Category Archives: Opinion

Lab update on missing inventory

On Tuesday, December 16th, the Lab issued a brief statement on the matter of missing inventory which has been affecting some SL users since Wednesday, December 10th.

News on problems first arose via a forum post as people started noticing animations from Akeyo and Vista (among others) being replaced by “IP replacement” placeholders – which usual indicate removal as a result of a DMCA action. Some of those affected additionally indicated that they had also received an e-mail on the matter from the Lab – although others apparently did not.

How widespread the issue actually has been, is hard to judge; the forum thread itself involves a relatively few people, although this is obviously no accurate barometer of the overall impact and certainly not any form of mitigation for those who had been affected. Matters were further confused as a result of some support tickets raised on the matter being responded to as being a “resident to resident” issue, and therefore outside of LL’s remit.

By Sunday, December 14th, a number of SL users were pressing both the Lab (through their official community account) and Ebbe Altberg for comment, prompting him to reply:

missing-inv-3Ebbe Altberg's Tweets on the issue

Ebbe Altberg’s Tweets on the issue

Quite what went wrong isn’t clear, other than it apparently being a possible fault within an internal process. Even so, it appears to have caused a few headaches for the Lab in terms of sorting out. On Tuesday, December 16th, Ebbe further Tweeted:

Only this turned out to be a little premature, as a blog post was subsequently issued indicating that the Lab was still working to fix the matter:

Due to a recent internal error, some Residents may have noticed a few items were recently replaced within their inventories. We are working to reverse the process and hope to have the original items restored quickly.

If you believe that your items were affected, please keep an eye on your inventory – you should see the original items restored soon.

In addition to restoring the original items as quickly as possible, we are also taking steps to resolve the issue that caused the error so that we can avoid repeating it in the future. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

As this article is being written, some people are still indicating that they have yet to see inventory items reinstated. An important point to not here is that if you have been impacted by the situation, do not delete the “IP replacement” placeholders in your inventory; if you do, you may adversely affect the return of your items by the Lab.

Per my comment above, precisely what went wrong is unclear. However, mistakes can and do happen, and generally  without malice aforethought. But that said, given there was something of a serious mistake made, one in part exacerbated by a degree of confusion in communications from the Lab (vis e-mails sent to those affected and support tickets being closed), one hopes that the lessons learned in both correcting the matter and as a result of reviewing how the problem first arose will be taken to heart.

Merchandise and the Lab

Marketing Second Life is something we all have an opinion about, and as such, Linden Lab has often taken a far amount of flak from users on the subject. I’m as guilty as anyone in this; in the past I’ve been particularly verbose on the subject through posts in this blog such as Business, Collaboration and Creative Growth, Tell me a story: marketing Second Life, and Advertising SL: the machinima effect (the latter of which has been somewhat overtaken by the Lab recognising the power of Draxtor Despres’ The Drax Files; World Makers series.

However, there is another potential marketing strategy the Lab is missing, something which was recently brought home by by a segment of The Drax Files Radio Hour.

During a visit to the Lab’s HQ for the show, Drax had a chat with Shaman and Kona Linden, both of whom were holding items of merchandise available to Lab staff – a Rubik’s cube featuring the Second Life logo on one face, and a FIC (Fêted Inner Circle) mug. Lab personnel have also seen out and about wearing a certain t-shirt proclaiming their leading role in provisioning virtual worlds.

Shaman Linden holds a Rubik’s cube with the Second Life logo and Kona Linden, with an arm around Caleb Linden,  holds a FIC mug (image: Draxtor Despres)

Other items were mentioned as being available, leaving Drax to wonder why the Lab doesn’t market these goods to users; and he has a point. True, there are issues of the Lab’s international user base and the cost of postage – but these are things that can be factored-in, and if the Lab doesn’t necessarily want to handle the additional weight of merchandise orders, etc., itself, there are companies who will do it for them for a small commission on sales.

Certainly, the appearance of the merchandise has sparked discussions in a number of areas since the show. Ciaran Laval, for example started a thread over on SLU (although admittedly, it got somewhat sidetracked into a discussion of the meaning behind a particular term, which eventually involved Kevin Bacon – who said the six degrees of separation was dead?); others elsewhere have expressed an interest in having at least some of the merchandise, and other items that have been seen in the past.

The Lab's current t-shirt (l), and two styles of jacket / track suit top worn in the past by Philip Rosedale - all have been the subject of "want" attention from SL users

The Lab’s current t-shirt (l), and two styles of jacket / track suit top worn in the past by Philip Rosedale – all have been the subject of “want” attention from SL users

Take the jackets that were variously sported by former CEO (and co-founder of the Lab) Philip Rosedale; these were oft been admired and a subject of attention at the likes of the old SLCC events; so why not make them available?

And how about an updated version of the 10th anniversary varsity-style jacket the Lab made available in-world in 2013? Replace the 10th anniversary logo with the SL logo, and it might well be something users would buy if offered in the physical world. I know I wouldn’t object to having the opportunity to buy one, although admittedly, that might be something a tad too expensive to produce and sell…

If I understand things correctly, there’s even a JIRA-related t-shirt, something which would likely prove popular within the coding community;

The in-world 10th anniversary varsity-style jacket: an updated version might have potential in the physical world

The in-world 10th anniversary varsity-style jacket: an updated version might have potential in the physical world

Some items made available in the past, such as a pendant, and Ciaran makes mention of  Jack Linden once offering those at his office hours meetings a “bag of swag” (although where this was physical world items or not is unclear to me – I didn’t attend Jack’s meetings – but Ciaran seems to lean towards this being the case). Were they to appear again, they might prove popular enough to make it worthwhile.

The advantage to the Lab in making these items available for users is not just a potential (albeit modest) revenue stream through the sale of the goods – it’s the broader reach of marketing and promotion they offer. Of course, some might thumb their nose on seeing someone else wearing a Second Life jacket, but that’s no reason not to offer them; and a FIC mug in the office is a way to start conversations (and depending on the nature of the office politics, might end up being something everyone wants, regardless of whether they are SL users or not! :) ).

So how about it Ebbe? Why not give thought to making merchandise available to your users? Even if you only dip a toe or two into the water to see how things go, it might prove worth your while.

Philip Rosedale and virtual worlds: “we still don’t get it yet”

As noted by Ciaran Laval, Philip Rosedale appeared at the Gigaom Roadmap event held in San Francisco on November 18th and 19th. He was taking part in a (roughly) 30-minute discussion with Gigaom’s staff writer, Signe Brewster, entitled Designing Virtual Worlds, in which he explores the potential of virtual worlds  when coupled with virtual reality, both in terms of High Fidelity and in general. In doing so, he touches on a number of topics and areas – including Second Life – providing some interesting insights into the technologies we see emerging today, aspects of on-line life that have been mentioned previously in reference to High Fidelity, such as the matter of identity, and what might influence or shape where VR is going.

This is very much a crystal ball type conversation such as the Engadget Expand NY panel discussion Linden Lab’s CEO Ebbe Altberg participated in at the start of November, inasmuch as it is something of an exploration of potential. However, given this is a more focused one-to-one conversation than the Engadget discussion, there is much more meat to be found in the roughly 31-minute long video.

Philip Rosedale in conversation with Gigaom's Signe Brewster

Philip Rosedale in conversation with Gigaom’s Signe Brewster

Unsurprisingly, the initial part of the conversation focuses very much on the Oculus Rift, with Rosedale (also unsurprisingly, as they’re all potentially right) agreeing with the likes of the Engadget panel, Tony Parisi, Brendan Iribe, Mark Zurkerberg et al, that the Oculus Rift / games relationship is just the tip of the iceberg, and there there is so much more to be had that lies well beyond games. Indeed, he goes so far to define the Oculus / games experience as “ephemeral” compared to what might be coming in the future. Given the very nature of games, this is not an unreasonable summation, although his prediction that there will only be “one or two” big game titles for the Rift might upset a few people.

A more interesting part of the discussion revolves around the issue of identity, when encompasses more than one might expect, dealing with both the matter of how we use our own identity as a means of social interaction – through introducing ourselves, defining ourselves, and so on, and also how others actually relate to us, particularly in non-verbal ways (thus overlapping the conversation with non-verbal communications.

Identity is something Rosedale has given opinion on ion the past, notably through his essay on Identity in the Metaverse from March 2014 –  recommended reading to anyone with an interest in the subject. The points raised are much more tightly encapsulated here in terms of how we use our name as a means of greeting, although the idea of of trust as an emerging currency in virtual environments is touched upon: just as in the physical world, we need to have the means to apply checks and balances to how much we reveal about ourselves to others on meeting them.

Can the facial expressions we use, exaggerated or otherwise, when talking with others be as much a part of out identity as our looks?

Can the facial expressions we use, exaggerated or otherwise, when talking with others be as much a part of out identity as our looks?

The overlap between identity and communication is graphically demonstrated in Rosedale’s relating of an experiment carried out at High Fidelity. This saw several members of the HiFi team talking on a subject, a 3D camera being used to capture their facial expressions and gestures, recording them against the same “default” HiFi avatar.  When a recording of the avatar was selected at random and played by to HiFi staff sans any audio, they were still very quickly able to identify who the avatar represented, purely by a subconscious recognition of the way facial expression and any visible gestures were used.

This is actually a very important aspect when it comes to the idea of trust as virtual “currency”, as well as demonstrating how much more we may rely on non-verbal communication cues than we might otherwise realise. If we are able to identify people we know – as friends, as work colleagues, business associates, etc. – through such non-verbal behavioural prompts and cues, then establishing trust with others within a virtual medium which allows such non-verbal prompts to be accurately transmitted, can only more rapidly establish that exchange of trust, allowing for much more rapid progression into other areas of interaction  and exchange.

Interaction and exchange also feature more broadly in the conversation. There is, for example the difference in the forms of interaction which take place within a video game and those we’re likely to encounter in a virtual space. Those used in games tend to be limited to what is required in the game itself – such as shooting a gun or running.

If 3D spaces can be made to operate as naturally as we function in the real world - such as when handing some something, as Mr. Rosedale is miming, might they become a more natural extension of our lives?

If 3D spaces can be made to operate as naturally as we function in the real world – such as when handing some something, as Mr. Rosedale is miming, might they become a more natural extension of our lives?

Obviously, interactions and exchanges in the physical world go well beyond this, and finding a means by which natural actions, such as the simple act of shaking hands or passing a document or file to another person can be either replaced by a recognisable virtual response, or replicated through a more natural approach than opening windows, selecting files, etc., is, Rosedale believes, potentially going to be key to a wider acceptance of VR and simulated environments in everyday life.

There’s a certain amount of truth in this, hence the high degree of R&D going on with input devices from gesture-based tools such as Leap Motion or haptic gloves or some other device. But at the same time, the mouse / trackpad / mouse aren’t going to go away overnight. There are still and essential part of our interactions with the laptops in front of us for carrying out a ranges of tasks that also aren’t going to vanish with the arrival and growth of VR. So any new tool may well have to be as easy and convenient to use as opening up a laptop and then starting to type.

Drawing an interesting, on a number of levels, comparison between the rise of the CD ROM and the impact of the Internet’s arrival, Rosedale suggests that really, we have no idea where virtual worlds might lead us simply because, as he points out, even now “we don’t get it yet”. The reality is that the potential for virtual spaces is so vast, it is easy to focus on X and Y and predict what’s going to happen, only to have Z arrive around the same time and completely alter perceptions and opportunities.

There are some things within the conversation that go unchallenged. For example, talking about wandering into a coffee shop, opening your laptop and then conducting business in a virtual space is expressed as a natural given. But really, even with the projected convenience of use, is this something people will readily accept? Will they want to be sitting at a table, waving hands around, staring intently into camera and sharing their business with the rest of the coffee shop in a manner that potentially goes beyond wibbling loudly and obnoxiously  over a mobile phone? Will people want to do business against the clatter and noise and distractions of an entire coffee shop coming over their speakers / headphones from “the other end”? Will we want to be seated next to someone on the train who is given to waving arms and hands, presenting  corner-eye distraction that goes beyond that encountered were they to simply open a laptop and type quietly? Or will we all simply shrug and do our best to ignore it, as we do with the mobile ‘phone wibblers of today.

That said, there is much that is covered with the discussion from what;’s bean learnt from the development of Second Life through to the influence of science-fiction on the entire VR/VW medium, with further focus on identity through the way people invest themselves in their avatar in between, until we arrive at the uncanny valley, and a potential means of crossing it: facial hair! As such, the video is a more than worthwhile listen, and I challenge anyone not to give Mr. Rosedale a sly smile of admiration as he slips-in a final mention of HiFi is such a way as to get the inquisitive twitching their whiskers and pulling-up the HiFi site in their browser to find out more.

A rebuttal to one-dimensional writing

Sarawak by Loverdag on Flickr, one of the images used in my rebuttal to Marlon McDonald's article on SLSarawak by Loverdag on Flickr, one of the images used in my rebuttal to Marlon McDonald’s article on SL

On Friday, November 14th, erstwhile contributor to Moviepilot,com Marlon McDonald wrote an article about Second Life which, is to say the least, predictably one-dimensional.

The item in question, entitled These Strange Stories Prove Second Life Isn’t The Dreamworld You Believed… takes as its rather predictable focus, the subject of pornography in Second Life. It’s lead to a fair level of upset among SL users – and rightly so; Mr. McDonald goes to considerable lengths to make his case by apparently passing on the opportunity to try the platform for himself, and instead dig through Google searches for articles that are anything up to seven years old (and none more recently written than three years ago).

Marlon McDonald: one-dimensional article

Marlon McDonald: one-dimensional article

There is much that is wrong with the piece; not only does it present a one-side view of SL, it’s clearly intended as clickbait – if not for Moviepilot.com directly (although it doesn’t hurt them!), then certainly for Mr. McDonald himself, a regular contributor there, Most of what is wrong is easy to spot and cane be said through a comment on the piece. However, I opted to present a more direct rebuttal to the article through Moviepilot’s own pages, in the hopes of also reaching Mr. McDonald’s intended audience and perhaps persuading them to look on SL differently.

You can read the article over on Moviepilot.com.

I don’t usually ask for page views – but in this case, I am. Not for myself, but to help the article get right up there alongside Mr. McDonald’s piece and truly give Moviepilot users an alternative point of view on SL. So please, if you wouldn’t mind, follow the link and have a read, Or if you’re tired of my writing – just follow the link and go make yourself a cup of tea / coffee!