Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Synergy and Magic

Glurp said something casually a while back that I've been thinking about ever since. He said the concept of synergy was a case of magical thinking. Was he right?

As a mathematical concept, particularly in geometry, I'm convinced Buckminster Fuller proved his case that synergetics was a demonstrable law. Like Plato though, Fuller took the extra step of applying the concept to human dynamics, and it's there we may have a bit of a problem.

Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts where human beings are concerned?

My desire is to say "yes" decidedly, but then I am a compulsive magical thinker, no matter how hard I try to weed it out of me.

The problem with applying this concept to human beings is that, for all practical purposes, it's impossible to quantify either the sum of the parts or the whole, so without quantities to demonstrate your point, how does one aver (or even suggest) anything about the result of their combination?

SecondLife, as a concept, depends heavily on the theory of synergetics. We each contribute our little bit, but it's the whole that confronts us when we log on.

We celebrate the greater energy of the whole in a the classic magic thinking style of creating an idol (in the form of a human effigy) and then setting it on fire in the Burning Life (or Burning Man) celebration.

It's not hard to imagine the Burning Man statue near Stonehenge or the Temple of Apollo, with naked celebrants dancing and chanting around with with stag horns tied to their head.

Magical thinking, yes--but is it true?

I'm not actually prepared to answer that. Far greater minds have tried and failed to come up with anything unassailable.

But, in a few moments I'll log into the madness that is mainland SecondLife and I know, in my mind, the answer is "yeah, probably..."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Video About Furry Culture

One of the more significant sub-cultures in SecondLife (and perhaps the most hated), furries are often known about, but little understood.

The following video confirms what I have long suspected about furries:  furries are boring!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

SecondLife is a Dirty Tramp

The difference between a tease and a tramp is that a tramp delivers on her promises, but a tease never does.

Recently, millions of people flocked to the cinema to watch movies like "Avatar" in "3-D".  Cinematic 3-D isn't three-dimensional at all.  It's a centuries old parlor trick called stereoscope which confuses the mind into thinking a two-dimensional image has three dimensions by combining two similar images.

It's a tease though because, although it looks like the image might be three-dimensional, there's still no way you can see what's behind that rock on the right because you're locked in two-dimensions. 

It's nothing new either.  Stereoscopic cinema has been around since the forties and first became popular in the 50's with movies like "Gorilla at Large" and "The Creature From The Black Lagoon".  The only real difference between what they had then and what we have now is the cheap cardboard glasses have been replaced with cheap plastic glasses.

Some people, like me, can't really enjoy stereoscopic cinema because the illusion sometimes makes the viewer's eyes jump around slightly trying to figure out where to focus causing a head ache after about 30 minutes.

A format like SecondLife though really is three-dimensional.  You can see what's behind the rock or up or down or under because there really is a third dimension in the format.  Of the two, 3-D Cinema is a tease, but Secondlife is a dirty tramp because it actually delivers what it promises. 

Can you imagine what incredible experience someone could make if they had a SecondLife budget half the size of what James Cameron spent on the movie Avatar.

Elvis Lives!

ElvisAronPresley Lisa performs at the Umpire State Building for the wedding of Tarra Juneberry and Dick Pudles.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reevaluating Viewer 2.0

I have a suspicion that many existing SecondLife users hate the new 2.0 viewer because it's new and not because it sucks.

Although viewer 2.0 has several cool new features, they're not cool enough to be worth re-learning where everything is.  That's the biggest problem. 

Except for a few features, most of the controls are in a different place than they were before.  There are an elaborate set of controls to make SecondLife work and moving them around can make an existing user feel like a noob having to travel along SecondLife's learning curve all over again, so they simply didn't bother.

Had the viewer offered more really cool new features, or even fixed some unpopular old problems, users might have thought it worth the effort to switch, but without that they just found ways to stick with what they had.

As I understand it, the whole point of making viewer 2.0 was to make it easier for new users to get up to speed on SecondLife.  I don't really see how it does that.  SecondLife is just as complex on the new viewer, even though it might be slightly easier to find controls if you don't know where they are.

Phillip Linden said several times in his speech this week how he wanted to tear down the barrier walls to SecondLife so more new people can get in.  I wonder if that's the wrong approach...

SecondLife is complex.  That's just a fact, neither positive nor negative.  You could make it easier for new users to understand SecondLife simply by making it much less complex, but that would also make it far less potent because, in a user created world, the more tools you give people to make and use the world, the better.

Instead of fighting the complexity involved in using SecondLife, why not embrace it?  The message should be that SecondLife is complex, but it's worth the time it takes learning how to use it. 

Certainly the developers should work to simplify every control they possibly can, but the more controls we have available to us, the richer and more interesting the SecondLife experience becomes.

SecondLife isn't cinema where you sit in a comfortable chair and eat popcorn while it all happens in front of you.  Here you have to engage the art form and move about in it for it to be interesting, and that's what makes it so compelling.

Viewer 2.0, by itself, is a pretty good piece of software.  Over time, existing users will gradually adopt it or it's successors, but, at the moment, it's not yet worth it for most of them to have to re-learn the entire SecondLife control set.

The Return of the King : Management Changes at LL Now Official

Only a rumor yesterday, Linden Labs now officially said in a press release that former CEO M Linden (Mark Kingdon) stepped down and has been replaced by the company founder Phillip Linden (Phillip Rosedale).

Phillip Linden addressed the community with a blog post, thanking M Linden (Kingdon) for his contributions to the company.

There are a couple of things I'd like to point out here: first the official company press release says that Phillip is the "interim" CEO, not the "new" CEO.  This, after all, is the same board that forced Phillip out of the company two years ago, so there may still be some tension there.  Also, Bob Komin has been moved to the position of COO.

Here's my take on things:  Rosedale is an incredible guy, but he's a hippie.  His "unconventional" business methods annoy the owners of the company, even though they recognize there would be no company without him, so they were only comfortable with his return if they moved Komin up to COO, taking the day-to-day reins of the business, while Rosedale does his visionary thing.

Like the departing Kingdon, Komin is the more traditional suit-and-tie MBA type that investors love, but customers often hate and distrust.  Most companies really do need a guy like this to keep the flock from stumbling off the edge of reality and keep the lights on in the office.

I can't tell if the board is signaling future changes by adding the word "interim" to the announcement of Rosedale's return.  I do get the impression that things are moving very fast over on Battery Street, though.  Kingdon clearly thought he was giving a speech at this years birthday event earlier this week and the "emergency" that prevented it might have been a phone call saying he was canned the night before his speech.

It may be the board is searching for another CEO and just brought Rosedale in as place holder while they interview candidates or it may be they used the word "interim" just because things were moving so fast, they wanted to make sure they had crossed their t's and dotted their i's before naming Rosedale the official boss.   Rosedale had another company at the time of the announcement (The Love Machine) and I don't know if  he intends to head both companies or what.

A lot of times, when a board has to fire somebody, you'll see them bring in a temporary replacement to hold things together and let the dust settle before they bring in the final replacement.  I can't tell if Rosedale's return is just temporary or not.  I can't even tell if he wants to be the permanent replacement.

Rosedale is a visionary, an artist in the medium of computer code and corporate structure, and sometimes guys like that are incredibly difficult to work with.  Something like SecondLife is impossible without somebody like him at the center though, so I hope the board understands this and decides to work with Rosedale instead of replacing him, and maybe moving Komin to the position of COO is just the right kind of compromise..

The SL Blogosphere is buzzing with yesterday's news.  You can find links to many of the stories to the right of this blog.  As usual, Profky Neva is verbose and vitriolic and fails to make any useful point, but most others are generally optimistic about the changes at Linden Labs and see this move as a necessary thing. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Will Phillip Linden Return?

New World Notes published a story today about unconfirmed rumors that M. Linden (Mark Kingdon) may soon be replaced as the head of Linden Labs by Phillip Linden (Phillip Rosedale), the former head of Linden Labs and its founder.  At the moment, all of this is rumor and speculation, but he SecondLife rumor machine is abuzz at the idea.

The rumors started after Phillip Linden's (Rosedale) speech at the SecondLife 7th Birthday celebration where he apologized for the mistakes made by Linden Labs management and promised users that the company will do better in the future, sounding more like someone who was actively involved in the management of the company than someone who was out of the loop.

Then, the rumors kicked in to high gear when M Linden (Kingdon), also scheduled to speak a the SL7B event, canceled his appearance at the last minute, due to an unexpected "emergency" of a non-specific nature leading to Rosedale giving a second impromptu speech in his place.

None of this may be true and there may be zero top management changes in store at Linden Labs.

M. Linden's tenure as the  head of Linden Labs hasn't been terribly popular among the users of SecondLife, culminating in (and perhaps contributing to) their utter rejection of the 2.0 viewer developed under his leadership, despite it's several cool features.

Contrarily, Phillip Linden has achieved almost legendary status among the users of SecondLife since he left an active role in the company two years ago.  Repeatedly, users compared Rosedale's departure to the departure of Steve Jobs from Apple, so the rumors of his return may be based more on their perceived similarity to Jobs than on any real events at Linden Labs.

UPDATE: Phillip Linden confirms his return as CEO on the SL Blog

I must say, I've read Rosedale's speech from the SL7B event, and it certainly seemed to me like someone who intended to have (or hoped for) a significant hand in the direction of the companies future.  If Rosedale does return as the head of SecondLife, it could lead to a much more optimistic outlook within the community, which, at the moment, is anything but.  Bringing back its founder was a very successful move for Apple, maybe a similar decision at Linden Labs will be as successful.

UPDATE:  The following user-created video suggests a humorous explanation of why M Linden missed his speech and Phillip Linden filled in.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Now Edison? Encouraging Content Creation in SecondLife

When the Edison company invented the motion picture in 1891*, it was immediately clear just how potent and cool the format was and yet it was several more years before anyone produced a motion picture still considered artistically important or good.  By the time people started making good and important movies, the Edison Company was no longer in the business.

The same may be true of SecondLife.  Ten minutes into the platform and even the dullest visitor recognizes how cool and potent the SecondLife format is and their next question is always "what now?"

I fully believe the content on the SecondLife platform twenty years from now will make what we have now look like Edison's "The Sneeze".  Content, not technology or management or marketing made cinema successful and the same is true for SecondLife, yet there is little framework in place to reward the best content makers.

Unlike cinema, SecondLife was blessed with several very talented early content creators.  People like AM Radio, Arcadia Asylum and Tricia Farella created SecondLife content seen by thousands of users each month, yet they are dependent on tips to both pay for their server time and receive any compensation.

I propose a system where Linden Labs provides a discount on tiers based on the number of unique visitors to the sim per month, negligible for most users but leaving open the possibility of making a profit for the most visited places.

This system would encourage making content users want to see, which encourages people both to get on SecondLife, but also to spend more time once they're here.  Linden Labs would more than make up for what they lose in tier payments by increasing the number of users in the system and encouraging them to stay once they're here.  They could even make it so that only unique visits by premium account holders count in the discount, which would encourage content creators to push their visitors to become premium members.

It was easy to reward content creators in the cinema because people bought tickets.  Although technically an option in SecondLife, the Internet culture is against any hint of a pay as you go system, so SecondLife will have to come up with some other way to encourage and reward creativity.

* I'm more than aware of the controversy over who actually invented the motion picture, thank-you-very-much.  As far as I'm concerned, Edison was the first to produce a second camera after the prototype, so he gets the credit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Video of Collada Avatar Tests

The following is another video showing tests using the Collada format avatar meshes soon to be released in SecondLife.

While most SL users won't choose blue, elephant type alien avatars, this video clearly shows the possibilities opened up by the Collada format.

Imagine avatars with sculpted musculature that moves and flexes, giving far more realistic joints such as hips, shoulders, hands and feet.  Imagine prim clothing that moves and flexes with your avatar instead of sitting rigid on top.  All of this is possible with the new mesh types available soon.

Differing Perspectives

There's a basic disconnect between the people involved in SecondLife.

The people who work for and own Lind Labs want Secondlife to be a company, that provides a profit, a salary, benefits and retirement.  The people who use Secondlife want it to be a community, even a proto on-line nation, if you will.

This difference in goals and intentions often collide and conflict.

As a company offering social software, Linden Labs has been far more profitable and lasted longer than nearly all of their competitors and predecessors.  As a community, SecondLife users are similar to their competators and predicessors, but much larger and more cohesive than most.

I've noticed a tendency lately for people to depict Phillip Linden, former head of Linden Labs, as some sort of hippie version of Moses, and M Liden, the current head of Linden Labs, as an electronic version of George Bush.  If you look at old blog posts though, when Phillip was still Linden #1, people considered him just another suit determined to ruin their fun.  I guess nostalgia does that to you.

There's a tendency for the larger more successful online communities to survive the companies that spawned them.  Should anything happen to Linden Labs, there's already a pretty good framework in place with the open-sim concept for the SecondLife community to find new homes.  It's even possible Linden Labs could survive as a hosting provider for open-sim rather than trying to run the whole show by themselves.

Something like that might even be an elegant solution to the problem.  The community can survive without having to depend on people running servers from their basements and Linden Labs can operate as a profitable venture without the pressure and uncertainty of having to act both as a technical provider and a de facto government for the community.

Electronic communities didn't start with and won't end with SecondLife.  Secondlife did make several major contributions to the concept and continues to be the leader in the concept.  Unlike Facebook, who provides communication tools for communities outside of Facebook, SecondLife is the platform for its own unique community, in the tradition of CB Simulator and The Palace. 

I believe (and have believed for some time) that virtual communities will eventually become more cogent and more common among certain classes of people world-wide than the physical communities we have always known, because they are built not on our physical or economic proximity, but on our values, beliefs and interests.  As a concept, I believe they will far outlive platforms like Facebook, and far outgrow and outlast companies like Linden Labs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Big Beautiful Changes Soon in SL

SecondLife users might get a boost of confidence soon as it seems Linden Labs might have done something right and plan to introduce a new feature soon that will signifigantly improve the SL experience, at least from an artistic and technical level.

Without going into too much detail, you have to remember that everything in SecondLife is made of meshes.  Some meshes are very simple, like a cube; and some meshes are very complex, like an avatar.  Meshes not only determine how things look in SecondLife, they also determine how they interact.

In the video below you see a SecondLife avatar interacting with two objects: one is a ship and one is a sort of steam-punk building, -- both objects are what we would normally call sculpties, or single prim objects made up of an imported mesh map, but these are very different from the sculpties you're used to seeing in SecondLife.

At a couple of points in the video, you'll notice he edits the objects showing the wire-mesh for the objects.  Without knowing the exact parameters or limitations involved here, it's clear that these new meshes use many times more vertices than we're used to with sculpties.  This is a big change and will mean much more complex and more realistic objects for SecondLife.

The other thing you'll notice is that as the avatar navigates his way around inside the sculptie building, his avatar collides with the walls and floors just as if they were made of regular prims.  The collision map matches the sculpt map which currently isn't possible in SecondLife.

Although not something most SL users think about, this is a huge deal and will make SecondLife look and feel quite different, not just more realistic but a real paradigm shift in how we use and make things in SL.

The Format here is called "Collada", an open-source .xml code for 3D objects, that's been around for a while, but never applied to SecondLife before.  I've read where Collada might be applied not only to prims but avatars as well, meaning an infinite variety in avatar shapes might soon be available.

Supposedly the Collada roll-out on SL will happen very soon, maybe by the end of this month.  As an artist I'm very, very excited about the possibilities.  For regular users it means big changes as well, like clothes you actually wear instead of pasted to the shape of your avatar and avatars shapes that are vastly more varied and vastly more realistic than anything we've seen before.

The below video by Timmi Allen studios shows what purportedly is one of the new Collada mesh avatars.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Secondlife Mole Tours: The Ichelus Volcano

Place: Woodbine
Rating: Mature
Status: Beauty Area
Continent: Jeogeot
Owned By: Governor Linden - Maintenance Group
Scripts: Yes
Voice: Yes
Building/Rezzing: No
Builder(s): Deep Mole, Mini Mole, Naughty Mole

At the center of the Southern Continent, not far from Hanja, there is an active volcano.

Built by Deep Mole of the Linden Department of Public Works, the Ichelus Volcano erupts several times a day.  There is a sign at the base of the volcano telling when the next eruption is scheduled.

For those having a bad day, there is a diving board on the edge of the volcano, and in the mouth of the volcano damage is enabled so jumping in really will kill your avatar  (although you'll be resurrected at your home location moments later.)

For boating aficionados, the lake surrounding the volcano is equipped with regatta buoys for yacht racing.

You can visit the volcano here:

Guide to Jeogeot

Uninvited Guests

There's no official name for them.  They're the class of SecondLife users who have been expelled so many times, they now have to use special ban jumping software or procedures just to get on SecondLife.

I call them "uninvited guests", and they've been around since long before the advent of SecondLife.

While anyone may become victim to an unwarranted banning and lose individual accounts, it takes a special effort for Linden Labs to take active measures to prevent a user from accessing SecondLife.

Generally, uninvited guests fall into two categories: those with mental or emotional problems so great they simply can't help themselves like Nero or Ratcloner, and those who really could act better, but choose not to like Oggen or Push Button.

Some of them, like Ratcloner, use different technologies like sim-crashers and copybotters to actually interfere with the normal functions of the grid, while others, like Nero or Push Button are simply so unpleasant, nobody wants to be around them.

Ironically, uninvited guests can be some of the most devoted users of SecondLife, making ten or twelve new accounts a day, just to stay on the grid. 

Besides making new accounts, some of them go to the trouble of uploading their copybotted .xml files with each new account (often a stolen version of one of Rachel Breaker's designs) so they can at least maintain the same avatar form, if not the same account, from day to day.

Academics have struggled to come up with some sort of psychological, sociological, economic or anthropological explanation to this phenomenon since the first days of social interaction using computers, without any consensus, but one thing is clear, these people have a real desire to do this and will continue to do this, to somehow be here, often every day, no matter what the cost.

The tangible costs, it should be noted, are functionally very low.  Although some of what they do is technically illegal, it's very rarely enforced, and they know this, so it has little impact.  The intangible costs are anybody's guess.  The constant rejection might damage their ego, but they're drawn to their own destruction like a moth to a flame, or the thrill of "getting away with it" might build up their ego making the behavior actually beneficial--at least to them.

There are three classes of uninvited guests, based on their preferred area in SecondLife.  There's the welcome area troll: these are the most sociable of the uninvited guests, although you couldn't tell it by the way they act.  They choose areas with active conversations and then seek out a target to shock or upset.

The second class are sandbox griefers.  They prefer areas that allow building and scripting and use those tools to try and ruin somebody's day, or crash the whole area and piss off everybody.

The third class is the mafia or clan goon who earned their uninvited guest status in attempts to impress or gain rank among their peers.   

All of these have their real world counterparts, who are just as annoying, but the rest of us have centuries of experience in how to disable or discourage them that doesn't work on the internet.

I always smile when I hear people say "I wish Linden Labs would DO SOMETHING about these people!"  Linden Labs is "doing something" about these people, but it's just not that simple. 

They could, if they chose, make it so uninvited guests can't get on the grid, but it would also make it more difficult and less convenient for the rest of us to get on as well, and whenever they come up with something that does prove an obstacle for these people, there are immediately legions of snerts working on ways around it.

Any ability the lindens give us to contribute to SecondLife, can be used against us as well. 

There's some disagreement over whether it's worth it or not to file an abuse report on uninvited guests, since they always come back.  I say it is.  It may seem pointless to take the trash out twice a week since you'll just make more to take its place, but if you don't take it out, it soon builds up and takes over the place.

Uninvited guests are sort of the same.  If you didn't regularly remove them from the grid, even though they'll just come back, other people might get the idea they should act that way too, and pretty soon the garbage takes over the place and nobody wants to be here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Meme of the Day: I'm As Mad As Hell!

From Sidney Lumet's Network (1979), Howard Beale dares to tell the truth on the news.

Later, Arthur Jensen tells Howard a new kind of truth.

Jeepers It's The Cops!

I found this guy parked by Rage Quit Park. He didn't speak much English but said something about a warrant for a man in a plaid suit.

Tough Guys On The Internet

Sometimes you can just look at a person and tell how it's going to end. They never do, but everyone else can.

His name was Nathan24. Not his real name, of course, but it's his name on Secondlife and that's where the story takes place.

It was crowded when Nathan24 came into Moose Beach so I hadn't really noticed him. After the third female asked him to stop sending them IM's and friend requests, I decided to look up and see what we were dealing with.

Guys who try to act and dress tough in real life give me a chuckle, on SecondLife it's more like a guffaw.

Although over six-hundred days old, Nathan24 looked like your typical tough-guy noob. All the sliders on his body shape were at 100, blue jeans, no shirt, a rodeo-sized belt buckle, and biker boots.

Let me say this about tribal tattoos: if you're actually in a tribe, I think they're pretty cool. When you're not in a tribe, then I think they're a big neon sign that says "dork inside". Nathan24's tribal tattoos looked like tiger stripes drawn by a ten-year-old.

Tiger stripes aside, the best part about his avatar was the massive prim chain with enough bling scripts in it to function as a lighthouse. All that glitters is not gold, and on SecondLife, it doesn't even really glitter.

"Why don't you shawties come stand by me?" Nathan24 asked in text.

I'm not one to judge a person by the vocabulary or accent they use--if it's from their actual culture. Nathan24's avatar looked white, but sometimes a brother has a hard time finding a decent looking dark skin, know-what-I'm-sayin? Nathan24 was 600 days old though, and something inside told me this was a white guy.

I don't know if it was one solicitous, sexist, IM too many or what, but one of the "shawties" chose that moment to rip into Nathan24 like there was no tomorrow.

So far, all of Nathan24's comments had been in text chat, so I took this opportunity to point out on voice that he was probably fourteen, which would explain his awkwardness with the opposite sex.

I can't imagine this was the first time someone accused Nathan24 of being an adolescent on the internet, but whatever the reason, Nathan24 chose that moment to go on voice and prove he wasn't fourteen years old. And what a voice it was: imagine Joe Pesci from the movie "Goodfellas", only imagine it with about half a hit of helium and a bit of brain damage and you'd have Nathan24's voice.

Once on voice, he wouldn't get off, and went on and on about how we were all nerds and all he was looking for was some trim and how all the British there (who were actually Australian and Kiwi) could go fuck themselves, and the "shawties" could go fuck themselves, and the Phantom of the Opera dude could go fuck himself too. That was me.

My friend Mattttttt, a British fucker (who's actually from New Zealand) took this opportunity to talk with Nathan24 in a voice that was a cross between someone with downs-syndrome and actress Marlee Matlin.

For some reason, the funny voice drove Nathan24 into a blue rage and he screamed out a stream of words that were mostly "fuck" or "fuckin'" and made absolutely no sense, as loud as he possibly could for something like fifteen minutes, red-lining the entire time.

I took this opportunity (while laughing to tears) to count Nathan24's scripts and turn on transparencies and saw that, although he spent no money on the outward appearance of his avatar, Nathan24 bought every weapon ever made for SecondLife and was wearing them there at Moose Beach...where none of them worked...and they lagged him terribly. This internet tough guy was ready for anything. Or so he thought...

I usually only wear one weapon. It's called "have a nice day" and it's made from one prim and one short script and works pretty much anywhere. I positioned myself next to Nathan24 and pressed the magic combination of keys to make him fly off into the horizon, lagged far too badly by his useless guns and swords and HUDS to do anything to prevent his trajectory.

SecondLife adds a Doppler effect to the voice channel to help simulate the 3-D environment, so we could hear Nathan24's "Fuck you, fuckin fuck fucker....." fade off into the distance as his avatar sailed toward the next sim.

You see, Nathan24 is one of those guys with such a massive chip on their shoulder that they go through life looking for opportunities to prop up their failing ego. With computers at home, many of them make it into SecondLife thinking it an easy conquest to finally make them feel like a man. It almost never works out that way though.

We could hear Nathan24 screaming on microphone as he struggled to make his way back to Moose Beach. I knew what was coming and it's my favorite part. "What's you're address mother fucker?" Nathan24 demanded as soon as he was in range.

"I'm gonna send thirty black guys to fuck you in the ass, mother-fucker."

"How do you know so many black guys who like gay sex?" I ask.

"What are you queer or something?" Asked Nathan24. I love it when they're homophobes too (and they almost always are).

"Sure!" I answer. "Would you like to dance?"

At this point, we could hear Nathan24 throw off his head phones and stamp around his room throwing things. Why do they always forget to turn the microphone off when they do that?

"Fuckin' retard fagget mother fucker. I'm gonna kick your ass, you computer geek fagget" Nathan24 shouted in the background.

After some fumbling noises and more cursing, Nathan24 put his headphones back on and addressed me directly.

"What's your address fagget? I have a forty-five with your name on it."

This isn't the first time someone has threatened my life over the internet. Nero does it three or four times a week. For twenty years tough guys on the internet have sworn to my demise, but I'm still here.

I can tell Nathan24 is near his breaking point.

"You don't know who you're dealing with mother fucker! You don't know who you're dealing with!" Nathan24 shouts.

"Ok" I ask calmly, "who are you?"

Although a perfectly logical question to Nathan24's statement, this was one logical point too many and Nathan24's mind, already working beyond its capacity, just broke.

What came out of Nathan24's mouth next was pure word salad. Some of it was "fuck" something or another, but most of it wasn't even words, just parts of words, not connected by any semblance of a sentence, and in the middle of his word salad rant, Nathan24 stops, turns his avatar around and begins to walk away, into the bowels of Bay City--away from his taunters on Moose Beach.

I follow him for a while, to the sound of his word salad getting farther and farther away. Eventually white dots swirl around his avatar and Nathan24 teleports away, another candidate for the rage quit hall of fame.

It always ends the same with tough guys on the internet. They don't know it, but it always does.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Let Us Buy The Company

There's been a lot of talk and concern lately about the management and direction of Secondlife, and a lot of guesses about where the owners want the company to do.

SecondLife has always been a place of innovation and embracing new ideas, how about this one?

Let us buy the company.

Existing stock-holders could offer their shares for sale, in world, for lindens. We already have an exchange for trading linden dollars, why not add shares of the company into the mix?

There have been lots of user-owned companies before, but never a user-owned virtual world.

Ownership would give SecondLife users something they always wanted: control, and it would give the current owners the pay-out they've been hoping for.

Linden Labs has always acted as a government for SecondLife, user-ownership would change that government to something similar to a democracy, or at least a republic, which could dramatically enhance the SecondLife experience, which would draw new users, which would enhance the stock price and so on in a cycle that benefits everyone.

There would have to be some juggling to make the idea work, both legally and financially, but there are great possibilities here. SecondLife needs a paradigm shift to continue growing as it has in the past. Perhaps something like this is the answer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Road to SecondLife: Part II

Introducing The Internet

The 1990's brought change at a blistering rate to the world of micro-computers, both in terms of raw computing power and innovative software.

Worlds Away:
Compuserve again lead the way in social applications for networked computers when they released World's Away in 1995. Developed by Fujitsu, World's Away combined computer-game like graphics with live on-line chat and introduced the world to the concept of the online computer avatar.

World's Away replaced the screens of raw text used by most chat programs, with full-color images of rooms for users to navigate through. Computer generated characters represented each user who could customize their head or body style by choosing among various company-prepared options. Worlds Away even had a small in-world economy where users searched for "coins" which they could then trade for rare heads or bodies or accessories.

Although incredibly innovative, focus on World's Away wouldn't last long in the face of even larger changes in the on-line concept. Companies like Compuserve and AOL changed their focus entirely with the advent of the internet and restructured their companies from content providers into gateways for the internet and the Mosaic HTML browser.

The Palace
Released the same year as World's Away, but much slower to develop, Time-Warner's The Palace software made several changes to the graphical chat concept.

Conceptually, The Palace worked much the same as Worlds Away. Users navigated through "rooms" with .gif format images as backgrounds, and a graphic "avatar" represented each user, but The Palace doubled the number of avatars per room (up to 16) and allowed users to upload their own avatar images. The Palace even had its own scripting language called "iptScrae" (pig-latin for "scripts").

Unlike Compuserve's World's Away which operated only on Compuserve Machines, anyone could purchase The Palace server software and open their own "palace" on their own equipment, accessible to customers through the internet rather than their own proprietary network.

While World's Away faded amidst Compuserve's crisis of corporate identity, The Palace peaked in the late 1990's. Television's South Park had their own Palace where users could get avatars looking like Stan, Kyle or even Cartman. The rock band Korn, also had their own Palace.

The Palace peaked in popularity when singer Britney Spears hosted a live chat with hundreds of Palace users.

The Palace wouldn't last forever though. Although very popular, the company could never find a way to make itself profitable and changed owners several times., the company's last owner finally abandoned the software and discharged all the employees.

Before they left the company, some of The Palace employees leaked all the necessary software for users of The Palace to continue the concept on their own servers and as of today there are still several active Palace servers and user groups.

Although 2-D, rather than 3-D, The Palace introduced many elements common to SecondLife. The concept of user-created content so important to SecondLife started with The Palace as did the concept of using sound files as "gestures". Before SecondLife, The Palace eventually added the capability of using voice to communicate rather than just text.

Many social concepts common in SecondLife found their origins in The Palace. Two groups who ultimately found their home in SecondLife, originated in The Palace: Furries and the fans of Gor. Although originating in other forums, griefers, trolls and ban-jumpers haunted and taunted The Palace long before discovering SecondLife.

Publicly launched in 2003, SecondLife took advantage of the advances in home computer technology and introduced three-dimensions to the virtual world concept and many of their first users were people who already knew the concept from its previous incarnations.

SecondLife adopted the user-created-content concept from The Palace and used it as a mantra for their new world and focused on giving users the tools to create with. Rooms became regions with many times the user capacity of previous incarnations.

SecondLife adopted the virtual economy aspect of Worlds Away and users become entrepreneurs, selling their content to other users and trading in a currency only usable in-world.

The Future:
The future is always unknown, but you can get an idea of where you're going by looking at where you've been. The path from CB Simulator and one-color screens full of text to the technicolor world of SecondLife seems so obvious now, but, at the time every minor step seemed either a revolution or an apocalypse. SecondLife as a company may not survive, but the concept probably will, just as it has in the past, and the torch will pass to other hands.

Although we didn't know it at the time, each step in the on-line revolution added verisimilitude to the experience as, I suppose, will each step in the future--until we reach a point where the second-life will be indistinguishable from the first.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Movie Meme Of the Day: Never Get Out of the Boat

From 1979's Apocalypse Now, Today's Movie Meme of the Day explores the horror of war, and jungles, and tigers.

In arguably one of the greatest cinematic depictions of war ever, Col Kilgore plays Wagners Ritt der Walk├╝ren over an attack on a Viet Kong village.

The Road to Secondlife: Part 1

It began in homes across America.

No one had really considered the possibility of using the new micro-computers as a platform for communication or communities, but as more and more people bought home computers and modems, our natural inclination to assemble together moved into the digital age.

Bulletin Board Systems:
The modem was the key. It connected individual home computers with others using the telephone lines, and in the late seventies, this ability lead to the development of what became known as "bulletin board" systems.

The concept was simple: person A used his computer and modem to call computer B and leave a message. Person C then also called computer B, read the message and comment on it, then person A would call back and read the comment and write a response to it and so on.

Pretty soon, all this messaging back and forth took the form of a conversation, and these conversations became the proteus of a community.

For technological reasons these bulletin board communities remained small. Most of them used local telephone numbers to connect so most of them centered around a local physical community, and most of them were operated as a hobby out of someones home.

The seeds of the digital age were there, though, and many of these early bulletin board users are still friends today.

In 1980, H&R Block purchased Ohio-based, Compu-Serve. A financial products company, Block primarily wanted Compuserve so their customers would dial in with a modem and get up-to-date stock quotes.

Pretty soon, banks and brokerage houses all over the world had Compuserve modems in them allowing local computer users to dial into what became the world's largest bulletin board system. Block allowed Compuserve to develop the bulletin board side of the business, even though they had little interest in it.

CB Simulator:
In 1980, Compuserve also began experimenting with a concept that would radically change the way people used home computers. Called "CB Simulator" and modeled after the popular Citizen Band Radios used by commuters and truckers, CB Simulator introduced the concept of live conversations using a computer. These conversations became known as computer "chat", and the name stuck.

A text-only system, CB simulator allowed users to post sentences to a common screen or post private messages readable only by one specific user.

CB Simulator had 40 common areas like the 40 channels available on CB radios. Soon, the different channels became known for different areas of interest. Channel 1 became the default or open chat area, but the other channels soon broke down into specific interests.

CB Simulator initiated another feature common in nearly all its descendants: the practice of using false names. Like the CB radio, users went by "handles" rather than their real name and this element of anonymity became an important part of online socialization ever since. My handle on CB-Simulator was "Mongo", a nick-name I picked up in high school (where I was still a student) and taken from the film Blazing Saddles.

Sex On-Line:
Compuserve did something else nobody expected. The social aspect of Compuserve attracted female users and soon some 30% of Compuserve subscribers were female and many of them were regular users of CB Simulator.

With women in the room, the private message feature of CB Simulator allowed nature to take its course, and soon male and female users were pairing up, either for casual sex or fully-developed romances online. Several of the channels on CB Simulator soon became known as gathering places for people of similar sexual interests. Channel 10 became the BDSM channel and channel 17, a meeting place for transgendered people.

The advent of women as computer users fundamentally changed the nature of online socialization, and in 1991, Compuserve hosted the first online wedding between users known only as Miles Teg and Cinderella. Although held online, the marriage was fully sanctioned by the state of Nevada.

The Compuserve era wouldn't last long. Soon competitors like Genie, Prodigy and finally AOL would use their concepts and crowd their market. H&R Block never saw themselves in the computer business so they sold the company and it was eventually acquired by AOL, who had no interest in maintaining the brand.

CB Simulator started something though. The concept of live communication and communities online would be a significant part in the next big step in computer development: The Internet.

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