• 18Oct

    Gwyneth Llewelyn recently offered a proposal to try to plug “the analogue hole” that makes content theft inevitable. Her proposal drew a lot of criticism, particularly from open source developers, and she has since withdrawn it.

    I’m glad to read that she has; I was among those with objections to the proposal. But I’m disappointed by her reaction to the criticism she received:

    The current community of developers — and by that I mean non-LL developers — is absolutely not interested in implementing any sort of content protection schemes.

    … Their argument is that ultimately any measures taken to implement “trusted clients” that connect to LL’s grid will always be defeated since it’s too easy to create a “fake” trusted client. And that the trouble to go the way of trusted clients will, well, “stifle development” by making it harder, and, ultimately, the gain is poor compared to the hassle of going through a certification procedure.

    I won’t fight that argument, since it’s discussing ideologies, not really security. Either the development is made by security-conscious developers, or by people who prefer that content ought to be copied anyway (since you’ll never be able to protect it), and they claim that the focus should be on making development easier, not worrying about how easy content is copied or not.

    … “Technicalities” are just a way to cover their ideology: ultimately, they´re strong believers that content (and that includes development efforts to make Second Life better) ought to be free.

    Despite what Gwyn suggests, one can object to a specific content protection scheme without being an ideological extremist who believes that everything should be free. Yes, there are individuals who take that viewpoint. Many of them are quite vocal, and some are rather arrogant and obnoxious. (I am of the opinion that this latter kind ought to be swatted hard over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Repeatedly.)

    But to imply that anyone opposing her proposal must be some kind of anticommercial tekkie-hippie is fallacious and juvenile, and just as dismissive as the rudest comments she received. I must admit that I expected better from Gwyn.

    Now then, let me explain my opposition and criticism of the proposal. (This is not criticism of Gwyn as a person, nor of any of her other ideas besides this particular proposal.)

    While I do appreciate and respect the choice to make one’s own efforts open and free, I do not believe everything should be forced to be free, and I did not oppose the proposal based on my views on that topic. I opposed it because I see three major flaws in the proposed system, two of them purely security-related:

    1. the certificates could be easily forged, which defeats the purpose of having them at all
    2. an effective certification system would put an extraordinary burden on developers
    3. the system does not address the most commonly exploited methods of content theft

    I’ll expand on these points so that there can be no confusion about why I objected and still object to such a system. (I’ll give fair warning, though, that this is a rather long and probably dull post by most standards.)

    Continue reading »

  • 29Sep

    Dusan Writer offers a sensational bit of news:

    Mark Kingdon announced that an outside design firm is hard at work on a new, user-friendly viewer for Second Life.

    I’ve read Kingdon’s post, and I’m afraid Dusan misread it and jumped to the entirely wrong conclusion. Here’s what Kingdon actually wrote (emphasis mine):

    Shortly after I started, we kicked off a project to reinvent what we call the “first hour experience” (our web experience, the viewer, and the way we acclimate and acculturate users inworld) for new users. We’ve made great progress and will be working with an award-winning interactive design firm to help us complete the reinvention and bring it to life. Yes, we are creating a viewer that is new user friendly! Stay tuned for updates.

    That reads pretty clearly to me: they are working on a viewer that is friendly to new users, not a new viewer that is friendly to users. I suppose you could read some meaning into “reinvention” and “creating”, but I don’t see any indication that he means anything other than the renovations already in progress to make the existing viewer more friendly to new users.

    Improving new users experience has been a recurring theme at Resident Experience (Rx) office hours, and is clearly one of LL’s primary obsessions. And as it happens, Linden Lab contracted Vectorform, an award-winning interactive design firm, for what is known as the Landmarks & Navigation project. This is no great secret. Vectorform attended the Rx office hours on April 17 & 24 to gather information, and then presented the L&N project concept on May 29. There were also emails to the SLDev mailing list in April and May, around the same time as the office hours. The L&N project has been underway since then, and is now nearing completion (as much has been said at Rx office hours in recent weeks).

    So, sorry to burst any bubbles, but unless LL contracted another award-winning interactive design firm to work in secret on a whole new viewer, and the timing of that project just happened to coincide exactly with the timing of the Landmarks & Navigation project… well, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusion.

  • 21Sep

    Tateru Nino poses an intriguing question about why disabled users often become quite attached and identify with their avatars, more so than able-bodied people do:

    To many such physically impaired users, the body is no more nor less a tool than an online avatar, and the latter (despite lag, occasional inventory loss, network problems and all the other hurly-burly of a virtual environment) is the more reliable, expressive and liberating, allowing more ability to contribute, work, play and socialize.

    Why then, do the able-bodied among us tend to see so much more distinction between our bodies in the physical world and our digital representations? Is that distinction merely an artificial one, a handicap brought about by our able-bodied perspective?

    I suspect it’s a matter of the strength of the connection between thought, action, results, and feedback.

    For a perfectly able-bodied person, the mind directs the body smoothly, precisely, and effortlessly. Thought easily translates into action, and the feedback — sensory input confirming the results — reinforces the mind-body connection. As a result, your body starts to feel like part of your “self”, rather than an external thing.

    But for an able-bodied person using an awkward tool or interface, the translation from thought to action is not nearly so effortless, the feedback is not as rewarding, and thus the connection is not as strong. As a result, the person feels less in control, and more conscious of manipulating an unwilling external object.

    Continue reading »

  • 22Jul

    IYan Writer made an interesting post about (among other things) the lack of a mythos of Second Life.

    In the days of my newbiehood, I heard tell of the legend of Gridnor and the coming of Lagnarok. But even in those days, the old stories were all but forgotten, and only the elders spoke of them.

    In those days, the Linden gods stopped walking freely among us. The most ungrateful Residents would spurn the Linden gods and curse their names, just as they do today. Only the stalwart Liasons — who were half god, half mortal — mingled among us.

    But those days were the days of legend, of the rise of new heroes and villains!

    Starax the magician and his wand of infinite wonder, who left our world but was reborn. Anshe the merchant-queen, shrewd and cunning, with an unquenchable thirst for riches. Tateru the goddess and overseer, who even now walks among us, bestowing her wisdom on all who will listen. Gene Replacement the trickster, who stole from the gods the gift of megaprims, but paid for his sins with eternal banishment. Ordinal the inventor, who then, as now, crafted marvels for the delight of young and old.

    There are many, many others legends; too many to recall every one. IYan refers you to the book of Hamlet for more stories of the old days. (Hamlet himself being one of the legends of those and earlier days.)

    But, just as with the legends of Gridnor and Lagnarok, these stories now fade into history. The elders move on to other worlds without ceremony, and the young remain ignorant of our heritage. The old heroes are no longer revered, and the new heroes are too often missed, being but tiny gemstones in a vast desert of sand.

    Or perhaps I have merely become one of the elders, who speak in longful whispers of the legends of their youth, being set in our ways and unable to see the next generation of legends unfolding beneath our very noses.

  • 18Jun

    I received an interesting comment from someone last night. He said that his first impression of me, from reading this blog, was that I was an “angry SL pessimist”. You know the type: no matter what happens in SL, they’ll bitch and moan about it.

    Thankfully, he said that further reading had improved his impression, and I explained to him that the reason many of my posts are critical of LL, is because the things that get me riled up enough to write about are often things LL has done which I strongly disagree with. So, my blog only reflects the extremes; the other stuff doesn’t get blogged.

    In an interesting and related occurance, my friend Goldie Katsu tweeted a link to an article by Louis Gray, The Five Stages of Early Adopter Behavior. (You might want to go read it now, or at least skim the bold headings.)

    Continue reading »

  • 11Jun

    I hate to say it, but SL5B (Second Life’s 5th Anniversary) looks to be a bust. (I was going to use a different word there, starting with an F and ending with a D, but decided to refrain, in the interest of good taste.) Continue reading »

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  • 01Jun

    I don’t envy Linden Lab’s situation. Try to dodge the self-serving politicians and reporters nipping at your heels, and the Residents bring out the pitchforks and torches. It’s an impossible job, so it’s no wonder they’re doing so poorly at it. I’d have plenty of sympathy for Linden Lab. I really would.

    Except that they put themselves in this situation.

    Second Life is under external pressure because of a number of misconceptions (some more misconceived than others) that exist among the general public — the misconceptions perpetuated by the commercial media because they sell well: Sex. Weird sex! Lots of weird, kinky sex online! And kids?! What’s going on in this sick, perverted online haven of creeps and pedophiles?! Read all about it! Throw in a few politicians eager to prove that they’re “thinking of the children” on an election year, and you’ve got a lot of (self-)important people with a professional interest in painting an exaggerated, sordid picture of Second Life.

    The natural alliance here would be between Linden Lab and the Residents, based on the common interest in making sure Second Life survives, against the external forces that threaten it. Linden and the Resident, hand in hand, making a better, freer world, in the face of opposition. A beautiful image, no?

    Would that it were so. But Linden Lab, it seems, doesn’t want its Residents anymore. It doesn’t want a free, open, creative world. It wants a sanitized, media-friendly world, that universities and big corps won’t think twice about making major investments in. LL’s message for Residents now is: Thanks for making us so popular, but go away now. You’re embarrassing us in front of the cool kids.

    Continue reading »

  • 30May

    Just when the trademark issue started to fade away from public consciousness, Linden Lab has provided us with an even bigger fish. Continuing Linden Lab’s campaign to strangle your inner child, it seems from all evidence that Dusty, Everett, and/or other Lindens are stepping in and barring the SL Kids community from participating in, and possibly even attending, Second Life’s 5th Birthday celebration.

    For the uninitiated, the SL Kids are RL adults who express their inner child in Second Life, donning a child-like avatar, laughing, playing, and letting the worries and cares of adult life slip away.

    For some reason, some people find it disturbing that a grown adult might find it enjoyable to relive their childhood. Even more strangely, many of the people who decry child-like play have no objection to adults (or even actual children) pretending to shoot each other, chop each others’ heads off, run each other over, or any of the other themes that are so prevalent in video games and movies these days.

    Rampant violence? That’s fine. Hopscotch? My god, we have to put a stop to that!

    Continue reading »

  • 03May

    Background: Linden Lab has announced that they are planning to implement a system where search results can be flagged as mature, prohibited, spam, or worthy of being showcased.

    I’m quite glad to see that some of the Lindens have started to give some heads up about their plans. The “surprise announcements” on the blog come off as arrogant and aloof (“Feedback? We don’t need your stinking feedback!”), and the suddenness of the announcements also triggers an instinctive opposition to change, the gut feeling people get when suddenly presented with something they don’t have the time or information to understand.

    So, these advance notices are a step in the right direction. However — and this makes me quite sad — very few of the pre-announced systems undergo any significant changes before they are rolled out, even in the face of legitimate criticism (setting aside the usual wall of bitching and moaning).

    Continue reading »

  • 23Apr

    4.4 Without a written license agreement, Linden Lab does not authorize you to make any use of its trademarks.

    So reads the summary sentence for the now-infamous trademark clause in Second Life’s Terms of Service. That unfortunate choice of words, and the similar phrase contained in the full text for that clause, might just be the source of the confusion that has myself and other concerned Residents up in arms.

    The full text of section 4.4 reads (emphasis mine):

    You agree to review and adhere to the guidelines on using “Second Life,” “SL,” “Linden,” the Eye-in-Hand logo, and Linden Lab’s other trademarks, service marks, trade names, logos, domain names, taglines, and trade dress (collectively, the “Linden Lab Marks”) at http://secondlife.com/corporate/brand and its subpages, which may be updated from time to time. Except for the licenses expressly granted there or in a separate written agreement signed by you and Linden Lab, Linden Lab reserves all right, title, and interest in the Linden Lab Marks and does not authorize you to display or use any Linden Lab Mark in any manner whatsoever. If you have a written license agreement with Linden Lab to use a Linden Lab Mark, your use shall comply strictly with that agreement’s terms and conditions and use guidelines.

    Here again we see “does not authorize”. But how are we to interpret it?

    To a lawyer, it probably means, unambiguously, that Linden Lab does not grant special permission for you to use its trademarks. It’s not a restriction on your rights, just letting you know that you don’t get extra permission simply because you pressed “I Agree”.

    To a layperson, though, it can easily be interpreted to mean that Linden Lab will not allow you to use its trademarks. You can’t write or say any of Linden Lab’s trademarks, anywhere, ever, in any form, or Linden Lab will ban you faster than you can say “nominative fair use”.

    I’m sure it’s a perfectly benign phrase, when translated into plain speech. Heck, they even granted us a license to use “SL” and “inSL”! Linden Lab’s General Counsel is probably utterly baffled as to why we’re not genuflecting and thanking LL for its supreme generosity.

    But, in general, we’re not lawyers, and we’re not fluent in the twisted dialect known as Lawyerese. To many (if not most) of us, it reads as a restriction of our rights, and a threat of legal action. And as Residents watching the gradual “crackdown” on various freedoms we had enjoyed in Second Life, we’re especially prone to interpret Linden Lab’s legal moves as being hostile and restrictive, even if they were not intended to be.

    There is one sore point, though, that isn’t directly attributable to poor communication: the “taking-back” of the phrase, “my Second Life”. Linden Lab doesn’t want us to talk about “my Second Life” or “our Second Lives”, because of the potential for confusion and/or genericide. That issue is a legitimate concern on the part of Linden Lab, as well as a legitimate complaint on the part of the Residents.

    However, I’m willing to find an alternate phrase (“my virtual life,” maybe?) that does not have the potential to damage Linden Lab’s marks. And just maybe, Linden Lab will be willing to find an alternate phrasing that is less prone to being interpreted as overtly restrictive. Then maybe we could put this whole mess behind us, and get back to living our virtual lives.

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