Dear Mr. Linden…

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As SLCC has now ground slowly but exceedingly fine for another year, I find myself considering what suggestions I would have made to Phillip Linden and his Linden Brain Trust, if I had the opportunity not to mention his attention.

The points I would like to discuss with him are not numerous, but in my seldom humble opinion may go a long way towards making the Second Life experience more pleasurable for all involved.


Performance Issues

Certainly there have been serious, persistent problems affecting recent performance that are not LL’s fault, including long term hacker attacks and repeated problems (apparently) with their ISP. However, these mitigating circumstances do not help them get past the core truth that is holding SL back – poor (sometimes absolutely wretched) performance.

Sim (meaning server) limitations often make SL basically unplayable for many people, or at best very, very frustrating. I know several people who have left or severely curtailed their SL time due to performance issues. That is the smallest part of the problem, however. The big name media/entertainment companies that SL is courting will never throw their all, nor their considerable money and clout, behind a platform that can get them no more than 50 sets of eyeballs at a time, tops (maybe 150 with Sim gerrymandering). These are groups are used to reaching millions when they so much as sneeze. Phillip Linden makes a big noise in public and in the trades about SL being the next form of the Web, but until SL can handle at least small crowds it will remain what it is now, an often misunderstood novelty.

On a less vital note, it would also be nice to see an “SL Lite” client with limited graphics capabilities to be run on “less able” computers. As the hardware requirements continue to spiral upward, more and more people are barred from playing SL when and where they would like, or often at all, due to their equipment. The recent Atlas based text only client is very unstable but a step in the right direction. Surely there must be some way to create an interface into the Metaverse for older machines or slower connections.

Promises

Linden Labs tend to announce and promise features long before they are even close to implementing them. In fact, they usually have no real idea exactly how they are going to implement something when they announce it. This “work it out on the fly, dude” attitude may work great when building a Burning Man camp, but less well when dealing with a 5 million line chunk of code that responds like a frigid hippo.

Many of the brave new initiatives announced by the Lindens months ago, such as Voice Chat and Age Verification are just beginning to see the light of day. Other even more exciting possibilities, such as Weatherlight, seem nowhere close to actually impacting on the SL experience. LL has a terrible reputation regarding execution, and treating feature announcements like trial balloons, hanging in the vapour indefinetely, is doing them no favors.

As for other promises on all sides, what ever happened to the much ballyhooed Project Open Letter, demanding that SL fix performance before adding features? Not only did the Lindens make a great maumau to the writers and then ignore the entire letter, but the writers once maumaued to, forgot they had ever written it. So much for brave threats by major personalities that they would hold LL accountable for performance and make them keep their promises. Performance is still mediocre at best, and new features keep rolling out, breaking as they come. Business as usual.

Eventually LL will need to keep their promises.

Posterity

So many amazing things have been created in Second Life, and then wiped away when the creator needed the prims or the tier back. Dramatic, innovative uses of virtual space and time will be suddenly replaced by yet another mall, or worse. Some would argue that the same thing happens in meatspace too, but is that a real-world trend we wish to reproduce here? One of the most frustrating aspects of SL is the fact that one day one of your favorite Sims or builds will just be gone. It makes it hard to view life in the Metaverse as anything more then, dare I say it, a game.

On the other hand, I understand the plight the creators are in. No one has yet found a way to make a Sim self supporting beyond donations or vendor sales. SL gives us the ability to make access to an area available only after paying a fee, but I don’t think anyone has really used it extensively, and to be honest, I doubt it would work very well. It is like news on the web…once you have gotten it for free, you will never pay for it. Therefore, eventually even the most civic minded individual will not longer be willing to pay for everyone else’s fun.

I propose that every year, the Lindens select 10 acclaimed, “famous” builds and make them Landmarks. Waive tier for them or subsidize them in some way. In this way, Sl can begin to create a virtual history, a sense of posterity. This will not only please residents, but assist in marketing efforts since now certain well crafted, popular places will always be there, to show off and publicize. In addition, the best creators would be able to be officially recognized for their efforts and would strive all the harder in their projects to win the coveted “Landmark” status. I see it as a win/win situation for all sides requiring very little outlay by LL.

Perspective

Too often I get the feeling that as far as Linden is concerned, Second Life is all about the technology and the code, and not about the content or society. If you look at those residents who were recognized By Linden Labs as essential contributers to Sl life at SLCC, all of them save one were from the technical side. People who were working on client software, or esoteric and complex scripting questions or jury-rigged bug fixes. No one was honored for their designs, or architecture, or social management or event creation. Certainly the technical side is important and laudable, but I feel it needs to be balanced with the creative side. Neither can exist here without the other. All that seems to matter to LL however is the code, not the content.

That to me shows the basic disconnect between Linden Labs and the residents of SL. It is WHY the Open Letter was ignored. Perfecting something old so that people can use it easily is boring, creating new code for the cutting edge gear heads to hack and admire is sexy. It is also why CopyBot was created and then allowed to panic the grid. The scripters wanted to see if it could be done, so they did it, regardless of the effect on designers who most scripters hold in contempt anyway. LL is more concerned with the code then the people, so when designers called “FOUL” and the scripters said “kewwwwwl” LL sided with the “kewwwwwl”.

A little less kewl and a little more caring for the world they have created would take the Lindens a long way.

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5 Comments

  1. Your proposal for Landmark builds is brilliant, excellent. Would Linden Labs consider implementing it?

    Back when a parcel’s high foot traffic and voted popularity might lead to reduced tier cost for that month, it seems LL might have done so. But they did away with such rewards.

    I would very much like to see this instituted. What shall we do? Start a vote, organize a march, chain ourselves to some historic sites?

  2. Many of the ‘famous’ names behind Project Open Letter are currently talking to Salon.com about things they’d like to see changed. With any luck, the word will go out again–even if it results in exactly the same conclusions.

    They haven’t forgotten. They’re as frustrated as we are. They don’t know what else to do, either, save for keeping the complaints up.

    I, also, would love seeing the establishment of “landmark” builds. Even just a few very exceptional sites–Luctasa’s Starry Starry Night build springs instantly to mind, but even sims like Tusk, long ago lost, and Winterfell, with its total control of appearance and even illumination, can stand as shining examples of focused presentation and cohesive creation.

  3. When reading the section on posterity, I wasn’t sure where you were going, but when I came to the concept of Landmark builds…. Wonderful idea, sir! The logistics of implementing such a plan would need to account for the differences between mainland and private islands, but I love the idea.

    I must voice my dissapproval of your assertion that most scripters have a contempt for designers. I’ve programmed computers for most of my life. I’m fairly new to LSL, but am becoming an able programmer of that language.

    I consider myself a programmer before a designer as I don’t feel I possess a great deal of artistic talent, but I, for one, do not have contempt for designers in the least. On the contrary. I quite enjoy the amazing builds of the great many, very talented designers. It matters not the scale of the build. It could be a simple walking stick or a sim-sized village, it’s all good. 8-)

  4. Mr. Writer…

    I base a good part of my appraisal of the feelings of “scripters” for designers based on the mockary, arrogance and outright hatred for the creative community that I found dominating the libsecondlife forums during the CopyBot incident.

    No generalzation is ever the rule, so I am speaking here of simply a perception.

    Thank you,
    BardHaven

  5. Luckily I wasn’t alive during that time! I have no tolerance for such intolerance! 8-)

    Seriously, though, (and it is a rare moment indeed when I am serious), I’ve programmed for nearly 28 years and I’ve know a few arrogant programmers like that. The way I look at it, the program is just another part of the whole. A program has to run on something or do something, so programmers should not take the view that they are supreme in any manner. What good is a vehicle script, for example, without a vehicle? Which is more important? The vehicle without a script can be a nice display item. The script without a vehicle is a bunch of text in a file. Together, they make a more interesting end product.


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