Apologies on this new phase of Second Life

A few of my friends have recently complained (very rightly so) that I have been lazy in updating my blog; you’re right, of course, and I owe you all an apology.


Defending Second Life to the utter extremes

It’s not as I have given up this series of articles on reflections about Second Life, virtual realities, and online communities. Also, unlike a few, that have pronounced the Doom of the Metaverse, I’m still an optimist myself, since I see many more positive things happening than people giving up, turning around, and forgetting about the Metaverse.

Several things happened at the same time, and there is, as always, a reason to wait some time until I could evaluate my own “predictions”. A few were unexpected, some quite expected and sadly came out right. And new developments, completely unforeseen, also took roots and started to change the way we deal with this new medium.

Emptying the mainland, or new urban planning initiatives?

First I’d like to start with some perfectly expected outcomes. My last article was on the impact on how the removal of the only structural element of urban planning impacted the distribution of the mainland: telehubs who were converted into “infohubs”. This is a long discussion, many articles have been written, and the hate of a vast majority of people towards those who explored the high land value around telehubs were predominant. Accumulated hate and claims for fairness, combined with the technical feature of being able to teleport wherever you want, finally pushed Linden Lab to remove the telehubs, giving us in return… not much else.

Like it was expected, the “infohubs” were a flop. Every month some element of Linden Lab tries, once again, to “ressuscitate” them, with a contest promoting artistic displays, or by using them as some sort of event, or, well, by poking and pushing residents to do anything about those condemned places. There is no reason to keep flogging a dead horse. The concept simply does not work, like so many have patiently and carefully explained to Linden employees. The elegance of the functionality of the telehubs as aggregators inside the landscape was based upon a fundamental conception of the importance of the distribution of space. Remove that conception, and there is no way the infohubs can ever be made to work.

So, after a few months, not unsurprisingly, the concept of “urban planning” in the mainland degradated completely and absolutely. As expected, urban planning turned towards private islands, abandoning the mainland, except for the hosts of new residents buying their First Land plots scattered over the newer sims on the grid. Since the new residents provide an influx of land ownership on the mainland, for a while, it looked as if the “emptying” of the mainland could somehow be prevented through this new influx of users.

But unlike so many claim, newbies are not utterly inapt and incompetent, or, put into another word, stupid. You have to work for a bit helping them out for an hour or more every day to see the batch of new users we’re getting. Of course every individual is different, but compared to the batch of “utterly clueless newbies” of, say, last year ? the recent new resident population is, indeed, much more experienced, much cleverer, very quick learners, and perfectly at home with virtual universes like Second Life. A large proportion of the newbies leaving Help Island (there are always exceptions) come out of it after a week not only having learned all the basics, but they become competent scripters and/or builders, perfectly able to start to integrate themselves into SL’s society at any level. Jeska Linden tells us that since Help Island was started, retention rate soared high ? these are not the let’s-connect-and-see-what’s-it-about-oh-so-boring type any more. The ones that come out of Help Island are highly likely to become fully functional members of our society immediately.

I’ll talk a bit more about Help Island below, but it suffices to say at this point that newbies are not stupid. They eagerly buy their First Land plots in the middle of the wasteland (sorry, I meant mainland). But they travel around the private islands. They see the difference. They look upon the very old sims, the ones owned by a handful of people, and beautifully landscaped, and ask themselves why their own sims are always ugly, some sort of slum neighbourhood for the utterly anarchic. Very quickly they sell their land and go elsewhere ? more often than not, towards a planned community.

So, in the short term, it won’t be even the “clueless newbies” that will stay on the mainland. There is no such thing as a “clueless newbie” any more. Like anyone else in SL, a new resident will simply leave the mainland as soon as they understand that it’s going to look like that always.

Since owning a plot or renting on a private island does not require tier payments, what does this mean to Linden Lab medium- to long-term? Less new Premium accounts. Not Good?. Linden Lab should start to worry.

And they did. They introduced two sims with some “urban planning” ? Blumfield and West Haven. Their idea was to do a “pre-formatting” of those two sims, give newbies an opportunity to pick a prefab out of a small selection of homes (sadly, all of them with a high number of prims), and let them enjoy their new neighbourhood. Looked like a nice way to start; you could have your basic account and “free renting” on a plot for 3 months, and then eventually buy it. It was a marketing experiment.

Alas, as they have since discovered, Second Life is not only “nice houses” and “plots for free”. Very quickly, as it is in the human nature to happen, conflicts started to happen. Some new residents got their plot, set a shop, changed the look as far as allowed, and then simply never appeared again in-world. Who was going to get blamed?

It was thanks to one of the Blumfielder’s most proeminent residents, Jeannedelalune Preudhomme, that a “Blumfield Residents Association” was formed, and the case brought before the Lindens. This was no way to start an “urban planning” project, by giving residents of a “community” some choice, but no real power to enforce the look of a community. Unlike other Linden-run communities ? Taber, Boardman, others (there are not many) ? where there are strict rules and Liaisons enforce them (against a monthly fee to be paid), Blumfield and West Haven didn’t have anything of the sort. Since their plots were for free, they didn’t have any option of “Linden removal” of “offending structures” ? even if the former owner already left SL. But worse than that, unlike those mentioned Linden-planned communities, Blumfield and West Haven didn’t even have “covenants” ? simple guidelines to make things work out. And, of course, discussing these things with the Lindens did not work out. “It’s only a marketing experiment,” they claimed.

The Blumfielders were not happy, but Linden Lab learned their lesson. Just recently, the Blumfielders got the right to buy their own plots, and a second version of this “marketing experiment” was started ? now new users can pick a prefab house from the website, when they log in (thanks to Diderot Mirabeau for that tip!), and they can “own” a plot for free for 21 days. After that period, if they upgrade to Premium, they can own that plot as “First Land” if they wish. Three months was simply too long to wait.

Still, something is seriously missing: is “having nice houses on a plot” the same as a “planned community”? Of course not ? someone has to plan it, but, more important than that, someone has to enforce the rules. The Blumfield Incident showed that the Lindens were unavailable to do the enforcement, and reluctant to allow residents to do it by themselves. So, Philip Linden, probably a bit before time, announced on an interview on the Metaverse Messenger that he would like to introduce the concept of “covenants” on the new group tools.

Group land and why I was isolated from it

This was a bombshell that hit early 2006. While there has been discussion about remodelling the group tools for ages now ? in the minds of the residents, delegated to the same status as Havok 2 or in-world HTML ? nobody really hoped for anything more than simply “fixing” the current toolset, designed for an utopian ideal of hugging friends to share some land together. Sadly, of course, Linden Lab didn’t take into account human nature. You can’t run a successful land-operated business when you don’t trust your customers (and they don’t trust you), and all you got are a set of tools that only work under total confidence in all members, or give them the possibility of expelling group founders, with weird and wildly incoherent possibilities of removing officers or “blocking” people from entering the group. The list of incoherences due to Linden naiveté is endless, but it’s all we got so far. Everybody expected those to be slowly changed over time.

But Philip Linden (fortunately) wished to go a step further: he wished to make the new group tools as a basis for urban planning, by allowing group members to be able to set a covenant on the group-owned land, and vote among themselves for someone among the group to be “empowered” to enforce the covenant. How exactly this ought to be achieved was not clear. But certainly the impact of Philip’s words shattered the community and got people nervous.

It’s not worth to review painfully each and every argument presented (you could use Prokofy Neva’s blog as a reference). But basically, I think most would agree on two things:

1. This announcement was a bit “early” ? Linden Lab didn’t yet have good ideas on how to implement the system before “breaking out the news”.
2. Any decision on such important matters should be discussed with the users of the system first.

Well, to make this a short story, being used to covenant-based land (see Neualtenburg’s web site for what’s being done there for almost a year and a half now), I thought I would help out and participate on that process. The first step would obviously to get Linden Lab not to do a mindless implementation and fix things afterwards, but provide feedback in an orderly manner, organize thoughts and suggestions, and make sure that this time, on such an important issue like this, they would get good advice before implementing things.

The process was not peaceful for me; somehow, by getting Linden Lab to agree with the request for open, controlled discussion, after several rounds of email exchanges and some in-world meetings, a group of people put solid pressure on me to abandon all my efforts and refrain from adding my personal comments on the issue. I’m still wondering about the emotional reasons for this (although I perfectly understand the strictly rational ones ? fears of “favouritism”), but I complied with those requests, and abstained from posting, blogging, in-world discussions, and making further comments on this issue. I was even banned from some third party blogs, to make sure I remained silent. Since I gave my word I wouldn’t participate on the discussion, and also privately explained the reasons for that to many who asked, I’m not entirely sure on what was the end result.

Linden Lab did meet orderly, in a sequence of in-world meetings, with stakeholders in the real estate business and other residents. I haven’t even read the transactions of those meetings, but I think that the overall result should be posted soon, or announced on a Town Hall meeting. I’m eager to read more about it.

What can I conclude from this outcome? Urban planning somehow is something Linden Lab is not keen at, and every time they get to interfere, they do something wrong. A rather large group of residents not only is aware of this, and willing to help the Lindens in establishing reasonable policies, but they also fear the results. On the other hand, Linden Lab is also understanding that they can’t keep thousands of sims in an unorganized, chaotic, anarchic state ? people are starting to avoid them like the plague. It’s very, very hard to promote a technology that allows people to “build whatever they want” when all they have to “show off” are ? slums and wasteland, with the odd casino, sex shop, or club here and there.

There is, actually, “organic beautification” going on. As sims get older and people leave them, older residents buy up the cheap plots, left by frustrated residents, and start giving them shape. The “older sims” look much more interesting than the newer ones. But this is a long and tedious process; it takes almost a year or so until enough residents leave a spot, enabling others to buy them to keep it beautiful (or at least “in a theme”). New residents aren’t willing to wait a year until their recently purchased plot gets “beautified”. They want it to happen now; and they don’t want rotating signs, towers with political messages, plywood cubes scattered around the place, or ugly clubs popping up one on top of the other by their backyard. But this is simply inevitable. SL is just a big sandbox.

So, like so many others, I’m very interested in looking towards the covenant-held group land. Again, I’m only sorry about the long wait (at least another half year). I would be the first person to agree with Linden Lab on replacing the telehub system with covenant-based group land ? but never if it meant to wait nine months for that to happen. Nine months is an eternity in SL… and this time, they know perfectly well that they were profusely forewarned 🙂

Resident moderation of the forums and why it won’t work

Let’s face it ? Linden Lab employees are overstressed with work. They can’t hardly breathe, much less concentrate on their job functions. To give you an example, on the olden Internet days, a typical measure for hiring technical support reps was one per every thousand new users. Now, Second Life still grows at the rate of about 500 new users per day; this would mean LL should be hiring at least one Liaison every two days to keep up good levels of customer support according to the “old rules”.

Clearly this is impossible, and mostly because of one reason: these 500 new users per day are non-paying customers. They have no way to support a Liaison to give non-paying customers good support. If I worked for Linden Lab, of course, I would obviously cut “free” technical support to new users (TANSTAAFL). But Linden Lab has a different, more clever plan: have residents help out with staffing problems.

Having at least 500 or so resident volunteers for “first line technical support” (Mentors, Greeters, Instructors, Live Helpers), this naturally means the group should be capitalized to help Linden Lab more. And an experiment was made: let’s try to relieve the stress of forum moderation, and put it into the hands of the residents as well. That way, members of the too-busy Community Team would also be able to have some spare time to do much more important things instead of dealing with forum abuse reports.

Ouch.

A good idea that missed the point. I remember, from reading some of the requirements for working at Linden Lab as Liaison, was an “experience in running online communities”. I’m not sure what the criteria of selecting a group among the hundreds of applications was. One thing was certain: the forums are subject to ToS, and enforcing the ToS would be, for the first time, be put in the hands of residents.

Now, I personally have absolutely no problem with this concept (see one of the subitems below), but that’s just because I come from a completely different background. In my professional experience, I used to work with a company, also Internet-related, where users would run some of the services provided to all. Even today, working with a tiny company that provides an obscure and insignificant open source application, more contributions are often made from users than from employees. So, naturally, having this background, I don’t “oppose” the idea that Linden Lab delegates certain aspects of “running the user community” to users themselves.

Sadly, I guess that I’m completely isolated in thinking this way. Whenever a Linden says something to a user, people yell “favouritism” all over the place. I’ll explore this very strange concept a bit below, but let me antecipate the results of this initiative: bloody warfare.

And it happened. A close personal friend of mine, who shall reamain unnamed, left SL just a week after becoming a resident moderator ? from several dozen of her own friends, half of them turned their collective backs to someone endowed with the “power” of censoring their words. This grew to a nasty piece of business. Again, I think that Linden Lab lacked the foresight of dealing with the constant envy, jealousy, and basic human nature that runs rampart on the forums. While I agree that several threads are sometimes interesting, the truth is, the forums ? especially the more open-discussion ones ? are a snake pit. It often looks like the forums show the worst we have inside us, and this saddens me, because, again, I have a different experience.

Resident moderation suffers from the old saying: who watches the watchers? The truth is, when someone deletes an article for some reason, who is going to be able to do anything about it? If resident moderators enforce ToS upon other residents, how can you be so sure that the moderators are keeping to ToS as well? Can moderators be moderated ? and if so, by whom?

This is the way users of SL look upon SL itself ? and they fear what might come next. Imagine the Mentor group having God mode to enforce ToS ? and thus relieve LL, who could then employ less Liaisons, and concentrate on much more important issues instead, by hiring, say, more developers and more members of the Community Team. But who would make sure the God-mode-enabled resident volunteers would stick to ToS? What would be the consequences if they abused their powers? Get banned from SL? Hardly a fair punishment; just log in under an alt, wait two months without violating ToS, and you’d be back on the team.

Clearly, this model doesn’t work. But how could it be made to work? After all, one thing is certain: SL grows much faster than LL employees have time for it. And it’s time we start thinking about how to help them.

New collaborative initiatives from unexpected sources

How many people have ever read the 6-page help manual that you get by pressing F1? 10? 100? 1000? I don’t have any idea; the only thing I know is that we have HTML in-world (the handful of help pages are HTML files loaded from a specific directory on your hard disk). I’m always sorry to see that LL didn’t use that as a basis for in-world HTML; all they needed to do would be to implement URLs (and not only links to hard disk pages). Ok, so it would be text-only ? but still, much better than waiting another, oh, who knows, 2-3 years until we get in-world HTML?

But I digress. We have F1, and a HELP! notecard under the Library in Inventory. We have an official Tiki. And I still have a nice PDF from version 1.4 (June 2004) with some tips and tricks. So, basically, that’s the kind of information that is officially spread around SL for new users (and as a reference for older ones).

Writing good manuals is a skill which is not easy to find, and, of course, it’s also pretty expensive to hire professional technical writers. But new users need information ? and while the many avenues of help, like infoNet, the infohubs, the in-world videos, etc. all help, the issue is simply stated this way: someone needing help now can’t find it quickly enough.

Not surprisingly, what did the SL Volunteers group do? Write information on notecards, and give it away to new users (and sometimes to old ones as well). Well, after a point, this becomes unwieldy and unmanageable. A group of volunteers started the process of organising all that information, and putting it on a Wiki for starters. We have literally hundreds of notecards, and most of those overlap; also, each author has a different way to structure their information.

This is a medium-term project, so it will be quite a while until we can see how it works out. Jeska is willing to incorporate all this information on the official Support Wiki; and some regular contributors to the Wikipedia are toying with the idea of creating a Wikibook out of it when it’s finished. We’ll see 🙂

I won’t post an URL for the temporary help wiki yet, since it still needs uniformization and some preliminary work; but if you’d like to help us with it, get in touch with Fairge Kinsella, myself, or Tateru Nino.

Linden Lab and its Partners and User Groups

Let’s consider the age-old discussion of “empowered residents” again. First and foremost, the issue of “favouritism” is (if you google for it) common on “games”. Now, as much as we would like to shake the notion that Second Life is a platform, not a game, it’s hard to get the die-hard gaming fanatics to remember this.

Now as you know, I’m not really a “gamer” myself, and while I gladly admit to have enjoyed toying a bit with The Sims, or some strategy games like Civilization or Alpha Centauri, I definitely never participated in a shoot-’em-up MMORPG. Just the other day I watched the Wikipedia entry for World of Warcraft, and I still don’t understand why 5.5 million people pay a monthly fee for joining that. For instance, I have nothing against role-playing games (I used to be a paper-and-pencil role-player myself, in my late teens 🙂 ), but the truth is, the MMORPG culture has given Second Life a heritage that is hardly impossible to get rid of, and failing to understand that, means that it’s impossible to deal with a vast majority of current users of Second Life.

One crucial aspect of MMORPGing is that one one side is “the company”, on the other are “the gamers”. There is a clear dividing line, like on paper-and-pencil RPGs you have the Gamemaster and the Players. This line cannot ever be crossed. Some set the rules, others enjoy playing by the rules. But you can’t have players setting the rules, like any RPG Gamemaster knows. Also, a Gamemaster talking to some players but not the others is hardly “fair”.

This concept is familiar to “gamers” ? but utterly out of place in the rest of the computer industry.

Let’s take a look at a company like Adobe, for instance. Adobe’s developers launched Photoshop, and it was something they asked previously the market ? their intended users ? what kinds of features it should provide. Failure to listen to the users would mean that they would develop a tool nobody was willing to pay for. But among the user base, some are willing to comment, some happily use the features they like and keep silent about the ones they don’t.

As time evolves, users tend to group together. Almost all major software applications have “User Groups”, which are usually pretty much organized. They sponsor conferences and training on the applications. They organize meetings, workshops, websites and forums with information. They usually enjoy sponsorship of the company, who regularly meets with them, and enjoys, welcomes, and encourages their comments regarding their application. Naturally, they also channel all feedback through the user groups. An application with 100,000 users hardly can expect to address each and every one individually; they rely upon the User Groups to get them proper feedback.

User Groups are also routinely involved in other aspects of the application development: they beta-test new features, they get access to new applications, they are the first to give feedback, before the application hits the market. That way, companies like Adobe are able to get quality comments from their most involved users ? the ones that have the trouble of setting up the User Groups to promote their products. Also, this is a privileged market channel: User Groups are the key users, the early adopters, the ones that companies like Adobe can count upon to keep releasing new features and products. Failing to address the User Groups’ requests, fears, and complains normally results in bad press and a failed marketing effort. User Groups also routinely accept (paid) memberships, publish magazines or even books, and work in tandem with the company.

Beyond User Groups, we have Partners. Partners are most likely companies using the product for their own purposes, but they are naturally the ones that gather the most influence on the company, since a large part of their income will probably come through partners. A partner of Adobe for the educational market, for instance, will do all the work to place things like Photoshop on every student’s desktop computer. They’ll earn money through services provided using the company’s application; and the company will get more customers through them. Naturally, a big part of the company is devoted to setting up their partner channel, to provide them with updated information on new releases, to involve them in the development process, and to help them out with their own commercial ventures. It’s a common conception that a company’s strength resides on its partners and successfully run User Groups. Just look at the millions of Microsoft Partners to get an idea on what I’m talking about.

Partners get routinely access to “privileged” information. They have special sites where they can get extra information which is not available to the public. They are able to have special, different licensing agreements. All this because computer software developers know that their partners will be the first to sell their products, and keeping them up with the latest developments will give them an “edge”, which can be crucial in this endless fight for market share and specific niches.

As a company grows, so does grow its network of partners and User Groups. Modern companies also tend to create a third branch of customer involvment: a Developer Network. These are either companies (‘partners’) or individual customers (‘users’) that develop “third-party add-ons”. Photoshop wouldn’t be the success it is without Adobe having given people the opportunity to develop plug-ins for it. Apple encourages its own developer network to create fantastic stuff that might in the future be co-released with their operating system. If you browse for information under the Apple Developer Network, you’ll see that there is an almost complete universe of information that is simply not accessible to the ‘common user’ ? forums, documentation, tools and software, knowledge bases, you name it, it’s probably there somewhere.

Whole departments of companies are dedicated to support these “customer communities”. And as a company reaches maturity, developing these networks of interested customers ? who are, in fact, much more than “mere customers” ? is a clear priority for the application software developer.

Now let’s take a look at Second Life by Linden Lab. There is no concept of a “user group”. A few puny attempts have been started and abandoned; anything of the sort is viewed by the rest of the community as “favouritism”. Anyone who wishes to set up an organised group of concerned SL users is immediately tagged as “FIC”; a stigma that is hard to shake off. LL, naturally, does not wish to encourage this kind of dispute; so, “user groups” are not encouraged actively ? what LL tries to
do is to routinely ask questions to residents, in a random fashion, so as to prevent people from accusing them that they are promoting “favouristism”. What a hard way to deal with your customers! How can you listen to what they have to say, without dealing with the wrath of all the others? In Second Life, this is almost impossible.

Worse than that. Since 2005, but definitely on a larger scale in 2006, all sorts of companies and non-profit entities are, to a degree, “partnering” with Linden Lab to provide value-added services on top of LL’s infrastructure and platform. LL shyly names them “developers”, to try to minimize the residents’ wrath. But it’s hard to hide the simple fact: companies like Bedazzle or The Electric Sheep Company are here to stay. They won’t “go away” by labeling them as “SIC” or any such derrogative term that is aimed to ridicularize what these people are doing: working with LL’s platform to do their own projects, adding value, promoting SL to new generations of users, getting more customers for LL, and, in the mean time, earning a RL salary from their own companies.

Now contrast this with the “gamer perspective”. It’s natural that Linden Lab, as a software development company, needs to help, promote, and work with their partners, or else, no company will want to use LL’s platform, if their support is zero. While this makes sense to anyone who has ever been a partner to a company before, it’s completely away from the petty mentality of “gamers”.

I have personally nothing against the escapists and gamers that love SL because they think it’s the fulfillment of their dreams, or something like that. You should have fun and enjoy your “game”, if that’s what you wish to do on Second Life. Nobody should be able to interfere with your own personal enjoyment of it.

But what people must not forget ever is that Linden Lab is a company, Second Life is an application, and the Metaverse (whatever it’s going to be) is a medium for business as well. So, while you happily enjoy your next round of chatting or joining a Tringo game, you cannot ever forget that others are toiling on 16-hour-days of hard work to get a living by using Second Life as a platform. There is space for those who wish only entertainment and escapism, as well as space for the ones making a living out of Second Life ? and not in-world, mind you, but as a software application with unlimited uses. And “complaining about favouritism” is as silly, petty-minded, and backwards-thinking as it would be “complaining” that TV actors have better access to hairdressers than you have ? just because they have to look good on TV.

Linden Lab needs to clarify their position once more. Just rememeber what would be a Photoshop without plug-ins, Apple without its devout and fanatical users, or Linux/MySQL/Apache without their tens of thousands of “external” developers.

The forefront of computer-savvy users don’t get it

The open alpha of the Linux client of SL was recently slashdotted. While obviously the site that promotes “News for nerds. Stuff that Matters” has millions of faithful readers, I was disappointed at the lack of reception of this announcement. Early on my first articles, I have mentioned often that one of the issues with Second Life is that you had to pay before you joined it, and LL didn’t address the growing Linux community, tapping on their resourcefulness to advance SL further.

Now the result is, at least, frustrating. These guys who claim to be at the “forefront of technology” dismiss Second Life because it doesn’t have monsters to shoot. They completely ignored the potential of Second Life (or its derivatives) as the Internet’s next front-end application. After some discussions with a few friends, I finally understood their reluctance. They’re often experts in marketing or developing Web-based applications, and have lived from the 2D Web for a dozen years or so. With a paradigm shift towards virtual reality applications, they will quickly be left behind; so, naturally, they resist change.

There is not much more I can add that I haven’t included in the last comment to that Slashdot thread, which was utterly ignored by faithful Slashdot readers. Basically stated, I found it frustrating to see that the “leaders of technology” cannot see what the “next big thing” is going to be. I guess we have all been “burned out” by the Internet bubble; new technology, and, more important than that, a completely new way of doing information exchange, socializing, entertainment, and business, does not appeal to the skeptics these days. I fear a stagnation of the creative power of the Internet visionaries, who brought the move from text-mode BBSes into the glorified graphics of the 2D World-Wide Wide, but are now unable to look beyond it. Well, perhaps it’s too soon. I remember when Tim Berners-Lee posted his first article on this new protocol he had just invented; people were used to similar technologies (like gopher) and the WWW wasn’t really much impressive those days. Marc Andreesen’s Mosaic did catch much more attention, because it was graphical ? and perhaps because people were much more open to novelty in the pre-Internet Bubble times. Hmm. What exactly this means for Second Life as the 3D World-Wide Web is hard to predict, but I must admit my disappointment.

Some of my friends are die-hard Linux fanatics, and none has downloaded the alpha client. They kept away from Second Life with several excuses. First, they dismissed it because it was paid; when it became free software, they dismissed it because it didn’t run on Linux. Now that it’s both free and runs on Linux, they dismiss it because it’s all about escapism, games, and, naturally sex. This makes the blood boil in my veins. Somehow, all these people are making up excuses, one after the other, while they happily engaged into discovering the brave new world of the World-Wide Web over a decade ago ? and yes, it was all about escapism, games, and lots of sex. It seems that some people have short memories. Sex has never left the WWW; I find it amusing that the current batch of Web 2.0 promoters all talk about how the next web-based applications will be the cornerstone of the “social Web”, but gladly dismiss that AdultFriendFinder, with 22 million users, was launched in 1996 ? with all the tools and options that things like Orkut or Friendster sport these days. Let’s be honest here; sex sells, and new media naturally attract mature content quickly. While we can’t dismiss the casinos and the escort services in Second Life, we can at least point out that there is much more beyond it, and that if it took a decade for our grandmothers to finally accept that “the Internet is a bit more than just sex” and log in to chatrooms, why can’t this new generation of hippy techie self-promoted “visionaries” fail to look to Second Life and see what is beyond the “mature content” horizon?

Edited 2006-02-21: Since I wrote this, I got in touch with both Jeska and Tateru Nino; unlike what I wrote before, the truth is, getting slashdotted 4 times in a week, did increase the number of new users from around 650 a day to 1400-1700. So it seems that there was quite an impact after all! I stand corrected ? and I’m happy to say so!

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...