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…

16 Responses

  1. In the fantasy world that I wish for, all CEOs would understand the companies they manage and have a good foundation of relevant experience. My world would also include a complete absence of lag and free chocolate for everyone.

    But on the bright side, in the face of all questionable ideas to improve it, the world that we have keeps going. It self-corrects to a certain extent.

    (The first draft of this comment spontaneously combusted, therefore this one is short. I should be creating, not ranting. )

  2. Oh Dale.

    First, we do not judge a project in testing. We just don’t. We’ve only seen what may have been an alpha copy and comments from the test group which from experience I know to be a group of people you pick because they are prone to bitch about everything.

    Look, Prok could have a note signed from Jesus and countersigned by God and it would be seen as shit by 74.43% of everyone according to a figure I just pulled from my ass. She is not alone. It’s why I avoid charitable causes. I will never forgive myself for all those people turning on Jerry’s Kids when I got involved.

    Landmarks are annoying and their auto offer by merchants should be punishable by castration. Once you get a good number of them they are near useless. The same places offer the same ones to me over and over. Do they overwrite? Of course not. They Tribble. Again, thrid party to the rescue since my HUD supports adding clickable destinations.

    Picks serve no purchase apart from getting free items.

    I personally would like a map I can make marks on. A little puppy for Prad’s area, a little teddy bear for Dale’s, etc.

    I honestly don’t understand your amazement at open source development. It’s a bit like you doing a lot of work which you then hand me. I tweak a few things and I am the hero. Unless of course the tweaks I make allow to me to do bad things in which case you pretend I do not exist.

  3. Sure, we judge products in testing all the time! That’s how the design flaws get fixed. You don’t wait until it’s released; it’s much harder to get changes made then.

    Landmarks could certainly be improved (very different from being done away with!). Having lots of them doesn’t make them useless, though. If I want to find Tiphares, I type “tiphar” into the inventory filter, I get a few hits, I double-click on one, and I am there. And if I want to tell someone else how to get to it, it’s just drag-an-drop! The other eight thousand LMs in my inventory don’t get in the way of that.

    I couldn’t disagree more stronglier about Picks; maybe I ought to write a whole weblog entry about how great they are. Picks are great for finding the store of the creator of a cool thing that you see, so you can buy one. Picks are great for finding places that neat people think are neat. (And when you get to those places, you can look at the Picks of the builders, and see what *they* think are neat.) It’s amazingly wonderful!

    I don’t think I’ve ever done one of those “add this place to your Picks and get free stuff” things. But to each eir own. :)

    I didn’t say a word about Open Source, I just talked about third-party viewers. I do think Open Source is often cool, but I don’t think I’m actually amazed by it. In the case of SL viewers, Open Source is imho less important than open protocols. As long as it’s possible for folks to write third-party viewers with cool new things in them, I don’t care all that much whether they’re written from scratch, or based on the Lab’s viewer code. The latter is more efficient, but for me it’s the innovation that’s more important.

    An’ thanks as always for th’ comments!

    • I have to agree about the picks – about the only thing I use in someone’s profile (admittedly 99.9% of the time it’s to find if they have a store after edit-checking something I want to buy).

  4. […] you are fired.  Expect that bitch.  Dale just put up a post.  He is alive and well.  Until I make my move anyway.   Later […]

  5. A wonderful post, as always :) I can’t even imagine not having landmarks…the ones I keep (and they are *quite* a few) are those that are either important to me or they’re for shops/builds that I am not very familar with (and so I might not think of their names were it not for the landmarks in my closet). An inworld experience that doesn’t include teleporting to the picks in other’s profiles? That doesn’t compute for me. That just doesn’t even make sense to me. As you said so very well in your very thoughtful piece, content creators who are also very good about communicating with their customers include their shops in their picks. If a fashion blog doesn’t include the url but does list the name of the creator, I will *always* check their profile for a landmark. Beyond that, I’ve stumbled upon shops and fascinating places purely by checking picks. I can’t phathom what might cause LL to want take away two wonderful tools that make navigating and “discovering” SL so very much more easier than it would be otherwise. As a newbie I would have been completely lost without those tools, and as an oldbie, I still heavily use landmarks and profile picks. I’m with you. I’m glad I’m using Emerald. Hopefully, LL will move beyond what seems to be a reactive competitive response and do what it does so well…truly innovate.

    • Thanks very. :) I don’t think there’s any real danger they will get rid of LMs, but part of the reason for that is that we who actually know their value will yell whenever there’s any hint that they might. Time will tell! As someone said on Twitter, they will probably use the First Look path to gather broader Resi feedback on any big viewer changes before anything is final. I hope they do!

  6. I have been involved with one of the projects you mentioned here and I can say without any trace of doub that the reason SL still has a heck of a hat time retaining new users is because LL listens to much to SL uber dork power users like you who are obsessed with some obscure function and don’t realize that the masses (who LL is trying to attract) don’t give a rat’s ass about random legacy functions that only you care for – Ex: User Picks. People like you are at fault!

    • Mr. F;

      That was not needed and untrue. Who the hell said Dale was a power user? And uber? Come on. Go read Dusan- that shit sails over my head so I park it here.

      Dork is debatable, but for the rest I must ask you check your facts, sir.

      On the issue itself, yes progress will be painful to some. But backwards compatibility should be a plus, not a must. I could complain that some of my Xbox games do not run on my 360 or I could enjoy how much better the 360 games are.

      I am sure there are people who listen to Dale, but Lindens? They are known for listening to none due to their insane organizational structure and hippie like rouge ways. Putting them all under oppressive know nothing micromanaging project managers like the rest of us would be a positive change.

      As for power users, the exit to stage left of Not So Lame in Real Life has already lowered the volume on the all knowing from 11 to 8, so give it time.

      I can without a doubt promise you I will never be a power user, my view will never be discussed, and even the good ideas I support often fail when I am seen associated with them.

    • Haha, thanks for the anonymous input! :) Out of curiosity, have you used SL to speak of at all? Picks aren’t “legacy”; they are just as widely used and widely supported as they ever were. And if anything they’re even more useful to newborns than to us long-time users, since the newborns are (even) more in need of finding interesting places.

      If someone had thought up User Picks today, they would be praising it as “bottom-up Web 3.0 crowdsourcing of destination information” or something.

      Sorry if I offended you with my description of the VectorForm and/or Big Spaceship efforts; I didn’t mean it as a personal attack on anyone. If you can contribute some insights from that work without cursing and blaming people for things, please do! I think it would be interesting.

    • Mr F. I like LMs. I also like Picks, for many reasons, most of which have already been pointed out by Dale. Also, I agree with Dale’s statement that new users need and use Picks even more than we oldbies do. Your statement “…masses (who LL is trying to attract) don’t give a rat’s ass about random legacy functions” is especially ironic, since it’s usually these same “mass” members who have their Picks full…whether it be with neat places, their fav shops, or just their fav people in SL. If they didn’t care, why bother to fill the tab?

  7. Carefully as I read this post, I can’t quite pick out how you secretly mean the exact opposite of what you actually say about Landmarks. I must’ve gotten that idea from a comedy site somewhere.

    Anyway: For me, the interesting Landmark proposals last year were the ones that promised to flesh out the existing Landmark schema. It’s been claimed elsewhere that nothing beyond the current pre-2005 schema is needed or wanted, as residents ought to sort of memorize their landmarks and fish around in Inventory until they manage to trip across the one they want.

    That’s a rather weak argument against useful proposals like landmark and TP history, landmark tagging, and searchable note attachments. I hope we see some of these ideas explored in the quasi-independent viewers before some future LL edition turns toward, say, pure text SLURLs or somesuch thing.

    • My hidden self-negating is apparently very very subtle; I even overlooked it myself! :)

      Some people are clever enough to organize their landmarks into folder hierarchies and stuff (at least I hear legends of such beings), but I’ve never managed to do that myself. But landmarks do often have the parcel name and sim name in their titles, so typing stuff into the inventory filter (virtually the only way I ever find anything in there) works pretty well.

      Emerald and my magic bracelet both have TP history, and the normal viewer allllmost has it in the form of stuff spewed to chat history (that musta been like a two-line viewer change heh heh).

      I would love to see some concerted work on LM (and general inventory) improvements in the various viewers. Could be done as a nice vanilla patch that everyone (maybe even Snowglobe!) could pick up. If only I had some time…

      • I’m still struggling with the concept of user picks as a “legacy” option–and thus, by extension, ‘old and worn out’. Buh? Just about *everyone* I know uses user picks, and rightly so–they are necessary, still vastly useful, and hey, more of them wouldn’t be a bad idea.

        Landmarks? Well, if 2.0 really wants to change to a ‘Favorites’ system, or retain TP history, fine, I suppose–but really, hasn’t anyone heard that you can *delete* stored landmarks now and again? Just like culling calling cards on occasion, it’s a good thing to do to keep inventory clutter down.

      • I haven’t had time to actually try Viewer 2.0 beta now that it’s out, but I haven’t seen anyone *say* yet that user picks are gone. So I’ve been assuming they are still there… :)

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