Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

A Eulogy

For the record, I hate change. The problem is, in the years I’ve been on this planet change has been the one single constant. Everything changes and online in our virtual communities, change comes even faster. Smaller changes can also cast wider ripples that spread faster and diminish more quickly. Just as our communication moves at light speed, so too do changes in virtual space.

Ancient pagan religions began the ritual of celebrating change, recognizing that the death of Nature in the winter would eventually give rise to new Life in the spring. Those traditions were adapted for modern religions as well, though we call them “Christmas” and “Easter” today. And that’s the important part to keep in mind – when one door closes, another opens. When something we enjoy goes away, usually something else springs up into its place to continue the cycle of death and renewal, change and progress. Without that cycle, Nature would stagnate. We humans and our societies would become dormant, unchallenged, bored without the adversity that change brings.

My second SL birthday is coming up on Wednesday and I’m not sure I’ve seen any changes in Second Life that were as dramatic as what we’ve seen happening this past month or so – not even the precursor event in June of 2006 when free registration was introduced. Some old doors are closing and at this writing we’re not sure what new doors are going to be opening or what will lie on the other side. But it’s the proper time to say goodbye to some things — a few we will miss, a few others not so much.

Say goodbye to massive naked newbie orgies. They’re easy to find – just search for “sex” like a lot of new residents do and teleport to one of the top 10 in traffic. Wear a movelock shield because the avatars are so anxious to get to the pixel-bumping that they’ll run everywhere and run over everyone regardless of who’s in their way. You’re liable to be poked by outsized prim genitalia and, if you’re female you will be asked to play in several languages and with varying degrees of lucidity or vulgarity. Goodbye to the images burned into our minds of dozens of unfinished, default Linden avatars crawling over each other giving vent to their cyberlust. Very soon, the obstacle of identity verification will reduce these clubs’ numbers drastically and make instant cyber gratification much harder to find.

Say goodbye to the innocent ageplay so many SL residents found liberating.  I’m not referring to sexual ageplay — I’m talking about those who had abused childhoods, or had to grow up too fast because of missing parents and have found the ability to pretend they’re a child in SL to be a liberating, wonderful self-exploration.  These are the people who did nothing wrong and yet will have to either abandon their chosen virtual lifestyle or else brave the slings and arrows of ARs and accusations of pedophilia.  Say goodbye to Dolltopia – Zoe Llewelyn’s PG-rated sim for child avatars, which she now plans to close for fear of being banned by Linden Lab in response to moronic Abuse Reporting and vague LL policy statements.

Say goodbye to the old caste system of “Payment Info Used” versus unverified. Ironically, the age of ID verification which is upon us will replace the old freebie-account prejudice with a new prejudice: “ID verified” versus anonymous. “ID verified” will loosely translate into “cyber pervert” since mostly those of us who either sell adult content or frequent clubs that contain adult content will need to bother verifying our identities. The rest of SL has no need to risk having their information stolen or sold and will likely not bother. Say hello to a new paranoia – if you’ve had your ID verified to use Second Life, will other data-collection agencies connect that with pornography and the pedophilia scandal? If you have a government security clearance, say goodbye to adult areas completely.

Say goodbye to some of the freedom we’ve taken for granted in the past. One of the priveleges of being an adult is that your view of the world doesn’t have to be filtered and diluted. You can decide for yourself if The Passion of Christ is too bloody and violent or if the art of Andres Serrano is objectionable. Once Second Life has been partitioned into “mature” and “perverts”, shop owners and artists will have to decide if they want to remain open to everyone by removing sexual or violent materials, or block a significant portion of their potential traffic by flagging their land ‘Adults only’. Those owners and artists who don’t flag their land will risk being abuse reported. Not even radio streams will be exempt from abuse reports.

Say goodbye also to anonymity. Once the tools are in place to verify your identity, the Lindens are saying that there will be ways for residents to reveal as little or as much of their personal lives to each other as we choose. This is what Philip Linden calls “building trust and making the grid safer”. In actuality, it will create yet another dichotomy, dividing the grid even more. If you’re a real female and choose not to verify your gender, you will risk being griefed as a gender bender. If you do verify gender, you risk being stalked. If you’re transgendered/transsexual, you will lose the wonderful ability to escape all that real world prejudice you endure daily by entering the grid. This isn’t building trust and making things safer – this is adding more ways to destroy privacy and move real world bigotry into Second Life. Say hello to a new phenomenon: identity politics.

I wanted to say “goodbye to fear” here, but on second thought I can’t. The whole purpose of ID verification is to keep children from accessing adult materials and activities. It won’t do that. Any suitably motivated and determined child can still steal their parents’ IDs and enter adult parcels. All this process will do is alleviate Linden Lab and club owners from legal liability should a child encounter some kind of psychic trauma when a busty blonde stripper admits she’s a 50-year old construction worker from Oklahoma named Luke. You will be able to randomly cyber now with a clearer conscience, if that’s worth anything to you.

Say goodbye to plywood cubes. Lost in all the messy press over German pedophiles, Linden Lab is beta testing new sculpted prims. These will allow us to map prim shapes using 3D textures, achieving remarkable results with very few prims — like this ONE PRIM object by Chip Midnight:

Lift a glass and toast the Second Life we used to know. We’re losing the newbie sex orgies but we’re also losing some of our freedoms and anonymity. A New Age of Second Life is about to begin and we don’t know what doors are going to open. Welcome to the new, ‘safer’ Second Life grid where paranoia and prejudice will be given new impetus and children still steal Mom’s driver’s license. Despite that, we will now be able to sculpt our prims.


May 13, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

Welcome to Myspace 2: Goodbye Anonymity

As the current controversy rages over Linden Lab’s announcement that subscribers will be required to verify identities in order to access adult content in Second Life, a lot of unexpected fallout is also happening.

Yesterday I attended a question-and-answer session with Robin, Daniel and Philip Linden.  About a dozen or so residents were present to query them on details of the ID verification system they’re planning.

Much of their feedback was reassuring — concerns over the links between Integrity and their parent company, Aristotle International, Inc, were largely laid to rest by revealing that Integrity will be prohibited by contract from sharing any information with Aristotle.  So we don’t have to worry so much about spam from PACs or donation appeals from the Republican Party.

Near the close of the session however, the Reuter’s reporter asked a question that has begun to send some shock waves through the grid:

[10:43] Eric Reuters: will linden be offering gender verification as well now that is has the data?
[10:43] Daniel Linden: We could do that, as part of the system.

At first blush, you might ask “so what?”.  This would probably be a welcome tool for residents who are planning to SL-marry another avatar.  It would probably become a requirement for escort agencies who don’t want angry customers finding out that hot escort they paid $2,000L for was actually Fred the beer-gut truck driver in Mississippi.

And, after all, it will be an optional part of the tools available for residents, right? 

As I understand it, the new verification system will only be used by the Lindens to verify that you are who you say you are and that you are over the age of 18.  It will be a “yes or no” result passed back from Integrity.   But residents who verify will apparently have additional options available to them — if you choose to, you could have your RL name, address, gender, and other details about yourself available for other residents to view.

I immediately thought of Myspace,  that backwater of teenage angst where “privacy” is secondary to being validated and accepted by your peer group.  I’ve seen my daughter’s Myspace page, and I’ve been horrified by the real life information her friends reveal about themselves — and I’ve been told I am “prehistoric” for forbidding her from revealing certain things about herself, as well.

This dinosaur just isn’t ready to risk being stalked or having her real world life printed out on a public website for all to see.   I see a lot of residents in SL these days who have real pictures of themselves, even their Myspace address and AIM screen name showing, and I’m shocked and appalled at the lack of concern they show for privacy.

On one level, I understand their need to connect with peers in some way that is separate from school and family control.  But on another level, I see a generation which has done a one hundred and eighty degree turn from the days of my own youth, when computers were bad words and the general paranoia was all about turning people into numbers.  The Myspace generation, on the other hand, has embraced the thing.  They’re putting their faces on those numbers and charging ahead with no fear of their own safety — is that naivete or optimism?

So,  while the Lindens take steps to protect themselves from legal responsibility for all the age play and the minors on the grid, the unexpected consequence for many of us will be an unwanted loss of anonymity.

Some Second Life residents live out their SL lives as an extension of their real lives.  They have no need for the fantasy or anonymity elements which make the grid so appealing to thousands of others.  Until now, both approaches have been valid and co-existed in harmony.

But in my opinion, the new ID verification system — as badly as it’s been needed for the last year and as strongly as I support the general concept — is also going to rip away the veil of anonymity many of us prefer. 

Sure, revealing your location or gender is going to be optional.   Just like it is now, when the first thing out of so many guys’ keyboards is often “Where are you from?” or “Are you really a girl?”  or “How old are you?“.   Age/Sex/Location is a common and acceptable question in AOL chat rooms and instant messaging.  But it often rubs up against the anonymity of Second Life and creates cultural rifts as those AOLers meet people like me who don’t want you to know much about me unless I’ve grown to trust you.

With the new verification system, we are liable to find that the real world hierarchies of gender prejudice begin to manifest themselves.

Transgendered and Transsexual residents will be the first to feel the pinch.  Certainly a great many of them are honest about their status, but what about those who wish to explore the side of themselves that they’re not physically equipped to be without the ostracism and ridicule they experience in real life?

Women in general aren’t going to be immune – as one forum poster noted, women are liable to be griefed if they don’t confirm gender and stalked if they do.

As it stands, most residents realize and accept that a number of ‘women’ in SL are really males playing female avatars.  For most of them, it’s a non-issue.  It just hasn’t been that important in the culture that is Second Life.

Not any more.  Now that the tools are there to reveal your identity, I expect the social pressure to accompany it — use the tools or fall under suspicion for being a game player and a liar.

In the Q&A with the Lindens, Philip said that one of their goals was to make Second Life safer and to promote some trust among residents.  It will do that, to a point.  But ironically I think it will also create distrust and social conflict for those who choose not to fully utilize the verification tools we’re getting.

My friends and my family know me because I trust them enough to reveal myself.   My husband knows my gender because he’s seen everything.  As for everyone else on the grid who wants to get into my virtual pants because my avatar is hot, but think that because I’m reluctant to lose my cherished anonymity I’m a liar,  you can go to hell.  I don’t care what you think and it angers me that the methods chosen by the Lindens are being rushed into production with so little thought to the consequences that the results are liable to be the opposite of what they intended.

It’s exactly what they did a year ago.  Same poor planning, same disregard for social impact, and the same unforeseen results. 

My peers back in the 70s had it wrong:  the computer age isn’t turning us into numbers.  It’s worse.  Computers are destroying our privacy and limiting our freedoms in ways nobody expected.  

Welcome to Myspace 2.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | 5 Comments

In a Smoke-Filled Back Room

“That was a great blog piece you wrote, Cory”, smiled Zero. “You really diverted a lot of the crap we were facing with that Open Letter thingie.”

“Thanks, but I think the Town Meeting yesterday kinda undid all that. Guys, we should seriously think about holding our next meeting right here in the Lab and just supply Quicktime feeds to people’s PCs instead of trying to do it in the middle of craptastic lag. That was embarrassing.”

Phil licked the last remnant of the Reese’s cup off his fingers and smiled benignly.

“They’re not going to go away, you know,” scowled Jeska. “This time they’re pissed.”

“With good reason,” nodded Cory.

“We need a diversion,” Torley piped up from the end of the table. His eyes were twitching around the room nervously. “Something big. Something ‘wowzerama‘!”

From a dark corner of the room came a disembodied voice, deep and booming, “Age verification.”

Every head in the room swivelled in unison toward the voice. They knew who he was. They never said his name, but they knew. The awe and respect he commanded was apparent by the way the heads turned.

“Make all of ’em cough up their real identities. One, it gets assholes like Jack Thompson off our trail and two,  it’ll lower resident concurrency back to maneagable levels for a while.  Three, it’ll divert their attention away from how badly the grid sucks. You might lose a few customers, but most of those will be people who aren’t paying anything anyway. And we have the subscription flow-through to absorb a few of the more visible losses. If things get dicey, just put Phil on Business Week cover again.”

That made Phillip giggle.

The Lindens looked at each other again, pondering the suggestion. It was brilliance. Evil, but brilliant.

“Zero, call your friend over at that website. Find out what they use to keep the D.A. off their ass,” growled Jeska.

Phillip grabbed another Reese’s cup and smiled.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

Dear Lindens: Please Fix It

The open letter to Linden Lab that I mentioned recently has officially been sent today.  According to Cristiano Midnight, who spearheaded the effort and hosted the web space where the letter resides, it was emailed to Philip, Robin, Cory, Zee, Joe, Andrew, Torley and Jeska at the Lab.   We now wait for their response and begin our process of getting exposure for the letter in world, garnering more signatures and hearing what the press has to say. (Cnet already has a brief blurb on the letter today)

Project Open Letter is hosted here.  The letter itself is a distillation of the input of scores of people and while it is not a complete list of the pertinent and annoying issues ongoing in Second Life, it represents a critical mass of issues.  If the things on that list are resolved, I think it’s safe to say that most of us SL residents would be very happy and finally feel as though the grid was a reliable place to invest our time and money.

There are always naysayers, and that’s normal.  Some people think the Lab is doing as well as they can.  Some people think that the letter will do no good.  But I ask those in the latter category: just because you think something won’t help, does that always stop you from trying?

Most of us are passionate about Second Life.  There has been nothing quite like it before and will probably not be anything like it again for some time.  We’ve staked our claims in the community with friendships, networks, new knowledge and creative efforts and business ventures.  We’re too far into this thing to throw up our hands and leave.  We’re too committed to just not try.  We have to try.  We want Second Life to work.

I believe the Lindens want it to work, too.  I’m not faulting their programmers or network people.  I think the root of the issue here is nothing more than management philosophy.  They are the first corporate entity I’ve ever known who told their people they could work on whatever they wanted, rather than implementing a tight control process so that the broken stuff gets attention before the shiny stuff is added.   Right now, it just feels to this average Second Life resident as if we have a lot of shiny stuff and less functionality than ever.

I’m hoping the letter will begin a process that changes that. 

April 30, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

The Grind Begins

Last week,  Allana Dion contacted me and asked if I was interested in writing for her new blog enterprise, The Grid Grind.

It’s going to be one of those exciting, variety-laden ventures featuring several writers, including Allana, myself, co-founder Jamie David, Joshua Nightshade, Charisma Lewis, Ariyaunna Aridian, Emerald Jewell, and Jayla Sonic.  The subject matter, much like my blog here at Virtually Speaking, will cover Second Life but it will also cover a wide variety of other topics.

I won’t stop posting to this blog — this is my baby, first and foremost — but I’m going to be thinking about the direction I want Virtually Speaking to go in the future.  I’m not afraid of crossover content at all – sometimes an idea deserves more than one exposure. I’m more concerned about maximizing my creative time.

I’m going to need more coffee. I can tell that already.

A big welcome to the Grid Grind, then!  And thank you for the consideration, Allana – I’m honored to be a part of your team.

My first article is up, covering a tour I made of a few sex sims in Second Life.  I called it Sex Life.   Leave my chickens out of it.

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | 3 Comments

Project Open Letter

One of the Second Citizen regulars, Vivian Draper, recently posted a thread on that board titled “Dear Linden Lab“. In it, she mentions the basic stuff that has been broken in Second Life for over a year and remains broken today – or is in even worse condition now that we’re experiencing routine online populations of over 30,000 residents.

This is about more than just lag, which in itself can be extremely frustrating. This is about missing inventory, sim crashes, missing textures, broken teleports, non-functioning scripts and a host of other very basic functionality that is more likely to not work today than it is to function as designed.

It’s about all that, but it’s also about the perception many of us residents have of a company that is either oblivious to the problems, doesn’t know how to fix them or just doesn’t care. A company that’s giving us voice chat when we’re lucky to even be able to teleport. A company that’s more concerned with the flash and bling than with the reasons why avatars are still invisible to each other sometimes – a bug that’s been around so long most of us know how to work around it, though that doesn’t make it less annoying.

Cristiano Midnight thought enough of Viv’s points that he is starting “Project Open Letter”. He says:

This got me to thinking – while LL has shut off our collective voices to a degree, there is still something that we could do. Laying awake last night, i came up with an idea I am going to dub Project Open Letter. Many of us in the “community” do have platforms that we can use that do get attention – for example, Second Citizen, SLuniverse, SL Boutique, Second Cast, 3pointd, the Second Life Herald, the Metaverse Messenger, Second Life Insider, several of the big fashion blogs, etc. Combined with large and small in world businesses, there is a huge platform to get LL’s attention, if it is well focused.My idea is to develop a simple, straightforward letter to LL addressing the issues that Vivianne and others have raised – that SL is fundementally broken as a platform, and that we as customers have tolerated it for far too long. Before Linden Lab adds new features like voice chat (that a huge number of users don’t even want), they need to stabilize the platform or it will have no future. A non-inflammatory but concise letter detailing the host of daily problems users encounter, from inventory loss on down.Once this letter has been developed, all those taking part in Project Open Letter will undersign it and post the letter on the front of their sites, and for in world businesses, a graphic will be created with a linked notecard to give out the letter. If done on a large enough scale, and involving media connections that many of us also have, I really think it could have some effect. The point is not to embarass LL, but to make them wake up and listen. SL is not in its infancy – they can’t behind the startup thing anymore. All of us want SL to succeed and continue to grow, but I fear if we don’t do something now, LL is going to run it into the ground, and then we all lose.

Count me in. I’m not a “big deal” in Second Life – I own a few small stores and I manage an adult club. There are thousands of other residents with far more power and visibility. But my small voice can be added to other small voices. I can do my bit to make a point to Linden Lab.

That point is this: the grid is broken. Teleports are a dice roll. Missing textures are everywhere. Attachments have a nasty habit of moving themselves on your body when you TP — and that’s if your avatar is even visible to others around you.

The Official Linden Blog over the last couple of months has been one report of malfunctions after another, going back to the hacked customer account info and the most recent missing inventory issues.

Every major database application with Second Life’s scope is going to have issues. Nobody is demanding perfection. But we are demanding some evidence of functional progress from Linden Lab. Year-old bugs persist while the Lab decides they’re going to add voice chat?

It’s the Tao of Linden at work. Gee-whiz glitz and bling get the attention (more investors, see?) while the wheels inside the box start rusting and falling off.

Writing letters may not actually accomplish anything. That wouldn’t be much of a surprise, either. But when the day comes that it all falls down around our ears and we move on, at least we can say we told them so.

More to come in this space. Finally, other people are saying what I’ve been thinking for months. It’s time to do something about it.

Update: Cristiano has posted this in the Second Citizen thread I linked above:

Alright, the domain has been purchased and is in the process of being set up. Next step is to start a draft of the letter, based upon Vivianne Draper’s Dear Linden Lab post.

April 17, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

What Women Want

“It’s the same old line, Oh every time
Are you here alone? Can I take you home?
Now every woman sees with every “pretty please”
There’s a pair of lyin’ eyes and a set of keys”
 – Shania Twain

It all started for me on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) in the early 1990s.  I was a young, curious, mischievous grad student with a little time to kill.   That’s where I discovered the thrills and mysteries of cybersex.  It was the earliest known form of pixel-bumping in human history.

When your mode of interaction is limited to text only you’re forced to be creative.   There were no avatar animations or Xcite attachments to make the job easier.  You actually had to write.  (We didn’t have to walk five miles in the snow, so it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.)  Cyber or “hot chat” became an exercise in cooperative erotic fiction and sometimes the resulting chat logs could rival Lady Chatterley for turn of phrase.

Not always, of course.  One of the things about Second Life that feels so familiar to me is that some things never change.  There are still the hit-and-runs who IM you “Hey.  ur hawt wanna play?”.  There are still the Xcite-clickers, who remind me of a guy I knew in IRC who used scripts — MACROS for godsakes — to play.  That makes a girl feel real special, doesn’t it?  Either you ran out of adjectives to describe what you’re doing or you just want to get this over so you can watch Family Guy reruns.

Guys, it doesn’t have to be this way.  If you seriously want your Second Life lady to get interested in the first place and come back for more, you need to hear what I’m about to say.  Ladies, if you have found SLex to be less than exciting, it’s time to raise your standards.  It’s time to ask: “What do women want?”

Here are Cindy’s Rules for Great Cyber.  Your mileage may vary, but I’d wager not by much.   I’m not trying to convince you that every random encounter has to be a scene from the movie Titanic with undying love, but if you want pixel-bumping to be a little more meaningful and maybe even emotionally moving for you, pay heed.

Second Life isn’t all that much different than First Life when it comes to human dynamics.  If you master these principles in SL, you’ll be killer on the dating circuit:

1. Look good.  Don’t expect that wearing the default Linden skin and hair plus one of those ridiculous wooden freebie penises, you’re going to make the girls swoon.  Not gonna happen.  An avatar that shows a little care and attention to detail is going to do much better on the singles’ circuit.  Buy a good skin – they’ll run from about $1,000L up — and prim hair.  Good male clothing is a little tougher to find but it’s out there.   If you don’t care how you look, how are you going to stand out from the newbies?

2. Convince her that she matters.   Yes, I’m afraid icebreaker conversation is essential.  You can find out a lot about a woman by asking her questions.  Think of her like a puzzle that you’re solving – what does she like, what does she think?  Is she impulsive or cautious? Is she adventurous or shy?   Take an interest in her and she’ll feel it.  

Not all females in SL want to engage in cyber – I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual percentage was pretty low.   Just like in RL, you will find that the type of people you meet will depend on the location.  If you’re at a jazz recital,  you’re likely to meet jazz afficionados.  If you’re at a sex club, your odds of finding that hot casual encounter are through the roof.   Where you go should depend a lot on what you’re looking for in a partner.

3. Sincerity counts.  Be genuine.   You don’t need pickup lines.   They usually only work on the dumb and the desperate unless they’re purposely so corny and funny you make her laugh (see #4).  You’ll have much better luck just being yourself.  No pretensions, no games, just YOU wanting to get to know what makes her tick.

4. The fastest way into a girl’s bed is through her funny bone.  This is one of those rules that doesn’t always apply (some women have no sense of humor either, but why do you want to bother with them unless you have a thing for refrigerators?).   But as a general rule, being lighthearted and witty will go much farther than self-pity, maudlin sentiment or baring your fake scripted vampire fangs.   Pouty whiners make me mad.  Guys who think a big gun makes them sexy strike me as losers.  Self-effacing funnymen make me weak in the knees.

5. Don’t be a Desperate Dilbert. If you work up the courage to ask and she declines, accept rejection gracefully.  You can even joke about it.  But persisting when she’s said ‘no’ will probably only take away whatever pickup-points you have left and waste your time.

As a correlary to this if you get shut down at a club, don’t turn around and hit on the blonde next to her.  Chances are, they’re friends and your IMs are going to end up displayed in public chat, much to your embarrassment. 

6. Men should act like men.  You can determine the value of this one if you’ve done as I suggested in #1 and listened to her.  Most women (not all) like a guy with some strength of character and firm conviction — not to the point of being a pushy jerk, but just enough that we know you are self-aware, know what you like and how to achieve it.   Saying things like “I’ll do whatever you want to do”, or “I want to please you first” may sound good if you’re fishing blind but most of the time with most women they raise red flags.  Too much sensitive sweetness is going to sour the chemistry.  (Caveat: If you’re a submissive guy and this is your thing, ignore this rule.  Go for it, but be upfront so she understands where your head is.)  Some – not all – women actually like it if the guy is assertive and takes what he wants.

7. Know her buttons.  What are “buttons”?  I’m talking about her hot buttons, of course.  Her erogenous zones.  Those secret, sweet spots that make her tingle and quicken her breathing.   You might have to explore a little to find them if she’s not forthcoming, but this is the fun part.  Emoting that you “blow gently along the hollow of her neck” should tell you right away if it sets off any explosions for her.  Ears, neck, stomach, the inside of her arms or the backs of her legs are all great places to find buttons like this.  You don’t have to dive straight for the prize – it will be easier to find if you first work at gently prying open the shell.

“Oh, baby, when you talk like that,
You make a woman go mad.”

– Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie” 

8. Vocabulary.  Let me repeat that: vocabulary.  Vocabulary.  I’m not talking about twenty-dollar synonyms for ‘vagina’.  I’m talking about knowing enough adjectives and adverbs that you’re not repeating yourself every five seconds.  I’m talking about being able to say something more than “pounding n2 u” over and over and over.  Words are your fingers and tongue.  Create images with them.  Conjure up the smells and tastes of passion.   Remember your own previous RL sexual encounters and draw from the best of those.   From your keyboard to her brain.  And for godsakes, learn to type.  It’s “you”, not “u”.  It’s “into”, not “n2”.   Basic English is not that hard.

This doesn’t have to be a dull learning experience.  Pick up some classic erotic fiction like Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the Beauty trilogy by Anne Rice (in fact, most of Rice’s work is laced with subtle sensuality such as that found in Interview With a Vampire, even though it may be grim and fatalistic).   Reader submissions to Penthouse Forum or Hustler are usually mediocre examples.  You want something that challenges your command of erotic language and expands your horizon.  Don’t settle for porn.

9. Have a plan.  Nothing’s worse than to verbally seduce that gorgeous avatar and then when it’s time to be alone stumbling for ideas.  Your own skybox is the best option and should be your first priority.  But if you don’t own or rent land, don’t despair.  Do some exploring and find some of the little-used, out-of-the-way play areas that dot Second Life.  Find backups.   Avoid private skyboxes since you’re technically trespassing, and have the landmarks to likely spots in their own folder for fast teleports.  Only as a last resort should you ask to use her place.  If she offers, fine, but remember Rule #6 – you are the Man here, and as outdated as chivalry may seem, you’re much more in command if you know just where to take her to be alone.

10. The L Word.  If you’ve done your homework before you got to this point, nothing else should be a surprise.  Very often in virtual worlds people will project their feelings onto someone else.  And, let’s face it, all too often those feelings are needy.  If you are genuinely attracted to her and earnestly want to know her better then this may not be a major problem.  If, however, you’re out for a quick dalliance with no intentions of getting serious you should have appraised this situation much earlier than during afterglow.  

At some point in your first or second or fifth encounter, she may tell you she loves you.  Maybe she does, but maybe it’s the endorphins talking.  Maybe it’s the illusion of potent sensuality you’ve woven by following Cindy’s Rules for Great Cyber.  Prepare yourself, either by being upfront with her early or by gently telling her how you feel when the subject comes up. 

Remember: men are visual creatures  of action.  Women are emotional creatures.  If you seduce us and convince us that you care, it’s not a big leap for some of us to start falling for you. 

Most of the things I’ve listed here are based on generalizations, and I recognize that.  Nothing I’ve listed is going to be 100% true all the time.  Human beings are too unique and complex for that to happen.   What I hope is that something I’ve said here will evoke some thought and help you to think about expanding your cyber horizons so that we can clean up this nasty pixel litter caused by drive-by pickup lines.

Note:  Next week I’m planning to begin a series of discussion groups at the Archan sim on the topic of Cybersex.  “What Women Want” will be the first in the series, followed by topics on what men like, how to write a sensual encounter, and tips on using animations.  Stay tuned!


April 12, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | 4 Comments

Breaking Eggs

I apologize for the long delay between posts here. I’ll speak on some of the reasons in a moment, but meanwhile let me just quote Neil Stephenson (“Snow Crash”) who said something to the effect of, “When the world sucks ass, there’s always the Metaverse.” That’s not his exacting wording, but you get the point.

I’ve been heavily involved in two issues online lately, in two different virtual worlds. One, of course, is Second Life. The other I will make vague references to but, because of the emotions and relationships involved I’m not ready to really let go with both brain barrels here lest I break something that can’t be unbroken.

The issue is leadership. The issue is also the break between democracy and efficient progress. It’s my opinion that democracy has unbounded value and possibilities. It truly is the best form of government in any situation, even though it has its flaws. Those flaws include an inherent inefficiency stemming from group rule.

Totalitarianism has more obvious strengths, and may appear to be a better choice for any goal-driven enterprise but it suffers from one overriding flaw that always ends up being its fatal weakness: that is, that citizens in that social construct are not empowered and are not invested in the success of that construct as much as they are with a democracy. Democracy’s over-arching power comes directly from the investment of its citizens.

The very best system would include aspects of both.  However, that is at the same time the most difficult of feats.  Picture a high-wire balancing act.  Now picture doing it while wearing a  blindfold.

I’ve long argued that groups in Second Life which are too democratic do not function well. Someone must make the decisions. Someone must sieze the initiative and do what is best for the group. As long as the leaders’ wisdom is solid and their judgment rational, totalitarian groups have advantages in SL. Why? Because the Metaverse is a fast-moving thing — lightning fast. Debate and procrastination will find you behind the curve. You end up being imitators rather than innovators. You end up losing your members and your critical mass. Your group ends up in the dustbin of failed SL clubs and organizations. But too much totalitarianism is also destructive. The best organizations are those which proceed with a balance of strong leadership capable of taking the initiative and enthusiastic, invested membership which supports the changes.

In previous blogs, I have talked at length about the changes which the Archan Community have undergone over the last year. We went from a tightly knit, friendly little community to newbie hell after the Lindens opened up free accounts. We implemented a members-only policy last fall, and while we were initially inundated with applicants, traffic has fallen dramatically. It’s a fact in SL that the most popular places are those which offer free, no-strings sexual encounters (or stores which sell sex products) that new residents can find on the Search function. Archan made the decision to move away from being a truly “free” sex community to being a limited, gated type of community.

There was then a change of ownership and a redesign of the club land in an effort to maintain some traffic. The efforts of those who built the park, a disco and a small club on the land were in good faith and done with good intentions. But the facts were these:

(1) The layout of the new clubs were too scattered and, frankly, not especially attractive. Most of the new citizens traffic which trickled in went straight for the few sex poses that remained in the open area. With a few notable exceptions, nobody was coming to the club with the purpose of joining a community and making connections. The park ended up being arbitrarily deleted by the person who built it, and the disco was only used a couple of times.

(2) The value of membership was undermined. Archan has 1,000 members on its rolls. Very few of those enrolled members ever came by. There was a core of less than a dozen regulars, including managers, who hung out. But the members’ house was abandoned. The place too often resembled a ghost town. We offered little or nothing for members that they couldn’t also get just casually dropping by.

I watched all this happen with a heavy heart, as I had been a staunch supporter of the place since it was founded well over a year ago and had been named Head Manager not long after that founding. I decided to give this approach time because I liked seeing other people so invested in Archan’s prospects. I hoped that it would work.

But it did not. The way the place had been redesigned did not guide traffic with any organized flow. The esthetics of the place were, frankly, mediocre to poor. And the one club building that had the most traffic was so small we could barely fit ten people inside much less maneuver cameras easily.

I saw something that I loved slowly dying. I could not sit idly by any longer – I talked to some of the other managers. A couple didn’t see any problem at all, and liked how things were. But by far the majority of those I talked to were dissatisfied. Most of the managers wanted me to act and to take the initiative in my capacity as Head Manager.

If you know me, you also know that I don’t have a problem with taking the initiative. My real-life career involves this very thing. My company has spent good money training me to be a manager and a leader, and I knew one thing that would inevitably happen: There would be resistance. No matter how much I tried to include people and get their input, there was no way I could please everyone. When you make changes, people get upset. That’s human nature. And when those changes involve changing a course they’ve already begun, the reactions can be even stronger.

I knew that I could not unilaterally do things. I sought and received the consent of the Archan owner and have tried to work closely with him on every step of this plan. I sought and received the cooperation of the most active managers. Those who resisted were still given the opportunity to participate and provide input, but they have chosen not to. I could not wait for their consent. The continued viability of Archan was at stake.

And so, I launched a program to redesign and re-brand the community. We have just completed construction of our new clubhouse, which is now open to the general SL public. It is a massive structure with etched glass windows, skylights, angled rooflines and a large fireplace. To build it, we had to take down some other buildings to make room and free up prims – a step that also met with resistance, but which was necessary. I am happy to report that the core of our staff has been excited about the new building and have taken their own initiative in helping the builder. (The poor guy had to listen to four women choosing textures, can you imagine?)

With that done, I was able to get rid of the old club and expand our vendor area. It is now time for us to develop a more specific business model and to rebrand our community.

Writing a business model isn’t as hard as it sounds. In our case, the ideas flowed from my fingers because I was familiar with the community and our situation.

I began with an evaluation of our infrastructure. This includes what corporate-speak calls “core competencies”, or what we do the best. That one’s easy. Our central drive at Archan is member satisfaction and loyalty. We are, essentially, in the market of attracting and retaining members.

The second part of our model is what I call the “value proposition”. In order to gain the loyalty I’ve mentioned, what can we offer that members want? Is that a sense of community, new friendships, or is it random sexual encounters? Since you can get random sexual encounters in any of a dozen places in SL, what can we do to strengthen the sense of community?

Third: Who are our target customers? This is a more vague one — I would say it is anyone who is interested in a deeper, more cohesive network of members. It’s those who want the feeling of a home at Archan rather than just a place to bump pixels with naked avatars.

Fourth: Revenue streams. This one is a little more difficult since, to date, we’ve run off of the largesse of the owner and any donations he receives from members. He pays for the land tier and the event prize funds. Some of the furniture and animations are donated by managers, but the buildings are purchased by the owner. I’ve suggested that we could redesign the mall area as a rental operation to provide funds, but that is still under consideration.

As for re-branding, we’re working on ideas right now. Our goal is to emphasize “community” and a sense of home among like-minded people while de-emphasizing the “Free Sex” part of our club description. The latter can sometimes attract the right people but not always. We want something that is unique (because Archan is unique) and that sets us apart from the common, run-of-the-mill sex clubs in SL. We aren’t even really a sex club any more, and even if that means our traffic barely tops 10,000 I think the quality of our group will benefit. And we still have places to bump those pixels if that’s what you really want to do.

This whole process has been a breaking of eggs so that we could make an omelet. Feelings have been hurt. People have left or been dismissed. We’ve had disagreements, but in the final analysis those of us who are devoted to making Archan into the sort of unique, long-lasting community we want have not allowed differences to stand in our way. I’ve had to step on a few toes, and that’s regrettable. But I also would never have been able to pull off this transformation without the support of Lec, Kendall, Cherry, Vera, Kelli and Alex among others. They have been my support system and my right hands through the whole thing – to the point that the only credit I can really take is for suggesting that this needs to be done. They’ve taken it from there.

As I look back, I’m amazed at how it all happened. I set out to make changes, and somewhere along the line the ideas grew wings and took off. I think that’s the sign of more than just good leadership. Leadership is only the ability to recognize the need for change — the rest is up to the people who have invested themselves in your community. If you have those people – those “emotional investors”, your job as a leader becomes much easier and more rewarding.


April 4, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

Get Ready to be PWND

My best friend Haver Cole has invited me to start a column on the new e-zine pwnd magazine which she’s co-publishing with Saeya Nyanda!  It’s available in Second Life as a PDF file, or you can read the whole issue on the linked website.

I’ll still be blogging here as regularly as I can, for two main reason: One, I don’t have a word limit here.  That means I can be as excruciatingly verbose and off-topic as I want and nobody will reject my submissions.  Two,  this blog has unintentionally become more serious for me — I’m trying to chronicle my experiences and viewpoints in Second Life and figure out what it all means in the big picture.  Over on pwnd, I’ll try to be looser (*cough*), wittier and more to the point.  That witty thing is harder than it looks, trust me.  Sarah Silverman stopped returning my calls.

The magazine’s kick-off party was held last week.  Everybody who was anybody was there, including yours truly.  We got free gifts and I ended up dancing on the bar.  In the dark.  Alone ~sniffle~

My first short piece has been submitted, titled “Fashion Nazis Strike Again: Second Life Terrorized by Judgmental Twits“.   My old English prof will roll over in his grave after this one, but he probably needs to turn before he burns anyway.   No way that man went to the “Good Place” ™.

In the article, I make an earth-shattering, scandalous confession.  But that’s all I’m saying for now.  You have to read it to find out.


February 22, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | Leave a comment

You Are Your Avatar

As Hiro approaches the street, he sees two couples probably using their parent’s computer for a double date in the Metaverse. He’s not seeing real people, of course. It’s all part of a moving illustration created by his computer from specifications coming down the fiber optic cable. These people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse. –
Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash

Color me surprised when, in the process of implementing a members-only rule at Archan that required candidates to have upgraded their avatars and create a profile, I actually took grief from some people for thinking that virtual appearance mattered.   Even after they were given free skins and hair and instruction cards on how to fill out their profile, some of them grumbled. 

I still hear it, too.  Maybe it’s an unfair generalization taken from subjective experience, but I hear this more from male residents than I do from female (excerpted from an actual conversation with a newbie):

“How do I get to know people and make friends in this game?”
“Be courteous, have fun, relax.  Oh, and it always helps if you upgrade your avatar.  Want some landmarks to free skins and hair?” 
“What for?”
“So you can get to know people and make friends.  People react more positively to a nice looking avatar.”
“But this is pretend.”

… Followed by gentle, patient explanation on how human nature works, how important appearance can be, and how much better that resident will feel about Second Life if he has some pride in how he looks.  As soon as we break past the wrong idea that I want people to all be cookie-cutter Ken or Barbie dolls, it gets easier.  All I’m suggesting is that they take advantage of the incredible custom skins and clothing that are easily available in Second Life –whether you’re a furry, a mecha, an alien, a human or whatever you want to be.  And it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.

Sometimes I strike paydirt.  After escorting (in the platonic sense) one newbie to Sarah Nerd’s where he got a free Nora skin and clothing, he told me “I like looking at myself now!”.   Some people do get it.

This constant war against male Ruthness puzzles me, but I really think those who don’t get it are a small minority.  For most of the rest of the masses of newbies, it’s probably a simple matter of not knowing where to find free skins and hair.  For the others, I have to think if they hang around long enough they’ll start to realize how much it matters.  In a virtual world, all we have to convey our personalities are our typed words and our pixel appearance. 

All of this led me down another of my nebulous streams of consciousness this week.  I recalled reading Paul Ekman’s Emotions in the Human Face in my college psychology classes.  That led me to Umiker’s Nonverbal Communication, Interaction, and Gesture – another weighty tome on how human emotions and interaction key so heavily on nonverbal cues.

The quick summary is this:  Human survival has always relied upon our need to form communities (bond, acceptance, nuturing) even more than our brain complexity.  Primitive man killed woolly mammoths for their food and skins when parties of hunters herded them off cliffs, not by using their spear to go Conan one-on-one.  We banded together and thus increased our chances of survival.   That bonding and interaction required communications systems – spoken language was actually a development that came after and grew out of body gestures, facial expressions and grunts.  Every mammalian species on this planet has nonverbal intra-pack communications methods.  Ours just happened to have evolved further.  Face time is probably the single most important key to good communications.

It’s long been accepted in the online world that typed words cannot convey meaning and context as well as the spoken word – when we lose the ability to emote with our bodies or inflect with our voices, we lose two thirds of our communications tools.   Thus, we started using emoticons in chat channels to express smiling, anger, silliness, sadness.  It’s only natural that as humans begin to populate more virtual worlds, we’ve wanted to represent our physical bodies in pixels.  And why not?  Many of us envision a deity who is represented by an old man with a grey beard.  We represent our governments as people – Uncle Sam or John Bull put a human face on a concept.   We even do it with Santa Claus, the human icon for the Christmas spirit of charity.   Stanley Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was neither the first nor the last Sci-Fi story to depict robots as either looking like humans or thinking and acting like us (see also Terminator;  I, Robot and The Matrix). 

Will it really surprise anyone if, someday in the future, the first functioning home assistance robots are fashioned to resemble humans?  The most advanced, complicated circuits in history would not require a head and 4 limbs to function, but because humans identify more readily with a nice face and a friendly voice, the successful Sears robot of the future will be very human in appearance.  People will buy it before they’ll buy the black box with wires and lights,  just like we prefer dogs and cats to snakes and spiders.  We identify more with faces that more closely resemble our own.

People love to anthropomorphise and see faces and personality in things that may not have human qualities.   So why would anyone question the influence of avatar appearance on how you are perceived in Second Life?

Neil Stephenson has been regarded as something of a SciFi prophet since his 1991 novel, Snowcrash.   He regards himself as the first person to popularize the term “avatar” to mean our virtual 3D physical representation.  Actually, that honor should go to Origin Systems, whose roleplaying games in the mid-80s Ultima series assigned you the role of the “Avatar”.  In ancient Hindu Sanskrit,  an avatar is an incarnation of a deity in human form – roughly meaning “he passes down”.   In terms of virtual reality, it’s another way of saying that the creators of virtuality (humans) pass down to that virtual world.  We are, in essence, the Gods of the Grid and our avatars are our manifestations.

In Stephenson’s tale, status in the virtual world is a function of two things:  First, access to restricted areas (like the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club) and two, technical ability which is expressed in the sophistication of one’s avatar.   The very clear parallels to Second Life are obvious:  those who have the ear of the Lindens, or at least wield great technical or financial power on the grid, have been labelled “The Feted Inner Core“, or FIC.   While the term was originally coined to be a negative, conspirational aspersion, it is part of the way human groups work that some people will be the caretakers (as Clay Shirky calls them) and others will be the followers.

The other parallel is the perception of our avatars as status symbols.   Well done avatars with the best skins, a well proportioned body and nicely textured hair are perceived as people with status — someone who knows enough about the world to create an attractive avatar.  With or without actual status or acumen, the avatar alone provides that perception.  I’ve even witnessed what I call Avatarism — those with default skins and shapes don’t get the same reaction from strangers as avatars that have been crafted and refined with care.   At times the reaction from older residents can even approach rudeness.

Avatarism takes on a new meaning when considered in light of things like Stephenson or Shirky.  And when we ponder the future with these behaviors in mind,  we begin to see how human expression may one day become more completely duplicated in a virtual world.

You finish strapping on the light VR suit, hooking up the USB plugs to your arms and legs.  It was a great bargain at Best Buy for only $299, and it’s well ventilated so you won’t drown in your own perspiration.  Pulling the helmet over your head, you activate the tiny laser sensors which will detect facial movement and replicate expressions.  You log on and find yourself in a large open area with trees and grass.  Park benches offer comfortable places to sit and chat.  Other avatars are milling about and you can hear their voices through the receptors in your headset.  A woman is standing in the middle of the clearing, reciting Ibsen’s “A Doll House” with a heavy Norwegian accent.  Her voice is strong with emotion and power as she delivers her soliloquy, her arms gesturing in the air, her fingers articulating the words.  Behind her, another woman is translating the delivery into sign language for the hearing impaired.  Off to the side on one of the benches, a man sits slumped, his body language telling you that he’s unhappy.

In this advanced world delivering millions of polygons per second, even nerve sensations can be delivered via USB hub (and of course, in my imaginary world, lag is something your grandpa remembers).  Facial expression and body language convey the same nonverbal meaning that they do in reality.   We may not be able to physically enter this Matrix, but to the human eye and brain, the symbols we see make us believe that what we perceive is real enough.

I’m wondering: if a few people resist the idea today that buying a custom skin can enhance the way they’re perceived in Second Life, what will they do when technology allows us to convey  human communications complete with gestures, facial expressions and voice?  When our virtual selves become less distinguishable from our real selves maybe the choices will be more obvious.  Or maybe the cultural divide between the computer adept and the non-adept will only grow.  

It will always be about status, of course.  Like the tribal leader Og who had the biggest spear, if you don’t have a nice avatar today you won’t be as readily accepted by your fellow metaverse residents.   If that doesn’t matter to you, maybe it’s time to find a quiet cave to hide in because you can’t stop the future.

February 19, 2007 Posted by | Second Life | 5 Comments