Going Nonconcurrent

A little heat, and less light, was generated this past week by a fluff piece in GamesIndustry.biz — ostensibly an interview with Linden Lab’s CEO Rod Humble and Emily Short, founder of LittleTextPeople (which gaming company LL recently nommed); ostensibly about “one of three new Linden Lab products to be announced this year”.

Yes, I know — and agree! — that the Lab should be fixing what’s broken in the product they’ve had for ten full years (Steller Sunshine’s 10th Rezday was 13 March, as, reportedly, was Philip “Who?” Rosedale-Linden’s). Maybe they will… and maybe the horse will learn to sing. Regardless, it may also be a rare-for-the-Lab example of business sense to build new baskets to put some of their eggs in: products which aren’t mired in 10 years of legacy code, patches upon patches upon patches, and which might attract the kind of users who need their hand (or paw) held more than Second Life provides; products which are more ~ahem~ game-like.

Most of the talk about that “article” on my Twitterstream, however, was about the new signup statistics Rod dropped into the middle of it:

“We managed to grow the new users significantly: they bumped up by well in excess of 40 per cent, and over the holiday period we had over 20,000 new people sign up a day. Now, that’s not Facebook numbers, but 20,000 a day…. that’s a lot, right?”

… coupled with an observation I first saw made by Botgirl: concurrency has not gone up as a result of the noob surge. The best source I know for those statistics is a pair of ancillary pages at Tateru Nino’s blog, Dwell On It. Let’s have a look:

First thing we notice is a natural rise and fall of concurrency vs time of day, as “prime-time” hours for most users creep westward across the face of the planet. I think it’s safe to assume that reported times are in SLT, a.k.a. Pacific; the peaks centered on 1600 hours reflect the Western Hemisphere membership (4 pm Pacific = 7pm Eastern, right after dinner) coming online as the Europeans begin to say good night (1600 PST = midnight GMT).  This, along with the changes in slope of the curve at different times, illustrates that median concurrency is the best number to look at, as it takes in the entire planet without respect to timezones… and Tateru has a number of different visualizations to aid us.

That’s an interesting one: median concurrency by day over the past year. You can even see the lack of logins on Christmas Day — but the feature I want to emphasize is that, in the last year, only twice has median daily concurrency reached 54,000.

Tateru also has, on the page labeled “(testing)”, longer-term looks at concurrency that span 6 years — three of them, at various grades of analysis (day/week/month). Here’s the weekly:

Notice that the center of the median band hovers at around 40,000, and has done so for approxmately two years. It had already slid down to that level from the all-time peak (around January 2009), when I mentioned it in July, 2010.

Now let’s look at those signup numbers. Rod was correct that the “20,000 per day” occurred during December 2011 — a qualification that seems to have been lost in the Twittersauce, so to speak:

And there was another spike right around Hallowe’en, but look how they’ve fallen off since. Vampires are sooooo last year…

One more graph from Tateru — total sign-ups over the last six months:

A fairly steady increase from ~25.5 million on October 1, 2011, to ~28.25 million on March 1, 2012; the bump in October/December is barely noticable at that scale. For the sake of keeping the math simple, let’s call it 3 million over six months, or 500,000 new accounts per month.

And yet, concurrency hasn’t moved much either way from 40,000 in the last two years or more.

Where are those new avatars???

Most of them, probably, are brand-new accounts frustrated with the complications of navigating inworld, or disappointed with the results of whatever enticed them to join, or who just don’t find Second Life to their liking once they’ve been there. So much for the alleged improvements in the New User Experience…

Some of them are probably alts of established Residents, created for any number of reasons: replacements for Resi’s who felt the need for a fresh start with a new persona; mannequins for clothing designers who need an opposite gender to try on new creations; “downline” for pyramid-scheme games like Bloodlines and Tiny Empires; RP characters kept separate from the “main”; or just for fun… Some of them might be “scripted agents”, the Lab’s euphemism for “bots”.

Some might be replacing me, and others like me: people whose priorities have changed, and don’t log in as often, or for as long, as they used to; people who have moved partially or totally to other grids; people who (unlike me) have ceased logging in altogether: avatars who have “gone nonconcurrent”.

Bottom line: The rate of replacement has done no better than equal the rate of attrition, with no change in total numbers of avatars inworld at a given time, for two years and more.

Is it possible that the niche market that is Second Life has been saturated? If so, it’s a good thing for the Lab’s investors — who, after all, are still looking for ROI — that Linden Lab is developing new products for different audiences. The audience they have now isn’t growing.


Content for Nuthin’

…and your chicks for free

(no guarantee that they’re really chicks, though…)

Heiliger Scheiß! …nearly two months since the last blog! But hey — priorities change, and the organic mode now offers benefits I was nearly convinced had passed me by for the last time… thank Clive for that!

Anyway, I’m late to the party for this one, too, but:

This past week, the latest gaffe from Teh Lab got a bunch of people’s knickers twisted. Was it intentionally ebil?  Nahhhhh… it was, however, as poorly thought-out as usual.

A cynic (for instance, me) might say that “content for nuthin’ ” is the closest thing LL has had to a corporate culture — let alone a business plan — since Steller Sunshine rezzed the Beanstalk. What better evidence than the Prince of ADD wandering off to start another company based on the same principle? By my lights, it’s so engrained in how and why they do stuff that they’re simply incapable of thinking in a different direction.

So, maybe they were oblivious to the possible reaction from some Resis who, in various partial pressures: have already made a name as an indie blogger about SL, paid or not; are paid writers in other venues; pay writers in other venues. Indignation was heavy upon the land.

On the other side of the argument, @Sir_Winnie spoke up in the Twitterstream for the many up-and-comers who would gladly take exposure to an audience the size of LL’s in lieu of payment. Light-bulb Moment: “Calling All Bloggers” wasn’t really calling those bloggers: the ones who have already become successful on thier own and who were, predictably, the most indignant.

I’m well acquainted with “the exposure market”, on the fiction side; I’ve even been published (under a different name than this one). There are thousands of literary webzines Out There, each with a dedicated staff and an ever-changing crowd of authors and poets who submit in hope of no more compensation than to see their words judged worthy of reproduction. And of course, there is an online socety to go with it: workshops and forums where (mostly) polite peer-review winnows some of the chaff, and where Calls for Submissions very much like Linden Lab’s frequently appear.

A few of you may recall that I’m also a gatekeeper in the exposure market. Twice a year, it’s my turn on the rotating staff of TQR: Total Quality Reading to read short stories that have already made the first cut, and review them publically. I’ve been doing that gig for around 6 years, and before that I edited poetry and short fiction for a couple of other ‘zines (neither of which is still “in print”). Folks like me don’t get paid, either… on the other hand, it’s nearly as much of a rush to write an acceptance email as it is to receive one. It’s about exposure on the publishing side, too: you hope your ‘zine gets more readers as the quality of what you’ll print rises, which in turn attracts more accomplished writers, etc…

Kinda like blogging, y’know?

There can be an awful lot of slush to wade through before you find the gems, though. If people actually submit to LL for editing and publication, I cringe in sympathy with the poor Linden who has to read it all and decide if any of it is usable.

Oh, and… if you’ve got that Dire Straits earworm now? You’re welcome ;)


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.