Second Life increasingly a misnomer?

There has always been a blur between Second Life (SL) and real life (RL), with residents choosing how separate they want to keep the two.
However, it seems to me that Linden Lab (LL) are losing sight of what SL is meant to be. Or, if you prefer to rephrase that, they are moving SL in directions that are different from how they started out. And, increasingly, those changes are removing some of the choice residents have as to how separate the two remain.

For me, the clue is in the name “Second Life” – an alternative life, secondary and separate from your real one. But it seems that is becoming less and less the focus of SL, with residents being encouraged (and in some cases forced) to involve their RL more and more in their SL.

So when did this rot start to set in?

Some might say it started with Age Verification where you were required to provide some form of RL identification. This was probably the first time you were required to disclose your RL identity. Up until then, provided you didn’t have payment information on file and were using a free email address like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc., there was no link between your RL identity and your SL one.

Others might say it started when LL stopped the idea of a firstname & lastname and instead moved to having just a username and an optional Display Name. In many ways this weakened the separation between SL and RL – a username is just a login for a website or service. You were no longer creating an identity or character; you were just creating an account. Perhaps the distinction is subtle, but I think it is relevant and significant.

Others might say that it was the introduction of Viewer 2.0 and the different way in which it presented profiles, no longer calling the tabs “2nd Life” and “1st Life” but “Avatar” and “More Info”.
Or perhaps Viewer 2.0’s emphasis on voice chat, with text-based interaction being de-emphasised and harder to find in the User Interface.

But, for me, what really highlights the fundamental shift in attitude are the profiles at http://my.secondlife.com

One of the sections of your profile is called “Social Identities” where you are able to link with your Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Plurk, Twitter and YouTube accounts.
Now I happen to know that Facebook and LinkedIn are adamant that you must use your real name and real identity to have an account with them. Yes, many SL residents do have a Facebook account for their Avatar but you are on borrowed time there – when Facebook get round to noticing they *will* delete that account.
So Linden Lab are encouraging you to link your SL account with RL services that only have relevance to your RL.

Of course, you could argue that just because LL allow you to do this it doesn’t mean you have to – and you would obviously be right. But I think it highlights a push by LL to make Second Life just another social media / social networking tool; a glorified 3D chatroom and messaging facility for the casual user, with the immersion and roleplay that many of us enjoy being of secondary importance. There is even talk of a reduced functionality internet browser-based Viewer to make SL “more accessible” to more people. And if that doesn’t sound foreboding to you, then it probably should do.

So one has to beg the question at what point Linden Lab should rename “Second Life” to “Augmented Life”?

 


Update:

Here are some links to the issue of Facebook deleting accounts of SL avatars

http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Forums-Blogs-Answers-and/Facebook-deleting-Secondlife-Avatars/td-p/887663
http://community.secondlife.com/t5/General-Discussion-Forum/Deletion-Of-Hundreds-Of-Second-Life-Facebook-Accounts-Being/td-p/884697
http://virtualoutworlding.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/your-avatar-identity-in-facebook-issues.html

Mesh

Slink Mesh Boots!!, originally uploaded by Nana Minuet.

I have to say I was getting very excited by Mesh, especially with the recent announcement that Phoenix is going to be supporting it (thanks to some dedicated work by Henri Beauchamp of the Cool Viewer).

These boots are a great case in point – imagine how wrong the knees would look in that pose if those were sculpt boots!

However, all is not as good as it seems; I’ve learned that the current implementation of Mesh is worse than useless, for clothes at least. It would seem that a mesh object attaches to your skeleton, not your “flesh”, and cannot be resized in-world. That means that if you are slim like the model in the above pics, those boots would look great. However, if you are any other size than her they won’t fit. Oh, sure, an alpha layer will mask out the bits of you that the boots cover but if you have bigger thighs than her you’re fresh out of luck.

One of the biggest benefits of Second Life is you can be who you want to be. You (or, rather, your avatar) can be exactly as you want it – it’s the overriding expression of your individuality and what makes Second Life so wonderful. But if Mesh clothing is going to force us all to resize our avatar to the clothing, rather than the clothing to the avatar, then this is a bad thing.

There is a JIRA running on this. It’s rather technical but the gist of it is “change Mesh to resize to your flesh not be fixed size and attached to your skeleton”.
See https://jira.secondlife.com/si/jira.issueviews:issue-html/SH-2374/SH-2374.html

Profile pics and profile Picks (a tutorial)

A lot of people who have made their own picture for their Profile find that it appears squashed or stretched. There is a very good reason for this and it is fairly straightforward to work around. The aim of this post is to try to explain how.

Before I go any further though, do bear in mind that this whole tutorial is all to do with 1.x Series Viewers (ie. official Viewer up to 1.23.5 and most Third Party Viewers such as Imprudence, Phoenix, Emergence, and the like) since Linden Lab in their infinite (lack of) wisdom changed it for Viewer 2.

The key thing to remember with textures (which is the name Linden Lab uses to refer to anything that looks like a picture, which includes snapshots) is that they are always square or else rectangles made up of squares. And those squares are always powers of 2. So a texture can be 256×256 pixels, 512×512, 1024×1024, 512×1024, 512×256, etc. – you get the idea. The maximum size allowed in any one direction (in Second Life) is 1024.
If a picture does not fit into one of these combinations then it is stretched or squashed accordingly, and this is where the deformation comes from.

You would think that you should be able to just take a snapshot in-world and use it, however this is not the case because the Profile picture, and the picture used in the Picks section of your profile, have specific aspect ratios which are clearly defined by Linden Lab [link]. For your Profile pic this aspect is 4:3, and for a Profile Pick this is 16:9 (for 1.x Viewers. For 2.x Viewers LL changed it to 1:1 and 8:5/5:3 respectively. Don’t even get me started on why the Picks have two aspect ratios in the 2.x Viewer).
If you’re unsure what I mean by “aspect ratio” then please refer to [this link].
Unless you can somehow capture your in-world snapshot at something close to the correct ratio, then it’s not going to look right.
(I should note at this point that the RL pic in your profile has a 1:1 ratio, which since it is square is so trivially easy to do that I won’t mention it further)

So, how do you get it right? Well, provided you are happy to do a little bit of simple post-production then it is quite easy.
In order to do it you’ll need a photo editing application such as Photoshop, GIMP, Paint.net or even an online service like Picnik. All except Photoshop are free so don’t be worried if you don’t have one of them. I’ll leave it to you to choose what to use. I use GIMP myself, because it is almost as powerful as Photoshop but is free and Photoshop is very expensive. However, if you are a beginner then paint.net is a lot easier and more intuitive.

First you’ll need to take your snapshot in Second Life. Take a snapshot, but instead of saving it in-world, save it to your hard drive.
In v1.x viewers then this can easily be done with the Snapshot dialog, assessed with the “snapshot” button on the bottom toolbar (or the Ctrl-Alt-S keyboard shortcut if you’re using Windows). There is a radio button under ‘Snapshot destination’ at the top of the dialog, one option of which is “Save to your hard drive”.
You can also use “Snapshot to Disk” from the File menu.
Save the snapshot to somewhere that you can find it again shortly.

If you already have a snapshot in-world which you want to use then it is possible to save it locally and use it. Provided it has full permissions, you can open it and then choose “File -> Save Texture As” from the top menu (which is slightly counter-intuitive as you might reasonably expect it to be a menu on the window of the snapshot itself)

Now fire up your photo editing software and open the picture you just saved (regardless of which of the above two methods you used to create it).
Select the crop tool and fix the aspect ratio. In GIMP this is a checkbox on the crop tool and an edit box to specify the ratio. Your mileage my vary.
For a Profile pic you’ll want 4:3 and for a Pick you’ll want 16:9.
Don’t worry at this point what the final image size is because we will be resizing it.

Crop the picture to the correct ratio. It’s up to you how you want this to look, and it depends on your picture, but do remember that when someone looks at your profile the picture can look quite small. So, for your main profile pic at least, I find it is best to close crop and get your face quite dominant in the picture since your Profile picture is meant to be about you. However it’s entirely your call, of course.

Now, this is the important bit; the trick that this whole entry is about is coming up. You want to resize the picture so that it looks squashed, so that when SL uses it and stretches it, it regains its correct Aspect Ratio. Sneaky, huh?
You can do this in one step, but I like to do it in two steps as it makes more sense to me.
Resize your picture, preserving the aspect ratio. You’ll want to set the height of the picture to be either 512 or 1024 and let your software work out the width.
You’ll notice that the picture still looks right. Which is what we want.
Now the sneaky part – size the picture again but this time turn off keeping the correct aspect ratio. In GIMP this is a little icon of a chain between the height and width. Now set the width to be the same as the height. Do not change the height.
Your picture will now look squashed. Don’t worry, this is fine!
Save your picture – I’d recommend to a different filename.

Now, we need to get the picture back into SL as a texture.

Fire up your SL Viewer and, when ready, upload your edited picture (it’s under the File menu). It will cost you L$10 to do this. It’ll probably end up in the Textures folder of your Inventory.

Finally, edit your profile and drag the texture (ie. your uploaded picture) onto the appropriate picture box of the profile. Or, alternatively, double-click on the picture box and browse for it.

Hopefully your picture will look correct again – it will have been stretched out to the correct aspect ratio again. If it has not you’ve probably used the wrong ratio for the wrong box. Remember, for your main picture it should be 4:3 and for a Pick it should be 16:9
Also, bear in mind that it will only look right on 1.x Viewers since Viewer 2 uses different ratios.

That’s it! I hope that this was useful to you.

Display Names – what could go wrong?

There’s a lot of buzz about the new Display Names feature that will allow you to appear to change your avatar’s name.

I’ve heard a lot of people remark that this sounds wonderful, because they’ll be able to call themselves “Sensible Name” rather than  “SomeStupidNameBigBoobies69 Sillyname” (which was funny right up until the point they realised they couldn’t change it).

Well, yes. But unfortunately they’ll also be able to call themselves “Jackie Graves”, “Stiletto Moody” or “Truth Hawks”. But not “Torley Linden”.

Why not “Torley Linden”? Because the Lindens recognise that could lead to confusion. That’s right, they are not going to put any safeguard in to prevent impersonation, Phishing, character assassination, smear campaigns or trashing someone’s reputation unless it’s one of them.

This just seems totally insane to me. If there is no issue with impersonation, as the Lindens want us to believe, then why stop people using the name “Linden” in a Display Name? Or, if is more obviously the case, there *is* an issue then why are they not taking steps to protect *our* identities as well as their own?

The response Linden Lab are making is that these are only Display Names and people can drill down into the profile to see the username. That’s all well and good, but in the Real World we know that email-based Phishing attacks are successful. Do ordinary users look at email headers to see what the actual email account is when the display name is “PayPal” or “Amazon” or <insert the name of your bank here>
Of course they don’t. Nor do they check the actual URL on a link that looks like http://www.paypal.com but which actually points to http://www.somedodgyphishingsite.com
So why on earth do the Lindens think users will be any different in Second Life? They’ll just file an Abuse Report against the person that they *think* is griefing them. Or buy dodgy counterfeit or malicious objects from someone they *think* is a legitimate seller.

There are several JIRA entries open on this subject, and as usual a lot of well thought out and well-explained comments and suggestions made by SL residents on them that will almost certainly be ignored by LL and ridden roughshod over.
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/SVC-6194
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-21053
(you may need to log in with your SL username and password to view those. It’s part of the Second Life website so safe to do so)

Likewise, there are a load of intelligent comments, suggestions and concerns in the feedback on the recent Second Life blog announcement on Display Names:
http://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2010/08/31/display-names-project-viewer-now-available…

Personally I think the down sides of Display Names in their current form massively outnumber the up sides. However, I am depressively resigned to the fact that all reasonable debate will be ignored by the Lindens and they will press on regardless.

Privacy concerns with Viewer 2.0

[First posted 09-Mar-2010 here]

If you care about your privacy and identity then be sure to read and vote on this JIRA issue

In short, any Shared Media prim has the potential to get all sorts of information about you – IP Address, Operating System & version, language (gives a good idea of country), Client & version, all sorts.
Possible exploits are linking alts to mains, griefing, stalking, RL harassment, phishing, malware and viruses.

The JIRA entry and the subsequent comments have a lot more information. And this blog is also worth reading.

I’m kind of surprised how few people seem bothered by this.

Update: This blog comment highlights a very scarily plausible scenario for how a phishing attack could successfully compromise your SL account.