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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Mar 272014

Markus “Notch” Persson is the owner of Mojang, the company behind Minecraft and he has also announced he has decided to part ways with Oculus after they were purchased by Facebook. Notch explains his reasons in a blog post entitled : Virtual Reality is going to change the world.

A few things are clear from the blog post, Notch is very excited about virtual reality and he was very excited about Oculus Rift too. How excited you may ask, well on the Kickstarter page for Oculus Rift, those who pledged over $5,000 got all the goodies backers at other levels got plus:

VISIT OCULUS FOR THE DAY : We’ll fly you out to the Oculus lab where you’ll spend a day hanging out with the team and checking out all of our latest work (and maybe playing a few games too). You’ll also receive a developer kit, a copy of Doom 3 BFG, Developer Center access, the t-shirt, and the poster, all signed by the entire Oculus team, in person. 

Notch qualified for that offer, although he’s not a US resident as far as I know, so I’m not sure how he sneaked in, but hey, he pledged funds for this kickstarter, but, as he explains in his blog post, the Facebook purchase changed the game :

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

In some ways it may have been better had Notch waited to see what transpired, but as someone who put his money where his mouth is on this product, I certainly respect his view and as I’ve said on these pages before, I’m not Facebook’s greatest fan.

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Mar 262014

At times it is best to take a deep breath and not blog, which is what I did last night when I read the news that Oculus Joins Facebook. The news that Facebook, the company who kick the virtual out of reality when it comes to their main platform were buying a piece of hardware based on putting the virtual into reality was beyond irksome for me. Judging by the comments around I’m not alone in that view, although I’ve calmed down somewhat now.

Over on Reddit Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey has been trying to reassure people, and hasn’t been succeeding that well, although this isn’t helped by Palmer himself seeming to be very naive about Facebook :

Q. What does this mean in terms of data collection on FB’s end? Will us early Oculus users have to mitigate the NSA everytime we decide to jack in?

A. Nothing changes. Keep in mind that Mark Zuckerberg has publicly spoken against NSA surveillance.

I’m not a big fan of Facebook, I don’t like a lot of their policies, I don’t like the way they treat people’s privacy and I don’t like their attitude to pseudonyms. However a lot of people do get pleasure out of Facebook, it’s a product with plenty of reach and plenty of users, even if it is apparently on the wane. They are at their heart a data mining company, it’s a trade off between users creating free content and being rewarded for that free content by being able to stay in touch with family and friends, it’s a model that works but it most definitely has a dark side. The comments on the Oculus blog should also firmly put to bed claims that Facebook comments mean people behave better, some of those comments are horrendous.

There’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of disappointment and there’s a lot of debate. Some of the anger is misplaced, some of the disappointment is misplaced too. However the people with whom I have the most sympathy are the Kickstarter backers, some of whom are also expressing unhappiness over this move. Now if there’s one group of people whom Facebook and Oculus should be scrambling to appease it’s the Kickstarter backers because without them, this whole debate wouldn’t be raging as there would be no Oculus Rift for Facebook to buy.

The other issue is that this is a major kick in the teeth for crowd funding and Kickstarter itself.

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Jan 232014

I can remember being in The Holte End at Villa Park back in 1998 and watching Stan Collymore score an absolute screamer against Athletico Madrid in a European football match, it wasn’t enough to keep Villa in the competition but the atmosphere at the match was awesome. Years later Stan has became a pundit in print and radio. Today he reopened his Twitter account after closing it down for 12 hours. The reason Stan temporarily closed his account was due to what he reportedly perceives as a lack of action by Twitter to combat racist abuse and death threats. The radio station he works for, Talksport, have banned all references on air and in print to Twitter as they also don’t believe Twitter do enough to combat abuse.

I’m glad to see Stan’s account back on Twitter, not because he used to play for The Villa, but because deleting your account let’s the trolls win, although I fully understand why people who make such a decision feel it is the only option. The thing is, the vast majority of Twitter is a pleasant experience.

One of the criticisms of Twitter is the anonymous nature of the site, which many claim allows people to troll without worry. Although there have been cases whereby Twitter trolls have been arrested and charged for their actions. So people often aren’t as anonymous as they’d like to think they are. However the last thing we need in social networking circles is heavy handed and conversation stifling solutions.

An interesting article appeared on The Guardian last week: Why should I reveal my ‘real identity’ online? Anonymity isn’t so terrible. The article makes some very sensible points regarding identity and why posting with your real name everywhere using one account isn’t such a wonderful concept:

One of the beauties of the internet is the anonymity of your identity. Not the kind of disposable anonymity you get in comment pages that require no sign-in, but the kind that allows you to have separate identities that are independent of each other. Reading some of the more alarmed talk surrounding this subject, you’d get the impression that this is a terrible calamity, and civilisation can only be restored if every interaction you have on the internet comes attached with your name and address, like the tags your mother used to sew on your school clothes.

This is the point oft missed when it comes to debates about online identities, online identities are identities, ok they may not be your actual real name but many an author doesn’t use their actual real name either, indeed it was once fashionable for newspaper and magazine columnists to use, shock horror, a pseudonym or even have different authors use the same pseudonym. Robert X Cringely is one glaring example, that actually got quite complicated regarding who was allowed to use the name. Another, that some may remember was Lloyd Managram who was a columnist for the Sinclair Spectrum magazine Crash. Years later I discovered he never really existed. Does this matter? Absolutely not as it was the content I was interested in.

People often use different identities and engage in different activities, in different circles. I know some people down the pub by their nickname only, their family may not even know they have a nickname. Which brings us to TechCrunch. I pretty much stopped reading TechCrunch back in 2011 when they introduced Facebook comments. I have never commented much on TechCrunch but the Facebook push was just a huge turn off. Facebook comments reduce trolling, they also reduce commenting full stop. This was exemplified in January 2013 when TechCrunch made a plea for commenters to come back and announced their experiment with Facebook comments was over:

It was early 2011 and TechCrunch’s comment section was overrun with trolls. Bullies and asshats were drowning out our smart commenters. We hated our commenters because, well, they hated us. So we Facebook Comments in an attempt to silence the trolls — by removing their anonymity.

But we eventually discovered that our anti-troll tactic worked too well; The bullies and asshats left our comments sections, but so did everyone else. Now, several years later, after dozens of endless meetings and conference calls, we’ve decided we’re going to try out Livefyre instead of Facebook Comments.

Frankly, our trial with Facebook Comments lasted way too long at too steep of a cost. Sure, Facebook Comments drove extra traffic to the site, but the vast majority of our readers clearly do not feel the system is worthy of their interaction.

And we want our commenters back.

One would think that would be that? However no, in December 2013 TechCrunch embraced Facebook comments once more, managing to completely miss the point:

We know that the lack of anonymity is an issue with Facebook Comments, but we’re willing to accept that in return for a commenting system that is relatively stable. We also like the idea of comments sorted by Facebook Likes versus recency, and Facebook offers that as a default. Sometimes it’s that simple.

The issue isn’t anonymity, it’s more pseudonymity for many but what’s more amazing about TechCrunch’s decision is that having driven away commenters the first time around, they seem to be somehow oblivious to it happening again.

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Dec 132013

The recent fuss about The NSA and GCHQ allegedly spying on Second Life users largely made me go “meh”. I mean this is what I expect those agencies to do and I really can’t see any way of stopping them doing it. However there is a level whereby I feel protestations about intrusive behaviour could work, that’s at levels way below the security agencies, it’s with tech companies.

AT&T are, according to Gigaom, rolling out a new gigabit service in Austin in two flavours. Premier, for USD$70 a month and Standard, for USD$99 a month. The terminology sounds odd, with premier being the cheaper option. However here’s the catch, the cheaper option means you need to agree to being part of AT&T preferences, which is targeted advertising, or as AT&T themselves explain:

U-verse with GigaPower Premier offer is available with your agreement to participate in AT&T Internet Preferences. AT&T may use your Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests.

So basically for the cheaper option, you sell your browsing habits it seems. This idea isn’t new, websites with advertising will often have the option to turn off the adverts for a fee. However it’s still very creepy.

When the recent hoo-ha broke about the spies it wasn’t the NSA or GCHQ involvement I found creepy, nor was it Linden Lab talking to the NSA about virtual worlds. The NY Times article claims that Cory Ondrejka was the senior Linden exec involved and reports:

In 2007, as the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, N.S.A. officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance.

He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement.

That all sounds very reasonable to me, Cory seems to be using his knowledge of his old industry and showing them the power of virtual worlds, it’s the next part of the article where it all goes a bit tits up:

It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”

That’s where it all gets a bit creepy.

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Feb 272013

I was listening to MetaReality Podcast over the weekend when Qarl mentioned that Second Life under Mark Kingdon had been considering ways to bring back gambling, according to some it has never really gone away, but the days of casinos on the landscape are certainly long gone.

This remined me that I’d been reading about real money Facebook apps: Facebook strikes deal with 888 to launch more real-money gaming apps in the UK. The key here being the in the UK part, so as to not fall foul of laws regarding online gambling in jurisdictions where it’s not allowed.

A quick recap on gambling in Second Life, as far as I’m aware it was never licensed. However it was popular and it did require land, so it generated tier revenue. Linden Lab took a business decision to ban it, but I can recall a forum or blog post where Zee Linden, former CFO, said they had been considering finding a way to bring it back. However that has never happened.

When Linden Lab struck a deal with Dragonfish to process payments, I wondered if this was to do with introducing gambling back to Second Life, as Dragonfish are related to 888, the same 888 who are introducing gaming apps to Facebook. When you used to email support, they had an 888 address. This was for the now defunct Local Payments System, US residents didn’t have their payments processed in this fashion.

Now one way of bringing gambling back to Second Life would have been to do what Facebook are doing, and restrict it to residents of a certain country, so for example if 888 had opened an 888 sim, only UK residents would be able to enter. This would obviously be problematic, especially as gambling winnings would find their way into the wider economy, but it does raise the issue of restrictions on Second Life based on the geographic location of Linden Lab, rather than their customers.

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Dec 282012

I was reading the Second Life Forums when I saw a post from Mecha Innis entitled Giulio Prisco of the IEET Declares Second Life Dead. “Here we go again” I thought and went to read the article itself: Snow Crash(ed) in Second Life (end 2012).

The article isn’t as ignorant as some articles on the death of Second Life, it’s clear that Giulio was a big fan and there are areas where I’m in agreement with him. However there are also areas where it seems clear that Giulio isn’t happy because people didn’t want Second Life to be as he wanted it to be, and that’s something I always find disappointing because the beauty of Second Life is that it can be what you want it to be.

The article is interesting because it brings up the old debate of Immersion vs Augmentation and has links to some interesting old articles:

Many early users of SL were very jealous and protective of the early SL culture, strongly centered on pseudonymity and non-disclosure of real life information, and vocally resisted all technical innovations that could facilitate the intrusion of reality into their “magic circle” (see for example the very heated debates that followed the introduction of voice in SL in 2007). Most of them were “immersionists,” mainly interested in SL as “another world” where they could live “another life” entirely separated from their “first life” (FL) and strongly resisted the “invasion” of “augmentationists” interested in SL as a communication tool for telepresence applications related to FL. I think the tension between these two communities played a significant role in the demise of SL. Henrik Bennetsen’s essay on the subject is not available anymore at its original URL but a backup is still on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

The thing I find odd about Giulio’s comment here is that in the first linked article, of which he is the author, he wrote: “I support that idea that everyone should be free to live her Second Life, AND her Real Life, as she wants to live it. So, though I use voice in SL routinely, I do not have anything against immersionists refusing to use it and support their freedom of choice. At the same time, of course I protect _my_ freedom of choice and resist immersionists trying to tell _me_ how I should live _my_ SL (or RL). The point is, I _am_ into making my SL a reflection of my RL – and want the freedom to use all options that permit doing so. Continue reading »

Dec 222012

I’ve blogged about Cloud Party a couple of times and both times I mentioned that to have an account you needed to use Facebook. This is something I simply do not support, although as I said in both posts, I can understand why startups turn to Facebook for logins, it fills a hole in the starting process but the longer a product continues to be Facebook login only, the more it becomes an albatross around the neck of a product. Facebook should simply not be the only login in town, keeping Facebook logins as an option is sensible, but there should be other options.

Kitely was initially Facebook login only, so that’s another example of a startup turning to Facebook, but Kitely moved on and now I’m pleased to say, so has Cloud Party. Hamlet Au over at New World Notes blogged about the change yesterday. They have also added flight, which along with other changes, such as their marketplace and royalties system, shows that Cloud Party is developing rather nicely.

Cloud Party has some interesting people involved in its development, such as ex Linden Cory Ondrejka and Cryptic Studio’s ex-CTO Bruce Rogers, who are I believe investors, I don’t know if they’re hands on. Cloud Party is also developing with previous worlds in mind, for example one of the reasons cited for Facebook logins is to minimise griefing.

So how does this new accout creation work? Well I, as a fearless hero, dipped my toes into the water.

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Dec 122012

Hamlet Au reports on improvements to Cloud Party, in a blog post over at New World Notes. There are some interesting improvements going on with the product, especially in terms of the marketplace, which you can read about on the cloud party wiki, here.

Those who have US bank accounts can now cash out their Cloud Party Gold coins, but there’s no date set for when this will be available to international customers. They have a really interesting royalty feature for items and this is something Linden Lab may want to pay attention to. Royalties can be read about here. This allows a merchant to sell an asset and then have a royalty from all future sales of that asset, sent to them. So for example, if your asset is used in another users build, when that user sells their item, the original creator would receive royalties, this is a very good idea.

However where Cloud Party continues to languish in epic fail territory, in my opinion, is the requirement for those who seriously want to use the platform to use a Facebook login.

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