Nov 112014

The Endgadget Expand NY event this weekend saw Ebbe Altberg going coast to coast as he participated in a panel discussion : Back To Reality VR Beyond Gaming. This panel discussion saw Ebbe joined by Matterport’s Matt Bell and BeAnotherLab’s Marte Roel and has been summarised on Endgadet itself in an article entitled : Virtual reality has a future beyond video games, and it’s already started.

The discussion has also been discussed, eloquently, in detail and with great analysis by Inara Pey in an article entitled : Beyond gaming: looking at VR with Ebbe Altberg and others.

The panel was hosted by Ben Gilbert of Endgadget who introduced Ebbe Altberg as “The CEO Of Linden Lab, who you might have heard of from Second Life and other fun products.” This sort of introduction is exactly why I thought Rod Humble was on the right track in terms of expanding Linden Lab’s portfolio. Second Life should really be a tag line of Linden Lab, not the other way round. However it does emphasise yet again the sway that Second Life has in terms of its name.

Host Ben Gilbert then earns cheers from the virtual world fanbase when he says that the people on the panel are not making video games. You see, some people do understand the difference between virtual worlds and games! Ben also earns some bonus points for realising it’s Linden Lab, not Linden Labs. However he only found that out on the same day of the discussion.

Ebbe indicates that beta testing of Linden Lab’s new virtual world may start around the middle of next year, so watch that space. Ebbe also talks up Second Life well discussing use cases such as education, art and entertainment as well as talking of the economic model and how Linden Lab allow users to create the content.

Ebbe makes a good point about lines between the virtual and real worlds when host Ben Gilbert brings up the issue of the lack of the sense of smell in virtual reality. Ebbe feels there are pro’s and cons and that it’s not about reaching equality between the two spaces. That’s a very important point because I feel some people feel virtual reality will lead to some people being lost in the machine but I really can’t see the feared level of immersion some have being an issue for eons, certainly not in this generation of VR.

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Oct 072014

Episode 39 of The Drax Files Radio Hour is another packed affair with the star attraction being Argyle Alligator. However as usual there’s much more than that and they touch upon Facebook’s real name policy with Jo Yardley and Drax both seeming far from impressed about Facebook’s policy. However I really can’t see room for Second Life’s profile feed to fill much of a gap here. Jo does however make good points about the features of social networking sites to promote events which brings me back to an old point of mine, web pages for groups.

This is something that could be added to the Second Life profile feed and the advantage of a web based group page advertising events is that it means you don’t have to send landmarks, notecards, textures, etc. All you would need to do is send a link to the event on the group web page.

Moving on, they give a shoutout to the 250th edition of Designing Worlds which was broadcast on October 6th and has already been covered in her usual magnificent manner by Inara Pey.

However the main feature is an interview with in game reporter Argyle Alligator who talks about his interviews, which are at times amusing. Argyle Alligator isn’t only an in game reporter for Second Life, he also interviews people in Garry’s Mod and Rust but this interview is largely about his Second Life experiences.

Argyle also shares the new user experience of Second Life and highlights some issues he found, how he had to work out the teleport system for himself, how he had difficulties finding locations that supported voice. This is important for Argyle’s work as he conducts his interviews with voice.

Argyle also offers up some good suggestions about starter zones including having verified residents of Second Life easily identifiable to help new participants. Drax also asks him about the UI. Drax has commented often that the Second Life UI isn’t complicated. I disagree, not because I find it difficult myself but because when so many people keep raising this point then it does suggest there’s an issue. I’m ok with the Blender UI too but I’ve seem many complaints about that as well. There is an issue, but it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is but Argyle Alligator offers some insight on this.

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Oct 022014

Hamlet Au over at New World Notes has an interesting blog post about Facebook’s real name policy : Facebook Apologizes & Tweaks Real Name Policy to Better Support LGBT Community — But Avatar Community Should Stick With Fan Pages.The issue revolves around drag queens who had been using names they had long been known as, such as Lady Roma or Lil Miss Hot Mess. The story will be familiar for many Second Life users because it has been played out many times before with regards to the Second Life community.

Hamlet’s post links to an official apology from Facebook by Facebook’s Chris Cox and the apology is quite a mixed mess of strange claims but it does explain what happened :

The way this happened took us off guard. An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake. These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn’t notice the pattern. The process we follow has been to ask the flagged accounts to verify they are using real names by submitting some form of ID — gym membership, library card, or piece of mail. We’ve had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it’s done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here.

I don’t really know where to start with this. How something that happens regularly took them off guard remains a mystery. This happens on a pretty regular basis to Second Life users who use Facebook against their terms of service. That’s important to remember by the way because whereas I have a certain amount of sympathy for people who want to use a pseudonym, it is against Facebook’s TOS. The part about bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams hate speech and more has actually been used by people on the other side of the Nym Wars argument as a position to argue against the enforced use of real names in social networking. There are risks associated with using a real name in social networking and those risks are very real.

However what’s odd here is that Facebook are almost implying that the person reporting the accounts was a bad actor, whereas they may have been spiteful in whom they reported, they were actually following Facebook’s rules of engagement when reporting them. Names such as Sister Roma do not comply with Facebook’s official policy … or do they? Chris Cox went on to make what I see as a very odd claim :

Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what’s been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.

This is an odd claim to say the least. Facebook’s policy has at times even went as far as asking someone to send in their ID when they suspected he wasn’t who he claimed to be. Upon seeing his ID Facebook changed his name to his official ID name, not the name he is commonly known as. The person in question was Salman Rushdie. However Salman is his middle name and as explained in a report in The Guardian back in 2011, Facebook changed his name initially :

Rushdie became embroiled in a battle with the social networking website after his account was deactivated for breaching its strict real name policy. Facebook claimed that Rushdie, who refers to himself by his middle name, Salman, was an imposter.

The author had to send a photograph of his passport to the security team to prove his identity, but when his account was reinstated he found his name had been changed to Ahmed – the first name on his passport.

Salman Rushdie won his battle with Facebook, largely thanks to using Twitter to ridicule the company but that experience does not tie in with the claims of Chris Cox regarding the nature of Facebook’s policy and nor does it tie in with Facebook’s terms which state :

Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way.

Facebook appear to be making it up as they go along but let’s bear with them for a little bit longer. Chris Cox then defends the real name policy and claims it helps to avoid bullying etc. this remains open to debate but there does seem to be an inkling of progress being made on Facebook’s part.

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Sep 192014

Episode 37 Of The Drax Files Radio Hour has a main feature this week regarding virtual therapy with an interview with Dr Tammy Fletcher. There’s also discussion of some hot topics such as Innsmouth,

However the episode opens with an excellent interview with Jeska Dzwigalski (AKA Jeska Linden), regarding the late Joe Miller with whom Jeska was a work colleague. Jeska talks of the introduction of voice in Second Life as well as talking about how passionate Joe was about Second Life. This is an excellent perspective of the contribution Joe made to Second Life and is well worth listening to. Jeska left Linden Lab quite a while ago now but she’s still a well known and liked name. She also runs a pretty cool site : Geeks With Drinks. Jeska earns extra kudos for knowing the difference between Whisky and Whiskey.

The episode also touch upon a subject close to my heart, Facebook’s absurd real names policy. This time they are mainly talking about drag Queens petitioning Facebook to change their real name policy and allow people to use stage names. Facebook’s real name policy is simply absurd, a name people known as is a far better policy. I’m tired of trying to encourage Linden Lab to embrace Google + now that they allow people to use any name they want to. Facebook has reach, Google + currently has far better ethics in this area.

They talk about many more issues including the High Fidelity Alpha users and a revelation that Draxtor Despres may well be entering High Fidelity for a special broadcast, with a special Draxtor Despres avatar. I hope they realise the perils Of Draxtor’s long hair! This may be more challenging than Rock, Paper, Scissors which they have been having fun with over at High Fidelity.

However the main feature is a fascinating interview with Dr Tammy Fletcher. Dr Fletcher talks about therapy within Second Life. This is a fascinating interview because a lot of people will think that any sort of therapy within Second Life will be artificial, ran by charlatans and not worthwhile.

Yet Dr Fletcher explains not only how therapy in Second Life can be useful and valid, she also explains why Second Life can highlight issues that are specific to spending too much time in Second Life, or using alts, or associated drama and how these are real and not virtual issues.

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Sep 022014

VHA Building

Episode 22 of The Drax Files World Makers – Virtual Health Adventures, has caught me somewhat by surprise as I thought the final edit was being published today, with the actual episode going live tomorrow. This is all my own fault as we can see from the blog post from Linden Lab, sponsors of the series and from the excellent review of the episode from Inara Pey, others understood that the final edit meant it would be published today! I’ll embed the video at the end of the post.

This episode deals with usage of virtual worlds, why their immersive nature can be far more productive than a traditional website and it even exemplifies people using The Oculus Rift for even greater immersion. Pay careful attention to that because you’ll see how that issue of where the keyboard is, is a very real issue when you’re using The Oculus Rift. However also pay attention to how important the immersive environment is to this episode and of course The Oculus Rift can help to make an environment even more immersive. The main theme however is one that people probably don’t associate with a virtual world such as Second Life, that theme is working with amputees to assist them to overcome emotional trauma.

Sandra L. Winkler, assistant professor at NOVA University in Florida, who teaches occupational therapy says :

“Second Life is the perfect place for amputees to overcome emotional trauma by sharing stories and realizing they are not alone!” 

Dr Winkler, who unlike her namesake Henry, hasn’t yet jumped the shark, is working on a three year study funded by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That study is roughly halfway through its three years and whereas Dr Winkler admits that at this stage it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from their current work, she does feel that the virtual world environment combined with new technology is a significant next step in tele-healthcare.

Dr Winkler’s research is aided in Second Life by the development work in virtual worlds of Virtual Ability Inc. who have long had a presence in Second Life.

Admiring Scenery

In the episode we see amputees embracing the virtual world and going through exercises as well as putting a virtual wheelchair into a virtual car. There is scientific evidence that this sort of process does indeed help people to be able to transfer these skills to the real world and this was something we also saw in The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 13: Creations for Parkinson’s.

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Aug 282014

I’ve recently suggested that Second Life Should Cut The Facebook Cord due to the fact that Facebook is not Second Life avatar friendly. Back in July I suggested that Linden Lab Should Embrace Google+. This was based on the fact that Google + had changed their naming policy to one where people can now use any name they like. Prior to that Google + required you to use a name you were known as, which did allow Second Life avatars to have a presence of sorts, but was still a grey area. There’s no real grey area with Facebook, they want people to use their real name only for accounts.

A good way for Linden Lab to encourage people to embrace the better fit of Google + would be for them to include their Google + page in their connect with us or follow us sections on their website. The Google + page isn’t as popular as the official Facebook page but has had over 4 million views, which is none too shabby.

However like Second Life in virtual world terms, Facebook is where it’s at in terms of social networking. Personally I’m not a fan, I mean I’m really really not a fan. However I do have a Facebook Page. Why do I have a Facebook page? Well because it’s not a breach of Facebook’s terms of service to do so, whereas using my Second Life name as a Facebook account is a breach of the Facebook TOS.

Many Second Life users have tried to use Facebook under their Second Life name and many have found themselves having their accounts deleted, due to that TOS breach. So if you absolutely must use Facebook with your Second Life name, then create a Facebook page for your avatar.

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Aug 172014

Facebook has never been a good fit for Second Life users, whereas other social networks such as Twitter and now Google + have no objection to people having accounts with their Second Life names, Facebook has stuck rigidly to it’s real name policy. Obviously this policy is somewhat flawed in as much as there’s no real authentication of those real names, but it remains a poor fit.

Yes there are plenty of people who are happy to use their real name Facebook accounts and link them to their Second Life accounts, but it remains a Second Life unfriendly domain. Now comes news that Facebook have donated $10,000 to a politician who is fighting gay marriage.

Facebook made the donation in May to Utah attorney general Sean Reyes and have defended their decision, in a statement to the Huffington Post they said :

Facebook has a strong record on LGBT issues and that will not change, but we make decisions about which candidates to support based on the entire portfolio of issues important to our business, not just one. A contribution to a candidate does not mean that we agree with every policy or position that candidate takes. We made this donation for the same reason we’ve donated to Attorneys General on the opposite side of this issue — because they are committed to fostering innovation and an open Internet.

There is some merit in that statement, many of us will vote for political parties with whom we disagree with on certain issues. However gay marriage is quite a big ticket item to be overlooking in favour of a so called open internet. Facebook’s defence of their support is extremely mealy mouthed and does them very little credit.

However the wider point is that Linden Lab should be promoting Second Life on networks that are more Second Life friendly than Facebook. Indeed Linden Lab have their own outlets such as the blog and Second Life profiles in which they should be communicating with Second Life users.

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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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