Aug 242015

A couple of Avatars have ran foul of Facebook’s real name policy, which at first glance might not sound unusual, but in a bizarre twist on the naming policy, the couple concerned actually have a last name of Avatar.

Madison Malone Kircher published an article on Tech Insider; This guy claims Facebook has banned him from using the site until he proves his unique last name :

A couple in Arizona claims that Facebook has banned them from using the site until they verify their unique last name: Avatar.

Earlier this week, Balizar Orion Avatar claims he tried to log into Facebook and discovered that his account had been deleted, KTVK reported.

Avatar is recently married. His wife, Audry, says she has not been able to change her last name on Facebook, though her account remains active.

The reasons why Avatar is ringing alarm bells are almost certainly due to the film of the same name, but according to Tech Insider, there may be another source of concern for the name being flagged :

The Cameron movie isn’t the only reason Facebook tends to flag “Avatar” as a fake name. Digital communities like “Second Life” refer to people’s characters as avatars. For this reason, it’s one of several names that the site flags as potentially fake, a Facebook representative told KTVK.

I should say at this point that I can’t see any quotes in either of the linked articles that actually seem to quote a Facebook representative suggesting Avatar is flagged due to Second Life. Indeed if Second Life names were being flagged then “Resident” would be a more likely cause for concern.

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Aug 122015

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The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 31 (sponsored by Linden Lab) features an interview with Professor Tom Boellstorff (pronounced “bell-storf”; the first “o” is silent). Tom is an anthropologist based at the University of California, Irvine. The episode is introduced by Tom saying :

If you’re trying to learn about a culture, the challenge is time and that’s something that applied to the work I’ve done with gay and lesbian Indonesians and it applies just as much when you’re studying something like virtual worlds, you have to live inside the community that you’re studying.

Already I’m interested in what is going to transpire in this interview, time is something I’m always battling with myself and the fact that Tom appreciates that you have to be among a community to study one suggests he’s not forming an opinion based on a few screenshots and a far away view. We also learn that Tom is not new to Second Life, when he first entered Second Life there were only around 2,500 users, this guy is an oldbie.

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As an example of how much Second Life has grown since the early days, Tom explains how he decided to fly over all of Second Life in the early days, it took him about a week, at two hours a day. How long would it take these days? I have no idea but the grid is much larger than it would have been when Tom initially joined.

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Tom says that in Second Life he is a digital ethnographer. Tom explains that an ethnographer studies how people live and think and that this involves hanging out with people. To this end he used to host weekly chats with anyone who wanted to teleport in. This sounds like the old Linden Office Hours but was quite probably more civil. I wonder if Tom did go to any Linden Office Hours, I’m sure that would tell a digital ethnographer a thing or two about digital communities too, even when they got heated.

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Jul 112015

I recently blogged about the problems at Reddit : Reddit – The Front Page Of The Internet, Bottom Of The Class For Community Relations. In that post I talked of the failures of Reddit management to engage with the community.

The furore over the direction Reddit was heading had already seen a petition created that called for the head of Ellen Pao. In the wake of the communication debacle the number of signatures on that petition ballooned from around 10,000 to over 200,000.

However, it was quite clear that Ellen Pao, who only took over as Reddit CEO on a temporary basis eight months ago, was not solely to blame for Reddit’s communication issues. The anger fired in Ellen Pao’s direction was misdirected. A communication breakdown such as the one Reddit faced was not due to events in the last eight months.

Ellen’s resignation letter, posted on Reddit, contains a human touch that far too many people on social media and even in virtual worlds, seem to forget about :

I just want to remind everyone that I am just another human; I have a family, and I have feelings. Everyone attacked on reddit is just another person like you and me. When people make something up to attack me or someone else, it spreads, and we eventually will see it. And we will feel bad, not just about what was said. Also because it undercuts the authenticity of reddit and shakes our faith in humanity.

This doesn’t just apply to Reddit. I’ve seen similar sentiments made when people are attacking Linden Lab, or attacking people on Twitter, or in below the line comments sections. I’m not sure why people are so quick to spread bile when we communicate by text. I do hope that one of the side effects of a more immersive virtual reality future is that we will get more clues from facial expressions and that we will then see less venom when people communicate at distance.

Ellen also pointed out how support can be inspiring :

What has far outshone the hate has been the positive on reddit. Thank you, kind strangers, for expressing your support. You gilded me 100 times. (For those of you who apologized for generating a wave of accusations that I gilded myself, please don’t feel bad. You did a good thing.) And thank you for sending cute animal pics and encouraging me to “Stay safe!” when the site overheated with expressions of hate in various forms. There were some days when your PMs inspired me more than you can imagine.

The reason Ellen is stepping down though is not because of a petition and fortunately, it’s also not because of trolling and abuse either.

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Jul 092015

Canary Beck and Me

A couple of weeks ago Canary Beck invited me over to her top secret hideout to discuss top secret virtual world blogger plans for world domination. I can’t reveal the minutes of our meeting but I can reveal one piece of advice Canary gave me with regards to those who self host WordPress instead of having their blog hosted by WordPress.

Canary told me to get Jetpack. Having got over my initial disappointment that this wasn’t an update to the 80’s classic computer game, Jet Pac, I decided to take a closer look at this wordpress plugin :

Jetpack adds powerful features previously only available to users including customization, traffic, mobile, content, and performance tools.

In short this plugin allows people to enjoy a lot of the features that users enjoy, in particular social sharing, publicising, likes and more.

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Jul 032015

r/SecondLife looks the same as it ever was over on Reddit, but a lot of other subreddits have gone dark in a protest over the management of the site. Reddit, which turned ten in June, have upset many of their numerous users after allegedly firing the very popular Victoria Taylor. According to The Guardian article I just linked to, Reddit users are revolting over this development :

The protest is focused on the dismissal of Victoria Taylor, a former Reddit communications director who was abruptly let go on Thursday. Her role had been to co-ordinate the site’s popular Ask Me Anything series, also known as AMAs, where celebrities answer questions submitted by the Reddit community. The main AMA subforum, “IAmA”, was the first to close in protest.

Over the years, AMAs had brought in some of the site’s biggest successes, including the AMA with President Obama in 2012, and one with a man with two penises in 2014, and many had been specifically arranged and co-ordinated by Taylor. The contrast between those two events is also a nice way to sum up Reddit to someone who has not heard of the site.

Many mods are now annoyed that Reddit don’t seem to have grasped how important a role Victoria Taylor played in communications between mods and guests. They feel let down and it seems on the face of it, that the management of Reddit don’t quite grasp how much mods on subreddits appreciated Victoria Taylor, in short the mods feel they’ve been left high and dry with no forward thinking plans in place to replace Victoria Taylor.

Now there are some golden rules when your users are upset, somewhere very close to the top of the list is “Thou Shalt Not Piss Them Off Further,“, however this golden rule seems to have flown right over the head of some of the senior people at Reddit.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and executive chair at Reddit, responded to angry users by saying “Popcorn tastes good.” This tongue in cheek reference to internet drama backfired badly, indeed it pretty much became explosive Popcorn. He has since amended his post, it now reads :

Popcorn tastes good.
Edit: Honestly, I didn’t understand the depth of the frustration, and I really regret this comment. I’m leaving it here as a reminder not to do it again.

He deserves some credit for acknowledging that he misjudged the mood, but it’s really more of a refelction of how out of touch Reddit are with their community.

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Jul 022015

Journalist Laurie Penny recently found herself on the wrong side of Facebook’s real name policy and she wasn’t very pleased about it. Laurie, who is a contributing editor at The New Statesman and sometimes writes for The Guardian had been using a pseudonym and as many of us in virtual world circles know, this is pretty much a no no when it comes to Facebook.

Pseudonyms are an angle of the real name policy that don’t get raised very often. Whereas OpenSim and Second Life users like to use pseudonyms and would like to have Facebook accounts in their avatar name, the issue has largely been ignored by the wider media.

I’m a fan of pseudonyms, especially when it’s a pseudonym by which someone is widely known. Facebook should not need people’s real names to make their data attractive, they should want interests and probably locations, but names should not be so valuable.

Last September Jo Yardley reported Facebook is deleting avatar profiles… again, this is a story that has been told time and again over the years. However when it comes to Laurie Penny, she wasn’t using a pseudonym just for the hell of it, she was using a pseudonym because she felt it would help to keep her safe. Facebook have long argued that real names help to encourage civil behaviour. There is another side to this though, real names can also make people a far larger target than is comfortable.

Laurie Penny explained her concerns in a number of Tweets.

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Jun 012015

Facebook users are today set to protest outside the company’s Headquarters according to an article by Amanda Holpuch over at The Guardian. The article states that a coalition of drag queens, transgender people, Native Americans, domestic violence survivors and others who do not use the names on their birth certificates are protesting under the banner #MyNameIs.

The crux of the issue seems to be that #MyNameIs feel that the fake name reporting option on Facebook is being abused and they would like to see it removed. They also want to see an end to demands from Facebook for people to provide Government approved Id when there are questions about identity.

Facebook have made some changes to their policy since the initial protests from Drag Queens, users can now use what are considered authentic names, rather than the name on their birth certificate but the protesters feel the policy change doesn’t go far enough and Facebook are moving too slowly regarding making the site more friendly to those who don’t want to use their real names.

Facebook on the other hand are quoted in the article as saying :

Having people use their authentic names makes them more accountable, and also helps us root out accounts created for malicious purposes, like harassment, fraud, impersonation and hate speech

This however is a double edged sword and Facebook’s real name policies can and do lead to people being bullied.

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May 062015

Linden Lab have blogged regarding an issue with Facebook and SL Share : An Update on SLShare Service Issues. The post explains that Facebook have recently announced that they are depreciating an old Open Graph API. The implication with this change is that all apps running version 1.0, need to update to version 2.0.

Linden Lab are on the ball with this and have updated their SL Share app to version 2.0, but things aren’t complete on Facebook’s end, which may mean there are problems for a couple of week. The blog post states :

This means that when using SLShare (updating status, photo uploads, and check-ins from the Viewer) you may experience some temporary problems. Please be assured that we are aware of this and any issues you encounter should be resolved once the migration period is complete.

Thank you for your patience!

So the message is clear, there may be a bit of quirkiness for a couple of weeks when using SL Share with Facebook. Now I’ll be honest, I’ve never used SLShare, but for those who are wondering what it is, SLShare is a way of sharing your Second Life experiences on social media, such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter and it looks rather straight forward.

The first thing to do is to ensure the toolbar buttons for SLShare are available, to do this go to me or avatar (depending upon with viewer you’re using) and then toolbar buttons :


Then the toolbar buttons show up and you can drag and drop these onto your toolbars in the viewer. Hopefully, if you squint you can see there are buttons for Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.


Note that my buttons for Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are dull, that’s because they are already on my toolbar.

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Mar 172015

James Poulos of The Daily Beast has published an article : How Block Bot Could Save the Internet. The article pains me, deeply, on many levels. First of all it pains me to see a journalist advocating such a system :

Meet The Block Bot, an invention of the social-justice left that allows people to automatically screen out disliked content and disliked people from Twitter. The Block Bot comes complete with a helpful hierarchy of disapproval, ranging from mere irritation to bigotry in the first degree. Some people who have been added to The Block Bot’s rolls have been offended, of course. But in addition to muting offense, The Block Bot dissipates rancor.

When I was a lad and I used to buy newspapers I’d regularly buy The Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. The Mirror is a left wing newspaper, The Mail is a right wing newspaper. Some days if I felt in the mood for a really good read, I’d buy The Guardian and The Times. The Guardian generally leans left, The Times generally leans right. Politically I’m on the left, however sometimes the right will say something I agree with. The idea that I should shut out any and all other ideology is completely against my beliefs and I simply don’t see it as healthy.

My big objection to blockbots are, for want of a better word, McCartyhist style guilt by association and allowing others to think for me. I say for want of a better word because McCarthyism was a far more serious issue than this and I don’t like appearing to belittle it by comparing it to some silly nonsense on the internet. However guilt by association is not something I can buy into on any level.

How silly people can get with their dogma was exemplified in horrendous style recently by Ben Kuchera of Polygon. Ben objected to EA head of communications Chris Mancil linking to a post of Ben’s on Chris’ personal blog. Ben’s objection was due to Chris’ post being critical of blockbots, even though in his post he agreed with Ben :

I had heard about these Twitter Auto-Blockers before, and thought the use of these tools to be extremely sad.

  • One – because there are no proper harassment protection tools on Twitter, which Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has ingeniously identified the solutions for in this great piece. Which makes these tactics thinkable.

  • Two – because these auto-blocker tactics leave no hope for change or progress. It’s the cement walls of the West Bank and Gaza, forever dividing the two groups which probably have more in common than not.

Ben Kuchera took to Twitter, tagging Chris Mancil’s employer, to demand the links were removed. Let’s just rewind here, a journalist took to Twitter to demand someone removed links to his work because he didn’t like someone agreeing with him in a post. I lost a lot of respect for Ben Kuchera over this.

There were parts of Chris’ post that were objectionable, a glaring example being comparing these blockbots to the issues in the West Bank, which is quite frankly a ridiculous comparison, but for Ben Kuchera to object to the degree he did was also absurd. The end result is that Chris Mancil’s blog is now set to private. As a journalist Ben Kuchera should be embarrassed about this.

However, let’s not kid ourselves here, the reason people turn to these blockbots is more often than not because they are fed up with being dogpiled and abused for having the temerity to have an opinion.

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Feb 112015

When it comes to the computing gaming industry and communications, there’s a very sorry picture lying before us in 2015. The industry as a whole has an extremely immature reputation and this applies to gamers, gaming publications, gaming journalists and game developers. There’s a toxic pile of cack in front of them that far too many are happy to pour oil onto the fire of.

The industry as a whole could do far worse than to take a step back and look at how Linden Lab have approached community relationships over the years. Linden Lab have certainly not always got it right, indeed at times they have got it very wrong, the communication blackout being one glaring example. However at no point in the history of Second Life have I ever witnessed anything close to the sorry state that the computer gaming industry currently finds itself in.

There was a time when the official forums were far more vitriolic. Office hours inworld could get vitriolic.The Jira could get vitriolic and of course the blog post comments could get vitriolic. Linden Lab cut off some of those vitriolic sources by removing those communication channels. That wasn’t the smartest move and in some cases it appeared as if Linden Lab were burying their heads in the sand. Recently Linden Lab have vastly improved their communications, brought back some of those communication channels, engaged with their community and it’s working well.

Ok when Rod Humble was interviewed by Draxtor Despres he was quoted as saying :

I come from gaming communities, where I was running a gaming community, I received three death threats in a day! I’ve never received three death threats in a day from Second Life users, I’ve only received only one death threat here. And that was from a guy who got banned, you know, he was angry.

We shouldn’t make light of death threats but I think this puts into context some of the levels of vitriol that have been around. When Second Life did receive vitriolic comments they were more measured than what we see in the computer gaming industry. When I was more of a git in the forums, blog posts and office hours, the idea of threatening en employee would never have been on my or pretty much anyone else’s radar.

I used to point out in the Second Life forums that the levels of vitriol were tame compared to other forums. This tells me two things, one that I’d accepted that vitriolic behaviour was something of a norm and two, that I thought the level of vitriol aimed at Linden Lab was at an acceptable level. As I’ve aged, I’m puzzled as to why I accepted this behaviour as being part and parcel of online communities.

However Linden Lab largely continued to engage, to talk, to try and work around the noise. As I’ve said, sometimes they took extreme measures, but Linden Lab’s employees in public remained professional, courteous and engaging. That’s not something you could say about the computer gaming industry.

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