The Two Year Effect: Confirmed?

Monday, December 28, 2009 Monday, December 28, 2009

A few weeks ago I described a theory I had regarding SL population that I called “The Two Year Effect.” The theory went something like this:

Without a defined requirement to stay, people tend to maintain interest in volunteer or hobby activities for a length of time between 18 to 30 months. About two years. If that’s so, then one reason for the apparent declining SL population is that the large bulk of folks who showed up in 2007 during the SL media hysteria are now expiring.

It was merely a theory, and I had no data to back it up.

Until now.

It turns out that reader Louis Platini took an interest in the theory and actually happened to have suitable data available for analysis. If you don’t know Louis, he’s the owner of Metaverse Business, makers of a wide variety of statistical counter devices for use by in-world businesses. His products range from free traffic counters to highly sophisticated systems capable of handling multiple regions and delivering far more than simple user counts. Do check them out!

The data collected by all these machines is safely stored by Metaverse Business so that their clients can make enquiries of their own statistics.

But Louis can also analyze this stored data, and he decided to do so after reading my article on the Two Year Effect. His results are very interesting, and you can read them in detail right here. The data should provide reasonably accurate results, as Metaverse Business has data on over 1.2M unique avatars. Louis employed data collected over all of 2008 and most of 2009 for the analysis.

The analysis attempted to determine the “lifetime” of avatars. In other words, the number of days between their first and last appearance. Some avatars “lived” only briefly, less than 100 days, whereas others have existed for many years. Louis then graphed the result, shown here:

The data shows an extremely steep departure rate right from the start. It appears that many people try SL for a few months and then depart (Give up? When is that easy-to-use viewer version 2.0 coming out anyway?)

Louis shows that the departures seem to follow an exponential rate for the first 400 days or so, then slow a relatively linear rate for the next 1000 days. After that departures slow right down to a trickle. Be sure to read his analysis where this is demonstrated with several explanatory graphics.

So where does this leave my Two Year Effect theory? It seems to be both wrong and right. Consider the exaggerated theoretical Two Year Effect on the chart above superimposed onto Louis’ actual data.

It’s wrong because it turns out that people are constantly leaving, not just after two years. The younger they are, the faster they tend to leave.

It’s right because almost everyone is gone after two years, and the large mass of 2007 signups must indeed be leaving (or already gone).

The fact that avatar lifetime is effectively only 2-3 years must be of grave concern to Linden Lab. A business that has temporary customers must have a strategy to get new ones to replace those departing, and that must be why Linden Lab is so focused on the experience of new residents.

Cory Doctorow and the Robot

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Today I had the great pleasure of attending the live recording session of the Copper Robot Podcast, hosted by Mitch Wagner. The guest was the one and only Cory Doctorow, voice of freedom, innovation and sensibility in the 21st century.

If you don't know who Cory is, you should. He's an award-winning Science Fiction author and also the editor of Boing Boing, one of the biggest websites on the web today. My man-crush derives neither from Boing Boing nor Cory's excellent Science Fiction adventures, but instead from his tireless efforts to save humanity from digital rights enslavement. Every day Cory explains to all who will listen the paradoxes and trap-doors we seem to be falling into as we gradually tie up all intellectual property with overzealous control regimes.

In spite of the event taking place at a very odd hour for SL events (causing Mitch to rise from slumber far earlier than he biologically should) the attendance was massive. Many SL notables were present, including Simone Stern, Stroker Serpentine, Pete Linden, Pavig Lok, CallieDel Boa, Ordinal Malaprop, Hiro Pendragon, Joshua Fouts, Eureka Dejavu, Mo Hax, Opensource Obscure, Pardox Olbers, Fleep Tuque, Lotte Linden and countless others.

Cory spoke for just over an hour before real life re-absorbed his virtual presence. But we did get a chance to ask a few questions, and he promised to return next year to do a questions-only show. Above Haley and I speak with Cory and the Copper Robot. (The Robot is on the Left.)

Cory described how he came to be editor of Boing Boing (as a temporary fill-in while the original editor took off on vacation, and ended up being a full time gig). He lives mostly in Europe these days, causing various timezone shenanigans with his normal Boing Boing editing cycle. The significant result of EuroCory is that Boing Boing posts are more analytical/follow-up instead of breaking news.

Cory described issues that arise when you're running a truly big-ass website like Boing Boing. As you might expect, he receives numerous comments regarding content, often including requests not to write about totally innocuous topics. He's mystified why people don't simply read another website - it's not like there's a shortage of things to browse. Some people just like to complain, I suppose.

Cory spoke about different methods of kick-starting the economy by leveraging radical business approaches. For example, he proposes to liquidate non-functional industrial-age operations to free up capital, then redistribute the capital to entrepreneurs who can, for example, take over empty malls and invent new businesses. However, radical also means politically challenging. Who knows if Cory's fascinating ideas will become reality? I deeply appreciate his explorations into new business models because we desperately need some in this new century.

Cory believes the software sector has been vastly expanded through the use of free (open source) software. He described a free software "substrate" that permits many more people to participate in the construction of software that would not otherwise have been able to do so. Many SL programmers would no doubt agree with this, having used open source software for most of their careers.

One of the discussion topics was the notion of change. Today's education has the unfortunate assumption that things stay the same. In other words, the things you're taught when you're 14 are simply not going to be there when you graduate. And that's just the start of it - things keep changing. Cory himself claimed to have had multiple careers during his lifetime. You must change, and to change you must take risks and be able to learn as you travel through life. There is no job for life, other than constant learning.

Cory spoke of the Hacker Ethic, which is an unconscious urge within all of us to rework the world to better meet our needs. The software substrate, accompanied with the speed of the Internet has permitted this urge to be fulfilled for almost anyone who desires. Cory calls it, "The Golden Age of Hacking". It's what causes creators to create, and is the ultimate engine that drove the creation of the world known as Second Life.

A Real Breath In A Surreal World

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Following up on my last post on Winter products, I took a look at the rest of my Winter items. One of the more popular products lately is winter oriented. It’s a teeny wearable particle effect simply called “Breath”. You wear it on your chin and you “breathe” out steamy winter breath every seven seconds. Just like being outside on a truly frigid day.

Some may say the cloud is bigger than it should be, but I disagree. I designed the effect to match my real life experience. And that experience is based on severe Canadian winters, where the air temperature can fall to as low as -40 degrees. (Celsius or Fahrenheit? It actually doesn’t matter at that temperature; it’s damned cold!)

In that weather you really do get a massive cloud of vapor surrounding your head, and that’s the reality I modeled this product against.

This is one of those items where matching reality actually works in Second Life, as opposed to the surreal giant snowflakes I described earlier. But that poses a problem with design approach that’s been bothering me - should one match reality? Or should a maker produce unreal items? Which is the correct approach?

My conclusion is that neither is the correct yardstick. Instead the measure of success should be the feeling generated by the product. The problem is that “feeling” is a very difficult thing to measure. Maybe this is where those with an artistic eye come to the fore, because they are more able to intuitively recognize the feeling produced. In the end what matters is how well the product alters the feelings of its user, and that could be achieved either by reality or through surrealism.

Can You Feel a Snowflake?

Saturday, December 5, 2009 Saturday, December 05, 2009

Normally, snowflakes melt when you touch them. But that doesn’t happen in Second Life; they merely float away. But you can still feel them.

I make snowflakes - particle ones, of course - and have several versions for sale at Electric Pixels. I’ve had various types of snowmaking attachments and gadgets on store shelves for over two years, but this year I wanted to try something a little different.

I made Giant Snowflakes.

Crazy, you think? Perhaps, but here’s the theory: virtual reality is all about immersing people into an environment. Immersion is a combination of visual, auditory and situational factors that when combined, make the resident feel like they are somewhere other than sitting in front of their computer. We’ve all experienced and appreciate  carefully engineered immersions.

To achieve the desired immersion feelings, I try to engineer my particle effects to be realistic (well, or seemingly realistic for those items that aren’t really possible in real life). For example, my older snowstorm drops thick clods of snow that kinda looks like real snowfall, or my RainMaker attempts to look like real rain.

However, I tried something different. Instead of making realistic snowflakes, which would be so small you can’t really see them on the screen, I made giant snowflakes, a meter across. Totally unrealistic, yet it seems to work. When you see the flakes, you feel kinda snowy.

Why does this work? I believe it’s because the crisp images of snowflakes immediately register in your brain when they’re seen. The snowflake symbols evoke feelings of snow. The unreal becomes real!

I’ve used these giant snowflakes in some new particle effects, now on sale at Electric Pixels. SnowFlurry (image at the top) creates a tiny snowstorm around you, while SnowWeddingRing (image) produces an amazing animated ring of snow around you and your partner. There’s also a SnowRing for singles. And for those who want even more, I have one more giant snowflake item hidden in a hunt item (for the Snowflake Grid Wide Hunt, no less). I hope you enjoy them!


Friday, November 27, 2009 Friday, November 27, 2009

Today started as pretty much a normal day. Except for one thing: it’s my rezday, and today I turn Three.

I don’t believe in birthdays, although there seems to be serious evidence that they do in fact exist. Many people celebrate them, but normally I don’t. I guess I don’t feel that I need or deserve a celebration. That’s why I asked my friends to refrain from organizing a big party.

However, when I arrived in-world today I found my Particle Lounge had been redecorated in the most imaginative way by my close friends. I also found dozens of tweets, plurks and IMs awaiting me with best wishes. Even a few very nice gifts showed up.

As the day closes, I found even more plurks and tweets wishing me well.

I’m feeling very good now, much better than I did this morning, and I know it’s entirely due to the thoughts of friends from around the world.

Thank you for making my day, each and every one of you.

The Two Year Effect

Saturday, November 21, 2009 Saturday, November 21, 2009

I’ve been contemplating reasons for the flattening of the online user stats in Second Life lately. You’ll recall that as recently as early 2009, there seemed to be a surge in growth. Every week new records for simultaneous users were being set. I believe it topped out at around 88,000 or so on an exceptionally busy Sunday afternoon.

But then no new records were set. Even after many months.

Why might this be? There’s a few reasons, most notably being Linden Lab’s new policy on bots. No longer do we have hundreds (maybe thousands) of bots cuddling in claustrophobic farms. That clearly put a boffo dent into the population stats.

But is there another reason?

I realized a social phenomenon might be in effect here. In my travels I’ve observed that many people tend to have a two-year attention span on projects. Whether it be a hobby, volunteer work or other activities, when people have no ties holding them back, their interest tends to fade after 18-30 months or so. I’ve seen this in real life many times.

I might be mistaken, but I think I’m seeing the same thing happen with my virtual pals in Second Life. Some, like Eshi Otawara, declare a vacation and disappear temporarily, or perhaps forever in some cases. Others like Bettina Tizzy change their approach. But I suspect there are many more who simply fade away quietly as their two-year period of attention draws to a close.

This isn’t particularly remarkable, as people change what they do every day of the year. But then I remembered what happened two years ago.

Two years ago it was a different virtual world. Second Life was constantly on the news and magazine covers, mysterious virtual entrepreneurs were evidently making millions and anyone could do anything. People from all corners learned of the amazing promises of virtual reality and they signed up in droves. During that period, Second Life grew at its fastest rate.

And that was just about two years ago.

Now, just as one would expect we see some residents of 2+ years vintage fading away. The huge blob of 2006/7 signups have been expiring over the past months. Combined with gains from ongoing signup rates and losses from the bot massacres, we just might expect to see flat growth for a little while.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering why I’m still going strong after almost three years?

Interviews with Entrepreneurs: Fianna Idora

Saturday, November 14, 2009 Saturday, November 14, 2009

From time to time I interview those who do interesting business ventures, and today's interview is with very ingenious and talented Fianna Idora.

Second Effects: How and when did you get started in SL?

Fianna Idora: I joined SL in October 2006. I was working full time as a web-based application developer and was also combining my technical skill with a love for art into a part-time graphic t-shirt business online. A friend of mine had posted a link to Second Life on a business community forum I frequented, as a possible new venue for our online marketing efforts. Second Life was getting a lot of press back then, as it was nearing the 1 Million Residents mark. It soon became apparent that SL would also appeal to one of my other interests - 3D content creation, as I had been a recently active 3D hobbyist in the Poser community. Teaching myself digital rendering, character creation & 3D Texturing. I was hooked to say the the least. I went premium within 24-hours of signing up and was sticking my virtual stake in my first 512m plot within a week. The first incarnation of my shop was called Fairy T-shirts, where I sold SL versions of my FL t-shirt designs along with notecards containing urls to where the shirts could be purchased in FL.

SE: What skills did you bring into SL that helped you get your business started?

FI: Between my work as a web-based application developer, operating online graphic t-shirt business and being a 3D hobbyist - I came in with a pretty mixed bag. The income previously earned from my t-shirt biz had already afforded me to purchase software including Photoshop (images/textures), Poser (animations/poses), and later ZBrush (textures, sculpties), so I had a great software foundation to cover the bases of content creation. 

My programming skills translated fairly well when learning LSL - although my primary focus in SL wasn't scripting, I was more interested in texturing and generally only scripted things on an as-needed basis to enhance a product or create a tool to make my Second Life easier. It wasn't until later when I realized that using LSL I could interact with external databases hosted on the web, that I truly began thinking outside the grid.

When I first arrived in SL I would have considered myself to be an adept user of Adobe Photoshop. However, After attending the 'Masters Fashion Design' program in-world at Soma School of Design, I'd say my knowledge and skill level increased 10-fold. SL became major creative outlet for me - so much so I wanted to pursue a design career full time. Last year I left the company I had been with for 7 years to return to college to Study Graphic Design - I'll be graduating from the two year program this coming May.

SE: You have been known to operate a fashion business - how is that going?

FI: My shop Enchant3D has been located on the mainland in Han Loso since January 2007. Its more of a costume shop than a fashion boutique, and really its just a hodge podge of whatever i felt like making at the time. I've tried my hand at animation, clothing, jewelry, props, roleplay costumes & skins with various degrees of success. At the moment I have about 100 items listed on xstreet - the accumulation of my content creation for the last 3 years.  Between xstreet and inworld sales Enchant3D *just* makes my tier each month (for 1/8 of a sim), so I am able to maintain it despite being a full time student for the last two years and not having a regular source of FL income. However, I've been considering closing the shop in-world after 3 years of operation, eliminating the majority of my tier fees and focusing on making xstreet sales, marketing my products online with the hopes that I can make the business profitable.

SE: I understand you have two avatars - why do you operate two of them? 

FI: I'm a bit of a geek girl and originally created Light Bright, as an alternative character for my cyberpunk inspired photography, role-play and story-telling. In Late 2007 I began planning the Profile Picks project and since Light is my nodal thinker, it made sense that I give her an information project to manage. Using my alt for this project allowed me to script & work for hours without interruption. Light also functions as an accountant for this project allowing me to support my customers & track sales easily without intermixing with my day-to-day SL activities.

SE: I've been trying out your new product, "Profile Picks". How does profile picks work? What problem does it solve for businesses? For customers?

FI: One of my areas of specialization is the development of search engine marketing and search engine optimization strategies for the world wide web. In November 2007, Linden Labs unveiled their new Search ( which is built on the Google Search Appliance. The same strategies I had adopted for Google and the WWW now applied directly to the Second Life Search.

One of the foundations of how a Google ranks a web page in its results for a particular search phrase, is by determining its relevance, based on the number of inbound links it has from other web site pages with related keyword content. In theory, the more relevant inbound links a page has, the higher it should rank in results for that search phrase.

Second Life Places and Resident Profiles are now available as web pages in-world and on the world wide web if flagged to be included in the Search index. If you view a Resident's profile page under "Top Picks" you'll see that a resident's profile picks have been linked to their corresponding Place pages creating an inbound link to that location. The content of the Picks descriptions providing the relevant key phrases for that inbound link. Thus, the number of inbound picks received, and the key phrases used in their descriptions, play a key role in determining how your Second Life Place will rank for those phrases.


Light Bright Resident Page

Profile Picks Place Page

The primary goal of Profile Picks is to educate business owners on the the importance of creating a Profile Picks Incentive Program (PPIP) as a key part of your marketing strategy. Members can also access our Learning Library containing regularly updated articles regarding the Second Life Search and best practices for optimizing parcels & profile pages for relevant key word phrases. 

The first product developed is the Profile Picks Gift Vendor now at version 1.3 - this vendor will deliver a gift to any account-verified resident who has your Second Life place in their Profile Picks. This type of Profile Pick Incentive Program can be operated with minimal costs, helping you to increase your rank in search while at the same time creating customer loyalty and exposing more potential customers to your products or services.

SE: Why is Profile Picks better than the competition (is there competition?)

FI: There are a few other products on the market that assist residents to develop Profile Pick incentive programs. However I feel Profile Picks has a few value added benefits including our online reporting which allows you to monitor gifts delivered, and the total number of gifts resident has received, from anywhere online. There are anti-abuse measures in place allowing you to ban a resident you feel may be attempting to abuse the system.  Members also receive access to articles I've put together with information regarding search and optimizing your Second Life place. Customer Relationship Management is also important to me and I encourage customers to contact me with any questions or suggestions.

SE: What barriers to business success have you encountered, and do you have suggestions for new business owners to overcome them?

FI: I think one of the problems I've experienced with Enchant3D is that my range of products is too broad. I've tried to learn a bit everything instead of focusing on becoming really good at one thing in particular. I've learned that businesses that are a focused on creating a specific type of product or service, in addition to achieving higher quality, stand to do better from a optimization perspective and are easier to market. My main roadblock this far has been time. I believe that success could be achieved with a full time effort, but between work and school I haven't been able to make that kind of commitment to SL. The SL economy hasn't proven stable enough that I would rest the needs of my home & family on it just yet.

SE: What might be your future plans for your businesses? Where do you see yourself in three years?

FI: When I graduate from college next year I will likely be working from home as a freelance graphic & web-based application designer. I'm hoping to return my focus to my graphic t-shirt business perhaps with its own expanded presence in SL. I also hope to continue to work and refine my skills as a content creator when I am able to return to SL with a fresh outlook and more freedom to grow the Enchant3D brand. Meanwhile, I am committed to expanding Profile Picks program, expanding the Learning Library and improving the products and services available. No matter what happens, I can't see myself not having some kind of presence in SL going forward, whether my focus is on content creation or using SL as a tool for promoting my FL products & services.

SE: Thank you so much for speaking with us today!

For those of you who'd like to see more of Fianna's work, please try these URLs:
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Thursday, November 5, 2009 Thursday, November 05, 2009

Today is a special day - it’s the Step Up! for content creators day. It’s a grid-wide protest, attempting to bring attention to the ongoing issue of content theft. You’ve heard about it before; rip-off artists show up with advanced tools that instantly nab perfect copies of virtual creations, then set up shop with cloned items at discount prices. Or worse, they give away full-permission copies of the stolen goods, thus destroying the creator’s business forever. I wish this protest succeeds.

Many ask Linden Lab to fix the problem. Get rid of those thieves! Ban those viewers! Delete the stolen copies! But it’s just not that easy.

There’s a fundamental problem in the design of virtual worlds.

As everyone knows, you run a viewer on your workstation, and it communicates with the servers back at the Lab. But what does that mean, exactly? At it’s most basic level, it means that the servers send descriptions and locations of objects to the viewer so that it can draw them on your screen. Yes, you guessed it: object designs and the textures to paint on them are sent directly to the viewer.

A viewer with a criminal twist could simply record those descriptions and textures for later use, regardless of their original permissions. A special command could later “replay” the recordings and thus create exact duplicates with new permissions. That’s how copybot, builderbot and other such tools work.

As long as the viewer respects the original permissions, things are not so bad. But there’s really nothing stopping a viewer from ignoring permissions other than the intentions of the programmer.

Why can programmers do this? It’s because they have the source code to build new viewers. Linden Lab gave everyone access to the code (open sourcing) in an effort to spur original feature development and experimentation some time ago. But the price for doing so was to enable nefarious feature development, too.

Some say the Linden Lab should restrict the viewers able to connect to the grid to ensure only well-behaved viewers have access to the object descriptions and textures. I suppose that’s possible by issuing special digital keys for authorized viewers, but the notion that Linden Lab would have to certify each viewer by examining every line of code seems impractical. That’s what they’d have to do to ensure nothing bad could happen. Worse, they’d have to do a line-by-line code inspection for every new version as well. I just can’t see that happening because it would take so much effort. Even if it was attempted, it could only be done for a small number of viewers, meaning that the original purpose of open sourcing the code (many experiments and new feature development) would be severely compromised.

Probably the only course of action that could practically work would be to allow only Linden Lab-built viewers to access the grid. Then copy functions would be entirely controllable. But you’d lose out on all the very interesting open source development.

Even if that were done, copying would still take place, just not quite as automated. One of my shop owner friends was a constant victim of manual copying. Each week she deployed new and original items, and each week a competitor would come by to see what was built and then duplicate it as best they could. There’s not much that can be done about that.

Because it’s pretty much the same in real life.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009 Thursday, October 29, 2009

I attended Tymmerie Thorne’s amazing Halloween party the other night, where I saw many totally amazing costumes. I believed mine to be pretty good, but it paled in comparison to most of the others, especially Tym’s iron cage skirt, which must have been rather heavy.

A key theme of the party was, of course, blood. It was smeared all over the floor, walls, oozing from various body parts lying about and especially on clothing. There was even a kind of blood-sprayer on the floor wetting everyone down with the red stuff. By the way, if you haven't yet seen this build, I strongly recommend you take a look before Tym and Jerremy take it down. I especially liked the giant ants that devoured noobs, limb by limb.

While I had blood dripping from the corner of my mouth, I felt more was required in that scene.

Taking initiative during a dance, I managed to create a rather realistic and terribly gross blood spurting effect. It looks like you managed to sever a key artery, and is quite shocking. 

If you’re seeking a unique and totally horrifying item for your Halloween outfit, you might consider the Blood Spurter from Electric Pixels! (It's in the very dark Vampire section)

Anatomy of a Box

Saturday, October 24, 2009 Saturday, October 24, 2009

In an attempt to increase sales, I’ve been fiddling with my product boxes, and thought readers might be interested to see what I’ve done.

But first, the problem: In this case, sales were low, and my new theory is that shoppers get most of their information about product simply from the visual on the box cover.

In the past (and currently) I’ve tried live demonstrations, which are pretty much mandatory for moving particle effects that cannot be properly shown on any box picture. I’ve also tried notecards: every box at my shop delivers an explanatory notecard upon touch.

But the images on my boxes were previously quite simple, having only an action shot and the product name. It occurred to me that the nature of the product was not clear by merely looking at the old boxes. You had to either run the demonstration or read the notecard to "get it". I believe the demo and notecard are extra steps that some shoppers wouldn’t bother to do, and that they’d rely only on the box image.

My strategy was to replace the box images with something much more informative. But what to put on them? Here’s what I did:

(Click on the image above for a more detailed view)

  • Consistency: Every single box has exactly the same style, size, fonts, layout and colors. The idea is that once people get familiar with one box, they will much more easily read other boxes. This is the same way grocery products are labeled.
  • Information: The familiar “i” icon can be touched for immediate delivery of an informative notecard. If shoppers don’t recognize the “i”, it says “Click for Info!” as a reminder.
  • Quantities: The number of prims and objects is stated. While this doesn’t make much sense for particles, which are most often a single invisible prim, shoppers often ask this question. Answer it here before they can ask.
  • Permissions: Another question that is frequently asked is the object’s permissions. Unlike clothing or skins, particles are often sold as Transfer, no-copy.
  • Description: This is a very important feature, I believe, as it may be the only way some shoppers find out what the item actually does, because it is faster than reading a notecard. The trick is to clearly capture the essence of the product in as few words as possible.
  • Colors: I used colors to help people understand the permissions scheme, with green and red helping to convey the meaning. 
  • Titles: While the product name is an obvious inclusion, it should be prominent and not confused with anything else. Also, I've added my store name as a bit of extra advertising. 
  • Image: The most difficult feature is the image, as it must carry a vision of the product at a glance, much like a book cover. The image has to accurately portray the product in a setting that matches the product’s intent. The background must complement the product, and the viewing angle, model's "look" and model’s pose must also match the theme. This turns out to be fairly difficult to do, and took me the most time to do. Above you can see an image of one of my particle effects that tries to show the feeling of the product's motion in a still frame. These are very hard to do.

What did I not do?
  • Price: I did not put the product price on the box, even though this appears to be a common practice. My reason was simple: once on the box, you kinda have set the price permanently, unless you redo the box texture and upload again, at your cost. Imagine trying to have a sale where all 200 products suddenly must have new textures! In any case, the price is available by simply mousing over the box.
  • Language: You’ve probably noticed that all wording on the boxes are written in English, yet many customers speak other languages. I debated whether to have multiple box covers, but in the end felt that it was far too much work to do, and the information portrayed would be much greater than before in any case. It's my belief that most people are accustomed to seeing English products - and my monitors tell me that by far the majority of visitors to the store have set English as their language.
  • Fractional Textures: It’s possible to save a bit of money by creating textures that hold 4 box images in a 2x2 matrix. You could, for example, fit four 512x512 box images into a single 1024x1024 texture. By adjusting the offsets on your boxes, you can display the desired image only. This could save you 75% of your upload costs, and visitors would have a simplified texture rez experience (fewer, but larger textures to load). I didn’t do this, but could have if I had the time to do so (it’s more work to do this). One issue with this approach occurs when you need to change one image - you might end up redoing the other three, or at least must keep track of several versions of the multi-texture.

It was a terribly large amount of work to redo all my boxes, as I have around 200 different items for sale at Electric Pixels. The better part of two weeks was spent designing, shooting, photoshopping and uploading. But in the end, I believe it was worth it, as sales have significantly improved since the new boxes went out. The most interesting effect was that different items are being sold now - proving that box images are indeed very important for shoppers.
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Collaborating Outside Second Life

Saturday, October 17, 2009 Saturday, October 17, 2009

Like most virtual designers, I am often collaborating with other designers or clients in efforts to build something or other. Initially this was pretty easy, as Second Life is a pretty decent environment for collaboration: You’ve got voice, text and can exchange images via textures, or even build small prototypes for visual demonstration. Often I’d use email to send material to and fro. Nevertheless, I’ve found the SL environment is often insufficient for certain types of collaboration.

So what do I do? Simple: I make use of several free or low-cost web services. There are the obvious choices for sharing information, such as Twitter, Plurk, Flickr and YouTube, but there are several other highly useful services you might not use:

Google Apps: If you haven’t tried Gapps, you should. It’s free and provides some amazing services. Imagine being able to build and access a spreadsheet from anywhere you can access a web browser. Further imagine being able to invite others to “participate” in the spreadsheet, and watching them changing cells in real time. Now try that with documents and presentations, too! Gapps is well thought out and indispensable.

Skype: The ubiquitous voice service now provides more than just voice, but now includes video, file transfer, instant messaging and other great features. Get it now if you haven’t already! You’ll find it most useful for discussing projects with team members when you are not in-world.

Dropbox Dropbox is a wonderful tool that provides a completely free 2Gb virtual disk. What’s the big deal? The disk appears just as if it’s installed on your machine, but is in fact somewhere far away on the Internet. You can put this virtual disk on several machines - I use it to share files between my laptop and desktop machines. The best part is the ability to add others to your disk - and thus you can seamlessly share files between people simply by drag & drop into the shared folder and it’s automatically updated on shared dropboxes. Indispensable! If 2Gb is too small for you, you can certainly buy more.

DeliciousThe biggest social bookmarking service is Delicious, where you can share a stream of URLs with others. There are also several browser plug-ins that make creation of bookmarks a breeze.


Etherpad: It’s an incredibly simple multi-user shared text editor. What’s that mean? A page you can edit with others in real time. Different colors show you who’s changed what, as everyone types at the same time. Cut and paste the resulting text into a notecard and get your collaboration done much faster. 

YouSendIt: Files too big for email? YouSendIt will come to your rescue, as it enables direct sending of bulk files. It’s not quite instant, but one of the best ways to get a lot of data moving.

Tinypaste: It’s another instant service for storing a chunk of text. Again, very useful for keeping notecard-style information in a semi-permanent state. As long as you can remember the obscure URL, that is...

Are these the only services to use? Not at all - there are dozens, perhaps hundreds more, and those above are simply the ones I use. Which services do you use? Tell us in the comments below.

Seasonal Stuff

Monday, October 12, 2009 Monday, October 12, 2009

I haven’t done any shameless advertising on this blog for quite a while, so I thought I’d mention a few items in my shop that you might find very appropriate for the season. And that season is of course Autumn (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and Halloween (in both Hemispheres).

For Halloween I have several particle effects involving bats. Bat Hair Day, seen above, produces teeny-tiny bats around your face. It’s on sale in the “Pretty” department at Electric Pixels.


If you need more bats, the Batty effect makes your own personal flock of bats. For room-sized clouds of bats, the BatMaker or BatMaker Thick effects can be installed for your Halloween party and have bats buzzing around all your guests.

CandyGiver is a Halloween basket that you wear on your hand. When you do, it scans the area and asks you to whom it should give candy. Once you select someone, a stream of rather sweet candy items flows to them. It and the Bat effects are available in the “Occasions” department at Electric Pixels.

You might also find something spooky in the “Vampire” department, which has a variety of demonic and evil items.

One of the items I’m very happy with is LeafMaker, which produces a scene of beautiful falling leaves. They’re several different colors and based on real leaves, but the effect works because of their motion. It really feels like you’re standing in a forest at that special moment when all the leaves are falling down around you. I also have several species of falling leaves: red, yellow or brown, in both “thick” or not-so-thick packages. Just place the emitter in your tree, and leaves fall gently the ground.

Have a great Fall and Halloween, everyone!

Lennon in the Sky with Diamonds

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The amazing SL artist Eshi Otawara has done it again: she's built a work of 3D art that's quite amazing in a way I haven't seen before. This time it's a tribute to the late Beatle John Lennon, entitled, "Anamorphosys of John Lennon". The work has a beautiful flower base, an element typical of her designs, and has several classic Lennon icons floating above. The icons are not simply a texture upload, but are in fact three-dimensional and built from many twisted prims.

She's built this amazing display as a tribute to Lennon, as it is the musician's birthday on 9 October. The main tribute to Lennon will of course be the Peace Tower, commissioned by Yoko Ono (details here).

I asked Eshi about this work:

John is an artist who was always ahead of its time. I am thrilled with life to have been honoured with being able to make my little expression for this exhibit.

Eshi is relocating the exhibit at the moment, so I cannot provide a SLURL for you to visit. But if you get the chance, definitely take the time to see it. Tip: make sure you cam under the water and look up.

[UPDATE] It appears that the new location is right here

ArminasX Gets Upset

Sunday, October 4, 2009 Sunday, October 04, 2009

This is a tale of Real Life, but it’s also a tale of Second Life.

It starts in Real Life, where I happened to be dining with a couple dozen folks, and by chance I was sitting across from an older fellow. As with many of his age, his viewpoints on most things were very traditional. But he was also quite outspoken and freely told everyone his thoughts.

Meanwhile, I am a very open and tolerant person, and have been my entire RL. I believe others should be able to believe what they wish, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

During the course of the evening, the older fellow began saying things that increasingly bothered me. Things like: which cars were "definitely" the best; that he knew better than the authorities; that certain lifestyles were “not normal”, and immediately discounting any views different from his own. Some of the things he said, I am quite certain, would have caused some readers of this blog to leap across the table and physically engage him.

I’ve encountered this type of person before, and usually I just write them off as uninformed and intolerant and then ignore them. They are free to believe what they wish, and I ignored him. But there was something different about this encounter. It just bothered me, much more than previous incidents.

But why did it bother me more this time? My theory is where the tale ends: Second Life.

In SL one is constantly exposed to the amazing, the fantastic, the creepy, the unusual and rarely, the traditional. I believe that after almost three years of virtual life seeing anything and everything, and realizing that everyone is indeed a real person with real thoughts and feelings, regardless of what they think, what they do and especially what they look like, my level of tolerance has grown significantly. I’m hypertolerant.

And then I encounter this guy at dinner. And I’m shocked. Shocked at his level of intolerance, because it is now so terribly far away from my new level of tolerance.

Some say Second Life is good for education, to make money, to collaborate or to create. Maybe there’s something else.

Something... necessary. And that’s more tolerance.

SL Bloggers at the Particle Lounge

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As promised, the semi-regular SL blogger's get-together went down at my lounge this past weekend. It was terrific fun, thanks to organizer extraordinary Tymmerie Thorne, Haley Salomon and DJ Alicia Chenaux. There were a great many bloggers present, some I had not met and others who were old pals. I did manage to snap a few pictures during the busy event. Well, actually over a hundred, to be honest. Here's just a few.

Space Alien Tymmerie Thorne presided over the event by go-go dancing on one of the floating platforms far above everyone else. She handed out prizes and issued various quote-worthy statements, but I am sworn not to publish them. 

Builder/Blogger Prad Prathivi found it most comfortable under the floor, here seen chatting with Guenevere DeCuir. The elusive Prad chatted with party-goers who kept looking for him, but could not find him.

DJ Alicia took part in the spacey theme by wearing a rather unusual hat. Or is it a hat at all? 

Bone Mosten was completely weaponized, wearing almost nothing but guns!

Veyron Supercharge made an extremely rare SL appearance and thrilled everyone with her usual amazing attire. She wasn't the only rare visitor, as Night Morrisey and a few others also made appearances.

Codebastard Redgrave and Lillie Yifu chat amidst the blue fog. Watch out for those tentacles, Codie!

As the party progressed, things got a little crazy. 

Everyone wore spacey outfits, but my favorite had to be Rosie Barthelmess, whose polar bear avatar wore a space helmet and jet-pack. I can't tell you how amusing it was to dance with a space-helmeted polar bear, bobbing her head up and down in tune with the music. It's not reality, it's SL.

Second Life Blogger’s Party - Fall 2009!

Thursday, September 24, 2009 Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yep, that’s right, it’s time for another blogger’s party. They are supposed to be monthly, but somehow that never actually happens. Much like consistent blogging, it’s hard to do. This time I’m hosting, for the first time ever! But please don’t think it’s due to my efforts - the real magician behind this event is master organizer Tymmerie Thorne, who makes things happen for SL bloggers.

The event takes place in my store, Electric Pixels at the secretly located Particle Lounge. It’s a rather strange place, as you will see. When? It all goes down on this Sunday, Sept 27th from 12-2PM SLT, and you can get there via this SLURL.

There will be conversation, dancing, music (courtesy of DJ Alicia Chenaux), controversy (perhaps, it IS the bloggers, after all) and a lot of fun. The theme for this event is “Spacey”, so you might want to wear a spacesuit, helmet, jet pack or a 22d century outfit.

Who’s invited? Certainly any member of the Second Life Bloggers in-world group or the corresponding Ning group. These groups and this event are open to anyone who blogs about Second Life or even posts Second Life pictures on Flickr. Or anyone else, for that matter - if you want to meet up with your favorite blogger, please drop by!

Oh! One more thing: when you arrive at Electric Pixels, just follow the signs and take the dangerous step...

Hide Your Products!

Saturday, September 19, 2009 Saturday, September 19, 2009

I performed an interesting experiment this week at my store, Electric Pixels. Like most SL business owners, I’ve experienced a downturn over the past year, and it’s still not great. However, by keeping my expenses low I’ve managed to survive. But there’s still a concern over how to grow sales. I’ve tried various strategies, including completely rebuilding my shop in a new way to be more inviting to visitors.

The original philosophy of the shop was to make it easy for visitors to shop. I had experienced visiting many stores where products were scattered across several rooms, resulting in awkward situations:

  • Having to find out how to move from room to room (might require opening doors, navigating difficult stairways, or even - argh - teleports!)
  • Fighting with camera controls to scan the area
  • Not realizing there was yet another room around the corner

I felt that the segmented shop design might be a detriment to sales because impatient shoppers would not put up with the troubles of locating items within the store and quickly move on to other places. After all, the next location is merely a click away.

My approach was to make an open store, where all “departments” were visible; no surprises, everything clearly marked. However, sales never were quite as good as the previous store design.

Friend Peter Stindberg suggested (more than once) that one issue with the new design might be texture rezzing. Because all my departments are visible, the SL viewer must load all textures within view - and this takes time. I didn’t really notice this effect since my computer and network are pretty good. However, those with less than adequate equipment could have been presented with a scene full of anonymous grey boxes. I wasn’t so sure, but thought this was worth an experiment.

My approach was rather trivial: I simply placed a obscuring wall in front of each separate department, closing off the view of the product boxes. This would eliminate a ton of texture rezzing for any visitor. Of course, once the visitor entered a department by passing through the obscuring wall, they’d have to rez the textures for the relevant product boxes. But there would be far fewer to rez at one time.

What was the result? Strangely, sales actually doubled for the days following the wall change. This means that Peter’s hypothesis was correct! My thoughts:

  • Visitors with poor equipment saw grey product boxes and impatiently left before purchasing
  • There are likely a great many people with poor equipment. Perhaps the majority? (Hm, what does this imply for Blue Mars??)
  • Visitors are drawn into the now hidden departments to see what’s there because the wall obscures everything

There may be other effects happening here, but in any case it seems to have improved things. Experiments are a Good Thing. 

Is It a Real Mouse?

Sunday, September 13, 2009 Sunday, September 13, 2009

There’s many builds in SL that are a representation of a real-life area or building. Some are very precise, and some not so. But regardless, they are always a lot more fun when you’ve been to the real location first, and then encounter its virtual equivalent.

This week I bumped into a region just like that: Mouse World. It’s intended to be a replica of Walt Disneyworld (or Disneyland, they’re pretty similar). No, it’s not built by Disney at all, as screams the signage as you enter:

Mouse World is not affiliated with, maintained by, or in any way officially connected with the Walt Disney Company or any of it’s business units.

This site has been created for Disney fans, by Disney fans.

Our views and opinions are not endorsed by, nor are they associated with The Walt Disney Company in any way.

All Disney character images and some photographs are Copyright The Walt Disney Company.

It turns out to be a very close replica, nevertheless. Having been to Disneyworld in real life several times, I wondered whether I would be disappointed upon visiting “Mouse World”.

Upon arrival, I found myself on this monorail platform, which is actually one of the main ways to arrive at the Magic Kingdom (it’s one of several actual Disneyworld parks and Mouse World is modeled after it).

I then followed the tortuous sequence of ramps, stairs and hallways to arrive at the main entry area of the Magic Kingdom and gazed out at the shops. At this point the eerie feeling began. I somehow knew this area. I’d been there before, in real life. Yes, somehow the entry path from the monorail “registered” in my head in the same slot as the real area.

As I traveled through the park, I mean region, there were many rides and exhibits, and they were in just the right places, through the right corridor and around the right corner. Among the rides was the Haunted Mansion.  

Hah, I thought - they duplicated everything except the food, which is all over the place in the real life Disneyworld. But no, there it was, the “Lunch Pad” in Tomorrowland, just like it was in real life. You can get burgers and hot dogs there, but unfortunately none of those wonderful mouse-ear-shaped ice cream bars.  

Another very entertaining ride was the Jungle Cruise. As you awkwardly float past kitchy and stereotypical displays, your tour guide explains with jokes so bad they began to be hysterical. Some examples:
Skipper whispers: That's no house cat over there on your left. Bengal Tigers can jump over 20 feet, and we must be at least, well... 15 feet away!  Don't worry, he'll jump right over us.

Skipper whispers: Since we are in an area filled with rare tropical foliage, I'd like to take a moment to point out some of the plants to you. There's one over there, and there's one over there, and one over there...
At that point, I realized how much fun this area truly is. It’s not the greatest build, but somehow the designers managed to capture not only the Disney layout, but a touch of the Disney entertainment magic, too. You can visit Mouse World here.


Friday, September 4, 2009 Friday, September 04, 2009

I read a very interesting post by friend Alicia Chenaux (and linked by New World Notes), in which she inspected her blog stats to discover the hysterically funny keywords readers had used to find her blog. There’s comedy gold hidden in those keywords, which are literally the text people have typed into Google, Bing or other search engines and led them to your page. I decided to take a good look at mine. (Note to self: don’t commit to reading over 4000 keywords ever again.)

Much of the keywords are quite obvious and directly relate to popular posts. But then there are some strange ones. How these led to my blog is a matter of conjecture:
  • "famous french blogs"
  • 2009 email in haskell 81+358 ''''
  • bar graphs on movie ticket sales for 2009
  • effects of ick
  • tooter claxton is the name of the fist's
  • where can you get new effects for cheese

There were a great many “vanity” searches for avatar names. Yes, I saw them all. You Know Who You Are. And then there was this, perhaps an unusual type of advertising?
  • sine wave the biggest store in second life

Some were variations on my more popular posts, such as the avatar naming series:

  • badass avatar names
  • cool ass avatar names
  • need a cool avatar with my name on it

Hm, maybe I need a “cool ass” name?

Some were a bit ominous:
  • second life saiman passwort
  • builderbot download
  • how to copy textures with copybot
  • how to scare renters into leaving
  • linden lab employee bonus

Some revealed deep inner torment:
  • forgot avatar name second life
  • "nobody reads my blog"
  • why can't i find my name on plurk?
  • i am glad you are having fun

Apparently many people see search engines as a close friend who can help or confide in:
  • i see myself as a separate person
  • what are good things to say at confirmation
  • am i engaged?
  • number to call for long distance call
  • ive been busy
  • help! i need a cool avatar name
  • my name can't be that tough to pronounce

One of my good friends is Radar Masukami, but I am now wondering about him:

  • my name is radar
  • second life away from radar

My favorite two keyword searches were kinda personal:
  • armi linden
  • slcc 08 blog armi is cute

Keep ‘em coming!

Tonight Again!

Friday, August 28, 2009 Friday, August 28, 2009

Quite some time ago I was honored to be a guest on Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe, one of SL’s most popular in-world shows. On Sunday I’ll be appearing on the show again due to an unexpected invitation from host Paisley. 

What’s the occasion? I believe Paisley wants to quiz me about the recent SLCC held in San Francisco, California, which I (and she) attended. Not only did we both attend the convention, we hung out in Real Life several times and even managed to grab a wonderful midnight dinner together.

I’ll be appearing with two other amazing guests: Musician Gregg Huet with Machinimeister and 1st Question host Pooky Amsterdam. By the way, if you haven’t had the chance to attend Pooky’s show, I suggest you drop over to see it live sometime; they record almost every week (and if you’re not careful, Pooky will have you appearing on her next episode!)

The Tonight Live show starts at 6PM SLT on this Sunday, 30 August. Yes, it will be recorded, but there’s nothing better than watching live in the audience, and you can do so by teleporting to Paisley's Northpoint Studio.

I hope to see you there!

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