Second Life

NOTE: Post co-written with Odysseus Giacosa.

One of the most popular demands among Second Life’s community, and especially the content creators, has been the development, installation, and deployment, of technologies and technical means that would prevent the upload of content that infringes on their own intellectual property. Such a technology, which computer developers and internet experts call an “upload filter”, is supposed to work as follows:

When you attempt to upload something to an internet platform, the upload system analyses it and compares it to a database of copyrighted material. If it is found to bear any similarity with a copyrighted work, then it is rejected and you are told what a naughty something you are for attempting to rip off a poor creator. This is pretty much what YouTube’s Content ID system does: you upload some music, it checks it against its database and, if you can’t get an ad-powered licence for it to be uploaded, it’s rejected. You may appeal the automated system’s decision if you think your upload was rejected in error, but don’t hold your breath.

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Will Burns (SL username: Aeonix Aeon)

Will Burns (SL username: Aeonix Aeon)

Both in SL and in RL, I’m quite lucky in being honoured with the friendship of knowledgeable people who rise above the typical level of discourse and speak in a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact, manner, with arguments based on facts, logic, and knowledge, rather than fear and “common wisdom” – which, more often than not, is actually common myth. One of these people who have bestowed on me the honour of their friendship is William G. Burns III (SL username: Aeonix Aeon, SL display name: Will Burns), a published academic, and former Vice Chair of the IEEE’s Virtual World Standards Group. A published and respected researcher and professional in the field of virtual reality and virtual worlds in his own right, Will understands the potential – creative, cultural, and commercial – of virtual worlds that very few commentators in Second Life can rival, and he is not one to mince his words. His criticism of Linden Lab CEOs past has always been very severe and, although back then it might have seemed too harsh, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I can now see he was just calling things the way they were.

Now, Second Life is, as we all know, in slow decline. Many of its old users are gone, either because they no longer care, or because the ongoing global financial woes have priced them out of what is essentially a costly pastime for people with disposable income and time (two things few members of what was once known as the middle class still have), or because they died away. New user retention is, as has always been the case, disappointing, and more and more private regions sink into oblivion like the lost continents of myth and legend. However, SL still has a vibrant economy, which is based on the creation and sale of various virtual goods – from hairdos to cars and from clothing to furniture. And this economy supports a rather expansive ecosystem of merchants, regardless of whether their products are entirely their creation, or based on resources purchased from other markets like CGtrader.

SL’s merchants apply all sorts of different business models, but there is a common denominator: They are extraordinarily precious about their creations, even if they are nothing but very crude retextures of full-perm templates – sometimes even less than that. One look at most content creators’ dire, straight outta Bible, “fire and brimstone”, DMCA warnings is more than enough. In the past, many in-world shops had employed CS- and ToS-violating devices that promised (without delivering, but that’s another story) to “detect” potential copybotters. In other cases, store owners ejected and / or banned store visitors for idling, because they genuinely believed that, if you’re AFK in a store, then you are by definition a copybotter. Almost four years ago, a rather botched amendment to LL’s ToS got numerous content creators up in arms, claiming – of all things – that LL itself was “trying to steal their content”; much hilarity ensued, with several creators even ragequitting SL. It is, thus, an unfortunate fact of Second Life that it is very hard to have a calm, reasonable, and rational discussion on merchants’ intellectual property, on the implied and express licences they need to provide to LL so that the virtual goods can be displayed and sold to the customers, and – eventually – consumer rights. Unfortunately, much of the blame must be put on Philip Rosedale, who, regardless of whatever innovative ideas he may have had, has always been a bit of a demagogue. The promises given in 2003 have essentially been haunting SL ever since, often putting customers and merchants on a collision course, with very little – if any – room being given to the rights of the consumer. Naturally, things were further exacerbated, with the stance of many merchants going to full-on prokanoia with the Great Copybot Scare of 2006, which has never quite gone away.

In more recent times, the suspicion with which SL merchants have traditionally viewed customers has taken new forms: Mesh body creators demand that apparel, jewellery, shoes, etc. created for their bodies be non-modifiable, “to prevent copybotting”, even though permissions have exactly zero impact on a Copybot viewer’s ability to intercept and extract an object. We have the infamous “anti-rez” scripts, which are another form of “anti-copybot” snake oil. And so on, and so on. So, to have an honest, open, no-nonsense discussion on this risky topic, I needed to talk to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t mouth off based on false assumptions and blatant misunderstandings of web-based platforms like Second Life. Inspired by the licensing suggestions he made in this post on his blog, I invited him over to my always work-in-progress café, and we had a lengthy, but most enjoyable and productive, discussion.

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I had written about the issue of lag before, and before me, Penny Patton had done the same, and I think very little has changed for the better since then. Most of the “lag” we experience in Second Life is blamed on Linden Lab, whose engineers are always accused of basically not knowing what they’re doing. Rarely does it cross our mind that we, the users – from consumers to content creators – are doing something wrong.

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What am I to do with all this junk?

What am I to do with all this junk? – Click on any clickable image for the full-size version (they open in a new tab).

Every now and then, on Plurk and other platforms used by SL users, some dismayed user will ask for help with managing their inventory, because it has become bloated, terribly disorganised, and, as a direct consequence, it’s become terribly hard for them to find the things they need when they need them. Bloated and disorganised inventories are also linked to a serious drop in the viewer’s performance. Having gone through similar situations myself, I’ve devised several methods that can be of help, and I’ll offer them below.

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The Build Tools floater – Firestorm’s version; the official viewer’s doesn’t really differ significantly. Please click on the picture for a larger version.

Whether you live your virtual existence in Second Life or OpenSim, the viewer’s build floater (right) is, in all likelihood, an integral part of your experience. From simply adjusting your worn attachments to putting together intricate and complex builds, using the build floater is practically inescapable.

As I’m pretty sure everyone in SL and OpenSim knows, to put several (or many) prims, sculpts and / or meshes together, you need to link them. Now, imagine the following scenario: You’ve been working on a complex build for weeks, and you’re near its completion – you’ve even made scripts to control parameters of its various parts. And you accidentally click the “Unlink” button, which is “conveniently” placed right next to the “Link” button. And you’ve just unlinked everything. Yes, I know. You can re-select everything and link the items again. But everything will be out of whack; different root prim, different link order, and don’t get me started on the extra work you’ll have to do on the scripts. Or the LI discrepancies under the new accounting system.

When the consequences of such an action can be so time-consuming and troublesome, I think we should be asked to confirm we really want to unlink the selected object(s) – just like we’re asked to confirm that we want to log out.

It actually makes sense. Quitting and logging in again doesn’t really cause much inconvenience. It’s usually just a matter of minutes before we’re back in-world, usually where we were when we logged out. But unlinking a complex, scripted object can be a royal pain. So, I have decided to file a feature request JIRA on SL’s official bug tracker system, and (after being prompted by Whirly Fizzle) another one on Firestorm’s.

The proposed functionality is as follows:

When you click on the “Unlink” button, a pop-up window (accompanied by the typical sound alert) will appear, with the prompt “Are you sure you want to unlink the selected object(s)?”. Underneath, there will be the option for you to never be shown this message again (“Do not show me this again”). It’s quite simple, really, and would help us avoid frustrating and time-consuming mistakes.

We’re asked to confirm we want to log out of SL or OpenSim, so why not get a notification of this kind when we’re about to unlink a linkset?

If you think such a new feature would be useful to you and you’d like to help bring attention to these two JIRAs, watch them on their respective bug tracker systems (at least in LL’s case, voting doesn’t really do much). Of course, there can be more ways to further improve things: Different colours for the two buttons, for instance, and / or a confirmation for when you click the “Link” button.

UPDATE: The Firestorm team responded quickly to my feature request; Ansariel Hiller added this notification facility, and it will be available in version 4.7.0 of the popular viewer.

With thanks to Whirly Fizzle

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