We Are Real

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It was both a small thing and enormous at the same time. Tonight we avatars took a giant leap into the far future, at least in one tiny place.

We became Real tonight.

We became real when Plurk added "Second life" as an official country, alongside Angola, Belgium and Canada and all the others. Second Life plurkers can now forsake their atomic origins and be literally from “Second life”, just as they previously claimed to be from Australia or the United States.

Frivolous? Perhaps. But I think something truly profound just occurred. Consider what has happened: someone in authority, someone completely outside the Second Life community, has deemed that we are more than just a community.

We are a nation.

We are a nation, not of flesh and bone, land and lake, but of bits, patterns and networks.

We have no latitude, no longitude. But we exist, and we are everywhere and nowhere. We are a new type of nation, one that has a right, at least this once, to appear on the sacred roll of countries. It will not be the last time.

Distant generations of avatars, who might not even have atomic counterparts, may look back and see this moment as the beginning of a new stage of reality, where the digital nations first emerged from the muck of atomic reality.

Look proud, avatars - today we became Citizens, not just Residents.
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Timing Is Everything

Monday, January 26, 2009 Monday, January 26, 2009

It’s not good enough to have terrific products, good customer service or a great store experience. You also have to market your goods according to the seasons. In Second Life there are very definite seasons, and I’m not talking about the passage of the virtual sun that traverses our imaginary skies seven times per day.

No, the seasons are measured by major events, at least for in-world commercial purposes. New Year’s Day, WinterFaire, Halloween, Burning Life, Christmas, etc. really define the seasons, as we see behavior, activities, products and even structures come and go as these “seasons” evolve. It’s much like greenery that covers the RL globe, ebbing and flowing as time passes.

So what is a business owner to do about this? First, you must have a schedule of such events, and plan around them. Products related to the event are not sold on the day of the event, but in fact are sold days and weeks before the event. If it is your intention to capitalize on the event, you’d better get your products in order well before the event and have them marketed too.

The upcoming event these days is, of course, Valentine’s Day. It’s one of the bigger events in SL, and merchants are trying their best to service everyone’s needs. I’ve been doing that as well, by building a completely new store with special emphasis on such events and activities; I have an entire section devoted entirely to Hearts and related gushy stuff.

Unfortunately, my construction took longer than anticipated and I didn’t manage to get into the grid-wide Valentine Hunt. But, that’s OK, because I’m starting a mini-Hunt of my own. When you show up at Electric Pixels for the next couple of weeks there will be some surprises in store for all visitors. Please come by and get some treats, and let me know what you think of the new store layout!
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I’ve Been Busy...

Thursday, January 22, 2009 Thursday, January 22, 2009

You may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet lately. That’s because I have indeed been busy, very busy. Readers may recall that I sought to purchase additional land to expand my rather overcrowded main store, and I was successful!

Thanks to some quick purchases and helpful neighbors, I’ve managed to double the size of my parcel to a complete and square one quarter of the Caso Milo mainland region. The only question was, “what the heck do I do with it?”

Keeping in mind my business philosophy of getting a return for my investment, I decided to completely reorganize the manner in which my products were displayed. The old store’s approach was to display as many items as possible in order to minimize avatar movement. However, I observed some shoppers unable to find what they sought, even though I believed items were clearly laid out.

After some consideration, I came to the hypothesis that visitors to my Particle Shop usually come in search of a specific item, such as smoke or fog (or once Bird Poop, but that’s another story). They generally don’t understand some of the other creative products on the shelf and unless there is a very easy to use and highly visible demonstration, they simply don’t bother looking at the items. Particles are much more difficult to sell than fashions, I suspect, because motion-oriented items are hard to comprehend in a still image, and often represent they something that is totally not possible in real life.

Hence the new store layout, which does the following:
  • All products are classified into one of eight major categories (like “Hearts”, shown above, just in time for your Second Life Valentine's day present). I wanted to have few categories, because it seems that people are overwhelmed by more than ten or so topics. The previous layout had around twenty areas, and I actually spoke with customers who refused to go looking in it due to the number of visible product boxes
  • Every product has a very visual live demonstration, seen by touching the “DEMO” button. You can’t miss them!
  • Products are displayed “in context” so that you get a feel for what they do. In other words, the “Garden” items have rocks and trees in the area. They aren’t part of the products, but they add to the visual experience by showing the customer a way of using them. Have a look at the “Garden” section above
  • Every box delivers an explanatory notecard upon touch
  • Each of the eight areas has a giant can’t-be-missed sign that includes an icon to represent the feeling of the area. (Yeah, I haven’t put the giant Bow up on the “Pretty” section yet, give me a break!)

It’s been an enormous amount of work, as you can imagine. Not only did I have to design the layout and build all the structures, but the most difficult part was creating all the demonstrations. To give you an idea of what had to be done, I eventually made 158 demos, and I’m giving a rough estimate of around 25-35,000 lines of LSL code had to be written to make this all work.

Anyway, there’s lots left to be done, but the basic structure is up and running. If you want to come by to shop or just gawk at the layout, please feel free to drop in!

16 Things

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 Tuesday, January 13, 2009

There’s a meme flying about the SLblogosphere lately where bloggers are “tagged” and required to post 16 facts about themselves, including RL picture! I am not sure I want to participate in this activity, since it really has nothing to do with my blog’s topic. However, the idea of 16 things was intriguing, and I realized that I have 16 things to say anyway. Not about me, but instead 16 things every SL business owner should know.

  • You can’t succeed with those “business in a box” products.
  • Your store should focus on one type of product only, at least at first.
  • Make sure your products actually work before you place them on sale.
  • No advertising = no customers.
  • A specific landing point can ensure customers read your signage.
  • Customers speak and read languages other than English.
  • Few buy something they can’t see, and see clearly.
  • Revenue must always exceed expenses.
  • Your store’s name must be unique otherwise it will never be findable in search.
  • Make it as easy as possible for people to buy your products or services.
  • Treat everyone, customers, neighbors, partners and suppliers with respect, no matter what.
  • Free samples are always a good idea.
  • Suppliers will often accept trades instead of Linden dollars.
  • You will have competition; try to do a better job than they can do.
  • Keep a backup. No, two.
  • There’s no such thing as SL Business; it’s just business, the same as RL.

Are these the only things a business owner should know? Certainly not, but it’s a start.
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It’s Not OpenSpaces, It’s ClearSpaces!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Maybe this has been revealed before, but it was news to me. Some electronic detective work has uncovered what might be the future for Linden Lab’s community strategy. We’ve all heard complaints about the existing Second Life forums. We’ve also heard rumors of something new coming to replace them. Last October, Robin Linden posted a report on this topic, where she said:

I’m happy to report that we have some great things ahead for the Linden Lab Blog. We are on track with a multi-stage process of upgrading our Web presence, including both the Blog and the Forums. Our goal? To improve the information you get about Second Life and enhance our dialogue with you.

But what could it be? Every time something twitches in the existing forums we all ask, “is that the change?” and “can’t they do better than that?”

Well, perhaps they can.

There is evidence that Linden Lab is or has been evaluating Jive Software’s Clearspace community software product. For those who are not familiar with Clearspace, it’s a very sophisticated integrated community system that includes not only forum, but blog, wiki and document features as well. And it’s all integrated in a very clean fashion that is quite easy to use. If you want to try it, you can sign up for a free demonstration on Jive Software’s test site right here.

If you try it, you’ll soon realize how powerful Clearspace can be. It’s striking to imagine the kind of community that could emerge should Linden Lab actually use Clearspace.

Wait a moment, you ask, “what evidence do you have of this?” Consider the following forum post on Jive Software’s support forum dated October 2008, from a rather familiar friendly Linden:

There’s another similar post right here.

A re-read of Robin’s post lists several features that one would find in Clearspace, including clustering, plugins, etc.

Does this mean we’re going to see Clearspace soon? Clearly, Linden Lab was in fact evaluating Clearspace at that time. Further digging turns up some trails suggesting they had at one time a private Clearspace evaluation area. This testing may still be underway, but we can’t tell since it is private, after all.

Searches for Clearspace don’t reveal much after this date, which could indicate that Linden Lab has ceased their evaluation. Therefore I would not place any serious bets on this particular outcome. I suspect their evaluation showed that Clearspace had too much functionality for their needs. If I were them, I’d also be examining various Open Source alternatives such as Drupal or Joomla as well.

However, the evidence does tell us something important: Linden Lab is serious about revamping their community operations, to the point where they are evaluating some pretty amp’d tooling. We’ve seen their homepage undergo some serious surgery recently, and we should expect to see something to emerge on blogs, forums and wikis one of these days, too.
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The Plurk Cycle

Sunday, January 4, 2009 Sunday, January 04, 2009

I’ve been using the amazing Plurk microblogging service since very early June 2008, pretty much just after it was launched. A few of us SL’rs found ourselves alone there, quickly got together and began inviting everyone we could think of. Today I think I have around 450 friends+fans, with more every day. I am by no means the busiest or friendedest Plurker (e.g. CodeBastard Redgrave with 855 friends+fans as of this writing), but I’ve gotten tremendous value from my experience with the service by meeting many people I would never had the opportunity to do so otherwise and learning new things faster than I did before.

But as I pass seven months of daily Plurking, I’ve noticed some patterns developing in how people use the service. It’s like standard “phases” of understanding and participation that a great many people seem to go through. Not everyone, but most. Some people don’t even make it all the way to the end and fall off somewhere in the middle. In any case, I call it “The Plurk Cycle”:

  • The Invisibles – Those who have never heard of the service.
  • The Skeptics – Those who have heard of it, but immediately dismiss it out of hand. These people are usually Tweeters who are reluctant to leave their comfy nest.
  • The Newbs – Those who have decided, for one reason or another, to join Plurk. They may have been invited by an existing Plurker or have overcome their fears of trying something new. They have few friends, and have little idea how to do things or what to say. Typical post: “I’m on this Plurk thing…. What am I supposed to do?”
  • The Toddlers – Those who have become comfy with the concept, but don’t quite know all the ropes yet. They try many different posting styles. Typical post: “oh crap, how do I post a youtube again?”
  • The Fevered – They’ve been around for a few weeks and have noticed that they don’t seem to have the same capabilities as others because their Karma is low. They develop a bad case of Karma-fever and start Plurking incessantly on every possible topic in an eventually successful campaign to raise Karma. Typical post: “I haz a martini – want one?”
  • The Questioners – Those who have exhausted all the straightforward Plurks and realize more sophisticated techniques are required to gain Karma at higher levels. They often ask “why is my Karma moving so slowly now?” Their new Plurks gather a great many responses if successful. Typical Plurk (courtesy Luna Jubilee): “what's your favorite line from a movie?”
  • The Plateaued – Those who have gone through most of the prior phases and have reached nirvana (literally) and retreat into a monitoring and occasional post mode. They may not post as much as the fevered others, but their plurks can be more interesting. Typical Plurk: "shares this interesting article."
  • The Retired – Those who decide to leave Plurk, usually from either brain or drama overload. For some unknown reason many people seem to announce their “retirement” from Plurk rather than fading away. Typical Plurk: “I hereby resignz from Plurk forevah!”
  • The Resurrected – The retirees who have returned, realizing the benefits of Plurk actually outweighed the workload and drama. They return quietly and then act much as a Plateaued.

And that’s my Plurk Cycle. If you’re a Plurker, you’ll probably recognize at least some of these phases in either yourself or your buddies. Don’t worry - it’s quite normal.

And if you are not Plurking, please give it a try. It may be worth your time.

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