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We Have Moved!

After this blog was quiet for so long, I am not sure anybody will even see this post, but in case anyone is looking for new posts, they will continue over at www.CatHerders.com. Feel free to join me over there for intermittent observations about life inside and outside virtual worlds. I look forward to seeing you there!

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Working at my laptop

Today’s announcement that viewer 2.3 has launched with display names includes a link a knowledgebase article titled How do I log in with my username if I’m using Viewer 1.23 or a third-party viewer?

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for the Lindens on the doc team, and I think that it’s a good knowledgebase article. It is just unfortunate it has to exist. Why can’t backward compatibility be built into the log in process?

When usernames go live, if I want to log in to viewer 1.23, I have to put my username in the First Name field, and I have to put “resident” in the Last Name field. Which would be fine if users RTFM. But they don’t. They don’t read knowledgebase articles, either. They get confused, get pissed off, and give up.

Why not just make the login process backward compatible? I won’t pretend I have looked at the login server code, but how hard would it be to implement the logic (pardon my pseudocode):

if LastName <> "resident"
create variable CombinedUserName;
CombinedUserName = concatenate (FirstName + "." +  LastName);
FirstName = CombinedUserName;
LastName = "resident";
endif

I just wrote that in six lines of pseudocode, and I suck at programming. So someone who knows what they are doing can code it much more efficiently. My point? It’s not hard.

I know that the TPV developers will eventually put the same sort of logic into their viewers, so some people will argue that the Lab doesn’t need to bother. To be honest, I would rather use one of the Lab’s viewers, even without the handy bells and whistles, than a TPV. So someone ought to speak up for the hapless users of the Lab’s own 1.23 viewer who are going to end up alienated by the username log in process when it’s just not necessary.

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Reading about Delinda Dryssen’s problems with her permium membership billing reminded me how fragile Second Life premium memberships are. And how hazardous. Any premium member is just one billing problem away from lockout from the grid.

Even scarier, though, is that if something happens and you’re unable to pay your premium membership for a length of time (possibly as little as 30 days), the negative balance on your account will actually cause your avatar and all of its inventory to be deleted. Oh, and your L$ balance is gone, too. Want to hear what’s really crazy, though? Free accounts aren’t subject to deletion upon inactivity.

So let’s think about this: free accounts are actually safer than paid premium accounts. This is not what I consider a key marketing point for premium membership. There is a ten month old  JIRA issue about this which appears to have stalled. A shame, since at least allowing people to opt in to having their accounts revert to basic rather than losing their inventories and L$ balances as well as their land in case of extended nonpayment sounds like a sensible solution.

I’m still a premium member, even though I rent in the Five Islands. I maintain a 512 for my shop in Varsity on the Mainland. It appears that the only thing to do to ensure that my account will be safe from this sort of thing is to make sure I have enough USD in your account to cover the next membership payment. Talk about bothersome.  I do maintain a no payment information on file alt with modify rights on all of my objects, but that would still not allow me access to my inventory while I tried to untangle an issue like Delinda’s.

Wasn’t there a request a year ago by one of the Lindens for ideas of various perks that could be used to make premium membership more attractive? When the lab is ready to dust those suggestions off, I hope this one is near the top of the stack for consideration, since all of the perks in the world won’t stack up well against a disincentive like this one.

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Charging cover for live music events is back on the radar again. Maybe it never really went away, but Mankind Tracer’s new cover charge system seems to be bringing this back into discussion again. I have friends in the live music community who are performers, venue owners, and consumers, and I think everyone has been in a bit of a no-win situation for a while now. I’m not sure that a cover charge system is the solution, though, and I think it may hurt the musicians.

The problem in a nutshell: The venue pays a musician to play. The musician plays, and the musician’s fans attend. The venue is frustrated to see the tips go to the musician and not the venue tip jar. The venue owner pays their tier and other expenses out of pocket because tips don’t cover them.

Even before the bottom dropped out of the economy and tightened up everyone’s entertainment budgets, it seemed that there was a lot of resistance to the idea of cover charges. A thread in the official SL forums, titled “Would you pay to attend a live performance?” has some insight into how the rank-and-file viewed this back in June 2008. The general response answer to the question was an unsurprising “No.”

Argos Hawks had a really good point in the thread: “With all the free stuff out there, charging a cover will be hard to pull off effectively. It could even lower your revenues. In RL, whenever a tip is added to the bill for me, I end up tipping less than I would have. I don’t like people telling me how much I liked the service. In SL, paying for a live performance upfront would feel the same way.”

I think that if you charge a cover, you’d better be sure that the cover charge is all you expect to bring in for the event, because a lot of consumers are going to feel like they did their part up front. There will likely be no additional tipping of the musician, the venue, or the staff.

A year or so ago, according to Ticious Trotter, “Now, roughly 75% of the audience is tipping the musician (average fees are now 3k-8k) and nearly 10% are tipping the venue.” I would guess that musicians count on this tip money. I know some of them do. Would cover charges be high enough and the split be generous enough to pay a musician’s usual performance fee plus what they would usually earn in tips? If not, you’re just taken away a lot of incentive for your best talent to play at your venue.

It’s a tough balancing act. I don’t really envy venues trying to go through it. I think that the most sustainable venues are either those whose owners are resigned to coming out-of-pocket for them, or those who have managed to get sponsorship. Oh, those in the middle of hideously gaudy malls seem to do OK, too, possibly because they’re riding the coat-tails of another business model entirely.

I do firmly believe that if every venue went to a cover charge model today, we would see a huge contraction of live music inworld. A small fraction of the total user population of SL will spend money at all. Attempting to force those who do to spend money won’t work. So that means there are less attendees to go around. Are smaller, paying audiences better than larger, partially nonpaying ones? I think that’s going to be the question we see answered when or if venues begin to implement this new cover charge system.

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On yesterday’s Metanomics show, Philip Linden mentioned the possibility of a merge between the main and teen grids. He said:

Generally, I think that the future of Second Life needs to be one where people of all ages can use Second Life together, and that’s the direction that we’re taking in our planning and our work. I think that the educational opportunities for Second Life are so great for all ages that we need to make it as available as we possibly can to people. If you look at what we’ve done with the Teen Grid, I think we’ve done a good job, as a small company, of being inclusive and creating an environment in which teenagers were able to use Second Life, I think, perhaps earlier than, I don’t know, we might have been able to. We pushed hard to get that working.

But, if you look at the problems with having a teenaged area, which is itself so isolated from the rest of the World, they’re substantial. There’s an inability for educators to easily interact with people in there because we’ve made it an exclusively teen only area. Parents can’t join their kids in Second Life so problems like that are ones that we think are pretty fundamental and need to be fixed. We need to stop creating isolated areas that are age specific and, instead, look at how we can make the overall experience appropriately safe and controlled for everybody. So that’s the general direction that we’re taking there.
Initially, I had the same visceral reaction it seems that many main grid residents had. “Umm… no.”
But let’s face it… if Linden Lab decides that’s what they want to do, it doesn’t matter whether I — or the rest of the main grid — think it is a good idea. They’re going to do it. If I can hazard a guess, they’re going to say “Use the age verification system we put in place to block off your parcels.” Which ignores the fact that people from many countries can’t age verify. It’s just legal camouflage that pushes the burden of keeping teens out of your parcel onto the residents themselves.
So how could they possibly make this work? (And by “work”, I mean that in the loosest possible way, since I am unconvinced this can happen without someone getting hurt.) Maybe the answer is one more land rating: G. Currently, land is PG or Mature. If there was the possibility of rated G areas — possibly a continent of them, to prevent camming into a non-G area — serving as a areas for educational institutions and other teen areas, those could be governed by tighter rules than PG or Mature areas.
The thing that struck me as I read posts in the blogosphere and the official SL Forums was that this is a really polarizing issue. Nearly all main grid residents say “not on my grid.” And nearly all the teen grid residents say “We’re bored and this is the answer to our SL dreams.” Sadly  for the teens, it sounds like if adults have their way, they will barricaide teens out of most of the mian grid, meaning that the teen grid doesn’t really expand, just ends up connected to the main grid.
Who would benefit from this? Well, if my understanding is correct, the burden of paperwork for the teen grid is a pretty big one. If suddenly you didn’t have to take time to verify all the new teens, you could save time and man hours. Sounds like LL would benefit in labor costs. I’m not entirely convinced that the teens would benefit. And I think the consensus is that the adults wouldn’t benefit from this move.  So LL comes out the winner with streamlined operations.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few weeks or months, to see who ends up the winner or loser when these plans go forward. I’ll have to ponder whether I would let teens into Harbour. Would you allow them into your region?
Edit:
I posted some additional thoughts this morning to the SL Forums that touch on an aspect of this that I didn’t get to before I got sleepy and finished last night’s post:
Sadly, we live in a guilty-until-proven-innocent society when it comes to offenses (real or imagined) against children. Speaking as someone who ended up on a state child welfare watchlist without even knowing it had occurred, I am not interested in fighting my way through that kind of RL red tape ever again because of the actions of a minor.

For instance, a minor on this new merged grid sends me an inventory offer. I decline it, and go about my business. If they sent me a no-trans item, it still ended up in my inventory, just went to my trash (or is it lost and found? I haven’t had it happen in a while). I have still ended up with heaven only knows what, passed to me by a minor. The minor’s parent decides they’d better check up on them and checks their transaction history. ZOMG, they gave me, an adult, an inventory item. Of an objectionable nature. I must be a pedo. Good thing the lawyer is on speed dial. And the state department of child protective services.

I’m not saying that this can’t be done in a way that works. But the risks to responsible and totally innocent adults on the main grid are huge. Bigger than I think LL has thought through.

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I have only been participating in the weekly  PhotoHunt since December, so I didn’t realize at first that last night was the biggest turnout ever. Not until we overran the PhotoHunt contest board and it ended up broken for voting, anyhow. It’s great to see an event like the PhotoHunt growing. It’s rapidly becoming a highlight of my week in Second Life.

This week, we visited Opera Joven. This region is run by a nonprofit association founded in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1999, and it promotes  the cultural heritage of Jalisco, Mexico.

As always, we had an hour to bring back our best unretouched snapshot from the area.
Opera Joven Photo Hunt 1

I tried to capture a “watching the sunset” snapshot, but wasn’t happy with the results, so I kept looking for something a little different. Finally, I settled on my entry for the week… a sultry sunset shot through the supports of a pier.

Opera Joven Photo Hunt 2

One of the most amazing things to me about the PhotoHunt is returning to find out what the other hunters have captured. They were all looking at the same region, the same prims, yet there are remarkably different images captured by each of the photographers.
Full Board at the Photo Hunt 1-14-2009

(This snapshot of the contest board contains images that are the copyright of other photo hunters. It was taken shortly before the volume of entries into the weekly PhotoHunt broke the contest board.)

Join in the fun! The Photo Hunt is held weekly at 6:00 SLT on Wednesdays, at the Virtual Artist Alliance Gallery in Chiaksan. A new beta web site provides additional information about the Virtual Artist Alliance.

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Holiday Over

I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, but the past ten years or so, I have put up a tree because it’s beautiful and festive.

Three years ago, I spent Christmas night sitting up with my cat Cyrano, and he died the next morning. Now, I take down the tree on December 26, and I remember.
Cyrano Photo on Desk

Holiday’s over. Time to face forward. What’s next?

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