double-click ground to walk
This is a case of using an already-existing paradigm of navigation. People know what a double-click is from operating system navigation. Other virtual worlds and games use the double-click on the ground as a standard. So, you know the "Go here" function on the right-click pie menu? Why can't that same function be the default double-click action on the land?
Here's one I stole from other virtual worlds. If Linden Lab has an algorithm that calculates where your avatar is in relationship to an object, and uses that as the default base for "sit", then why can't it use that data for a "Look at" function? Using the camera in Second Life takes time, and it would be a lot easier if it would be automated for some basic operations. While users can program camera controls, it requires text-box confirmation of permission and pretty advanced scripting knowledge to implement.
Further, I'd like to see this option be integrated into an objects "default touch behavior", where I could thus set left-click to default to "Look At" - useful for video screens, pictures on a wall, etc. And then, like the sit functions llSitOffset and llSetSitText, there ought to be a llLookAtOffset(vector eye, vector target) and llSetLookAtText(string text) function. The prior would set a default location and target for the Look At function, and the latter would change the pie menu text for it.
For all of these functions, the Escape (Esc) key or simply moving your avatar would cancel out of Look At mode.
Profiles as web pages / Integration with other social networks
So, since we've long since had in-world browser, why doesn't Linden Lab make a basic social networking application for Second Life, connecting its existing profiles and friend connections? Suddenly we'd see all profiles accessible offline, and - hey - EMBEDDABLE IN OTHER SOCIAL NETWORKS. And while we're at it, let's get a Facebook application by Linden Lab that pulls from these profile websites.
Second Life is not an island. The idea that the Metaverse is a separate place is a fallacy imagined by science fiction writers before there even was an Internet, let alone a 3-D Internet. We have this pre-fixed conception that the only way you access a virtual world is by "jacking in" and being fully immersed. Movies and books have reinforced this idea, but the truth is that Second Life and other virtual worlds are all part of the larger Internet, and should recognize themselves as such. The Metaverse isn't a walled garden. The Metaverse IS the Internet, 3-D enabled with social networking.
So before Torley was a Linden, Torley made the suggestion in the old, old SL forums, to paraphrase, "What's missing from Second Life: the handshake" and made a great case why such basic behaviors need to be made easy and straightforward. It's this common sense and understanding of users needs that likely played a part in his subsequent employment at Linden Lab. It's something like 3 or 4 years later, and we still have no handshake. We even, in Fall 2006, had the announcement of "Avatar puppeteering" to come, which seems to have atrophied and been forgotten somewhere in the development process.
Something like the handshake is basic. It says, "We developers have thought about the kinds of behaviors that users are likely going to want, and made sure we developed our platform in a way that it enables obvious use cases." What has happened with handshake? I guess no one in the early phases of Linden Lab saw it as something people would do, and now it would take a lot of finagling to make it work.
Here's one from my CEO, Drew Stein. When walking from one parcel to another, often times both parcels have music media streams. And, naturally, they are often *different* streams. Switching from one suddenly to the other can be jarring. Why not build in a cross-fader to the client that automatically fades out the first stream as the second one is faded in?
Excepting the last suggestion, these are all functions I've suggested before, but this is probably the first time I've blogged about them. So here they are, Linden Lab. Or, better - since Linden Lab has announced that they will become the central hosting point for the Second Life open source initiative, perhaps you - reader - can come up with an open source patch to the client that enables one or more of these features?
double-click ground to walk
So I was pleased to read to read that Linden Lab was re-evaluating their adult content policies in their blog. The blog post also contains links to five discussions on the Linden Lab forums to discuss various aspects. As a business professional, too often I encounter the perception of Second Life (and other virtual worlds) as being inherently attached to adult content. The natural counter-argument is the "there's as much porn proportionately on Second Life as there is on the Internet. That doesn't mean Amazon.com or Facebook are porn."
And yet, there's a key difference - you can usually avoid adult content on the Internet. In Second Life, there's only two ratings land can have: Mature and PG. Now, PG literally means that you can't swear or have anything remotely objectionable or sexual. So, for those of us adults who want space to be geared towards adults, Mature is our only option. But by that standard, we open ourselves up to adult content by the common sense of the word: Nudity, violence, etc. I've long since told Linden Lab that they ought to have PG, Mature, and Adult ratings. So seeing Linden Lab re-evaluate policies is a good thing.
Let's look at what Linden Lab has put forward so far.
The most encouraging thing is that Linden Lab has very clearly opened up debate on the whole topic. They've stated their goals, their ideas, and they've made space for people to talk about this issue. Too often policy decisions in the past have been slapped down without much debate, and often times Linden Lab has had to back-peddle and modify their freshly newborn rules. I hope that Linden Lab follows through with the discussion and takes the feedback to heart.
Goals: A Critique
The stated goals are as follows:
"1) We will create clear and consistent definitions of what constitutes adult content, in line with our Community Standards,"
Problem number one. Unfortunately, any clear definition of what is adult will link Second Life's ruleset into one culture's idea of what is "okay". As people in the forums have already pointed out, every culture, and even different people within cultures, have very different standards on what is acceptable. Some people object to nudity (USA, but not many parts of Europe), some to partial nudity (religious conservatives), some object to the remotest sense of nudity (conservative Islam), some to violence, some to drug use. In some countries, hate speech is protected as long as it's not a captive audience or harassment. In others, hate speech of certain types is banned outright. (Germany with National Socialist references.)
So whose standard are we going to use? Linden Lab's goal of having clear standards conflicts with its overall goal to have Second Life be a global community. This brings us nicely to goal 2.
"2) We will enable easy, reliable, and consistent ways to be able to access content by type - the goal being to ensure that Residents can choose what they want to see, purchase and experience."
See, here's what's interesting. Goal #1 set up a contradiction, but Goal #2 is exactly the right approach. Set up the platform so that users can decide. I think this is the best way to approach things, as it:
- Limits censorship of artists and creators
- Gives power to the consumers
- Allows more groups of people to access more content
If only the Internet actually worked this way. As a side-note, I wonder why there isn't a XHTML meta tag for content that the browser can be set to automatically filter.
And that's exactly the kind of solution that I think is ideal. Linden Lab already is proposing this in part, and doing some of it. For a long time now, we are able to mark our land parcels as containing adult content, and it affects viewing in the Find and Classifieds tools in Second Life, which allow users to choose to display or not display them.
If Linden Lab could extend this solution - by adding a piece of data on every object for "content" - let people flag their own objects as containing objectionable content, and their level, and then let people set browsers to choose to show them or not, or whether to prompt the user before showing it.
I would love the tags on an object as well as on land parcels:
- Violence: None, Mild, Graphic.
- Sexual Content: None, Artistic, Mild ("R-rated"), Graphic ("X-rated")
- Drug Use: None, Smoking / Drinking (maybe if the US legalizes it, we can add marijuana here), Heavier drugs
I'd love to add hate speech / images as a tag, but I notice most people spouting hate speech don't have the brains or perspective to understand that what they are doing IS hate speech, so I think it's better just to deal with that with set standards - which Linden Lab already does. (Banned.)
And unlike trying to police the entire grid - the responsibility is on users, and Linden Lab doesn't need to expend loads of new money trying to rule on all sorts of edge cases.
"3) We will implement effective Resident services and dialog to ensure that those who provide Adult goods or services can continue their activities without long-term disruption or loss of business. "
This is a good goal, although their plan to "relocate" X-rated content providers is full of questions. I think if Linden Lab limited it to businesses - shops that sell "sex-beds", clubs with nude avatars as dancers, etc - and Linden Lab not implement this on residents - who may own a sexy poster or "sex-bed" and keep it in their house on their land. (I'll get back to this latter topic later on in this blog post when I deal with privacy.)
Plainly said, I have no problem with a "Red Light" commercial district (which has the positive side effect of making them easier to find for people seeking adult content), but we shouldn't force residential ones. (That's kind of like "making a ghetto", you know?) We should definitely allow residents to buy land and make homes in "Red Light" areas, just not force them. Leave that to just the businesses.
That's going to mean avatar skin-shops as well, and shops that include that. I think we will see the biggest kick-back from them.
"4) We will implement account verification systems that provide an additional level of assurance for providers of Adult content that only adults are able to access their content. Such a system might be tied, for instance, to a verified payment method like a credit card, a validation by our age verification provider, or another credible method of validation."
You mean, like they used to do several years ago? I was vocal at the time but I let it go as the decision was made. Linden Lab used to require any account to get attached to a credit card, and it was a simple (but not fool-proof) way to make sure that Linden Lab was, in fact, 18+. At the time, the stakes were difference. There wasn't millions of users. There wasn't even 100,000. Second Life had an appeal because it was 18+, not because of the adult content, but just because some of us were tired of running into obnoxious kiddies on other virtual worlds. (Not that all adults are mature, and not that all / most teenagers are immature. I think I joked at the time that we should *raise* the age to 22 because many college students still weren't mature. But I disgress!)
Linden Lab has finally caught up with what was inevitable, just like the unregulated gambling issue that resulted in a ban two years ago. Just like ponzi schemes that Linden Lab had been hands-off originally. It's clear from goal #4 that this is not just a "Linden Lab thinks it should be done" issue, but one stemming from some outside pressure. Fair enough.
Unstated Goal: The Mixed Grid
There is an unstated goal that can be extrapolated by anyone who's kept an eye on Linden Lab's progress with Second Life for a few years. It's important to understand some of them, because they not only give clearer meaning to the actions, but they illuminate what Second Life will look like in a few years. And that is - eventually Linden Lab will have a mixed grid area.
It's not that the Teen Grid and Main Grid will merge. What I suspect is going to happen eventually is that there will be three types of areas:
- 18+ areas designed to cater to adults who don't want to run into children. (like the Main Grid)
- Teen-only areas designed to be youth-oriented and youth-safe. (like the Teen Grid)
- Mixed areas where both can co-exist. (like the Internet)
It's important that we have a mixed grid area because there's so many educational and cultural opportunities missed when we have to separate kids and adults. This will mean extra precautions, and most certainly they will be PG areas, and Linden Lab's lawyers will be extra-busy figuring all this out.
But realizing that Mixed Grid is a goal, doesn't that make the adult-content filtering make more sense in that context? If we can filter adult content via the browser, suddenly it removes some major obstacles in letting underage users access much more content.
And there's a HUGE market for kids online. The market is anxious to be broached en masse in Second Life by independent artists selling virtual goods and big companies looking in virtual world space to do virtual experiences and viral marketing.
The Privacy Issue, Revisited
So here's where I see the biggest challenge to implementing the new adult content changes that Linden Lab is proposing: How does Linden Lab enact these measures while preserving - or improving - privacy?
Let's look at some example borderline cases:
Case 1: Casual Partial Nudity
See, let's say I'm Joe Average Avatar. I rent a 4k plot of land in a Mature region from a major third party land renting company. It's themed like the beach, and I like it there. Occasionally, I invite a few friends over and one or two of the female avatars decide to go "topless" on the beach. Does Linden Lab ban that activity? Is that abuse reportable? Will I be forced to "relocate" to an adult-rated sim to allow that? If that's the case, I'd be pretty upset that I'd have to have neighbors that potentially had explicit content, when what I was doing on my land was pretty tame by comparison.
Case 2: The Privately Owned Sex Bed
I'm Jane Average. I have a sex-bed. I keep it in the bedroom of my house in a plot of land I own in Second Life on a Mature sim. I use it because I like to have net-sex with a significant other that I have even met and been with in the real world on multiple occaisions. From the outside of the house, the sex-bed can't be seen, and even if it was, it looks like any ordinary bed - only by using it would one know it had adult-rated functions. But my land isn't even open. It's locked.
Case 3: What Is Art?
Let's say I have an art gallery in Second Life that displays images and sculptures of art. Some depict nudity or other content some may find "objectionable". Do we consign me to the "Red Light District" of SL because some people are more sensitive than others? Can't we find a way for people to just filter out what they don't want to see, or avoid it altogether.
And then there's the bigger issue of personal privacy on the Internet, altogether. My colleague, Gwyneth Llewelyn has a great post analyzing the whole new policy issue, and speaks specifically about privacy in a section "I don't want LL to know who I am!". Summarized: When I do business in the real world, I do NOT have to identify myself excepting some extreme examples, like buying alcohol or guns. Yes, there are laws about requiring an age limit to buy "adult content" like DVDs, however as far as I know, there are no laws prohibiting people from viewing them. A 15 year old boy can't be arrested for finding his older brother's Playboy and reading it, etc.
Rather than go on about the concerns and leave with no answer, I can happily suggest solutions: For most of the issues, using a "Tag and filter client side" approach solves most obstacles. Let's look at how this would work, from a user-perspective.
In my SL browser, I have settings to limit what content I want to see, as I listed earlier in this post. For teens, certain options are grayed out. There could even be alternate browsers which allow parents to set parental controls. Additionally, a second control level would be for each of the categories (sexual content, violence, drugs), basically asking the user what to do when each is found. The options would be:
1. Block access to the parcel. If I try and teleport to a parcel that is marked with this content, the teleport is stopped. If I walk or fly up to one, the parcel has lines similar to the existing "ban lines" and my avatar is prevented - client-side - from entering. Additionally, parcel ratings should automatically update the parcel tag as objects with ratings come and go, but should be allowable for parcel owners to check them "on" independently.
2. Allow access, but block the offending object's 3-D geometry and ability to touch / click / etc. Note - this would not stop any scripted effects that were generated in the object, as that would be a nightmare to implement. However, I'll deal with that case next part of the solutions.
3. Prompt before denying access. "This (parcel / object) contains items that exceed your desired content viewing threshold. Please click (allow) to view them anyway. You can change your preferences (control-P, ratings tab)"
My solution for scripts is simple - add a command llGetAVFilters(list which_filters) and then violators who don't use this on adult content are abuse-reportable. Give a grace period to allow makers of products to edit their scripts.
Privacy: A matter of Inside versus Outside
Lastly, let me reintroduce an idea I have floated before: INSIDE / OUTSIDE.
Let a user designate a 3-D space on their land using the edit menu and some items that act as markers - much like telehubs. Inside this space is "inside", and outside the space is "outside". Allow different privacy settings "inside", such as access and viewing.
What does that mean?
It means I can draw a box inside my house in Second Life and make it private, so that only people I add to a specific access list can enter or even SEE into it. Then you don't have to worry about people barging in while you're in the hot tub with your virtual squeeze, nor do you have to worry about someone accidentally finding your "objectionable" artwork and abuse reporting you.
In other words, you can limit relocation to just commercial outlets that sell adult content, and not residents.
Some details on how I think it could be implemented:
- Only one per parcel, at least for starters, in case it's computationally complex.
- The "inside" gets its own rating tags set by the owner, so the client can do its filtering in the same way as I suggested before.
- Should be as easy as creating and rotating a box. In fact, at least at first, limit the "inside" box to be a standard rectangular prism - easily defined by merely two points in space. (The opposite corners.)
- Widespread promotion of the system should be done once implemented so that average land owners understand it
- Linden Lab already has done parts of the needed technology with the "muted avatars and their objects turn grey", so it's not a huge technological hurdle
Oh, P.S. - HUGE lag improvements when used.
Yup, I said it. If inside / outside excluded sending data of items inside the space to users outside the space, there would be vast improvements in lag. Imagine flying around, and not having to load the inside of everyone's house you fly over just because you're nearby? And not have to track the users inside either? Much less bandwidth use. Much less data having to be processed by video cards (as essentially it winds up being pre-card culling). And so you're killing 4 birds with one stone:
- Helping to limit adult content to those who want to see it.
- Establishing privacy to the common user
- Saving Linden Lab tons of money on bandwidth usage
- Helping to alleviate the biggest complaint with Second Life's performance: "It's too laggy!"
- Eventually, we could just redirect inside space to other areas of Second Life, or even other virtual worlds - and use them as portals. But that, my friends, is another blog post. ;)
Bam, instant privacy in Second Life, without requiring someone to own their own sim. And the cost of buying you're own simulator - nearly two grand and 300 / month is simply too high a demand on anyone to have privacy. It should be something inherent to all land-owners. Privacy is a right altogether too often ignored, and the adult content revision as a perfect time that we affirm privacy rights in our virtual worlds, or at least the most popular one, Second Life.