Monday, September 6, 2010

Has Second Life changed...or have we?

I've been trying out some different things lately--this is Alsium--I'll tell you more about it soon.
Not too terribly long ago, I was talking with my friend Aldo, and he mentioned that he had gone in-world to pay his rent on the Falling Anvil pub in Tamrannoch, Caledon. While doing so, he got an IM from Prokofy Neva, who he has known since our days in The Sims Online. Prokofy isn't perhaps the easiest person to get along with, but Aldo seems to do pretty well at it, and Prok seems to have respect for him. He said that Prok asked him if he thought that SL is dying, and Aldo replied without hesitation, "no...but it definitely is changing."

So he and I kicked that around some: how it is changing; the evidence for why it isn't dying (unless the labsters seriously settle down with the intention to kill it, once and for all); and speculation about why it is changing. And the thing that I came to conclude is that, yes, Second Life has certainly changed, but perhaps more importantly, a great many of us have changed and are continuing to change, both in how we approach our virtual lives and how important those lives are to us.

Of course, all I can really give you is personal anecdotal evidence for this. I wish I had hard numbers based on serious research and extensive surveys of former and current SL residents...but I don't. All I have to go on is what I am seeing and what I have experienced myself. So yeah, this is yet another opinion carefully extracted from the recesses of mine own middle-aged ass, and its ultimate value should be judged within that highly questionable context. But I can say that I have witnessed--and experienced--some things that make me think that an awful lot of us have changed, much more so than the platform itself has.

For starters, you probably noticed that I haven't written anything in a dreadfully long time--since June. I'm sorry about, but there's a great many factors that influenced that: I took on a new job that has been very intense, one that required me to move again, and that has involved some energetic kicking-of-ass-and-taking-of-names to get things on track. So, by Gawd, I just haven't had the mental energy (nor sufficient time) to actually sit down and write more of the palsied drivel that I was regularly spewing here. More importantly, I felt like I didn't have anything to say that was even remotely worth you all taking the time to read. Not like that stops lots of other bloggers from wasting their readers' time, but hell's britches, y'all, I got more respect for you than that.

To be honest a big part of what was going on was that SL just didn't seem all that important in the larger context of the real life shit that I was dealing with. Yeah, I kept showing up in-world when I could, and I even tried out some new stuff, which I will tell you about in another post. But an awful lot of the time I was angry, and I transferred a lot of those feelings about real life stuff into how I was acting and interacting with people in-world...and, yeah...jeezuschristonafuckingpogostick, I became the original Holy Roman Bitch.

Partly this was because I was having to be a ball-bustin' beeyotch in my rl work, in order to get shit done, to shut down the forces of vile self-interest that were torpedoing the work that needed to be accomplished, and to make sure that the agencies I was working with would not be pissing away the People's money.

I guess I kinda found it hard to shut that off at the end of the day.

And you know, it seems that a lot of friends and acquaintances are going though a similar thing: if you have a job, more than likely, the pressures of doing it well and making sure that you keep it will have an impact on what you are like when you go in world, if you go in-world at all.

I know Aldo is going through something like this. Hell, he is planning on getting rid of the Falling Anvil--that's the oldest continuously operating social venue in Caledon--the home of what may have been one of the first (if not the absolute first) storytelling series in Second Life. His partner Betty has already abandoned her shop next door to the Anvil. She tells me it hadn't been profitable for a long time, but she had held on to it for sentimental reasons, because it was her first place of business in SL, and she and Aldo met there in Tam and wound up getting married irl. But now, it apparently just doesn't seem that important to her in the same way...

Another interesting aspect of this is that Aldo checked in with Desmond, his landlord, to see if there was anyone still on a waiting list for land in Tam, and Desmond replied that no, he actually had quite a bit of land available throughout Caledon. So I take that as another indication of many of us having changed what we consider important--like having a piece of property in a certain place...

Oh, and I had a sad bit of news from another one of my good friends--the kind of news all of us have had recently. My old friend Roku--yes, that Roku, the inspiration for the cynical, gunslinging, hard-ass woman security guard/courtesan in my stories--told me that she was giving up on SL. Leaving her dancing job, selling her land, pullin' up stakes and headin' out. To some extent this is because she's got some health issues going on (and I regualrly say a prayer for her continued progress with it). But most of all, she said she "just wasn't having fun anymore."

Another friend of mine--a very smart and creative lady, an academic irl, dedicated to the idea of education in SL--suddenly announced to me not long ago that she had given up on a particular sim that she had been associated with for a long time. This was a project that from its inception had been meant to have educational value, but the organizers never really quite figured out how to make it work. This friend of mine had nonetheless hung on--literally, for months, if not years--always hoping for an improvement, working to help make the sim live up to its potential. And then all of sudden she decided it wasn't going to happen. She shook the dust from her sandals and moved on. And I don't think it was about SL changing, or the sim changing (if anything, it was perhaps that it wasn't changing). Something changed within her....I think...

I know what that feels like. For a long time, I cut way back on spending time in Deadwood, and it wasn't because of what was going on there. There new build is SUPER, the folks there are working hard to make good stuff happen and to do good rp... so it wasn't the sim or was me.

Likewise I have now left Hogwarts. Why? Well, a lot of people I liked to play with aren't there anymore. But at the same time, some very good folks--folks who I am extremely fond of--are still there. But I found it hard to keep going and putting in the kind of commitment it took to play one of the adults in that set of storylines. Again, it wasn't the sim or the people or the stories--it was me. I think I just got tired. And mean.

I think you can see these kind of changes in the personnel at the Lab as well. While I was taking a break from blogging, M took his leave. Mind you, I never had issues with M the way some folks did. I liked the fact that it appeared that he was trying to make LL run in a more business-like fashion. Of course, he was fighting with a corproate culture that had essentially embraced irresponsibility and elevated fecklessness to the level of an admired virtue. But I wonder, was he forced out, or had something changed inside of him? Had he gotten burned out and tired...or simply saw that what he wanted to happen just wasn't going to happen?

And woopdefuckindoo, now we have Phillip back. Except he's changed too. Did you notice how the whole Emerald thing was handled? There seemed to be none of the old Phil Rosedale style, hippy-dippy, warm and fuzzy, "well kids, let's see how we can work this out with you creative little rascals" type of response, where things would drag on and nothing would happen and you would know that in your heart of hearts, somewhere, a group of miscreants was getting mollycoddled in the typical overly optimistic, California mollycoddling tradition. Nope. Instead it was a fast and hard response, with Phil himself coming forth and saying "hey motherfuckers. You CAN"T DO THAT SHIT. Now cut it the fuck out, RIGHT NOW, or I will make castanets out your testicles."

And lo and behold, the castanets were made.

So either Philip has really changed, or maybe his understanding of how things have to work has evolved.

But things do keep changing. Including us. I'm starting to spend some more time in Deadwood again. I am really enjoying my experiments in NEW STUFF in an ancient Roman sim (which I will tell you about soon, if you would care to listen). I've come to grips with the fact that even though I need to be keep being ol' Blood and Guts in rl, I can get back to being a bit more reasonable in-world. And I am going to get back in the habit of writing here..not as often as I used to, but more often than once every three months.

And I definitely want to get a set of those new Philip Rosedale-brand castanets.


Hmmm. I guess maybe I haven't changed that much. I'm still pretty mean.



  1. Welcome back, you cantankerous so-and-so... you've been missed.

  2. Hi Lalo,

    thanks for saying so. It's nice to know someone reads this happy horseshit.

    So how have you been?

  3. Busy as the proverbial cat in the room full of rockers (you can catch up to the major stuff on my blog). Other than that, not too bad. Thanks for asking :)

    One thing my history project has done is make me wonder just how many of the oldest oldbies still bother to log on... Seems like the interest in SL's past is "a midbie thing". I was ruminating on that very thought when I found that you'd posted this, and lo and behold... you're sort-of talking about the same thing.

    Yes, "... a great many of us have changed and are continuing to change, both in how we approach our virtual lives and how important those lives are to us." And there's another batch, me included, who have changed which world we spend most time in, now that there's a choice.

  4. Glad you mentioned that Lalo, because yes, "voting with your feet" is another dandy example of the shifts that many of us are experiencing--going other places is certainly representative of "we've changed." The thing I wonder about is if you feel differently about that different place than you did about SL, and do you do different things there than you you did in SL?

  5. The world I inhabit mostly now -- InWorldz -- has been compared to SL in late '07/early '08, but with much improved tools to manipulate and view it. In other ways (such as the lack, for now, of 'vehicle physics'), it strongly resembles the beta days of SL. Before, I could only read about that and reconstruct a narrative in my historical blog entries. Now I can experience it.

    So the answer to the first is: I feel about that place like I first did about SL, but no longer do.

    To the second question: I did very little building in SL, and never tried the 'business' route. I was a furry socialite. In InWorldz, my partner and I build and sell prefabs, I handle the advertising and graphics, and I've even taken on a custom build commission (the first of what I hope will be more).

    The way I see it, there are two major reasons for the difference. First, we who vote with our pixel feet are voting with our very real wallets and pocketbooks. A full island sim in IW costs about %25 of one in SL, and permits 3 times as many prims. That alone expands one's internal horizons, as well as the ones you can see on your screen. Second, the Founders of IW actually respect, listen to, and respond to the users. The more I dig into SL history, the more I realize that the Lab has never done that to any great degree... no more before M's reign than during it, and apparently not much since.

    It's almost as if Philip's vaunted return were the Second Coming of Pontius Pilate, not that other guy in the story.

  6. Interesting. I'm going to have to check it out.

    You know in pondering on it, one could argue that since the residents are what truly makes SL what it is, when we the residents go through changes--and/or relocation--then yes, SL itself IS changing.

    And what you are saying indicates that much of what causes us to change is how we are treated by the platform managers. I find it intriguing that you say that how you feel about InWorldz is analogous to how you originally felt about SL, and it is tied not so much to the technical aspects of what that grid can or cannot do, but to how you are treated by the people who manage it.

    This suggests that if they chose to, LL could take steps that would have an impact on how we feel about and interact with their product. Frankly I have my doubts that is possible under the management of Philip 2.0--I pretty much agree with Dame Ordinal's assessment of his return:

    In effect, with the Viewer 2 project in the works and the dumbass corporate culture that he inherited from Philip, M was basically given a lame ox to hitch to his wagon from the get-go. I too am reasonably sure that Philip is NOT the savior, and he is NOT our friend.

    Anyhow, I find it really interesting that you have taken on doing stuff in InWorldz that you didn't do in SL. Clearly you too, are undergoing some changes beyond just moving to a new grid.

  7. And lo and behold, the castanets were made.

    Damn, if those aren't the truest words ever penned...

    So, I started writing away in answer to this, and it got longer, and it got longer, and eventually I dragged it over to my blog, and it became huge. And it doesn't answer the question, really, even at the end where it does. Ish.

    But there you go, there is a just got REALLY out of hand. :)

  8. Hi Emilly!

    oh good..nothing like a reply that gets out of hand. I am tickled I had something to say that inspired a response.

  9. Welcome back, ma'am! And interesting to me to find you in a bit of a retrospective mood. I am putting together a "History and Culture of Caledon" class at the request of the foolish souls of Oxbridge who feel putting pliable minds in my hands is a good idea.
    Interestingly I expect a lot of attendees will be those midbies you mention rather than purely newbies. It will be an interesting experience. I am resisting the urge to make up outrageous lies...

  10. Hey Fogwoman!

    Oh a history of Caledon class sounds intriguing. And yes, I think you should make up at least 60% of the content as an egregious tissue of utter lies and fabrications of the most outrageous sort. Then let them see if they can guess which of your facts are true and which are whoppers.

    I'm guessing they'll identify a lot of the real stuff as fake--"that can't POSSIBLY be true...can it?"

    Seriously, you might ask around to see if anyone wants to buy the Falling Anvil

  11. First of all, a very interesting read. As a relative young resident of SL I have my own thoughts on what you describe as a changing world and people changing. You have to realise that the "old geezers" (and I mean that in a kind way) of SL have always been and will always be the first to reach a certain age in SL. That seems kind of trivial, but I think its important to realise when reading your text. Let me step back a little.

    When I first entered SL I was thrilled. I was amazing, everything was possible and I met so many great people... then I went through what I later found out were some stages that every avatar seems to go through: enjoy and explore, make friends, need for linden and social contact, find some sort of job (usually starting with sex and other people then end up doing something respectable ;), get very involved in one or more communities (club, rp, etc.), get to involved and take a step back, realise there's more then sl, come back to just have fun and enjoy your friends, complain about Linden a lot ;-), come back once again to just have fun and enjoy your friends...

    I found it and still find it surprising (but then again, I'm blond so this probably doesnt mean much) that most avatars seem to go through the same cycle one way or another..

    When we realise the above it raises 3 interesting questions (well it did for me, and I think they are intersting):

    1. Where are the "old-geezers" heading in their phase of the cycle? - since they are the first ones this could provide very relevant information for LL

    2. Is there any need to try and adjust or influence that cycle for later generations? (and what is the influence of LL's coorperate changes on this)

    3. Is there plenty of fresh meat coming in to form new and fresh generations?

    Mmm.. SL does make a great subject to philosophise over things like this... Well just my two (linden)cents anyways. Not much point to it (yet), just some thoughts that started forming when I read your article...

  12. Hey Thorgal,

    thank you for the long and thoughtful comment. I'm pleased that my self-indulgent meandering gave you something to ponder. And yes, we all do go in cycles--but we don't all go in the cycles at the same rates or in the same ways as others do. The generalized cycle you describe is certainly the most common, but the variations on it are the ones that intrigue and concern me.

    There are people who had something very specific in mind for what they could contribute to life in-world, as well as what they could get out of it. These are people who have been very dedicated to certain projects, or stay in particular communities and roles for very long periods--years, in fact.

    And that is where I am seeing the greatest amount of change--that said, I like your final three questions--gotta go to work now, we can talk those over later.

  13. Since I'm only 1yrs old, I'd have to agree with Thorgal's observation of stages. There are some slight varients, but all-in-all, it's on point. I also see the problem you mentioned about organizers not knowing how to make educational sims "work". I could connect the two, with the results of the Teen Grid closing and what went wrong, but I would be writing a long post like Emily. LOL Who has time for that? It's all about short-attention spans and moment-telling (micro-blogging). Who has time for storytelling (blogging). You know those "changes" you talk about, reminds me of this same shift with blogging, vlogging, etc..

  14. Dio, I think "getting smaller and becoming a niche" is the sort of change going on. Prok's concern about it "dying" may be based upon her revenue-streams from land. It's dirt cheap now on the mainland, to buy, and I have no sense of what the rental market is like.

    Part of that is because, to answer Thorgal, "Is there plenty of fresh meat coming in to form new and fresh generations?" I don't get the sense that they are coming. And as more oldbies and "midbies" (I think Lalo coined that one) leave or spend less time in-world, we see less new content and certainly fewer buzz-generating new sims.

    In education, we still have a lively community, but other than the UT system's ongoing project, there's no buzz about SL.

    One never reads of it any longer in professional publications. Anthologies of articles and pieces in journals appear. But they still do from time to time about MOOs and MUDs. Niche tech can survive, but can it keep LL in the black?

  15. ok...back from work and ready to talk this over--Thorgal, you asked three really good questions.

    1. So where are the old geezers going? One part of that is, who do you consider an old-timer? I will say this--the people I think of as old timers --people from 2004-2006--about half are still in-world, just not as actively or in the same ways as they were 4 or 5 years ago. A few people I know have tired things like Blue mars, or are experimenting with InWorldz, but they are splitting their time between different places, including SL. Of the people who no longer come to SL at all, well, shit...some have actually died, and others just have real life stuff that takes precedence--like being deployed overseas by Uncle Sugar.

    2. Is there a need to influence the cycles? Yes: given that after four or five years, people's interests and priorities tend to evovle, I can see how it might help if LL was to acknowledge that. The next question is, do they have the resources and more importantly, the will to find ways of accommodating the reality that people change? Ideally, LL still could encourage those long-term customers to feel valued and supported as they look for something new to do in-world. But will it ever happen? I am not sure. I suspect that since they really don't understand or respect how the customers use their product, it's probably a forlorn hope.

    3. Is there plenty of fresh meat? No. Which would suggest that it would behoove them to do a better job of understanding what their customers do with the platform, and they better damn well learn to respect and value it (see question 2).

    Your questions are good questions they made me think about where we have been--like for instance does anyone else here recall how LL described tactics such as introducing Viewer 2 and creating themed hoovervilles of the Linden homes as part of a larger strategy to attract a mass influx of new folks? At the time, when we ancient farts said, "hey what about us, don't you love us anymore?" the labsters replied "oh yes of course, and as soon as we have finished attracting mass new users, we are going to do a bunch of really nice warm and fuzzy shit for you old guys!"

    And of course, what happened was those labbies who had been making reassuring noises that we would be looked after in our dotage were all rounded up and executed in the spring massacre.

    It's a good thing we're pretty adept at entertaining ourselves, isn't it?

  16. hey Philena,

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. So I'm curious--you're about a year old in-world, you say? what got you in and what is keeping you? Frankly I don't encounter many new folks, but when I do, usually they have been brought in by someone else: a friend, relative, teacher, co-worker or somebody told them about SL, got them interested, and more often than not, helped them get started and get past all the stupid stuff they do to newbies. Was that how it worked for you?

  17. HEY HB!!!

    Good to see you! I've been trying to get caught up on reading everyone's blogs and stories. Looks like you've got something dark and gory going on over at your place. You do that so well.

  18. Hey Iggy,

    thanks for coming by!

    I think you are really on to something about the whole niche concept--or perhaps a collection of niches?

    With regards to Prokofy's question, as Aldo explained it to me, Prok really wasn't arguing that SL is dying. Aldo's interpretation of the question was that it was phrased as a rhetorical bit of sarcasm--a comment on the meme among the lazy, shit-for-brains, so-called "journalists" who have been writing SL's obituary for some time now.

    In fact, in their disucssion, both Prok and Aldo agreed that it is simply changing. Yeah, certain forms of business are not as robust as they were...but we all know a number of people who still make some decent money in-world, despite LL's best efforts to make it harder (like the recent alterations in how you can cash out--they take away the convenient, efficient method and "promise" to fix the slow and crappy method...sometime).

    I myself know content creators who are still making decent money, but they have to work very hard and keep cranking out new stuff on a regualr schedule--it's not for the faint of heart or the limp and lazy. And I suspect it's the same with rentals. People like Prok can keep it going, but it's hard hard work.

    So anyway, they agreed it isn't dying, and you know what? I agree too....UNLESS LL manages to kill it.

    And you mention the education angle--I think that a great deal of what really keeps SL alive is the opportunity for learning.

    At the same time, I do make a distinction between learning and education: as you probably know I really don't have much enthusiasm for the ways that most institutional "education" is manifested in SL. It's not even a question about "buzz" (I find that educators who are into creating "buzz" aren't necessarily doing much to foster learning).

    In my experience, most of the various attempts at formal, structured education in-world have had pretty feeble results. On the other hand, the self-directed, cooperative learning that takes place (and which the institutions generally can take no credit for) is truly impressive. The fact that SL's residents continue to generate those self-directed learning opportunities are, I think, one of the platform's greatest strengths.

    It's probably why I'm still here...

    But yeah, it's a niche thing.

  19. Dio, right on. SL is for building educational simulations, not for lectures or course-management. I don't see why distance-learning works better here with an avatar. Unless a faculty member needs immersive 3D content for learning, why even be here?

    As for how education works outside SL, I'll just say that it's a slow slog to using technology well...there are glimmers of change now. Still too many of us only use Blackboard, an overpriced POS that usually gets employed as a place to dump Word attachments.

    No wonder so many kids text in class and roll their eyes.

  20. Just a thought about "learning" going on in SL. This is a terribly subversive plaform, that is stealthily teaching lessons people do not necessarily realize they are learning. And I think it does it much better than most so-called "social" platforms.
    Josie Soccermom logs into SL and discovers the joys of virtual shopping and fashion. She meets lots of new folks, and eventually has a whole circle of friends. As they chat, she discovers that her friends are from all over the world, from different walks of life, of different ages and races and creeds. She suddenly cares about the international news because she knows people in those places that were formerly just test questions on a geography test. All those folks who would once have been nameless, faceless statisitics are people.
    And I personally think that is the coolest part of this grid and others. And the bit that just may make a difference in the world.

  21. Hey Fogwoman,

    that's a nice way of putting it...


    I like that. Another manifestation of how subversive it is is the way that it seduces people into caring about things like history, or literature...or art...or making art...

    And when I read your comment it struck me that the truth that we are changing becomes evident...and the wacky thing is that part of what is changing us and how we relate to the platform is not just the passage of time, getting older, getting beat up by the economy, worrying about rl jobs, is the platform itself that is changing us...making some of us more creative, others more confident, some more open--as you point out--to new ideas and new people...

    damn, hon, I think I may be getting excited about things again...

  22. Wow, Miss Foggy. Please tell us more about the history lessons.

    By all means.... lie.

    Terribly interesting thread, much to ponder.

  23. A most hearty "Welcome back!" to you, Miz DIo! It's always a pleasure to read your thoughts as well as your unique way of putting them down.

    I'll ponder the meat of your comments at greater length when my life gets less hectic. For now, let me welcome you to the world of working for Uncle. I don't know what you do, what agency or department you might work for, but let me assure you that I want to scream and throttle on a daily basis to keep the People's money from being frittered away. It sounds as though you're having at least a modicum of success, which makes the kicking of ass and taking of names worthwhile. Good luck at it. :)

  24. Hey Rhia,

    thank you. I'm glad to be back even though I still don't seem to have much to say.

    I've had an on-again-off-again relationship with Uncle Sugar for some time. It's complicated. you think you've changed much?

  25. In contrast, I've been going steady with Uncle... wait a minute, that two-timing so-and-so!

    Changed? Most certainly. The (virtual) world isn't shiny and new to me any more. This has its upsides: I know more about how things work, so I'm not stumbling around in the dark quite as much, and I don't sweat the small things any more. If I'm not on one night, the Steamlands go on without me.

    But it also means that it's hard to get as interested as when the world was new (or new to me, at any rate). I sometimes feel as though I've seen the interesting stuff, or have heard the same complaints (chat lag? asset server problems? listening to the interpersonal drama of others? I've been around those blocks a few time.) I once didn't make it in-world at all one night because I got distracted by YouTube videos, of all things, which speaks more to my desire to log in than it does to the quality of YouTube content.

    Like you, my personal/professional life has changed, though not dramatically, which influences how one feels about the in-world stuff. It's inevitable, I think.

    I'm still here, though. I think there are still stories being told, fascinating things going on, interesting builds being done. It might be harder to find - or, maybe to put it another way, it may be that my standards have changed - but it's out there, and I try to have fun finding interesting places, reading the Continuing Adventures of folk like HBA and Dr. Beck, the crazy Mason family, ol' Dio... And I think I still have some stories to tell as well.

  26. Hye Rhia,

    I think one of the key things you mention is that your standards have changed. And yes I think your level of experience in anything shapes how you interact with that particular sort of thing--it's like professional meetings--the first five years of it, it's all new--you can't wait to go hear what your collegues have to say. Then you start to find that people are saying the same stuff over and over--new people come along and act like they discovered something new, when mostly they are just rediscovering the same shit us old timers had invented ten or twenty years ago. Which is why, ultimately, going to professional meetings and conferences is really about the drinking.