Three Years On

It’s been a busy 12 months since my last rezday…

In January, I managed to work through the scattered tutorial posts in wikis and forums to install and configure an instance of OpenSimulator — first as a standalone on my PC, then connected to OSGrid. I discovered there that I had a modicum of the Pioneer Spirit; reduced to an aphorism: “Make it yourself, make do with what’s there, or do without.” I also discovered that yes, I actually could apply basic skills learned during a couple of decades of professional AutoCAD use and, working with the comparatively primitive tool kit available in the viewer(s), actually build things I could be proud of.

In February, a question asked in the SLUniverse forum set me off on a quest which eventually became the blog-within-a-blog I call “Seconderth”. (I suppose, at some point, I ought to attempt to correspond with William Least Heat Moon and ask if he minds that I co-opted his title…)

In April, on a whim generated by some talk in SLU, I registered for InWorldz — but, for technical reasons related to the viewer/server handshake, wasn’t able to log in (the Imprudence folks fixed that shortly thereafter).

In May, I became a beta tester for something I thought was going to be a great idea: overlaying user-generated 3D content, with annotations, on a Google Earth-style representation of the entire planet. It had the unfortunate and (allegedly temporary) name of “Project X.” It also, unfortunately, was a hobby project — i.e., not a VC-funded startup — of a handful of guys in the UK who, as “Micazook”, had designed and sold a few Flash-based games for mobile phones.  Long on vision, painfully short on execution.

Also in May, I met Alisa Falconvale, who reminded me how much I enjoyed building. We worked well together, too, and ended up collaborating. Not quite coincidentally, by the end of May I had given up being a furry. I’d already lost enthusiasm for the soi-disant “lifestyle”, and — as there were no furry outfits in InWorldz — the sense of continuity of self-image (what I eventually called “Transworld Syndrome”) led me to adopt the look you see now.

The upheavals at Linden Lab in June prompted me to have another look at InWorldz, and by the Solstice, she had bought an island there, and we began what is now “Falconvale Fine Prefabs” by importing our builds there from SL.

The rest of the summer saw steady improvement and amazing growth in InWorldz, and our part in it. In August, I received my first (and so far, only) custom building commission, and delivered a 1500-prim megachurch to its patron in September. Meanwhile, I was steadily working my way through the Seconderth project, taking an occasional break from that to bitch about the “crisis of the week”, as Botgirl put it.

But, the more involved I became in InWorldz, the less pressing Second Life’s many issues became for me. That’s not to diminish their baffling nature, nor the effect I believe they’ll have on SL and the people who inhabit it… if anything, they tend to confirm the inference I’m not alone in making: Linden Lab has no desire to retain long-standing users.

And so… As promised more than once in these pages, on the occasion of my third rezday, I downgraded my SL membership from Premium to Basic. As a mandatory part of that process, I also rescinded my tier contribution to the Luskwood Residents group (and left the group, as well).

Interesting series of questions in that survey — they all appear to me to be slanted toward the relatively new user.  Surprised?  Not me.

Notice that I am not cancelling my account, merely re-setting it to match the virtual reality of where I spend time, and why.  While I was at it, I also did a final culling of my friend and group lists: those who remain are fellow bloggers and/or Twitterers and/or people who are also friends in InWorldz.  If you qualify, and are not listed, IM me in either world (my offlines go to email) and I’ll fix that asap!

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You might expect that all of this has got me to thinking about the whole “rezday thing”… and here’s what I’ve decided:  As my avatarian life continues to expand into more grids, I will collect, by default, a “joined date” for each.  I may mark them as special occasions in each of those worlds (for instance, April 8 in IW), but…

In the physical/organic world, we are each born only once.  No matter where we live (though we may note the anniversary of arriving there from elsewhere), we only have one birthday, regardless of where it occurred.  I see no reason to relate any differently to the date I first became an avatar.

When I was one
I had just begun
When I was two
I was nearly new
When I was three
I was hardly me…

— A.A. Milne, “Now We Are Six”

I think I’m a bit more than “hardly me” (hope so, anyway)… but who knows what changes toward Avatarian maturity lie ahead?  If the last year is an example, there could be many.  Machts nichts — wherever I am, as an avatar I’m three years old today.

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Seconderth (a deep map) : Tehama

We come, finally, to the last of the First 20 — those regions which were created before Second Life went from closed to open beta.  I saved it for last of this group because, since May 2008, Tehama has been my home.

By a quirk of fate, and the existence of the basement museum at the Governor’s Mansion, Tehama also has something most other regions lack: a record, however slim, of its earliest days on the Grid.  On the map of April 1, 2003 (which will be seen with the next group of sims to be revealed in this blog), there is a red pushpin icon stuck into the northeast quarter of Tehama and labeled “Lindenberg”.

This is one of three screenshots of Lindenberg in that museum; all of them are labeled “February 03”, but carry no other information (such as, who took them).

Since beginning the writing of this entry a couple of days ago, I have become immersed in (obsessed with?) trying to determine where my home parcel might fit into the time-deep map of Tehama.  Clue #1: At the left edge of that Lindenberg photo, you can just make out a sort of stepped sidewalk.  It’s still there.

And, it’s been “Governor Linden land” since the region first rezzed on the Grid.

The stretch of sidewalk in question is not easy to see in the above shot (taken on the midnight setting to emphasize the property lines, with east at the top)… it’s the one running horizontally just beneath the About Land floater.  From this I deduce that the Lindenberg photo was taken from above Tehama’s eastern border with Freelon, looking west, and that the cabin appearing beyond the sidewalk sits on what now is my neighbor’s parcel.

Clue #2: After the demolition of Lindenberg (date unknown), most of Tehama was bought up by Snakekiss Noir, who built an extensive Japanese-themed park with an open-air market and her store, NeoJapan, at its western edge.

[photo credit SuzanneC Baskerville, Jan 5 2006]

The “sidewalk of interest” is the one directly beneath the stone cliff (pieces of which also survive to the present), that forms the western edge of the square with the two circular ponds.  Compare that with this photo, taken today (July 25, 2010) from nearly the same position and angle:

The sidewalk runs diagonally toward the lower right corner, emerging from behind the treehouse (which is about where the hill with the torii on top was in 2005).  Conclusion:  My home (the small brown cabin in the center of the above photo) sits where the southern (left) circular pond was in Snakekiss Noir’s Tehama.

That carries even deeper significance than merely confirming the approximate coordinates.  When I was a homeless nooblet (December 2007, until I took a rental in March 2008), I chose that park as a quiet spot to rez in.  It was convenient to Luskwood, where I spent all of my hang-out time.

That’s one of the oldest photos I’ve ever taken — when I was still less than two months “old” — standing on the very spot where, in another three months’ time, my front yard would be.

We all know how long three months can be, compared to the way things change in Second Life.  Some time in the spring of 2008, while I was renting a tiny box of a place in the pueblo above Red Rock, Snakekiss Noir pulled up all of her builds and abandoned the land.  In the aftermath, the Luskwood Residents group snapped up a fair-sized piece of Tehama.  I heard about it, and became the second avvie to put down roots there, donating my Premium 512 (and another $5/month to make it 1024)… never realizing, until today, how precisely Fate had plunked me back down on the same piece of virtual ground.

Neither Snakekiss nor her builds vanished from the face of the grid, however… she relocated and expanded, and (with some help) established a Japanese alpine village in the region of Orelle, and parts of Livigno and Ayas.  It’s called Silk Waters Mountain.

[Photo credit: Shack Dougall, July 5 2005]

Same tree, five years later, half a continent away: built by Kelwyn Gallant (a Charter Member) in October 2004. The old Red Dragon Market is in Orelle now, too, as are some of the same rentals Snakekiss kept in Tehama.

In spite of all the geologic and social upheavals and the frequent changes in ownership (and my personal reminiscences), there is a corner of Tehama that has remained completely unaltered since December 2002. Scroll back up to the map at the very top of this post for a minute, and look at the southwest corner. See that little winding creek that cuts across it?

That’s right — still there.  It’s Governor Linden land, too, and it contains creations by both Eric and Ryan Linden — most notably, this unnamed statue by Ryan Linden (December 12-13, 2002):

It bears no title, but I like to think of it as King Cnut trying to hold back the tide… of Time.

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The Transworld Report

Before I get back to Seconderth (16 posted, a mere 31 left – oy veh!), it’s time for another one of those “loose ends” posts. I haven’t just been busy on the blog.


Inroads into InWorldz

Taking a cue from some “evangelists” in SLUniverse, I created an account in InWorldz back in early April — mostly to reserve the name, though why anyone else would want to pass themselves off as Lalo Telling is beyond me… Their website led me to believe that the Hippo viewer was usable there, and I already had that for use in OSGrid (because Emerald still refuses to load textures in OpenSim worlds). But Hippo wouldn’t stay connected – couldn’t even complete the login. So I set InWorldz aside for a while.

Then around Memorial Day, I caught “the building bug” as a side effect of a new friendship, using a platform in the sky above her rented parcel and cranking out some decent work as a team… even packed them up and listed them on XStreetSL (haven’t sold any). Then the June 9 Earthquake happened at the Lab. In the aftermath, while talking about alternative grids, I mentioned my sim in OSGrid, and that some people had been talking up InWorldz. We decided to check it out. This time, I installed the InWorldz viewer (yet another branch/clone of the old reliable Linden 1.23.5).

That was three weeks ago. In the intervening time, Imprudence’s latest beta (1.3.0 beta 5) fixed the problem it was having staying logged into InWorldz. Now we’re both using that, making converts to it, and building like crazy:

OSGrid claims 4806 regions connected to it. The real number may be somewhat less than that, as they’ve admitted themselves. They also count 4,965 “active users”: those who have logged in within the past 30 days (with no mention made of login duration). Their total registration is 43,858; peak concurrency in a day averages 120.

By contrast: InWorldz has 274 regions and 6945 members.  Unfortunately, the only way to learn this — or to get an idea of concurrency — is to go to their log-in page; they don’t publish running statistics, however much they should.  In my time there, I have not seen concurrent logins below 60, nor above 99, so let’s call it 80 for a working average maximum.

What’s steering the sign-ups to the smaller, newer grid? “It’s the economy, stupid.” InWorldz has one, OSGrid deliberately does not. When I first established my sim in OSG, I was about as gung-ho as one could get about the complete lack of cost to be there, since my region was self-hosted on my desktop. As I posted back in February, it all felt very much like pioneering. But, just like real pioneering, it was lonely. The numbers bear it out:

Participation

SL: 50,000 median concurrent/1.4 million “active” = ~ 2%
50,000/19.7 million total accounts = 0.25%

OSG: 120 max concurrent/~5000 active = 2.4%
120/~44,000 total accounts = 0.27%

IW: ~80 concurrent/~7000 total = 1.4% — better than five times SL’s participation rate, and six times OSG’s.

Population density

SL: 50,000 concurrent/31,846 regions = 1.6 avs/sim

OSG: 120 concurrent/4806 regions = 0.025 avs/sim

IW: 80 concurrent/274 regions = 0.29 avs/sim — a long way to go to reach SL’s density, but almost 12 times OSG’s.

The most important reason for the growth spurt of IW concerns who is coming to it: quite few are creators with stuff to sell, which also conveniently explains why. “Build it and they will come” has never been a guarantee of success (not just in virtual worlds, either); “build it and give them an incentive to come — like, you can make money here” seems to work a lot better.

And it’s self-reinforcing. Call it attention to appearance, or vanity, or whatever you like; the plain fact is, everyone desperately wants to de-Ruth as soon as possible after arrival in a OpenSim-based grid. OSGrid has limited resources for that, all of them freebies and all of them of the low quality and outdated technique we’ve come to associate with most freebies in SL. InWorldz has its share of those, too — but it also has an increasing supply of better items, imported by their creators on a nearly daily basis, at prices one has come to consider standard. Combine that with the fractional cost of owning your own sim in IW compared with SL (USD 75.00/month during open beta; no setup fee), and what was a trickle of buyers and sellers is becoming a steady stream. Builders of the more architectural sort (like me) love it, too: 256 meter dimensional limit, and 45,000 (!!!) maximum prims per region.

Auf wiedersehen, OSGrid

So… because I’ve been spending more time in IW than in SL, and no time at all (since May) in OSG, I decided to take LaloLand down from OSGrid.  No loss, however: I logged in with Imprudence, took fresh Exports of everything I’d built worth saving (with the intent to Import them to IW to sell), and made sure my OSG Inventory also had copies.  After logging out, I made a fresh backup of the whole sim (called an OAR file), then typed ‘quit’ in the command line.

~ poof ~

If circumstances change, or my mind does, I can always find a set of open coordinates on OSG’s website and plug the sim back in, and everything will be as it was before. I do regret I couldn’t export a copy of the tree soror Nishi gave me… but it’ll be there, next time.  Meanwhile, I can continue to go there, to explore and photograph.

Project X Beta

Remember that? I barely do… I log in about once a week to get the latest update of the software (if there is one), look around long enough to see that little if anything has changed and no one else is there, and log out. I don’t think the boys at Micazook took kindly to my honest appraisal of their efforts, because they’ve completely ignored the interview questions I emailed them on May 26. And here I thought I was being fair and evenhanded… But don’t take my word for it — here are the questions I emailed:

In the interview with Victor Keegan of The Guardian, you described Project X’s future as ‘the Wikipedia of the 3D internet’. Can you be more specific about how the process of claiming, building, and annotation will operate?

With regard to the above, Victor Keegan had this to say in his article:
He hopes to make money by having three levels of membership (homeless, visitors and residents) allowing anyone to buy and sell land, buildings, clothes etc or run clubs with his company getting a percentage.
Does that statement from October 2009 still have relevance to the plans for Project X as they stand in May 2010?

Buildings, furnishings, objects, clothing, etc., created by the users have been mentioned as important to the development of Project X. Do you plan to implement those creation tools for use ‘in-world’ in realtime? Or – as demonstrated by the Empire State Building screenshots in your blog – will modelling be done ‘outside the world’, and then imported into it?

Wikipedia includes thousands of entries about mythological and other fictional places on Earth. Will users be permitted to construct places which do not exist in reality, but which already have much metadata associated with them – for example, 221 Baker St. in London, Shangri-La, or Atlantis?

Will completely new, imaginative constructions from the minds of the users, without reference to either reality or canonical fiction, be permitted?

Wikipedia uses Creative Commons licensing for content contributed to it. How do Micazook intend to handle intellectual property rights for original 3D content created by your users for placement within Project X?

More generally: Project X currently has neither Terms of Service (ToS) nor End-User License Agreement (EULA). Are you looking at any other virtual worlds’ documentation for guidance? If so, which ones? And, when do you plan to implement ToS and/or EULA for Project X?

In an email to me, Michael said: ‘This isn’t a SL clone or another Twinity or There.’ He has also said, while chatting in-world (paraphrased from memory), ‘Project X will avoid SL’s mistakes.’ What do you consider those mistakes to be? What experience do the members of Micazook have in any other virtual worlds (including game worlds such as World of Warcraft), and what are your other sources for knowing which mistakes to avoid?

The thing is, I knew while composing those questions that Micazook wouldn’t have answers ready. I hoped: maybe the questions would provoke them into thinking about the answers. On the other hand, you just shouldn’t expect much from a hobby project.  Second Life began as a gee-whiz concept and some rudimentary software, too — but Philip & Co got some startup money so they could devote full time to it.  If that’s one of the “mistakes” Micazook thinks SL made, well… they’re sure not repeating it.

…and oh, by the way…

All of these transworld peregrinations have had another affect.  Not that anyone cares, and it should be obvious from my profile up there, but: I am no longer a furry.  Part of it is practicality: there are no furry avatars in OSGrid, and there are none yet in InWorldz, until someone already in the business in SL sniffs the money.  (To be fair, Wingless Emoto has imported his freebie vulpinoid av to IW, but to be honest, it’s painfully outdated and low-quality.)  But there’s a deeper reason as well, which might be phrased “been there, done that, bought the avatars”.

I said, way back when starting this blog, that I began as a fan of furry art, and learned tantalizing tidbits about the “lifestyle” while delving into the images.  I’ve also said, on many occasions, that I am not a roleplayer… and, frankly, the shallowness finally got to be cloying after a while.  I’d long since quit hanging out in specifically furry venues in SL, with their ritualized behaviors and expectations, preferring instead the kind of club where nobody cares what you look like as long as the tunes and the conversation are good.

Another way to put it goes like this: I got over going to science fiction conventions, too.  I still read the stuff, still love the genre and admire the best authors as serious writers, not as geeks… and I still appreciate furry art (including avatar design).  I just don’t feel the urge to be one any longer.

I’m still me — I always have been — I just don’t dress up as a cat any more.

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