Open Letter on One Billion Rising

Afghan women march in KabulSo you’ve probably heard about One Billion Rising, which was a Big Global Event yesterday, in RL and SL.

I don’t tend to talk about Big Global Events here, ’cause you’ve already heard about them, and I don’t generally have anything novel to add. (I’m more into the Tiny Local Events.)

But a friend pointed out a Whiskey Shots post taking a contrarian view of the whole thing (WordPress thinks “contrarian” is spelled wrong?), and I found myself this morning posting a couple of comments to the comment thread on it, and I thought I’d share them here as well.

I should be clear that I admire Whiskey Day, and sometimes :) admire Crap Mariner (although generally least when he gets into macho mode, as here). I felt moved to present my thoughts because the tone of the comments was so largely negative about OBR (turns out Whiskey’s opinion isn’t all that unpopular after all!), and I wanted to add some positive to the thread.

And also because I thought it was sort of true and significant stuff to say…

I don’t know, we don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. Sure things like OBR aren’t going to solve the problem, but then no single thing is going to solve the problem. OBR works on consciousness raising and solidarity, and those are important things, and easy to underestimate. Maybe a few, or a few thousand, women will see something about it and get that extra push of confidence and support that will lead them to leave an abusive relationship, or get to a shelter. Maybe a few politicians will see something, see a bunch of voters expressing concern, and think hm maybe I ought to actually read that bill on violence against women, rather than just voting against it because my party says to. Really fixing the problem requires changes to society, and that happens slowly, and needs pushes from lots of different directions.

Heck, it’s got us talking about the subject! :) Maybe someone will see Whiskey’s note about the newsletter she is writing for, or what Celestiall said about the 2nd Amendment Sisters, and find out more, and donate or volunteer.

If it was a choice between OBR and something more effective, then OBR would be the wrong choice. But I think the choice is more between OBR and not-OBR. I doubt that lots of the energy that went into OBR was taken from something that would have done more good. The media coverage that it got would probably otherwise have been devoted to some celebrity’s nipple-slip or The Latest Funny Cat Pictures From The Internet.

If you know of something better than OBR, definitely go out and do it! But that doesn’t mean that OBR didn’t make the world a better place, even if it didn’t solve the problem all by itself…

… And I can’t keep myself from mentioning also that I’m pretty uncomfortable with this whole “the real solution is for women to dance on the graves of their abusers after they kill them” meme. It’s a cute weblog-comment soundbite, but are we really saying that an abused little girl should just kill her abusive uncle? That a woman facing a gang on a bus in Mumbai should just hope that her gun will be more effective than theirs? That an abused wife should just kill her husband the Sheriff and hope that the justice system understands?

Are we really going to say to a woman in need, look, we’ll spend millions of dollars to protect Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse in foreign countries, but if you need protection from rape you’re on your own; hope you’re well armed! That’s not something I’m comfortable saying, myself.

Again, what the Second Amendment Sisters, and anyone working to empower women for self-defense, are doing is great stuff. But it is ALSO not going to solve the problem by itself, and I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to put down things like OBR. There’s a danger, I think, that it becomes a facile sound-bite, and a way to make this all Someone Else’s Problem. In this case, the victim’s. And that’s not a place I’m willing to go…

And even before I’ve pressed “Publish” on this entry :) Crap has responded; mostly missing the point so far I think, but by the time you read this maybe it will be a long and fascinating exchange. Come on over! :)

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Is Frogger More of a Virtual World Than Second Life?

This morning in the tub when I was trying to think of some more headlines that would make Second Life sound bad without being too obvious about it, I decided it was again time to make some subtly negative comparison of SL to something else. And the perfect example was right there on the bathroom wall, on my poster of old arcade games: I would make a post saying that Frogger is more of a virtual world than Second Life!

Now this might seem weird at first glance, since people don’t usually consider arcade games to be virtual worlds, but the thing is, there’s no one agreed upon definition of “virtual world”, so really I can write anything that pops into my head, and no one can say that I’m wrong. So nyah-nyah in advance to all you negative commentors!

In order to make Second Life look as bad as possible, I think it’s useful to think about all the ways Frogger is more or at least as much of a virtual world than Second Life, and not think about any of the things that suggest the opposite. Here’s at least eight:

  • Frogger is geographically contiguous – Second Life is not. Long ago, it was possible to walk from one end of Second Life to another. Now, SL is dominated by thousands of private islands, many of which are artificially inaccessible. By contrast, you can hop from one end of Frogger to the other, if you don’t get run over, just like it’s possible to walk from New York to Australia in the real world.
  • Frogger has an internally consistent, universal physics — Second Life does not. In some areas of SL you can fly; in others, you cannot. You can even change the position of the sun, and soon, the very way light is filtered. And so on.
  • Frogger has a pre-existing ecosystem of flora and fauna — Second Life does not. Alligators and speeding trucks thrive in Frogger. Outside of virtual pets and the rare virtual ecosystem, SL is mainly bereft of animal species, and has none that exist independent of their human creators and owners.
  • Frogger is self-contained and relatively separate from the the wider Internet — Second Life is much more integrated with the web, and therefore, arguably less “worldly”.
  • Frogger doesn’t have much dynamic user-generated content — but Second Life doesn’t have “natural” dynamic user-generated content either. In Second Life, user-created objects artificially instantiate out of thin air; also, Minecraft is better than Second Life, too.
  • Frogger is a single unified experience of a world — Second Life contains multitudes of very different world-like experiences. A “world” that contains, for example, space marine shooters, fantasy MMOs, urban roleplay, furries, Goreans, real life educators, metaverse artists, and so on and on, seems less like a world, than a platform for multiple worlds. The real world, after all, contains only one kind of thing, not many different ones!
  • Frogger has not stubbornly continued to be successful despite my constant sniping — Second Life has. Not that I’m bitter or anything. But someday SL will finally fail, and then people will stop snickering at me behind my back, pointing and giggling about Blue Mars! Someday they’ll all pay!!11!1!

Ehem. Sorry.

Of course, none of this suggests Frogger is superior to SL, oh no not at all, didn’t mean to suggest anything like that, any more than I did in my “Why call it Second Life when it has a low retention rate?” story, or my “Coffee and Power can succeed unlike SL which is a pathetic failure” story, or my “Second Life has failed due to poor execution and market timing” story, or my “Second Life is doomed because I am not in charge of it” story (parts 1-27). But I will say this: If you’re interested in widening the market for virtual worlds (and I am), it’s a good idea to widen the definition of the category, preferably enough so that it includes some CEO that will reliably return my calls.

SL Merchants: stop with the cruft!

… and in this case I don’t mean the mediocre-quality 2007 freebies on sale for 99L.

The cruft I’m referring to here is (are) the unnecessary scripts that many of your vendor devices are delivering to customers’ inventories, with names like “Floating Text” or “rotation script” or “vendor script – delete me”.

(Or most adorably of all, “New Script”.)

Vendors all too often deliver this stuff along with the stuff that the customer actually wanted (and sometimes annoying non-script cruft like pose stands, multiple landmarks, and so on), and they (you) ought to stop. Not only because it’s annoying to customers, but because it makes you look sort of clueless and unprofessional, and because annoyed customers are that much less likely to be repeat customers.

Why does this cruft come up in the first place? A little background: there are two different basic ways a vendor can work:

  • Vendors that you buy things from with the “Buy” option on the menu, where you get a little popup that says “Buy a copy of Whatever and its contents [list of contents] from Whoever Resident for 235L?” or “Buy contents [list of contents] from…”; we’ll call these “Buy vendors”, and
  • Vendors that you buy things from with the “Pay” option on the menu, and you get a little popup asking how much you want to pay, usually with just a single button with the price on it, but no list of exactly what you’re getting; we’ll call these “Pay vendors”.

A vendor can be set up so you don’t need to select either Buy or Pay, but you just need to touch it, and it acts as though you’d selected Buy (or Pay). You can still tell a Buy vendor from a Pay vendor, though, by the kind of popup you get after you touch it: either the list of contents that you are buying, or just an amount to pay.

(Not being much of a Viewer 2 or Viewer 3 user, I haven’t verified the exact contents of these popups on those viewers, but I think they are similar; feel free to leave comments if things are significantly different there.)

But anyway!

The interesting difference between the vendors for our purposes is this:

  • a Buy vendor always delivers everything in the prim to the buyer, but it doesn’t need to contain any scripts at all, whereas
  • a Pay vendor does have to contain scripts, but it has total control over what it delivers to the customer (so in particular it doesn’t have to deliver any unwanted scripts to anyone).

So the two primary sources of cruft are:

  • Buy vendors that contain scripts that they don’t need mixed in with the goods, and
  • Pay vendors whose scripts are poorly written, and deliver stuff (often including themselves!) that shouldn’t be delivered.

So how do we fix these things?

Remove the scripts! (Buy vendors)

So Buy vendors don’t need to contain any scripts at all in order to sell things (they just need to have the appropriate “For Sale” boxes filled in in the Edit window). Then why do we so often end up with useless scripts in our inventories when buying from Buy vendors? Because sellers put scripts into the Buy vendors in order to get various effects (floating text, spinning, etc), and then they leave the scripts there, even though they don’t actually need to.

If a box that is a Buy vendor has a Floating Text script in it whose only function is to make the box say “Awesome Blue Hat 240L” in floating text above it, the merchant should remove that script; the floating text will stay (it’s like, after you paint a wall, you don’t have to keep the paintbrush around for the wall to stay painted).

If a box has a rotation script in it whose only function is to make the box rotate around in an eye-catching fashion, the merchant should remove that script; the rotation will continue. (This is true for the common ways that people make sale boxes rotate; there are some kinds of rotation that will actually stop if you remove the script, but your sale box is unlikely to be using any of those.)

If a box has that ubiquitous “anim SMOOTH” script in it that makes the textures on the box rotate around, the merchant should remove that script; the cheesy attractive texture animation will continue.

If a box has a “New Script” in it whose only function is to make the box shoot pretty colored sparks out the top, the merchant should remove that script; the particle display will continue. (Again this is true for the common kinds of particle-displays. More elaborate kinds may stop if the script is removed, but in that case you should consider switching to a Pay vendor instead, or moving the particle script to a different prim, or otherwise avoiding delivering it to your customers.)

The result of removing these scripts is that when your customer buys one of your products from your Buy vendor, they get only the product, and none of those baffling and annoying extra scripts. They get a more satisfying shopping experience, and you get a higher customer retention rate. Goodness all around!

Don’t deliver the scripts! (Pay vendors)

Okay, so for Buy vendors the important thing is to just take out all of those visual effects scripts that don’t need to be in there anymore. What about Pay vendors?

In a Pay vendor, there’s always at least one script involved, with the job of noticing when someone has paid money to the vendor, and figuring out what to do about that. (For Buy vendors, SL itself takes care of seeing the buy action and delivering the goods.)

The script in the Pay vendor can do basically anything it likes; it can deliver copies of the items that are in the prim’s contents, it can deliver just the single boxed item that was selected at the time, it can contact some central server that will handle the actual delivery to the buyer. (That last kind is what you are using when you use a Pay vendor to buy something, and the actual item is sent to you by “Fred’s Central Vendor Server” or whatever.)

So if the script in a Pay vendor can control exactly what is delivered, why do these vendors also end up delivering unwanted cruft? Because so many Pay vendor scripts are incredibly simple and basically just deliver everything found in a particular prim. So this can include both all of the kinds of unnecessary scripts that Buy vendors tend to deliver (Floating Text and family), and also the vendor script itself!

This is easy to fix. Typically your vendor shouldn’t be delivering any scripts at all, so you or your friend who scripts can just look in the vendor script, find the place where it’s making a list of prim contents to deliver, and be sure not to add any scripts to that list.

So for instance if the script has a place that says:

    integer n = llGetInventoryNumber(INVENTORY_ALL);
    for(i=0; i<n; i++) {
        items += [ llGetInventoryName(INVENTORY_ALL, i) ];
    }

that is building up the list of things to deliver, you can change it to:

    string item_name;
    integer n = llGetInventoryNumber(INVENTORY_ALL);
    for(i=0; i<n; i++) {
        item_name = llGetInventoryName(INVENTORY_ALL, i);
        if (llGetInventoryType(item_name)!=INVENTORY_SCRIPT)
            items += [ item_name ];
    }

which leaves any scripts (including itself!) out of that list.

(If you do need to deliver scripts, you can use llGetInventoryName() to find out the name of the vendor script, and at least not deliver that. More sophisticated vendors have a configuration notecard or something like that, so you can explicitly tell them what to deliver; those don’t generally have the problem of delivering extra script cruft in the first place.)

Waring: llAllowInventoryDrop (PSA for all)

As an Extra Bonus for those who have read (or even just skimmed) this far, here’s a Public Service Announcement and a warning.

There are a bunch of legacy “copied from person to person for years” scripts out there that contain the line:

    llAllowInventoryDrop(TRUE);

I’ve seen this line in at least some Floating Text scripts; it may well occur in some other kinds of scripts as well.

While I’m sure that whoever put it into the original script had some good reason to do it given what that particular script was intended for, it’s definitely not something that you want in a random vendor.

If you have a script in a vendor that contains this llAllowInventoryDrop TRUE line, you may be opening your customers (and therefore yourself) up to being pranked and griefed in ways that might range from amusing to very harmful, depending on the prankster and the point of view.

(I’m not going to go into detail here on the exact vulnerability to avoid encouraging pranksters and griefers; a few minutes of web searching will find all the necessary information quickly enough.)

And if you do have one or more of these it’s not enough to remove the script or to remove the offending line from the script. If you find one or more vendors of yours have this line in a script, and you don’t know exactly what it’s doing there, you should change the TRUE to FALSE and re-save the script. So instead of the line above, it should say:

    llAllowInventoryDrop(FALSE);

You should also check the contents of any vendors that you find the dangerous line in, to make sure that they don’t contain anything that you didn’t put there.

And about those posing stands…

Okay, that’s all for the “avoiding script cruft” issue. But while we’re on the general subject, I doubt I’m the only one that’s annoyed when Every Single Item I buy at a store comes in a box that also includes a posing stand with the store’s logo, and two or three landmarks for the store and its various branches (and the owner’s boyfriend’s Rock club, and…). I mean sure, have a little vendor that gives away free logo posing stands to people who want them, and by all means have a landmark-giver in the doorway, but if I buy five items from your store, I don’t want five copies of your posing stand, ‘kay?

So could y’all please leave those out, too? :)

Harden the —

Do you dislike Viewer 2.0, or think Search isn’t working very well lately, or think the Lab is spending too little or too much time on Mesh, or have worries about what display names will do to SL culture, or wish tickets would get answered faster, or wish the viewer was or wasn’t optimized for lower or higher end systems, or think the Teen Grid should have been given more of a chance?

If one or more of these describes you, and you post your opinion in your weblog or the forums, talk to your friends, go to office hours, make suggestions on how to improve things, occasionally wax lyrical about the good or the bad old or new days, feel happy or sad and express those emotions, or even throw up your hands and go off and play WoW instead for awhile, that’s terrific; bless you, for you are a part of the culture.

On the other hand, if you are DISGUSTED that Linden Lab is COMPLETELY DEAF to the REAL NEEDS AND DESIRES OF THE RESIDENTS because they’ve done something you didn’t like, or didn’t do something that you wanted, and you GET ALL ANGRY AND STOMP YOUR LITTLE FEET and WHINE ENDLESSLY IN THE FORUMS and unrelated group chats, and become SERIOUSLY UPSET because THE LINDENS ARE TRYING TO DRIVE YOU OUT OF SECOND LIFE and CARE NOTHING FOR THE NEEDS OF creators / landowners / artists / business people / furries / non-furries / whatever and IT’S ABOUT TIME SOMEONE FINALLY SPOKE UP about the BLINDNESS of the SO-CALLED MANAGEMENT, before the CLASS-ACTION SUITS BURY SL, and YOU’RE SICK AND TIRED of lag and broken group-chat and THE SAD THING IS that it could ALL BE FIXED IN A WEEK if only they HAD THE HALF A BRAIN to use some new technology you read about in Wired, or wrote a purely theoretical paper about five years ago, and you’re DECLARING WAR on something or other, with YOUR SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT OOZING OUT OF EVERY PORE, I got just one thing to say:

tyvm.

Utopia is not a lie

In a recent weblog posting, Prad Prathivi bemoans the condition of the mainland, and calls for more control, saying that (and I’m probably distorting his thesis here) the more or less uncontrolled mainland is so ugly that it proves that when people aren’t controlled enough, they make icky stuff, and so “utopia is a lie”.

This posting (and some of the comments on it) came closer to enraging me than anything I’ve read in a Second Life related weblog posting in quite awhile. :) I may be reading more into it than was intended, but it seem so typical of the whole “freedom is bad because people use it to do stuff I don’t like” thought that it pushed some of my buttons really hard. I wrote a long and probably insufficiently thought out comment, which I’ll reproduce (with the typos fixed) below.

It occurs to me, also, that all of this is strongly related to the thinking in Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”, a book that I’ve always loved (and ought to read again sometime). In that book, Nozick starts from basic philosophical premises, derives a description of the ideal society, and finds that it’s basically anarchy (i.e. everyone can do what they like, including starting non-anarchical societies (like private estates!) within it), with just a few qualifications that it would be very hard to implement in real life: the most important one is the ability to move elsewhere if you don’t like the one that you’re in (including, as I recall, being able to move elsewhere in time to avoid that knife that’s about to sink into your back).

Nozick’s utopia is, sadly, not feasible in RL at our current levels of technology (and Nozick himself backed away from it in a sense in later works, writing about more statists and more practical arrangements of society); but it describes SL almost exactly. People can do what they like, but you can always TP away. If you want to start your own society, go right ahead: buy a private island or a big chunk of mainland, alone or with your buddies, and impose whatever rules you like there. But if someone else, somewhere else on the grid, is doing stuff you wish they wouldn’t, tough luck!

And that’s Utopia for me. :)

Anyway, here’s what I wrote on Prad’s posting. Comments and feedback most welcome.

So let’s see. There are vast areas of SL, the island estates, where there are covenants in place, where parcel owners can build only within the covenant imposed by the estate owner, where things can be just as controlled as people want. There are lots of different islands with lots of different covenants, and people can choose from a wide variety of degrees and types of control.

And then there’s an area, the mainland, where the only covenant is the ToS, and people can do whatever they want within the ToS. Everyone who buys or rents mainland knows this in advance, and presumably buys or rents mainland because that idea suits them.

From this we conclude that mainland is awful and broken and needs to be controlled! It is ugly (i.e. it doesn’t fit my particular taste)! It has things on it that I personally don’t like! People build things that I would rather they would not build! Oh no! It must be cleaned up (i.e. made to fit my personal taste better)! It must have a government! It must be maintained!

Pheh. I’m going to get a bit mean and sarcastic here, because you’re attacking something that I value highly. Apologies in advance. :)

I love the mainland for its anarchy, its unpredictability, its freedom. Most of the land that I own is mainland. My main holding is the park near the center of Hughes Rise (stop by sometime!). Yeah, I’ve had big ugly stores move in next door, and all manner of wannabe clubs, and a “police station”, and some lots with really ugly FOR SALE signs, and all of them amused me. It’s mainland, ffs! That’s how it works! If you want nice clean suburban yards where you get a fine for letting your grass grow too long, go buy estate land.

It really bugs me that people can’t stand the idea of having *any* part of the grid be free and open to anything within-ToS. Does every square meter of the grid have to be under the control of some finger-wagging controlling body? Is anarchy really all that terrifying and unbearable? It’s not like people are really in physical danger in the seedy areas. It’s not like someone’s going to trash your car if you leave it parked on the mainland (at worst it’ll be returned to your inventory).

For me utopia is a place where people can do whatever they want, with reasonable and minimal limits to prevent violating the rights of others (i.e. the ToS). Yes, this results in anarchy, in ugliness and in beauty, in chaos and unpredictability, and creativity and squalor, in stuff I love and stuff I don’t. That’s what’s wonderful about it! Managing it, controlling it, cleaning it up, would ruin it. Yes, the mainland is Utopia, and it’s not a lie at all! It’s just something that seems to enrage and/or frighten some people, for reasons I really don’t understand.

“Yet Mainland needs a good clean up – I want to see Mature content moved away”; why do you think that your wants should be the law? “but I don’t see that happening at all.” And a good thing, too. :)

end rant…

UGC FTW!

(That’s “User-generated content for the win!”, or “it’s good to let people make stuff”.)

flickr picture with lots of user-generated SL content that it's hard to imagine the world owners ever getting around to making themselves

This is another in a series of posts in which I take some stuff that I wrote sometime in the past as a comment to someone else’s weblog or something, and post it here, so as to expose it to more of my readers, and to get easy content for the weblog and add to my worldwide fame without doing much additional work.

The following little rant was originally posted as a comment to this digado posting, which started out as a discussion of whether browser-based virtual worlds were going to take over, was dragged (by me) into the issue of whether “browser based” is actually a property of virtual worlds at all, and eventually ended up on the question of whether it’s important (for the success of the world) that a virtual world allow ordinary users to make stuff. I strongly believe that it is, but in the course of the discussion (and of a very similar discussion that took place around the same time inside my company’s firewall) I realized that my favorite reason for believing that (the first one given below) is in practice not early as important as another reason (the second one below).

Discussion and comment and the general spreading of my worldwide fame is most welcome. And now, the actual content.

I think that user-generated content is very important for a successful virtual world that wants to be a general-purpose virtual world rather than just a MMORPG like WoW or whatever. And it’s important for two reasons:

First and I admit somewhat idealistically, I think that everyone wants to create, and will create if we make it easy enough and foster a culture that encourages creation, and that everyone will be richer and happier as a result. It doesn’t have to be the creation of the shapes of virtual objects (”3D phtotoshopping”); it can be that, but it can also be textures, or music, or design specifications for an object that someone else will actually build, or room layouts in a building, or text and writing or all kinds, or sound effects, or the mechanism of a quest game, or a set of jokes, or a new way to organize a committee, or a script to power a funny hat, or… But in any case empowering people to be creative in these ways in the VWs means providing User Generated Content.

Second, and much more practically, user generated content is important because without it the owners of the platform are a bottleneck for every single stupid thing that anyone needs built. Someone wants to open a store to sell either real or virtual goods, and they want the store to have a distinctive look rather than being just Generic Store #3, they have to file a petition with the platform owners and hope someone gets to it. There’s a craze in RL Korea for skirts with huge flower-shaped ribbons, by the time the VW owners notice (unless they’re in Korea themselves) and provide the corresponding virtual content, the craze will have been over for a week. A corporation wants a conference room structured around the basic principles of their new Seven-Sigma Continuous Improvement Business Innovation for Stakeholder Success Philosophy, they aren’t going to want to queue up behind the people who are badgering the platform owners for custom houses done the Dark Elvish style.

UGC frees the economy. We know that the way an economy produces the right goods and services is by way of a price system and a free market (modulo market failures, externalities, rights violations, and so on). We know that central planning of the means of production doesn’t work in the real world. Why should we expect it to work in the virtual worlds? Why would Linden Lab be any better at predicting what ought to be designed and created for its residents than the Supreme Soviet turned out to be for theirs? UGC puts the decision-making power out in the user community, where imho it belongs.

And note that this isn’t just about the people who want to create stuff. Even if my idealistic idea is wrong, and some people really are born to be passive consumers who only want to buy, never create, UGC is still the right way to make sure that the stuff that they want to buy is available. A vibrant economy will do a pretty good job of making that happen; a bunch of people sitting in a room at Linden Lab trying to decide what objects to add to the world next will do a very bad job of it.

End rant. For now. :)

End of actual content. Oh, and props to Ahuva, who was I think the one who most clearly brought out the “it’s good for non-builders, too, ’cause they can tell their builder friends what they want” idea in the internal discussion.