This week, Linden Lab gave residents 4 days' notice that prices will be going up 50% monthly and 30% for installation for private islands.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, what really concerns me above all is that this was done with merely four days' notice. Linden Lab has a track record that's very clear - when it does things in an open and communicative way with the community, it succeeds. When it rushes things, it winds up having to backtrack and there's bugs / community outcry / major oversights.
This year, Linden Lab has gotten so much better at discussing moves, both technological and policy-based, with the developer and SL Business community at large. This new pricing scheme is a glaring counter-example. I'm waiting for a response from Linden Lab why they felt four days was sufficient notice. They haven't even specifically stated why it was so urgent that it had to be done with no notice.
To summarize, I feel that this move is rushed, and therefore dangerous and sends a very negative signal to developers and businesses in SL. Instead of being another example of Linden Lab working with the community, it is a move where Linden Lab is distancing themselves from it.
I'm hoping Linden Lab will consider giving the community more than 4 days' notice, and consider postponement.
This just in - Linden Lab has announced that they will be pushing back the date of new pricing to November 15, although they did note it may result in delivery delays. (No doubt to order more tier 4 machines.)
Thank you, Linden Lab, for giving us some leeway and compromising. Though 2.5 weeks still isn't great notice, at least it gives us enough time to react to this and buy land if needs dictate.
Now I await Linden Lab's explanation of what additional benefits we'll be getting for the increased pricing.
This week, Linden Lab gave residents 4 days' notice that prices will be going up 50% monthly and 30% for installation for private islands.
I'm late. I'm sorry. Moving on.
(*Disclaimer: I am a fan of Ben Folds' music, and I am a partner in a company competing with Electric Sheep Company.)
So, I'm listening to Urizenus Sklar (aka Peter Ludlow, who has his own wikipedia ego page) drone on in Second Cast about how the media hype about companies coming into Second Life isn't interesting and relevant to SL. Jerry Paffendorf points out that the publicity generates interest for the entire SL music industry; in that sense, Folds (and other artists like Vega or Duran Duran) use their own publicity to bring the legitimacy to Second Life for the whole SL music scene.
I think there's a larger point to make though. The fact that people like Ludlow aren't surprised or excited about this media attention shows that SL is starting to reach a new level of ubiquity. This kind of media attention is expected now. Someone else pointed out, and I forget whom, that when the naysayers come in, that's just a reaction that comes with popularity.
Back To Folds
Ben Folds' appeared in SL last week for a meet-and-greet and to preview some songs from his latest album, supersunnyspeedgraphic. He appeared via Electric Sheep Company and their client, Sony BMG, and to promote the opening of the aloft build as well. Since I was fortunate enough to get an invite and since only 50 or so people were there, I'll give ya'all the run-down:
For the 90 minutes before the event, DJ/sheeper DNA Prototype played high-energy techno.
Ben arrives, greets everyone, and does a promotional spot for his new album that sounded memorized.
Ben then chats a bit, and plays a few of the new songs, including:
- All U Can Eat
- There's Always Someone Cooler Than You
- Learn To Live With What You Are
He intros them with a bit of the meaning behind the songs, which was funny, of course, when he joked that the 3rd on the list was an obscure name. As for the songs, they sounded great, and the quality was great especially considering it was via shoutcast or whatever eSheep was using.
By then it's time to trek over to the aloft virtual hotel, where there's a stage and some chairs, setup interview style.
More pics at Snapzilla!
So Ben hops off the stage, taking some audience members' cues, and starts just hanging out and being a real person. The interview got put off til the last 15 minutes, and until then virtual Ben chatted with people, shot people with eye lasers, drank beer, dueled with a lightsaber, and yes, told people to f*** off.
Second Life breaks down borders between celebs and fans.
It was really refreshing to see a celebrity not act like a stuffy, aloof elitist. One of the things I really wanted to point out was that a celebrity in SL can interact with his or her fans much more intimately. This is because there is no threat of physical violence from crazed groupies or whatnot, there's no need for bodyguards or security, really. (other than turning off push scripts) Ben didn't need to be up on stage, he could be with the people there to see him, and I thought that is illustrating a very powerful aspect of what the Metaverse can do that can't be done in real life.
I think that is the real success of the event, and the real relevance in the grander scheme.
Some press and other media grossly misread his playful jabs as malicious, but audience members had fun. Fans of Folds may also know that this is pretty much his M.O. with public events.
And the aforementioned press also failed to learn how to count, reporting "25" people there, when I had specifically checked the sim at one point and saw 45. This doesn't include people outside the sim hoping to get in (as the sim was pretty much full) and the fact that some people had to leave early, and some arrived late.
This event took such a hard slam from initial media, and while for the most part I enjoyed the event, there are some things I'd like to point out.
Clickable Culture had a good discussion.
Normally I try and keep this blog positive, and I certainly don't write about things that stink just to lambast them; the Herald does that enough. *wink* This event was not a stinker, however, since this event got so much criticism early on, I don't want to throw Electric Sheep a softball and be accused of having a blog full of spin. E-Sheep is my competitor, sure, but I've also worked with them in the past, and a number of them are good friends. I like a lot of the stuff they do. So I have to be somewhat fair to my readers.
In this case, this was an event I thought was really cool. I certainly don't think it deserved the heavy slamming that it got from some media, but looking back, I'm left with a few lingering questions in my mind on what was lacking.
- Someone else made a good point about eSheep's choice of music for the 90 minute pre-party. DNA is a great DJ, and I enjoyed the music, but could it have been a little bit more closer to the genre of music that Ben Folds creates?
- Dare I ask, could some Ben Folds tracks have been played during the pre-party?
- The event was very well branded for Ben Folds, with signs and big screens with images of him. Ben Folds did do a couple mentions for Sony and Aloft, but that's about the extent of the promotion for them. Might there have been a bitter better branding for Sony BMG or Aloft?
- Could the interview / meet and greet, instead of being on a stage *near* the Aloft, have been say, in front of, or in the hotel lobby?
- Electric Sheep has done interviews before, yet this event had a number of technical problems with the broadcast. What happened?
- In addition, why wasn't any part of the event recorded and published online for broadcast for the rest of the world who couldn't attend?
And to put things into perspective, we developers are all still figuring this out. Marketing and event-planning in Second Life is not the same as the real world or on the WWW. Agencies that come into SL touting years of experience but lacking any real SL experience are going to have a difficult time. Heck, the people who have been here have a tricky time enough as it is.
But that's why we give feedback and try and keep everything in perspective - so that the whole of the metaverse development industry can grow and flourish and have bountiful opportunities for business for all of us.
And oh my, there is.
I'm trying to retain this blog not as a news blog, but as a critical thinking blog. As we bring in the big names into Second Life, it's important to understand not just that big money is entering the Metaverse, but the specific significance and implications of each one.
A few from recent weeks:
Last week Larry Johnson announced Phase 2 of New Media Consortium campus in Second Life. Infinite Vision Media was announced as the hired developer for phase 2. (IVM is the company I'm a partner in since the merge.)
NMC is a cooperation of different learning institutions to create a shared community space for the educators in SL. Linden Lab has their own space that they have set up, as well, though theirs acts more as a "newbie land" type space rather than a conscious collaboration like NMC.
This is an extremely significant project in the scope of the Metaverse for one reason above all others in particular: This is the growth of shared, non-residential space in the Metaverse.
SL History Lesson: Residential Communities
What does this mean? Well, basically the majority of land in SL is residential land. A lot of that is virtual suburban sprawl - a mess of shops and swimming pools and clubs and villas. There are a number of different communities that have emerged from the sprawl. One of the first was Luskwood - a "furry" community. Hosts of other types of groups have followed, and at one point land barons (who buy, sell, and rent land en Masse in SL) got savvy to the idea and started themed private residential communities.
Why does this occur? Very simple. The Metaverse has something that the traditional Internet does not: Locality. On the World Wide Web, there is no relation of proximity from say, Microsoft.com and Google.com - they are both on servers and are accessed independently. Even web pages within sites technically have no relative proximity on the Internet. Often times they may not even have proximity on the same physical server.
Location, Proximity = Community, Collaboration
NMC is not a residential community; it is a business one. (albeit non-profit & educational) The idea that businesses, educators, and developers share the same space means that they exchange ideas and participate in each others' developmental processes. This is exactly one of the primary advantages that the Metaverse offers over the Internet, and a big reason why it will ultimately grow to a ubiquitous platform. As more space is dedicated for shared use, or proximity-based use.
Malls popped up in early 2004, however they were always designed for individual consumer experience, not for collaboration of the shops. They are essentially a 3-D catalog, little more. Instead, it is the spaces designed for interpersonal interaction that promote collaboration and ultimately progress in virtual world use.
You may remember that it was Electric Sheep Company that did Phase 1 of NMC's SL campus. They passed from what appears to be focusing on bigger fish, Sony BMG. They're premiering with a meet-and-greet event with one of my favorite songwriters, Ben Folds. According to their press release, Sony BMG will be experimenting with selling music via Second Life.
Nice work, sheep. (And fret not, I've got some more big fish coming soon, too. *grin*)
While meet-n-greets aren't new to SL, Ben Folds is certainly a big name. But what's signficant is less the promotional event for their kick-off, and more about their long-term plan to sell music via SL. I pressed a couple sheepers for details, but alas, it's private right now, so I can only wait and see how the sheep have planned to do this. I would assume that at worst, they have some sort of jukebox with previews of music, album art, and links to a WWW site where users can buy the music. If Sony's being cooperative with them, I could guess that they're preprogramming in streams to their servers. And if sheep are really clever, they'll come out with something portable.
We shall see. I'm anxious to see this outcome.
One final significant event was the publicity stunt Millions of Us did with Intel over the past weekend. SL builder extraordinaire, Versu Richelieu, was locked in a Manhattan storefront for 72 hours (with restroom breaks, I assume) building a replica of the very surroundings she was locked up in. This was to promote Intel's new Dual-Core PCs. While the actual tie-in between dual-cores and Second Life was ... well, not direct, I still think this was a really cool stunt.
I stopped by on Friday after going to Digital Life 2006 (sadly an underwhelming display of old technology). Versu was in good spirits, with plenty of gummy bears, and doing a surprisingly thorough job of building the streets. Links to photos and machinima by Tao Takashi here. MOU did a very good job covering this and updating their blog with info.
Why This Was Cool
So, this was cool because I came to an epiphany. I was allowed to poke my head in and chat with Versu for a couple minutes, and she told me that her avatar had originally been in a virtual storefront. Partly because of technical reasons, she freed her avatar. Aside from the fact that it made it easier to build, she said she told Reuben (MOU's CEO) that is she was trapped in a window, her avatar would have to be free, not both encaged.
It made me realize how much the mind controls one's perception of freedom. It also occured to me again how much virtual worlds really immerse a person to the point where it tricks them in their physical state. I have heard plenty of stories of disabled people using Second Life and finding new freedoms, but this was a different concept: Versu has no disabilities that I know of, and yet she found herself able to ignore her own personal lack of mobility by experiencing through her avatar.
That's so immensely fascinating to me!
So this publicity stunt succeeded, to me, not just because of the IBM name, but because of the human experiment it conducted in the process. It reaffirms the power of virtual worlds and avatars. Very, very cool.
Oh, and Sun Microsystems: All talk, no substance.
Millions of Us also ran a neat press conference for Sun Microsystems a week ago, but from what Sun actually said, it all sounded like hypothetical talk.
From "In the Grid" magazine:
"(Sun) can tremendously add to both the back-end architecture and front-end interface of the emerging MMO community, and that they plan on heavily doing so, or at least as much as their departments can convince the rest of the company to support it. Although perhaps a little more grandiose than the eventual project, Gage for example talked about the concept of replacing Linden's entire SL infrastructure, running the entire thing instead through a custom-made combination of Linux and Java, making the system not only work a lot smoother but immediately tie the environment into two of the largest developer communities on the planet."
To me, that sounds as if Sun is trying to buy Linden Lab. And personally as a non-fan of Java, and realizing how much resources Linden Lab has tied up into its current model, this all sounds like hype to me. So, congrats to Millions of Us for the neat press conference, but I'm not holding my breath to see what Sun does. I'm also chuckling at the idea that Java is one of the two biggest dev communities on the web. 15 years later, Sun is still trying to rule the world with Java, and it ain't happening.
Fortune 500? Sure. But Sun is clearly jumping on the Metaverse bandwagon rather than helping to pull it along. I guess we'll see what else they may have up their sleeves.
This just in ... Second Life's own Pierce Portocarrero has been nominated for 3 machinima awards for his short, "Game Over"!
- Best Custom Animation
- Best Visual Design
- Best Technical Achievement
SLDev Patterns Focus Group
With Timeless Prototype, we came up with SLDev Patterns. The idea is that we discuss developer projects and find patterns of what works and what doesn't. These results are published, the discussions remain private, so that we aren't publicly singling out any projects, people, or companies and making them look bad. At the same time, we're able to provide valuable feedback that the developer community can use to improve their work.
First meeting notes are here. The group is open enrollment and you can join by searching "SLDev patterns" in the Find Groups tab in-world. Suggestions for topics can be posted at sldeveloper.com forums or by emailing or IMing myself or Timeless Prototype.
Let me now place this in the scope of what's been evolving in developer cooperation over the past year.
Back in January I found myself working for myself, asking all sorts of questions about developing in SL. These questions didn't have immediate answers, even after talking with other full-time developers. So I organized a meeting and a bunch of SL's most dedicated developers showed up to talk. Before then, developers always talked in private, but the idea of a community of developers working together to grow the metaverse development industry was a dream in peoples' minds.
The community site, slDevelopers.com was created toward an open resource, and like most non-profit wiki / forums, it's understaffed and probably underutilized. It even got hacked by viagra-spammers. But it's up there, and jobs are posted, and projects are discussed.
And out of it was birthed the Pi islands, a venture led by Marcus Moreau, Lasivian Leandros, and Timeless Prototype. (And yeah, some fiddling by me, too.) The idea - create island space where independent developers could have a storefront / showroom and a shared sandbox space.
This was more of a success than I'd imagined; I rent a plot in Pi and I am always seeing new people come into the sandboxes to play. Informal meetings pop up to discuss projects, builds evolve, and occasionally I fire off land-sinking artillery at Timeless' shop across the sim. It's what port cities were in the Renaissance - places where people come and go and trade ideas.
Jerry Paffendorf: Metaverse Spokesperson
Back in July 2005 when I first met Jerry (SNOOPYbrown Zamboni in-world), I remember immediately thinking he was the best spokesperson I'd ever met for the Metaverse. I am constantly hearing new things from him to bring exciting events to the community as a whole. Electric Sheep smartly snatched him up as an employee after the success of SLCC 2005 which Jerry co-founded.
Since then Jerry's been leading the Metaverse Roadmap project, a high-profile consortium funded by eSheep of metaverse-related companies discussing how the Metaverse is going to work in 5 to 10 years. Immediately I was surprised to find two distint camps of companies:
- Companies who'd never really heard of the Metaverse and were wary to get involved
- Companies who'd worked on the same issues back when VRML was big.
Blogging as News and Coordination
In this time also more blogs popped up, and this is not a trivial thing. These Metaverse-related blogs allow the public showcasing of developers' projects as well as an open forum for discussion and feedback. Bravo.
Five blogs stick out in my mind:
- Second Life Insider - by the developers, for the developers.
- 3pointD - Mark Wallace, being a writer for Wired and the NY Times and such, gets the inside dig on lots of stories of Metaverse things. He happily shares it with the world thanks to eSheep's sponsoring. The very thorough nature of this blog and focus on just Metaverse issues makes it an invaluable news resource.
- New World Notes - which started as an embedded Linden Lab press and after splitting from LL, has evolved into a social commentary on SL. The author, Au, takes a very different perspective from other bloggers, looking at the fascinating social aspects of SL as a journalist.
- SL Business Magazine - The new kid on the block who's making coverage of in-world business look more like Business Week than The National Enquirer. And, this is not to mention the fact that they started out making a Japanese version available. Bilingual = global, nice job, folks.
- Second Cast - Audio blog of notable content creators in SL discuss all sorts of topics in SL. Why is this significant in particular? They make it fun to listen.
Sorry, guys and gals at TN, but take the cue from Wallace on what's a hot story. You are all excellent thinkers and writers, but no MMORPG will ever be "the new golf".
Linden Lab Doing Their Share
This year Linden Lab's really come around and starting to provide the full support we developers need to be successful, and in turn to promote SL as a viable business platform. I had written about their attitude shift as expressed at SLCC. I also want to mention that Glenn Linden is doing a supreme job at providing more resources. Since he's come into Linden Lab's office, we've seen:
- Revamp of the developer list
- More talks with developers
- Islands on the grid dedicated to showing off developers to potential clients and investors
- Support for developer-run initiatives
5 CEOs, 1 Promise
Several mergers, new blogs, and a whole lot of developers projects later in August, the industry was shaping up and we had the SLCC developer panel. At that meeting promises were made to the effect that development companies needed to work together to grow the industry.
High-Speed Delivery: Reflections on Meeting 1
So, while the CEOs are busy as heck making new contracts after SLCC, I got to work with Timeless on SLDev Patterns.
What impressed me the most was the turnout at the event. I'm very happy that so many developers in SL are interested in participating in this open, participatory cooperation. We got to meet the crew from a new SL developer company, Made Virtual. Linden Lab also had three people show up, and I'm really happy about their participation and commitment to reaching out to the developer community to assist and support us.
Some key points that came out of the meeting:
- Events can't be simply 1-shot. They need to have extended, ongoing presence of the client in SL.
- Clients looking to SL as a platform can't simply expect to dump content and have people come to them. They need to provide services for the resident community.
- SL provides a lasting experience for consumers that 2-D media or radio does not. As Eggy put it: people dream about SL, not TV commercials.
... featuring the voice "talent" of Hiro Pendragon!
So, Robo Studios has come out with their first trailer for the documentary they are putting together about business and the Metaverse. They have a bunch of really good metaverse developers that they interviewed, and I am anxious to see the movie when it's done.
Right now there's three documentaries in works about Second Life and/or the metaverse. I'm glad that they each have their own unique focus, though I am a bit melancholy that we don't have documentary battles a la Thunderdome. *snicker*
I will, of course, 'blog about each one as they provide me trailers.
So apparently Google got its hands on Blogger.com, so I'm now running a Beta that, aside from being faster for me to update, does tagging and claims to have better RSS capabilities.
PC World Magazine just featured an article on Second Life, by Mark Wallace of 3pointD and the SL Herald. On the online version features a quote and picture of me, as well as reference to my business and merger. Also mentioned is Suzanne Vega and Kurt Vonnegut, guests on The Infinite Mind radio show in SL that IVM produced.
I love the tone that Mark took with the article - stating that the metaverse is a reality in works, an inevitability.
Linden Lab has announced that
MySpace is being integrated to SL SL user profiles will have a web tab that you can link a personal homepage.
So, this means another effort to tear down of the artificial barriers between Second Life and the rest of the world. Optional, of course, but the broader picture is the same: SL is not an island to itself, it's part of the Metaverse / Internet.
There are, of course, larger ramifications.
What if MySpace people decide (realize) that it's boring to just sit and browse profiles on the web, and it's much more fun to do it while in a virtual world? Would they then flock to SL, start putting slurls in their MySpace pages, and make the border between MySpace and SL virtually ... virtual?
Oh, I think so, my friends. But how do we sell it to the world?
- llCreateWindow, llOpenWindow and llCloseWindow - allow us scripters to create ways to pop open new, HTML-enabled windows in SL that will allow easy hyperlinking and interfaces.
- Improve SL's overall usability - the attractive thing to many people about MySpace is how easy it is to use. We need to learn more of that and integrate it more into SL to really drive the masses here.
- SL to VRML/X3D standards - allow some way for SL creations to be easily rendered to an online-friendly format, permissions followed. This way, users could have 3-D rendered snippets of their builds on their MySpace pages. We can do it the hard way anyway with free software, so we may as well have a permissive-friendly way to do it.
- Linden Lab needs to see the potential and start endorsing the use this way. And Kelly is a great start. Who's next? Torley, I'd imagine?
Forbes reports that online gambling has been pwned. For those who haven't read, Congress has passed a bill preventing credit card and money transfers from the U.S. to online gambling sites.
This has been something talked about over and over again in the SL community over the past three years as a possibility. So, it will be very interesting to see what happens in the near future. Considering how much gambling with L$ goes on in SL, I think a big shake-up is on the near horizon.
Pierce P showed off his latest machinima last week at Alt-Zoom studios, and here it is available on the web: Game Over.
He also v-logged the premier and his thoughts.
I wanted to point out a few things about "Game Over" that makes this extra blog-worthy.
1. All the characters are really original.
Machinima tends to use default-type avatars. e.g. World of Warcraft machinima uses taurens and night elves, Half-life machinima uses Barney and the creepy old man, Halo machinima uses Halo armored dudes. One of the few I've seen deviate from this is the Ill Clan, who run their own custom avatars on another client.
2. Dark, twisted story.
I love it. And it doesn't have to be comedy, which 95% of machinima seems to be. I love that machinimists are exploring less humorous pieces, because to me that's an indicator that the medium is getting more serious.
3. There's zero dialog.
Telling it all with the camera is always impressive. Pierce is able to do so successfully because of the next point.
4. Good foley work.
The video is chock full of sound effects and the editing is very clean. Good sound editing makes bad film watchable, okay film good, and good film great.
5. Good editing.
From the pacing to the choice of camera shots, Game Over is really well chopped.
I also encourage readers to check out all the entries in Alt-Zoom studios; we have some really talented machinimists in SL.
Oh, and Machinima Film Fesitival in just over a month, November 4 and 5!