This year I didn't really ask for much of anything from anyone for Christmas. I think I told my mom I wanted a wok so I can do better stir-fry.
That's because last year I got all I really wanted for a while: I was able to start working in Second Life full time. Well, and that included quitting my 3rd shift network surveillance job which had ceased to challenge me anymore and was breaking down my body due to the hours. Maybe I had to be in that situation so that I would quit, and do something radical like change careers.
I certainly could not have done it without the support of friends and family and a girlfriend, all of whom were wary at my move from a steady, well-paying job with nice benefits. I certainly wasn't 100% sure of it either; I had a little money saved in the bank, I had done research on starting a business, and my 1-year strategy was essentially either (a) Being bought or merging with another company (b) Finding someone who knew how to properly run a business and add them to my team. I'm happy with the folks I wound up merging with.
Also, I certainly could not have done it without a lot of Second Life experience and a lot of consideration over the matter. It made sense, though. Initially, I had gotten into Second Life as a way to build a game-design portfolio. After speaking with people in the industry, I'm glad I'm doing something a bit more day-to-day significant in my work, but still get to do a lot of the programming and 3-D design that game development entails. In the meantime I built up a network of contacts, an two-year expertise in the platform of Second Life, and a reputation for my name.
It's not always easy, of course. Most of my work now is challenging, though I love that fact. There are plenty of times when I get frustrated and need breaks. There are times when I get riled up about certain things or people, and I have to remind myself that I'm doing the very thing that I wanted to do. I remind myself that working in Second Life itself is a big Christmas present. That's usually all I need to refresh my resolve.
I'm happy to see that it's getting easier for people to make the jump to full-time developer. I see talented people being scooped up by Metaverse Development Companies. (MDCs) I see other talented people doing well with land renting and community building. I see talented contractors able to work solo. I see Linden Lab doing a fine job of supporting all of these people with their efforts on improving Second Life and improving the tools in the Developer's program.
Maybe that's my Christmas wish this year for other people. I'd like to see the ability to enter Second Life as a full-time worker broaden for more people. This is whether they are independent or with an established company.
It's such an exciting industry in which I work. There's still so much yet to be done, and there's a lot of smart, creative, nice people out there working together. 2007 is going to be a big, big year.
Merry Christmas, readers. Happy Hannukah (חנוכה), Kwanzaa, whatever you're celebrating these days. Remember it's important to still have your dreams and pursue them.
This year I didn't really ask for much of anything from anyone for Christmas. I think I told my mom I wanted a wok so I can do better stir-fry.
Thanks to Philip Rosedale's insistence, yesterday's SL Developer Round-table was not under NDA. Philip joined us via phone conference, Robin via the same, and Glenn Fisher (who has been doing a ton of work on the SL developer program this year) held down the meeting in-person. Without further ado, highlights and commentary:
Philip naturally stated that the biggest problem SL is facing now is growing pains. No big surprise.
While the simulators themselves are scalable, the asset servers that provide all the inventory and object information weren't. He indicated that, obviously, this is an ongoing process. Personally, I inferred that the words "revamping database schemas" imply, "rewrite how the asset servers work entirely."
Philip noted that they have trouble finding competent staff. Linden Lab's always had very high hiring requirements. I wonder if "raise everyone's salaries" has entered anyone's mind.
*Hiro ducks, anticipating getting flak for that one, and moves on to the next topic*
Some of Linden Lab's most immediate feature priorities include:
- integration of voice
- HTML (One note was that llLoadURL will be changed to load the user's internal SL browser that's coming, rather than the external browser.)
- Flash support
- "Journaling" transactions in sims to prevent content loss. Philip noted that this was "difficult".
The developers had a chance to talk about the features that they would most find useful.
- Better tools for larger events. This included the ability to shard sims
- Fix the user registration API so it works 100% of the time. Also requested were reg-API features: start a user in a group, start a user with certain inventory, start a user with a HUD on.
- Improving the small byte size limit on the LSL http request command.
Robin spoke about the new customer service system being developed. She outlined a tiered system where users would get increasing levels of support depending on how much money they spend on SL monthly. She also talked about revamping the knowledge base and diversifying the support teams. Also, she mentioned they have hired new staff and will likely continue to hire.
Robin noted that often times support staff, be it Linden or volunteer, field all sorts of questions and problems. She cited that if people could specialize in different things, they could handle situations better. So, for instance, one group will be "first responders" who will be able to triage things like grid-crashing objects. Another group could focus on griefers.
Linden Lab is negotiating with a company to integrate a support/ticketing system into SL that will enable better problem tracking. It will also let the problems be dropped into a bucket, and then the appropriate teams pick out the appropriate issues.
Robin said so far she's identified 7 tiers of service, though my notes only have 6. (silly me.)
The base tier, which all users, including free accounts, would include access to submitting tickets for customer service and the Abuse Report tool, as well as access to the knowledge base.
The next tier would be for premium accounts, and would have the basic benefits plus Live Help.
The next tier is 3 levels of concierge support.
- Owning between 1/2 of a sim to 3 sims
- Owning between 3 sims to 10 sims
- Owning 10+ sims.
The highest tier would be "Global Providers", which were individuals and organizations doing community building on a large scale. I guess this means if Borat started a company and basically was a land baron for Kazakhstan, and brings in 100,000 Kazakhs, that he would get a high level of support. That's just my take on it.
Also to note:
- The community team is pushing to improve turnaround times on customer service requests.
- A new system for custom names is coming, soon, that will be more automated.
- Covenants will allow owners of sims to route Abuse Reports to the sim owner for users to police their own sims.
It's a blessing and a curse, I'm sure. Here's a big problem: With voice coming, abuse reports won't necessarily have any text chat log to indicate harassment or other signs of abuse. While certain pieces of data may still be available (push logs), it will be more difficult to take action against individual abuse reports.
Personally, I do not find this a show-stopper to voice. I think the option to use voice (and certainly, I may not turn on mine all the time) is a hugely powerful tool for communication.
So, Linden Lab is also going to enact ban-list sharing, and landowners will have to rely on "trust networks" to ensure that the right people are banned. Linden Lab is also looking at keeping a sharable ban list for avatars banned on Linden land.
This is obviously a controversial topic. Can it be gamed? Sure. We are going to need to come up with:
- A way to check if you are on a widely used ban list.
- An appeals process for users to be able to petition themselves off a list.
Identity Authentication and Mixed Grid
Another tool that Robin cited that was under development was the ability to voluntarily have your avatar age verified.
"So, this sounds like Linden Lab is leaning towards a mixed grid, huh?" I asked.
Robin replied that they are looking to have the mainland be open for all ages, and keep a teen-only area. But, with the age verification, adult areas could finally "card" users. I'd assume this means they could not access mature sims, either.
Hey, this sounds like how the Internet works. OMG.
While some alarmists may call this a "2-tier society", the reality is that folks who provide mature content have a legal responsibility to ensure that only mature users have access to their content.
On the other hand, there is something to be said that Linden Lab has pitched SL as an adult-only community. I think that got broken with open registration, and perhaps it's unrealistic in a longer-term goal of the Metaverse. I believe that landowners should have the ultimate right to decide who is on their land. I image I may be called a "teki-wikki" for saying this, but as long as we have the tools to be able to screen who we want on our land, I think having a mixed grid would be okay. Certainly, providing the teen grid as a safer alternative is also a very good idea.
We had some general discussion with Glenn at the end, and we bounced around to a variety of topics. A quick summary:
- Linden Lab is leaning toward providing a general "Roadmap" of where SL is going.
- Developers suggested that abuse report tools and Bug report tools could grab and include more specific data.
- Sales material, such as slide shows, will be made available for developers looking to use them for clients.
- SLDevU will be run in San Francisco by Linden Lab, and will be opened up to developers and other groups who want to run them in different cities.
- Glenn is filling in the "Business Partners" page on the SL website.
- The SL Homepage could start with a "choose your flavor" - consumer / teen / business / learning.
- Curriculum and certification for SL skills were seen as tricky to implement, but Linden Lab would look to approve programs that developers & others create. It was seen that Linden Lab approving it would pass a level of trust.
- Right now Linden Lab has a second co-location facility in Austin, Texas, and they are looking to get a third. These are full backups of all of SL.
- Developers stressed the need for sim owners to be able to easily back up their own sims, and for people in general to be able to back up their data.
Your prim/texture business is at risk no matter what, and CopyBot has no effect.
I am not meaning to come off cynical with this post. I do want to point out facts of which every business owner should make themselves aware.
Assumed: SL continues to increase in size and features.
1. SL will have better search tools made available, either by Linden Lab or through some third party.
2. More and more content creators will make more and more items available.
Combine and stir.
Result: Residents will have easy access to hundreds of similar products which will force sellers to slash prices to compete.
Advice: If you wish to survive as a vendor of virtual items:
1. Start learning to script or get friendly with someone who can. Scripts already are the differentiating factor in most items, and will only continue to be the things that make your products stand out.
2. Focus on doing custom work. There's an exponentially increasing demand for talented builders of all sorts for Metaverse Development Companies. We also pay in US$, not L$. (At least, the scrupulous ones.)
3. Establish a rock-solid brand name that will keep customer loyalty.
Notice, CopyBot has nothing to do with your real business risk.
Conversely, those who feel CopyBot is a threat, I say this:
1. Since CopyBot has been declared abuse-reportable by Linden Lab, anyone caught selling things made by CopyBot risk losing their money, account, land, etc.
2. No one will make very much money with CopyBot before being discovered. We as a community have grown too good at spotting freebie-resellers and outing them; this same skill will combat *any* sort of Copyright infringement.
3. Spamming "!quit" is pointless. If you stop panicking and think, you'd realize anyone unscrupulous enough to use CopyBot to steal items will just remove that line of code that accepts the "!quit". Don't be a spammer. It lags sims and pisses people off.
I know it's still 3 weeks' until the New Year, but I wanted to get a jump on all the other predictions that are inevitably coming. So, without the aid of the next fortnight-and-a-half's knowledge, and with a lighthearted attitude, I give you:
15 Big Predictions for Second Life in 2007!!!!1
1. Second Life will surpass World of Warcraft for total users. At least, on paper.
2. Terra Nova will double their SL / WoW post ratio, bringing it up to 1:5. *grin* Additionally, there *still* will not be a legal court case involving virtual land ownership rights, further bolstering Terra Novans' casual indifference to Second Life.
3. Someone in the mainstream media, at least state-level, will quote the SL Herald in a story, and not realizing the Herald's self-proclaimed tabloid status, write something totally bogus.
4. Linden Lab will open up servers in other continents to reduce load, and *not* license their software until 2008.
5. Havok 2. ................ NOT!
6. Metaverse Development Companies explode in numbers, with lots of them lacking the talent to do it properly. Widespread outsourcing and subcontracting will occur. If we're *lucky*, we'll get compatibility with other 3-D formats and be able to hire people trained in Maya, 3DStudio, Bryce, etc.
7. At least one major MDC will fold or leave SL for unrelated projects.
8. Avatar will become the big tech buzzword of 2007, thanks in part to WoW's established popularity, Second Life's growing popularity with businesses, and the Nintendo Wii's "Mii" system.
9. Improvements in search features in SL will lead to a widespread price plummet of non-scripted items due to massive competition from all the new users. Residents will begin to realize that CopyBot isn't at all a threat to their sales, but each other. The successful brands will either have brand name recognition and/or complex scripted functionality.
10. At least one major attempt to compete with SL will arise. At best, it will be playing a game of 4-year catch-up with Second Life's feature set.
11. IMVU and Skype will both be bought by another company, most likely Google or AOL or Yahoo to be integrated with their messenger services.
12. A Second Life business (not necessarily an MDC) will be purchased by a major corporation.
13. A Second Life business (also not necessarily an MDC) will have an IPO on a legit stock market, not necessarily American.
14. Ed Castronova will speak before Congress about taxation in virtual worlds.
15. Neal Stephenson will finally utter the words "Second Life" publicly. Philip Rosedale and thousands of other fan-boys (your truly, included) will swoon.