[RESOLVED] Codename Pitchfork

Sometimes, the weirdest things just happen.

Here I am, minding my own business in SL after a nice afternoon spent, well, actually, this is neither here nor there — minding my own business as I said, when this AV IMs me out of the blue. The conversation, if you want to call it that (and you will have to forgive the dazzling display of esprit that makes up my side ; I was a tad surprised) went like this :

[Name of avatar deleted for privacy reasons]
[15:14] Anonymous: don’t mute me plz don’t mute me
[15:14] Anonymous: their after me
[15:14] Anonymous: just listen to me just 1 min
[15:15] Anonymous: PLZE!
[15:15] Anonymous: their after me
[15:15] Rheta Shan: Err…
[15:15] Anonymous: thye will get me any min now
[15:15] Anonymous: u hav to let the world know
[15:16] Anonymous: SHIT
[15:16] Rheta Shan: Is this some kind of joke ?
[15:17] Rheta Shan: Hey ?
[15:19] Rheta Shan: Right, very funny, really…
[15:19] Second Life: User not online – message will be stored and delivered later.

Oh great, I thought, more to file under « another day in Second Life ». Shee-eesh.

Which would pretty much have concluded the whole episode (and made for a very poor blog post, if at all) if my subsequent spring cleaning hadn’t uprooted a notecard in my inventory I’m sure I never put there. Yes, I know there’s no way it could have gotten there without me agreeing to it. In fact, it should not be there, at all. But it is. Which, all things considered, is only half as weird as its content. If not less.

But read for yourself :

From: Community Management Task Force
Attn.: All Task Force personnel
Re: Assessment of current community management effort

EYES ONLY

I am aware of a certain level of worry as to the continuation of the community management effort directed by our Task Force now that Linden Research faces the advent of a new CEO. Although Mark Kingdon’s choice of avatar name seems to denote a particular propensity for intelligence type operations, the new CEO is an unknown quantity. A measure of worry in an operation as sensitive as ours is understandable.

To state it up front: I have received the most reliable assurances that operations of the Task Force will be continued independently of the change of regime. The Task Force is considered a success, and its operation will not be at the disposal of the new CEO.

Looking back at past operations, this is the logical thing to do: from its inception, the Task Force has been both resourceful and effective in exploring shadow community management strategies with a minimum of in-house personnel. Despite not faring well under financial review, our very first operation, codenamed Pravda, is still considered a tremendous success, firmly establishing a body of criticism that has been shied by most community members for being unacceptable, whatever factual truth it might contain.

With newer concepts in place, the Task Force is currently in a position to play on the natural dynamics of the fractured user community in a way that is far more cost effective. This has been duly noted and, far from suspending operations for the transition, continuation of codename Pitchfork has been greenlighted.

A first assessment of the preliminary phase of codename Pitchfork shows great promise. Injecting the ARC “feature” into the viewer code and making this public through the developper channels (SL Dev mailing list and early RC releases) has surpassed all our expectations. Without adding much on our side (though codename Pravda does contribute), the community has fractured over the signification of the measure, with prominent bloggers both hailing and damning the new “feature”. The superb effectiveness of the channel also is proven by the fact that of the technical articles maximising coverage of the “feature”, not one has even touched on its peculiar implementation.

The main deployment phase will include :

  • getting Torley to do a video tutorial: “render cost lag explained, and how to get rid of it in 11 easy ways”, possibly with a cheering theme song;
  • implementing client side visual muting features; these do not actually have to be functional – it’s the availability that counts as far as we are concerned. Please coordinate with the Dazzle team for best integration into the new UI;
  • distributing updated welcome packs on one or more orientation areas containing a quest HUD and sword to new users before sending them off to kill as many red ARCs as possible (budget for “kill” bounties has been approved; sword and HUD still in testing). This will be declared as a new user experience program. Should “M” ask, we are trying to make inroads into the MMORPG market.

Later phases are still sketchy, although the parallel launch of several other “features” is planned. Further updates will be given on a need-to-know basis.

[Updated at 1:05am Pacific] It has come to our attention that this memo has been distributed to unauthorised persons, at least three of which are not Linden Research personnel. A redesign of our distribution system is considered in the near future to prevent incidents of this kind; as a stop gap measure, memos will only be provided in unique hardcopy form from now on, to be read under supervision in the Task Force’s office (HTML on a prim under consideration).

[Resolved at 2:10am Pacific] We have identified three accounts to which this memo has been transmitted by error and have terminated them. We are still working on resolving the account owner issues and expect to post a progress report soon.

I’ll admit reading this rattled me somewhat. After all, the ARC feature really exists. And the community’s range of reactions does oddly conform to the description, ranging from technical explanations (by Vint Falken, twice, and Tateru Nino) to the usual contradictory comments on the official blog and to opinion pieces as diverse as Lillie Yifu’s and Ciaran Laval’s. Also, despite the fact that the logical flaw in the whole ARC concept is glaringly obvious, it seems to have gone nearly unnoticed.

Maybe I’m just seeing things, but consider the following for a minute : according to Pastrami Linden’s blog post, ARC is aiming to quantify the workload that rendering avatars puts on your graphics hardware (which it calls costs) by adding up token values for typical GPU operations. The idea behind this is « educating Residents about how 3D art should be made » so as to reduce client side lag. To that aim, the ARC rates the value it has calculated by displaying it in traffic light colours (i.e. red is bad, yellow is so so, green is good). Now comes the bit where it stops making sense, at least to me : it rates them on an absolute scale.

Yes, you read that right — the ARC colour rating is entirely independent of the power of your graphics hardware. How well your GPU would handle the workload never goes into the equation. So we have costs all right, and bugger relative purchasing power, let’s just all yell « this is too expensive ! » together. I feel better already.

Admittedly, the blog does a brilliant job stepping around the issue altogether, blabbering about carbon footprints instead (of 150 commenters, exactly one asked about the scale). It’s such a neat piece of spin you could believe for one fleeting moment there really is an invisible hand pulling the strings. Especially as the original release notes dangle the option of not only rating, but actually visually muting people, before our noses. Some people drool over the option to blot others out of their world already, wishing for individual or estate based muting levels. Maybe that is what Pastrami meant by the hope for « community » regulation : render vigilantism à la « if your ARC is over X, I’ll mute you » notices.

But then again, distasteful as it is, why should it be a conspiracy ? There is nothing substantiating the authenticity of the notecard I found. The disappearance of the avatar that gave it to me, and the subsequent disappearance of the card itself in a freak asset server failure are probably nothing but the usual random SL madness. A much saner theory would be to consider ARC as one particularly enlightening example of LL’s development processes. Coders thinking « wouldn’t that be neat » in a corporate culture encouraging them to work on whatever they like is all that is needed. The proposed new rating system for search items, as published by Massively and commented upon by Jacek Antonelli (a dream come true to anybody wishing for an efficient way to mob SL entrepreneurs — protection racket, anyone ?), fits that bill quite nicely too. Bright ideas probably account for a much higher quota of human disasters than conspiracies.

Which is why I have decided I will not let my train of thought run further along the tracks of paranoia. No software service provider would ever go to this length to influence its own user base. Not even one where the founder believes he is building a country. He didn’t mean « including an intelligence service » by that, I’m sure.

As to the pizza delivery van with California plates that has been sitting on my street since yesterday, I am perfectly sure there is an innocuous reason for its presence in Paris. A Dodge 90’s models collector maybe.

See ? It all makes sense.

7 thoughts on “[RESOLVED] Codename Pitchfork

  1. Pingback: ARC is Not the Boogeyman « QueenKellee Kuu

  2. lol excellent post Rheta! As for ARC, my view now is that one should only see their own score, seeing some of the comments from others regarding “culprits”, “shame” and “lag monkies” means this is going to be used for griefing.

  3. hehe, I’m missing out on so much… 4 pts for each flexi prim? lmao, well that certainly is scary considering some of the hair out there… and the lead up…. more SLInsanity to be sure, but freakish as well. I do find it interesting that not only is relative GPU performance ignored, but apparently so are user settings which reduce or eliminate specific problem areas (bump, shiny, glow, fexi mesh, etc)… someone didn’t think this all the through for certain

  4. Ciaran, Void, thanks for your comments, and I agree on both your points. If this is not a conspiracy to get residents at each others throat (which I consider unlikely mostly for the simple reason that that kind of operation would take far more intelligence and long term planning ability than the Lab ever displayed), it is at the least a very poorly implemented idea, and the reactions by many show that the effect on the social matrix will be overwhelmingly negative.

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