A Newb. Until When?

Friday, June 26, 2009 Friday, June 26, 2009

We’ve all been there. Rezzing in a strange virtual world. Avatars wandering nearby chatting about unintelligible topics. Unable to move. There’s a box on your head. How do you bookmark a location? How do I get Lindens? What’s a Linden?

Yes, it’s that newbish period of our virtual existence, when we really don’t have a hot clue about practically anything. I stayed in this pathetic state for months.

Well, it really wasn’t that bad. In fact I did eventually learn how to move, chat and take the box off of my head.

But it does beg a question. When, exactly, does one stop being a “newbie”?

Let’s consider some ideas to determine this. What if the avatar:

  • Can competently build objects?
  • Can competently operate chats, groups and land?
  • Can acquire and wear great clothing?
  • Has been around for more than two months?
  • Is well known by many other avatars?
  • Can answer questions from other newbs?

Nope, none of these will do. I know people who clearly are no longer newbs, but could not build a plain wooden box to save the universe. I know people who have been in SL for two years, but still act like newbs. Any other specific factor likely has similar exceptions.

I believe that newbishness is a trait that is very gradually shed over a long period. Successful existence in SL requires a lot of knowledge and it simply cannot be learned quickly. People take months to gain enough experience to do things competently - and even then they might be completely unaware of other activities.

And that leads to my theory: we’re all still newbs one way or another, because there are always things we don’t know. A veteran avatar can suddenly become incompetent if faced with an unfamiliar situation requiring knowledge they don’t have.

So I don’t make fun of newbs, because we’d be making fun of ourselves. Unless, of course, they have a box on their head.

2.5 Store Years

Friday, June 19, 2009 Friday, June 19, 2009

It’s been 2.5 years since I opened my SL store, Electric Pixels. It’s been quite a journey, and the store has undergone several evolutions:

  • The first iteration was actually not in-world at all, but existed solely on the then-named SLExchange in January 2007. Started on a dare from a friend, my items sold quite well. Well enough that I quickly saved sufficient Lindens to proceed to stage two
  • In March 2007 I took a step by purchasing a tiny 512sm parcel in the obscure sim Lanestris for the princely sum of L$6000. I wanted to set up an in-world store because it seemed like the right thing to do. While the tier was just right (it’s actually zero for your first 512sm), I had no idea how to set up a store. So I experimented with several crazy concepts, and learned much. The important thing was the cash flow was ten times that of SLExchange. This led to stage three a few months later
  • In June 2007 I took a huge step by purchasing an 8192sm mainland parcel, which required my first tier of USD$40 per month. I was confident my revenue would cover that, and I built a rather different and much larger store using learnings from iteration two
  • Some 18 months later I took the opportunity to acquire land adjacent to my 8192sm parcel, doubling its size to a full 1/4 sim. After several weeks of rebuilding I had successfully expanded and redesigned Electric Pixels with multiple display areas with live demonstrations everywhere

And so it sits today. But I’ve survived for over two years while some other businesses have failed. What’s my secret? At each stage I’ve been very conservative and expanded only when absolutely certain my revenue greatly exceeded the monthly expenses.

That and all the customers who come by to look and purchase. My thanks to all of you!

Lemme Fly the LEM!

Friday, June 12, 2009 Friday, June 12, 2009

Yeah, I was back at the Apollo simulation again. I guess I’m a little bit more spacey than usual due to the amazing things in RL space lately (the International Space Station is finally truly international, with crew from all partner countries in orbit today - and another seven to visit on Saturday to break the record for the most people in space simultaneously.) 
Meanwhile in SL, Apollo simulation is a fascinating exhibit, because it is always changing as the maker implements enhancements. In this view, Radar Masukami and I have successfully flown the Lunar Excursion Module down from orbit to the surface of The Moon.

Erm, you might be wondering why there is a Joshua Tree on the barren, airless Lunar surface. Well, that’s because the landing area was (at the time of our flight) simply a sandbox below the orbital area, not yet fully moonscaped. This also explains why we are able to successfully walk on the surface without space suits.

But we had to wear our Trek outfits, of course.

Long Distance Call

Thursday, June 4, 2009 Thursday, June 04, 2009

Long ago I watched a particularly frightening (at the time) episode of the classic TV series, “The Twilight Zone”. In the episode “Long Distance Call”, child actor Billy Mumy uses a toy telephone to call his newly dead grandmother. The situation seemed normal from the child’s viewpoint, but when the father picks up the toy phone and speaks to the dead grandmother over some unimaginable series of wires and switches, the situation becomes infinitely not normal. And pretty scary, too.

I had the same feeling as that TV father last week.

I had that feeling while testing the new AvaLine voice service just introduced for testing by Linden Lab. It’s a service that permits people (not necessarily avatars) to use their familiar telephone to call directly into Second Life and speak with a logged-in avatar. Or if they’re not logged in, you can leave an audio voice message, which shows up as an MP3 file in the avatar’s email.
AvaLine is pretty straightforward to use. After signing up and getting your AvaLine "ID", you exchange it with your avatar friends. Then you pick up a normal telephone and dial one of several strategically located telephone "portals". The portal asks you for the avatar ID, and upon receiving it, connects you to the selected avatar in voice. 
I thought it wise to give AvaLine a try. Here are my findings so far:
  • The audio quality is inconsistent and typically worse than normal avatar-to-avatar in-world voice (assuming all are using headsets with reasonable quality mics). My goodness, it sounds like they’re on the telephone! D'oh!
  • The avatar sees the incoming call as coming from the phone number. For example, you might get a call from 2125551234. This does seem strange, since voice users expect to see a name, not a number. Worse, if your avatar buddy is actually calling, you might not recognize their phone number
  • That’s another major problem: the actual real-life telephone number is shown. For those who wish to be anonymous, this could be a big issue. I don’t know if it’s possible to block the caller ID, but the truth is that many people wouldn’t realize they could do so and thus mistakenly reveal their True Phone Number.
  • You must have a good memory for telephone numbers because a given person might call in from multiple telephones (imagine a cell phone, home land line, work phone, etc.) It’s the same person calling, but they show up in Second Life as different faceless numbers
  • If the avatar is offline, then the message goes straight to voice mail. But this also occurs if the avatar has set the “Only accept voice calls from people on My Friends list” option. You must turn this off to receive calls from your friends, because the system doesn’t know your friends' telephone numbers. Yet.
  • At this early stage only certain major cities have telephone “portals”. If you happen to live elsewhere, then you’ll have to call the nearest portal number long distance. This is an issue if you don’t have a flat-rate LD plan
  • Real life telephone calls seem to have an “I talk, You Talk, I talk” protocol. But SL conversations seem different, and involve more passive listening and pauses. Pauses, though normal in SL voice, are very unnerving when you have a handset to your ear.

Problems aside, the service is interesting, although I am still not certain of the expected usage situation. Basically, this must occur:
  • Two avatars wish to communicate
  • The avatars are familiar with voice
  • One avatar is online
  • The other avatar is offline, but has access to a regular telephone

I’m not sure this is a situation many would find themselves in, but I suppose it does occur. I’ve used it a few times and it is fun, but I am not sure it would survive past the novelty stage for me. There would be more use, I think, if avatars could call out to any outside telephone number, but that feature does not currently exist.

But back to the Twilight Zone.

In the course of testing AvaLine, I found myself in my real-life office, looking out the window at real trees, real buildings and real people walking by. I saw my hand pick up the telephone and dial a sequence of digits. Soon, ringing. Suddenly a voice answered.

A voice from another world.

And it really was from another world. My mind swam as real and virtual contexts violently collided, leaving me quite uncomfortable. I thought of the boy speaking to his dead grandmother and realized that was no boy; it was, and is, me.
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