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.