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Before this post title gets anyone worked up: No, I’m not announcing that I’m leaving. So no, you can’t have my stuff, sorry.

I was wandering through Burning Life a bit today, realizing that Burning Life 2007 was the first LL-sponsored inworld event I really found intriguing. SL4B was a little over a month after I rezzed, and I remember attending a party there where I was required to wear pajamas. I bought some hideous, overpriced pajamas that I probably still have somewhere in inventory but have never worn again, and the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, SL Birthday celebrations are now linked in my mind with bad pajamas. But I digress.

That first Burning Life I attended, I remember thinking that one of the most magical things was the temple. Now, I don’t often enter houses of worship in real life, so what I was doing wandering into anything called a “temple” without fearing it would drop onto my head is beyond me. But inside, I found a place that you could leave a message. The message would then be displayed as hovertext above one of the votive lights in the temple, and at the end of Burning Life, all of the messages that are left during the event are read off as the temple is burned to the ground.

I suppose the reality of attending the burning of the temple — something I have never managed due to timing conflicts — is probably not nearly as mystical as the idea itself. I’ve seen videos of avatars dancing around with fire extinguishers in place of codpieces, so I am sure there are some issues with dignity involved. But the idea stays with me.

What we leave behind in a virtual world is different than what we can in a physical world. Here, we can procreate and “pass on our line.” But in a virtual world, whether it’s in the walled garden of Second Life or the wider one of the internet, what we leave behind is less tangible. Is it less meaningful? What mark are we leaving? What will they say about us when we have moved on to new frontiers?

These are the things I pondered this morning in this year’s build of the temple at Burning Life as I whispered a few words to be consigned to the particle flames when the event draws to a close.

Despite my recent cynicism about LL and Lab-sponsored events, there are some real gems among the builds this year. Crank up the fan on your video card and wander down to take a look if you get a chance.

My grandfather used to say “locks are to keep honest people honest.” I’m starting to think that maybe the current SL content permissions system is, too.

There’s a lot of discussion right now about the new up-and-coming copy-enabling viewer soon to be released onto the grid. A firsthand review of it sounds like it’s going to make content theft much easier than ever before. According to a SLUniverse forum post by Stroker Serpentine, “The interesting aspect is that you can change anything to full perms inside your inventory, but once rezzed the “slam bit” from the server reverts to original owner perms.”

Sounds like a nasty critter to me. On the heels of everything else the gridwide economy has dealt with recently, this kinda sucks. But I guess it would suck any time. And it sucks for everyone. I’m a hobbyist, not what I consider a “real” content creator, but if the content creators whose stores I purchase from shut down, it impacts me even if it isn’t my content that is being stolen.

One really encouraging thing is seeing people pulling together ideas about how to raise intellectual property rights awareness. There’s a proposal on the table for  November 5th as Step Up! Day. A day for no uploading of textures and wearing ribbons show support for content creators. And of course for parties, because you can’t have a designated day in SL without a party to go with it.

I think that this is a wonderful, community-driven way to raise awareness among the people inworld. Those “honest people” who the locks would keep honest, so to speak. But I remain a bit skeptical about whether the Linden Lab is going to take much notice. To be blunt, the Lab does things that further their ends. There’s a cost to beef up content protection tools and/or enforcement. Is the cost higher than the perceived benefit to the Lab right now?

Right now, the need for additional intellectual property protection is a tempest in a teapot. As long as the tempest stays in the teapot — in online forums, in virtual world focused blogs like this one — the Lab has no incentive to act. They’re carrying on like everything is great, putting out rosy press releases and sending executives to talk about virtual goods. M seems to have been on a campaign to rehabilitate the public image of Second Life, and a lot of actions have been taken that benefit corporate image rather than current customers.

So until the tempest escapes the teapot, the Lab doesn’t have any real incentive to do anything in a hurry. Once it becomes a public relations issue, the notoriously slow-moving decisionmakers will suddenly do something to address the threat at hand. A little public prodding seems to be in order. So, when it comes down to it, I think that Stroker Serpentine’s lawsuit against Linden Lab may be the kind of action that is needed right now.

Stroker said something in a SLUniverse post today that really impressed me as distilling the whole issue facing content creators:

I think the critical element is to continue to discuss ways to identify pirated content from the original, provide more streamlined notification, effective takedown practices and a tightening of the capablities that allow for viral distribution.

I don’t believe anyone expects LL to become the “Grid Police”. But we sure as hell could use more granular tools to aggregate, disseminate and distinguish content. We can take it from there.

I am acutely aware of the fine line between security and fascism.

Linden Lab may not want to participate in the “Arms Race”, but don’t surrender on my behalf. At least give me some bullets, not a butter knife.

I am wholeheartedly behind that. I hope that his prodding the Lab publicly and the folks planning ways to get attention inworld turns out to be an effective way of wielding butter knives to  get the Lab’s attention. Content creators are what makes Second Life vibrant and unique, and they deserve to have the lab make some effort to protect their hard work.

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.

M Linden’s now-infamous labeling of music as a “killer app” for Second Life has led to a lot of discussion and blowing of hot air. Even when some very specific and relatively easily-implementable suggestions were made during the Looking to the Future of Live Performance in Second Life session at SLCC (Really, how hard would it be to repurpose an unused subcategory in Events?), they were automatically put in the “Not in 2009” pile. In the end, the live music community has been left to its own devices to feel its way along.

I’m pretty much a nobody on the Second Life live music scene. I don’t own a venue. I am not a musician, since I can’t tolerably play an instrument as well as sing. So why is the current music venue “to cover charge or not to cover charge” drama bothering me? Maybe it’s because I’m the supposedly deep pockets that it feels like some music venue owners and musicians seem to want to reach into for cover charges.

So in the interest of market research, let’s take a look at a few facts about Feline, a representative individual among SL Live Music Target Market:

I attend live music events inworld. Recently, it has only been 4 days a week , attending at least one event, often two. I tip both the performer and the venue. I usually tip a host/hostess, but only if they don’t annoy the crap out of me with chatspam.

I enjoy interesting chat during events, and will participate in it if I am not listening while cooking dinner or chasing naughty cats. I also will not try to participate in chat if it’s just a bunch of chatspam, because, well, that’s not chat. If your venue is full of nothing but gesturespam, it doesn’t offer me anything that listening to a musician via WinAmp does, and it will impact how (and occasionally if) I tip the venue’s tip jar.

I have also purchased music from several SL musicians via Amazon, CDBaby, and iTunes.

So, to summarize your market research so far: Feline pays for her live music entertainment in Second Life.

By now, I seem like a prime candidate for the not-new-but-new-again push for cover charges in Second Life. Venue owners and musicians who read this (as if anyone actually reads this blog!) will think, “Feline won’t have a problem paying a cover charge.”

I have one more fact about me for your market research: I’m about to be laid off in real life. My entertainment budget is going to be taking a hit. My ability to tip be impaired. Tips will likely become modest, and they could possibly dwindle to nothing at all. So having cover charges being championed now feels a bit like a slap in the face to this representative individual in the SL Live Music Target Market who has dutifully paid my way in the past.

Perhaps the musicians and venue owners who are championing cover charges will feel that it doesn’t matter what I have been a Good Live Music Citizen in the past. If I have no ability to pay my way, I have no place enjoying the product they produce. Maybe goodwill counts for nothing and the almighty dollar everything.

In a time when, at least in the US, half a million more people were unemployed last month, when the job market isn’t expected to get better any time soon, is it a good idea to move from a “pay what you can” to a “pay or go away” model for live music in Second Life?

If you’ve read my rambling so far, you have already figured out that I think it isn’t a good idea. Lest you think this is all about me, I think we should widen the view a little. By its nature, Second Life population has attrition and turnover. To continue to maintain attendance at performances, new people constantly need to discover and get interested in the “killer app” of live music. Or, as Zorch Boomhauer put it, “The most prudent course of action is to take steps to build the numbers of residents interested in Live music in Second Life.” Cover charges — paying before someone even knows if they like live music — is a barrier to cultivating new faces in the audience. And the tighter everybody’s entertainment budgets are (remember that 9.7% unemployment?), the higher that barrier looms. The live music community needs to break down the walls and welcome new people to discover live music, not lock them out.

Then again, what do I know. I’m just a nobody on the Second Life live music scene. A face in the crowd. What’s the value of that random face in the crowd? We’ll find out if it turns out I’m unable to peek in the window after cover charges close the door that leads the way to live music in Second Life.

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.

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.

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.