The future of SL: Why not help make it happen!, by Foolish Frost.
<foolish frost rolls a chair out into the room>
<foolish frost goes back for an uncountable number of chairs, a table of undefined size, and sets them all up in a semi-comfortable manner>
<sets out snacks and drinks of unknown tastes>
<sits down in his comfy chair, and takes a deep breath>
Hullo everyone. I want to say firstly, this is going to be long winded. I'll try to sum it up near the end, but no promises. If you hate long posts, then be along your merry way, and let me not detain you further.
Those of you remaining: Have a seat, enjoy a drink. This may take a while, and you should at least be comfortable.
Well. Has this not been an exciting few weeks? SL opened to the public without any restraint. Free account allowances cut. SL's anniversary interrupted by system glitches that may-or-may-not have been griefer related...
I hear statements that griefing is up, that sales are down, and that system stability has gone haywire.
I've seen protests and rants of the changes, and angry people tearing each other to bits over every perceived insult they might have heard.
Let's go over some of the things done by LL. In detail.
- First, they removed the 50 lindens given weekly to those with free accounts.
Well, we can assume they knew they were going to remove the blockades to registration. This means that this HAD to happen to prevent the use of alts for money harvesting.
I have to say, I've always been dubious of the free allowance to avatars. Looking at it in the most basic way, it meant that LL was actually buying things and giving it to the new players. At least with the non-free accounts, you could point out that the player was paying for his allowance. I make no bones about the fact this has hurt sales for not only my friends, but myself as well. As soon as this happened, I saw sales plummet.
Problem is, all this does is point out how much LL has been supplementing my sales through this.
- LL has also opened registration in such a way as to make is as painless as possible.
We know the effects of this. There is no denying that it has had a negative impact on SL in the short term. We are currently unable to be sure of who we are dealing with, and stopping aggressive griefers has generally become impossible.
Sadly, I have to say, from personal experience, that this has always been the case in SL. I have had the irritation of dealing with aggressive griefers and even teams of them. The point has always been made to me this: If someone wants to grief others, it is impossible to stop them. The fact it's happening more now does not point to the simplified registration as being a problem, but that SL's land controls need an overhaul.
No, not fixing. Rebuilding. Let me pick up on this farther down.
We also know that we have no way to tell the children from the adults.
Guess what: We again, never did. While the scale is now higher, all that does is bring to the forefront the problem that has always existed. Children CAN and HAVE gotten into SL, and some adults have gotten into some rather creepy, if not downright frightening, situations. You see, in SL, we are on equal footing with children. We cannot note their age and dismiss them out-of-hand, we cannot card them effectively. We cannot even note who they really are and march them to their parents and warn them of what you had just caught them doing.
But the internet has had that problem for years. It's a problem that for SL, we HAVE to fix. The old methods do not really protect the children from us, or even us from the children. They just make it where we only get the craftier kids who know how to play the games better.
- SL crashes and glitches.
We can see, as a rule, that SL is unstable. It crashes for seemingly random reasons. It seems to be so network dependant that even the slightest glitch can cause loss of data and work. I can go on, but those of us here already have lived all the problems.
And yet LL has obviously been a work-in-progress since the first day I was here. I have NEVER seen LL promote SL as a finished product, ready for the universe at large. They have allowed those that wanted in, but I have never seen them advertise to companies that they should use SL as a polished solution to their needs.
Still, the glitches sometime want to make me stomp on my hat, but what can be said: I was warned when I first came online.
I see all of the things that have been happening, and something occurred to me.
Linden Labs is preparing to do something. They have some kind of time table, and that they are making changes to ready for a large scale change.
And then Philip just out and said it: They want SL to be more than just a single online world. They want to open the software to by run anywhere.
Which is exactly why all of the above changes HAD to take place.
Picture it: People running SL servers like web servers. Able to make modifications to the overall design based on their needs, but all using an open standard for the client to access the servers.
Now, people say that you don’t NEED a 3D web. And the most basic fact is that they are correct. The web browser, in it’s current form, is more or less here to stay.
But web pages are not the internet. They run on top of it.
Just like SL.
Let me offer a vision to you. Somewhat pure Sci-FI, but plausible:
You get up, get out of bed, and read the news from your favorite website. Noticing an article on security vs. freedom, you follow it and look it over.
At the bottom, you notice the news site has opened a temporary discussion panel and click in to join. Your terminal switches to 3D and drops you into an auditorium with hundreds of people discussing the issue in groups of about a dozen per table. You wander over to one as a good friend send you an IM asking you what you’re doing up so early.
Telling them, they ask for a link and appear next to you. You both walk over, and while listening, keep your own private chat open.
You run out of time, and have to start getting to work. Logging out, you remember to leave behind a drone to record the rest of the debate and forward it to you. Switching to your company website, you follow a link into your corporate meeting room and turn on your camera to catch your face.
The camera is a simple design: It just pastes you face to your avatar in real-time and allows facial expression along with the voice-chat. You notice your partner is sales is already there, and drop a copy of your sales figures on his avatar. He nods in your direction and finishes his talk with your manager.
I could go on, but the fact is, while SL IS currently too complicated to use effectively, so were a lot of systems when first created. When you get down to it, things like IRC chat and newsgroups were always a bit too hard for the layman to figure out. Some do, but most people who browse the web never seem to have ever even accessed them.
What I eventually see is the technology of SL merging with the other common features of the internet: Instant Messaging, Web Browsing, Forums… It’s not supposed to replace them, as much as compliment them with an additional form of communication. I see the ability to drop files from your desktop seamlessly to another avatar without even thinking about it. I see the ability for people to listen to whatever you’re currently listening to, if you allow it.
For an idea of what I think, look at qnext.com and picture that merged into the SL client.
The problem is, a LOT of SL systems will not work with an open design like that: The closed login system will have to go. It will probably have to be replaced with an authentication system more like a passport or cookies. Your identity, or levels of it, would be provided to ‘worlds’ depending on what you request. Want to buy something, then you have to offer them an account and proof you can buy with it. Want to go to an adult online brothel, then you have to have proof of age in your profile.
Now, what does this do to prevent hacking, stealing of information, faking profiles, and identity confirmation?
Simple, none of the systems SL had or has can do this with a decentralized system. They are going to have to come up with one, and soon, in order to deal with all the problems with the internet we have nowadays. They have to place these things into SL BEFORE they continue, because the internet is no longer a place where you can make something wide open and add security as you go along. The entire idea of security has become mandatory to any web application.
So, here is my proposal. We have smart people here. I mean a LOT of smart people here. Genius level in many cases. Instead of complaining (even rightfully) about things going away that worked half-assed, let’s come up with ways they will not only work, but will work on a large, decentralized, scale.
Or… We can do nothing but throw stones.
Are we up to the challenge?