by Saffia Widdershins and Lette Ponnier
Linden Lab have today announced some changes in their Third Party Viewer Policy.
You may remember that the Policy was originally initiated in response to the “rogue” viewers that were causing enormous problems on the grid. Developed by various people, they were widely used by griefers to violate intellectual property rights on an industrial scale. There were also problems with the Emerald viewer, one of whose developers launched a denial of service attack on someone he disliked, using the Emerald viewer capabilities. At this point the Lab banned some people, laid down strict policy guidelines (which some of us had been begging for) and general took a proactive stance that led to the development of Phoenix, Firestorm, Dolphin and the other viewers that people know and love.
Today, Linden Lab have announced changes to the policy. The changes are as follows:
2.a.iii : You must not provide any feature that circumvents any privacy protection option made available through a Linden Lab viewer or any Second Life service.
2.i : You must not display any information regarding the computer system, software, or network connection of any other Second Life user.
2.j : You must not include any information regarding the computer system, software, or network connection of the user in any messages sent to other viewers, except when explicitly elected by the user of your viewer.
This changes relate to privacy and address problems that people have identified with some of the TPVs. For example, some will tell you what viewer other people are using. Some people find this intensely annoying; others find it useful. When we’re trying to set up the TV shows, it’s useful to use to quickly identify which viewer our guests are using so that we can advise them how to get voice working – so we’re definitely in the finding it useful camp! But … you know, no biggie.
However, the final item is the real problem.
2.k : You must not provide any feature that alters the shared experience of the virtual world in any way not provided by or accessible to users of the latest released Linden Lab viewer.
This is potentially the dealbreaker. It appears to means that any TPV working to bring in new features would either have to develop them in conjunction with the Lab, or risk having the viewer disabled.
But the whole part of the TPVs is that they lead the way in adding new features that viewers vote for with their mouseclicks. They’ve been responsible for introducing and testing a range of new features, some of which have gone on to be a major part of residents’ Second Life experience, and some of which have sunk without trace. Different viewers have been enthusiastically adopted by different groups within the community; photographers adore Kristen’s, with its use of shadows and depth of field; builders love Firestorm; Exodus (which is actually NOT a Linden Lab approved viewer) was developed initially for the roleplay communities etc.
Now this ability is to be removed and only elements that are provided by or accessible to users of the latest released Linden Lab viewer will be permitted – which rather kills the ability of the TPVs to create and test the features that residents really love.
The press release from the Lab continues:
We encourage Third Party Developers to continue innovating with unique user interfaces, niche features, and ways of interacting with the virtual world, and we look forward to working in partnership with developers on ideas they have for new or improved shared experiences for all of Second Life. We want to incorporate more innovative new features into Second Life to improve the experience for all users, and we encourage TPV developers to submit proposals through our standard process.
However, one of the features that users of the TPVs love is their ability to respond and develop with flexibility (as we saw with the AngusGraham Ceawlin case). Long term residents have voted with their feet, and headed for new viewers, partly because the universal dislike there was for the original Viewer 2, which gave a massive impetus to the development of TPVs.
One viewer that might have looked likely to be significantly affected is the RLV (Restrained Life Viewer), a viewer that is popular in BDSM communities as it allows one person to control another’s viewing experience. In addition to the BDSM communities, it has other applications for gamers, who have developed applications for the viewer (whose key features have been developed as an add on in other viewers such as Firestorm and Imprudence) for games that have no sexual connotations whatsoever. It would have been ironic if this feature were to be removed at a point at which the Lab is pushing gaming development so heavily – but it seems that because RLV is specifically opt-in (the person chooses to have their viewer controlled, and who it will be controlled by), it will be unaffected by the policy change.
Although this will doubtless affect the future of TPV development and the introduction of new features, Oz Linden reassured developers at the TPV meeting that they would not have to release newly modified viewers in a hurry to remain in compliance with the new policy. Some of the features that will be affected, such as Phoenix’s true online status and the viewer tag system used by the majority of TPVs, will be disabled server-side in the near future. Those that are not controlled from the server end, such as the text tags used in Phoenix/Firestorm’s inworld support groups to display a chatter’s viewer and version, will need to come into compliance with the viewers’ next releases, whenever those might be.
Why announce these changes now? Perhaps it’s been decided – belatedly – to tighten up and make sure that a situation like the Emerald problem never occurs again. Perhaps it’s actually a slightly ham-fisted invitation to TPV developers not to forget that they can work more closely with the Lab.
Or perhaps this is part of a movement towards viewer strandardisation to work with the new tools/games that the Lab is developing,
Time will tell.
Some of the other posts that have come out on this issue:
Linden Lab’s Official Announcement
Inara Prey’s Living in a Modem World
Dwell On It
The Tigress’ Second Den
Second Life News
Nalates’ Things & Stuff
Andromeda Media Group
Daniel Voyager’s Blog
Sand Castle Studios
and, of course, Second Lie is having a field day!
We’ll add more as they come in.