Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Partings

So, My Dear Friends, we have arrived at the end of another April. Winter has left and Spring is in! And as winter goes, so go many other things.

Lots of news agencies. Goodbye SLNN and Reuters and all those others who found out too late that Second Life is about a different kind of story. Or perhaps just not interested. To them our bickering were like the mews and howls of Centralia, PA. Interesting and strange to those big guys in New York or LA, but dull after many tellings. Seriously guys, we get it. Your entire town is rotting underground from massive coal fires. Move on already! Did you hear about swine flu and Obama's visit to where ever he was? Now that's news.

Not to mention that grabbing an audience is difficult. Choosing to run a news blog outside of Second Life is an uphill battle. Massive advertising is required to get attention inworld, and heaven help you if you don't keep your hands on the pulse and fail to update often. Or if you miss a big story. Or neglect to report one. Or neglect to go outside of 'looking up LL's blog'.

Running a newspaper inside of SL is as difficult. You get all the burden of collecting and editing stories with the challenge of cramming it into a notecard or prim book. The prim book may or may not rezz. People won't wait the two or three minutes for the pretty pictures to load completely. Large notecards (and large they will become if they are truly reporting Second Life) also are a pain to deal with. Once again, attention has to be earned and getting paid is one of those luxuries up there with my desire to own a house on the shore. Not having income kills everything dead fast.

I mentioned before that looking at a map of the grid is akin to watching the stars at night. Thousands upon thousands of islands dot the scape. If each of those had only one avatar that regularly logged on and used them, that's thousands and thousands of avatars. Each with their own little cliques and circles. Some stories may unify them all (such as banks buckling under or the openspace debacle) but each has their own story to tell and stories that they alone are interested in.

A metro area divides up into towns and cities around the center city. A city divides up into neighborhoods. Neighborhoods divide up into blocks. Each has their own cares and worries. That's why the Inquirer has special sections for Jersey and Delaware and the suburbs. It brings relevant news to its target demographic. Attempting to do the same in Second Life is a time consuming, if nigh impossible, task. Furries and War sims are two that come to mind (and indeed, were often highlighted in the former SL Herald). There's all manner of roleplay communities. There's the sailing sims. The art community. The devotees of Nunchuck. SL Pride. And so on. What a hassle to organize all that and the hottest stories off the Lindens and general community on top of that! And why bother going to a news source for that when you can easily gossip with the neighbors (after all, how big are some of these communities? probably not large enough to not notice what their left hand is doing) and check the Linden's own blog for news. Why bother?

Goodbye, dear news agencies.

Ginsu Linden left, and Robin Linden left just this February. That's the last of the Ancient Elders (the founding Lindens from before 2005 or so) and most of the current cast are the new guys like M. I find it interesting that I've been in Second Life longer than most, if not all, of the current Linden Lab staff. These new Lindens are forging their own path and forging their own new Second Life.

Anytime you shake up the management, the outcome results in changes. Lincoln's election resulted in a civil war and civil rights (at least, right to not be enslaved). Steve Jobs electrified Apple. My own university's late president, upon taking up his position as president, transformed our poor school from 'that ugly orange brick blot north of Market street' into an increasingly awesome college (albeit still ugliest in the universe, alas, some things never change). And with his own passing (ah, yes, my university's president, another victim of April), that ugly orange brick blot is going to take another turn. Hopefully for the better, as I'd prefer my degree to flow from an actual existing institution. Embarrassment would abound to explain how it came from an extinct and dead school.

Ginsu left, Robin left, Philip left. Torley's still around but he hasn't really been in the forefront for some time and is probably quietly churning out tutorials. Didn't he used to be a very public face to LL? I miss those days. Torley, for all his faults, presented a sappy happy image of LL and SL in general. And now? More or less invisible. There's Blue, too. He's around and ... um... doing things. I never really looked too close at what Blue does. He always seems to be around, though. A case of a Jack of all Trades. One of those Liaison style Lindens. Gosh, there were a million of those.

Also, you could argue that Philip is still around, just leveled up. The personal touch is gone. When he was CEO, he was THE guy in CHARGE. He seemed to have a bigger impact and greater direct control over things. And personable to boot. For as often as people would gripe about the direction of SL and blame Philip for everything, no one really hated him. Now... we have M. Like a minted officer out of MI6, M gives me this feeling of being more than he pretends to be. Oh, there's the funny 'diary entries' and 'fireside chats' about the brave new world he has had placed upon his shoulders and his follies with having a box stuck on his avatar's head, but it seems forced to me. I suppose he's a better politician.

And Robin? Hell if I know her direct replacement. Ginsu, too. I think that's another thing that's leaving with them. Recognition. Robin and Phil used to come in and greet us mere mortals, and in doing so grew a special kind of fondness from the populace. The new guys? Well, they do have their office hours, but those are supposed to be official business. Those get derailed, too, and hijacked by someone or other into some inane unrelated topic. And you only get a solid hour with the Linden in question, sometimes only that solid hour for the entire week. That special Aura is gone.

Add in that in our ever growing world, where the vast vast majority will never ever see a Linden ever, and the Lindens have pretty much become 'Those Guys'. You know, the guys at work who are really high above you on the hierarchy. You never ever see them but you do get emails from them and always with that faux kindness to a message laced with urgency or doom or something serious. That's the Lindens these days. Not an integral part of our world, but bigwigs far removed from us.

They are different from us. They are not like us.

Goodbye, dear Ginsu. And the Lindens who left before you.

Adult content is being herded off into a super special awesome Adult Only continent. It's official. You can read it on the main blog. If you have adult rated and adult themed (I like the 'adult' euphemism, by the way, I wonder if other adult things like the military sims or big business headquarters will have to move) then you better have the wagons packed and ready to roll. March off into your ghettos! This is SL, so do it with a smile. Take your sex and drugs off our grid, off this brave new world of ours.

And you'll be blinded out, too. Unless someone is age verified and has adult content enabled on search, the citizens of the main grid won't be able to find you. Given the previous verification fiasco, not too many people will be keen to register and have their hand stamped. In fact, given the only reason to do so will be to access adult content I can imagine it to become a stigma of sorts, similar to someone purchasing Viagra. Sure, it's for your pulmonary hypertension! We all know what kind of tension you're relieving, wink wink.

With this enforcement, we also enforce fraud. Heaven help you if you mismark your parcel, for you will be reported and action will be taken. There's a reason it's called a reservation. I can easily imagine LL stripping the offending content off your parcel if they find it misflagged. It might end up being abused by the vengeful like any other bannable reportable offense that's been implemented since the dawn of time. And what about the home? People tend to place home to have sex in them. If 'Mature' is a code word for 'PG sim with cursing allowed and nothing else', then by definition such homes will have to be 'Adult' rated.

In a way, I can't wait to see the result. Will there be a mass exodus, leaving LL holding the tattered remains of the original mainland continents, the tattered PG/Mature remains of ad farms, mini malls, and Mole roads (remember that Landlords will have to move if their renters are partaking in activities of the night)? The occasional art gallery will thrown in there too somewhere, I suppose. It seems such a case will result in the life of the grid moving off center stage behind the wings.

Imagine the seedy gritty underworld of the adult themed Second Life. A virtual Big Easy where anything goes! No worries about offending some silly age player or RL teen cause we're all over 18 here! People might register as Adult Only just to be free of the Disney-esque restrictions being imposed on the mainland. What would you report them for, labeling their land too high? Are you going to set up some third party regulatory body that will label each parcel without the owner's consent, like the movie ratings in real life? Because the main grid will indeed become like Disney land, full of art galleries and infohubs and fancy builds put up by whoever. Completely vanilla.

Considering the speculation that LL is merging in the teen grid (a useless gesture considering that de facto teens can register on SL merely by lying on a few of the sign-up questions for a freebie account alone), the old mainland will become Teen Grid 2.0. You know, earlier I stated that stigma may accompany those who verify, but perhaps the opposite will be true. Perhaps not verifying will label you as a stupid teen or kid. In any event, I can easily imagine the new adult continent as the most lively of the two partitions of the main grid if only because, and let's be honest with ourselves, a good majority are in Second Life for the mature content. Whether it's empty sex or a desire to find someone, the right one, fancy builds and nifty contests and events are more or less secondary to that. Maybe even integrated with it, a good date might be to a live concert.

Eventually, Linden Lab will crack down on the new continent. Teens will get verification through their parents, they can already get their parents to sign up and pay for game like World of Warcraft, and the Lindens will have to move to prevent the children from accessing adult content again. The true end will occur when OpenSims takes off and allows everyone to build their own grid. This world of ours will shatter into isolated universes that in all likelihood will be forever cut off from each other. There could be a 'wood between the worlds' concept a la Naria, but you'd run into the adult/teen demon again, because Linden Lab would have to monitor the gates to the Adult worlds and frankly why bother? It could end up as nothing more than a phone book, where you can look up which grid is what. That way, LL is not responsible for anything except the server code and their own Disney world, if they can manage to hold onto that. Can you imagine LL publishing a metaversal yellow pages?

Goodbye, dear Adult Content.

The Lindens themselves put up a Memorial garden for everyone who died in RL or just decided to get out of Dodge City. As I said a few days ago, it's kind of tasteful, if a bit bare and focused on a few. This was set up last year in April and now it's back again, as if the Lindens too realize that April is a cruel month. I think there's more to mourn than just those of our friends who have left and never returned.

And yet, onward we march.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Let's hope the lilacs of Second Life bred this April are beautiful.

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