Second Life Resident Choice Awards Are Out!

First of all, to be fair, congratulations to the winners of Linden Lab’s Second Life Resident Choice Awards on all categories and all languages — and congratulations, too, to the 6,000 that have patiently gone through the long list of categories and managed to fill in all SLURLs to complete your vote. Not an easy task!

These kinds of events — “bikini contests”, as my roomie Moon Adamant calls them — are always fun to watch, specially in the aftermath, where you can finally find out who is able to mobilise a larger number of voters. But Linden Lab was, at least, honest about the contest: it was not the contest for “best anything”, but somehow a mix of “best”, “favourite”, and, in LL’s words, “the coolest, cleverest, weirdest, fun-est, and most inspiring in-world” things.

Running for about three weeks, which is a short time considering that there were 35 categories (some of them insanely odd, like “favourite prim food artist” [???]), it’s interesting to see that it managed to attract the patience of 6,000 residents. A success for such an awkward contest in any case! I have no doubt that a better process would gather a far larger audience of voters, but I’m still surprised — after patiently starting to fill out the form, I gave up after about 10 categories. It simply took too much time. And some categories, of course, I had no idea what to put in them (what is the “best place to be emo”??? I have no clue, and what kind of “emos” are we thinking about? I remember I used to go to the gardens at Clementina when I wanted to take a break, was sad, and wished to think about nothing, but can I seriously claim that this 2003-old-garden is the “best place”, no matter what criteria I used?).

So, clearly, this was a messy way of running a “contest”.

We all know that Linden Lab is not particularly good at running any kind of event. That’s actually fine! We don’t expect them to be event organisers in any way — it’s not their core business, after all. So it’s unfair to judge them very strongly if they do something well intended, but amateurish and poorly executed. I mean, if professionally-ran events — the ones that organise, say, Relay for Life, SLCC, Hair Fair, Orange Island, Metanomics, or, well, the events at Second Life New England (SLNE) — were asked to run a virtual world grid and provide software to access it, they’d be doing a bad job at it.

“Each monkey on its tree”, as we say around my country. Still, there is a difference. Let’s pick an example at random: if Orange wanted to create a virtual world grid, they would hire pros to do the job, and do it well — their reputation as event hosters should not be tarnished by running a crippled grid. Linden Lab, however, has no such qualms. They’re fine with doing things without being professional at it, assuming that their qualifications for running a grid successfully and profitably also allow them to do, well, everything else.

As a side-rant I might add that this is something that is deeply-ingrained in what Prokofy would call “the techie’s mantra”: if you’re a techie, you can do everything well (the reasoning behind it is that computer science is so incredibly hard that anything else is, by definition, easy. I don’t need to tell you the flaw in this argument; and, oh, these days, computer science is as hard as, say, learning to drive a car — after all, it takes about the same time to learn to use a computer [and call yourself an “expert”] than to learn how to drive a car [and call yourself a “driver”]). Linden Lab clearly thinks that way, too.

Now, I’m not an expert in “running contests” either. Just because I used to do these kinds of things in the past — organising contests and being a jury of several — in my former lives doesn’t qualify me to claim the title of “event manager” at all. I did that in my naive years as a volunteer, but I had no training — formal or otherwise. Still, it doesn’t mean that I was allowed to close my eyes and ignore how all the world ran events and contests. I never was arrogant enough to say “no, wait, let’s do a contest differently, just because I think I have a better way of doing them”. When I had someone available that did manage contests professionally, I’d take advice first before blabbering nonsense and shaming myself; when not, well, I would look at how contests are done elsewhere and at least try to copy the good ideas.

Interestingly Linden Lab did not do either of those things.

First, the categories. Some categories are totally absurd, and they seem even to indicate that for some reason they expected a few people to “win” the award because nobody could come up with any nomination to some of them, and so, probably, just a very few would be able to apply. Other categories were the exact reverse: “best builder”. With probably over a million residents (wild guess!) claiming to be “a builder”, well, that would always be an incredibly hard choice. And why wasn’t there a category for “best animations”? (And even that would be too vague — there are at least several sub-categories for those, e.g. dance, sex, funny gestures, AOs)

So looking at all those categories, it’s impossible to figure out the set of criteria that was behind them. It looks like someone just did a brainstorming session and randomly put categories on a list, until the groups’ ideas were exhausted and they couldn’t think of any. It surely says a lot about what kind of people were there that completely forgot about animations, lumped skins, hair, shoes, and clothes under “best fashion designer”, but was overly concerned about kissing, emotions, first dates, and, well, prim food.

Were this done as a high school project by a bunch of kids, I would certainly be quite forgiving. As a “major PR event” launched by Linden Lab, promoted through the Message of The Day (the only mass media advertising channel that exists for SL, and one that is not available at all to any resident, just to Linden Lab), if LL were my company, I would refrain from looking ridiculous. It doesn’t help Second Life’s residents at all, and much less Linden Lab, to show immaturity and an amateurish approach to something that might, in fact, have been a good idea — if done correctly.

So, the first thing would be to correctly get the categories right. I’d be fine with having lots of categories — after all, the Hollywood Academy Awards also have plenty of categories — but they should really reflect some inner consistency. Since I’m not qualified enough to give any suggestions, I can only point to some good starts. At the very very least, Linden lab could just take a peek on how their own XstreetSL is organised in terms of content, and aggregate that organisation on the content-related awards (it would also help them to promote XstreetSL even further).

Then, of course, there are a hundred ways of doing “awards”, but few actually work fine. Why not using one that is proved to work quite well in reality? Reinventing the wheel is always a bad idea if you don’t know anything about geometry, but, well, as both Prokofy Neva and best blogger award winner Prad Prathivi point out, common sense dictates that you get a two-tier voting system, first to accept some nominees on each category, then to vote on the nominees.

Why wasn’t this done? Your guess is as good as mine, but my feeling is, this was all done in a rush. 3 weeks for voting and announcing results shows that, for some reason, Linden Lab was in a hurry to give out awards, for some strange reason.

So, if there is a Resident Choice Award next fall, I surely hope that there is a round for nomination and one for voting. The first round would also deal with two crucial things that should be avoided at all costs: that nominees actually do what their category says they do, and that the person(s) nominating candidates do the homework of collecting SLURLs for the nominees. Let’s give a stupid example again: I have no clue who is doing “prim food” these days, or that “prim food” was, well, a major commercial activity in SL. I guess that it is — live and learn! — so I’d love to have, say, 3 or so candidates and their SLURLs, so I could visit their places and finally understand the competitive nature of “prim food” in SL, and ask around what is so important to learn about prim food, so that I could cast a well-informed vote.

Prokofy calls out for people to be neutral and objective in their votes. I’m not such an idealist, and these kinds of “bikini contests” are rarely about objectivity. Specially if the vote is universal, i.e. not cast by a panel of peers that review the work in each category and cast a vote based on qualified opinions (a model that I’m not promoting, since it wouldn’t be a “resident choice award” then, but a quality contest, where “personal taste” would be less important than “proven set of skills and abilities” within an area) — e.g. like the Hollywood Academy Awards, or the Swedish Academy Nobel Awards, or, well, any peer-reviewed “contest” of that kind. For SL, however, I’m not totally happy about the idea. Some poor-quality builder, for instance, might be immensely popular because they sell way more — due to good promotion and marketing — than a trained architect or designer. (The name “Francis Chung” as the best scripter in SL would never come to mind to most residents, but she has almost single-handedly created a script that is used on practically all Animation Overriders — making it, without a shadow of doubt, the most used script in SL, with Mystitools very likely as running-up)

Granted, in our drama-ridden world nobody would believe in a “neutral and objective” jury anyway, so the question is moot: a jury-based contest might never be a good idea.

So, well, I’m happy with a “popularity vote” — bring your friends to vote on you, and the most popular ones, will win. That’s fine and fun in its own way! Calling it the “Resident Choice Award” and placing the focus on “popularity”, not “quality”, is fair and honest, too. But… keep in mind that the categories have to make sense; for the obscure categories, people should have a chance to take a look at who’s running for what, eventually allowing people to promote themselves (through in-world parties, spamming on groups, and blog articles). That is dynamic and interesting on its own, and pretty much the model used for zillions of other in-world contests that have been done so far. Why did Linden Lab create their own, flawed model, when there were so many good ones, with proven results (even if the result was just to have tons of fun!), that have been around?

Then… what was the whole point of this, anyway? All the other resident-run popularity contests I’ve participated in — either as merely a voter, a nominee, or a jury — had, at least, a mega-event at the end. The silly and controversial (but popular!) 12Avatars contest had a huge in-world attendance (voting was done in-world, of course — this is Second Life, after all!! — since when should we do our voting on an old, 20th-century-tech web page when we have a virtual 3D world?), as well as the (now defunct) Avastar‘s 2007 Newbie of The Year Avastar Award.  Why should an event about Second Life not be run in SL at all?!

Catherine Linden sort of explains what the ‘Lab had in mind with this contest: getting new notecards for the infohubs for newbies to look for interesting things. You might remember that at some point in time, one of Pathfinder Linden’s task was to create his “Pick List”, by travelling all around SL in search of interesting things to see and do in SL. Path has way too little time now to keep that updated, so, well, a different model to keep locations updated needed to be found. The “SL Resident Choice Award” seemed to be a good idea to do that.

Well, I’m actually not against the idea in itself. I just personally dislike the notion that you understand what this was all about after the fact, when a more honest approach would simply to tell people what Linden Lab actually had in mind. In my small book of ethics, being honest and transparent with your clients (that is, we residents) from the beginning is always a good thing. Thus, if Linden Lab had clearly stated that they were looking for links to place on a notecard to hand out to newbies, I’m sure that there would be a different kind of participation. Remember, this would then be powerful LL-sponsored advertising, and a lot more people would be encouraged to vote — or even paid to vote 🙂 Now, however, we know what’s all about for next fall’s round of voting 🙂

It also explains why there was not one, but four separate contests — one for each language that LL considers “important” in SL (leaving out the #2 most spoken language in SL, Portuguese 🙂 but that’s ok…). This baffled me until I understood what LL had in mind: tastes from non-English speakers will vary, and the notecards on the infohubs will be in different languages, so it makes sense that they are actually reflecting the choices of communities sharing the same language (e.g. the “best intellectual group” in English would make little sense for a Japanese speaker to attend 🙂 ).

The irony, of course, is that if LL was looking for “cool tips to visit in SL”, they turned Vickie Greenwood in an instant celebrity for winning three awards (building, sculpties, and prim food) — someone who might be the gentlest and nicest person in the whole of SL, but who doesn’t have a single location to visit, nor a shop in SL, not even a link to XstreetSL, and hasn’t a picture in her profile 🙂 Granted, thanks to Prad, we can now appreciate her work through a nice interview and a collection of pictures, but it does feel weird that newbies will not be able to visit any of the best architecture designs in SL from Scope Cleaver and miss all the sculpty art from Starax/Light Waves… but also never find anything from Vickie in-world to visit, either.

At least, however, some choices were clear and obvious 🙂

To paraphrase an anonymous author, “Wisdom of the crowds is as bad as the ignorance of the leaders” 🙂

However, I seriously hope that Linden Lab will learn their lesson for next fall, and I definitely recommend you to take Catherine Linden’s advice to add suggestions on the Linden’s blog. Let’s hope we can make it a better contest next fall :))

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