Raising the Walls

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…

The occasion was SL7B, June 2010, when Philip (Linden) Rosedale, founder and Chief Ineffectual Figurehead of Linden Lab, gave not one but two speeches — partially because Mark (M Linden) Kingdon was simultaneously being shown the door.

From the transcript of Speech #1:

Second Life is this wonderful, beautiful city — once you’re in it and you’re having this amazing immersive experience, you’re just totally blown away by it. But the city itself is surrounded by huge walls and a moat. It’s like a medieval city. To actually get into it you have to invest an enormous amount of time and energy getting across that moat, and over the walls, and into this amazing new world of people inside that are waiting inside. And I think that in our excitement about the success of Second Life — in its amazing initial growth and the amazing things that you guys have done and that we’ve done together — we were getting ahead of ourselves a bit as a company and this is what we really talked about in this restructuring. We were building these sort of rickety — we were in many cases building these bridges and scaffoldings that sought to get different types of people across that moat and over those walls, whether we’re talking about international Residents, or the community welcome areas, or enterprise or education users — we’ve been sort of building these little, thin bridges that try and quickly get everybody kind of over that wall and into Second Life. And of course, you can understand why we’d do that, because it’s just so fantastic an experience once we can get people there.

But I think what we have to do — what I know is the kind of thinking that’s informing our planning process going forward — is ask whether instead we can stop doing those many, many peripheral, highly usage-specific things to get people in here — and instead just take a step back, look at the basic problems that we are all faced by, and by fixing them, fill the moat. Tear down the walls.

[emphasis added]

Now, fast forward to February of this year, when the Lab changed the Third-Party Viewer (TPV) Policy; specifically, this addition:

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.

… which basically means, to TPV developers, “If the Linden Viewer can’t do it, yours isn’t allowed to.” It also means “If the Lab decides to discontinue a pre-existing function, you TPV’ers must also cease offering it.” The first, immediately noticeable effect of the change was the permanent breaking of viewer tags — i.e., in a gathering of avatars you can no longer see, either by text or color-code, how few people are using the Linden viewer versus how many are using which TPV.

Since they couldn’t make it better, they made it impossible to see how many avvies had voted with their pixel feet.

Finally, we come to the Lab’s decision this week to remove the “-loginURI” function from (currently) development versions (and eventually, official release versions) of the Linden viewer. As analyzed and explained in understandable terms by Maria Korolov of Hypergrid Business, this simply means that the common user who has a presence in SL and any of the OpenSimulator worlds will not be able to use the official Linden viewer to access both.

(According to Oz “Mr Personality” Linden, it has something to do with the sub-license(s?) that grants permission to SL to use the Havok physics engine, which permission is not transferable to other grids.)

BFD, right?

Chances are, if you’re one of those thousands of avatars who visit SL and OS worlds, you use a third-party viewer anyway. Perhaps you use the same TPV for both… or perhaps, as in my own limited case, you use something like Firestorm for SL and something like Imprudence for anywhere else (see the remarks from Christa Lopes quoted in Maria’s blog).

I, for one, would love to have a single viewer that I can use in all worlds I visit – but it seems now that my habit of keeping two different TPVs on my desktop is going to be “the wave of the future” for all Transworlders, because of that SL policy change quoted above. To put it another way: soon, TPV developers will have to address the same decision the Phoenix/Firestorm group already have made: fork the viewer code into one that works in SL only, and one that works everywhere else but SL.

What all this boils down to is what Feline Slade said last month in her blog: “We are not the Customers the Lab wants.”

The Lab wants customers who blithely spend way too much money for pixel land they don’t really own, and for the “limited licenses” called “Linden dollars” to obtain virtual goods that neither the buyers nor sellers really own; customers who remain blissfully unaware that there are other virtual worlds Out There. The Lab cannot best their competition, so they remove any possible mention of it, including the ability to use their in-house viewer to get there.

Granted, everyone stopped listening to Philip years ago — his own employees as well as “his” Residents — but its obvious no walls are being torn down. They’re being built ever higher.

Soon, you’ll attain the stability you strive for, in the only way that it’s granted: in a place among the fossils of our time.

— “Crown of Creation”, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick (after John Wyndham)


2 years of InWorldz, Part II

…also known as…



Phlox Rox!

Typical party scene above, no big deal, right? Ah, but it was a very big deal — it was a live beta test of InWorldz’ new script engine (dubbed Phlox by its main author, Tranquility “Tranq” Dexler) on the Birthday sims.

Last week, I noted the gawdawful lag one had to fight to move anywhere, let alone see the displays, and lamented, “Too bad Phlox was too new to try out here…”  I won’t claim credit for putting the idea into the collected heads of the IWz folks, but they did do just that, this past Friday, and invited everyone to give it a try.

A week ago, the rubberbanding was on the order of “fours steps forward, three steps back, repeat”.  Flying was no better — although I should add that sim crossings have never been a problem for me in InWorldz, even pre-Phlox. After getting the word through Twitter that Phlox was being rolled into the Birthday regions, I decided to re-trace the path which winds down and around through all four sims, from Time Capsule Plaza to the party venue.  The result: NO rubberbanding, not once — not even in region B, where the number of visibly moving prims implies the heaviest script load.  I had the Stats window open while strolling down the lane; time dilation never went below 0.95, and stayed solidly at 1.00 once I got to the party space.

Mind you, my frame rate was down below 10 fps for most of that… but I attribute that to the number of textures my viewer was trying to load, not the server.  I can keep graphics set to Ultra almost anywhere without a problem (even in SL!), but this was stretching the limits — not of my hardware (AMD quad-core; Radeon HD 6800 vid card) but of the bandwidth and the viewer’s capacity to render it in a timely fashion.

Before I left, the party had drawn a peak of 37 avvies to the sim, many of whom brought additional scripted goodies to push Phlox’s envelope, with no noticeable increase in lag.  I’d call that success, and solid grounds for congratulations to Tranq, Legion, Jim, and whatever other InWorldz Code Monkehs were in on the Phlox project.

In short: Woot!

As of this morning, I don’t know when Phlox will be officially declared “out of beta” and rolled to the remaining InWorldz servers… but I’m anxious to have it working at home, as well as out in the commercial regions — it’ll be so much easier to go shopping.

Anyway… I took advantage of the new ease of movement to record three more displays at InWorldz’ 2nd Birthday before the sims come down:

Prime Radiant, by Miso Susanowa

Ophion’s Egg, by Alizarin Goldflake

… and this quietly pastoral scene promoting Mooville, the land owned by BeBe and John Mahogany (in the region called Soda Springs):


This is usually the part of the blog wherein I make some attempt at editorial comment, and the subject of “proprietary” revisions to OpenSimulator code certainly is ripe with possibilities. One camp adamantly insists that all improvements to OS server code be folded back into the overall effort; those are the ones who chastise InWorldz for not staying “in the fold”.  The other camp points out — correctly, IMO — that the folks who own and run InWorldz are not sheep.

As far as I know, there is no contractual obligation, either implied or explicit, to “give back” when using open-source code under license.  Whether or not there’s an ethical obligation… well, let me put is this way: righteous indignation and strident insistence that my behavior conform to yours for no more compelling reason than you said so is not effective persuasion.

Meanwhile, instead of give-back, I consider what InWorldz is doing with Phlox as “paying it forward,” to their customers — that is, people like me who are pleased to pay them indirectly for the work they do to improve conditions on the regions we lease…. people like me who appreciate every minute of the code-grinding that got them the results we then enjoy.

It will, no doubt, be interesting to see what the InWorldz team decides to do with Phlox beyond implementing it in their own world… Will they offer it up to the larger OS community?  Will they sell it to Linden Lab, who sorely need something like it, but who really ought not to get it for free?  Whatever they decide, I trust them to always have the best interests of their own world, and the people in it, on their minds.


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:


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.