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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