The great escape

There has been a spate of posts about the balance between First and Second Life lately, starting with my friend’s Dandellion’s thoughtful and entertaining blog post Going Schizo. At its core is the question how to handle the realisation that the personalities we evolve in the 3D metaverse of Second Life might seep back into our atomic life (a distant echo of some of Dusan Writer’s earlier thoughts). Besides a fair number of comments, it has also spurned Kit Meredith to ask the question if atomic her is jealous of her avatar, and Botgirl Questi to complete her schematic of the relationship of metaverse and meatverse. Independently of those, Zippora Zabelin has touched on the same topic in her beautiful Life is a game.

The funny thing about all these is that, much as I wanted to give feedback and tell the authors how much I enjoyed their posts, my own uneasy balance between First and Second Life has not let me do so until now. Consoling and supporting a friend much in the same situation as Dandellion’s unknown avatar, but also saying a chance good bye to another one who was leaving SL, as well as finally accepting some other friends and lovers will never come back, has made me painfully aware how ephemeral our second life can be — and how fragile whatever fleeting balance we find is.

It also made me think. Because while we often discuss how, and why we leave this world for good, we rarely dwell on the question that maybe should have been asked first : why bother with the effort of two lives at all ? Why come to Second Life, and stay ?

I have an answer to offer, Continue reading

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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

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.

Plus ça change…

If I was vanitous enough to believe I have the slightest impact on things happening, I’d believe in the theory that writing eulogies on people leaving SL Y-K-W in my blog is a good way of bringing them back into the fray.

As it stands, Katharine Berry has reopened her fabulous AjaxLife and resumed its development, even un-cancelling her account on the Teen Grid for the purpose. As I wrote in an addendum to Age and Treachery revisited, that does not make all well that ends well :

It seems Katharine has eventually listened to all the people telling her how much her work on AjaxLife is appreciated, and how much she will be missed. She has un-cancelled her account, as she mentions en passant on her blog. The point I made in my Age and Treachery entry still stands, though : confining a talent like Katharine’s to the stifling atmosphere of the Teen Ghetto for the next three years hardly qualifies as good policy.

Still : good to have you back, Katharine. I hope you hang on there until better times.

And « Mad Patcher » Nicholaz Beresford doesn’t seem able to leave the mess the Lindens call their viewer code alone either. Though he has kept away from patching release candidates at an insane pace, he has taken on the « megalomaniac » (his own words) task of freeing SL Y-K-W users of the « ass-tachment» plague instead. I guess my blog entry on him should be re-titled Sysiphus gives up goes hobbyist. Do I have to say it’s great to see you back, too, Nic ?

Age and Treachery revisited

Katharine Berry’s love story with Second Life You-Know-Where ends today on a sad, personal note. Shamelessly, I will quote my own comment on her blog :

Dear Katharine,

we have never met, our worlds lying far apart as I have come to realize, but I would like you to believe that your achievement with AjaxLife (alas the only sample of your skill I had an opportunity to profit from) outshines what most of us will ever be able to achieve — whatever our age (how the eternal « for someone your age » must hurt ; why can’t they just shut the f*** up ?). At 32, I bow to you. And I sympathize. I’m not old enough to get away from the fact how unjust and arbitrary people can be, not jaded enough to not understand your anger and not feel sympathy for the rejection you feel.

It is easy to tell you not to give in to it, but that is just insinuating that we, your elders, know better. I will not do that, because we don’t, even if we don’t like to admit it. So all I will tell you is that you and your stupendous mind will be missed by many people you do not even know, because you made our world a bit richer and no one can afford to lose somebody like you.

So long, Katharine Berry. If the grids you know where ever merge, I hope to meet you there.

I will not comment the flame war accompanying her farewell. Talent should buy you a modicum of leeway when it comes to rashness and occasional lack of social graces, but then, that is just me speaking. To those saying it was her peers and her own age driving her out, all I can say is : had the Teen Grid you know where not been such a thinly disguised excuse for the real thing, people like Katharine (and her antagonists) might be less frustrated, choice and a more rewarding experience replacing the often stifling closeness of such a tiny peer group. We are all at fault.

Farewell, Katharine Berry.

Bookmark this post…

Wild, wild west 2.0 continued

Sometimes, you just stumble over something and think « my thoughts exactly ». Now I admit this happens rarely to me, as I am a chronic dissenter, but Doug McMahon’s statement « Why » he is developing a Constitution for the Metaverse (while admitting to not using Second Life You-Know-Where actively, fancy that) strikes me as the straight continuation of my own thoughts in « Wild, wild west 2.0 ».

The question of why I would seek to draft a constitution for the metaverse, and why I think it might need one, is an obvious one. I genuinely believe that any online world in which users seek some kind of autonomy from the real world cannot function satisfactorily without one. To this you might reply that Second Life You-Know-Where, the leading metaverse, seems to be doing just fine. But I would question whether the benevolent dictator model for metaverses is really sustainable. All the power in Second Life You-Know-Where is concentrated in the hands of Linden Labs, they are the archetypal judge, jury and executioner with the added twist that they are also the law makers and the executive in the world. I am by no means accusing Linden Labs of anything underhand in this, I recognise the efficacy of this for their business model and that without it the world may not exist, but I am questioning whether this is a system under which one would or should chose to live.

The fundamental goal of a constitution is to distribute power in such a way that it allows for a fully functioning society whilst protecting the individual from the state. The goal is the rule of law – power under law, not under men. To those who resist the introduction of law into the metaverse I say this: first, it need not look like the law of the real world, indeed it should not look like the law of the real world; second, law is already pervasive in the metaverse, in the form of the ToS document, copyright and contract law, law suits brought in the real world concerning metaverse events. The only way to restrict the impact of laws not suited to the metaverse is for the metaverse to have its own.

I think we might have to watch this one…

Age and Treachery

On the set of « A Fish Called Wanda » then 77-year old director John Crichton was given a t-shirt by his co-director John Cleese. It read

Age and Treachery Will Always Overcome Youth and Skill

Though this was meant as a joke about the significant age difference between the director and the rest of his crew, there is a moment of philosophical truth in this. Faced with a world ruled mainly by elder people with an entirely different background and set of interests, youthful talent is doomed to fail. Witness the departure from the Second Life Teen Grid You-Know-Where-for-Underagers of its whizz kid Katharine Berry, as announced in her blog.

For those of you who have never heard the name before, Katharine Berry is probably best known as the developer of AjaxLife, a web based Second Life You-Know-Where client which has allowed many people to maintain their social network on SL Y-K-W even when unable to install the SL Y-K-W client on a machine. I have been using AjaxLife on and off, myself, and have been full of admiration for the work of one single dedicated developer, a female one at that, always a sure way to win my sympathy. What I was not aware of before the announcement of Katharine’s withdrawal and the accompanying media coverage is that she is « only » 15 years old (an ageist reaction I will come back to later).

As befits to her being underage, Katharine has religiously stuck to using the Teen Grid you know where alone, gaining a track record there as a forum moderator, volunteer and provider of web services (all of these by now defunct). Exemplary one would say, were it not for the fact that it must have been a very disheartening experience. As she explains in more detail here, her main reason for leaving Second Life You-Know-Where is the complete state of neglect Linden Lab seems to leave the Teen Grid you know where in, and the low resident count which follows from this sorry state of affairs.

Now, like most Main Grid Second Lifers You-Know-Where denizens I presume, I have been entirely oblivious of what goes on on the Teen Grid you know where. Judging from Katharine’s comments on her departure, it hardly looks like an interesting offering for bright young minds. In fact, it looks suspiciously like an excuse everybody can agree on when it comes to excluding teens from Second Life You-Know-Where in general. By everybody, I do mean that Linden Lab aren’t the only ones at fault here, though they are obviously responsible for the sorry state of the thing, but that all of us Grid Second Lifers You-Know-Where denizens share a part of this. After all, we always point to the Teen Grid you know where as the place for underage Second Lifers You-Know-Where denizens to go whenever we squabble with the Lindens and each other over the value and founding of age verification. It is such a convenient fig leaf when we basically agree that everybody under legal age (and that means anybody below the age of 21, in some cases) should be excluded from participating in Second Life You-Know-Where. They have their own grid you know where, haven’t they ?

Katharine’s withdrawal alerts us to the fact Continue reading