

The kind of company that goes for "as low as $$" deals is not the kind of company that is willing to heavily invest resources in getting to know Second Life and extracting value from it (and is also most probably not a company that could use Second Life to "save thousands of dollars on travel"). Only a few real companies are - Cisco Systems, IBM, and Dell, to name a few. All of them understand that they are in virtual worlds for the long haul; there is simply no ROI to be made in short term. Does Clever Zebra tell that to their potential customers? I hope they do.

So what does the future hold for Clever Zebra? They will definitely sell a few packs in the upcoming months. But, to keep customers from leaving Second Life in disgust after 6-12 months, exclaiming "Second Life is totally unsuitable for business", they will have to start accurately representing both the challenges and the maturity of Second Life. They will have to admit that they are not providing a "solution" for real companies wishing to enter Second Life - they are only making the first step of many much simpler.

It's time to decide: black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

On the nature of protests

Crisis endures * what's in a title? * IYan's first protest * high school sucks * lessons learned * a call to action and fun

The Second Life blogosphere is still in turmoil after the TM/R fiasco (we really need a cool name for this), only slightly dampened by the quality of service of Second Life of late. The promised clarification on the part of Linden Lab arrived - two days late and none-too-clarifying. Besides the nearing SL bloggers' strike, we now have a petition to Linden Lab, urging them to adopt a more lenient trademark policy. The petition is titled "Petition to Linden Lab on the Policy of Trademark Enforcement" - quite a mouthful. Unfortunately, my suggestion of "Please stop being foolish" did not pass muster.

About that policy? (source)

Given past community performance by LL, it's a safe bet that nothing will change and some kind of in-world protests will ensue - and that makes me very happy. Not because I think that the massed avatars will force Linden Lab to see the light, but because I love protests.

Save our blogs!

I was part of the "experimental generation" when growing up. Every year, they would change the school system a bit. First, there was the "Hey, let's abolish the general purpose high schools!" idea which forced me to enroll in something called the "high school for nature sciences". Then they canceled high school graduation exam, fiddled with the number of semesters, decided that general purpose high schools were not such a bad idea after all, and, in the end, decided to bring back the graduation exam.

"OK, now everybody do a flip!"

Needless to say, everybody was kinda fed up with constant irritation, even given the cheerful and cooperating demeanor of high school kids. The graduation exam was the straw that broke the camel's back - when forced with a distinct possibility of having to study extra hard for a month, two generations of high schoolers rebelled. We left the schools and marched in the streets, wowing not to return until the exam was canceled.

The strike lasted for two weeks. On the first couple of days, we closed the traffic in the city center, drunk more than high schoolers should, and had a great time. After that, the novelty wore off and the police were more vigilant, so we did without public displays and just skipped school - the more cautious of us returning to school for an hour every day for supplemental classes in math, as the yearly math test was approaching. In two weeks' time, some kind of compromise was reached, the exam lightened a bit, and we came back to school. In the end, a year and a half later, I still had to pass the graduation exam - just under a different name.

Although I did not realize it then, the lessons of the strike stayed with me. Can you bring considerable change to the environment? No. But you can have great fun trying to bring change about. There is nothing more powerful than joining a band of Davids, waving their puny fists at Goliath. And, as you know - every so often, David actually wins.

"Oh, Goliath?"

See you at the protest!

Bonus: IYan in protesting gear

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The importance of making Lindens

A newbie is born * IYan buys his first Lindens * the entrepreneurial quandary * "It's the media!" * remaining questions * closing scare

Newbies. We were all there once - wearing default avatars with sliders painstakingly adjusted so that we were happy with the way we looked (ignorance of prim hair is bliss), bumping into people, wearing optional torches and having absolutely no clue. After the first difficult hours of UI navigation, the endless Second Life vistas spread open before us and we were free to do practically anything we liked. With such endless choice, it is an eternal mystery to me that the most common question I hear from newbies is "Where can I earn money?"

I can has Lindens?

The financial side of Second Life (or, indeed, all life) is, of course, important. Upon registration, I connected my SL and PayPal accounts and received a 100 L$ bonus for doing so. I treasured my first money in Second Life and was extremely careful when purchasing stuff. However, all good things must end and the era of free money soon came to a close. With my PayPal account already linked, I did a quick calculation and discovered that I could get a kingly sum in Lindens for the price of two cups of coffee in the real world. I made my first Linden dollar purchase and never looked back.
Small coffee equals big bucks (source)

But back to the entrepreneurial newbies. I admit to having little patience with such questions and refer them to Manpower island or Search. iAlja usually goes a bit deeper - she asks them what would they do and what do they need the money for. The most often answer to both these questions is "I don't know".

What is going on here? Do they love work so much that a real job is not enough for them and they need a virtual one? Is it a regional bias? Perhaps newbies from other countries are less enterprising and more laid back. Do they think that nothing in Second Life is free? Even after pointing them to Search for "freebie", most are undeterred in their Linden quest.

The most obvious possible cause for this behavior is the media coverage of Second Life. Local media, late to the party as usual, still has to descend the hype curve into "virtual worlds are awful" stage. Their portrayal of Second Life is not exactly as a land of milk and honey, but they do stress the money earning potential of virtual worlds.

But even if we attribute this attitude to the media misrepresentation, two mysteries remain. The most bent-on-making-money newbie shudders with revulsion at the suggestion of paying real money for Linden dollars. How do they think the SL economy works - one way? With nothing coming in and everything going out? The other mystery is the question of skills. Second Life is still life, and as in life, zero skills gets you zero money. You don't walk into a hospital an exclaim "OK, I want to earn money, let me operate!" - why do they think this approach will work in Second Life?

Remember.. (source)

I've almost given up on understanding it and lately just accept it as a given. As it is a newbie-only issue, I'm inclined to think that this question is posed by the members of the 90% brigade - the ones to try Second Life for a while and never come back. But does that mean that 90% of population is unable to think outside of the money-making box? Now that is a scary thought..

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Avatar uprising (and it's not even October)

Water cooler discussions * topics revisited * latest crisis * out-of-hand dismissal * communist parallel * obscured blessings * ah, but-

If you are ever in any doubt that Second Life users (or, at least, the vocal ones) are a community, check out the topics of conversation. There are minor topics, discussed by individual posters and commenters; and then there are the big topics - the ones where you find yourself discussing them in-world, on blogs and in blog comments. A common perception of reality is, of course, one of the characteristics of a community. But even more fascinating is the persistence and pervasiveness of topics and conversations; it's not unusual to start a conversation with an avatar in-world, continue it over several blog posts and comments and end it on twitter - all the while interacting and including others in conversation.

The topics of late have ranged from banking in virtual worlds to meaning and methods of using virtual worlds. I don't know why "The end is nigh!" debates are always followed by the more philosophical ones, but it's nice in an "After every rain comes the sun" kinda way.

So, after the extremely philosophical "what is the meaning of IS" debates of late have subsided, I was waiting for the bombshell to drop - and it has. Linden Lab has decided to tighten the TM reigns on the old SL mare and prod us in a new direction, and the SLogosphere exploded.

First, quickly on the topic of trademarks: Can LL tighten TM control? Yes. Will it in fact have any impact on most bloggers? No. Is it a sign of an upcoming IPO? Don't be silly - LL would be crazy to IPO with stagnating growth, in a recession-bound market, and with a missing/unproved CEO. Is it yet another perhaps needed, but extremely stupidly implemented decision which seemingly affects the whole Second Life community? Absolutely - but I have come to expect nothing less of Linden Lab. Should we panic? Well, if you insist.

But back to the community. I grew up in a communist country and once heard this anecdote by one of the commie leaders: he was meeting with some Italian representatives who commented that our delegation (and, indeed, the constituent nations) bickered all the time. "Ah, yes, that is very true," answered our leader, "but just try attacking us - we'll close like a fist and repel you!". "But," wondered the Italian delegate, "what will you do if nobody attacks you?"

As the former country is now fragmented into seven new countries (I believe, and at last count; but it's so hard to keep track), the Italian guy was right. And - doesn't the same hold for the Second Life community? When there are no perceived external dangers, we're at each other's throat over silly things like who is more "immersed" in the environment and whose prim hair looks better. But, when a threat appears, we form tight ranks and start waving the pitchforks.

With that in mind, Linden Lab's heavy handed policy changes might be seen as a blessing in disguise. A chance blessing, to be sure - I have yet to be impressed with Linden Lab's community handling and no one can pretend that well - but a blessing none the less.

But, as our example proved, this can only work for so long. Sooner or later, you have to move to better community strategies - and I hope Linden Lab find them soon. If only to stop the drama..

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The hunt for the elusive augmentationist

After several opening salvos, the immersionist cavalry has reached the supposed location of the augmentationist camp and found it empty - not even a prim cube there. With the battle clearly won, the horses were put back into inventory, many a flexy skirt was rezzed and the wings put on for the celebration. The augmentationists were on the run.


But were they?

The abominable augmentationist is a fearsome beast indeed. I picture him with long fangs, stalking around Second Life in an avatar that looks just like his RL self, filled with righteous indignation at the multicolored denizens around him, always ready to shout "YOU ARE PLAYING A GAME! GET OUT MORE!".

There is just one problem: their population density is about the same as the Yeti population in RL.

You see, the dreaded augmentationist is defined as "someone who doesn't immerse in the medium". Someone who doesn't "get" the other users, doesn't get the world and doesn't get the rules and etiquette of Second Life. It is true - a lot of newcomers to Second Life come in with a similar mindset and stay that way. Based on the registration/active user stats, I think the number could be as high as 90%. But - all of them are gone, never to return.

Why would someone not seeing the benefits of Second Life stay in? Suffer the grid and viewer crashes, climb his way up Mt.Stupid UI and brave the Inventory Missing monster? No reason at all - so they leave.

The ones who stay are the ones who see the benefits of Second Life and are willing to suffer its quirks for a chance of connecting to other users.

Yes, Virginia - we are all Immersionists.

Peace at last?

Separating immersionists into groups based on whether they reveal their real life info, whether they roleplay, do business in Second Life or use Second Life for business is .. silly, yet quintessentially human. Still, to be honest.. I had kinda hoped we had outgrown it. Oh well, perhaps in Third Life.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A griefer's manifesto - FOR THE LULZ!!

I am sure you have all seen the slanderous campaign of the Second Life blogosphere about griefing in the recent weeks. Spurred by the excellent Julian Dibbel article, a host of Second Life users have been asserting that griefing in Second Life can cause real world problems. Such claims cannot go unopposed. Hence this manifesto.


1. We're only joking!

Some Second Life users say that we are interfering with the grid. Well, Pah! says we. Why, the sim crashing is nothing but a fun game. How dare the sim owners object? The ever-so-funny self-replicating cubes (funny texture optional) are a simple jest. We are joking! Come on, lighten up! Nothing here is real, so who are you to claim one state of irreality is better than the other?

2. It's just a game!

Some of the "victims" - I use quotes because nobody can be a victim for hearing a joke or participating in one - say that we interrupt business meetings. A business meeting?? In a *game*? Come on, what's next - meetings over a game of Scrabulous? Corporate take-overs of WoW characters? Everyone knows that business is only done in real world with real things - and on-line only when trigger-happy corporations like Ebay* or Microsoft* are involved.

(*The names Ebay and Microsoft are trademarked by their respective owners. No claim as to anything regarding these two fine examples of corporate America is meant or implied. Please, Ebay and Microsoft lawyers, do not come after me in my basement - lulz and Ron Paul posters are all I have)

3. We decide how the game is played!

Some Second Life users dare claim that we are interrupting their fun. Yeah right, like giant snail races or discussions of RL and SL issues could possibly be *fun*. It's all a game - who are you to tell us how to play it? It is WE who decide how the game is played. And it's simple, so just get it into your heads: our objective is to annoy you. For the lulz. And your purpose is to be annoyed! Now, see - isn't Second Life fun? LULZ!

4. Griefing is not a crime!

There are still some that say that griefing is a crime. A crime?! What is a crime, anyway? And who is to decide what falls under that category? Show us a law that prohibits animated penises. And who could even set up such a law? The users of Second Life are simply too distributed and the courts too detached and expensive for anyone to prosecute. Therefore, there is no crime in Second Life.

5. Suck it up!

We understand that there will always be some users that just cannot comprehend the simple fun of griefing. Like a baby without a rattle, they will continue to wail and shake their tiny fists. Well, from the goodness of our hearts, here is how to deal with griefing (or "having a bit of harmless fun", as is the preferred term). It is quite simple: DO NOTHING. After some hours, days or months, the LULZ will be gone and you will be able to continue your "business" or "fun". Trying to fight us will just make the LULZ longer. You cannot win. Patiently wait and eventually, you might get your Second Life back.
I graciously thank Lordfly Digeridoo for inspiring me to write this manifesto.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The unbearable lightness of banning: Linden Lab's lack of strategy

The demise of banking * analysis of Linden VPs * Linden Lab's problem solving algorithm explained * a friendly advice to Phillip * it's a brave old world * patronizing advice

By now, you are sure to know about the Linden Lab's ban on in-world banking. At a glance, it seems like a reasonable decision: the banking activity in Second Life was often suspicious, and it has had its fair share of scandals. But what might it mean for the long-term future?

A rush on banks on Tuesday (source)

On Monday, I attended the Metanomics event featuring Robin Linden. The Metanomics events are often boring, especially the ones featuring Linden VP's. Last year, we had Ginsu Linden, whose answer to the questions ranging from in-world monetary policy to the laws of supply and demand was the mantra "Second Life is a product". This one was no exception, except that Robin's mantra reply to the questions ranging from land zoning to JIRA and reputation systems was "It's very hard, so we are focusing our efforts elsewhere", peppered with an occasional "Well, if the community implements something, we might use it".


(hint to surviving Metanomics events without falling asleep: watch it at Muse Isle, where the atmosphere is fun and joking constant)

Boring as Linden VPs may be, they do provide an insight into the workings of Linden Lab and the future of Second Life. Briefly stated, their problem-solving algorithm is:

  1. A problem arises in Second Life
  2. Problem grows worse; L$ are lost, blog posts on the topic abound, possible solutions are put forward
  3. The JIRA is mobbed
  4. Time passes
  5. Some more time passes
  6. Linden Lab implements a quick fix by either:
    1. banning the activity in question
    2. extending RL governance to the SL activity in question
While this may seem to work (hey, gambling is not a problem anymore, right?), it proves that Linden Lab has no long-term strategy for Second Life. This is a bit shocking: all Phillip's speeches and LL's mission ('To advance the human condition') sure make it seem like they know where Second Life is headed. There seems to be a disconnect at the middle management layer - you have visionaries and enthusiasts on the top and bottom, but the VP layer is made out of old-school businessmen. We all remember how it went when Apple tried a Coca-cola executive, so my advice to Phillip would be "Watch your back!".

Oh, Phillip?

The essential premise of Second Life and its biggest competitive advantage is freedom - freedom of creation, freedom of communication, freedom of interaction. Of course there must be some limits to freedom; but instead of giving us the mechanisms to evolve these limits, Linden Lab simply stamps the real-world solution on the troubled area. Problem with the banks in Second Life because there is no regulatory body with authority and tools to regulate banking? No problem - let's allow only real-world banks which conform to real-world restrictions. Bit by bit, they are making Second Life a carbon copy of First Life - just with wings and furry avatars.

An aside: Linden Lab states that Linden dollars are "fictional currency". So why must you have a real currency bank certificate to open a bank in Second Life? Wouldn't a certificate of fictionality be more appropriate? I fear that LL has opened a Pandora's box with this decision - it will be interesting to see how the future develops.

Am I concerned about my Second Life? Yes and no. I love Second Life, but what exactly do I love about it? The crashing viewer and an abundance of Ruths? No - I love the way it enables me to communicate with others, by creation or by interaction. Exactly who provides that service is unimportant in the long term. Once something has been done, it's easy for another to copy and improve it. If Second Life fails, I have no doubts that a Third Life will await me down the road.

Ruth army (source)

I offer no concrete suggestions to Linden Lab; other posters have done that better than I could have. I do have one advice for Robin Linden, the "VP for community", though: make deciding about the "hard" issues your priority. They (and not viewer stability, GRID architecture or banking regulation) are key to Linden Lab's and Second Life's future.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Second Life for fun and profit: the cycle of added value

Introduction * a newbie's response * the value of.. well, value * the formula for success * give before you take * a hearty guffaw

Virtual worlds are tricky. That holds true for users and companies alike. The old behavioral patterns no longer apply - there are no quests to embark on, character level is not measured with simple stats, repeatedly hacking at things doesn't guarantee a level-up, and pouring money into shiny builds does not guarantee an increase of sales.

Ah, the simplicity

What is a person or a company confronted with a brave, yet incomprehensible new world, to do? Well, most simply leave. That is evidenced in low user retention rates and the exodus of companies to greener (or so they think) pastures - to other virtual worlds or back to the warm embrace of traditional advertising. Yet, some persevere and a few of them even prosper. What do they know that the rest don't?

"There there, we'll do it much better this time"

It's simple: the prosperous ones understand value.

The key ingredient of a successful and eventually profitable Second Life presence is added value for the Second Life community. Only by adding value can companies build their Second Life community, and only a Second Life community enables the companies to reap added value from Second Life.

The cycle of value

A process for real companies entering Second Life should therefore be something like this:
  1. Company starts creating value for Second Life users. That can be practically anything: free content, free music, regular events, education, ..
  2. A community forms around this and grows
  3. After a community has been established, the company can reap the added value benefits - brand promotion, attracting new customers, business partners or employees, sales of virtual and real goods, content creation, market research, experimentation with business models, ..
But why does it work like that? It's nothing but the old "Give before you take" rule applied to business.

Looks familiar..

The "GBYT" rule is one of the cornerstones of human interaction - in a way, our default behavior. Big corporations were only able to circumvent it by hammering advertising messages into us and controlling the supply. In Second Life - and all open virtual worlds - this kind of a heavy-handed approach doesn't work - everybody's free to teleport away and the playing field for content and service providers is extremely level.

I believe the virtual worlds are here to stay. Not necessarily Second Life, to be sure, but there will be virtual worlds and they will shape our life - both personal and professional. Like with the internet, the sooner you "get it", the bettter - and that goes doubly for companies. Which means that in order to prosper in virtual worlds, they will have to learn what it's like to be human again.