Daily Archives: February 8, 2012

The three C’s: Community, Communications and Chestnuts

Recently, LL put out a call for bloggers (I’m linking to my own post, as that contains the full text of the original LL forum post – and I get tired of forum stuff vanishing down a plug hole and invalidating links over time).

The call was met with widespread derision, not just in these pages, but across other blogs as well, and frequently very humourously.

Yet there is a serious side to this – and in part, it is something I should hold up my hand to and say mea culpa to some degree.

There is an ongoing malaise at Linden Lab. It started several years ago (some might say with the arrival of Catherine Smith and grew steadily through the tenure of her various successors (all women, to my shame), wherein constructive and an open communication with the SL community has increasingly become anathema to the company as a whole. In fairness to Kim Salzer, who departed in November last year, things haven’t improved at all since she left the company – so one assume any unwillingness to constructively engage with users at a corporate is an illness that lies deep in the roots of the company.

Certainly, as Tateru has noted, it is one of the things that has become decidedly worse since Rod Humble took over the reins.

When seen against this background, the recent call to bloggers becomes a little less funny and a little more indicative of a company that seemingly is at a complete loss as to how to communicate about its primary (currently only) product and / or its brand. Don’t get me wrong – many in LL do take time out to communicate publicly, through User Groups and the like (Oz, Charlar, Oskar, Runitai, et al), and Rodvik himself does still take plunges into Twitter as well as posting to his SL Feed – and all of their efforts are appreciated greatly, as is the fact that LL staff have personally taken time out to contact me directly and provide feedback, pointers and other assistance (again, thanks to Rodvik, Charlar, Pete and Viale).

But none of this forms a part of an overall communications strategy. There is no cohesiveness in the approach. The result is that the SL blog in particular languishes to the point of irrelevancy – as demonstrated by the fact that out of 5 blog categories, three carry “front page news” nigh-on a year old or more (Land & Business (which even carries a post relating to Jack Linden – and he’s been gone from that Lab more than a year!), Tips & Tricks, Tools & Technology), while the 4th (“Inworld”) is only “up-to-date” large due to the “Flickr Pic of the Day”.

Of course, as I’ve pointed out myself, when discussing the likes of marketing (and here’s where I hold up my hand in admission), the finest resource LL have at its disposal is the user community when it comes to formulating a potential message to send to the world at large. So am I not being a little two-faced when promoting the idea of using the community, and then rounding on LL when they try to do so?

Well, no, I’m not. I absolutely have no problem with the Lab turning to the community for assistance – providing it is willing to play fair. Machinima is an excellent marketing tool, and it is probably fair to say that the best machinimatographers for SL are involved in SL – so as long as LL recognises this and offers suitable remuneration (a cash prize competition, for example), then why not seek to leverage the expertise in order to promote the platform.

The same rule applies to blogging about SL – and frankly, LL should be employing someone to take the time to blog about the platform on an ongoing basis. They don’t need to be an expert in all things server, viewer and what have you (in fact, better that they’re not). But simply paying someone to do the rounds, talk to the various project teams, gain quotes, publish articles on what is going on in-house, what is coming down the road, what is being done to fix X, Y or Z, and so on, as well as getting out and about as time allows within SL to produce articles, would enormously benefit LL in terms of how the company is perceived by its users.

It’s not, after all, rocket science (or “rocket engineering”, as my father always insists on correcting that quote). It is simple. Common. Sense.

Obviously, keeping abreast of the wider community is somewhat harder – there is much that is going on around the grid and much that can be easily missed. So again, actually making use of the community, getting people to engage with the company is not that unreasonable – providing that effort is met with suitable reward – say, through commissioned pieces.

Communications are a hoary old chestnut with me – there are times when I feel that I’m banging on about it every other week. But the fact is that LL seem to have comprehensively lost the plot here when it come to speaking with a corporate (rather than individual) voice to the community as a whole, and to the wider marketplace. And that is hurting them, and it is hurting SL (might it not also speak to why, despite routinely high user sign-up rates, actual user retention isn’t growing as steadily as one might expect?).

If the problem is going to be solved, it’s not going to be through dangling blog enticements in front of people (or indeed, locking-off the forum post carrying the enticement and deleting replies simply because people are having fun at your expense). It’s about being outward and professional and having a plan.

It’s actually hard to believe there is not someone at LL who is capable of carrying out the kind of role I’ve described above.

And if there isn’t, well, Rod – I’m willing to relocate to San Francisco for the right price and incentives, and you know where to find me: details are on file with you :).

LL calls on bloggers, bloggers call out LL

Updated 8th Feb: I’ve added the full text of the job advert forum post, lest the mists of time swallow it whole.

I almost missed this one – thank you, Chestnut Rau!

Yesterday, LL put out a call to bloggers, inviting them to submit articles for publication on the SL website. It reads in part full:

Are you a passionate Second Life resident who loves to write about your Second Life experience?  If so, you might want to submit your blog posts to us and they could end up being featured in the Second Life Community blogs.

As the movers, shakers, and experts on everything Second Life, we’d like to invite you to submit your original blog articles to us at blog-call@lindenlab.com with the Subject Line: Guest Blog Submission.  Selected submissions will be posted to the Blog section of the Community as a featured guest post!

Here are some popular Second Life topics to consider: Fashion, Home Decor, Mesh, Relationships, Spirituality, Education and Music.

GUIDELINESIf you would like to submit a guest post for the Second Life Blog, please consider these guidelines. Only submissions that meet these criteria will be considered for publishing.

  • All selected posts must adhere to our Community Participation Guidelines.
  • All selected posts should support the inclusiveness of the Second Life community.
  • Selected posts must not include marketing-related links and must not be entirely self-promotional.
  • The post may include links to your website and blog in a brief author’s bio (approximately 3 sentences), which will be published at the end of the guest post.
  • Please limit the number of images included in your submission to 4 or less.
  • We reserve the right to review and edit. We regularly edit posts by our contributors and guest bloggers.
  • Guest posts must be original and may not have been published elsewhere online already.  

The blog call is on!  Read the guidelines, then submit your posts to blog-call@lindenlab.com

Well, yes I am passionate and I do write a lot about SL – some might say at times, obsessively so. I do take pride in the fact that this blog is read by those within Battery Street as well as those outside. I’m far from alone in being a blogger that has this privilege, but it is worth mentioning because the very fact that LL does take time out to read external blogs is a sign that they are attempting to keep a finger on the pulse of things across the broader community, and that’s a good thing.

However….

As Chestnut points out, what is being asked for here is pretty much involvement in LL’s marketing and promotional efforts both within the community, and to the wider world as a whole.

OK, then; that’s fair enough. So what are the pay rates? Will they be per article, with a word ceiling, or per word? How about offering commission rates based on required monthly subject matter?

No, I’m not being facetious here. It’s not unreasonable for bloggers to be paid for their time and effort; rather the reverse – it’s actually common practice. Indeed, you’ve paid for at least one writer in the past yourselves, LL (take a bow, Hamlet! :) ). I’m also not alone in feeling this – as a glance through the comments on Chestnut’s post and following the LL forum post demonstrate. Fair is fair, after all.

So, LL, I’ll gladly write for you – and within your guidelines (after all, your blog, your rules). I’ll even Op-Ed (if you’d dare go in that direction ;-) ). But let’s be reasonable here – what’s in it for me? I’m taking time-out to give you copy – how much are you willing to pay for said time, effort and IP?

With thanks to Chestnut Rau

Raise the (flight) limit!

Update April 2012: The flight limit has been raised to 5,000m. 

Nalates Urriah keeps her finger on the pulse where all things server and scripting are concerned, as well as keeping an eye on other technical aspects of SL. Today she reports on server scripting, and carries an interesting little nugget on flight limits.

Apparently the Lab is considering whether or not to raise the current flight “ceiling” for unassisted avatars. As we’re all aware, if you fly without any kind of scripted  / client-side assistance, you’ll start slowing down from around 165m onwards, and come to a complete halt at about 180-190m. To go any further, scripted / Viewer assistance is required.

I’ve no idea why this limit was set – there has to be some solid reasoning for it in the depths of time. However, for as long as I’ve been involved in SL, build height has (I think, my memory is getting fuzzy in some areas) always been at least 768m (prior to being raised to the current 4096m), so the brake-point at 180-190 to “natural” flight does seem rather arbitrary.

Simon Linden apparently puts forward an argument that raising the limit will shoot people using flight assistance systems into orbit. I’m not entirely sure I follow his logic. There is a plethora of flight assistance alternatives available across SL, from the ubiquitous Flight Feather or Flight Ring of old, through to fancy backpack attachments to options built-in to a range of tools such as Em Dash and Mystitool. Many of these include accelerators which allow the rate of vertical ascent to be adjusted by the user – some of them quite ridiculously so. Yet none, so far as I’m aware, have resulted in people ending up in orbit on the click of a button / key, even when employed at altitude. So would the removal of the current limit suddenly cause these tools to behave any differently?

It’s not even as if flight assistance tools are required, either. Firestorm bypasses the current limit by adding flight assistance to the LSL bridge. Milkshake (prior to being withdrawn from public use) demonstrated that it is possible to override the flight limit directly from within the Viewer without even resorting to any form of bridge attachment. Both of these capabilities tend to make the current limit somewhat pointless.

As it stands, and with maximum build height sitting at 4096m, it would make sense for LL to lift the limit to that altitude (as I’m sure they are only too aware). This would not only make mobility at altitude easier for all (especially around the more expansive higher-altitude builds where flying is allowed), it might even lessen people’s dependency on attachments, be they wearable or HUDs (not that this is a critical issue, given the threatened script limits project is now apparently shelved).

It’s not what I’d call a priority in any way shape or form, but it would potentially make people lives a little bit easier in-world; so if LL are considering the move – I for one say, “go for it – and push it to 4096!”

With thanks to Nalates Urriah

Firestorm Maintenance Release 3.3.0

firestorm-logoTuesday February 7th saw the resumption of The Phoenix Hour broadcasts via Metamix TV. Given the sim was full and the stream hit a capacity limit, I’m guessing the show was somewhat eagerly awaited. As I couldn’t get either into the sim or onto the stream, feedback on the show will have to wait until it is available on the Metamix channel and I’ve had a chance to watch it.

In the meantime, and coinciding with the show, a Maintenance Release of Firestorm was made – 3.3.0.24880. Here’s a quick overview of the elements that caught my attention.

Points of Note

  • There is an impressive list of additions, changes and fixes for the release, as well as a number of known issues. You are advised to read-up on the latter prior to installing
  • It is recommended that you do a completely clean install of the release
  • This release does not include the V3.2 FUI from LL – that’s coming down the road (see below) so far as I can tell, the parametric deformer also isn’t a part of the release.

Particle Editor and Other Highlights

While I’m not going to launch into a full review – I’m saving that for when the FUI version of Firestorm arrives – this release includes a number of cool bits worth mentioning. Most notably among them is Zi Ree’s client-side particle editor, which has been the cause of some angst having been released ahead of Firestorm (for which it was specifically being developed) within the Zen Viewer.

There is a comprehensive guide to using the particle editor on the Firestorm wiki, so I’m not going to delve massively deeply into it here. All I will say is, full kudos to Zi for making it so ridiculously easy, even I can understand it and play with particles…

New particle editor

Another nifty addition from Zi that builders are likely to find handy is the BUILD->DUPLICATE option (CTRL-D). This allows builders to immediately duplicate any prim or linkset they’ve created – hand on repetitive builds.

Inventory gains the ability to search by creator, UUID, description and ALL and filter options to display Links, hide Links or hide everything else but Links to the inventory gear menu.

Estate owners / managers also get some useful updates with this release by way of Ansariel Hiller:

  • ALT-R will now open the Region / Estate floater
  • The TOP OBJECTS floater (from the DEBUG tab of the Region / Estate floater) now includes a button allowing Estate owners / managers to teleport to offending objects

Camera smoothing is also now in the Move / View tab of Preferences, as is the ability to adjust the transition time for shifting focus, while the camera View Angle is updated to allow the entry of numerical values – all options machinimatographers should find useful. The transition time option is something I first encountered in Niran’s Viewer, and really like, especially when exploring SL and appreciating the sights I find – so it’s good to see it in Firestorm.  I also particularly like the options to disable some of the more annoying notifications thrown out by the Viewer during routine operations.

There are even a couple of new skin options: Firestorm High Contrast and also Vintage  – the latter of which harks back to V1 in terms of button colours and presentation.

And all this just scratches the surface of a lot of effort by many within the team to add features and enhance the Viewer’s overall capabilities – kudos to all.

Performance

Given this is a maintenance release, I wasn’t expecting to see the kind of dramatic improvements I’ve been fortunate to experience with other Viewers, Shining Fixes notwithstanding – and that’s pretty much the case. Overall, through nigh-on three hours of playing with the Viewer and leaping around the place, banging prims together and generally poking my nose in and seeing what happens, performance has been pretty much on a par with the 3.2.2 release, with the occasional boost in fps when shadows are enabled. Shadows themselves also seem to render more crisply with this release, although that could simply be a trick of my eyes.

Crash-wise, outside of the issues listed by the team, I did initially have some problems running with shadows active in that clicking the PEOPLE button with deferred & shadows active initially caused me to crash several times. As the problem later went away, I’m assuming it may have been either issues within my PC, or possible issues with the sim I was on at the time.

Overall, this is a worthwhile update to Firestorm – although a read-through of the known issues is well advised.

You can get your copy via the Firestorm wiki.

And for those awaiting the arrival of the V3.2 FUI in Firestorm, here’s a teaser from the team: