Thoughts on a third-rezday plummet

Height 300 by ceoln, on Flickr

Just me and the sky and a prim

When I first came to Second Life, three years ago last Sunday, I was mostly intrigued by the idea that you could make things there, in this “virtual world” where the laws of physics would be perhaps kinder, and more mutable, than in the real world.

Although we all know that the difficulty of The First Hour Experience is one of the Big Problems with the platform today, I wasn’t a victim of it: I was hooked after about ninety seconds. A whole, and apparently pretty large and complex and random, world to explore, without having to drive anywhere or get dressed or even get out of bed! And (see above) where anyone could just stick out a hand and build random things! Amazing!

For awhile I and/or it was crashing so much (you kids don’t know how easy you’ve got it these days!) that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stand it, but it and I got used to each other, and I stuck around.

It’s been a fascinating three years. As I say probably far too often, I came for the building and scripting and stuff, but stayed for the people. I still love the building and scripting, but I’m pretty sure that I spend less time on that than I do on talking to friends, dancing in clubs, meeting new people, and generally hanging out.

There is for obscure reasons a tradition in some subcultures of Second Life, that involves leaping naked from the sky, holding an umbrella, on one’s rezday.

How sure are we about this?

How sure are we about this?

So there I am, again ‘way up in the virtual sky, on a slightly more sophisticated virtual sky platform (my floating rocks build, which is still up there over the Hughes Rise park), with my virtual umbrella, pondering the drop.

It really is a significant drop, isn't it?

It really is a significant drop, isn't it?

This would be a good place for Deep and Significant Thoughts about Second Life, virtual worlds, the real world, the nature of consciousness, and so on. If any thoughts like that come to me while I’m typing here, I’ll try to pass them along. :)

Being Dale has, I’m about 100% certain, been a good thing for me. And continues to be. Different people have very different attitudes toward, relationships with, their virtual selves. For me it’s pretty simple: I am Dale Innis. Saying that I identify with my avatar is as much of an understatement (and an overstatement) as saying that I identify with my RL body. (Much more on that thought here.) My Second Life friends are friends of mine, just like my First Life friends are friends of mine. I don’t necessarily know where my SL friends live in RL, or what they do for a living, or whether they are married or have children; but since I can’t remember that sort of fact about my RL friends for more than five minutes either :) that’s not a very large consideration for me. The main difference, really, is that it’s so much easier to visit the SL ones.

Completely naked?

Completely naked?

(Yes, completely naked; don’t complain to me, that’s the tradition.)

I continue to think, as I said all those years ago, that when we eventually look back on these very early days of virtual worlds, we will see it as the beginning of a huge and important change in the ways humans live their lives. Exactly what that change will be, I don’t pretend to know. I used fiction to speculate about it some back in Meaties; I like that story quite a bit (he said modestly), and it’s one possible answer to that question. It might even be something like the right one; time will tell.

It's pretty chilly up here.

It's pretty chilly up here.

Lots of people that I know in SL, and even more people that I know of, have been talking lately about the Good Old Days of Second Life, and how it’s going downhill, and the best parts are over, due to some combination of floods of newcomers and ‘bots, bad media reporting, stupid and/or malicious actions by Linden Lab, drama and trollishness, personal burnout, and whatever else.

I do sympathize with the feelings, and I am often puzzled by how completely clueless Linden Lab seems to be about communicating at least with the more engaged and articulate and clued segments of their customer base. I continue to attribute it to organizational randomness rather than to any self-destructive attempt to drive customers away, or even a desire to replace unruly individual customers with large wealthy better-behaved corporate ones (I think the Lindens would like to have both, and are just not all that good at communicating with the former).

And for myself, I’m still having a great time. :) I have my first real store-like things, I’ve been exploring lovely places and having adventures with friends, actually enjoying official organized events, and (of course, still, always) building random odd things (and things that build random odd things).

There have certainly been days and nights when I didn’t feel like going inworld; so I didn’t! But in general when the day is done and I have no more chores, and I can settle down into a comfy chair or bed with my laptop (yay, laptop!) on my lap, and fire up a viewer and find myself in my Park, or my Extropia pod, or wherever, and the IMs from friends, and the freebies from last night’s Midnight Mania boards, and the announcements of new Midnight Mania boards, and the scripting questions, and… all begin to flow in, and I open my inventory to decide what to wear and do some token inventory-sorting, it feels kind of like coming home.

Okay, deep breath...

Okay, deep breath...

Not that I’m knocking First Life; that’s pretty wonderful also. And when talking about Deep Things I think it’s a mistake for me to think of them as two different things. I have a life, and part of it is spent in Second Life, and part of it is spent in other places. And it’s all good. And, in the Spirit of the Season here in the US and A, I’m thankful for all of it.

One, two, three, WAHOOO!

One, two, three, WAHOOO!

In Second Life, I can be a boy, a girl, a panda, a child, a tiny elephant, or a bright shiny sphere. I can fly, I can walk under water, I can build a dirigible with my mind. I can meet people from countries I probably couldn’t find on the globe, and I can meet someone from down the street without knowing it. It has its share of people with issues, of griefers and trolls, of misunderstanding and even some cruelty, but well, that’s humanity for ya. I can build, create, explore, do art, try things out, experiment with my own shape and size and color and consciousness, and hang out and talk with other people who are doing the same kinds of things, and also very different ones.

That makes my life richer. Not my First Life, or my Second Life; just my life.

And not only mine.

Plummeting into the unknown future

Plummeting into the unknown future

So to my friends, my friends-to-be, my “would have been friends except we never actually both logged in at the same time”, and everyone else who’s made these last three years such a blast, and who will I’m sure do the same for the next three, five, seven, a million years, my warmest thanks, and if there’s anything I can do to help make your own journey more interesting and enjoyable, just drop me a line…

How to keep a geek happy :)

Homestead Island Sandbox

I am out of frame to the right of this picture, in the Homestead Island Sandbox on OSgrid, one of the OpenSim-based grids on the net. It’s a bit lonely in terms of socializing, and things crash and otherwise don’t work more often than in Second Life say, but still…

That little semi-transparent flying saucer that you can see, passing in front of the sign just under the word “Island”, is fliting around the sandbox, randomly laying down those colored squares that you see scattered about. All over the whole sim! (They delete themselves after five minutes.)

Sometimes it’s nice having a whole region to oneself. :)

Eat at Joe’s!

No, no, wait, that’s not it, hold on… I mean: buy boats at Dale’s Motorsports! :)

I have finally finally finished populating at least the first set of products (“products”) on the tiny parking space in Busy Ben’s Vehicle Lot that I won six months of lease on in the lottery, as previously mentioned. Here it is all set up:

Busy Ben's Spot Finally All Ready

No more “Coming Soon” signs! I’ve had the first three products (the basic boat, a really cheaup nomod limited-time demo version, and a lifetime subscription to future upgrades) out for quite awhile, but the last product (the one at the top there in the picture) took a bit longer. It’s the most complicated, since what you actually buy is a device that lets you and anyone else who comes by your land rez temporary boats to use; so it’s a product within a product, and required lots of testing.

And also I am really easily distracted. :)

(In case you are wondering, the complex pink texture in the left side of the picture there is from the quite large and flashy boat-selling display in the lot next to mine. Their boats look much more realistic, but higher prim!)

Then, due to great good luck and great good friends, I got the opportunity to set up another store in a place with quite a bit more space, in Waterway West New York, which is one of a whole bunch of sims run by Southern Tier Health Link New York.

My Store! WaterwayWest NewYork 242 90 21

My piece of pier is quite a bit bigger than the parking space at Busy Ben’s, so as well as the four Seaspray products, I’ve got a few of my photographs (appropriately water-themed) out for sale, and some places to sit an’ stuff, as well as a boat-rezzer so people can zoom around completely free.

I should do a whole weblog posting just on the NY HealthScape sims, ’cause they are cool. While I’m getting around to that :), here’s a Chestnut’s Choices from back in August, that talks about the place a bit. And here’s the Snapzilla photos of Panacea Luminos, the head honcho. And here’s a Second Citizen thread about the opening of a marvelous art exhibition there. Come by!

Viewer 2.0: Another reason to love Imprudence?

… or Emerald, or Meerkat, or CoolViewer, or…

If Tateru is right (and she usually seems to be right about these things), the story goes something like this: a Long Time Ago, when the Grid was young, the Lab dreamed about the Next Big Version of Second Life, under the obvious name Second Life 2.0. As the months went by, though, and SL turned out to be fsking wonderful and wildly popular, and much of the Lab’s time was taken up in keeping the Grid from crashing, rather than aiming at a Big Flag Day when everything would suddenly change, things were introduced more incrementally (the end of telehubs, the introduction of flexies and sculpties, and so on). On the client side, we got Windlight (which is still not done, grr), the abortive attempt to introduce viewer skins (which failed because everyone hated the first one they did), and not much else.

Now apparently the Lab is still thinking in terms of the Next Big Rev of the viewer as a comparatively large and sudden change, under the name Viewer 2.0. What will Viewer 2.0 be like? Hard to say.

Last year when bopping around the official Wiki, I came across the Landmarks and Navigation Project page, which contained among other things a rather painful section called “Food For Thought”, which argued that it might be a good idea to get landmarks out of inventory, and to “deprecate” user picks, apparently based on someone from an outside design company hired to think about Viewer 2.0, observing that:

  • in the ten minutes they’d spent in SL (or, or Metaverse, or maybe it was Club Penguin, who can keep these things straight?), they hadn’t found landmarks and picks useful, and
  • web browsers don’t have them, so they can’t be good.

Also in the Food For Thought section were some thoughts on how to make search in SL more like Web search, since as we all know SL is basically a website, and Web search is perfect for websites.

I winced heavily at this, as would anyone who’s actually used SL and knows how important LMs and Picks are, and (since it’s a Wiki) I went in and made some changes to make it less painfully clueless. Shortly thereafter, someone commented on Second Thoughts that this whole “Food For Thought” thing had been essentially retracted in an SLDEV posting, where the external team says that actual Resis had told them that getting rid of LMs and Picks was an awful idea, so those things were no longer on their list. (Why they were, and are, still in the Wiki is a bit of a mystery.) So I reverted most of my Wiki changes, and just stuck in a note pointing at that SLDEV posting.

The “Landmarks and Navigation Project” page has been pretty much moribund since then, and I haven’t heard the name of that particular outside design company (“VectorForm” I think is was) mentioned again. The Lab hired “Big Spaceship” (apparently another design company, not a children’s cartoon) to improve the user experience, and they applied modern user-centered design principles by adding lots of extra black pixels and decorative design elements to the Second Life website. The decorations were removed or scaled back when Residents complained about not actually being able to see much information because of all the screen space they took up, but I believe the extra black pixels are still there on the homepage, helping save electricity or something.

Last March, the Lab put up a weblog posting about its goals for the next viewer (under the name “Viewer 2009”); they were very vague, on the order of “make it better”, only with UI buzzwords.

Then back last June, Tateru Nino got hold of an early Viewer 2.0 prototype that had somehow found its way onto the public daily-build servers. My main impression of it was that it wasn’t all that interesting, except that it added the ability to organize one’s friends list (a good idea!) and replaced the right-click pie menus with traditional dropdowns (which seemed like a bad idea, in a sigh-whatever sort of way).

Shortly after Tateru’s posting about it, that viewer vanished from the build servers, and as far as I know it hasn’t been heard from again.

Then just the other week, Tateru (again!) posted an interview with M Linden in which (being M Linden) he says various painfully chirpy things about the Viewer presentation at SLCC09 (which I didn’t see) and the new viewer in general, including talking about (sigh) getting rid of the pie menus, and also notably referring to:

the browser-like location bar where you enter a region name (e.g., p squared), hit return and voila you are magically teleported there. It is really slick and every time I use it I smile.

This worries me because:

  • He says “browser-like” as though it’s obviously a good thing,
  • He either doesn’t realize that the slick new thing he’s describing is basically already on the Map dialog, or he’s assuming that the people he cares about don’t know that, and
  • If that’s what makes him smile, I have no idea what else he might think is “slick”.

He also said “I really like the sliding side panel.” Gah. Too much emphasis on form over function imho. He didn’t even say “we’ve done studies, and determined that this sliding-panel design is better than what he have now.” He just “likes”, it. Oh boy.

Over on Second Thoughts, Prokofy Neva opined that the passage I quoted there probably means that the Lab was going to get rid of landmarks as inventory objects, in favor of just cutting-and-pasting in and out of the location bar that makes M smile. I think this is pretty unlikely, myself, because of the apparently very strong negative feedback that VectorForm got when they originally floated that thought. But you never know! I have signed Prokofy’s petition on Landmarks, and I’d urge you to do the same (if only so that M doesn’t see a petition with just a couple dozen names on it, and think “heh, I guess people don’t care about LMs anymore!”).

Apparently some other people don’t like the new viewer nearly as much as M says he does. The Herald (an SL humor magazine) published what is apparently a collection of early tester comments on the current incarnation of Viewer 2.0, and the impression that I get from reading it is that, once again, it’s been designed by some wet-behind-the-ears UI designers, who don’t have any deep knowledge of Second Life or Resi usage patterns, but who do like “slick” stuff like sliding panels and cutesy icons.

Do read it for yourself and form your own opinion on what’s going on. But it made me shake my head.

However! To some extent it doesn’t matter. Viewer 2.0 itself can’t actually get rid of landmarks in inventory, because landmarks being in inventory is a server-side thing. If the Lab is really clueless enough to make LMs hard to manipulate and trade in the mainline viewer, I’ll just keep right on using Imprudence, or Emerald, or any of the other third-party viewers that are owned by people with a bit more practical sense. They will continue to have nice useful landmarks unless the Lab actually breaks them on the server, and there would be so much uproar about that due to broken content that I really can’t imagine them doing that.

This goes back to what I said the other day about third-party viewers: not only do they speed up innovation and unleash creativity, they also allow us to mostly just ignore any silly mistakes the Lab might make with the mainline viewer. It doesn’t entirely free us from the consequences of such mistakes, because some people (and especially newborns) will always be using the mainline viewer, and if it becomes harder to interact with those folks, and harder to help them out, that would be unfortunate. And more subtly, some changes to the mainline viewer could cause cultural changes that would eventually impact all of us (if for instance landmarks were made less useful, landmark-givers would probably become rarer).

But in general I think the third-party viewers are a real help here. While I don’t think they’ll go as far as removing landmarks as inventory items, the Lab will make mistakes with Viewer 2.0. But because no one is locked into that viewer, no one has to suffer from those mistakes if they’d rather not, and since they presumably know this, the Lab may think a bit harder before making random changes based on someone thinking a sliding sidebar looks slick. Even if it’s M Linden who thinks that…

My commercial empire!

I mentioned last time that I won a spot in Busy Ben’s Vehicle Lot, in the Boats section.

Monday was the first day we could move in, and I’ve moved in!

Well, sort of:

Space 44 _ Busy Ben's Vehicle Lot and Rezzing Area, Oak Grove

Right now the only thing you can actually buy is the Preview Version of the Seaspray 1.1; a nice 1-prim 1-rider zipping-around boat with no fancy features, for a mere 25L. (What a deal!) That’s a model of it spinning around in the middle there; it comes in red. :)

(But it is mod.)

Soon the Basic Version will be available, which will have lots of customization features (125 colors, nine textures, shine and glow and light), locked and unlocked modes, fast and slow modes (the current one is pretty fast, and not hard to lose control of while zooming), and like that. That one will be 50L.

And later there will be an auto-updating version, and a rezzer so you can let your guests produce their own auto-cleanup copies, and, and, and…

Unless I get distracted. :)

Busy Ben’s (I’m in slot 44).

Blake Sea Ferry

I have a vendor spot in the “Boats” area at Busy Ben’s Vehicle Lot, and I’ve been working on a boat to sell there, hanging out in the Blake Sea – Azimuth rezzing area as a workspace for no particular reason. And every once in awhile a big empty boat would pass by.

The other day I sat on the boat to see what would happen, and found myself in the pilot’s seat, pretend-steering the ferry between various islands. I happened to be IMing nice friend Mallow at the time, and TPd her over to see. When she sat, she appeared in the pilothouse next to me, co-piloting away:

Isles _ Blake Sea - Kraken (84, 8, 27)

(Nice pale Windlight sky preset whose name I don’t remember.)

I know I’ve been sort of skeptical about Linden-run builds in SL, and that includes, directly or indirectly, alot of the stuff in the Blake Sea.

But I can’t deny that they can be fun, and also really lovely…

Sea Spray _ Blake Sea - Jones Locker (222, 26, 27)

See you on the high seas! :)