Feb 24, 2012

Buffalo Theory

Linden Lab breaks the ecosystem in favor of their own ego-system in #SecondLife @Rodvik

 

Ego-system: noun: forced destruction of an effective and innovative ecosystem by a singular entity (such as Linden Lab) wishing to impose their own lowest common denominator as the defacto by forcing everyone else to lower their standards instead of raising their own.  This, in turn, shows a force of individual ego (selfishness) at the expense of an entire community of rapid advancement and innovation. In short, this is the exact opposite of how a social platform and community works.

 

This word and definition will be my next application to the Pooky-pedia for The 1st Question.

 

 

February 24 2012 Aeonix

What the ever loving hell, Linden Lab? Seriously.

 

The Buffalo Theory is a humorous take from the old sitcom Cheers, in which the resident know-it-all Cliff decided to explain to Norm why we always seem to feel smarter after a few beers. In natural selection, the idea is that the weakest of the herd is killed off in order that the strongest will survive and make the entire ecosystem better for it. In the case of Linden Lab, and their recent detrimental additions and alterations to the Third Party Viewer policy, this becomes not a matter of survival of the fittest, but instead survival of the weakest at the expense of the strongest.

 

Well ya see, Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

 

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first.

 

In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers.

 

This Buffalo Theory is an excellent analogy to the recent TPV changes in that it clearly highlights the ideal (if not completely farcical) scenario of survival of the fittest in favor of a smarter and faster ecosystem overall. However, as I have stated, it would seem that Linden Lab has had one too many beers in their approach because they have gone ahead and reversed this selection process and destroyed the natural order of things in favor of not the ecosystem but instead their own ego-system. So instead of eliminating the weakest of the herd for the betterment of the smartest and fastest, Linden Lab seems to believe lobotomizing the smartest and fastest of the herd will somehow make themselves seem smarter and faster by comparison.

 

Overall, what it generally says is thus:

 

If we don’t have it, neither can you. If you want it, you have to ask us first, and then wait until such time as we do it first before you can follow suit. If you already have it, and we don’t, you need to start stripping it out until we approve of it.

 

This approach is a direct violation of the developer ecosystem which exists on survival of the fittest and instead forces the strongest of that ecosystem to lower themselves to the weakest of the herd – in this case it is Linden Lab and their own official viewer. It is a clear case of forcing competition to self-sabotage under threat of duress.

 

I’ve known this was going to happen since about December 2011, when I was in a conversation with Jessica Lyons. She had given me the heads up that these changes were on the way and that there would likely be some serious fallout. At the time, my reaction was the same as it is today, in that I believe these are probably some of the most egregious violations of ecosystem that a company could invoke purely for the benefit of their own ego-system. It is a violation of user and developer trust and faith to take some of the most ingenious and innovative advancements from the community and cut them off without merit or basis other than the inability of your own company to be just as innovative as your community or at the very least work with them to help you catch up instead of forcing them to degrade themselves over your ineptitude.

 

It is just plain lazy and overtly malicious for a company to enact these sorts of rules, because the alternative is to simply raise your own standards and work harder. When a company opts instead to lobotomize all of the innovation and ingenuity of the ecosystem in order to lower the bar to their own level, we have a problem.

 

The most troubling of the new policy changes comes in the form of the much discussed 2.k amendment, as shown and discussed by Jessica Lyon (Phoenix Team) on the official Phoenix Viewer blog:

 

 

2.k : You must not provide any feature that alters the shared experience of the virtual world in any way not provided by or accessible to users of the latest released Linden Lab viewer.

 

This means that third party viewers will no longer be allowed to innovate features which relate to the shared experience unless LL has the features in their viewers first. However LL has indicated an interest and preference in working with third party viewers to develop such features together.

 

Second Life, and any open-ended virtual environment which relies on user generated content, is an ecosystem which not only thrives on, but by design absolutely demands, the involvement and innovation of the community in order to continue. The third party viewer changes at this juncture are tantamount to nothing less than a direct attack on that very foundation in an attempt to dismantle the very foundation of what makes Second Life all that it is.

 

In terms of social media and understanding the organic nature of engagement in the digital society, this is a classic example of twentieth century push media mentality versus organic prosumer mentality. A company attempting to control a message and platform, even by force, and destroy innovation outside of its control is a recipe for disaster. Virtual environments like Second Life, as is true about social media, are not a static platform but instead a very dynamic and organic platform overall, and this extends to the actual viewer itself.

 

This is why the fallout from these third party viewer policy changes will likely be that I expect, over time, that third party viewers will be less likely to abide by Linden Lab and more likely to let them have their lonely tea party with their stuffed animals while the TPVs begin migrating over to Open Sim or outright shutting down development under the constraints.

 

The 2.k amendment is broadly and vaguely written as to be construed as anything that Linden Lab doesn’t have themselves, and thus, interrupts the shared experience because a TPV works differently than another. The moment that becomes common knowledge in-world, it becomes a shared experience. The moment your avatar can do anything in plain view that the main viewer cannot, it becomes a violation by the 2.k amendment. It is the ultimate blank check for Linden Lab to use as their excuse the moment they want to throw a temper tantrum and take their toys home.

 

Does your TPV have finer camera controls and graphics options for photography and machinima? Too bad. You are doing things that other people using the main viewer cannot. Is mesh broken? Too bad. Until Linden Lab decides to fix it, if they do at all, you’re out of luck. It doesn’t matter if the community can afford to pay Quarl to make Mesh Deformer. Thought of a novel and innovative way to – nevermind. You can’t implement it until Linden Lab does, and first you have to write a proposal and hope they like it.

 

See where this is heading? This is a complete and inclusive insult to the developer community on the whole, and the people who will suffer most for it are the rest of the Second Life population for having to use the lowest common denominator viewer, no matter what. If I were to make this into an analogy, it would be like all web browsers being forced into the same set of features and any innovation outside of that would constitute no longer being able to connect to the world wide web. Now, in this scenario, the Official Linden Lab Viewer is the equivalent of Internet Explorer controlling how all other browsers behave, instead of all of the viewers agreeing on the much more advanced usage of HTML 5 standards.

 

Hopefully you now understand what a monumental dick-move this is on behalf of Linden Lab.

 

So here’s the bigger question for @Rodvik and Linden Lab:

 

Why are they planning for a sprint when they’re going to utterly and humiliatingly lose the marathon as a consequence? If their development team is incapable of raising the bar to meet the innovations and speed of the TPVs, what makes them think their  team will compete with those same dedicated TPV developers when they turn their attention away from Second Life and toward Open Sim? At this juncture, they’ve removed just about all reason and incentive for a Second Life TPV to actually exist, let alone support them. They have, however, just given them all a reason to become dedicated Open Sim TPVs instead. While this may seem like a really good idea to eliminate their “competition”, it will have long reaching consequences they may not have foreseen.

 

When the TPVs turn their attention solely to Open Sim, and turn their collective backs on Linden Lab, what gimmick is Linden Lab going to pull out of their hat to convince the majority of users who originally chose those TPVs for the specific subset of features and abilities to stick around and not abandon Second Life as well? We’re talking a majority of the Second Life community that use third party viewers.

 

Linden Lab is appealing to a casual gamer demographic, but forgetting it is the niche community demographic that has ultimately built a majority of the content and venues that those casual gamer demographics will want to experience, or buy.

 

Linden Lab is building a platform in the sky by intentionally and ignorantly dismantling the foundation it sits on.

 

Like many others, I don’t think I’ll want to be around when that platform comes crashing down.

 

However, the other possibility is that Linden Lab is now running an entirely different race and it no longer involves Second Life as you or I know it. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I’m painting the picture, but then again – I’ve never seen a company that didn’t write a blank check without the intention of abusing the hell out of it at every turn.

9 comments:

  1. its all downhill from here i say

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  2. @ Darien: what you said. What the Lab thought: 'We don't have the staff to fix all the issues, wouldn't it be great if we could get those TPV developers to work our roadmap? I know how we can do that...'
    All sarcasm aside, as thoughtful as your analysis is, the motivation for this change was likely more about short-term needs than a long term goal to stifle innovation. How (and if) they implement it will show their thinking. All I can think is Lawrence Pierce must be smiling; maybe OpenSim will finally get its own viewer [http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2011/10/opensim-needs-a-viewer-of-its-wwn/].

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  3. @Asil - The 2.k amendment was actually on the table a few years ago. It was killed off by then Joe Linden under the premise that it was specifically malicious to TPVs, anti-Open Source, and outright a power play from Linden Lab to restrict or eliminate the innovations from 3rd parties in favor of homogenizing the viewers across the board in favor of Linden Lab.

    That is essentially how it was interpreted originally a few years back and at least one Linden had the common sense not to write that blank check. I assume Joe Linden isn't working at Linden Lab any longer, and so there isn't any dissent from the ranks anymore to stop that blank check from being written.

    As per a recent conversation, and knowing the original intentions as of December 2011, the list of TPV features that Linden Lab originally had listed to be stripped was a veritable laundry list of over 2 dozen things - including Parcel Windlight Settings.

    Had there not been ongoing negotiations and what I can imagine was pleading, much of that list essentially got a stay of execution - because that blank check exists to be enacted later at the whim of Linden Lab.

    Open Sim needs a viewer of its own, indeed, and it may just get *all* of them.

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  4. @ Will/Darien. See, that's the benefit of a long memory and writing things down! Seems like the deciders at LL have been regretting the choice to open source the viewer code for awhile now. Thanks for the additional background.

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  5. @Asil While on the surface this post comes across as emotional or making educated guesses, I really did base it on what actually was known to a finer detail, taking into regard the initial thinking for the first time such a clause was proposed and rejected. All I've really done here was to re-iterate the concerns that Joe Linden and some of the TPVs spelled out a few years back as the reason this was simply bad policy, and then go on to explain the possible fallout from the TPVs the moment that Linden Lab invariably decides to abuse that blank check.

    I've never known a company to write a sweeping and one-sided policy like that and not intend sweeping changes to all who would be involved from it. From my experience, it usually ends up as a clear prelude to writing a blank check. In the premise of TPVs, they may backlash, challenge Linden Lab in a defiant nature, close shop, or more likely after the dust settles, just stop supporting Second Life and concentrate on purely Open Sim alone.

    I really do hope that Linden Lab does not make it a point to treat that as a blank check excuse to revoke everything and anything they want in the TPVs, but to be honest, that was their original intention going into this - so I can't really imagine that such thinking is off the table entirely, but instead a stay of execution until they collect their thoughts on how to go about it at a later time when they feel their position is sufficient to force the issue.

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  6. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the TPVs all open source too? Why doesn't the Lab just copy TPV features into its viewer? Perhaps that's just too sensible.

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  7. @ Will/Darien. I've been in Second Life a long time, but only began following Linden Labs as a business when I put skin-in-the-game and bought SIMs. Now, after three years of interacting with their user-support people, watching their JIRA and reading the blogsphere, my take on the Lab is their corporate culture has changed dramatically (shifting away from one that was friendly to open-source) and their internal resources are now extremely limited (I remember when a renter on a non-premium account could call concierge and an actual Linden would show up in-world almost immediately to help ...to the present-day, where support tickets from SIM-owners go untouched for weeks and Lindens on the production grid are as scarce as unicorns in real life). As a company, it feels like they are circling the wagons against the competition (and that competition isn't other grids, but players within their existing user-base) and doing what they can to limit the free flow of information within the platform that makes creative commerce possible. Trying to force uniformity on all TPVs may be an example of this. So might https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/SVC-4823 (Restrict LSL's avatar online status checking to respect avatar's privacy setting), which appears to spell the death-toll for the LSL functions that let scripts poll for online status.
    The Lab doesn't publish a roadmap and being a private company, we can't know what their true profitability is. All I can say as a user is what keeps me there is the size of their player base and the relative stability of the platform. If the choices they are making improve both, I can't fault them for their business strategy. However, the more they restrict the grid the less of a world it becomes. Restrict it enough and it really will become another disposable game. And that, in my opinion, would be tragic.

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  8. "Does your TPV have finer camera controls and graphics options for photography and machinima? Too bad."

    Not strictly true. Camera controls are a UI feature, not a "shared experience" feature (as horribly ill-defined as that term is). Ergo, they would not be subject to 2.k.

    Similarly, the ability for TPVs to offer-up Viewer-side capabilities that enhance rendering for the person using that Viewer (e.g. as Exodus and Niran's Viewer have done) fall outside of the scope of 2.k.

    The only way that I can see for your second example to fall foul of 2.k, is if it intentionally manipulates the world view that other people are supposed to see when using Second Life, but can only do so through the use of a specific Viewer.

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  9. @peysworld Agreed, actually. That's the thing about stream of consciousness writing. Well, that and lack of sleep combined with pressure of ongoing projects. I was at a loss for explaining what it actually would affect at that particular moment, but since then I've gotten a better grasp on it.

    Viewer Tags, True Online Status, TPV Windlight settings (Parcel Windlight), and a lot of things that viewers like Exodus were essentially built for (since it's a combat viewer) would be directly disqualified by this 2.k clause - and technically RLV was on that list as well but got a "free pass".

    However, that being said, I'm still not exactly hopeful that the 2.k clause, being written as broadly and vaguely as it is, won't be re-interpreted at the convenience of Linden Lab at a later date. This is why I call it a "blank check" and ripe for abuse. As I've said, I've never seen a company write something that nebulous as policy without intending to abuse it later.

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