They don’t know about us …

I’ve been aware for a long time now that Linden Lab, creators and maintainers of the Second Life grid, are completely unaware of large swathes of what happens here and – perhaps more significantly – what is important to residents to maintain their businesses (and cause them to grow), and what is largely irrelevant or – at best – peripheral.

For me, a classic example of this came when Jack Linden was on the Designing Worlds show and, as we chatted before the show, he mentioned casually that as part of the introduction of mesh, prims would be increasing in size from the standard 10×10 to 64×64.

“I hope you’ll announce that on the show!” I said.

“Why?” he said, and he seemed genuinely puzzled. “Will people here be interested?”

Jack Linden and Dusan Writer on Designing Worlds: photograph by Wildstar Beaumont
Jack Linden and Dusan Writer on Designing Worlds: photograph by Wildstar Beaumont

Of course, when he did announce it on the show, the auditorium, packed with designers, exploded with excitement at the possibilities (and the realization that here would be a form of solid megaprims that would be highly unlikely to be deleted by some careless Linden, unaware that s/he was removing a significant proportion of heritage builds across the grid, (to say nothing of the resident homes that would lose a wall or a roof).

I was reminded of this the other day when the messages I routinely send to notify people about treet shows suddenly failed.  The reason was rapidly apparent – the Lab had decided – without any warning – to impose a ‘choke’ on the number of messages that could be sent by one avatar from one sim over a limited space of time.

For those of us who run businesses, it’s common to use some messenger service.  The most efficient way to message people within Second Life is through the Groups messaging system; using this, messages and items (landmarks, notecards, gifts) are delivered almost instantly.  But there are drawbacks.  People are only allowed a certain number of groups – currently 42, it was originally 25, which filled very rapidly for active residents between special event groups (like RFL, SL Birthdays), land management groups (in order to set out prims in your home), groups for interests (like roleplay, medical support groups), favourite stores which give lovely gifts and favourite musicians who send notice of concerts.  Joining groups could also be a little hit and miss – for stores that had steady locations, setting out a group joiner was relatively straightforward, but not mainly people were likely to visit a magazine HQ just because they like the magazine – you just had to hope they would read the magazine, like it, and check out the group list – not the most efficient of marketing methods.

So an alternative system of gaining members was devised by enterprising residents – the subscriber system.  Residents liked it because it set no limit on the number of groups you could join.  Stores liked it because it offered a variety of stats about group members (some let you see where and when people subscribed, for example, others were configured so you can see dormant subscribers and periodically remove them).  There were – and are – some systems that allow you to subscribe people yourself, but many were designed – like the group system – to be subscriber driven.  That means that someone has to touch the kiosk to subscribe (and unsubscribe).

For many people, this was a great way of getting round the group limitations. For Prim Perfect (and Designing Worlds and The Primgraph) it was a huge blessing.  Previously, we had had kiosks set out in stores across the grid, which meant that if people were in stores, they could pick up the magazine – but even if they liked it, it would depend on their being in a store that carried a kiosk the following month as to whether they got the next issue, unless they started buying it on the Marketplace or reading it on the web. And in order to set out the kiosks (which were originally non-transferable) someone had to go to the store, join the land group and set it out.  It was all rather haphazard – and caused endless problems if a store owner moved locations.

With the new subscribers  kiosks, we could hand the kiosks to store owners to place where they wanted, move, delete whatever.  They came in a range of styles too.  It’s a system that serves us well.  The only downside is that when you gain a lot of subscribers, the rate at which messages are sent out slows down. It can take five hours to deliver a message to all the Prim Perfect readers whereas the Linden Lab group system delivers instantly (on a good day!).

Different servers in the Prim Perfect Headquarters
Different servers in the Prim Perfect Headquarters

There are a range of subscription systems – Subscribe-o-Matic, Hippo Groups, Artizan Mailbox and Fred Allendale’s Subscriber Kiosk are amongst the best known.  Artizan Mailbox allows you to compile your own mailing list – I use it to send out Christmas presents and invitations to the annual Prim Perfect birthday.  Technically, mailings like this could be seen as spamming – but I suspect many people use them similarly.  FRom the magazines and the TV shows, the mailing lists are opt in – people have had to touch a kiosk to subscribe and they are told to touch again if they want out – both in a system message and in a sign on the front of the kiosk.

Nevertheless, once or twice a month I get an angry IM about this.  Not a “Help – I want to unsubscribe and I can’t find a kiosk – can you do it for me?” which I’m always very happy to do.  No, these are aggressive – “You’re spamming me and I’m reporting you to the Lab for abuse!”

My response to them is to unsubscribe them immediately and to send them a polite note pointing out that they chose to subscribe to us.  I give them the data I have of where and when they subscribed, wish them a nice day and there the correspondence usually ends. A couple have decided at this point that they want to re-subscribe; I gently dissuade them.  Anyone who doesn’t understand the basics of the subscriber system is more trouble than they’re worth.  A few still try to pin the blame on me. “I subscribed there? I haven’t been there for years!” they cry, as though the fact that they palpably were there in 2009 and subscribed to a magazine they’ve been receiving ever since is completely irrelevant.

But they are a small drop in the ocean of people who happily receive the magazine and notices of the TV shows.

However, one of the comments on the Jira by Kelly Linden regarding the throttling of messages (causing the system to silently fail) gave me pause in the same way that Jack Linden’s remark gave me pause:

Unfortunately some mailing list and product updaters may break or need to be updated. To stop a griefing mode that has effects on the entire grid’s back end infrastructure a throttle was added to llGiveInventory. This throttle matches (but is separate from) the existing throttle on llInstantMessage and exists for nearly identical reasons. That throttle is 5k per hour per owner per region; the maximum burst is 2.5k. It is impossible to hit this limit with a single script, but systems designed to spam very large amounts very rapidly may hit it and need to be adjusted. We will be monitoring the effect of this throttle to adjust it as we can if needed.

Eh? Spamming? I can imagine that griefers might use some of these tools – but Kelly was casually referring to all the messages sent as spamming – which displays a profound mis-understanding of the ways in which residents have evolved inworld mailing lists to meet an important business need.  She goes on:

Security issues like this, especially of this grid wide severity, require that we act swiftly and without significant prior notice, for which we do apologize.

This suggests either that a system that has been operated very happily for five or five years by a very large number of Second Life businesses has suddenly become the target of griefers (but I haven’t heard of any mailing list spam – have you?) or that Linden Lab have suddenly become aware of the system through abuse reports, such as the ones that have been threatened against me by people who have subscribed and then forgotten all about it. Rather than realising it’s something they did that triggered this, their default response is a complaint to the Lab who have reacted.

It may be that we’re seeing another aspect of this with the Third Party Viewer policy.  Even the alterations that seem rather sensible can have the effect of breaking systems – the online/offline status that will break information systems in clubs and estate management offices, for example.

The problem, as I see it, is not that Linden Lab are setting out deliberately to break things – the problem is that they are trying to manage a system of such inordinate complexity that it is impossible for them to keep pace.  In correcting or improving one area, they are, frequently inadvertently, breaking something else that might be absolutely key to a whole raft of the grid – because they don’t know.

Again and again, the creativity and ingenuity have taken them by surprise.  It might even underlie the Homestead debacle, which was a major turning point in relations between the Lab and the residents.  It may be that they seriously under-estimated the capacity of people to build feverishly with the prims they were given.  It’s also present in the way that the adaption of mesh is going. “You can use this for building … ” “Clothes don’t fit properly.” “Yes, but we meant you to use it for … ” “Don’t you hear me? Clothes don’t fit properly!!” “But we never thought you’d use it to … ” “Oh for goodness sake. Another half-assed Lab release. Fix It Now.”

And, believe me, creators have barely scratched the surface of the potential for mesh to seriously screw with the Lab.  I am cornering the market in virtual popcorn for this one.

All in Mesh: Dress by Tres Beau; Hair by Truth; Boots by Gos
All in Mesh on Inis Caiseal: Dress by Tres Beau; Hair by Truth; Boots by Gos

Earlier, I commented on the Sand Castle Studio blog about Third Party Viewers and I said this:

But I’m coming to believe that a key problem for the Lab (and for the Second Life users) is simply that the organism is so vast that the people maintaining it don’t understand what is done with it. Like a doctor treating someone for bunions, they don’t realise (without being told) that the patient will be going out on stage that night and performing pirouettes, so some courses of treatment just won’t work. Even worse, this is a doctor who has never seen the ballet and so fails to understand what a pirouette is …

Gianna Borgnine pointed out that if a doctor listens carefully to a patient, then it shouldn’t be necessary to know the ballet in order to understand them problem.  But are Linden Lab able to listen? Because, what are they actually listening to? From their side, a cacophony of voices with a hundred different ideas and views on Any. Single. Issue.  From our side, a failure to have channels that allow our voices to be heard – and in the resultant silence frustration grows, until it is replaced by the more deadly despair.

Because that was what struck me about the Jira for the mailing lists.  There was some anger that a major system in Second Life that hundreds of businesses depended on had suddenly, silently failed – without any prior warning from the Lab.  But overall, there was a kind of “Stay Calm and Carry On” Blitz spirit about this.  Yes, Jerry has flattened our street, but there’s temporary accommodation in the church hall, and the WVS are providing tea and sandwiches from their little wagon parked on the corner in the midst of the rubble, for all those who are out there clearing up the mess.

But surely we can do better than this? Surely we should be doing better than this?

13 comments

  1. Would it work to create a body of carefully selected SL residents who are among the ones who DO know how all this stuff works in the community? Pick from among the people who have their fingers on the pulse of the SL community concerning things like this, and make them a liaison between the SL users and LL? Perhaps appoint them, then allow them to be voted out by regular SL users who meet a certain criteria, sort of like some states and counties do their judges: you keep your position so long as you don’t screw up, but if enough people think you screwed up, you lose your position and a new person is appointed.

  2. I totally agree that for SL to have a chance to succeed everyone needs to accept it as an actual place and as Nathan has suggested create some type of “government” structure/system. The type of representation he describes would allow residents a framework through which they could express their needs and concerns and general comments. This would be like the community board I have identified in my blog post about applying a government structure to SL: http://www.publicworksgroup.com/blog/2011/11/incorporationofsecondlife/. The first step would be to create a planning group, host public meetings across the grid, and develop a comprehensive plan for the community. Out of this would come the representative structure that would best serve the residents. Of course, the Lab would need to collaborate in this process and support the outcome. And if anyone ever has an interest in moving in this direction, I’d definitely be interested in helping.

  3. At my RL place of employment, I’m a member of an advisory committee that represents the needs and interests of the finance employees. We create a good bridge to the upper management and through us, many good changes take place. I believe a *good* advisory committee could help the Lindens stay in tune with what’s really happening on the grid.

  4. While I support those who use these systems in an ethical manner, the fact is that there are currently a lot of individuals using these types of systems for abuse. It has gotten so bad that I regularly have to drop notecards on 4 or 5 people whenever I log in regarding spam I never subscribed to.

    Their responses range from ignoring my firm, but polite requests, to claiming I subscribed by making a purchase at their store or visiting their venue where my UUID was harvested by a scanner. I am ridiculously careful about what I opt-into. That has not stopped malls and venue owners from negatively impacting my SL experience.

    I can see where someone may have simply wanted to get your magazine and didn’t necessarily understand they were signing up for a subscription that gave permission for someone to send them items and notices without additional permission. Unless every message you send out includes a “should you wish to unsubscribe” blurb, it’s unlikely people would remember where they subscribed or know how. Many consumers in SL do not own businesses and have no working knowledge of how their UUID is a free license for people to spam them. These issues become more frustrating for some users when you factor in possible language barriers.

    The opt-ins for these types of systems need to be much clearer and their commonplace use on the grid means that Linden Lab should be addressing them in TOS.

    I suspect that you are using your system more on the ethical side than the non-ethical side, but the more troubling situation here isn’t regarding the throttling (creators of these systems will simply need to stagger deliveries which is better for the servers anyway). What bothers me is that instead of establishing proper practices in their TOS and gathering information on how these systems are being used ethically vs unethically, Linden Lab just started monkeying around at the server level.

    Like you said, tinkering with things they do not understand the purposes of demonstrates their lack of connection to their own product. Unfortunately their throttling method doesn’t fix the spam or user security problems which will only get worse as the unethical UUID harvesters begin swapping or selling their “subscribe” lists and data. This is a community problem and it requires a community-based solution, not just flipping some code over and telling people to deal with the consequences.

    1. You make a very good point here about unsubscribing, Well, you make a lot of good points – but I’m referring to the one specifically on unsubscribing!

      I’m going to add a formula at the end of my notecards telling people how to unsubscribe by IMing our subscription manager. If she’s deluged, I’ll build a small unsubscribe room and let them do it themselves.

  5. If you’re a developer you can’t sit there expecting nothing to change, when it does and perpetually because the underlying platform is being abused or because it’s looking to appeal to new generations of residents then you need to accept that it’s changing and you need to redevelop your ideas around it.

    I’m sick to death of seeing content creators and developers whine about how this and that new feature will break this and that old products, well get a clue no company gets to sit on their ass and do no innovation while raking in profits forever around a single thing they once did.

    And if they still even use your outdated prim / sculpt cars or what ever it is you once sold back in 2010 then they should go to your shop and ask for an update, as for the system above being broken you’ve all ready answered your own problem. Group was good enough to give out updates before and still is as most residents get an email as well! and can be locked down to ‘residents who’ve purchased only’ like Prokofy Neva should have locked down her group to ‘residents who paid tier only’ and let them in via a bot pay system.

    I do get a lot of spam from things I’ve signed up for but the effort it takes to go sort something out for most residents like me is too great unless it comes with a link in my email to unsubscribe at ONE CLICK.

    Even if they opted-in by not providing them with a solution other than ‘go visit here’ you become a failure of a developer as you’re not really listening to how residents use the world just like that Linden said above about mega prims, what they’d care to hear? preposterous my dear chap! what what what….

    Linden Lab and those developers didn’t plan far enough ahead to make opt-out easier especially for residents who’ve not been online in a while, if you develop something don’t sit on your ass whining go JIRA it after you ask residents how they use it and redevelop it as many times as necessary until it works without the harassing im’s.

    So look at the under laying problem, no one wants to go ferret out where to unsubscribe and the UI from these messages / objects is quicker to ‘close’ at one click than it is to waste time figuring out how to block it or even find it.

    So why whine about it? why not go innovate and JIRA it with an idea like a faux unsubscribe key that triggers a block on the object sending it, like someone should do anyway but by viewer and labeled ‘unsubscribe’ next to the message / items you sent with a keyword that the viewer knows is a regular thing / update you sent and not just a one off send.

    So to recap not even Linden Lab can afford to sit on their ass and not innovate or protect their service from waves of ideas griefers have to exploit good natured residents.

    And if you’ve not realized it by now Second Life is not appealing for the wider world so please don’t be like Prokofy Neva who whines about how this and that change in main land policy will make her suffer, while she spits in her tenants eyes and pushes them away from SL and still expects to make money.

    Or like content creators who decried Mesh because they’d have to get off their ass and learn a new trade, which they should have done anyway as why be a content creator if you’re not intending to branch out? eggs all in one basket? then cry when the basket falls? your own fault and those types of people get left behind.

    And you don’t want to get left behind now do you? especially when L$ monies at stake as most of these residents seem preoccupied with monies and not the ‘ease of use for a customer’.

    1. Actually, Bunjie, I explained at some length in my post why subscriber services work better for magazines than the group system.

      Yes, developing an automatic unsubscribe system would be good. I’m not sure how it would work though – it would rely on something clickable in notecards?

      I’ve explained how I’m planning to handle it for my own systems.

      But I really do feel that this is NOT the underlying problem here. The subscriber/mailing system was just an example I used – there is a wider problem of the Lab not understanding systems that residents have developed to enable them to love and develop businesses here. We saw it with the issue of privacy regarding Third Party Viewers – here the Lab has been listening to the problems that breaking that would cause.

      I also think you’re mis-representing the problem. I don’t think developers are reluctant to change. As soon as the problem was recognised, the creators of mailing systems sprang into action and started to add patches or upgrades that solved the problem. The real cause for concern was that the choke was applied without warning – had there been a blog announcement, then the developers could have moved to fix it.

      And please don’t use my blog for attacks on another Second Life denizen. Prok hasn’t commented here, and isn’t referenced in the post, so your attacks on him are completely gratuitous. Prok is very capable of defending himself, but this has been a serious and interesting discussion, and I have no wish to see that curtailed because you have a problem with another denizen.

  6. Nice article! I think you are dead on. Yeah, the Lindens have been accused many time that they don’t use SL, and, from my perspective, it has always been a very valid complaint. I’ve been making AOs for years now, and It is still extremely uncommon to see a Linden wearing an AO, unless it is needed to make their avatar’s body work right. This is completely the opposite for the vast majority of SL users.

    I’m 1 of those that tries to frequent User Group Meetings. Not 1 meeting that I’ve ever gone to has ever changed their environment. The only Linden’s sim that I’ve every even seen used or looking like it is used, is Torley’s sim. Seriously, LL should mandate 1 hour of SL play time everyday, for every employee on the payroll, with a linden allowance.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to LL bash, cause I do see some new people that give me hope for LL. This also brings up another point. Me, you, and many of us, have been around SL for going on half a decade or more. This is not the case for the LL team. They have been shuffled in and out this whole time. We have years of experience with SL, while the people actually working on it, are constantly having to be taught what the key issues are.

    I think V2 was a big example of this very issue. The community spent years filing jiras, begging for changes for other changes. Then, we get something was that not even usable by 3/4rds of the population. Not only did it have tons of it’s own issues, but all those fixes and features that got worked out in V1 now had to all be redone, reargued, and recoded again.

    Anyways, I could go on and on. Let’s hope that this latest team are more into their work.

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