December 31, 2009

Welcome Katharine Berry

Katharine Berry is the creator of the web based SL client AjaxLife. I got into contact with her on Plurk, and over the course of the past 18 months or so we formed a friendship and talked often on GTalk. Katharine's birthday was on the 26th and she reached legal age, meaning that she could (and had to) transfer from the Teen Grid to the Main Grid. The process involved some bureaucratic procedures and was delayed due to the holidays, but about an hour ago Katharine finally arrived at the Main Grid. Some months ago I promised to pick her up upon arrival, and indeed she offered friendship as soon as she came over. On the pic above I took her sightseeing to Bentham Forest.

Welcome to the Main Grid, Katharine!

December 27, 2009

The model railroad that is SL

Maybe December and the time around Christmas is when the children of all ages dream of model railroads. In a rather insightful post a few weeks ago, my dear and close friend Zippora compared being in SL to playing with trains:
"But wait... did I just mention "Second Life" and "model railroad" in one line of thought? Suddenly something became clear to me: SL is simply the contemporary equivalent of building model railroads! [...] We don't want to make our hands dirty any more and hide safely behind our computer instead. But the crafting virus is inevitable and we start building our little dream world there: on our screen. Instead of gypsum and glue we use prims and to make things move the electric circuits are replaced by scripts. Basically it is all the same."

Zippora is on to something here. What is definitely one of the major success factors of SL is the ability to - literally - build your own world, and collaborate in buildings. There has been social media interaction before (chatrooms, IRC), there have been 3D worlds before (Myst or any other 3D game), there has been the ability to create before (Photoshop, Blender), there have been online games/worlds before. Only SL brought it all together, brought it all in one place, provides a world that the inhabitants build themselves, and where everybody can see and share what the others did.

I know a few people working on model railroads, and usually it is a lonely task. Those railroads are not for playing - they are for being watched in awe. Often the builders are organized in clubs, but the worlds they build are their own. The world we build in SL is open to everybody. The social interaction, based around - and even inside - our own creations, makes this fascination. The comparatively crude building tools level the playing field. Everybody can build, everybody can contribute, the starting threshold is small. If you feel your creativity flow, you rez a prim and simply start. That is the magic of SL!

And that is the reason I see newer virtual worlds like Blue Mars critically. Yes, Blue Mars looks fancier, way fancier. Yes, Blue Mars is faster. But Blue Mars is not a world built by the residents. Blue Mars is a world built by an elite, and our role is to admire (and eventually pay) for it.

SL might seem crude. SL might seem full of horrible (and sometimes perceived as inappropriate) content. But it is us who build it! And if I want to go and redefine "ugly" by building an abomination of a statue, I can.

And that is freedom.

December 26, 2009

New neighbours

There has been quite some reshuffling of sims close to my mooring place at Sailor's Rest, due to the arrival of the SS Galaxy and the opening of the dearly missed Treasure Cove passage, connection the Sailor's Cove sims in the East to the Blake Sea in the West without the need of doing a large detour northwards.

All this new land messed the Artificial Isle sims northeast of me up - Gulliver Airport is still not fully recovered. In all this transition the peaceful slip for my boat got a new neighbour - a (military) airport by all means.

My boat is my refuge as well. I often come there just to get some rest. But this airport has a severe impact on the peacefulness and quiet of that place. I have paid my slip 6 weeks in advance - time enough o find a new place to anchor.

Update: I checked out quite a few potential marinas in the United Sailing Sims (USS), the New England sims and other sailing sims around the Blake Sea. all of them are rather large marinas, busy with boats, not really what I want. One spot was quite nice, only that it was a caribbean island and those are so ubiquitous in SL that I rather avoid them. The good news is that my rent paid is good for all the USS slips and can be transfered.

December 21, 2009


Ten of my female friends, posing naked for my camera. Not only 10 different shapes, but also different skins, expressions and attitudes. This is just a glance at the rich diversity Second Life has to offer!

DiversityThe "Diversity" project was inspired by a RL project I saw on Tumblr a while ago. Ten women, naked, showing the variation nature has in stock for female bodies. In SL we tweak our own shapes, select our own skin, and create our own appearance. I chose 10 of my friends for their unique way of appearance. All 10 of them defined femininity for themselves - making it very diverse to look at.

All women were asked to pose topless, but other than that, no requests were made. They should use whatever accessories, hair, tattoos or jewellery they feel most at home with. Ten poses were created for the shot, loosely inspired by the poses of the RL photo, and I selected the pose fitting the model best. Some poses look a bit shy, others show very self secure femininity and nakedness.

I took about 20 photos of each avatar with different lighting settings and arranged them in a hopefully harmonic way. Countless times I shuffled the single photos until a balanced collage was achieved. I only did very subtle post processing on the images, mostly smoothing edges where the SL mesh did not have enough nodes for pleasing stretching of the skin.

I am showing you some diversity. And this is just a glimpse. There is so much beautiful diversity to be found in SL. So many people living their dreams and fantasies. Go and find out for yourself!

My thanks to (in alphabetical order): Chav, Jenn, Lectra, Marx, Natsumi, Nissa, Quest, Trinity, Uccello and Zippora

December 19, 2009

Nautical rules

[8:00] Peter Stindberg: Well, there's a rule for female guests on my boat though
[8:03] Vextra Messing: what's the rule?
[8:05] Peter Stindberg: Bikini(-top) is strictly enforced - taking it off in mid-cruise is encouraged
[8:07] Vextra Messing: hehe, that's a cute rule, I suppose it improves aerodynamics
[8:07] Peter Stindberg: oh, absolutely!
[8:07] Vextra Messing: They put tits on the front of ships for good reasons.
[8:08] Peter Stindberg: yep, knowledge of the elders

December 17, 2009

Random thought

Lectra made me think...

I know a lot of amazingly crazy, creative, kinky, wonderful, strange, complex, artistic, benevolent, wide-hearted people in Second Life. And all of them hide inside the atomic bodies of "normal people", office workers, housewives.

I wonder how many of the people I meet each day in the atomic world have amazingly crazy, creative, kinky, wonderful, strange, complex, artistic, benevolent, wide-hearted souls inside them? And I wonder how many of them have discovered these souls already, and dared to set them free - if "only" inside of SL.

A short history of copying

[This is a post I made for Rez Magazine in July 2009. Since Rez Magazine is closing down, I saved the post for my own blog.]

Copying is a fact. Copying has happened over the millenia. The first cavemen copied fire from lava flows or burning trees. Cultural advancements were based on copying. Things like a number system and written language got copied. Copying helped win wars. Copying helps fighting AIDS in Africa. Copying comes with a whole variety of names like "learning" or "inspiration". Babies copy their parent's behaviour when growing up. Copying is deeply ingrained in the human nature.

I am not saying copying is right. People spend a lot of time and effort into creating things for commercial gain. Those people have all the rights to be extremely pissed if someone copies them and threatens their business model. Again it is not as black and white as it seems, when it comes to cases were the copy is superior to the original, or where the original is so simple that it could be considered as public domain, but that is a different blog post altogether. Someone whose fruits of labor get copied should have a way to seek compensation, and most countries have legislation in place where this can be achieved. The machinery grinds a bit when it becomes international or when different standards come into play, but basically it works.

Exact digital copies change the game

Admittedly, the digital technology we have since the Seventies/Eighties makes copying extremely easy. While copying a painting by a Dutch Master took the contemporaries an equal, if not longer amount of time and work, copying a DVD in 2009 is a matter of 30 minutes instead of the 15 months the movie making needed, not to mention the cost. If you look at copying as an arms race, the side of the copiers has quite an advantage nowadays.

The answer to this is Digital Rights Management - DRM. It's the technological answer to the technological reality of exact digital copies. But DRM is nothing more than an illusion of security. DRM puts up a huge smokescreen and repeats the mantra "You are safe, you are safe" over and over. It's the 21st Centuries equivalent of dried frog pills and love potions. If digital content is to be consumed by humans apart from being encoded digitally it needs to be decoded again. And the decoding process can be reverse engineered, and sooner or later will be reverse engineered. So while DRM does not discourage the determined, it does however annoy the compliant customers by limiting their experience.

What is the best protection?

What is your best protection against being copied? Innovation! Let's take the fashion industry - a prime target of copying not only in the atomic world but also in Second Life. What Diesel or Armani or Calvin Klein or Gucci show on the catwalks in Milan and Paris will flood the trash boutiques on High Street all over the world a few months later as copies "inspired by...". The large labels are definitely not thrilled about that, but do they call for "Design Rights Management"? Do they ask that at airports or railway stations or in police controls, women get stripped who wear copied dresses? No. Do they demand show trials where women who bought copycatted dresses get charged for thousand times the worth of the dress? No! They do two things:
  1. From the commercial side they make their initial, innovative releases incredibly expensive. This enables the folks who can afford them to feel part of a rich elite, as well as as cover the design and production cost plus a hefty margin.
    Or they may take the approach of going for the masses, showing their new creations on the catwalk only to sell it by the millions themselves as long as they have the head start.

  2. While the copycats pick up on the new releases and the sales of the old collection starts to dwindle, they are already busy making the next collection, working on new designs, only to surprise the fashion world with their new creations in Milan or Paris again. They either sell few for high prices, or many for low prices, they collect their margin, eventually they get copied but by then they have their next collection in the works already. Lather, rinse, repeat.

From the atomic to the virtual world

Let's finally come to Second Life, a world with a DRM system weaved into the very fabric of the system. The DRM system was certainly part of the success of SL, since for a while it gave content creators security and a commercial model that allowed them to receive economic gain for their work. I do not blame anybody for believing this system was foolproof. Not everybody is technically interested, and the advocates of DRM never stop claiming that DRM is safe and the answer to all problems.

However it was only a matter of time until the inherent vulnerabilities got exploited. Intercepting the the OpenGL protocol to retrieve textures was the first step, working on the viewer protocol to retrieve prim parameters and other attributes only the second step. Rika Watanabe made a short but drastic summary what can be copied and what can not be copied. It should be mandatory to read for every content creator.

Was it foreseeable that copying happened? Yes. Could it have been prevented? No. The way Second Life works is that your viewer gets a kind of blueprint, and recreates what your avatar sees locally on your computer. And for that, all parameters and all textures need to be transferred to you. The only way to prevent this would be if the Second Life servers would transfer only frames of a kind of movie to you - every action would happen inside the server. And this is simply not feasible.

Accepting copying as inevitable is one thing. Making it too easy is another thing. Burglary is as inevitable, but you don't leave your door open to make it easier for the thief. So when earlier this week UK-based metaverse development company Rezzable announced the release of BuilderBot, a tool that could copy a whole sim regardless who owns the items on it, emotions ran high. Rezzable back paddled two days later, announcing it will keep the source code of the program under tabs and implement DRM conformity. The discussion is the same since over a year ago the tool "Second Inventory" was released. In its first versions, "Second Inventory" did not bother as well who the creator of items was. Quickly, the author was convinced to include DRM checks as well.

As of today, copying of all content from Second Life (with few exception - see Rika's article linked above) is possible for everyone. However, special technical understanding is required not many people possess. Tools like "Second Inventory", export features like included in the Gemini Viewer or BuilderBot, aimed for the masses, limit copyable content to content you created yourself or where you have full modify rights for. And I think this is good as it is. You can't prevent the determined from copying, but that does not mean to make the technology available to all.

Getting copied sucks. Getting copied hurts. Getting copied wants you make to drop everything and go lick your wounds. But it is a fact, and throwing technology at the problem will not prevent it from happening, but make life more difficult for the legitimate users. If you got copied, by all means, report the person and seek legal action if possible. But stop asking for a technical solution, because there can't be a technical solution!

Copybotters don't innovate! Copybotters can only feed on what actually exists. Beat them with what you can best: create! Create amazing content for Second Life! Refine your skills. Don't waste energy on worrying about being copied. Use the energy to innovate. Be ahead of the copybotters. Don't focus on people who don't buy in your shop anyways (those who buy copied content), focus on the people who are willing to spend money! Don't let the copybotters win. Show them you are better, faster, more innovative.

Stop worrying now. Start creating now!

A merchant's view: SLX, OnRez and the alternatives

[This is an import of a post I made for Rez Magazine in January 2009. Rez Magazine is closing down, so I imported the post here ]

In a world where we all see different angles and perspectives I have invited Peter Stindberg, owner of Babel Translations (Second Life’s premier translation company), co-owner of GREENE Concept sculpt furniture and also the business analyst for ~flirt~ fine jewellery, to give us his take on these events. -- Trinity Dechou

At the time of writing of this article, I have 150 items listed both on OnRez and XStreet SL, spread among 3 companies I own or am involved with. Those items generated a 5-digit revenue during the time they were listed and therefore selling on OnRez/SLX (as I still am inclined to call them) is a not-to-be neglected part of my business endeavours. One of the businesses I am involved in does not offer transferable items, so we officially encourage users to use one of the web portals to gift someone with our creations. Some merchants report that OnRez performed better for them, some merchants reported that XStreet SL provided better results - for my businesses both performed more or less the same.

Using OnRez and XStreet SL as a merchant

One of the biggest problems using the web services however is creating the listings. Dropping the items into the dropboxes provided by both seems easy enough, but the task of making the product description and web listing is immense. I would not call either web backend ideal, but the OnRez backend is way more advanced compared to the SLX backend. With the OnRez backend, you can easily bulk-edit product listings and the use of AJAX technology allows for parallel image upload. The dropboxes themselves try to detect duplicates, which is meant well but if you offer two versions of a product with different permissions, you need to use two dropboxes - that took us some time and a support call to find out. The only real downside I found in the OnRez system was that offering an updated version of a product requires you to make a completely new product listing. Last but not least, OnRez did not charge commission from merchants, and their advertising options were not only lower priced but also ran twice the time of the comparable Xstreet SL offerings.

The Xstreet SL interface on the other hand looks a bit outdated. Bulk editing items is not really possible, but at least you can adust some parameters on an overview page. Managing large amounts of items was really a stressful task - the implementation of the "templates" a while ago was a little remedy. Still doing mass-listings on SLX requires some planning to make it halfway managable. Mass edits on SLX are a task you really don't want to do... Updating an item on SLX wiht a newer version is pretty simple though, as you only need to select the new item from a drop down list in an existing listing.

Both platforms miss a tool to cross reference listings (for example multiple pieces of a jewellery set) - it's a tedious process to first publish the individual listings, then copy all their listing URL'S, and then going back into the individual listings and add the cross references.

From a merchants point of view my hope is that Linden Lab will incorporate the best features of both platforms, so that listing items will be a less time and work consuming process. From a shoppers perspective there is in fact not much difference between the portals - OnRez looks nicer but is rather slow, Xstreet SL looks more homegrown but has more merchants and the site is much faster despite OnRez using Akamai global caching services.

My wish list for Linden Lab would be:
  • Create powerful bulk-editing tools, so that listing and editing of multiple items gets easier

  • Eliminate the need for users to sign up or verify with XStreet SL

  • Improve the transaction download or...

  • ... splice the XStreet SL transactions into the regular transaction history of SL

  • Link the L$ balances in-world and on SLX

  • Make uploaded textures on SLX available in-world, and make in-world textures available for web-based product listings on SLX (yes, you can keep your 10 L$ fee for that)

  • Maybe think of ways to tie classified listings into the process

From a business person's point of view I am not too happy about this turn of events. The reason behind this is most likely the wish of LL to control the largest 3rd party currency exchange and - as speculated in the SL Herald - to offer inventory "transfer" options across several grids - which goes in fact hand in hand with the announced plans of XStreet SL mid last year to expand into other grids as well. However, buying OnRez and SLX borders to a monopoly, and I firmly believe that monopolies are bad. So what are the alternatives?

The alternatives

First player that comes to mind is - a web portal you probably have never heard of, but which in fact is older than XStreet SL (which started in December 2005). Apez offers a wide range of services and their website is quite confusing, but in fact the timing could not be better for them as I got word from Apez that a relaunch is imminent. Submitting items to Apez reminds a little bit of submitting items to a HippoVend server. The backend process could be streamlined a lot, but the technology is all there and in place. With over 15,000 registered merchants is in fact about twice the size of OnRez, but it seems their PR got neglected a bit in the past as they are not very well known. However their web backend offers many useful features, for example maintaining several virtual accounts (e.g. "personal", "business A", "business B", "alt") or the ability to send L$ from your own account(s) to any avatar in world - a feature I had missed dearly in the past. What is even more important is that via the apezAPI, a merchant can incorporate their own personalized webshop on their own website, and by this offer offline-selling right from the branded website.

I did not have many items listed on Apez, but those I had sold steadily. I shunned the work of listing 150 items on a third portal, but this work seems now to be much more well invested. A merchant who does not want to keep all their eggs in one basket is well advised to take a closer look at Apez, and in fact, during the time I was writing this article the number of merchands on jumped by over 30.

Some number crunching on the official merchant directories of XStreet SL and OnRez - courtesy of Rika Watanabe - provides some astonishing results. In public, it is always speculated that SLX is much larger than OnRez. And with 16,683 merchants featuring 705,252 products - an average of 42 products per merchant - this is truly an impressive size. In contrast, OnRez features 8,718 merchants with 337,427 products and an average of 39 products per merchant - so more or less exactly half the size in merchants and products, but the merchants on OnRez seem to be more the "power merchants". The picture gets complete if you look at, which features 15,934 merchants - almost as much as SLX has - but only lists about 100,000 products, equalling a meager 6 products per merchant.

But maybe competition might arise from a sector that is on nobodies radar - from one of the large vending system manufacturers in SL. I recently spent a lot of time adopting the HippoVend system from UK based Hippo Technologies. The process of filling the vendors and managing product listings on a web backend is very similar to the process required for the web portals. Since Hippo Technologies system is used by a large number of merchants in SL, an open web frontend offering the items of countless HippoVend systems would start with a massive number of objects. Andy Enfield was kind enough to answer to this suggestion on my behalf, but - for now - his answer is little encouraging:
"The purchase by Linden Labs of both OnRez and XStreetSL leaves a huge gap for a potential competitor to come into the market. Web stores are something I've stayed away from, not wanting the headache of dealing with running the financial services required, but it'll be interesting to see if some new company emerges into the potential gap. Collaboration may be the way to go --- it might be interesting to see what would happen if a new web store partnered with an existing vendor maker (either Hippo (one of the Grid's most popular) or any other) to marry inworld and offworld merchant services."
Tapping into the thousands of merchants and the millions of products being offered in Hippo vendors should be an attractive asset. I really look forward if this open invitation by Hippo Technologies gets taken up by someone.


So what is the bottom line? For the time being, I think it wll be business as usual. Most serious merchants are represented on XStreet SL anyways - so nothing changes for them unless Linden Lab changes the way in which XStreet SL works drastically. And I doubt they will. Currency traders, for which SLX was an "insider's tip" in the past, will focus on other 3rd party exchanges trying to get a better deal there. The Electric Sheep Company who operated OnRez was rumoured to abandon SL for quite some time. Of the merchants who were on OnRez but not on SLX, a portion will transfer, and another portion will use the opportunity to stop web sales altogether. For shoppers, not much will change - there might be slight improvements down the road like syncing the user databases so you automatically have an account on XStreet. For merchants, most likely all will stay the same, but ther eis potential for improvement. For market sanity however I hope a new competitor will arise, and my money is on And therefore my encouragement goes to the readers - merchants and shoppers alike - to sign up with Apez since a market (any market) needs competition.

December 08, 2009

Universal giftcards - finally!

Almost a year ago I shared my thoughts on a universal gift card system for Second Life. While in-store gift cards are fine, they limit the choices of the gifted. And simply donating cash, as suggested by commenters, seems a bit "cold" by many.

One of the possible ways I came up with was:
One of the large web portals like XstreetSL or OnRez should issue giftcards that can be used on their web backends or - in case of OnRez - their in-world vendors. Once purchased, the card could be used for any purchase with any of the listed items - the merchants would get L$ put into their accounts after the purchase.
And guess what - exactly this did finally happen!

Since August already you can buy gift certificates on the new marketplace, going from 500 L$ up to 10.000 L$. You can give the card to any person, and the recipient can redeem it on where their account get credited with the amount. The caveat is - of course - that not only the recipient of the card needs to have a account, but that also the range of products available on the marketplace is still far smaller than XStreet SL. However I am convinced that becomes one of the leading alternatives to XStreet SL in due course, so that the range of available products will grow over time.


Main Entry: lon·don
Pronunciation: \ˈlən-dən\
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: origin unknown
Date: 2009

Definition: To compose an answer to a blogpost, only to realize halfway through that it could be used as a blogpost of its own, and thus publishing it on your own blog while leaving just a short reply on the initial post.

Example: "I read a great article on Zippora's blog and londoned a reply on my own blog"
"I think I will london that comment"

December 05, 2009

Web marketplaces side by side comparison

A lot of people have written about alternatives to XStreet SL in the past weeks, most notably my friend Eloise Pasteur in her review series. There is also a good series of posts by Allegory Malaprop.What was lacking so far is a side-by-side comparison, so I took the effort of listing all of my 5 items on each of the available platforms. I focused on several aspects:
  1. Storefront
    This is the personalized page that only shows your items in an overview. Many merchants link to the storefront from their blogs. The more options the storefront offers, the better for marketing purposes.

  2. Individual item
    My item "Plywood Man" displayed in all available platforms. Please note that I tried to keep the same 1024-pixel window for all items. Screenshots that are larger had a horizontal scrollbar.

  3. Merchant backend overview
    This is the dashboard where you see all your items as a seller, and from where you can ideally make some adjustments already.

  4. Single item edit
    The edit page for a single item, showing all the available editing options

  5. Seller statistics
    What kind of logs and statistics are available to merchants.
This site has been around for quite some time. Apez is probably best known for their vendor system, which offers comparable (and in some aspects superior) functionality to the popular Hippo system. The technology of Apez is from what I can tell very advanced, their marketing however leaves a lot to be desired. The webpage is basically unchanged for a year now, despite the fact that the Apez team intended to relaunch it shortly after LL acquired OnRez and XStreet SL. Among the almost unknown features of Apez is the fact that you can build your own personalized storefront with them, or that you can use it to schedule payments to any avatar. Eloise's report on

Meta-LIFE is a strange mixture of affiliate vending system, vendor supplier, web shopping portal and community portal. One of the most interesting features is the ability to create a "meta brand" where more than one merchant participates. Meta-LIFE also offers an in-world HUD that not only facilitates shopping, but also has social community features and allows to recommend places and people. Eloise's report on meta-LIFE.

Metaverse Exchange (MVX)
The claim to fame for this platform is that they not only serve Second Life but also the Opensim-based alternative grid "Legend City Online (LCO)". However, none of the listed terminal locations in LCO could be found, and also LCO strikes me as a bit deserted right now. While setting up the MVX account was easy enough, the concept that item photo and price are separated from item description and category is something one needs to get used to. I also did not find where to edit the listing of an already established account. Read what Eloise had to tell about Metaverse Exchange.

This platform comes from German developers and offers you to add listings in English and German. However the English translation of the site is - despite the operators claim it has been cross-checked by native speakers - a little bit odd. To add a listing you need to select "Insert announcement" - which kept me quite some time to figure out. What is interesting is the idea of a "flea market", where single used items can be sold. Eloise's post on MySLMarket.

Among all of the alternatives to XStreet SL, is probably the youngest, but at the same time the most vocal one. I was unable to find a proper storefront link, but all the other essentials were there. During the time I listed items on I had to manually update my dropbox three times. While this was annoying to a certain extent, it also shows the platform is actively maintained. My personal impression is that will be the most likely candidate for leading competitor to XStreet SL. Eloise had some not so good initial experiences, but posted an update.

Vitty is a platform originating from Japan, which makes it an interesting option for getting a foot into the (huge) Japanese market. The English translation is remarkably good, so the usage for non-Japanese shoppers and merchants is possible. Vitty allows you to submit listings in two languages, where you can decide what languages they are. For serious merchants I suggest to make the primary listing in Japanese though. I did not had a good start with Vitty as it did not want to send me the dropbox first, but that got resolved eventually. Eloise had the same problem, so no extensive review yet.

XStreet SL
We all know XStreet SL, so just for comparison purposes the same screenshots as for the other platforms:

What else?
Apart of those 6 alternatives, a 7th is about to launch mid December. Cariama has a pleasing webpage design, but so far one can not say a lot of things. It has yet to be seen how it will work.

My personal impression is that the three most interesting platforms are, meta-LIFE and I doubt a single one of them will "make it" and obsolete the others. All have different concepts and strenghts and weaknesses. Apez definitely lacks on the marketing side - something is agressively pushing. If you want to tap into the Japanese market, Vitty is your best bet so far, but Japanese translation is a must (and incidentally I know a good translation agency :-).

I assume merchants will need to live with maintaining multiple platforms, and need to develop strategies and maybe even tools to update listings on all of them. Definitely there are good platforms that allow you to address a broad audience and not have your eggs all in one basket.

November 22, 2009

XStreet and me - a personal analysis

I have not yet made my mind up on the upcoming XStreet SL changes. I see where Linden Lab comes from with the announced changes, and I think this is not all bad. I also see where Linden Lab goes to with these changes, and I am not sure whether I like it. I heard many good arguments against the canges from residents and merchants. And I heard many good arguments for the changes, also from residents and merchants. What I am sure of is that the changes were certainly not a majority-wish, as the Lab wants us to believe. At least not a majority in the sense of the majority of people. Maybe a majority wish in terms of amounts sold...

In the process of making up my mind whether I am for or against the changes, I looked at my own XStreet SL listings. This has, in fact, been overdue, so that is a good thing that I now got forced to do it.

Regular Merchandise

The good news is - all of my items sell. Even the most expensive one - Plywood Man - sold 12 times this year, giving me 1508 L$ of revenue. Instead of the 5 L$ commission, there will be another 120 L$ per year to keep this item listed. However if I only sell 2 in the next year, I already make a small profit. Two other items, my Celtic Cross and my Dasher, are also in the "green zone" and will continue to generate a profit, even with the new charges. However the Lab will get 786 L$ share of those items (same amount of sales anticipated), instead of 182 L$ prior to the changes - so 604 L$ more for the Lab.

It gets critical with my 2-prim-couch. This items is based on a 5-prim freebie, which I trimmed down to look exactly the same but save 3 prims to clever prim parameter and texture repeat selection. I set that item at the more nominal price of 5 L$ and since I listed it back in the day 183 people thought these are 5 L$ well spent because it saved them 3 prims. Up to now, Linden Lab got no share of the sales of this couch. In the future they want 3 L$ for each sale and 10 L$ each month, so I need to sell 60 copies in order to break even. Unfortunately it only sold 53 times last year, and since it is not really stylish anymore, I will most likely delist it.

Promotional Items

The next two items are listed for 0 L$ - freebies. Those two items are actually a good example for promotional items as Linden Lab states. I do not give them away for free because I am such a nice person. I give them away for free to raise awareness of my in-world business and find new clients. Up to now, Linden Lab gave me free advertising - now they want me to pay for it. Of course I would have preferred to still have it for free, and I do not really buy the explanation that the running costs are so high. However 1188 L$ per year is easily affordable for my business.

There are two problems however:
  1. Freebie listings will not be searchable anymore and can not be put into suitable categories anymore - they go into a special freebie category. This makes it basically unusable for me. Potential clients find my Language Kiosk in the "Business -> Signs" subcategory. They will certainly not look in a freebie category. And those who will look in a freebie category, are usually not the ones requesting my services. If it is a promotional tool, and if I have to pay 1188 L$ per year to keep it listed, then don't give me a worse service than before!

  2. Even without the first item, I would not keep TWO items listed. Both have basically the same aim and effect, so I would only keep one of those. Sorry, LL, not 2 x 1188 L$ for you.
Another solution would be to set a price for those promotional items. If I set them at 1 L$ I can assign them to whatever subcategory I want. However I would still need to pay 3 L$ commission on them, so I lose 2 L$ per sale. With a projected amount of 200 sales a year the cost would be 12 * 10 L$ monthly fee + 200 * 2 L$ commission after sales = 520 L$ - or almost exactly 50% of the intended cost of a promotional item. Sounds like a no-brainer.

General Considerations

I mentioned in the beginning that I understand where Linden Lab comes from. XStreet SL is like the Wayback Machine for Second Life. There are thousands upon thousands of obscure items. Admittedly there are thousand upon thousand of outdated items like pre-sculpty-age shoes. The fact that listing items without cost was a blessing and a curse. There is a lot of - well - trash on Xstreet. There are countless grossly overpriced items. But also countless very good items, items from philantropes who give them away for free as community service, as well as items from content creators that never bothered with shops and just developed for fun. Many of those merchants have panicked in the meantime and pulled their stuff. Which is an immense loss - even from a istorical point of view.

A second consideration is that Second Life does not have an effective object search! The closest that comes to an object search in SL is in fact XStreet SL, exactly because of what I said in the last passage. To be honest, searching in XStreet is a pain, but at least you can do it.

How would I have done it?

Accepting the assumption that XStreet SL needed changes at all, there still would be things I had made better:
  1. Linden Lab claims that the changes were wanted by the majority of users. There are reports that this is somewhat of a euphemism. Fact is that those changes affect definitely way more merchants than got involved in the process. The proper way would have been to send a survey to all merchants on XStreet SL, and a second survey to all people who made at least one purchase in - say - the last 3 months on XStreet. This would be in my opinion the only way to get qualified feedback.
  2. One approach would have been to automatically disable items that have not sold in a certain amount of time (6 or maybe even 12 months). That way, the "clutter" (as LL calls it) would be gradually removed. Merchants could manually reenable those listings - and maybe this would be a place where a monthly fee would apply.
  3. A better distinction between promotional-freebies and philanthropic-freebies could be found. Someone whose whole XStreet inventory consists of 0 L$ items is certainly not promoting his regular merchandise with them. Someone who has 50 hairstyles on sale, and 50 associated demos is clearly promoting them, but is probably not in a position to pay 4950 L$ for all of them. Why not extend the functionality of XStreet with a "deliver demo" option? Maybe as charged-for option?
My bottom line

From my point of view it is not the end of the world as we know it. I can subscribe to some of the motivation behind it, but I think there would both have been better ways to get a true majority vote, as well as better ways to implement some changes.

I will not pull my items from XStreet SL, as it is still the major web platform. I will adjust my inventory to minimize cost and maximize effect - something every sensible merchant should do. Linden Lab will get more money from me - no way around that - but less than they probably thought they'd get.

I definitely got the motivation to seriously consider alternatives - but not to abandon XStreet SL. The alternatives will be used to widen my exposure and give additional revenue.

What is your take on the changes?

November 20, 2009

Transgender Day of Rememberance

The word Transgender defines a mixed bag, but is mostly used to describe those fellow humans among us, that see and experience themselves as one gender, but unfortunately their biological body does not match this gender. The available options to those people range from ignoring it and arranging themselves with a life in the wrong body to undergoing medical treatment and ultimately having sex reassignment surgery.

The important thing is that today, in 2009, they actually have a choice! We have not only made radical advances in the medical area, also society has become much more understanding and liberal, accepting not only the reality of those people, but also granting them the choice to live the life they want to live.

Some people however did not get a choice. Some people were killed, murdered, beaten to death, tortured, shot - because they were different! Because their murderers could not cope with that, because their killers could not accept the fact that people sometimes end up in the wrong body. So they took the right of choice from their victims, and chose death for them.

And there are others that could not live with the conflict anymore. Who felt obliged - for whatever reason - to keep up the appearance for their parents, their siblings, maybe their wives or husbands. Because they feared social repercussions, loss of job, loss of status. Because they did not know there are other ways. Because they could not afford them. Because they felt ashamed to ask for help. And saw no other way than to kill themselves.

Today, on the 20th of November, we think of those poor souls who got killed or took their own lives, simply because they were different. Today is Transgender Day of Rememberance.

November 16, 2009

Why inventory transactions fail, and what you can do about it

[SL blogs are shaken up by the questionnaire Pink Linden sent to Xstreet SL merchants. Among many other things, the survey asked whether merchants would pay a premium for guaranteed deliveries. As far as I know, this is the first time for Linden Lab to publicly admit that failed deliveries are a problem.]

Everything is an Instant Message. Not only if you send an IM to a friend, no, things like teleport requests, force teleports, teleport acceptance, teleport rejection, friend requests, friend acceptance, friend rejection, object IMs, busy response IMs and so on and so on. My friend Katharine Berry counted them once and came up with 40 different types of IM's in SL.

Inventory offers are - behind the scenes - IM's as well, and this is the reason why so many inventory transfers fail!

During our work on the Designer Showcase Network, Rika Watanabe and I encounterend a surprisingly high number of inventory transactions failing, and after some digging we found that this is a common problem for other delivery systems like Subscribe-o-Matic or even XStreet SL. There are a few scenarios, where failed transactions can happen:

Case 1 - Recipient is in "busy" mode
  • Sender is an avatar
    Never fails, object (or notecard, texture, etc) can be found in "Trash" folder, sender gets a "... is busy" notice.
  • Sender is a "Buy" object
    Never fails, bought merchandise goes to where it is supposed to go (its own folder or the matching system subdirectory)
  • Sender is a scripted object (e.g. "Pay" object or "Touch" vendor or subscription system)
    Always fails! The scripted object uses llGiveInventory, which does not have any feedback functionality. A paid for-purchase will be irrecoverably lost, and what is even worse, the merchants transaction history will show no anomalies.

Case 2 - Avatar is offline - no capped IM'S
  • Sender is an avatar
    Never fails, upon login of the recipient a blue box appears via which you can decide to accept or decline the delivery. An IM is generated "Xyz sent you inventory" - those IM's go to your offline email address if specified. Those IM's also count toward your IM cap.
  • Sender is a "Buy" object
    Not possible when you are offline
  • Sender is a scripted object (e.g. DSN dropbox, S-o-M or XStreet delivery)
    Never fails, upon login of the recipient a blue box appears via which you can decide to accept or decline the delivery. An IM is generated "Xyz sent you inventory" - those IM's go to your offline email address if specified. Those IM's also count toward your IM cap.
There is a limit to how many IM's an avatar can receive while being offline. I did not find an official statement as to how many IM's it takes to cap, several discussions on forums and the JIRA suggest that the cap will happen after 15 IMs. While you still get offline-IM's that you received something, what you actually find in your inventory is different:

Case 3 - Avatar is offline - IM cap limit reached
  • Sender is an avatar
    Oddly enough those mostly work. Sometimes you get the blue box to accept, sometimes you don't get the blue box and the inventory offer goes straight to the matching folder. An offline-IM is being generated.
  • Sender is a "Buy" object
    Can't happen when you are offline
  • Sender is a scripted object (subscribe-o, XStreet dropbox, Deliverator, DSN, etc.)
    Always fails! While you receive an offline-IM, the objects are nowhere to be found and can't be recovered. What makes it even more annoying is that the transaction logs of the sending systems have no way of telling whether you actually receive the inventory offer, or not.

Inventory transfer success matrix

Busy Offline Non-capped Offline Capped
Avatar sends ok ok sometimes
Buy object ok n.a. n.a.
Scripted Object fails ok fails

The culprit in those failed cases is the unholy union of the llGiveInventory function in the LSL scripting language and the IM-based delivery system. The function only gets a recipient-ID and an inventory object, however it has no way to check whether the transaction was actually successful. It's basically a shot in the dark, and given the vulnerability with capped IM's as shown above, can only be described as incomplete.

In theory a script could check if the recipient is only, thus avoiding the capping problem. This approach has two drawbacks:
  1. Scalability
    A script only delivering items when an avatar is actually online might end up with an immense backlog of deliveries and ultimately meet memory issues
  2. Busy
    There is now way to find out whether an avatar is busy from within an LSL script

What can I do to avoid inventory transaction loss?

There are a few things each of us can do in order to ease the situation. In case of XStreet SL (or similar services) purchases, the easiest thing is to make sure you (or the recipient) are actually logged into SL and not-busy during the time of purchase.

For systems like DSN, Subscribe-o-Matic, Deliverator and other services that send you objects at a schedule you can't influence there is only one way to raise the success rate: avoid capped IM's!

A few methods:
  • Leave "spammy" groups, e.g. groups with a lot of group notices
    A group like FashCon can easily reach your capping limit on a Saturday evening within 10 minutes because of the massive amount of group notices. In case you can't leave the group (e.g. because it is a land group), at least switch off group notices. The notices are still available in the groups archive for a while.

  • Unsubscribe from lists with high activity
    I was signed up to some Subscribe-o-Matic systems where there was almost daily a new notice from the shop owner. While it is commendable that the merchant keeps such a close communication with their client base, this actually adds a lot to IM-capping. In fact lately I am very reluctant to subscribe to a SoM or Hippo-Group at all, and have unsubscribed from many as well.

  • Reduce offline-messaging objects
    Many scripted objects can send their owner various status information, for example security orbs if someone has trespassed on your naughty skybox. Usually those devices use the llInstantMessage function which - right - sends an instant message that would add to capping if you are offline. With llEmail exists a slightly more complex mechanism, that instead of sending an IM sends an actual email to an actual off-world email address. A script could even be designed to detect whether the recipient of a notice is online and use llInstantMessage or offline and in that case use llEmail. This should become a level of expectation to scripters to help avoid capping IM's.

  • Ask your friends to cooperate
    Many people send IM's or objects to friends who are offline. The intentions are meant well, however those IM's and transactions also add to each person's IM cap count.

Anything else that can be done?

Yes, there is, alas not by you or me. There is quite a lot that can be done by Linden Lab, and it is up to us to raise awareness.

  • Create an alternative to llGiveInventory
    What is needed is a way to get some feedback if the inventory transfer has actually succeeded. Yes, this is far from trivial and requires many, many behind-the-scenes changes, but don't tell me it can't be done! The most drastic change that needs to happen is ...
  • Get rid of the IM-based transaction system
    ... because then object transfers can be operations within the database itself (instead of database -> IM system -> database). The detour through the IM system is probably only to give the recipient a notification. Otherwise it would be a simple copy or move operation in the asset server database.
In the recent survey, Pink Linden asked whether merchants would welcome a system that guarantees delivery. Yes, of course we would, but not at a 15% premium. Inventory transfer is a basic functionality of SL, and to say it bluntly - it is broken! Fix it! Asking a premium for guaranteed delivery strikes me as - well - unethical. I think it is Linden Lab's obligation to fix the functionality that is there, and not ask money for a workaround.

I actually wonder what Pink Linden has in mind? The llGiveInventory function, and the problems I described here, can't be selectively fixed. Either they work for everybody, or they keep being broken. So a certified delivery is most likely just a method to request a redelivery, and then it gets complicated when transferable items get sold (hat tip to Rika for that thoug).

Anyways, please, Linden Lab, fix llGiveInventory and the assorted functionality now!

And everybody else, please vote on this JIRA which deals with the issue.


November 11, 2009

LabGraal - celtic Live Music in SL

The other day I was bored in SL and did some map-hopping: pulling up the map, reduce the zoom level, and check for sims that either look interesting, have an interesting name or have a number of green dots on them. After some sobering experiences, and actually close before I gave up, I found the sim of Glendalough, whose name and map-image captured my attention.

After teleporting there I found myself in a beautiful Irish-themed setting, with an incredible amount of wild vegetation, the ruin of an abbey, right enough a pub, a solemn cemetery and loads and loads of beautifully designed corners and places and many hidden corners. You can see that a lot of care has been taken to make this place as authentic as can be, and to make it beautiful with a love for detail.

Near the pub was a stage announcing the concert of a band using some celtic symbols, but the poster said Saturday and it was Sunday. I regretted this a bit since celtic folk, celtic rock and celtic fusion is the kind of music I like very much, but the sim had enough beauty so I did not mind longer.

However, suddenly, an announcement was made that the concert is about to start soon - whether it was a repeat or they rescheduled it was not mentioned - and I went to the stage area where the band assembled themselves. And a minute later a bagpipe made its war cry across the sim.

The act I was fortunate to attend was a celtic band from - of all places - Italy. I knew that France - especially Brittany - has a vivid celtic scene, but Italy was new to me. The band LabGraal (LABORATORIO MUSICALE DEL GRAAL) is a "real life" band who has released 6 CD's by now. They have dedicated a portion of their website to their Second Life involvement. Anyhow, the music was very energetic and driven, the lead singer had a lovely accent and lead nicely from song to song, but what was most amazing is that they actually had a stage show!

I attended concerts - both of solo acts as well as of bands - in SL before, and none of them had a stage show. The musicians usually loop through the very same animations - which is especially confusing in the pauses between songs. Not so LabGraal - the musicians moved on the stage, they changed instruments, they used appropriate animations during solos - and they even clapped their hands above their heads during an especially exciting solo of one of the players.

All in all it was an amazing evening, the sim was packed with well over 30 avatars, and I had a great time. My dear friend Nissa, who joined me after a while, was quite surprised as well. It was her first live music event in SL - and it probably got her hooked.