The Nuclear Option

(or: “A Modest Proposal for the Elimination of Harassment at Second Life Welcome Areas”)

When I was a sprout in Indiana[1], the high school I attended had an unofficial tradition during the first week of classes with the innocent-sounding title “Freshman Week”. It was taken by certain “upperclassmen” (i.e., anyone in grades 10 through 12) as carte blanche to hassle, haze, and otherwise harass anyone they perceived to be a new arrival. The most frequent participants in this “welcoming” behavior were the sophomores whose memories of being the previous year’s victims were still clear — thus, making it self-perpetuating.

Mind you, this was more than 40 years ago, long before bullying was revealed to be a great deal more permanently harmful than previously thought [I hope that my doubts about the practice’s perpetuation at my alma mater, in this enlightened age, are well-founded]. At the time, however, the faculty and administration looked the other way, and shrugged it off with “boys will be boys.” Yes, it was mostly boys as both perpetrators and victims — something to do with testosterone, I’m sure.

So many decades later, however, that behavior still persists (probably with the same hormonal imbalance as its root cause), and one of the places it manifests is Second Life; more specifically, in SL’s Welcome Areas. This is not a new problem — Ahern has been notorious for it for at least as long as I’ve been in SL, and I daresay it’s been like that ever since the Lindens collectively withdrew from active engagement with the world they operate. I have heard through the grapevine that Waterhead is no better, and I have gained similar impressions about Hanja WA (even though, during the times I visited it, it was empty).

Skate Foss has recently been Tweeting about the outrageous treatment of new Residents by their slightly-older forebears at Ahern (cf. above, sophomores hazing freshmen), and has even proposed a sort of transitional area for noobs: sims where they are confined while they learn the ropes, but with sufficient entertainment to keep them interested and logging in, Mentors of some sort to assist, and where avatars older than X (days, weeks) may not tread. At the end of what could only be called a probationary period, the not-quite-noobs would earn access to the remainder of the Grid.

It sounds like a nice idea on its surface, but it’s got holes you could drive a truck through (if you could at all, because of the sim borders). First and foremost, nothing prevents the typical SL bully from creating a new account to gain access. Behavior, therefore, would have to be moderated actively by people with estate-level banhammers. That, in turn, would required a 24/7/365 presence — because we avatars come from all over the planet, there is no time of day when SL concurrency drops below 30,000. So a numerous, reliable, and planet-wide staff of babysitters is required. That’s always difficult to put together, let alone maintain, on a volunteer basis… and let us not forget Linden Lab’s history of cavalier treatment of volunteer mentor organizations and the “once burnt, twice shy” principle.

The other possibility is to staff the place with Lab employees — Lindens, by definition, with all the powers of enforcement granted thereunto. But then, the global nature of the problem rears its ugly head again, complicated by the fact the Lab, in its infinite lack of wisdom, is too frightened of interstate and international income tax law to hire anyone domiciled outside of California. Too much paperwork, I suppose… why, they might even have to hire more people to deal with it – heaven forfend!)

So, I have another proposal for dealing with the harassment in Welcome Areas:

Two words: Delete them.

Yes, you heard that from me — one of the (admittedly self-appointed) voices for historical preservation in Second Life; the guy who blogged specifically about the history of Welcome Areas last year and wondered aloud about the Lab’s role therein: is it deliberate preservation, or benign neglect?

After a year, I conclude that it is just plain neglect: a failure to follow through on stated goals. When Viewer 2 was introduced, we were told that the old Orientation Island(s?) was(were?) to be removed from the Grid. The public one still exists, as do both of the Help Island Publics. More recently, we were informed of the end of the Discovery Island phase of new user orientation – yet 9 of them are still present. In the image below (taken today from the SLurl website), there are 43 Viewer 2-specific Welcome Islands and 8 islands called “Viewer2Tips”, as well as the above-mentioned, obsoleted Discovery Islands. If you know where to look, the OI and HI Publics, as well as the Plum, Waterhead, Violet and Ahern Welcome Areas are also all in that image[2].

Reluctance or inability to complete stated programs is not the only reason why, after the Lab declared the old WAs to have been supeseded by the Destinations Guide, they are still noob magnets and therefore bully magnets. It’s also a matter of the green dots. Open the World Map in your viewer (if it’s not borked), and put Ahern in the region name field… see what I mean? Stacks of green dots, no matter what time of day. In the absence of working Event search, that’s one sure way of finding popular areas (without, of course, knowing why they’re popular) — and the most probable cause of self-perpetuation of the WAs as staging areas for harassment, which in turn is one likely cause for SL’s execrable new user retention.

Bottom line: To reduce harassment, break the cycle. Eliminate the WAs. Log “Governor” Linden in to save a copy of the builds to Inventory. Give copies to the Moles for safe-keeping (maybe they can drag them out to be used as venues at SL Birthday events, to add a hint of history to the proceedings). Then delete the ones on the ground. Stop providing the pools of chum where the sharks can easily feed.[3]

Oh, and one other thing — this has to go, too. I don’t know how often it’s used to find places to go, but… the SLurl website defaults to Ahern when you first open it:

[1]: 50 internetz to the first person who can cite the source of that phrase.

[2]: I regret to report that there are three fewer regions on that map than there were four months ago: the I-World Island group. However, I can personally vouch for the preservation of the historical artifacts the museum held: Torley IM’d me out of the blue (we’d never spoken before) and sent me a folder full of them. I now own a copy of the Oldest Prim.

[3]: The Violet Welcome Area is, and should remain, the sole exception to my “nuclear option”. It is privately held by the “Infohub Builders” group, and the builds on it belong to two of the most creative of the Oldbies who still log in: Ingrid Ingersoll and Barnesworth Anubis. It is also, as far as I know, devoid of the behavior that plagues the Linden-owned WAs.


14 responses to “The Nuclear Option

  1. The infohubs are suffering from the same neglect as the Linden sandboxes. If LL is unwilling to manage their property, it becomes an “attractive nuisance”.

  2. 1. Firesign Theatre, 'Everything you know is wrong'

    2. 'Benign Neglect' kinda sums up all the blog posts, frustration and anger of the last…. several years… eh?

    3. What about the Japanese Department Store Ladies? What about WalMart Greeters? Why does LL fail to evidence care of their own creation? Just bored; on to the next cloudbuzz current ADHD venture capitalist seduction?

  3. Yep, I tweeted Rodvik on this when he asked for help with so many noobs suddenly arriving.
    Without a policeman at each hub they would be better closed down. The likelihood is that, as most citizens are decent folk, a noob would meet someone helpful rather than a thug…. the trouble is we don't use the Shit Viewer so they might need help from a mentor….or a Shit Viewer group, which I think exists.

  4. @Miso:

    1. Close – 'tis the Firesign Theater, but from the previous album, I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus (side 2, near the end, when AhClem poses The Question to Dr. Memory). Nevertheless, you win the internetz, and I'm not at all surprised it was you ;)

    2. I'd say, half of all the frustrated and angry blog posts can be traced to benign neglect – the other half, from malignant action.

  5. i agree entirely other than instead of deleting them, remove their status or depreciate WA's, set them for sale, and let someone who actually gives a damn own and manage them like the resident run infohubs. if they end up dying that way, we aren't losing much rich culture if that happens anyway.

  6. Not-as-long-ago-as-your-long-ago, I was an incoming Freshman at Rice. Residential college/dorm system, each with their own commons for eating.

    Freshmen came in a week early and were guided through registration, campus services, building/classes locations, etc by handpicked trusted mentors and advisors from the faculty, staff, and community/alumni. It let the freshmen get settled in, get to know their classmates, and give a week of observation to see if anyone needed a little more help getting used to the change.

    Upperclassmen who were not mentors were banned from campus during this time

    Most mentors were helpful and good, showing all the possibilities out there while having fun doing it. Others had issues, treating it like party time or worse, and disciplinary action was severe for those who abused the orientation process.

    Me, I had a few issues merging with the traffic and adjusting, but in time, I found an uncomfortable imbalance that got me to the finish line eventually. But most folks thrived, did well, and made fine mentors themselves when the upperclassmen graduated and left… and some became community advisors when they got to a good point in their careers.


    Can any of this be appled to LL/SL?

    Not sure. The issues of identity, trust, abuse, and gaming the system come up.

    Plus, there's the inherent weirdness of making a for-profit privately-held company's customers partially responsible for recruiting, onboarding, teaching, guiding, and supporting their new users.

    Maybe some technological solutions could work, like a “virtual advisorbot” that guides folks through tasks when asked. If done right, it's an angel on your shoulder, and if done wrong, a millstone around your neck nattering on like Clippy.

    Bringing back customer Mentors might help, but then they'd have to be policed and tested with occasional audits by the Community Lindens coming in as newbies, or perhaps newbies brought in under Linden watch to test how the mentor program works.

    Safe areas where only newbies can be has the problem of bullies/griefers/jerks getting in and messing with people, but perhaps the viewer could be set not to allow others to interact with a new resident.. or even render/exist until that person says they're ready. (Alone in a crowd, so to speak) – I call this Level Zero because most games have a tutorial level or two walking you through the basics before you encounter any threats or real game-level activity. (Tomb Raider was AWESOME at this.)

    I say make a list of the problems, issues, conditions, technological barriers, and desired results and then make a challenge of it. See who comes up with the best solution.


  7. Lalo —

    Isn't that a bit extreme? Like the way they got rid of volunteer mentors simply because they couldn't manage them… what's the next step? Getting rid of groups because group chat doesn't work? Getting rid of user-generated content because the copyright issue is unmanageable?

    As Second Life becomes a mature company, with steady-state growth (rather than the fast-growing startup it once was) it has to tradition to a more mature management model, focusing on meeting the needs of current users, and lovingly nurturing new customers, instead of chasing after the next get-big-quick scheme.

    SL isn't going to get-big-quick without some major changes — for example, a massive influx of money that lets it do AOL-style advertising market saturation, sending a CD with the viewer software to every household, putting stacks of free CD's at every checkout counter, or pre-installing it on all new machines.

    (I can just imagine the possibilities though, with an unlimited budget: app of the week in the iPad store — no, wait, deal with Apple to get it pre-installed on all iPads; pre-paid Linden dollar cards in every checkout aisle; Second Life magazine on every newsstand; free land given away to every non-profit who wants it; massive discounts for educators; private grids for schools and companies; late-night television infomercials educating folks about how to use Second Life — or how to make money starting businesses in Second Life; a popular animated Comedy Channel show filmed entirely within Second Life; marketing partnerships with real-world brands; “pay to play” placement in movies and television shows; … oh, and, of course, free premium trial with AOL-level canceling complexity.)

    — Maria

  8. A”wretched hive of scum and villainy”: The Ahern/Morris WA.

    I've been with an ALT a few times to grief the griefers, but they just ignore mean old me. I then tried to help the noobs with my main avatar, as I did when I was a LL mentor, but they are generally so overwhelmed that I only can manage about 1 in 4.

    I compare that to the wonderful welcome I got at InWorldz and the decent one at Avination, on assignment for Prim Perfect. Yeah, LL needs some muscle at the WAs or…

    Nuke them, or at least confine the worst offenders to them as in Escape From New York.

  9. @Maria: Of course it's extreme – I didn't invoke Dean Swift for nothing, y'know ;)

    As to your second paragraph: spot on. And I think Mr. Humble knows that — he talks a good game, anyway. Might turn out to be a good thing that he has 30% fewer staff to retrain (or replace) than he would have had if he'd come on board a year ago…

  10. @Iggy O: “I say we take off and nuke them from orbit. It's the only way to be sure” – Goddess Ripley

    @Lalo via Twitter: “10-4, Eleanor; shoes for industry!” *surfs away humming “Porgy Tirebiter” from “High School Madness”*

  11. A return to the old Help Island era is and immediate measure that will work. Yes, we did occaisionaly find “new/old” accounts there to harrass… but it wasn't common. I spent a lot of time there.
    Skate Foss was one of the SL Mentors that spent a lot of time there along with many others. (I still have a list in-world of quite a few mentors that were both dedicated and honest.) Every AR I ever sent for either underage or harrassment was answered usually in minutes, leaving me to believe that obviously someone in the office was watching.

    As far as a Linden presence… well, I think it was on page two of this link >> << that you will find a comment by a Linden that going in-world often isn't a pleasant experience due to verbal harrassment, name calling, etc. Finally… I'm genuinely surprised that there are so many of you “old” people around. NO ONE remembers “George Tirebiter” and the Firesign Theater!

  12. @Brinda, over a year ago, I saw a poor besieged Linden at Ahern gamely trying, in his Star Trek uniform, to deal with all of the yahoos.

    I IMed him to phaser the lot of them. He noted that he enjoyed going there once in a while to try to help out the noobs.

    Brave lad, but at the time, I thought:

    Dutch Boy + Dike = Flood

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