Dear Catherine Linden,

following up on your post on the Official Linden Blog on the Brand Center, I turn to you today in my quest for an instance able to certify that the measures I have taken on my blog do indeed make it conform to the new trademark policy of Linden Research. Not wishing to incur costly legal disputes, I have made the following amends:

  • All mentions of Linden Research’s trademark ‘Second Life’ have been replaced by ‘You-Know-Where’ throughout all posts, pages and comments.
  • All mentions of Linden Research’s trademark ‘SL’ have been replaced by ‘Y-K-W’ throughout all posts, pages and comments.
  • All mentions of Linden Research’s trademark ‘grid’ have been replaced by ‘you know where’ throughout all posts, pages and comments.
  • Common derivative terms have been adapted as fitted this  ‘Second Lifers’ for instance has been replaced by ‘You-Know-Where denizens’ throughout all posts, pages and comments, ‘SLURL’ by ‘Y-K-WURL’, etc.
  • Related uses of Linden Research trademarks have been corrected likewise: the subtitle of the blog now reads ‘Rheta Shan’s You-Know-Where blog’, and posts relating to the trademarked product are now tagged ‘you-know-where’.
  • The Disclaimer page has also been amended to conform to the required form.
  • Finally, all errant ‘s’ appended to Linden Lab have been removed throughout all posts, pages and comments.

I have left these edits documented for inspection, and will do so for the length of the grace period generously offered by Linden Research, or until a crack team of censors trademark lawyers from your office signifies the all-clear for this measure, preferably with an official seal of approval (a large watermark ‘TM’ might be fitting). I must however preemptively beg your leniency as to an issue that is bugging me: the title of the post Second Life Guess, which, as any expert you care to consult will probably be able to explain to you, is a pun, or play on words – I’d appreciate a proposal on how to handle the translation into the new terminology in this case. I also must apologize for not having converted the incriminated trademarked terms to the new form in URLs, as I have not found a solution to do so this without breaking the link to the targeted page. On this matter too, advice would be greatly welcome.

Once approval is given, I will extend this corrections to all other statements on the web I have made, as far as I have editorial rights to these (I am very much afraid there is not much I can do about old Twitter posts, barring deleting them all. Would that be the suggested course?).

If I may, I would urge you to accede to my request in a timely fashion, allowing me to turn this blog into a shiny example for the entire Second LifeYou-Know-Where-related blogosphere. I can promise that, once your and the censors’ trademark lawyers’ approval has been given, I will use my influence in blogger circles for the blogosphere to follow my example and conform to your expectations.

Do not hesitate to contact me, in-world or here, in case of questions.
Cordially yours
Rheta Shan (avatar)

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So say I all

About two months ago, some of you might have caught a discussion panel sporting Robin Harper — aka Robin Linden — and Jack Balkin — professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School. It was hosted by the USC Institute for Network Culture and Global Kids as part of the MacArthur Series on Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds and was somewhat curiously called « Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds: Do Avatars Dream of Civil Rights Considering Civil Liberties ».

Of course, the event was not actually held with that fancy strike-though title ; it went live under the simple heading « Considering Civil Liberties ». But it was originally announced as « Do Avatar Dream of Civil Rights » (see here and here ; and take note of the above mentioned Global Kids URL while you’re at it). One week before the event proper, the title suddenly changed.

I have been trying to put this curious title morph out of my mind for a while (in fact, I had latched on the whole issue originally for the panel’s content, and was hoping to get my teeth into that. Nothing more be said than that it was rather anti-climactic, though it did cure me of my dread of Robin Linden). But somehow, I can’t. It irks me.

Granted, it is entirely possible someone just noticed that another paraphrase of Philip K. Dick’s best known novel title sorely lacks in originality, and decided to change the title because of that (not that the new one shone in that regard). Still, I find it a rather surprising thing to do on such short notice, and I’m left wondering… What if, instead, someone realised that they had leant so far out of the window, trying to be funny and clever, that gravity was taking over ? Pondering how soft that concrete sidewalk will be on landing can do wonders for a change of mind.

For a sidewalk there is : one week before the sudden change in title, Tateru Nino posted A person chooses, a tool obeys on Massively. And sparked a discussion which took me by surprise. I would not have expected that alluding to the avatar as an entity in its own right would be such a contentious matter. Neither did the panel organisers, it seems.

The gist of Tateru’s argument, in case you haven’t read her post, is that an avatar is nothing but a tool, a « device without intention » no law can directly apply to, and that the tool’s user is the only actor in the play. It was followed Continue reading

Story Box

I always am in deep awe of those bloggers (say, Lillie Yifu, or Prokofy Neva) who turn out post after post in one long prolific stream. My own thought processes are so haphazard and incoherent I’m actually rather surprised I eventually manage to publish anything at all, never mind at the break-neck pace some are able to sustain. It’s a bit like watching an old toaster : no matter how long and hard you stare, you’ll always miss the moment it ka-chunks — and most of what it spews out, somewhat ballistically, is charcoal, not toast.

It thus comes as no surprise to me that more often than not, someone else beats me to the punch, putting things into neat words that have been pinging around my head in hapless chaos, making me blurt « yeah, that » when I read their findings.

Dusan Writer has done so tonight, and he has done even better, carrying the thought much further than I would ever have been able to :

But when I look at Second Life You-Know-Where I don’t see a game, and I don’t see a role-playing environment, and I don’t see an e-commerce engine (although to some degree it is all of these) – I see the possibilities for stories. And in these possibilities I am attracted to how Second Life may be a new camp fire around which we weary hunters gather, scratching pictures in the sand with our primitive tools and telling each other of the days we’ve had, and the adventures ahead.

As I owe Dusan an apology for having somewhat misrepresented his stance on Second Life You-Know-Where in my last post, all I will do today is bow deeply to him, and send you over to his post, should you not have been there already : The Story Box: Second Life You-Know-Where & Magic « Dusan Writer’s Metaverse

The world Philip made

I am not often invited to chime in on a topic (unless it is SL Y-K-W‘s interface design, for some reason, and I still suspect those who do invite me of pulling my leg — pointing out it is abysmally bad, and getting worse instead of better, hardly makes me an expert after all), and thus I am usually happy to comply, especially when the invitation comes from a friend (yes, Grace, and by the way, you still owe me for risking snow blindness testing Dazzle). But when my friend Rick van der Wal recently invited me to comment on the discussion going on about « immersionism » versus « augmentationism » he had kicked off (or rather : rekindled) on his blog, I have been loath to comment. Particularly loath, I must say, not only because people I admire for their opinions and intelligence butted heads so hard the sparks flew (though I must admit it is a tad intimidating), but mainly because, simply, I don’t get the whole discussion. At all.

Call me stupid.

Well, actually, I prefer to be called other things (chérie, for instance, is veeery nice, though some people make my heart flutter as much when they call me vicieuse — you know who you are), but stupid will do for the time being. Because I must be missing something seeing how heated the debate gets. Which is why I decided to post my misgivings here, and hope for my peers and betters to point out what I have missed. Please be kind.

Always one for delaying the bashing by a display of good research (who said I hated dazzle ?), I’ll start by pointing out that I am indeed aware of the discussion having gone on for quite some time, as well as of its roots in the debate surrounding the advent of voice in the SL Y-K-W client. I have read Henrik Bennetsen’s Augmentation vs Immersion on the SL Y-K-W wiki ; admired Argent Bury’s manifesto, Taking a Stand and Sophrosyne Steenvag’s Open Letter To My Augmentationist Friends for their clearness and radicalness of thought — though I find myself unable, and unwilling to follow these two down the path of styling myself a fully autonomous digital being. I am aware they are considered the ultimate immersionists. I also know many of the bloggers and SL Y-K-W personalities I most admire side with them, to a different degree — Dandellion Kimban, Gwyneth Llewelyn, Grace McDunnough just to name a few… forming a camp, to quote the wiki, pitted against another one of people who, well, do what exactly — regularly use SL Y-K-W without immersing themselves into it in the least ?

I don’t get that.

Yes, yes, Continue reading

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.

Don’t we bleed white like you ?

Grace McDunnough challenged me to it, and I took up the gauntlet : I downloaded and tried the Dazzle First Look viewer, just to see what I was ranting about up close.

Now, I’m not going to be a Mac fan girl again and complain about the fact it now looks even less native on OS X than it ever did. That is a fate I have made up my mind to bear with dignity. No, in fact, I published an entirely unbiased pictorial review of the interface bling revamp the Lindens are pushing on us. Head to my Flickr stream and read through my comments if you care. And forgive me for going to bed, I have acute snow blindness to cure.

Bookmark this post…

Dazzling you senseless

So it is finally out of the closet (err, I mean dark recesses of LL development. Anybody noticed how much of that stuff actually surfaces since Cory is no longer CTO ?) : Dazzle is here to improve your interface!.

Quoting the official Linden blog :

Seemingly small changes make a big difference. A simple psychological exercise: think about eating a steak in a prison cell with harsh fluorescent lights. Then, think about eating that very same steak in a posh restaurant by candlelight. Which experience would you prefer? And which would you regard as the higher quality?

In a similar way, even if actual inworld content looks the same (like the steak), if the environment you use to experience it — the user interface — looks awful, you’re likely going to feel uncomfortable and annoyed, even if you can’t describe exactly why.

I’m not going to comment on how the Lindens try to spin the fact that their take on the much needed interface rework amounts to a pretty modest skinning effort. But the two screen shots LL are publishing here did start a furious, megalomaniac itch to tell them to look at my interface rant.

Then I thought : They must be kidding, right ?

Until I read the User Interface Roadmap.

Sigh.