Nov 14, 2010

All That Glitters is Not Gold

Open Letter to Viewer 2 Haters: Part II

I’m sure by now that the previous Open Letter to Viewer 2 Haters has made its rounds across the twittersphere, and caused quite a commotion and uproar among Second Life users. No, this is not a retraction or an apology for what was written in that post, however it is an explanation.

The Open Letter to Viewer 2 Haters was written entirely for shock value and for the purpose of getting your attention. I spent quite some time thinking about what it would be that I would write in it before submitting it. The purpose of that open letter was simply to aggravate and enrage quite a lot of people, and ultimately to get your attention for the real message contained here.

Now that I have your undivided attention, I’d like to ask you to step away from your hate mails and angry blog posts long enough to read this.

Over the past 15 years in this industry I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on the consumer and content creator side of virtual environments. While technology is following an exponential curve of accelerated returns, the people using those technologies are following a linear path of adoption with only minor increases over time.

What this means is that the speed at which these technologies are progressing are far outpacing the general population’s willingness to adopt those changes in a timely manner. We make a lot of assumptions about how technology should cater to us as individuals, even if we are unprepared to keep pace with its increasingly rapid turnover and evolution.

Is something like Viewer 2 actually a resource hog or is it designed to require more from your hardware in order to utilize new features? We can say quite the same about whether or not the switch from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95 incurred the same traits. Many at the time said eerily similar things about Windows 95 and how it required too many resources and new hardware to utilize properly.

This has been the pace of technological change since as far back as I can remember. Each new leap and bound forward produces a backlash about how the last generation of hardware is not capable of supporting it, or how the last version was better than the new version just released.

Case in point: We are quick to dismiss Viewer 2 outright, with justifications that it was broken and never should have been released, yet the Viewer 1 series started in much the same way. There were betas, and continual updates over a period of years which strengthened the viewer series into what we know today.

By no means did Viewer 1.0 release bug free or without its share of major issues that today, under the same circumstances, are reflected in the development and release of the Viewer 2 series.

I refer to this process as “Perpetual Beta”.

It would be entirely unfeasible to code and release a solid product today that did not need updates or fixes. Our operating systems alone update regularly to keep pace, and there is always something new going wrong with them. All of our software today is designed specifically for automatic updates, which is to say that the developers could not possibly foresee everything that might go wrong and so chose to make their software a work in progress.

Viewer 1 is such a product and it too is subject to that rule. It did not launch as a final product, and over the course of many years it evolved to be better and fix the issues, large and small, which hindered us from using it the way we wanted.

To say otherwise is naïve, and misses the point altogether.

There comes a time when all software undergoes a major change, usually between entire version numbers. Much to our surprise, hardware becomes outdated at an alarmingly quicker pace as a result as these software packages push the boundaries and fix the problems in a live release scenario.

There is a lot to be said about the potential that the new features of Viewer 2 codebase brings to us, despite the flaws that come with it. Some merchants are beginning to embrace those new features, and brave the glitches and flaws in order to bring to market new and innovative products that otherwise would not be possible.

While browsing LAQ Skins with my partner, we came across Alpha Layer Makeup options, and hair bases. Looking at designers like Reitz Designs, I see an effort to utilize Shared Media in powerful and creative ways. When shopping for shoes and boots, I have noticed that some high profile brands are embracing that alpha layer and getting rid of their invisi-prims in exchange for cleaner masking on the body.

But there is a flip side to this coin as well.

Many high end brands in Second Life are still clinging to the old methods of doing things, and waiting until they are literally forced into using the new features and viewer.

Maybe they are waiting for TPVs to give it a go, or maybe they are waiting for the viewer to mature further before it becomes of use to them. One thing is certain, regardless. The pace of advancement is not boding well for the general population in keeping up.

Some are being adventurous and taking a swing at early adoption, and in the long run they have the upper hand over the late adopters. The truly new users of Second Life are directed toward the latest Viewer 2 download, and they realize this as an opportunity to capture more market share through those new users.

When I talk about new users, I mean truly new users. Not an alternate account, or one of our friends who has us giving them predetermined bias about Viewer 2 and pointing them to our TPV of choice. I’m talking about the person who has literally never set foot in a virtual environment until this moment, and has no idea what to expect.

Which brings me to the next point of this discussion.

Those truly new users are coming. Not just in drips and drabs… but likely in a tidal wave. Normally I’m on the fence about whether this is a good thing, but lately I’ve thought it over and at least for the short term I believe it is a very good thing. At least for those who are taking note right now and preparing for the tsunami coming to shore.

It means that this community which is considered by many to be a niche population, will soon be opened up to the mainstream. Opened to things like Facebook, and countless websites around the world. Hundreds of millions of potential customers and their micro-transactions await. Through efforts such as Skylight (SL Web Embed) and an application layer to allow upwards of 1000 simultaneous users on a sim, there is untold amounts of potential in the works.

Places like LAQ with their Make-Up Alpha Layers and Reitz Designs are getting their feet wet early, even if in a preliminary fashion. Other content creators are doing the same as well, including myself (from day one).

This is simply too big to ignore for too long, and I truly believe many have ignored it for too long. Not putting those puzzle pieces together to see the bigger picture in play.

The first step to understanding this is simply approaching it in a manner by which we are level headed. I am fully aware that Viewer 2 is still broken for many people, and in some cases in a severe manner. I do, after all, spent a lot of time and effort reporting issues in the JIRA, and reading other JIRA issues submitted. However, we need to look at this from outside the box and learn to separate our anxieties and aggravation from the reality.

The reality is this:

Linden Lab has chosen to push ahead with Viewer 2 development, and has done so in much the same methodology as they did upon releasing Viewer 1. That is to say, release what they have and make fixes and changes going forward with the community leading feedback. They know that Viewer 2 is broken, and they are adopting Agile Development practices and multitasking approaches to deploy those changes and fixes as quickly as possible.

We know that they have absolutely no intention of rolling back to Viewer 1.x series, and to solidify that, they are phasing out 1.x and support for it.

Skins and interface changes will happen in TPVs fairly easily, and I have seen this done with Kirstens S20(41) recently. Making it possible to choose a method whereby the Sidebar is not sticking out of the side at all times. Other interface changes have been possible as well over this development, so we all have something incredible to look forward to.

Phoenix is looking into Firestorm, a version based on Viewer 2 code, and we can surmise that they will also be including features and abilities that have become standard in that TPV.

While this is happening, there is also testing for Mesh importation into Second Life, which will allow a level of fidelity not attainable with a sculpty or purely prim method of creation. Sure the market will see quite a lot of models imported from resellers on the web like TurboSquid, and there is a DMCA issue waiting to happen. But those issues are already a part of Second Life today, and Mesh does not change that situation. Like any content imported or created in Second Life, there is just as much of an IP issue as the next form of media.

However, despite the possibility of this happening, we have seen quite a lot of original creations in Second Life. Mesh simply opens the door for better quality and finer control over the content we create.

There is a concern that I have with current content creators in Second Life concerning Mesh importation, and that is those content creators which have spent much of the past 5 or more years making a living from and building a successful brand name with their content, may ultimately be eclipsed by the influx of much higher quality Mesh products that are soon to come.

Again, what we are looking at is old methods being made obsolete through new functionality and features.

Therein is what worries me the most about this whole situation. While many of us have spent the past eight months bickering and taking sides about whether or not Viewer 2 is worth our time, many have quietly snuck away and poured time into learning the new system and worked on products and testing which utilize those features in advance.

Whether it is creating powerful web applications which interface with Second Life, or introducing items which use Alpha Layers. Even pouring time into exploring the Mesh grid and learning how it works.

Those content creators have a ridiculous head start over the content creators which have rationalized reasons why they cannot or will not utilize those abilities. It’s a really shameful advantage, and it was made possible only because of the constant bickering and chaos we’ve been engaged in.

From looking at the comments submitted to the Open Letter to Viewer 2 Haters post, the countless infuriated tweets, and angry retaliation blog posts, I can safely say thank you for proving my point very clearly and publically. Yes, it was a trap and many of you have fallen for it.

There are legitimate reasons why one would not use Viewer 2, but again we must learn to separate legitimate reasons from those that are purely personal choice. For instance, if inventory is wholly broken or missing – this is a legitimate reason. If your computer cannot handle utilizing Viewer 2, then this is a partially legitimate reason.

The last one needs explaining a bit to clarify.

Technological progression inherently means that in order to continue utilizing the latest features, you will at some point need better hardware. Computers have a life span, and we can not expect a lower end computer to run software and 3D graphics that are beyond its capacity. Nor is it legitimate to expect that the progress of the software somehow be impeded by your inability (by choice or circumstance) to stay current.

Viewer 2 does not require a super powerful computer. As far as I am concerned, it runs quite well on a dual core laptop with 4GB of RAM purchased in 2009. This was an entry level laptop when it was purchased nearly two years ago and in no manner was it a gaming rig.

If you own a computer older than three or four years, then there is no expectation of continued support for your hardware in the push forward. If you have built a brand and real life business based on your aging hardware, it is your priority to make certain that the core of your business – that computer – stays capable of participating in your ability to make money.

The Interface for Viewer 2 does not constitute a legitimate reason not to use it for your own personal gain. Just because you may not like the layout, doesn’t mean you should not be targeting those who do and are using it.

This is why I am concerned.

Many have legitimate reasons not to use Viewer 2, but many more simply do not. Successful companies often have Research and Development efforts to explore new technologies and applications in a manner which will give them an edge for things to come. I see this trend in Second Life with established brands, but I also see many more ignoring that aspect.

The new marketplace has issues which have cost you real life money, but that will pale in comparison to having your entire product line made irrelevant through competitors capitalizing on newer methodologies and features.

Walking away and starting again in a fledgling system isn’t an answer. There simply aren’t enough consumers in those systems or the ability to truly drive them to you, to make up for the losses. It’s simply not a sound decision if you are depending on revenue.

I look forward to the future of Second Life, regardless of what that means. For many (not all) of you reading this today, you have a lot to fear about that future and just as much reason to understand that your inaction may be your own undoing. Entire virtual empires are in danger of collapsing.

This is simply the reality check, and a plea to not let that happen.


  1. tl:dr
    I find it fascinating that you think that posting something hateful and disrespectful will make people eager to read anything else you might have to say.

  2. I find it fascinating that you think you have any merit for making such comments when you can't be bothered to read the materials out of both ignorance and laziness. That's sort of like trying to be a credible authority on a subject but can't be bothered to understand, let alone read the subject material.

    For future reference, I'll be ignoring your willful ignorance.