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Community outreach: Going back in time, to an era before IM

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a recent disturbance in the force for the inhabitants of the place they call Second Life, and it’s all about money.

But that’s not what this post is about (I’m not that interested in the internal politics of a single VW/MMO/whatever, until/unless they have wider general meaning / effect).

No, this post is about Linden Lab’s actions following the uproar, where (among other initiatives) they held an open meeting within SL to discuss the issue, with the company CEO present to do a big Q&A session. Since LL has been touting SL as a great place to hold meetings – better than real life – and someone conveniently posted a transcript, I thought it would be interesting to see what an LL-run meeting looked like, under pressure.

The simple answer (if you glance at that transcript, about 50% of which is noise), is: chaotic.

NB: I used to use SL a long time ago, but I haven’t even logged-in for almost a year, and I’ve never owned land there or sold anything. So although I track SL quite closely out of interest, my knowledge of SL is very scattered. Although I feel for the users, and think the handling of this situation stinks, I also think that LL are probably doing the right thing with OpenSims at the moment – they are a commercial company, with all sorts of issues right now, going into a major recession, and servers are an extremely dangerous asset to have too many of.

Format

They ATTEMPTED to copy the standard approach of IRC that’s been around for many years now, where one person is nominated the Questioner (everyone sends their questions privately to them), and one person is the Answerer (who only responds to questions sent to them from the Questioner). Except, IRC has built-in mechanisms (really simple ones) to make this *actually work*, by preventing anyone EXCEPT the Q and the A from speaking out loud (they can only private-message each other).

[11:42] Guy Linden shouts: Please IM your questions to Patch Linden so they can be addressed. Please dont just chat out, keep open chat to a minimum so everyone can see the Q&A

For SL, sadly, this didn’t work:

[11:47] Rosie Barthelmess: Can you guys please follow the suggested and requested format and keep questions going through Patch so we can actually see Jack’s answers?

[11:47] Boaz Sands: Is there a way to mute all but Patch and Jack

…and it went on, and on, and on…

[11:50] pup Witherspoon shouts: anyone else notice that the fools cluttering up the chat are the same ones wearing a ton of lag producing prim.. thank you for caring about the rest of us by ignoring the requests to send your questions to Patch and take off your primmy crap.. I do love a good lagfest of inane questions while trying to hear logical answers

And anyway .. what if you can’t IM Patch? Not all SL users are masters of the SL client…

[11:47] Dave Sparrow shouts: jack i cant get pathfinders profile so ill ask….. why arent linden labs accepting this has all been a scam like we know it has, apologising to us all for it, and moving on? as we would be willing to move forward if Linden Lab admits to it and rectifies it

[11:51] Sammy Edelweiss shouts: we would send to patch if we could find him! the lag is terrible

[12:26] Naughty Dreamscape: I crash when I IM patch

it only took 45 minutes of complaints and repated instructions before someone, finally, had a really useful suggestion:

[12:21] Kitty Barnett shouts: for those people finding the banter annoying: close local/main chat history and set yourself Busy and you’ll only see Linden chat and noone else

But hey, when you’re coping with the chaos of a meeting in SL, even the Linden Lab staff can forget the basics:

[12:16] Terrell Merryman shouts: Jack, can you shout your response?

(in the previous response, Jack forgot to “shout”, which meant not everyone got to hear it)

It would seem that Linden has some way to go in educating their users before entering the chats. Usually when people run distributed meetings, they supply instructions to all users at the start (Linden might want to take note of this):

[11:51] Sera Lok shouts: just do a search in people or all for his profile… it will take a bit to come up, but be patient… :)

[11:51] Primby Bloch shouts: search isnt working, neither is land tools, cant even see the sim next door

[11:52] Dee Linden shouts: click Patch’s name in Local Chat tab of Communication window, folks.. that’ll bring up his profile (scroll up to the last thing Patch said and click his name)

[12:02] DarkShadowSL Sodwind: patch where are you cant find you for sending IM

Part-way through, Jack asked if it was going OK. Brave question:

[12:19] Jack Linden shouts: are we doing okay out there? people seeing the Qs and As?
[12:20] Rosie Barthelmess shouts: Q&A’s plus ten tons of irrelevant crap from people who can’t follow rules, but yes Jack, thank you.
[12:20] Sera Lok shouts: just hard to see your chat among all these people chatting uncontrollably
[12:20] Neil Robinson shouts: can everyone who isnt Jack PLEASE STFU or chat amgonst yourselves in the CONCIERGE GROUP CHAT so we can actually HEAR the man we all came to LISTEN TO

…and so, some innovation, in the world of SL meetings:

[12:21] Jack Linden shouts: ***** perhaps if i add some asterisks, i’ll be eaiser to see.

Whoa!

A good question, an interesting answer

And here we have the million-dollar question that has plagued SL since it’s creation: how are you going to keep your business going long-term when the tech upon which you depend is so weak?

(not that I have anything against SL tech per se – it’s just that it consistently seems to lack many of the things that are needed as “basic” core features that you would always design-in from day one if you had any idea what you were doing; I’ve heard that this is because the original tech was never intended to be much more than a prototype, a throwaway-first-version, hence it didn’t have the features that would obviously be needed (?). Fair enough)

…but that doesn’t make the nasty problems go away for poor LL. LL has always appeared – from my ill-informed perspective as an outsider – to be a triumph of marketing and revenue model that has succeeded despite crappy tech. Compare/contrast it to There.com, which appeared to have great tech, but never really managed to take off on the product/marketing side.

[12:00] Cindy Bolero: Cap the agents and scripts on the OSs to keep them from commercial use

[12:03] Margot LaSalle shouts: neither does tier raise act as a solution. Use TECHNICAL THROTTLES to address the problem for good. Just because we will be paying more money, the servers will not start behaving all of a sudden, nor the abuse will disappear. Set LIMITS, don’t raise tiers.

[12:06] Jack Linden shouts: Re. agent caps.. first of all, we’d have to add that via development, but the main point is that agents alone are also not the only aspect of load. It might help, but then 1 agent with many scripted attachments can be as high load as 10 with less

[12:11] Patch Linden shouts: =====> Suppose that Linden Labs were to decide to allow truly “low-use” water sims to stay at the current rate, hypothetically….would there be any way to clamp their resource use, such as max frame time or max packets, to ensure compliance?

[12:12] Jack Linden shouts: That’s a great question. We do not currently have a way to do that, to support the genuine ‘open space’ usage with hard limits built into the simulator, but we’ve certainly been seeing in the feedback that some people still want that use. The sailing community for example, who are the classic example of Openspace use.

The idea of having a VW tech where the company’s core business is renting resource … and having no way to track the resource usage and directly attribute it (in detail) to cause … is terrifying, really. Not to mention the other issue raised there – that they apparently have no built-in capping scheme (which if true would hilight some Really Big Questions about how they prevent rogue scripts from bringing down everything around them).

…which is about all the intersting conversation that took place. There was a lot of ad-hoc negotiation going-on with Jack trying to persuade the customers that they should accept his raising of prices, and the customers trying to persaude Jack to let them have more for less money – but that’s all to be expected.

Summary: when holding a meeting in SL, give up and use IRC instead

In the end, the whole format of the meeting was deeply disappointing:

[11:43] Melody Regent shouts: /if you want Jack to answer your questions people, please IM Patch. All uestions will go thru him and follow that format. That will keep this easy to follow and constructive. for all 300+ people here. Have the respect for the rest of us trying to follow the chanels

Um, so … what was the point of holding this in an open chat environment, if you won’t allow people to open chat while you do it? I mean … seriously: what was the point?

[11:46] Morgaine Dinova shouts: Transparency++. A public list of questions submitted is easy to implement.

Yes … if you’re NOT going to use the traditional, highly efficient, tools for running an online many-to-one-to-many meeting, perhaps you could at least make use of the platform you DO choose (scriptable) to add features like this. Perhaps?

[11:48] Elanthius Flagstaff: This would be so much better in IRC
[12:58] Delicious Demar shouts: it was helpful – if an akward format. thanks for your time Jack

Score 1 to IRC; score -1 to PR for using Second Life for meetings.

(for those who don’t know – yes, IRC would have done this meeting many times better; IRC is also infamous as one of the worst pieces of hacked-together half-arsed communication technology in mass use, it’s *horrible*. But it’s better than this.)

Overall, it seems to have been really very poor for a form of public discussion. I’m surprised that Linden is still running such chaotic official meetings (especially on a relatively high-profile PR topic) when they’ve put so much time into telling people that SL is a great place to hold meetings – anyone present at that meeting was surely given more than enough evidence to convince them that SL is about the worst way you could possibly host a meeting (obviously, they CAN be run better than that in SL, much much better). Not good :(.