Jul 212014

Book Island Landing Zone

Book Island isn’t new to Second Life, it has been around since 2007 and claims to be the oldest dedicated literary sim in Second Life. They’ve recently welcomed back a renter by the name of V.L. Dreyer who is the author of The Survivors series of books.

The sim exemplifies what virtual worlds do well, community, it’s clear that there’s community work here with events advertised for a 500 word writing challenge, Open Mic where you or one of the regulars can read in voice, live literature where one of Second Life’s regular live performers reads.

Then there are events aimed at writers, such as an Improv writers challenge and writers chat. There’s also something called Promptly Erotic, which you will have to ask Freda Frostbite about!

I’ve seen communities such as this inside and outside of Second Life. Earlier in the year I took a trip to Opensim to look at the Hypergrid Stories Project. Indeed this community were so nice that even though Second Life isn’t part of the Hypergrid, it was included in the Hypergrid stories project!

One of the reasons for that is of course related to Second Life having an audience that it worth engaging with. This point arose recently in my blog post about Seanchai’s discussion of Second Life and Kitely. The discussion in the comments is quite interesting as we see that authors in particular are not happy with Linden Lab’s TOS but they still want to engage with Second Life.

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Jul 162014

The big news of course is the change of the Second Life Terms of Service, particularly the section regarding user generated content in section 2.3 : Updates to Section 2.3 of the Terms of Service. However I already have plans for blog posts today so that’s going to have to wait!

Instead I’m going to take a look at a positive change Google+ have announced that users will now be able to use any name they like on the service .. as long as it’s a first name last name combination, isn’t full of profanity and isn’t an obvious attempt to impersonate someone else. The post states :

Over the years, as Google+ grew and its community became established, we steadily opened up this policy, from allowing +Page owners to use any name of their choosing to letting YouTube users bring their usernames into Google+. Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use.

This is a very sensible move, albeit a few years late but it also provides the creators of virtual worlds, such as Linden Lab, a platform on which they can advertise their wares and their users can engage with them, without fear of having their accounts deleted for running foul of a real name policy, such as Facebook have.

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Jul 032014

When Flickr launched their new awesome last May I was far from impressed, indeed I pondered at one point whether Yahoo/Flickr were trolling their members. I wasn’t alone in this sort of view, as the official feedback demonstrated.

After this Flickr made more changes, changed groups, changed the layout of the photostream, changed colours, moved things around and generally seemed to be going out of their way to annoy me with their totally unnecessary bandwidth hogging designs and practices.  As someone who is used to the Second Life experience and realises how unnecessary bandwidth hogging textures can undermine the user experience I was somewhat befuddled as to why Flickr were abandoning the thumbnail.

Putting this in Second Life terms, think of the initial rollout of viewer 2 and you may start to understand the horror I experienced. The big difference has been that Linden Lab were far more responsive than Flickr in terms of trying to get back on track.

However a few iterations later and Flickr seem to be showing signs of seeing a limited degree of sense with regards to their new Photo page. The new photo experience, or NPE as it is being dubbed, has been very warmly received. Flickr staff explained some of the thinking behind this latest change :

Because of the feedback from you, we’re moving the photo page in a direction that more closely resembles previous iterations of the product, but with contemporary design and the new framework that delivers photos so much faster than before.

These are the most important issues we have fixed from your feedback:
*Moving too much information to the right rail on the side of the photo.
*The narrow space for comments on photos that have lots of comments makes it hard to scroll and read them.
*The white text on black background makes it hard to read.

Now not everyone will like the changes, just as there were some people who liked the Flickr changes last May … I suspect these people may well be gluttons for punishment or members of the Flickr FIC (Yes it does exist), but some people liked the changes. The new photo page offers a fresher look, has comments below the photo and they are easy to read, the flow of photo, discussion, information all seems to fit together better with this design.

This is all very encouraging but Flickr is still a lot more annoying to use than it was prior to the changes of last May.

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Jun 182014

In my previous blog post I bemoaned the fact that Linden Lab’s SL11B competition was exclusive to Facebook. Pete Linden (AKA Gray Of The Lab from San Francisco) has very kindly explained some of the reasoning behind the decision, and he didn’t even use the telegram system to send the message :

We realize that a number of Second Life users have reservations about using Facebook and other platforms. In this case, we chose to run the contest through our Facebook page simply because we have a tool on our page that facilitates running a contest with all of the legal stuff (technical term) we need in place to run something like this, and we thought it would be of interest to the more than 366,000 followers of the official Second Life page. Our aim certainly isn’t to discourage participation, and we’ll certainly explore alternative ways to run similar contests in the future.

I’ve commented elsewhere that I don’t actually object to Linden Lab running competitions exclusively on Facebook, I just don’t think that a birthday competition should be exclusive to Facebook. However I went through all that in my previous post, so it’s probably best not to go over that ground again.

Now to be fair to The Lab here, there are legal issues surrounding competitions and submissions. This is why there are a few Second Life group pools on Flickr. An official one was setup because the other main one, didn’t quite give Linden Lab the terms and conditions that they wanted for their promotional aims. This was the right thing to do for all parties involved in the Flickr pools.

Facebook offers the facilities for LL to run a competition easily, we can agree or disagree with their decision to use Facebook but there is some logic in this decision.

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Jun 172014

Linden Lab have been doing a lot right lately in terms of community engagement and they deserve much credit for that. However it is inevitable that at some point they’re going to miss the mark at some point and so it turns out with Second Life’s 11th Birthday: Celebrating Your Second Life L$10,000 Contest.

A 10,000 Linden Dollar prize is not bad for a snapshot contest, but there’s a hitch and the hitch comes with the method of entry :

Participation is easy – submit your celebratory snapshots from inworld to the contest page on our Official Second Life Facebook Page. Click the contest tab, review the contest information and rules and start sharing. This year you will be able to submit up to one snapshot a day for the duration of the contest. Full rules, submission and voting dates, and details are all on the Facebook page.

Facebook, really? I’ve made no secret in the past that I’m not a big fan of Facebook. This is largely due to their absurd policies regarding pseudonyms and that really gets emphasised here because people who know others by their Second Life username may not know them by their real name, and why should they? They are different circles.

Facebook has a history of deleting accounts that use their Second Life user name, as Hamlet Au over at New World Notes reported back in May 2011. This is Facebook’s call as using your Second Life account name as a Facebook account (rather than Facebook page) is a breach of the Facebook TOS. No real argument from me about that, Facebook’s rules. Personally I think it’s a silly rule that dilutes social networking opportunities, but it’s Facebook’s call to do this.

Facebook can play a part in promoting a platform and I don’t blame Linden Lab for embracing Facebook, promoting Second Life on non Second Life properties is a very sensible idea but it’s really not the place to be running a community wide 11th birthday competition.

Linden Lab could allow entries on my Second Life or their Flickr page (you have to be signed in to Flickr to view that for some reason), or their own forums, Tumblr,  Google + too. Hey they may even want to allow entries on Facebook, but it should not be the only place to enter the contest.

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Apr 172014

Metareality Podcast has returned to the airwaves … well it returned in March but I’ve only just noticed! The third episode in the return was released on April 11th. The good news here is that now we can get an Anchorman style fight between Metareality Podcast and The Drax Files, although as Metareality Podcast has a three person team they won’t be allowed to use William Reed Seal-Foss whom I strongly suspect is really Dr Octopus, which would make the fight unfair anyway!

Also they possibly should do transfers between the presenters. Drax has been on Metareality before, so maybe Jo Yardley could go on Metareality and Qarl could do a guest spot on The Drax Files. Reed would have to stay on Metareality, as I’ve already explained, being Dr Octopus comes with complications.

There’s certainly room in the market for both of these podcasts, particularly as they cover different subjects, obviously they also cover similar subjects but the styles of the two shows are different enough to mean that listening to them both covers enough different ground for them to be worthwhile.

One of the interesting discussions in the latest Metareality podcast is a discussion about the character creation in Black Dragon Online :

This does look quite interesting and character creation is an issue for virtual worlds, but I’ve always found too much choice to be a pain too, sometimes you just want to get on with it.

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Apr 042014

Oculus VR like Valve employees so much that they are getting into the habit of making them ex Valve employees. They’ve recently added Aaron Nicholls to the team, who will apparently be working out of Bellevue R&D with Atman Binstock, who used to work for Valve and became Oculus VR chief architecht in March. A year earlier and Tom Forsyth had started the trend of being ex Valve, now Oculus.

Then of course there is Michael Abrash, who is the new Oculus VR chief scientist and used to work for Valve. In the blog post welcoming Michael Abrash to Oculus VR Michael gets more than a little excited about the possibilities of the future of virtual reality. A little too excited to be honest, but you’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you going to have a dream come true. The problem of course about dreams about virtual reality is that in traditional fiction and film, they are more like nightmares than dreams.

In the blog post Michael says :

Sometime in 1993 or 1994, I read Snow Crash, and for the first time thought something like the Metaverse might be possible in my lifetime.

The good thing about the blog post is that it attempts to move the discussion away from the murky acquisition and back to the concept of virtual reality. This is a noble and important move because the technology trumps the controversy. Michael says:

You get the idea. We’re on the cusp of what I think is not The Next Big Platform, but rather simply The Final Platform – the platform to end all platforms – and the path here has been so improbable that I can only shake my head.

I have to say he sounds a little too excited there, the platform will evolve and so will the technology, the holodeck is not just around the corner and there are going to be many swings and roundabouts before people are able to truly immerse themselves in virtual worlds. However, the excitement in Michael’s post is most definitely to be welcomed, this is after all a technology people have been hoping and waiting for.

There are problems ahead, Hamlet Au over at New World Notes recently highlighted a potential problem : Does Virtual Reality Literally Make Most Women Sick? That post links to a post from Danah Boyd : Is the Oculus Rift sexist? The issue is nausea and this isn’t an off the cuff post from Danah Boyd, there’s real research there. Danah concludes that more research is needed, which is hopefully where funds for VR projects will come into play.

However with Oculus VR, there’s the Facebook angle. In most VR type stories and films, Facebook would be “The Corporation”. They wouldn’t be the good guys, they’d be the guys with power, the ones who know everyone’s secrets and use them for power and influence, so when Michael Abrash says :

That’s why I’ve written before that VR wouldn’t become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware – and that it wouldn’t be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.

That worry is now gone. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.

This is where the alarm bells start ringing.

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Mar 312014

Gamespot ran a story the other day regarding the negative reaction to Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR. In that article they link to an article on Game Informer in which Oculus VR Vice President Nate Mitchell is quoted as saying :

We assumed that the reaction would be negative, especially from our core community, beyond our core community, we expected it would be positive. I don’t think we expected it to be so negative. As people begin to digest it a bit and think about it, you can see that Twitter and Reddit is swinging back the opposite direction. The onus is on us to educate people, and we want to share everything we’re doing.

However the original Gamespot article has been edited and had the headline changed to : Oculus VR employees got death threats after Facebook sale. In the updated article they quote Palmer Luckey :

We expected a negative reaction from people in the short term, we did not expect to be getting so many death threats and harassing phone calls that extended to our families.We know we will prove ourselves with actions and not words, but that kind of sh** is unwarranted, especially since it is impacting people who have nothing to do with Oculus.

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would find that sort of behaviour even remotely acceptable, this is not a life or death issue, it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. I lean towards the unhappy camp over the purchase because I am not a fan of Facebook and I feel Oculus should have reached out to the Kickstarter backers but the deal is done and people will have to wait and see what happens next.

Nobody deserves to be on the receiving end of death threats over this issue and it is completely out of order to harass family members who have nothing whatsoever to do with this. I suspect some of that may be point scoring over the amount of data Facebook encourages people to share, but that is no excuse.

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Mar 292014

Bopete Yossarian has started a thread over at SLUniverse to discuss an article that appeared this week on Gamasutra : Why Facebook should buy Linden Lab. The article is posted by a community member called Nick Harris, rather than a regular member of the Gamasutra staff, the opinions in the article are therefore not the opinions of Gamasutra or its parent company.

The article doesn’t really delve into the reasons why Nick Harris thinks this is a good idea, which sort of undermines the article. However the idea is an interesting one, so is the idea that Microsoft or Yahoo! should buy Linden Lab. The ideas are interesting in terms of discussion but generally lack any real meat on the bones.

The article also falls into the trap of saying :

Facebook have tried to retain its dominance through simple critical mass, if that is where everyone is, if you have to join Facebook to not miss out on invites to your friend’s impromptu parties then their hope is that you will and you won’t mind the data mining they do on you for market research and the targeted advertising. You aren’t in a position to complain, really, as it is a service they are providing to you for free.

This is a pet peeve of mine. Facebook is not free, it’s an exchange of resources. They provide the service, users provide the content, Facebook then realise value from said content. Although there’s no money exchanging hands in terms of basic usage of Facebook, there is a trade of content for service. However that aside, the author really doesn’t make much of a case for Facebook to buy Second Life :

Not only is this primarily a social nexus like Facebook (a place where you can project whatever version of yourself you choose others to see, either using a younger image of yourself, or making an effort to dress up for the photo when you are actually a slob in real life, or use someone else’s image entirely out of low esteem, or some catfish scam), but you are encouraged to create an escapist alter ego through which to indulge your fantasies, to travel without time, cost, or hassle to “see the sights”, to meet new people who share your interests unrestricted by enormous geographical separation.

Whereas I can see to a degree what he’s trying to get at, he seems to be missing a gaping point about the differences between Second Life and Facebook.

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