Fast, Easy & Fun!

Meshes delayed

Well, this was a bit unexpected and perhaps the most frustrating announcement for me personally:

Applying filter of what we are thinking about now, we want to implement it so it has impact, but not negative on frame rate and rez time.
We are working with beta users to be sure it doesn’t slow down experience.

So what does this mean? Usually, this kind of wording is employed when LL basically drops a project. It could be a result of thousands of amateur content creators pleading with Philip not to implement meshes because it would ruin their business — and those thousands definitely represent a considerable amount of the in-world economy. Nevertheless, LL really cannot continue to delay meshes further. The risk of losing all educators is very real — academic institutions have access to zillions of free and open source meshes already, and want to deploy them in SL, because they cannot afford either to learn how to build with prims, or to hire people to do the buildings for them. A friend of mine told me that meshes would be implemented in less than a year on OpenSim. If that happens, SL, as a platform for research and education, will be dead by 2011.

Perhaps Philip doesn’t worry. Perhaps he knows that educators, by themselves, contribute little to the virtual world economy. According to him, anything that is not aligned with the core vision of Fast/Easy/Fun combined with Back To Basics/Keep the Lead/Grow the VW Economy is to be dropped.

Some final comments and questions from the residents

After the comic relief moment regarding the upcoming makeover for his avatar (with a nice immersionist statement — “This is my alter ego”), Philip pretty much put the focus on “his” virtual world as “the” social environment of the 21st century. It was quite interesting to see how he pretty much dismissed all the speculation of a “dumbed down” SL that would be embedded in Facebook, or similar integrations with other social networking tools. I read in his words that he finds all those social networking tools seriously lacking in the rich experience that, right now, only SL provides — so he wants that the focus remains on making SL a better social networking tool, not emulate — or integrate! — others. This is fascinating to a certain degree and runs contrary to what is happening all over the Web, where developers are eagerly developing more and more integration between all the major social networking tools. Perhaps Philip is ambitious enough to state the claim that all the rest of the world is simply wrong — and stuck on 2D metaphors — while Linden Lab is pushing Second Life far ahead in the future.

Remember that “social networking” throughout the 1980s and until the mid-1990s meant IRC and Usenet — and MUDs. We switched from that to the Web. Philip seems to be saying that the Web is “old news” and that Second Life is a much better social networking environment. Well, if that’s what he means, I really have to agree, and I’m sure that the million regular users of SL will agree with Philip as well — even if 2 billion Internet users will not.

There was also a final emphasis on more two-way communication with the residents, either using the Town Hall (with this new “lottery” method) or other models. This will include meetings and messages from project managers and team managers, which is quite a welcome addition, since at this moment, nobody really knows (outside LL, that is) who is in charge of what projects, or what their status is. Needless to say, this is the kind of thing that everybody will be pleased to hear — and we will all sincerely hope that Philip implements it as part of LL’s corporate culture. It’s very welcome news!

Since there have been so many rumours of “dumbed-down versions” of SL (like a Web-enabled SL viewer, or a mobile viewer), Philip adamantly refused to accept that SL would be “limited” in any way. In his words, “We won’t change nature of product or depth of experience in SL.” We heard that there is a team (Philip honestly admitted they were just two developers) working on a Web-based version of SL, but that this will only be released when it allows the full immersion in SL like the main viewers do. And he repeats: “we won’t subtract capabilities but add speed and elegance to what is there”. But Philip recognises that the SL 2.X viewer neither works for builders and other power users, nor does it work for brand new users. So, he says, “we are thinking about how to iterate week to week to add capabilities for power builders and separate them from capabilities needed by first time user who needs to get clothes on and walk around”. How exactly that is going to be implemented so that it doesn’t violate the notion of “not subtracting capabilities” is unknown.

Apparently the open source effort will start to be directed (another novelty!). This seems to indicate that LL will set a list of key features/bug fixes they expect their viewer to get, and ask the community to contribute code for those areas. This is an intriguing change of approach to what LL has been doing so far (which is, well, mostly ignoring contributions).

Conclusion

Linden Lab has certainly turned yet another chapter in its fascinating history. The projects nearing completion — for instance, the launch of the SL Marketplace which replaces XStreetSL — are still the touch of M Linden, but some (like textures via HTTP) surprisingly come back from the days Philip was still active as an engineer at the Lab. Except for meshes (release unknown) and fixing script lag (Babbage’s project, status unknown), pretty much everything that M Linden wanted to do has been implemented; with a reduced employee count (they’re still 250, though), everything new that happens from now on will be Philip’s work, once again, and it’ll be fast, easy, fun. Unlike on previous Town Hall meetings, at least on this one we a got much clearer vision. We have a new motto, which is actually the way everything at the Lab will be evaluated from now on. We have new channels of communication. We have a proto-roadmap and a focus on concrete issues, and while the details elude us at the moment, we got the promise that the project and team managers would explain what they’re working on. The open source initiative on Snowglobe will get a revamp and a new direction. And Philip continues to underline the importance of this virtual world, its environment, its economy (which goes beyond money and sales but is all about content creation), its inhabitants — residential users which make it work. So even if naturally a lot of details are vague, I think that Philip presented a very good picture that he still knows what SL is about and has both feet planted on good solid ground — while his dreamy head is already looking into a future that we can’t yet imagine what it will be. Of course I shall curb my optimism and adopt a “wait and see” attitude; but at least I think I never saw so clearly what Philip’s intentions are, and it seems quite reasonable to assume that LL will once more become the tool that turns Second Life into Philip’s vision — hopefully one that is aligned with what residents actually think that SL is for.

We really can’t ask for more.


As is often the case, this is one of my articles that actually took more time in preparation than in writing. I had a picture from the Town Hall meeting being streamed via Treet.TV to a small audience at Colonia Nova (CDS), but at some point it was clear that the motto “Fast, Easy, Fun” had to be somewhere in a picture with this article. Well, obviously this called for yet another vanity picture of myself with the motto on a T-shirt, just like Hamlet did with Callie Cline’s photo on NWN. I went to the SL Marketplace to look for a shirt, but didn’t like any of them. Besides, doing T-shirts is easy. So easy, in fact, that I thought I should do something a bit more fun than a plain T-shirt. Thus I googled for some clothing templates and found one I liked for an asymmetrical halter top on Avatars3D.com. Back to Photoshop to do some simple changes, and an upload… just to find out that the template produced rather poorly stitched tops. Hrmpf. Well, my first reaction was that nobody would know, if I just got the right camera angle… but my second reaction was that if I did something a bit more polished I could perhaps offer it for sale on the SL Marketplace. I opted for wasting a few more hours clone-stamping, blurring, blotting, and skewing blotches of pixels until the preview feature of the import texture box showed me everything was nice. Then I uploaded the texture and… eeek! I forgot, this preview feature is still buggy, and the real avatar mesh is somehow different from what the preview shows… Since this meant uploading a lot of textures until I got it right, I gave up and logged in to ReactionGrid, where texture uploading is for free, and after several attempts, finally got a passable texture. Back to SL with the 2.1 Viewer, armed with Ana Lutetia‘s poses and Windlight settings, it was time to take a few pictures, go back to Photoshop (with some free FilterForge plugins) and create an ad for SL Marketplace. Whew! Fast? Nope! Easy? Not at all! Fun? Oh yes, lots!!

It’s really when doing all this work that one really starts to appreciate the incredible amount of time all these fashion designers take to create their fabulous content — and how cheap it is, compared to the time they have spent producing it!

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