Eeep…

…it looks like I ended first in the SL Interface Contest finals. My heartfelt congratulations go to Jacek Antonelli and Rick van Wal, aka Digado, whom I undeservedly relegated to second and third rank, and to all other finalists. You did such a wonderful work — nobody should pretend I did better than you.

I’d also like to thank Dusan Writer for starting the contest, organising everything, and being a sweetheart all around, and also the judges, Keystone Bouchard, Vint Falken, Ordinal Malaprop and Eristic Strangelove. I’m still speechless and trying to get to grips with their decision.

Anyway.

Eric Reuters asked me yesterday what I was going to do with the prize money. In all honesty, I answered him I have no idea. Which is still true in a way, but I am thinking about it (or rather, thinking about what exactly to do besides blowing it on shoes, clothes, and hair). And one thing that has struck me since is that there is no need to sell my mainland plots any more. Until now, I have only had offers by land sharks, and have been loath to let go for the price offered. Now… I won’t either, but I will do this instead :

I will transfer the land, the total approximately 10.000 sqm located in Spinold’s Flats, as a whole or in parts, to any number of charities or artistic project(s) that can put it to good use.

This will take the form of a land sale for a symbolic price (I was thinking 1 L$ per plot). I can subdivide or merge plots if needed, too. Please contact me (in-world or through the contact form) if you think you’d like to take me up on the offer, and forgive me for announcing right away I’ll ask a lot of nosy questions when you do.

That’s all for now, I fear. See you on Plurk until RL relents.

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And another kick…

…proving I’m still alive, albeit barely. Well, to the blogosphere, that is. Anyway, here goes :

Thanks to Dusan Writer’s and his judges’ incredible sweetness in accommodating my RL schedule constraints, I will have the opportunity to present my entry to his Second Life UI Design Contest this Sunday, June 27th, at 4 p.m. SLT on Dusan’s sim. Although this is not a publicized event, it is open to the public, and I for one would welcome anybody interested enough to watch.

As to the rest,well, all I can say is :

Our programme will resume as soon as RL allows.

[Update : well, I went, saw, and bored everybody out of their minds with an erratic, decidedly too long presentation. Still, everybody was very sweet, or I would probably have crumbled into a nervous wreck (or more of a nervous wreck than I was already, actually). Ta an awful lot for being so supportive and accommodating, all of you !

The results of the contest will be announced in the opening segment of the next Metanomics show, if I understood a recent communication by Dusan correctly. I’m having a little wager with myself on the results (don’t ask : I won’t be sharing what I bet on, beyond letting on that it is definitely not myself winning 🙂 ). I will be very interested to see how close my guess came to the actual decision by the judges.]

Alive, barely kicking

I will keep it short.

Maybe some among you have been wondering where I have been — after all, it has been over a month since I last gave a sign of life on this blog. Now, I’m not going to treat you to one of these «  why I did not post lately » posts — the only thing less interesting than a blog that is never updated is a blog that tries to simulate activity with posts on why there is no activity. So, unless you want to follow me on new social media darling Plurk, where the bite size posting and short bouts of inane chatter better accomodate both my current RL schedule and my frame of mind, all I have to offer is an apology.

Or rather, something as an apology.

Without further ado (drum roll on cue), I give you what has kept me away from nearly everything the last two weeks, and up and awake the last two nights straight : Rheta Shan’s entry to Dusan Writer’s Viewer Interface Contest — a contest that, as detailed here and here, is aimed at developing proposals for a newbie friendly revision of the Second Life client UI.

Yes, I thought I ’d better put my hand where my mouth is, seeing I’m on record as a know all on Second life’s interface deficiencies, and as an official Dazzle hater. So, fans of the current viewer — here is your chance to turn the tables and tell me how stupidly impractical, frighteningly ugly and altogether badly designed my proposal is. In fact, I point out many of its weak points on the first and last pages myself, first and foremost among them that I have no talent whatsoever as a graphics designer, and that the whole thing is a lost twin brother to a Swiss cheese, as it has as many holes as it has substance (time, and the lack thereof, being the issue here).

But this sounds like I’m apologising. I am not, even if the entry itself starts with two apologies. In fact, and although I am certain my proposal will at best fare moderately well against what the many brilliant minds of Second Life will contribute to the contest, I am still happy enough with it to want to show it around.

Here it is.

[Update : To my great surprise, I made it into the final selection, among such illustrious names as Jacek Antonelli, Damien Fate, McCabe Maxsted and Rick van der Wal (aka Digado / Roy Cassini). I presume the rather low number of entries Dusan mentioned in a short exchange we had accounts for this, but I still feel oddly proud. And I want to express my heartfelt congratulations to all my co-finalists !

Further update : It seems the finalists will have a chance to present their entries to the judges before they decide on the results of the contest — go to Dusan Writer’s blog for an announcement of the panel. I am very grateful to Dusan, who has been an absolute sweetheart trying to afford me the opportunity to do so, too, despite my stupid RL schedule restrictions. Ta, Dusan, and apologies to your judges I have had jumping through hoops. Don’t hate me too much, please.]

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.

Pardon me, but you lost an U back there

I recently read Hamlet Au’s Is Second Life’s User Interface Cursed by Knowledge? post on new World Notes, where he tries to put the finger on the failure of Second Life You-Know-Where’s user interface to make the world and its usage accessible to newcomers. I even commented, a quick shot and rant that failed to relieve me, instead simmering inside my mind since, eventually to take the shape of the following post.

Hamlet Au’s argument hinges on the theory of « the curse of knowledge » as propounded in a New York Times article he quotes. The gist of it seems to be that woeful interface design is the result of people deciding which features should be exposed in the interface, and how, on the basis of too much technical knowledge. He concludes :

So how do you fix the Second Life You-Know-Where user interface? In all honesty, I probably can’t say. Then again, the Lindens can’t say. Metaverse developers can’t say. Longtime Residents can’t say. And if you read this blog on a regular basis, you likely can’t say, either. Thanks to the curse of knowledge, the very people who know Second Life You-Know-Where most are also the least qualified to introduce it to a mass audience. (This is probably why the open source initiative and heads-up displays have failed to improve user retention– most of the improvements and features to come out of them are made not for new users, but for established Residents.)

Now I think there is little doubt the interface of Second Life You-Know-Where could be tremendously improved to flatten the notoriously steep learning curve of new residents. Honestly, those of us who did not have an excellent background in 3D / FPS gaming had great difficulties mastering even the most elementary parts of Second Life (moving, interacting with objects, camera controls — more about these later) on the first go — I know I had. As to more advanced functions, I’m ready to bet that even long term residents are unaware of many tweaks, tricks and minor but useful functions.

As a moderately long term SL Y-K-W resident (my first rezzday approaches fast), I am eminently not qualified to comment on the improvement of SL Y-K-W’s interface according to the « curse of knowledge » theory. I cannot help feeling, though, that hands on experience as the (mostly unwilling) user and victim of a plethora of interface concepts and implementations both in hardware and in software form does count — in your case as in mine, for that matter : just look at the small ecosystem of remotes that probably has evolved in your living room as it has in mine, never mind the applications and underlying operating system of your computer —, and that some understanding of what you actually can do with an item (be it hardware of software) is necessary to ponder the best way to use it, though, obviously, this might often not be the one chosen by the manufacturer or propounded by current thinking (anybody remember the Office Assistant ?). Which is why I will count the fact that I never designed a complex technical system (software or other) in my life, and that I am happily and utterly oblivious of all theories of interface design as a big plus.

One thing that struck me in the comments that followed Hamlet’s post is that what most people discussed was the graphical interface to SL Y-K-W. The talk was of better and more appealing graphic widgets and of adding more « intuitive » interface elements as well as introducing the web metaphor into the client (a teleport back button, for instance), besides the odd call for splitting the monolithic viewer into smaller tools (*nix geek syndrome, I think this one is called). Basically, the commenters seem to agree that what sucks about the GUI of Second Life You-Know-Where is the « G(raphical) » part.

I disagree. To me, the user interface is far more than the window system, widget set, or « skin » as it is fashionably called these days, used by an application. I don’t think the main problem of SL Y-K-W‘s interface is graphical in its nature.

Just have a short look at it Continue reading