One Last Appeal...
A Letter to the Lindens
Some of you may have read and laughed at Trout Recreant’s hilarious “Letters From the Lindens”, lampooning our Service Provider’s policies and the haphazard ways in which (it seems) they make decisions.
There have been a lot of those over the past year. The Homestead bait and switch, the introduction of themed, Linden-built mainland areas, the ghettoization of Adult Content, “Linden Homes”, the flirtation with FaceBook and Twitter, the purchase of a FaceBook clone, the abolition of the Mentors, and the abolition of the XStreetSL and the official SL Forums.
There’s more on the horizon. The imposition of script limits. A dumbed-down Viewer 2.0. Favored status for some, but not all, content creators.
And of course, some real problems remain unaddressed. Lag. Inventory loss. Failed teleports. Maximum stable concurrency. Content theft and its mirror twin, false accusation of content theft.
With all of that, I thought it was about time that the Residents wrote a letter TO the Lindens. It’s arrogant of me, I know, to place myself in the position of speaking for “the Residents”. We are a diverse group with a wide range of opinions. Still, I think that a great many residents will agree with what I’ve written here.
Dear Linden Lab,
We love Second Life, the virtual world whose infrastructure you created and manage. Although it has many flaws, it’s far and away the best virtual world platform in existence. We want to see it flourish and grow, just as you do. Because of that, we are passionate in our opposition to a number of changes the Lab has made, and is apparently planning to make. We are passionate because we, as the people who are in SL every day, see the damage that they have caused, and greatly fear what damage the new changes will cause.
We are also passionate in our desire for improvements. We see the problems with SL. We are frustrated by them every day. So it angers us to see you ignoring these real problems, and us, in a quixotic quest for “millions of new potential Residents.”
Let’s think about that one for a moment. At present, the grid can only support a maximum concurrency of between 70,000 – 80,000. Somewhere in there, things begin to break and either some functions (transactions, teleports, rezzing) become unstable, or the grid itself goes down. Until that problem is solved, it makes no sense to waste time with policy changes that might (you hope) bring in huge numbers of new users.
SL is a communications platform. As such, it shares some characteristics with MMORPGs, and some with social networking sites like FaceBook. These other platforms and virtual worlds like SL compete for the on line time of a large number of people. But, although they are similar, they are NOT the same, and they have distinctly different strengths and appeal to different segments of that potential audience.
MMORPGs are graphically rich. They have (and users need and demand) high frame rates. They appeal to those who want to play a game, to compete within a fixed and relatively limited rule framework. SL, in contrast, is largely user-created. And it is open-ended, with a very loose framework that lets users pursue the activities they choose. While the graphics performance of a video game would be wonderful to have, SL trades off some of that performance potential in order to gain its distinct advantages.
Social networking sites are all about facilitating connections between people. As such, they are a tool to enhance a user’s life and expand their circle of friends. Such sites are used by people to find potential friends, business associates, lovers, or mates. They are outward-oriented, and closely linked to the real world lives and identities of their subscribers. SL, on the other hand, features anonymity. While users can use it for social networking, and reveal personal information to either those they choose, or to everyone, many Residents use SL as an escape from Real Life. Their SL existence is quite meaningful and real to them, but it is largely separate from, and carried on parallel to, their Real Life.
As users of modern internet connectivity platforms in general, we see the advantages of all three of these types of platforms. MMORPGs are good for entertainment and escape. Social networking sites are good for making connections. However, it is only a true virtual world like Second Life that is usable for both purposes. There are necessary and unavoidable tradeoffs involved in creating such a multipurpose platform.
Because of that, we see it as a grave mistake for SL to try too hard to become either an MMORPG or a social networking tool. For example, in acquiring Avatars United, LL may be opening a door through which many residents will exit the grid in favor of a tool that better suits their main purpose. If LL were to go in another direction, and take control of content creation in order to dramatically improve performance, residents who are interested in creating, or running a business, will depart.
You must pursue the middle ground that you have already staked out. No single application can be everything to everyone, and it is a mistake to squander resources in trying.
What you have is an entertainment platform with (potentially) broad appeal. Instead of trying to force SL into a FaceBook mold, or turn it into WoW, make it the best of its kind.
SL has another unique feature: its economy. This is perhaps SL’s greatest selling point…that people can come here, and leave (if they are skillful and lucky) with more money than they came in with. But this economy is fragile. There are a limited number of products that are possible. By eliminating gambling, you cut off a whole segment of that economy (the fact that it was a legal necessity is irrelevant. It still harmed the economy). By restricting adult content, you are slowly strangling another, larger segment. There are really only three basic commodities in SL: virtual land, content creation, and entertainment.
Linden Lab has ultimate control over all of these. Each policy change or shift you make has an effect on the thousands of merchants who use SL. When considering policy changes, you must do a better job of discussing them in advance with a wide range of Residents than you have so far. We would suggest that you ask yourselves (and us) two questions of any new proposal: “Who will this benefit, and how much?” and “Who will this harm, and how much?” And the “who” that benefits should not be Linden Lab! Not directly.
Any time LL raises fees, or cuts services, it might seem that it’s good for your bottom line. But in the end, if it hurts the SL economy, it hurts LL. If we make money, so do you. If we lose money, or leave the platform, you lose too. Any time LL competes directly with Residents within the SL economy, you ultimately wind up shrinking the economy. Nautilus, Bay City, and Linden Homes are examples of this. Instead of competing with your SL merchants and land barons, you should be developing tools to help them, starting with a better and more robust permissions system and a better process for detecting, reporting, investigating, and resolving content theft.
Here is a short list of what we, the Residents, would like to see you concentrating on in the coming year.
1. Viewer improvements. The enormous popularity of Emerald clearly demonstrates the kind of features your Residents want…and it’s not a dumbed-down viewer, it’s one with more functionality.
2. Lag reduction. Upgrade your servers. Streamline the code. Deal with issues like the notorious sim freeze when Mono scripts arrive via incoming avatars. If you must impose script limits, target the worst offenders…like resizer scripts in every prim of an avatar’s hair or jewelry.
3. Improved content protection. More vigilance in catching and punishing content theft. Improved permissions system, especially for things like textures and scripts that are often incorporated in another product and re-sold.
4. Avatar improvements. We want a better avatar mesh. Better facial expressions. More versatile body morphing. True transparency in the mesh. More flexibility in clothing layers. And one you can do right now, with a simple XML file mod…duplicate Emerald’s secondary attachment points.
5. Improved resident to resident and resident – LL communications. Closing the XStreet forums and the SL VBulletin forums was a move in the wrong direction. The new blogs are not forums, and their format does not support the development of a dedicated forum community. Such communities are an invaluable resource and need to be nurtured and encouraged. You need a better way to collect Resident suggestions and feedback. I would suggest something like the old forum polls, but with the polls coming from you, LL. Office hours don’t allow a large enough cross section of Residents, and feedback via forum or blog threads is too cumbersome to wade through. And, when you talk to us, please learn how to speak in plain , unambiguous English. Corporate weasel-wording does not promote user confidence or trust. Case in point: Creating a new position of “Conversations Manager” immediately prior to eliminating the primary means of carrying on conversations.
6. Improved in world communication tools. In many cases, this means adding the ability to turn OFF communications when desired. Being able to temporarily disable group chat and notices. Improving “Busy” mode to allow content creators some peace and quiet. Add the ability to send a notecard to a group of residents by Shift+click selection in the Friends list or the Calling Card folder. Add the ability to open a conference IM by clicking multiple avatars. Add features like basic text formatting to Notecards. Make them directly exportable into, say, WordPad. Here’s a business-related improvement for you: add support for PowerPoint files.
7. Improved New User Experience. Take back the Infohubs! Develop and implement more community gateways of the caliber of Caledon Oxbridge, or Virtual Ability. Sites with real helpers present, 24/7. Sites that feature in world moderators, with eject/ban powers. Second Life is not for everyone. As a Mentor, I met many people who were really looking for an MMORPG, or a FaceBook. I knew they would not stay long. But I met countless others willing to give this virtual world thing a try. If you can show that audience what SL is all about, what it can be for them, you will see the user base grow steadily.
We need these things. SL needs these things. We need them a lot more than we need a FaceBook tie-in or a free cottage. Your bottom line will thank you.