Feb 27, 2009

Second Life Stagnant? Mmmh, How So?

In an article entitled Mathew Kumar on Why Virtual Worlds Miss the Mark, the writer, Natalie Caron notes that Kumar "...mentions that the Second Life user base is growing stagnant and even dwindling now, proving its weak long-term potential."

Kumar is apparently one of "Canada’s most renowned games journalists" so you have to think he does his homework. Well, coincidentally, as I was doing my homework for an upcoming article on IP and virtual worlds, I came across a posting dated February 1st, 2007, at the Law.com site. While giving some background information in Second Life, the author, John Bringardner says "More than 2.5 million people have visited Second Life, with 15,000-20,000 playing at any given time."

15,000-20,000 at a time? I have been tracking the concurrency rates informally for the past month and it hasn't been below 50,000 and is not unusually over 70,000. If tripling your numbers over two years is "stagnant," then either Canadians use a different dictionary from the rest of the world or Kumar is a little off target. Perhaps even - gulp - wrong!

There is no shortage of virtual world "experts" who pontificate at events, and I believe some of them might even have been inside a virtual world once or twice, but I can't be sure. Anyone who spend even a few hours on the internet googling Linden Lab and Second Life will, once they get past all the stories of perversion, sexual deviancy, and doom-saying, find that there has been growth in the company, growth in the population (of SL), and growth in investments.

Kumar, in what is either an effort to play at being "controversial" or a show of arrogant ignorance, concludes by condemning all virtual worlds to the flames. Says Caron, "So what is the future of virtual world games according to Mathew Kumar? Perhaps none at all. Mathew Kumar urges game developers to stick to real games as the virtual world genre’s failures and inherent flaws are bound to doom it."

I wonder if Kumar has a tattoo on his ass that says "insert own head here."

What, what? I'm just saying...

Feb 26, 2009

MBC's "Zero Hour" Preview - Spot the Siggy!

Robustus Hax of MBC TV is in production with a new show called Zero Hour. When he asked for extras to stand around in a field, I was pretty sure that this was the sort of job I could excel at - standing in a field. So I slipped on my new outfit from Cattiva e Cattivo (product placement in Second Life, folks!) and TPed over to the set.

So here is the teaser-trailer now available at MBC's site and on Blip TV. The devilishly hunky blue-eyed, blond-haired Adonis is me. The voice, however, is not. I have been dubbed, possibly because union rules state that a speaking part has to be paid. Or not.

I think I was a little late for the Oscar nomination this time around, but next year I'm hoping to be stumbling down the red carpet with Angelina Jolie on my left and a bottle of cognac on my right.

Feb 25, 2009

Linden Lab Gets "F" From Better Business Bureau

A tweet from Tizzers alerted me to a report from the San Francisco Better Business Bureau that gives Linden Lab an "F" rating. According to the report, LL has received 43 complaints in the past three years; 25 of them were closed in the past 12 months, ten were administratively closed by the BBB, and 2 went unaddressed.

However, what I really liked was the following quote from Angela Gunn of Betanews:

"It should in fairness be noted that Linden, which turns ten this year, is a corporate entity responsible for managing the underpinning economic system and technology for a virtual space utilized by people who desperately want to believe that they are 'living' in a 'land' of crypto-anarcho-democracy where people can turn into bunnies. In other words, they've got a lot of people who like to complain about how Second Life works, and experienced observers suspect the stats reflect that to some extent."

Here is how the complaints broke down:

1 regarding Issue Not Defined

1 regarding Advertising Issues
BBB Definition: Advertising Issues - Claims alleging print or electronic media advertised claims or practices misrepresent the service or product offer.
  • Advertisement misrepresented a service (1)
13 regarding Billing or Collection Issues
BBB Definition: Billing or Collection Issues - Claim alleging billing errors, unauthorized charges, or questionable collection practices.
  • Failure to correct billing errors (3)
  • Improper collection practices (2)
  • None of the Above - Credit, Billing or Collection Complaint Issue (2)
  • Unauthorized bank debits (1)
  • Unauthorized credit card charges (5)
4 regarding Contract Issues
BBB Definition: Contract Issues - Claim of alleged failure to honor contract or agreement, work performed without authorization, or invalid contract.
  • Failure to honor a contract or agreement (2)
  • None of the Above - Contract Complaint Issue (2)
12 regarding Customer Service Issues
BBB Definition: Service Issues - Claims of alleged delay in completing service, failure to provide promised service, inferior quality of provided service, or damaged merchandise as a result of delivery service.

BBB Definition: Customer Service Issues - Claims alleging unsatisfactory customer service, including personnel's failure to provide assistance in a timely manner, failure to address or respond to customer dissatisfaction, unavailability for customer support, and/or inappropriate behavior or attitude exhibited by company staff.
  • Failure to provide promised assistance or support for products or services (2)
  • Failure to respond to phone calls or written requests for assistance or support (3)
  • Inappropriate behavior by customer service personnel (4)
  • None of the Above - Customer Service Complaint Issue (3)
1 regarding Delivery Issues
BBB Definition: Delivery Issues - Claims alleging delayed delivery of ordered merchandise.
  • Non-delivery of products (1)
1 regarding Product Issues
BBB Definition: Product Issues - Claim alleging a product does not meet the expectations of the complainant, including defective merchandise.
  • Product Quality Complaint Issue (1)
3 regarding Refund or Exchange Issues
BBB Definition: Refund or Exchange Issues - Claim of alleged failure to honor company policy or verbal commitment to provide refunds, exchanges, or credit for products or services.
  • Failure to honor refund, exchange or credit policies (2)
  • Refund or Exchange Complaint Issue (1)
4 regarding Sales Practice Issues
BBB Definition: Sales Practice Issues - Claims of alleged sales presentations made in person or by telephone that contain misrepresentations of the product or service, high pressure sales practices, failure to disclose key conditions of the offer, and verbal representations not consistent with written contractual terms or agreements.
  • Sales Complaint Issue (1)
  • Sales presentation not consistent with the written agreement (1)
  • Sales presentation used dishonest sales practices (2)
3 regarding Service Issues
BBB Definition: Service Issues - Claims of alleged delay in completing service, failure to provide promised service, inferior quality of provided service, or damaged merchandise as a result of delivery service.
  • Failure to honor service estimate or agreement (1)
  • Improper of inferior service (2)
Clearly Billing/Collection and Customer Service issues account for the largest proportion of problems. Specific examples are not shown but 25 such complaints in total over a three-year period is not as terrible as it looks.

Complaints to the Better Business Bureau are not vetted and the BBB does not adjudicate on the truth or validity of a complaint. All the BBB do is to forward the complaint to the company and ask for a response to the customer along with a copy to them. They do not judge the "correctness" of a response - only that a response is made. It may well be that the response is "there is no evidence to show that this actually happened to the person making the complain" and no action is taken. However, if there is a failure to post such a response, then the BBB will mark that as a failure.

If the BBB forwarded ten complaints about a company, all of which were false, and the company - knowing they were false - simply chose to drop them in the trash, the BBB would issue an "F" against them. The rating simply reflects response to the complaints but says nothing about the substance of them.

Oh, and a business that never receives complaints is either lying or in receivership.

Feb 22, 2009

MBC Interview Airs

Last Thursday I did an interview with Melvie Pawpaw, a real life associate professor at Kent State University. Melvie teaches a class on assistive technology and uses Kent State University island in Second Life to augment her classes. Melvie was actually very laid back about the whole thing and interviewed well. The latest edition of MBC News features the interview.

As a side bar, in order to visit the sim, I had to have permission to join the Kent State group. Two days after the interview, I was unceremoniously booted out. So much for my short tenure at Kent State.

Still, there has to be some kudos attached to my being ejected from a seat of higher learning. Makes me feel sort of radical. Sort of.

Feb 21, 2009

More on the Media in Second Life

A recent article by Mark Glaser for the online magazine MediaShift (part of the PBS site) looks at the demise of Reuters, CNN, and Wired in Second Life. And despite the about-face reactions of the ex-staffers who left the SL bureaus, Glaser paints a positive picture of reportage about Second Life.

Glaser also comments of the nature of business within Second Life.

"One thing that has survived the hype is the virtual economy of Second Life and other online worlds and gaming environments, where people sell virtual goods with game-based money that can be converted to real money. BusinessWeek's Robert Hof believes that's a story that has staying power.

"'The notion of virtual economies is already becoming a solid business model for many game companies, and even social networks like Facebook -- by some accounts up to $2 billion in revenues -- so that seems like a trend that has some legs, and it's one you can credit Second Life with proving as much as anyone,' Hof said. 'And of course, the idea of user-generated content is huge today on a number of fronts, though Second Life is just one example of that.'"

Lawrence Mullen, a journalism professor at the University of Nevava, Las Vegas, is quoted as saying "There are a number of virtual magazines in SL - they come and go - but there are many new projects always starting. And maybe it's good that the large media corporations aren't getting into SL - thus giving others a chance to redefine what journalism is or should be."

This notion of SL journalism being redefined in SL is interesting. Interesting enough for me to have already buzzed of an email to Mullen to do an interview for SLentrepreneur.

It's a great article; I wished I'd written it ;)

Feb 17, 2009

A Blog to Read: Second Life Shrink

One of the reasons I suspect my blog is not wildly popular - other than it being generally crap - is that I don't indulge too much in the "you link me your blog and I'll link you mine" thing. Some blogs seem to have blog rolls that are longer than the contents of the blogs themselves. Apparently, if you make lots of these links between blogs, you can fool the search engines into thinking you are important and noteworthy, regardless of what you write.

My list, therefore, of folks to read is rather small. Miniscule. Tiny. So when I say that I am adding Second Life Shrink to my list of recommended reads it's because I think it's worth reading. The blogs are wide in scope and tend to be analytical from a psychological perspective - well duh, it's called Second Life Shrink!

But after reading on and off for some months, I thought it was time for me to add it as a link. The good news is that I haven't been paid, bribed, or offered sex to do this; it's simply that sharing good stuff is always a good idea.

Feb 12, 2009

On The Princess's Press Release List : Good, Bad, or Ridiculous?

One of the signs of becoming a "name" in the SL press world (and a "name" is very different from a "SLebrity") is to measure the frequency and spread of press releases that you receive. Tragically, I am still something of a bottom feeder in the virtual Fourth Estate but these things take time.

So imagine my surprise when the e-mail appeared in my gmail box from no less than the Press Secretary of the Royal Press Office to the Palace of Yaximixche. The 2009 Knighthoods have been announced and, although I am not amongst them, I am obviously on the press list.

Far be it for me to point out that of the four awards, three are either current or previous employees of the Princess, but there is no mention of a party. Being unashamedly English, my expectation of a royal is that once the Knighthoods have been handed out, it's all hands to the pumps and the drinking starts, usually in a huge marquee festooned in ribbons and swarming with new nobles and booze-serving penguins.

However, the press release has no invite to a shindig, which is something of a disappointment.

It also seems that I can't drop her an IM to suggest a booze up. Here are "the rules" for talking to Her Royal Highness:

"Under no circumstances it is permitted the publication or posting of conversation extracts or logs without written permission from the Royal Household of HRH The Princess of Yaximixche. In order to respect Linden Labs "Terms of Service and Second Life Community Standards"(1) you will have to formally request in advance the publication of any extract of the text conversation by sending a "texture letter". You must include your name, organisation, name of the newspaper, magazine or website, expected date of publication, and making reference to the text conversation that you would like to publish (this texture letter can be created in power point and then uploaded to SL).

"You are kindly advised to address your request to The Private Secretary to Her Royal Highness The Princess of Yaximixche (IM: Aaaa Thor). Three days later after sending your request for the conversation log publication, you will receive an answer in a "texture letter" from The Private Secretary. In case of unauthorised publication of HRH The Princess of Yaximixche conversation logs, her Royal Household will follow the procedures suggested by Linden Labs to resolve this situation."

Bummer! The last time I chatted with a royal (Princess Alexandra many years back) I didn't have to get permission or send questions in advance. And she's a real royal!

So I'm not going to make much of the Princess and her retinue. If there's no beer and no IMs, why should I even bother.

On the other hand, Sir Sigmund Leominster sounds so... right!

Feb 11, 2009

Too Much Information

To keep me current with the latest news, views, and gossip on Second Life and Virtual Worlds, I use Google Alerts. This is a cool feature that Google offers that allows you to track posts on any topic you want. I have three phrases I track: Second Life, Virtual World, and Sigmund Leominster. Yes, I admit that the latter has more to do with my narcissistic tendencies but on balance it isn't an issue because unsurprisingly there are less postings on "Sigmund Leominster" than Mickey Mouse has fingers on his left hand.

The problem is that even excluding the self-absorbed referent, I can get up to 70 posts in a day that show up in my Google alerts widget. That is an incredible number to sift through. Some can be ignored straight out - "Mac Classic Gets Second Life As Fishbowl" would show up as a headline but it has nothing to do with what I'm interested in.

If I then don't check for a couple of days, the list gets huge. There is, quite literally, too much information.

So I use another handy-dandy tool; a Firefox plug-in called "Read It Later." This puts a little check mark in my address window and if I go to a page with a story that looks interesting, I click on the check mark. This gets added to my "Read It Later" list. The list then appears under a button in my toolbar, where I can then re-read them at a later stage.

And speaking of add-ins, there is another one I find very useful called "Clipmarks." That is similar but allows you to snag large pieces of text from a site.

These two add-ins at least give me a fighting chance at winnowing though the haystack of news to find the kernals of wheat that I can use to bake stories.

Feb 10, 2009

Life On Line Goes Global

PRESS RELEASE: February 10th, 2009

A new internet TV program launches on February 15th that delves into how people spend their lives online. Life On Line, as the name suggests is about how people are increasingly spending more of their lifetime using the internet.

The TV show is the brain-child of Australian journalist Steve Cropper, creator of My-Metaverse (
www.my-metaverse.com) a social network for people involved in the new media arts on the web.

The producers have made this program using ‘machinima’ (machine cinema), the same technology used in popular computer games and 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft.

"We want to go deeper into how people around the world use their online time for news and entertainment, creativity, love, friendship, business, shopping, political engagement, work and play - or any other reason", said Executive Producer and host, Steve Cropper. "We also scan the internet for emerging new talent - musicians, movie makers, writers, bloggers - anyone who is contributing to the richness of digital life".

Life On Line includes a cast of seasoned bloggers, journalists and entertainers including internet band, SpaceJunky - three people living in the US, Australia and Malaysia who collaborate, record, produce and market their music entirely online. The line-up also boasts the Marketing Director of the Association of Virtual Worlds, Andrew Peters, of Singapore. He is also a practitioner of social networking and internet marketing campaigns. Every episode features internet news man Sigmund Leominster, a veteran blogger. The cast also includes a practicing Sydney Psychotherapist who’s online name is Dr Roman Candle. He covers a range of behavioural issues describing how people interact with each other in a virtual environment. There are guest comedians and musicians and interviews with people making news across the internet.

This program is made in the style of a popular TV chat show but Executive Producer and host, Steve Cropper has not tried to re-create Conan O'Brien or Jay Leno. He said that his style is pacey and energetic but he's not so much of a 'wise-guy'. "I do admire these hosts. It'd be great to have that kind of horse power. But our show is more down to earth and homey. We are engaging with people sitting at their computers and whilst we aim to give viewers that big TV show 'look', we are also going for a more personal and intimate 'feel'".

In classic social media style, content for the show is driven by viewers who can join the viewers’ group and offer their thoughts and ideas for content on the program and the future direction of Life On Line.

Initially available on 17 websites across the internet, Life On Line is free to any website including private blogs and personal websites. Information is available at

Media inquiries contact Steve Cropper:

Phone: +61 2 9451 8485 or mobile +61 411 486 914

Email: info@life-on-line.tv

Feb 8, 2009

Sunday Night Fun

This weekend saw me working with Steve Cropper on producing the news segment for the upcoming edition of Life On Line. For those curious about process, here's what happens.

I select four or five news items from my SL on VL site and condense each one into a two or three sentence summary. I also supplement the stories with graphics and videos whenever possible. This provides Steve with material to show along with my voice.

Armed with the text, Steve and I set up a Skype call to record the segment. If all goes well, it's a one-shot take; if not, we try again and again until I get it right!

Steve then takes some film shots of me at the studio and ultimately blends the voice, video, and graphics into a segment.

So there you have it. The media at work. Lucky for me I only have a one- to two-minute slot - Steve has to pull together the rest of the program!

Feb 4, 2009

Shill or Scribbler: Where Are My Ethics?

It's late on Tuesday and I have just made myself a huge pot of tea. PG Tips, to be precise - a blend of Indian leaves that is popular in the UK but outrageously expensive in the US. I guess that's just the price I have to pay for being an ex-pat who wants to use imports.

The pot is actually a Starbucks mug that I picked up in the city of Taichung in Taiwan. I like it because it can hold a significant amount of liquid and it seems exotic.

And I typically use the big mug when I want to write anything at length because tea seems to help me focus on the job in hand. Whether it does so on a biochemical level I can't be sure, but psychologically at least, it's a mild stimulant.

But I digress. The pot is just a distraction from the real topic, which is whether I see myself as a scribbler or a shill.

I like the word scribbler. My good friend and companion, the Oxford English Dictionary, tells me that a scribbler is "one who scribbles or writes hastily or carelessly; hence a petty author; a writer without worth." Terrible as that may sound, the word is also used as an informal synonym for a journalist. It also suggests a "jobbing writer," the type of penman who writes day in and day out just to make a living.

That's my aim in Second Life. That and achieving Slebrity status along with pots of money. I currently make a second living by writing for hire. This is closer in definition to the word scrivener, succinctly defined as "a professional penman; a scribe, copyist; a clerk, secretary, amanuensis."

As a professional, being paid for your work is perfectly legitimate. And by work, I mean articles. But how do I justify being paid for review pieces? At what point do I become a shill, "an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice others"

I'm half way through my tea so I'm ready to list what I will and won't do.

1. As a freelancer, I can write about anything that takes my fancy. I can take as long as I like, use as many words as I like, and praise or offend anyone I want. Once the article is done, I can sell to the highest bidder. This is simple capitalism: I have a product - the article - and there is a buyer who wants is - an editor.

2. As a staffer, I may get assigned a topic for which I then get paid. If my article is too effusive or shows bias, it is the job of the editor to determine whether it is fit to be published or not.

3. As a copy writer, an individual can ask me to write advertising copy for a product. My role is as a marketer, whose task is to promote items for a fee.

What I have to avoid are situations where I get paid for copy but then try to pass it off as objective journalism. The key to making sure this happens is to use transparency.

Let's look at two examples. The first is my recent article on Alphamale for FreeLife Magazine. I wrote the text after spending lots of money on clothes there because I liked them. I wanted to showcase Alphamale products not because Yelmer Pfeffer was paying me to do it but because I genuinely appreciate the couture. I then send off the finished article plus pictures to the editors at FreeLife, who then pay me in Lindens.

In this situation, I don't feel like a shill being paid for the article. The designer wasn't paying me but a third-party organization that produces a lifestyle magazine.

The second is an overview of a Second Life singer that appeared in the SL Enquirer and Metaverse Tribune. I was asked to write this as advertising copy by Tammy Toll, the owner of Toll Entertainment, and she then used it to give to the SL press. I was paid by Tammy openly so had no qualms.

Where I do feel a little uncomfortable is that some folks may read that article and not know it is essentially advertising. It's awkward in that my writing is a product that someone can buy, but it then becomes there product and can do with it as they wish.

It's gray for me at this point. And it's hard to cast more light because I wrote the review honestly and only said what was true for me: I do like the singer and I do think it is worth folks buying her CD. But how I feel is probably not relevent in relation to the the process of writing ad copy for hire.

I try to be truthful, independent, and invite people to check my sources. I am not above advocacy journalism - the Op-Ed or Editorial - and try to acknowledge my biases, knowing full well that I, and everyone else, have them. I try not to write for free because that leads to a devaluing of the art of writing, and leads to the tragedy of folks "playing" at being writers and the publication of terrible articles. In the longer term, this also leads to a shabby, unprofessional, Second Life press that becomes little more than an excuse to sell advertising copy.

I'm constantly looking for balance. So far, I earn enough to pay for my Second Life and even "export" cash into my first. I write pretty much what I want so this makes my virtual experiences pleasant. I also get to talk to lots of interesting residents who all have stories to tell, and my job is simply to help them tell them.

Scribbler or shill? I hope the former, but maybe someone out there disagrees.

Feb 3, 2009

Going To Be Making A Movie

I'm in severe danger of over-extending myself as a media mercenary. Not only have I added my role as newsman on Life On Line but I've just signed on with MediaMan Studios and Toll Entertainment as Lead Writer on a new project: making a movie!

In their YouTube promo, Let's Make A Movie, Tammy Toll and MediaMan Compton reveal their plan to create... well, something! So far there is no plot, no actors, and no cash; a good start to any venture, don't you think ;)

Here's the official press release:

"Sigmund Leominster famed SL Media Hound has joined MediaMan Studios as head of Story Development. He with Lanai Jarrico & Vianne Siamendes will develop story content for SL distribution and RL New Media pandering to the arts. MediaMan Studios is currently forming a cast of players for its first major release. Details on attachment. Additional Sigmund Leominster info at his profile

"MediaMan Compton was quoted at today's announcement, 'We are pleased that we have someone on board that can spell.'"

If all goes well, the movie will be an entry in a real life contest and, if things go really well, I may get some money. Whooo!!