Second Life remains one of the most successful sandbox-style virtual worlds and offers a great outlet for the creativity of its users, despite its well-documented technical limitations. By “creativity”, I mean literally anything a user may do in-world: from taking selfie-style snapshots to making machinima and from building a small hovel to creating an entire virtual city. Of course, not everyone invests time, effort, and money, into creating something that only they’ll enjoy all by themselves. People generally want to share their creative efforts.
In the early years of the platform, people shared their in-world creativity using a disjointed set of tools and platforms: their SL profiles, which come with limitations aplenty, their blogs (at least those who bothered setting up one), Flickr, Yahoo! Groups (which, by 2005, were already on their last legs and are now just a barren wasteland taken over by spambots), DeviantArt, and all manner of SL-related forums, official or otherwise. As time went by, it became clear, at least to those who weren’t groupies, cheerleaders, investor-baiters, or downright delusional evangelists, that Philip Rosedale’s claim that Second Life would become “the 3D web”, which would supposedly replace the web as we knew it, was pure horseshit. There was so much that was the “vanilla” web could offer that SL simply couldn’t – and still can’t. Plus, the “vanilla” web doesn’t require a graphics workstation for you to enjoy it; SL’s cost of entry has always been very palpable. And, quite frankly, SL’s built-in tools for 3D content creation still kind-of suck, even compared to something like SketchUp sans plug-ins.
The rise of Facebook put the final nail in Philip’s bullshit. By 2007, SL was deep in the dregs: besides moral panics like the Copybot scare, its creative facilities were horribly lagging behind every 3D content creation application, relying on badly-written, inefficient hacks. Its governance team interpreted and applied the company’s ToS arbitrarily, and the platform lacked any meaningful kind of nexus for social networking. One may say I’m ignoring SL’s in-world groups. I’m not ignoring them; I’m dismissing them. They’ve always been terribly problematic: group chat has always been highly unreliable; notice management capabilities are only rudimentary; as for dealing with spammers and abusive members, only in June 2014 were group managers given the ability to ban people from them (Second Life Project Viewer version 22.214.171.1240887) – that’s eleven years after Second Life was launched.
I’m not ignoring SL’s official forums either. They’re useful, but the general discussion section has historically been a cesspool where abuse, harassment, and bullying were, for far too long, the order of the day. People there were literally at the mercy of sadistic gossip / troll gangs that acted with complete immunity and impunity, courtesy of their connections with certain governance team members. Thankfully, Ebbe Altberg (LL’s current, and, if I’m not mistaken, its longest-serving CEO) put an end to this and kicked the most powerful, poisonous, and influential of these people out for good. Even if this was his only achievement (and he’s achieved a lot), it’s helped SL and its users far more than anything all of the other CEOs combined ever did.
By acquiring (and closing) Avatars United in 2010, LL gave SL something resembling an official social network, though: the SL feeds (My Second Life), which, if you’re lenient enough, resemble a cut-price action figure of the result of a drunken one-night stand between Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, users were exposed to exactly the same kind of abuse and emotional duress as on the official forums. As if that wasn’t enough, the feeds aren’t without technical issues and shortcomings: they only allow picture uploads from within the viewer, thus allowing only unedited in-world snapshots, and upload has historically been iffy. To top it all off, we must also note that very little of the content shared on the SL feeds is actually visible by outsiders, and I’d really like to have a rather stern talk with whoever developed the algorithm that chooses what’s seen by the general public (i.e. people who are not SL users).
There are four main roles that a social network needs to serve:
- Having a user profile that allows you to maintain and manage your contact list(s), and share thoughts, images, videos, links, audio, and other media (such as PDF files) with the audience(s) you’ve chosen;
- Building, managing and promoting communities for discussion and media sharing;
- Promoting your brand, whether your brand is a blog or a commercial presence;
- Fostering a safe, welcoming, adequately-moderated environment for users;
As I’ve already explained, SL’s in-world groups fail at the second role. Managing your group’s notices is a pain. Group bans arrived late in the day. Group chat is still unreliable. And, finally, the only group-related accompanying material you can really have is the text on your group’s profile, and the group’s picture – and that’s about it. At best, they’re just a combination of a newsfeed and a seriously buggy chatroom.
For the first role, in-world profiles are very limited, and I’ve never understood the reasoning behind the three different aspect ratios for the front page, the picks tab, and the RL info tab. Even with the “web” tab, which is connected to your SL feed, their feature set is seriously lacking compared to just about everything out there. Plus, their target audience is mostly SL users who are logged in.
As far as the third role is concerned, SL has its Classifieds and its Destination Guide, but I’m not entirely sure how useful people actually find them. The main issue with them is that, for users who have chosen to access “adult” content on LL’s SL-related services (in-world and web-based), the classifieds are typically flooded with ads for SL’s sex industry; these usually drown out other content that users may be more interested in. As for the destination guide, its suggestions rarely make me say “oh, this sounds really interesting, let’s go have a look”; then again, I’m somewhat specific in my interests, and I’m terribly picky and critical about the quality and aesthetics of each build, so you may not want to use my preferences as a yardstick.
Finally, as I’ve already explained, both the forums and the feeds were tainted by years of deliberate failure, as certain Linden Lab employees were far too cozy with certain abusive users whose raison d’être is to disrupt any kind of discussion and abuse – to the point of chronic, targeted harassment – other users, either for the fun of it, or to silence those their ringleaders chose to target. As I said earlier, Ebbe Altberg brought this to an abrupt end. He cleaned up the cesspool that his predecessors (Rosedale, Kingdon, and Humble) allowed to be created and continue to infect SL’s community, but the damage has already been done, and restoring faith in LL’s community management will take at least twice as many years as it took for Rosedale, Kingdon, and Humble and their troll-friendly forum and feed “moderators” to destroy it.
I think that, from the above, it’s pretty clear that LL’s own social tools are lagging behind third-party alternatives, and this is yet another serious blow to the Lab. As if losing the other three crucial races (creative tools, rendering engine, game engine), wasn’t bad enough, the Lab lost the social media race too. This has left the San Francisco-based virtual world developer and its customers depending on other platforms for interacting on the ordinary web and for showcasing their in-world creativity to both Second Life users and people outside of it.
Third-Party alternatives to LL’s official social infrastructure
Historically, the most obvious choice for SL users have been the two major blogging platforms: Blogspot / Blogger and WordPress. Tumblr also used to be popular, especially for image and video sharing, but Verizon’s Apple Store- and conservative nutjob-appeasing 2018 ban on adult content and its subsequent conservative content moderation policy made it friendly only to the far right fringe lunatics. Even after Automattic (i.e. WordPress) acquired it, the ban was upheld, perhaps to protect WordPress from something that once might have been somewhat able to compete with it. Blogger / Blogspot and WordPress offer rather comprehensive editing and analytics tools, with WordPress charging more for more advanced options. Another contender is Wix, which is now connected to DeviantArt (more on that later), but I’ve no experience with it.
For micro-blogging, Twitter seems to be everyone’s first choice, and it’s got really good analytics tools. However, it’s very easy for the user to end up having a mixed and unfocused RL / SL audience, and it’s also very easy to get caught up in non-SL discussions. Choosing each tweet’s audience is basically out of the question, and it’s also very hard both for you and for others to search for older tweets of yours. It also offers no way whatsoever for you to build and manage a community.
Plurk had gained some traction a few years ago, but nowadays it seems to have been abandoned by many of its adopters. I must also say that its “incentive” scheme (“Karma” and badges for posting and replying) is quite annoying, and its privacy controls are rudimentary – at best.
Google+ tried to offer something between a micro-blogging service and a more traditional social network (like Yahoo! Groups or the now-discontinued Pathfinder social networking platform that was popular in Greece); it even allowed people to create groups and cross-post to them. However, it’s now dead. Pity, because it could have been pretty good. About.com is not really a social network; it’s nothing more than a calling card of sorts, so it’s not worth talking about. I’m not even sure its owners remember it exists.
I gave Ello a shot for a while, but abandoned it shortly thereafter. It doesn’t have a “real names only” policy, and it seems to be suited well for photographers and pictorial artists, however its functionality was best described as rudimentary, and its reach is still very limited. I might give it another go soon, but I don’t expect much.
Tumblr used to be a somewhat valid micro-blogging option, but, as I mentioned before, Verizon ruined it overnight in its drive to make it “family-friendly” and host its companion app on the prudish Apple Store, whose Mary Whitehouse-pleasing “moral” standards make Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas and his skirt length-measuring goons look like Anaïs Nin.
The way I see things now, the only Twitter-like social platform that can be friendly enough to SL users is Mastodon, but it’s woefully underused by SL users, and getting set up, discovering others, and getting discovered is not so easy, especially given the differences in community standards across the various federated networks. Plus, there’s very little support for sharing to it from the major blogging platforms, and you have to do it manually.
Image hosting services
For years, Flickr has been the platform of choice for SL users and brands to share their images – and it still is, actually. It still has some legacy Yahoo! code that doesn’t seem to be state of the art today; its private messaging system is rudimentary, its groups management tools are nothing special, but it has pretty good image hosting and management capabilities, that are quite fine-grained; you can organise your images and videos in albums and galleries, you can fave others’ work, you can tag your work, mention people who are depicted in it, choose the licence that governs your work, and even host adult-themed images and videos, provided you rate them accordingly. However, it’s changed hands quite a few times and along with the changes of ownership came changes in what you get with a free account and what you get as a paying member.
The most notorious change was the removal of the perks that, under Yahoo!’s ownership, Flickr offered to free accounts (one terabyte of storage and some basic analytics tools). SmugMug (the new owners) proceeded, in a highly controversial move, whose legality is somewhat dubious, to roll it back, limiting free accounts to 1,000 pictures and no analytics at all; if you want analytics and unlimited storage, that’s USD50/year. Several commentators and bloggers have expressed doubts over the years regarding the direction the platform will take, i.e. whether it’ll continue to accept digital art (3D art, screenshots – post-processed or raw – captured in video games and virtual worlds, computer and mobile UI themes) or not. However, for the time being, it remains SL-friendly and its managers and curators don’t seem to stigmatise SL users and brands. Its popularity remains quite remarkable. At the time of writing, its owners claim it has over 60 million monthly users, and over 100 million registered photographers.
DeviantArt is another image hosting platform that enjoys a certain degree of popularity with SL users. It offers free and paid (Core) plans, group management tools, messaging, even some basic blogging and micro-blogging facilities, while user profiles are more detailed and fine-grained than Flickr’s. As is the case with Flickr, paid members get to have stats and insights (analytics) for their work. However, Flickr’s upload and image managing tools are more intuitive to use. In recent years, DeviantArt’s popularity among SL users has declined, as many SL photographers have migrated to Flickr. This is a bit strange, as DeviantArt caters to many of the same communities that SL users identify with, and it’s highly popular with creators focusing on fan art, comics, 3D art, sci-fi, game customisers, UI themes for pretty much every operating system under the sun. It’s even popular with several communities that are highly active in SL (furries, latex fetishists like yours truly), so it would make sense that SL users would prefer it; frankly, I think its clunky upload tools are the only real barrier to its adoption. Its user base remains large and active (61 million registered users, over 45 million unique visitors per month).
Instagram is currently the undisputed king when it comes to popularity. With the power of Facebook behind it, it boasts over a billion monthly users and over half a billion active users. So, several commentators and bloggers already urge SL users and SL-based brands to switch from Flickr to Instagram. In fact, it’s already started to become quite popular among several SLebrities and brands, given that the #secondlife hashtag has started gaining noticeable traction there. However, judging from the comments I see under various models’ images and videos, it’s a creep’s paradise. Privacy-wise, it’s the absolute worst. If you want to access it, you must accept ALL manner of cookies, and you don’t have the option to choose what you’ll let it install. You’ll supposedly have a chance to opt out later. This flies right in the face of the General Data Protection Regulation (currently the most comprehensive privacy legislation on the planet), and Facebook / Instagram deserve to be slapped with a massive fine to the tune of a few hundred million dollars. Being owned by Facebook, the content / content moderation / user protection policies are the same crap – read the “One hell of a benchmark” section below for more details as to why Facebook’s universe is not suitable for SL users, or for anyone who wants to speak freely and be safe from harassment and arbitrary content “moderation” decisions.
Forums / Message boards
SL has its own official forums. Sadly, these still have a rather tainted reputation; in the pre-Altberg years, certain administrators and moderators had gotten too cozy with various users notorious for their abusive behaviour. So, they enjoyed preferential treatment, and their skill at dancing around LL’s ToS and CS enabled them to not only get away with it, but get their targets in trouble instead. Thankfully, Ebbe Altberg put an end to this crap by permabanning the leaders of these troll gangs. Perhaps a change of staff came about, I don’t know – I don’t have inside information privileges. What I do know is that the amounts of trollery that were dished out were reduced pretty fast, and some of the worst abusers, perhaps discouraged after their leaders were unceremoniously and permanently ousted from SL, either stopped posting altogether or grudgingly became far less toxic and obnoxious.
The state of affairs in the official forums (which also used to be a complete klutz, from a technical standpoint – the software used for many years wasn’t even a message board system). This led to the rise of the SL Universe forum (SLU for short), which has now evolved into the more inclusive (as discussions of OpenSim, IMVU, and other virtual worlds are included) VirtualVerse forums. The SLU forum had always been loathed by the trolls of the official forums, because its owner’s tolerance for their antics has always been zero. Because of several issues I was dealing with, I haven’t quite completed my migration to the new forums; that is to say, I haven’t gotten around to completing my VirtualVerse profile, and I haven’t posted there yet. Other forums have emerged over the years, too; most have now disappeared and others are still there, but remain largely inactive because perhaps their users lost interest in SL.
…And the kitchen sink
Now, let’s talk about the more full-fledged social networks; the ones whose feature sets include user profiles, comprehensive contact list management and categorisation capabilities, status update feeds, audience selection for each post, privacy controls, community creation and management tools, etc. Many years ago, Yahoo! Profiles, Briefcase, and Groups were one of the go-to solutions. The community management options of the Groups were very advanced for the time, and you could have quite rich content – for the time. Profiles were somewhat limited compared to what we’ve become accustomed to seeing today, but they were par for the course for the time. In fact, I do think SL profiles share many of the same features and principles. After all, this makes sense, as SL traces its roots to technologies and platforms that were state of the art as far back as 1996. Sadly, Yahoo!’s platform now isn’t worth bothering with. Pretty much everyone has migrated to Facebook.
This sort-of makes sense; on Facebook, you can have your profile, photo and video albums, a page, a group, there’s a marketplace, you can even run your own online store, and even pay Facebook to promote your posts and your presence within it. Its contact list management system, however clunky and slow, does allow you to create multiple lists that enable you to keep certain posts from being seen by certain people… Even Linden Lab’s former community manager, who went by the in-world name Amanda Linden, endorsed Facebook as “the best place to find out about cool things going on in Second Life, share ideas, and get the inside scoop on inworld events, contests, machinima releases, PR activities, fun discussions, and more.” High praise indeed – after all, Facebook does seem to offer everything and the kitchen sink, and it’s managed to become the benchmark to which all other social networks are compared.
One hell of a benchmark
It’s true that Facebook offers a wide variety of tools for you, although admittedly not all of them are intuitive to locate and / or use. I could deal with features that are ponderous to use; after all, I still use GIMP 2.8.14 for image editing, so I know a thing or two about dealing with poor workflow design. It’s also the most popular social network, by far. I can understand why someone would be attracted to it – who doesn’t want to maximise their outreach?
But is Facebook really the right platform for SL users, including content creators and bloggers? Well… No. It’s not, and there are a few reasons for this that, for me, are deal-breakers. The first is its “real names only” policy. This means that you can’t exist there using your chosen SL name. You will be either banned summarily and for good, or you’ll be given the option to continue existing there after disclosing your RL name to Facebook, verifying it with a scan of your RL ID card or driver’s licence – and from then on, Facebook will force you to go by your RL name. It’s happened to me and hundreds of other SL users. Yeah, I know the “oh, come on, you can create a page for your SL shop / persona / blog / whatever” advice, but that doesn’t solve much. When you set up a group, your RL name will be seen by its members, and perhaps even non-members, depending on the group’s visibility settings.
There are reasons why we keep our SL separate from our RL, with pseudonymity being the default for SL. Obviously, those of us who explore erotic fantasies in-world have every reason in the world to need pseudonymity; then, SL is a haven for all sorts of marginalised people. They need privacy. It protects them from reprisals (state, family, whatever), abuse, harassment. Yet, even with the privacy SL offers by default and by design, many of us have been stalked and harassed – some of us for years. Facebook demands that you open yourself to all sorts of harassment and abuse, and not because it wants to “hold you accountable for your actions.” That’s bullshit. Mark Zuckerberg, one of the biggest creeps in the world, wants your RL info so he can sell it.
Then there’s Facebook’s content moderation policy. If you thought the erratic, arbitrary, non-systematic way in which LL’s governance team enforced the ToS in the pre-Altberg years was bad, wait till you see Facebook’s content moderation contractors, who are entirely untransparent, unaccountable, and act as if they’re above any legislation. Besides the fact that Facebook’s ToS reek of Victorian-era puritanism, which is something that would normally be a red flag for any seasoned SL user, these “moderators” apply ToS in a manner that can only be described as vulgar and obscene: For instance, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic speech, (including death and rape threats) by far-righters and nazis gets a free pass. File as many reports as you want, Facebook’s response will be that they’ve “investigated” the matter and that they’ve found it “doesn’t violate any of [its] Community Standards”.
Yes, you read that right. If you’re a jack-booted neo-nazi, you can post death and rape threats, you can organise armed riots, and Mark’s censors will say you don’t violate any of their Community Standards. In a nutshell, if fascists decide to target you, you’re at their mercy, with Facebook not only looking the other way, but giving them its blessing. But if you speak sharply against nazis, if you criticise racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, then your Facebook account will be immediately hit time and time again (to the point where this “moderation” behaviour ends up looking like on-demand targeted harassment) with restrictions, links to your blog will be banned, etc. And there’s sweet fuck all you can do to appeal.
Lately, especially in Orbánana republics like Greece, journalists, comic artists, infographics designers etc. that are critical of the alt-right government and / or lash out at the multitude of the government-sponsored troll army are repeatedly hit with bans and arbitrary sanctions by Facebook’s content moderation contractors – sanctions that, as I’ve said, look like on-demand targeted harassment. That’s not incompetence; that’s how they roll, because it happens all the fucking time. What all this in mind, it boggles my mind that any SL-related blogger would recommend that SL users adopt Facebook and start playing hide-and-seek with its abusive policies. You can imagine how badly I eyerolled and facepalmed when I saw Amanda Linden recommend Facebook as a valid social network for SL users and SL-oriented businesses.
Drill this into your heads: you’re not safe on Facebook. You’re not safe from doxing (the vengeful and malicious disclosure and dissemination of sensitive or potentially sensitive private information), you’re not safe from harassment, stalking, or even RL violence. Your RL info is not safe on Facebook. Your SL business presence, and thus your livelihood, is not safe on Facebook. You can be banned, restricted, even deleted permanently, just because some lower form of life thought it’d be a good idea to destroy you, without any explanation or meaningful paths for appeal, much less legal action against those who targeted you. Considering all this, would / should you trust über-creepdouches Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg? Would / should you sacrifice your privacy, your peace of mind, and perhaps even your RL safety for the little conveniences that Facebook provides? It’s up to you – but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Alternatives to Facebook
We already established the four major roles that a social network needs to cover. o you actually have alternatives to Facebook if you want “everything and the kitchen sink”? It’s practically a monopoly, with an utterly captive audience that’s too heavily invested in it to say “sod it, I’m leaving”: people have their contacts and their audience there, they know Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and they just aren’t inclined to start over on a new platform. No one likes Facebook. In fact, everyone hates it. Everyone hates Zuckerberg and Sandberg. But people are kept captive because they’re afraid they’ll lose contact with the people they usually interact with.
That said, there have been attempts at creating Facebook-like options dedicated to users of virtual worlds, with a focus mostly on Second Life: Avatar Social Network and 2ndHub were two prime examples. Where are they now? Dead, buried, and forgotten. In fact, most references to them online have been drowned out by newer, unrelated entries, so there’s little that a quick search will return. From this, we can understand that a dedicated social network for SL outside the SL feeds isn’t economically viable in the long run. But if we can’t have an independent social network for SL users, or in general for users of virtual worlds and virtual reality technologies, what are our options? The way I see it, the best option is to adopt an existing, reasonably well-supported, inclusive, supportive platform / system, and set up our community (and sub-communities) in there, while accepting what it can’t do.
Of course, like it or not, if you abandon the major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, what have you), you’ll have to deal with one major consequence: you’ll lose a sizeable part of your audience. At best, you’ll have to wait a bit until the new platform becomes more popular and your friends and customers migrate there, fed up with all the nonsense. At worst, you’ll have to return to Facebook and try to rebuild your audience and walk on eggshells to stay on its content moderation contractors’ good side.
First of all, one must come to terms that other social networks don’t offer a marketplace. While this may be a concern for some, an SL brand really shouldn’t care. Facebook – the one “and the kitchen sink” social network that offers a marketplace facility doesn’t support selling to SL accounts. Not only because its policies are completely against the most basic privacy-protecting principles of SL, but also because LL has its own exclusive marketplace. Plus, since Facebook is supposedly trying to develop its own virtual world (which I’m not going to ever bother with), why would it support a competitor? Beyond that, if you’re making your own meshes and aren’t using 3D models purchased from other sources outside of SL or 3D models made for you by someone else, you can easily start selling them on 3D asset marketplaces like CG Trader, Daz 3D, SketchFab, even the ridiculous Turbosquid.
Second, putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea. Let’s say Facebook supported the sale of SL goods and you abandoned your in-world shop, neglected your SL Marketplace presence (or even deleted it), and threw everything you had at Facebook. Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to exist in Facebook with your SL account; you’d need to connect your SL store with your RL account, exposing your RL identity to whomever. One day, you’d say something that’d incur the wrath of a racist fuck, which would result in a fraudulent abuse report campaign against you, and everything you’ve worked hard for would disappear – as I’ve already explained earlier. No meaningful way of appealing, no nothing. You’d be shit out of luck. Are you sure that’s what you want for your business and livelihood? To be at the mercy of every thin-skinned prude and / or fascist and Facebook’s fash-friendly content moderation contractors? If the answer is “yes”, then you can ignore everything else you’ve read here so far and everything that follows – just don’t say I didn’t warn you. But if the answer is “no”, then read on…
Built on the GNU Social base (so, it’s free – as in free speech – and open source), Diaspora puts you in control of your privacy and your data. It aims to provide some of the core functionality of Facebook, and it does; you can have your profile, your status updates (posts and images), you can comment on others’ posts, and you can categorise your contacts so that you have fine-grained control over who sees what. Of course, it doesn’t have a “real names only” policy. You can choose your own nickname. To order your posts and find posts by others, you use hashtags. You can also link Diaspora to your Facebook profile, and there’s also a chat function. One of the main selling points of Diaspora is that it’s decentralised. The platform consists of several different networks called pods. The provider does NOT collect or store user data centrally; instead, the infrastructure is distributed by the users, and the transfer of data is done via the pods. If you’re a skilled programmer, you can set up your own pod, which functions as a server – this way, your private data stays private and in your own hands. If you’re not technically proficient, you can choose a pod with open sign-ups.
However, despite its security and privacy, it’s not without drawbacks. First of all, finding a pod with open sign-ups can be a bit confusing. Second, not all pods are free to use. Some require payment to cover their costs. Third, if you want to set up your own pod, you need to be a relatively decent programmer. Fourth, you can’t create “groups”; instead, you create categories of contacts that are called “aspects” – at least from what I’ve gathered – and you share the desired posts with them. This has, of course, the disadvantage that sorting and managing posts shared with any “aspect” can be cumbersome. And finally, its user base is tiny compared to Facebook; only about 750,000 users – about as many as SL’s own, actually.
Vero is ad-free, like Diaspora. It started out in 2015 and its user base has been significantly increased lately, aided by several influencers and a limited-time offer of free, lifetime user accounts. It is reported as being similar to Facebook an Instagram, in that it offers profile, timeline, and news feed management tools. Rather than using algorithms to pre-filter posts on your timeline, it presents posts chronologically. Contact and post audience management is reportedly simplified, supporting only four categories: “followers”, “acquaintances”, “friends”, and “close friends”. Also, it won’t be always free to use, though; vendors who implement is shop feature will be charged a fee for their sales, and an annual subscription is considered as a future option. Unlike Facebook, it doesn’t seem to have a “real names only” policy. The major disadvantage, though, is that, in order to register and verify an account, you need to give your private telephone number.
I’m sure you all understand that there’s no single choice that’ll satisfy all your SL-related social networking need, so you really shouldn’t seek or attempt to put all of your eggs in one basket. Obviously, I don’t recommend Facebook and Instagram. Instead, I recommend that you steer well clear of both. You don’t need to put up with this particular company and the way it abuses its user base. Here are my recommendations:
- Start a blog and learn how to manage it. It’s always worth to have a blog. It doesn’t matter if it’s on WordPress, Blogger, or Wix – try all of them on for size and see what’s easier for you to use. Blogs are a versatile tool that you can use to share your musings (esp. long-form ones), detailed product updates, and it can even evolve into an e-shop if you want (but not an e-shop for SL).
- “Traditional” social media: Don’t be swayed by promises of “billions of users” before you decide which social networks are best for you. Remember, there’s more than 8 billion people on the planet, and SL’s active users are less than a million – roughly a relatively big city in a country like the United States. Instead, opt for a platform that will respect your right to pseudonymity, your privacy, is economically viable, treats you as a customer and not as merchandise to sell to others, and will not wipe out your account “just because”. Also, keep in mind that, if your primary audience is SL users, then you need to choose your platform accordingly. Does this automatically exclude Facebook and Instagram? Yes. But if you absolutely must have a presence on Facebook, make sure it’s a page. Not a group, not a profile.
- Image hosting: although Flickr is by far, right now, the most popular choice, there are many people for you to network with on DeviantArt. My recommendation is that you maintain a well-managed presence on both platforms, in order to maximise both your audience and the diversity of your connections.
- Forums: VirtualVerse is the way to go.
- Micro-blogging: Stick with Twitter, for now. I highly recommend having two accounts: one for RL, one for SL. Even if you end up commenting on RL matters with the account you’ll have for your SL avatar, the divide between RL and SL is always very useful. Forget Plurk, it’s dead in the water.
- Commercial presence: Have a decent in-world mainstore and a well-managed marketplace presence. Facebook and Instagram can’t help you. If you want to expand beyond SL (or even move beyond SL), go with Daz 3D, CG Trader, SketchFab, and any other 3D asset store that provides you the audience you want.
- Alternative platforms:
- For microblogging, Mastodon is the choice that best suits SL’s ideals of privacy and freedom of expression.
- For more “traditional” use cases, go with Diaspora. Even though very few SLers are there, starting a small community there without having to put up with Facebook’s crap is always a good idea.
- Bringing it all together: This is where you’ll have to put in some elbow grease. Sadly, I don’t know of any tool that’ll simultaneously and automatically post updates to every possible social network, but it really doesn’t take too much time (normally). The most tedious I usually have to do is add my Flickr images to various groups, to be completely honest.