Oct 122014

I’m taking some holiday time over the next fortnight so this blog is also going to take a holiday for a fortnight too. Fear not faithful readers, I shall return triumphant with tales of many drow, dwarf, wizard and human adventures upon my return.

Pirate Ship

I have been taking a look at a couple of sims which I intend to blog more about on my return. The first is Morgan Straits which is a pirate themed sim. Yarr! I like pirates. This is a well presented sim but obviously you need to tread carefully because of those pirates.

Pirate Houses

The other sim I’ve been taking a look at is the stunningly picturesque Matanzas.

Matanzas Dock

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Oct 112014

A few days ago I blogged about the delays people are experiencing in getting their accounts verified for account and tax information requests issued by Linden Lab. However new information has came to light which suggests that it’s not just an issue for account and tax information requests, it seems that the broader issue is that off payout requests full stop.

The tax and account information requests are often tied to payout requests, so this explains why there are delays there. The information was relayed to me via Pete Linden in a comment on my earlier blog post :

Due to a significant volume of payout request in recent weeks, payout requests may take longer to process than expected. We apologize for the delay, and we are working hard on clearing the backlog and process requests as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we advise residents to please address any specific questions through their Support cases. We appreciate the cooperation and patience from all residents, and hope to have payout request processing times back to normal soon.

I’m not sure why there is a significant volume of payout requests in recent weeks, some people have suggested it is related to the new skill gaming policy and there will be people who are putting payment information on file in order to engage with skill gaming regions.

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Oct 102014

Over at New World Notes Hamlet Au has decided to tackle the thorny subject of adult content in virtual worlds. In a blog post entitled : Half of Second Life’s 50 Most Popular Sims Now Adult-Rated: A Lesson for Second Life 2 Hamlet says :

As Linden Lab develops Second Life 2, there’s an important lesson to be learned here:

Forbid pornography and extremely violent content, at least in the first few years of launch before SL 2 achieves mass growth (assuming it does). It’s inevitable that Oculus Rift and other VR platforms will inspire pornographic content, and many of the games set for deployment in VR are already violent, and that’s fine for adults who want to immerse themselves in that kind of content. But virtual porn in particular has always been an impediment to Second Life going mainstream, hurting its brand, scaring away mainstream institutions, and just generally causing it to be a laughingstock for anyone who wasn’t familiar with how much more non-porn content the world contained. (That is to say, just about everybody.) The alternative facing Second Life 2 is what we see now: A niche MMO where roughly half the active users are mainly getting on to get off.

Now whether you agree with Hamlet or not you have to give him credit for having the balls (for want of a better phrase) to raise this subject. I disagree with him and I disagree with him because adult content is already very much a part of mainstream culture. Now before we take one step forward, let’s take a couple of steps back. Back in July Mona Eberhardt posted a blog post entitled : Time to stop bashing Second Life for its sexual side. Mona opens that post with a rather challenging gauntlet to bloggers :

I guess you haven’t really arrived as a Second Life blogger or commentator unless you’ve reached the point where you frown upon “pixel sex”, openly sexualised avatars, or the “skanky” nature of female avatars’ attire in SL. It seems to me that coming to view your in-world romantic and sexual escapades (if any) with feelings of shame actually gives you bonus points. And the sooner you’ve denounced your desire to explore your sexuality in-world, the more respect you’re going to garner. Apparently, your opinions can’t be taken seriously if you’re viewed by others as a sexual person.

The article is a good read and whether you agree with Mona or not, she deserves credit for tackling this subject. Now it’s clear that Hamlet and Mona are coming to this subject from different sides of the fence but it’s also important to remember that both Hamlet and Mona believe passionately in the concept of virtual worlds.

Now to me, banning adult content in Linden Lab’s brave new world is going to be a bad strategy. On the other hand I also think that promoting adult content in the brave new world is a bad strategy. The answer to me is all about sitting on the fence and ensuring that safeguards are in place to avoid some of the situations we have seen during the evolution of Second Life.

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Oct 102014

Inara Pey, on the ball as always, has posted an update for Linden Lab’s Patterns, namely that Linden Lab are discontinuing their development involvement. However, in a sign that someone at Linden Lab has grasped that software doesn’t need to be buried on a dusty old shelf when a company decides to stop updating it, Linden Lab have put the feelers out to see if anyone else is interested in taking Patters onboard.

The official press release from Linden Lab, entitled The Conclusion Of Patterns, states :

Recently, Linden Lab announced that we are working on an ambitious project to create the next-generation virtual world, while we continue to improve Second Life and grow Blocksworld. As we focus on these priorities, we have ceased development for Patterns, and we will be no longer offering the game for sale.

We at Linden Lab are extremely grateful for the adventurous early players who explored the Patterns genesis release. Those who purchased the Patterns genesis release will still be able to play their copies of the game, but features relying on server connections, such as world-sharing, will not be functional.

Patterns had early promise, and while Linden Lab focuses our efforts on our other offerings, we are still evaluating the future of the Patterns technology. Interested parties are welcome to contact us with proposals.

This is quite a brave and bold move by Linden Lab and shows that Linden Lab do seem to take notice of situations in the not too distant past, as Inara points out :

The most interesting point of note with the announcement, however, is that the Lab appear to have taken on-board the Versu situation, and rather than simply closing the door, have indicated they’d be willing to hear from third parties who might be interested in taking Patterns on – albeit with the caveat that the company is still evaluating the technology used in Patterns at this time.

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Oct 082014

If you want the full kit and caboodle on the Designing Worlds 250th episode, which features an interview with Linden Lab CEO, Ebbe Altberg, then head over to Inara Pey’s blog post on the subject. Whereas I will embed the video at the end of this post, Inara also has the transcript in text form. I’m not going to cover anywhere near all of the interview, so for  even more commentary, head over to Inara Pey’s commentary on the subject!

The interview itself was conducted by Elrik Merlin and Saffia Widdershins and was held on Mantanzas, a sim owned by Skate Foss. The interview has a lot of meat on its bones and covers a wide array of subjects, including, but not limited to, communities, group chat, Terms Of Service, The next generation virtual world, marketing and much much more.

Ebbe talks a lot and appears to be extremely enthusiastic about his work at Linden Lab. This makes for a largely positive interview although it does have some stumbling blocks for me on a personal level, the most glaring being the terms of service which briefly gets touched upon with Ebbe responding to a question from Saffia regarding the use of user groups to try and avoid issues such as the terms of service :

I don’t know if you could have avoided the Terms of Service – and there was quite a bit of engagement, and a lot of voices heard. I wasn’t here, but I think the way it was rolled-out created more complications than what the change actually was. But obviously, being in touch with the community, understanding the needs of the community is critical, and that is something we cannot do just by watching, But sometimes for us just looking at the metrics might be more efficient for us to get to answers rather than talking to individuals.

Later in the interview Ebbe says :

OK, but we’re trying to make it clear to people that the content is yours, and we just need to have sufficient protections to protect ourselves. But again, it’s obviously not in our interest to make a mess for content creators by ourselves stepping in and starting to be part of the problem, rather than the solution with regards to IP protection.

They really could have done the terms of service differently and the first step there would have been to actually recognise what the issue with the terms of service is and why it still exists today. Linden Lab have never ever made that move and it remains a very disappointing element of Ebbe Altberg’s reign. Ebbe’s words here also don’t encourage me that Linden Lab have much interest in addressing or understanding the terms of service issue from the other side of the fence.

However that aside, I found this to be a vibrant interview. Ebbe talks of opening the Jira back up, how he was quite shocked about the level of engagement between Linden Lab and their community when he arrived and how Linden Lab have made strides towards better community engagement. This has certainly been exemplified by Linden Lab taking a far more active role in their blog postings and therefore leading the conversation.

Ebbe recognises the importance of communities in Second Life and the importance of getting the new user experience right. Ebbe hints that the idea of community portals coming back to Second Life might be on the agenda in a part of the discussion regarding onboarding new users :

I don’t know exactly when we’ll have time to give it sufficient energy to really get it off the ground. We’re working on a number of other initiatives right now that are ahead of it … and it’s one of those things that’s near the top of priorities for Second Life to bring back the idea of the community portals or something like that, where it’s easy for experience creators to attract users directly into their experience from the outside world.

Because ultimately, there are too many experiences in something like Second Life that we can’t mass market to all of these niche experiences that exist. we don’t even understand them all or know that they even exist. Whereas the creators of that experience have a very clear idea of who they’re trying to be useful to and attract an audience. And so we need to give people the tools so they can attract their own audiences into their experiences.

This is positive to read because Ebbe is right, there are lots of experiences within Second Life. A one size fits all new user experience probably isn’t ideal and wider community engagement could be useful here but let’s wait and see what transpires.

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Oct 072014

Back in February Linden Lab blogged about tax and identity requirements for Second Life :

As we’ve blogged about in the posts linked below, US law requires that institutions like Linden Lab collect documentation from Second Life users that meet certain transaction thresholds.

This was an update to provide people with further information regarding why they were being asked to provide identifying information to continue to be able to use Second Life. The initial requests had caused great confusion and although confusion still reigns, Linden Lab have provided more insight as to what’s happening and why. There are two important FAQ’s :

Tax Documentation FAQ

Account Documentation FAQ

Linden Lab need to comply with these requirements to be able to allow financial transactions within Second Life to continue. Linden Lab can’t ignore these requirements, if they did nobody would be able to cash out from Second Life. Second Life would probably come crashing to its knees in those circumstances.

However a thread over at SLUniverse reveals that there are some new pains being created with these requirements, namely that the processing of these requests has slowed to a crawl and people are left scratching their heads regarding what’s going on. This thread is quite disappointing from a customer service point of view.

Second Life customers are complaining that there seems to be no movement in cases for over two weeks. Some people are reporting that after two or more weeks with no movement they then find that the only movement is that they are asked to send their ID in again because their scanned photo isn’t large enough.

One person reports that they submitted a ticket almost thirty days ago, a few days ago they received an apology for the delay, with high caseload being cited as a reason, but the case doesn’t seem to be any further forward.

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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 062014

Exploratorium in Second Life

One would think that in a virtual world such as Second Life where the laws of physics can be defied, that science and science fiction would be portrayed widely. However that generally doesn’t seem to be the case. However I did stumble across Exploratorium whereby science is not only dipslayed, it’s also discussed in the shape and form of  the Virtually Speaking Science podcast.


The blurb for the latest edition of the podcast reads :

Ten years after the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE opened up the age of private-sector spaceflight, two XPRIZE pioneers reflect on the past decade and look ahead to the future of innovation prizes. Tune in to hear from Robert Weiss, a Hollywood producer (“The Blues Brothers,” “The Naked Gun”) who is vice chairman and president of X Prize; and energy and space expert, Gregg Maryniak, who helped get the Ansari XPRIZE off the ground.


View Across Science Sim

This isn’t a new show or sim, they have both been running for quite some time but like many things in Second Life you don’t actually realise they are there until you stumble across them. I’m not blaming anyone for this, Second Life remains a vast space with lots of different events going on and it’s impossible to really keep up with all the ins and outs.

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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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Oct 012014

Meshworx Store

Episode 23 of The Drax Files : World Makers brings to the table a fascinating interview with Second Life content creator Loz Hyde, the owner of the Meshworx brand. Loz has a day job of building 3D models so you may feel that he’s just extending his day job inside Second Life. However his day job includes making models for film and commercials. Amongst his credits are Terminator Salvation, 2012 and Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Loz expains how part of the beauty of a virtual world such as Second Life is that it gives him the power to create a world in his own vision. That world can then be explored by other people via their avatars, they can become immersed in it, they can interact with it.

Cracked Mirror

Loz also points out how as a content creator he can transfer the profits from his sales to Paypal and then to his bank account. There’s money in them there builds. Whereas it’s definitely not easy money, those with the talent to create and market their wares can indeed make real money out of their Second Life experience. Loz also points out one of the big plus points of virtual world items, their durability. A virtual sofa will not erode with age, you won’t get tears and rips in it. Well I guess someone could build a model that does erode, but generally they don’t erode. They will become dated over time of course and whereas Loz doesn’t mention this in his interview, the advent of Mesh in Second Life has made some older prim based items dated. However those old prim based items haven’t eroded!

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