Top Posts of 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007 Sunday, December 30, 2007

Second Effects began in 2007, and it is still undergoing very strong growth in readership. So it really doesn't make mathematical sense to list the top posts because so many new readers have only read the most recent posts.

But I will do so anyway!

These are the posts most frequently read by you, the readers of Second Effects:

10. Particles at Burning Life. This report detailed my exploration of particle effect exhibits at Burning Life, and what a festival it was. Maybe next year I will try creating an exhibit myself.

9. Why RL Businesses Fail in Second Life, part 1. This was my first attempt at explaining the usual fate of real world businesses when they attempt to go virtual. Essentially, I believe they simply don't understand what's going on in Second Life and treat it like any old website. Hence, failure.

8. Insane Way to Increase Parcel Traffic. This post came from one of those lucky occurrences when you bump into something interesting right under your nose. Or, in this case, it was my neighbor's nose.

7. Tips for Successful Second Life Clubs. In a very recent post I described some very intriguing techniques for managing a Second Life club.

6. Particles in Bloom. My first attempt at making "vegetation" based particle effects was for some unexplainable reason very popular. Maybe I should make potatoes next year?

5. Why RL Businesses Fail in Second Life, part 3. The final post in the "RL Failure" series garnered 4 diggs as well as a great many views, since it explained some potentially viable approaches for RL businesses.

4. Top Ten Tips for Starting a Second Life Business. Many people ask me what they should do to start a business, so I thought I could answer all of them at once with a blog post. Evidently this is a very popular topic, as many people are indeed starting SL businesses.

3. Why RL Businesses Fail in Second Life, part 2. Part 2 of the "RL Failure" series ended up with 6 diggs. The post described my theory of virtual experience and how it is not properly addressed by RL businesses.

2. Burning After Alexis. Thanks to a very fortunate pointer from New World Notes and editor Wagner James Au, this amusing post was the second-most read of 2007. It describes a bizarre solution to a build problem.

1. More from Rezzable / Greenies. This post from early September was the single most popular post of the year, and was picked up by several other blogs, including Your2ndPlace.

I want to thank all Second Effects readers for a very successful year in 2007, and wish everyone the best in 2008.

Customer Service Saves Database!

Friday, December 28, 2007 Friday, December 28, 2007

Did you know that customer service can fix database problems? I do! How do I know this? Because I have to use that technique at least once a week.

Here's the scenario: customer arrives at my store, browses and selects an item for purchase. They click on it to pay. Lindens are transferred from their account to mine. However... the item somehow doesn't get transferred to their inventory. This is a database problem. It's a Linden Lab problem.

But at the moment of purchase, it's MY problem.

Typically, the customer gives me a shout and asks what to do. I check my transaction log to ensure they actually did purchase something, and if they did I simply toss them another copy. Sometimes I give them a bonus to make up for their trouble. Everybody's happy.

Not so typical is the maniacal customer who explodes all over you, such as happened this week at Electric Pixels. I am certain that most shop owners have identical scenarios occurring at their locations too. But this one was just crazy.

Taking a cue from Sarah Nerd's frequent conversational posts, I reproduce the sequence of events here (which took place by email on my side as you will see). I defy anyone to read this and understand what is going on. This has to be more than a simple language translation issue. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but otherwise is intact:

[12:06] Unruly Customer: hi
Unruly Customer has offered to become your friend in Second Life. Log in to accept or decline the offer.
[12:10] Unruly Customer: Face I bought an effect of green thy $ 99L and I did not get the goods. I receive you is safado sacana.
[12:46] Unruly Customer: hei
[12:51] Arminasx Saiman: Hi - got your message. I have a record of your transaction 999999999 today at 12:00:03 SLT MultiBalls Personal for L$99 and no other transactions. Did you receive MultiBalls? I have no record of you buying any Green effects. Let me know what happens and we will fix it.
[12:53] Unruly Customer: I just more expensive to buy, my many friends bought a little now. I am not lying, help me
[12:54] Unruly Customer: I will face gives me the product
[12:55] Unruly Customer: I bought, I will report this abuse
[12:58] Unruly Customer: Porra because you merdas these green? I bought this porra and caralho not received, I want to receive you received rather the dollar.
[12:59] Unruly Customer: Poxa you face is a sacana even me wrong
[13:00] Unruly Customer: I bought this shit, and not received, boy I can return my money one of the effect that I bought.
[13:03] Unruly Customer: I shit game, and give the goods safado
[13:04] Unruly Customer: I shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safadoI shit game, and give the goods safado
[13:05] Unruly Customer: Pilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleadingPilantra misleading
[13:07] Arminasx Saiman: I do not want you mad at me - I just do not yet know what happened. I always fix up problems for my customers - and I have to do this every week for someone because Linden Lab's database is not reliable. Often things are not delivered when bought. By the way, I am not online until several hours from now. but when i come on, I will fix things for you.
[13:10] Unruly Customer: Then please give me my goods, I am stating
[13:10] Unruly Customer: Then please give me my goods, I am statingThen please give me my goods, I am statingThen please give me my goods, I am stating
[13:12] Unruly Customer: I will have to wait, my friends, XXX, YYY, ZZZ bought effects a few minutes and all received, but I did not get that.
[13:14] I will give you the goods, BUT I AM NOT ONLINE NOW! I can only do this later today. And you must tell me EXACTLY which effect you purchased that you did not receive. I have many GREEN effects. WHICH ONE????
[13:16] Unruly Customer: You can just see how we buy ai effects, more myself I have not received
[13:16] Arminasx Saiman: This is what I have recorded in transactions today: XXX buys Sunballs Gang for L99; ZZZ buys MultiStreaks Personal for L99; Unruly Customer buys MultiBalls Personal for L99. Did you receive MultiBalls?
[13:17] Unruly Customer: I will tell you what is now Wait a moment
[13:19] Unruly Customer: multiballs personal
[13:19] Unruly Customer: This is exactly the multiballs personal, which was 99 lindens
[13:20] Arminasx Saiman: OK - then it is no problem. I will give you a fresh new copy of Multiballs when I am back online in a couple of hours. I am at RL work right now and cannot get online. Is that OK?
[13:23] Unruly Customer: Rightly, my name is Unruly Customer, I bought the effect multiballs personal and not received in my inventory
Unruly Customer has offered to become your friend in Second Life. Log in to accept or decline the offer.
[13:24] Arminasx Saiman: Yes, I will give you a good copy of MultiBalls in about 2 hours or so. Undelivered items happens to a customer at least once a week - the Linden database system is not reliable. This week it seems to be your turn! Don't worry - I will fix it.
Even more confusing to me is the fact that the MultiBalls product is NOT green.

Later that evening I met "Unruly Customer" in person at the store and gave him not only a new copy of the missing item but also an extra bonus item too, in hopes of making him happy. Nope. He accepted the items and swiftly disappeared into the aether without even a thank you or a goodbye. Sigh, another week of SL business completed.

Burning After Alexis

Tuesday, December 25, 2007 Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Alexis Lange is not only a friend of mine, but also a Battlestar Galactica pilot based in Eleggua (call sign "Panther".) Last week she came to me looking for a way to make her flyer more realistic, specifically by adding a massive rocket plume.

Easy, I thought. Just build a particle emitter that shoots out the right mix of shapes and colors to visually appear as a plume. Then paste it on the a**-end of the flyer. I quickly constructed a disc-shaped "Afterburner" emitter that could fit well within the thrust tubes of the powerful flyer, shooting out white-yellow flames.

It was going fine until I dropped by the Eleggua airfield (which is itself hundreds of meters in the air) and gave Alexis the Afterburner prototype for testing. The device worked perfectly, and even synchronized with the flyer's start and stop chat commands.

The trouble began when I suggested that Alexia link the Afterburner to the flyer so that she could fly off and not leave the emitter behind on the deck! However, it turns out that the permissions on the flyer were no-Modify, meaning she cannot link any objects to it, including the Afterburner.

I was about to abandon hope of getting this done easily, short of begging the flyer's maker to somehow include the Afterburner, when I had an idea.

Instead of attaching the emitter to the flyer, I realized we could attach it to Alexis! Yes, while she's sitting in the cockpit, the emitter goes off as designed, but the plume still appears as intended. Flames blast out from her spine backwards and appear to come from the flyer's engines. With some simple adjustments, I'll be able to make a rocket plume Alexis can wear in any vehicle.

In fact, I think I'll be making an entire line of wearable aircraft effects including explosions, smoke trails, rat-tat-tat or what ever else seems appropriate or just plain cool. There will be no need to equip every vehicle with effects - just bring them with you instead! Thanks for the inspiration, Alexis!

Two things were very important for me on this adventure:

  • There are always more ways to solve a problem than you think at first. Never give up - just keep trying, even ideas that are, well, crazy at first! You may bump into the answer.
  • No matter how bad the situation, you can usually find a way to make something good out of it. Learn something, change something, change your self!
And Alexis, one thing to remember about the Afterburner - be very, very careful where you are when you say the word, "start"!

Tips for a Successful Second Life Club

Saturday, December 22, 2007 Saturday, December 22, 2007

I came across some very interesting Second Life business ideas the other day quite by accident. Readers may recall my rantings on how best to organize your store for traffic management earlier, but these ideas take them a lot farther.

ATown Fall is the owner of multiple successful sims, most of which involve 24x7 DJ clubs - a rarity itself in Second Life. He sets up sims one after the other, hiring staff and gathering residents and merchants to populate them. While he certainly does the basic things, ATown has several very unique Second Life business approaches that I hadn't considered:

  • ATown's admission policy echoes real life - you often must pay a cover charge to get in. This makes the events more important, if only because those who are inside really want to be inside because they paid to get in! This raises the profile of the events.
  • Because you must pay a cover to enter events, the concept of VIPs becomes real. All too often clubs hand out "VIP" tags to basically anyone, but that makes the concept of VIP meaningless. However, ATown's cover charge is waived for his VIPs, and the tag is no longer meaningless. You really are "important".
  • Many businesses try to increase their traffic by planting as many poorly-paid campers as possible on their parcels. But these zombie-like operations appear quite artificial and often scare away real visitors, who immediately recognize it for what it is - a scam to game the traffic counter. Meanwhile, ATown has a very unique approach to camping. Instead of paying people to camp, he simply has people wait for a specified duration before they are given a pass to enter the club. Of course, you could pay the cover charge and get in immediately, but instead many people simply wait out the time for their pass. And in the process, cause the traffic count to rise - because their wait time in the line is equivalent to a row of camping zombies. But it's much more realistic.
  • I've written before about the importance of traffic flow in a shopping mall. Essentially, the problem is that TP allows people to skip by the shops and go directly to and from the entertainment. Many, many clubs have this issue. They hope to make money by renting space to shopkeepers, but fail to encourage traffic to the shops. The shopkeepers fail, and ultimately the clubs are unsuccessful. I've previously recommended using careful placement of the landing point such that arriving TP'ers must walk past or near shops on their way to the entertainment. This has proven successful in a few malls I've seen. However, ATown takes this concept a bit further. He sets his land to no-fly. This, combined with the landing point trick, means that visitors must walk past the shops - and walkers are more likely to see items they'd like to purchase than someone flying by at warp speed.

Why do these techniques work? Simple - they are already well proven in real life! ATown has recognized that the same things can also be done in Second Life. And evidently very successfully.

Birds, Fogs and Cheese - New Effects!

Sunday, December 16, 2007 Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ok, it isn't really a cheese particle effect, but it does involve cheese, as you can see in the picture. My Dutch model, Sennaw Beck, is showing off the latest National Poofer from Electric Pixels: I Am Dutch. There have been several requests for this effect lately, so I thought I'd better make it. She's wearing the poofer version; there is also a ring version available.

It's always challenging for me to make national poofers for countries other than my own, since I have to guess at the right kind of icons and symbols to use. Sometimes my stereotypical notions of the country are correct. Sometimes they are catastrophically wrong. Fortunately, my friends from around the world, like Sennaw, are there to correct me. This time the Dutch effect passed Sennaw's test... she even liked the cheese! When I asked her if I missed any Dutch symbols, she said that it is complete, "except for the weed!" Argh.

Meanwhile, I have also produced two other interesting effects. One is Doves. Wear it and some lovely doves will gently float away from you. I believe this could be very useful at weddings. There is also an installable version of Doves if you want your SL crib or wedding stand to have particle birds floating around it.

Finally, I've made another "AnkleFog". This time the color Green is featured. EmeraldFog is worn on your lower leg and it emits a greeny-white ever-changing fog. It comes in either large or small sizes. Your choice. Hmm, this may be useful on St. Patrick's day?

Up and Down. Way Down!

Thursday, December 13, 2007 Thursday, December 13, 2007

Like any business, Electric Pixels has its up days and its down days. But this week has been ridiculous, especially on Tuesday the 11th. On that day I had my lowest sales ever. A single L$1 box of freebies was purchased by Bobbi Voom. That's it - one sale! For one single Linden. Thank you Bobbi Voom, whoever you are. Really, thank you.

Even on the first day I opened in January, visitors purchased many times more items than on December 11th 2007. So what's going on?

When I first started selling items in Second Life, I was quite pleased when people purchased items from me. After a while sales became more or less regular. But certain days sales were down substantially - and I wondered what I was doing wrong. Several possibilities immediately arose in my panicked mind:

  • I am not spending enough on advertising! Quick! Double the classified payment!
  • A secret competitor has suddenly opened and is taking away all of my customers!
  • Somebody had a problem with a product and has told everyone in Second Life to avoid my stuff!
  • I'm losing my edge and can't make something people want! Auggh!
Rationality prevailed then, and also now.

Asking other business owners how they did on these bad days often came back to a single answer:

"Oh, the grid was down/broken/slow/laggy/sucked today"

That always happens when I experience a bad day. The 11th is just particularly bad. Pictured is the graph from Second Life statistics of concurrent logins from that disastrous day. In other words, it shows how many people were logged in for each moment of that day. You might notice a slight dip in the middle of the 11th. Well, maybe not so slight. Perhaps you might describe it as a Massively Dead Afternoon.

That's why no one was at the shop that day. The grid was busted.

You might ask why items weren't purchased during the rest of the day. I suspect it's often because the grid was shut down because it was in bad shape and few bother or are able to shop in those laggy times. Or people avoid starting a shopping trip if they know the Grid has a scheduled outage. The "outage" is often much larger than the actual declared outage for most business owners. Especially for me on the 11th.

Meanwhile, sales resume sometime after the grid perks up, and things are back to normal. I wonder how much correlation there is between Second Life sales and Grid status? Now that might be a good topic for a future post...

Mountain Biking!

Monday, December 10, 2007 Monday, December 10, 2007

I fell into a very interesting place the other night - Weather Island. While they have many of the typical features you'd expect, there was one that piqued my interest: Mountain Biking.

Yes, there are lots of bikes in Second Life, but there aren't that many you can get from a shop that is right beside a gigantic mountain biking area. Hills, pits, cliffs, and other natural features appear in the desert-like ride area, ready to test your biking skills.

Once in a while you get a puff of dust as you make a hard turn, but my favorite bit is the mud puddle, which sprays muck everywhere. (aside: why is ArminasX so fascinated with mud? Perhaps because it is a particle effect? Sigh.)

You can visit the biking area by starting at Desert Jack's Bike Shop and Pit Stop. (Note: SLURL puts you at the main landing point for Weather, not precisely at the bike shop. Just head to Weather (140, 231, 35) and you will find it.) You can pick up a bike for L$0, a good price indeed. They also have helmets and backpacks available, so you can look the part. Of course, I always lose my hair when I wear a helmet. Just remember to put it back on when you are done. Oh, and bring your biking shorts, unlike me...

Starving In Second Life

Saturday, December 8, 2007 Saturday, December 08, 2007

I didn't realize it was possible to starve in Second Life. But it is possible. I have a friend named Xena Bikcin, who I think is very talented. She knows how to build, script, sell and organize. She's even constructed a unique vehicle (pictured, that's her at the controls flying me around Furumachi.) But she's always having trouble in Second Life. She tries really hard to earn a living by doing various business activities, most recently running fireworks shows. She's also had a store that sold artwork, and managed events as well. Unfortunately, she never seems to make enough money to be financially independent. I think she's very typical of many in Second Life who struggle to survive.

There seems to be two modes of financial existence in Second Life: Earner and Consumer. The Consumers are content to spend whatever they need to satisfy their immersionist roles, and they are the foundation of our virtual economy. Meanwhile, the Earners create the items and services that are purchased by the consumers. Both need each other, obviously.

However, I propose a third financial category: Non-Earners. These people, such as Xena, are inbetween Consumer and Earner status. It's a very uncomfortable position indeed, as they transition from one comfy mode to the other. They try to be Earners by creating businesses, but never seem to make enough money to offset the costs of creating their business. They act like Earners, but must spend like Consumers. It must be a very frustrating existence. Many must give up and go back to being consumers or even leave Second Life altogether.

I often encounter Non-Earners, and am always impressed by their (Second Life) youthful enthusiasm. I want to help them. I give them tips and suggestions, and sometimes they benefit. Or at least I hope so. I believe I help many more Non-Earners by posting Second Life business tips here on the Second Effects blog.

Their enthusiasm and creativity is absolutely required. But there is something else they need, something that Xena has: Persistence. You cannot give up. You have to keep trying. Trying different things until you find something that works for you. Yes, it is always disappointing that a business idea didn't work out, but that's OK. You learned something valuable for next time. You must build on your failures and successes. But you won't have any failures or successes unless you try.

Xena is still trying, and I help her when I can. Someday she will be a successful Earner, because she has all the things she needs. Do you?

Flashy Dance Effect

Wednesday, December 5, 2007 Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Finally I've gotten around to making a new dance effect - something you can wear while dancing. If you haven't tried wearable dance effects yet, please do so. They can profoundly change your dance experience.

The new effect is called "DanceFlash", and it might appear simple at first: every three seconds it flashes a white spray that lasts for half a second. The interesting part is that you get twelve (that's 12) copies! This means you can simultaneously wear up to twelve at a time, all flashing at different intervals. What does it look like? The picture here doesn't really capture it properly - when all twelve are active, it looks like, well, think Papparazi at feeding time!

Of course, you don't have to wear them all at once - just pick the right number for the situation and put them on. By default they attach to various points on your avatar, but if you don't like that you can always attach them to the bottom of your foot or other silly places easily enough.

One other effect is also available: Snow Sparkle. It's a tiny random sparkle for your snow fields. Just sprinkle copies of this tiny effect and your snowbanks will twinkle just like real life. (Thanks to Landon Gibbs for this brilliant idea.)

Both are available now at Electric Pixels.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007 Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I received a surprise message yesterday from the folks at Sweet Second Life. It's a site that uses the SocialRank service to identify “hot” Second Life blog postings. It seems like a fab place quickly get the SLBlogosphere buzz of the day. I registered the Second Effects blog on their site just for fun a while ago.

But today, the message from them was:

Did you ever wonder how your blog stacks up compared to all other blogs on Second Life?

Well, um, yeah! Duh.

Congratulations, you are one of the community leaders!

As you might know, every day SocialRank algorithm is tracking thousands of blogs and identifies the hottest posts on Second Life.

Not only does your blog rank in the Top 50 of all Second Life blogs, we have also created a badge so that you can proudly display your blogs overall rank on your blog.

Ok, I get a lot of SPAM messages, and at first that's what I thought this was. Or at least some kind of scam to promote their site. However, I went to Sweet Second Life and examined their list of “hot” sites, and found that it did have the popular blogs listed, such as my pal Nobody Fugazi's Your2ndPlace (16th), New World Notes (9), Torley (3) and my new acquaintance Zoe Connolly (15). So it seems quite legit – and useful.

Surprisingly, I somehow made it into the top 50! And I have to thank you – my readers for placing me there. Way to go, guys! We were #48 as of this writing.

I've also pasted the Sweet Second Life badge on the right hand side of this blog so we can see where we are ranked. Maybe it will go higher, if I'm lucky.

So how does this ranking take place? Well, Sweet Second Life says:

We use SocialRank software to monitor each of the best Second Life sites and determine today's hottest articles and bloggers in the field. This is done by analyzing how sites and users link, connect, and discuss each other's content. Add a touch of math and what we have is a powerful filter into the hottest stories of the day.

Translated, this means “it's a secret”. And that's a good thing too, since if their algorithm was public, people would be gaming it for certain, and all value would be lost. I think that's already happened to Digg (think “Top Ten Barf Pictures”, etc.) Regardless, I think the SLBlogosphere is growing, but a lot of people don't know their way around it yet. Sweet Second Life can help you out – you can find pointers to many of the best Second Life blogs right there.

Where are the Avatars?

Saturday, December 1, 2007 Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mainstream media often complains that the population of Second Life is tiny. Perhaps it is, and I constantly see debates on the best way to measure it. But here's my opinion on the matter.

I think that among the general RL population, many people are unwilling or unable to enter Second Life or any virtual world. You all know them – the people who give you a blank look when you try to explain your virtual reality experience. Or worse, they give you that you're-out-of-your-mind look. They say things like, “but it's just pixels on a screen!” or “Why don't you talk with real people?” These folks will never go virtual. And that's why Second Life and other virtual worlds will always attract fewer users than traditional web services. At least until virtual reality concepts become widespread.

I heard a good story that illustrates this common phenomenon when I was introducing a friend, TwelveBar Botha, to Second Life. I told him about my store, my “second life”, how it works, etc. Later, he was relating all this to his senior-age parents:

TwelveBar: “I have a friend who owns land in a virtual world.”

Parents: (skeptically) “Oh?”

TwelveBar: “And he has a store on it.”

Parents: “What does he sell?”

TwelveBar: “Fog!”

And then they “lost it.”

Parents: “What do you mean, he sells fog?!? What kind of a store would sell fog?”

It seems that I have this kind of conversation with somebody in RL almost every week. I almost think that some proportion of the general population has a gene or type of brain structure that seems to prevent comprehension of virtual reality.

Regardless, there are tons of people who can fit into Second Life, and we can see them every time we login and get the concurrent online Second Life count. Say what you want about Second Life problems, but that number just keeps growing, week after week. When I first rezzed just over a year ago, that number hovered around 15,000 or so. Today it's almost four times as large. That's pretty decent growth for one year. I expect it to continue and certainly will break 100,000 within a few months. But how can this growth be sped up?

I believe that the major barrier to growth (aside from the segment of the population that can't grok virtual reality) is the user interface. I'm a techie (if you haven't noticed already) and even I find the interface clunky at times. Here is the historical sequence of events:

  • Linden Lab creates Second Life, with the principle that users will build everything.
  • Accordingly, the viewer contains all the tools necessary for users to create things.
  • Innovative and early adopters willing to suffer through non-optimal clunky builder tools show up and build stuff. Wonderful stuff.
  • Non-builder users are attracted by the wonderful stuff and the population swells.
  • Non-builders are subjected to the same viewer as originally intended for early-adopter techies, and many give up because it's just beyond their capability to understand how to use these tools.
The mere presence of "Orientation Island" indicates that the interface is too complicated. Most people won't spend the time to go through it, and if they don't, they'll likely have a bad Second Life experience before too long. In fact, I often hear of people of basically skip the orientation and just jump into the world. And then make a mess.

The solution is obvious. In RL I discussed this issue with Gartner's Virtual Reality Analyst, Steve Prentice, and he had the same idea. Second Life needs a simplified browser suitable for general users, especially those who have no intention of building anything. Builders will find their way to the necessary tools, don't worry about them.

We've seen a couple of steps in this direction so far: First, Linden Lab open-sourced the viewer code, and secondly Electric Sheep built their simplified browser with that code, broadly distributed during the famous (infamous?) CSI episode. What will the next step be? A simplified interface usable from a web browser? We can only hope.

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