Le rouge et le noir

Now that my Dazzle induced snow blindness has abated, I realise it is too easy to poke fun of the whole thing, and that doing so misses the point utterly. The Dazzle team’s total obliviousness to all theories of ergonomics and interface development and their utterly amateurish take on widget and icon graphics makes them such an easy target, one might easily lose sight (no pun intended this time) of the one fact that should be central to all discussions of the Second Life client interface (and which the Dazzle revamp does absolutely nothing to address) : it is about content.

Second Life You-Know-Where is content.

The client is only a toolbox to access and manipulate that. It’s main problem (all right — besides being horribly inconsistent) is to aspire at being a full fledged, self contained OS-like application, when it should be more like a browser : a window to a world outside your computer, connecting it to and integrating it into your computer. Basically, we are talking modularity and OS integration. I for one would like to know why SL does not allow the transfer into and out of the world of event data (beyond copy and paste of plain text) ; I mean, ever heard of vCalendar / iCalendar, LL ? Or why login does not make use of OS features (password store on Windows, keychain on OS X) ? Or why the client doesn’t even use OS native text editing widgets (I never noticed that before switching to a Mac, because SL Y-K-W‘s widgets are modelled on Windows’ — but in fact, SL Y-K-W is the only app on my Mac disdaining to use the system spellchecker, or stubbornly refusing to advance the cursor from word to word with Option-arrow) ? Or why we have to download a texture to edit it, then re-upload it after doing so, instead of integrating off-world editors ? I could keep going on, but I think you get my drift… I’m ready to bet client development would profit greatly from such a paradigm shift, concentrating on the logical structure of the browser and the best way to make it work with content, instead of wasting manpower on re-developing OS features. And so, of course, would we all.

I’m not naive enough to believe this is more than a pipe dream. But one is allowed to dream, don’t you think ? Especially when one sees what astonishing things content creators manage to do despite the bad state of the tools they are using. We can’t remember that often enough, because, when all is said and done, user content is one of the things that makes Second Life unique, and immersive, and addictive. The other is the range of customisations possible on our avatars. Shapes, skins, fashion ; no virtual world offers opportunities quite like these, and there is more to it than glitz — far more. Because, as my friend Rick van der Wal once rightly said, the real interface to the virtual is your avatar. The software is but the conduit.

Nothing could serve as a better memento of this in my mind than CodeBastard Redgrave‘s wonderful Boudoir Rouge photo series — and not only since I had the undeserved honour of posing for her among women smarter and more creative than I am by far (she’ll scold me for saying this — Codie isn’t just one wonderful and gifted SL Y-K-W photographer, she’s also one the most generous and kind persons I have ever met — besides being ebullient, raucously funny, and a very smart person to boot). I’ll quote her verbatim on her series :

The Boudoir Rouge series is an ode to beauty of all the great ladies of the metaverse, mostly those who influenced my Second Life You-Know-Where. This serie portrays women avatars I admire greatly because they are all smart, creative, and lovely. Boudoir Rouge is not a who’s who of Second Life’s most popular girls; it is a very intimate and personal road I’m following. Sometimes meeting with people I never met before, or sometimes they are good old friends who had a huge impact on my own second life, and some other times its people that inspires not only my own Second Life You-Know-Where but your own too.

To me, in creating such beautiful content by capturing the beauty of the real interface to our world — the avatars we have painstakingly crafted and lavished so much care and love on — Codie’s series embodies much of the double essence of Second Life You-Know-Where. Don’t take my word for it. Go take a break from interface rants, crashing woes, and resentment at Linden Lab. Let her pictures (Flickr slideshow over here, album view over here) soothe you. If nothing else, it might provide a shred of much needed aesthetic relief. And if you are lucky, they will help you renew your commitment to the one part of marketing spin Second Life You-Know-Where is truly about : Our imagination.

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4 thoughts on “Le rouge et le noir

  1. Noooo! Don’t stop looking at the client interface just yet :P But after this I’m done ;) Just posted on how the interface could help create a more immersive experience from a gamers point of view.

    Great post though and you are right, the ‘game’ is made by the content, people included :) -clicks to codies BR page-

  2. @dandellion : I have in fact resigned myself to the client being entirely alien to my computer except for deigning to run on it (without crashes, but I’m using Barney Boomslang’s Mac port of the Nicholaz viewer — fingers crossed) since I have switched — not that it felt tightly integrated before, but it did at least superficially conform to OS conventions.

    What I was trying to say is that I find it absurd how LL is investing manpower in developing and maintaining code that essentially duplicates things modern OS do already, and much better at that (I know this for sure for OS X and even for Windows, and I’m sure it is true of Linux too). This binds resources and complicates the code, I’d dare say, making it even more difficult to focus on what the application should actually be about. I mean, who is able to think about content if you are trying to debug editing field contextual menus ?

    @Digado : The last sentence of the post originally read « And never mention Dazzle in front of me again » :) Seriously, though, I know I’m on record with my own misgivings on the SL Y-K-W interface, but I was very loath to talk about Dazzle because I felt that, matters of taste aside, it was entirely missing the point : SL Y-K-W needs a revamped interface logic, not a new client skin.

    I think it shows in the somewhat terse and non-committal original post, and if Grace hadn’t nettled me, I would have left it at that. When I tested the First Look viewer, it turned out to be ridiculously easy to poke fun at Dazzle, simply because it’s such a horribly amateurish attempt at revamping the interface. Except for the new consolidated chat and media line, everything simply sucks : the horrible snow storm colour scheme that makes icons smudge and transparency pointless ; the crude and inconsistent lighting scheme and design of the interface widgets ; the icons straight out of « icon painting for the rest of us, chapter 1 » ; the conceptual flaws, like floating buttons and the confused toolbar button metaphors (why is there a status indicator on the chat line button instead of a text and symbol, but not on the other buttons ; they all work essentially the same, toggling a floater ?) ; in short, the blatant disregard for everything that OS and application designers have learned since Xerox PARC… it didn’t even warrant a blog post. Even so, I felt I had just tried to get some cheap laughs.

    Happily, this overlapped with Codie publishing new pictures of her series, mine among them. I had been following the series and admiring her handiwork long before she asked me to pose for her, but it was only today it struck me that what fascinated me about it and what disgusted me about the interface discussion and my cheap jabs at Dazzle was the same : content should have pride of place, and we (LL and pundits alike) sometimes lose sight of this.

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