Display Names and public relations

So Second Life is getting “display names”, meaning that although I am Dale Innis, I can have the label over my head say “Dale” or “Catgirl” or “Barak Obama”, or almost anything else I want.

This is old news, and I don’t frankly think it will turn out to be all that significant in itself, so I haven’t weblogificated about it (unless I have and I just forgot), but I saw something today that does move me to write.

The Lab is saying, and I think correctly, that the Residents will understand enough about immutable identities (the names we have now, which will be called “user names”) versus extremely mutable display names, that there will not be huge amounts of griefing or fraud as a result.

On the other hand, the Lab is also saying that you can have any non-offensive Display Name you want, except for ones that end in (or contain, or something) “Linden”.

And people are asking the very reasonable question “if there’s no danger of griefing or fraud using display names because everyone will understand that they can’t be trusted, why are you forbidding Linden names? Isn’t that sort of hypocritical?”

There are good answers to this question. For instance:

Since we will make it very clear to all Residents that display names are under the control of the user, we don’t expect a significant amount of confusion or fraud using display names. The one exception to this is the name ‘Linden’, which is so tied in current Residents’ minds to LL employees that, although we think the potential for confusion or fraud there is still small, we’ve chosen to forbid it in display names. We regret the limits that this will put on people whose real-life name is ‘Linden’, and we will periodically revisit this limitation going forward.

On the other hand, there are also very bad answers to this question. Here’s one example:

Linden is a real world company with real world brand and protections of that brand. So yes, we will protect that inworld.

If the restriction on “Linden” in Display Names was really about protection of real world brands, then presumably they would also be more or less obliged to forbid any other trademarked name as well, which would really cut down on the available space! Or else they’d be blatantly saying “we will protect our own brand, but we will allow our platform to be used to damage any and all other brands”, which would not only show contempt for the brands owned by us Residents, but would be essentially begging for contributory-infringement lawsuits.

So given that there are good and bad answers to that question, you’d hope that the Lindens would be giving the good answers, and not giving the bad ones. Unfortunately, this Darkly Cute posting and its comments suggests that the latter bad answer was given at an Office Hours or something recently by Jack Linden, whereas the former good answer was just made up by a humble Resident (me), and posted hypothetically in one or two places in the weblog-o-sphere.

I don’t know why the Lab doesn’t have someone assigned to writing down reasonable answers to reasonable questions, and making sure that all customer-facing employees are familiar with those reasonable answers and use them. I don’t know why customer-facing employees are allowed to, or for that matter think that it’s a good idea to, basically pull random answers out of their hats in public. We had that problem with the Adult Exile, and probably with every other major debacle; rather than a nice clear explanation, well thought-out, from the Lab as a whole, we get spur-of-the-moment inventions from individual Lindens.

Maybe part of it is the atmosphere of your typical Office Hours or inworld meeting: a room full of random and largely surly Residents shouting questions and accusations and profanities and epithets at one or two Lindens, who do their best to keep their tempers and say reasonable things. It would be trying for anyone.

But the Lab really needs to drum it into the heads of the poor Lindens who endure these things: when Residents ask hard legal or policy questions that you don’t know the Official Lab Answer to, do not just make stuff up. Say “that is a hard legal or policy question that I don’t know the Official Lab Answer to, and rather than just making something up, I will take it and get back to you with the actual right answer.” (And then, ideally, actually do that.)

This would be a Good Rule to Have. Hear that, Lab? :)

Okay, enough complaining. :) I think I will go build something, or listen to a good DJ. Display Names and bad PR aside, it’s still a wonderful world(s).

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7 Responses

  1. Out of their…. hats? Well-euphemized, Dale ;)

  2. yep, had a few instances of that over the past year… good advice.

  3. I think my new display name shall be WalMart Exxon-Mobil, of the Massachusetts Exxon-Mobils.

  4. […] Display Names and public relations (daleinnis.wordpress.com) Share […]

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