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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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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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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