Friday, February 27, 2015

Rod Humble's Cults & Daggers Inspires Deep Thoughts on Religious Belief

Cults and Daggers Religion Game

The Game That Let Me Mourn My Lost Faith is a good long weekend read by Nathan Grayson on Kotaku that as it happens, is how Rod Humble's new Cults & Daggers game inspired Grayson to think long and mournfully about losing his faith. This reflects something Rod told me about the game when it launched: "This is a game about the religions that did not make it and the people who devoutly believed in them. It takes a view point that individuals make a difference in the trajectory of a belief. My hope is that people of faith and non believers will both enjoy it, there is nothing in here which is likely to offend anyone, but some I hope to provoke thought."

For Grayson, thought is often provoked by the game's very user interface:

Religious experiences are, in some ways, as personal as they are universal. The underlying systems [in Cults & Daggers] might function similarly—might even lead to similarly dire ends if misused or mismanaged—but the rest is as much behind your eyes as it is in front of them. Viewed in that light, Cults and Daggers' minimal window dressing functions as a strength. Players can layer their own experiences, their own values, on top of the no-frills menus and numbers. They can think more about the religions they practice or preach. Or the ones they used to.

Grayson mentions the religious aspects of Black & White, the classic PC game lead developed by Peter Molyneux, and as it happens, I once wrote how that game provoked thoughts about religion in its own way:

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Star Trek Fans Remember Leonard Nimoy in Second Life

Leonard Nimoy Second Life Star Trek

Ciaran Laval has a good list of Star Trek-themed places in Second Life that are mourning the loss and celebrating the life of the late Leonard Nimoy. For a time, as Ciaran recalls, the great man's face was literally created as a giant bit map on the Second Life world, which I hope someone does again this weekend. (And if they do, please let me know in Comments.) Until then, take a look at Laval's list here.

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High Fidelity is Hiring: Must Love Virtual Reality, Awkward Avatar Baseball, Spinal Tap References

You read that High Fidelity raised $11 million last Wednesday, now here's Philip Rosedale and team making the announcement as High Fidelity avatars:

Read much more on the High Fidelity blog here, including details on who they're hiring:

We are hiring right now for many open positions in engineering, design, and content development – so if you’ve considered diving into VR or wondered whether now it the right time – it is! Our work is fascinating and challenging, with a wide range of components from physics to network streaming to character animation, graphics, lighting, and distributed computing.

Hopefully some of those hires help with avatar puppet manipulation, because I gotta say, it still looks pretty awkward and off-putting. I know it's seriously impressive from a technical perspective that High Fidelity is already doing real time animation with lip sync with multiple avatars, but anyone who doesn't know that (i.e. most of the world) will probably find it off-putting. (Then again, that's what the money's for.)

Oh, in case you're wondering why Philip's post is called "This one goes to 11", it's from this:

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Iconic Second Life Designer Nylon Pinkney Tells All in the Latest Episode of The Drax Files

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

For those of us who regularly watch Draxtor Despres' Linden Lab-sponsored mixed-reality mini-documentary series, The Drax Files: World Makers, this particular episode has been a long time coming. Draxtor finally got the chance to sit down with Nylon Pinkney, offline wedding photographer and online fashion designer, and neither of them disappoint.

Nylon Pinkney has been one of Second Life's most popular (and esoteric) creators for years now. From the Deimos Boardwalk to Tableau, her distinct painted technique and vibrant style have been a mainstay of Second Life for the better part of a decade. Because of this I was pretty excited to see what she had to say...

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ambitious Dragon Age-Inspired Roleplay Region With RPG HUD Launched in Second Life

Dragon Age Roleplay SL

What you’re looking at here is an incredibly detailed Second Life region that’s been transformed into a faithful recreation of the Dragon Age world, for SL roleplay inspired by that game:

Dragon Age RP Second Life“Our sim is faithfully built based on the village of Lothering of the game Dragon Age Origins and lots of love is being put on the decoration and ideas,” an SLer named Kitti Swords, who leads a team of fellow Dragon Age fans, in building and maintaining it, tells me. “For example, the tavern keep decorates the tavern, the Revered Mother decorates the Chantry, etc... For that reason we also offer free housing for players interested in taking such important non-combat town roles.”

Click here to see it on the world map, or put this address into the SL viewer of your choice: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Six/39/233/22

As you would probably guess, their in-world group group name is Dragon Age Roleplay and it’s not just improvisational roleplay, but comes with an RPG-style heads-up display:

Dragon Age SL RP HUD“The character sheet communicates with the dice roller and calculates everything automatically for the players, as well as keeping track of each player's quests in the campaign,” says Kitty, “and showing an inventory that is linked to in-world objects. All this in a single small, practical window. The HUD will be optional however, as we don't want to keep the focus off the good ol' RP.”

The Dragon Age franchise is famous for exploring issues of sexual orientation and identity, and Kitty says fans are welcome to do that here too: “Our philosophy will be that of trying to keep the world as realistic as possible, so adult themes in general (not only sexual/orientation related but also related to violence) are entirely possible to happen there, depending on the direction the RP goes. Basically, anything that is agreed by two players to happen between their characters, I won't intervene at all; unless there's a player whose focus is solely on such themes and not on the story and setting itself.”

Choosing Dragon Age as a roleplay theme was inspired by Kitty’s longtime love of RPGs -- and dissatisfaction with Second Life’s roleplay areas, which tend toward kinkier sexual extremes:

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8 Ways to Make Games More Welcoming to Women & Girls

8 Ways to Make Games More Friendly For Women

New York University had to install a metal detector so people could come to hear Anita Sarkeesian make these incredibly controversial and inflammatory proposals for making games more welcoming to women and girls:

  • Avoid the Smurfette principle - Don't have just one female character in an ensemble cast, let alone one whose personality is more or less "girl" or "woman."
  • "Lingerie is not armor" -- Dress female characters as something other than sex objects.
  • Have female characters of various body types
  • Don't over-emphasize female characters' rear ends, not any more than you would the average male characters.
  • Include more female characters of color.
  • Animate female characters to move the way normal women, soldiers or athletes would move.
  • Record female character voiceover so that pain sounds painful, not orgasmic
  • Include female enemies, but don't sexualize those enemies

Yes, Anita Sarkeesian needs a metal detector and a bodyguard to make totally reasonable, practical suggestions that every game developer should already be following out of pure naked self-interest.

Read about her whole talk as extensively covered by Stephen Totilo here.

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It's Time to Reassess How We Think About Early Access and Crowdfunded Games

Starbound Beta (75)

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I've been thinking a lot about crowdfunded games, lately. It's been hard not to. Earlier this month Under the Ocean (one of my first forays into the world of buy-in betas) removed itself from sale on Steam Early Access after the loss of its lead programmer. According to the developer progress on the game will continue, but at a much slower pace. Days later, the story of the myriad disappointments surrounding Peter Molyneux's Godus broke. And yet just before these two lows was a pretty satisfying high: Starbound released an utterly phenomenal new patch, complete with the long awaited Novakid race. 

Up until now, I haven't been all that shy about buying into unfinished games. I, like a lot of people probably do, looked at it a lot like buying a game I would eventually be buying anyway. The difference was that I was buying it at a point when that money could still be used to improve the game and ensure its eventual release. Depending on the funding format, I might even get to play it (albeit in an incomplete and unpolished form) immediately. Win-win, right? 

Not necessarily, and that's why I've had to seriously reconsider the way that I think (and talk) about buying unfinished games.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ello, Goodbye? Widely-Hyped Social Network Suffers Massive User Dropoff Six Months After Peak

Ello Social Network losing users

Less than 6 months ago, Ello was widely-touted across the tech blogosphere as a great alternative to Facebook, for its lack of ads or anything like Facebook's "real names only" policy. Since then, however, the social network has seen a massive dropoff in usage, according to Similar Web: From a peak of 30 million visits in October, to just 9 million last month. Since social networks depend on highly active usage, I'd estimate these visits translating to Ello having about 1 million active users. Which is not nothing, but also quite niche -- for instance, that's about the number of active Second Life users still extant. Which is ironic, because Ello was also widely touted by some Second Life users angry at Facebook for prohibiting SL avatar names as accounts. 

"Disaffected Facebook users are abandoning ship," one SLer told me last September, "led by the LGBT crowd, in particular the Drag Queens who Facebook gave the ultimatum to this week. Second Life avatars have the same issues with the Drag Queens and so they are finding Ello an attractive, nonjudgmental alternative." 

Since then, however, a well-known drag queen is directly working with Facebook to help LGBT users with pseudonyms on Facebook, and the official Second Life fan page on Facebook has grown to nearly 380K members. Maybe Ello has suffered some technical/funding setbacks that a Google news search doesn't immediately reveal, and it's too early to count Ello out. (And there's nothing at all wrong with a social network being a niche, if you don't mind a niche, that is.) But so far, the proposition that the market is clamoring for a new social network with no ads or real names required... that's not quite panning out.

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High Fidelity Virtual World to Monetize with Names, Content Sales & Ads (Including Virtual Billboards)

Philip Rosedale High Fidelity Oculus Rift

Philip Rosedale in High Fidelity via Oculus Rift

High Fidelity, Philip Rosedale's next generation virtual world (all our previous NWN coverage on it here), just got $11 million in new funding from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, TechCrunch just reported. That's noteworthy, because it gives his company more than enough capital to launch High Fidelity and devote a year or two trying to get traction. Also noteworthy in the TechCrunch post are some hints about how High Fidelity will monetize, two which Philip discussed with me off the record awhile ago, another which might shock some:

Rosedale plans to monetize High Fidelity at the points where the community provides value to itself. While you can generate a temporary name to send to friends so they can quickly jump into a world with you, you’ll also be able to pay a fee to keep a distinct name for longer-term use — kind of like reserving a good URL for your site or username on Twitter. Since users can make all kinds of content for their worlds, High Fidelity also wants to host the go-to repository for models and code in a digital store resembling Unity’s Asset Store. Given the product’s open source approach, generous users can give out their offerings for free if they’d like, but if they want to charge money, High Fidelity will take a small cut.

So monetizing with virtual name sales, much like Second Life monetized with virtual land sales, and also taking a cut of virtual content sales, a bit like how the Second Life Marketplace works. That, plus another potentially controversial revenue stream:

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Blink and You'll Miss Them: 5 Exclusive Collabor88 Deals to Grab While You Still Can

C88 Feb 2015 Yummy
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

February is a deceptively short month, and that means that right now lost of avid Second Life fashion fans are rushing to make sure they have everything they want from their favorite limited-time events. For me, Collabor88 sits at the top of that list. February's lineup was ridiculously strong, featuring a lot of guest designers and collaboration between many of the regulars. While the event was centered around love and romance (because, you know, February) just about everything there manages to hold up to post-Valentine's day scrutiny.

So if you've yet to make the trip over to C88 yourself this month, here are a few items you won't want to miss:

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This SL Machinima Music Video Set to "Farrah Fawcett Hair" May Make Your Own Hair Stand Up

This is a Second Life machinima music video cut to Capital Cities' "Farrah Fawcett Hair", and seeing as it's one of the most impressive SL machinimas I've seen in some time, you may want to see it now:

Much thanks to Alicia for the tip. Created by Trace Osterham, I particularly love the use of video/TV displays, so the music keeps playing out within various, well-chosen Second Life settings, and the photography with dynamic lighting, helping convey the sense of a lived-in world. (Seriously, this thing had me at the virtual curtain flapping in the virtual wind.)

This video brings up another thought: Are we in a mini-Renaissance of Second Life music video machinima?

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Upcoming Indie Game Sea of Solitude is Simply Stunning

Sea of Solitude
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There are a few particularly pretty gifs and screenshots making the rounds in the Twitter gaming community following the recent launch of Sea of Solitude's teaser site. Although the game isn't publicly available to play yet, its crumbling ruins and gently lapping canals are clearly already capturing folks' imaginations.

Based on the teasers, Sea of Solitude looks like a blend of exploration, puzzle-solving and platforming. That's a pretty popular mix among indie games, but its simple yet beautiful visuals make it stand out. Its premise (as outlined on their website) does as well.

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Darkest Dungeon: Indie Game Upends RPG Cliches With Gothic Comedy, Madness as a Game Mechanic

Darkest Dungeon review

Darkest Dungeon is a seriously cool indie game available on Steam Early Access, and it's basically inspired by the question, "What would really happen if a band of adventurers explored a haunted dungeon infested with monsters?" The obvious answer being, of course, "They'd go fricking bonkers." So as you guide your adventurers deeper into a cursed manor and the surrounding grounds, they gradually but inevitably get afflicted with various forms of mental illness and PTSD. (Which you can temporarily cure with a visit to the local temple, sanitarium, or tavern.) This might seem like a pretty depressing premise for a game, but the developers (Red Hook Studio) bring a winking, wry humor, chiefly in the melodramatic voice over which is so over the top, it's hard not to laugh. Match that with beautiful art which looks like wood carvings, an elegant user interface, and interesting twists on the RPG aspects, and you have an indie game worthy of its darling status. (Multiple friends who are game developers have been raving about it on my social media channels for the last couple weeks.) Take a look at the trailer:

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Will the Future of VR Be Less Virtual, More Augmented?

Virtual REality Magic leap

Commenting in this fascinating thread on virtual reality hype, reader "Rin" makes some smart points:

I have to say that I think that everything that uses a big headset like the Oculus Rift is a dead end and will never achieve any big success. It might have some specific uses .. training simulations come to mind, but I just can't see it finding it's way into the big consumer market. It is just too big of a hindrance to daily life to block everything out like this and sit on the couch with this headset on. Microsoft has the much better approach there [with the HoloLens] and even when I am uncertain of how it might turn out (or if it actually be usable at all), I think it is still the more usable idea then something like the Oculus headset. To be honest, I have not yet heard even one idea about what the one big application would be that brings VR "into our lap". Even most games would not fit well with it and not everyone who plays games would like to do it this way. So the market is even smaller ... but what is there beside it that would bring it out of specific work situations and into the homes of everyone? It actually also might be going against the current trend of everything being more and more mobile. And being in VR while walking down a street might not be the most healthy thing to do ... so instead of VR I think it should be more AR - Augmented Reality. That is where I would put my money into.

So presumably, Rin would want to put her money in a company like Magic Leap, just like Google recently did, to the tune of half a billion damn dollars. I share all of Rin's concerns around VR, though I'm very skeptical augmented reality will be a better alternative:

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Relive Your First L$ Purchase Through These Fascinating Reader Comments

SL MeshJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Last week I asked NWN readers when and why you made your first virtual currency purchase in Second Life, and the answers so far have been a trip down memory lane.

Of course these answers have also been an interesting look into the early virtual lives of some infamous SLers. Arwyn Quandry, for example, got her start on the Teen Grid (back when there was a Teen Grid). Because most residents of the TG did have ready access to their own credit cards or Paypal accounts, the Teen Grid economy was wildly different from the Main Grid's. She writes:

I bought my first bunch of $L about a week before I left the Teen Grid. It was a big thing, because I didn't have my own card. I had to ask my dad to borrow his paypal account so I could get $10 worth of lindens. On the TG, that was big money - a nice pair of shoes that would go for 250 to 300 on the main grid went for maybe 100 at the most on the TG. Before that, I would wear freebies or build my own stuff. There was an educational group that gave away lindens for attending their events, so I would always go there.

When I got my ten bucks worth of $L, I bought a few outfits from my favorite designers who I wouldn't see again (at least until they transferred), gifts for some friends, and even my own plane, because why not. It was the coolest feeling being able to shop. After that, I would buy maybe once every two or three months to get a new outfit. These days, I buy a larger amount because I'm supporting a sim, but still keep my expenses fairly low.

Meanwhile, famed Second Life home and interior designer Barnesworth Anubis' first exchange of cash for L$ was so he could snap up a nice plot of land. No surprises there. The most interesting detail in his story, however, is where that cash came from:

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Top Four Posts from New World Notes Last Week!

Facebook Second Life real name policy

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Visit in Second Life: In The Hall of the Centaurs, a Masterwork by Acclaimed SL Architect Havit Neox

Second Life castle

Eddi Haskell is all over the premiere of The Hall of the Centaurs, which as he puts it, is by Havit Neox, "one of Second Life's most famous architects, [who] builds fanciful structures and entire cities that employ a wide range of architectural effects. His latest creation, In The Hall of the Centaurs at Second Life's famous Verdigris City, is another jewel in his crown... Make sure to walk and teleport to all levels to see hidden rooms which such as one with a rotating Unisphere that appears to have swarms of bees rising at its base."

Here's a direct teleport link to copy/paste into the SL browser of your choice:>/p>

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Verdigris/186/67/56

But first, be sure to see more Centaurs' imagery and more Neox coverage from Eddi. And oh, unless you're at work, don't worry too about the adult content warning that comes up when you click:

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How to Live Stream/Record Second Life Footage in Steam

Second Life Steam streaming

This is a super useful-looking and crazily exhaustive tutorial for streaming/recording Second Life in Steam from Ai Austin. The record function should be great for recording Let's Play-style Second Life videos (and I'd love to see more of those, as long as they're not yet more lame troll vids), and the stream feature lets you squirt your Second Life experience to another display -- like so:

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Posted at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Virtual Photographer Loony Columbia's Second Life Snapshots are as Angelic as Ever

Enfant Loony Columbia cropped
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Today seemed like a good day to check in on one of my favorite Second Life photographers, Loony Columbia. Although it's been awhile since I've blogged her, her work is easily some of the most adorable out there. Even if you're not into the cutesy avatars she favors you can almost certainly still appreciate her technical style. Loony likes to keep her work blindingly bright and pastel perfect, and even though she prefers those cute-looking avatars she's not shy about veering towards the NSFW side of things either.

"Enfant - Woman in Love" is one of her latest pics, and it stands out because it's a slight departure from her usual images. While most of her SL snapshots are seas of milky color, this one is much bolder by comparison. It stopped me in my tracks, or rather it stopped my cursor in its path.

You can check out the uncropped (and slightly NSFW) version of "Enfant" here, or spend some time perusing the pastel wonderland that is Loony Columbia's Flickr stream. If you'd like some styling advice, then you'll want to swing by her Tumblr as well.

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Want to Be a Sponsoring Partner of New World Notes?

Second Life advertising New World Notes

Interested in becoming a Media Partner with New World Notes, the oldest and largest blog with a primary focus on Second Life? We got 170,000 visits last month, according to Similar Web, and more key, we get our partners results: Here's the clickthrough rates to the Second Life Marketplace listing of a recent partner, after just 4 months. 

You'll be joining our excellent, ongoing partners DX Exchange and Ample Avi, and we'd like add another, non-competing partner with a brand and product we're proud to help promote. (Ideally related to Second Life, OpenSim, another MMO/virtual world, or virtual reality.)

Rates are negotiable, with discounts for smaller brands that Iris and I admire, and yes, we do take Linden Dollars. If you'd like to discuss this opportunity, contact me by IMing me at Hamlet Au, or via e-mail to wjamesau at gmail dot com.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Want a Facebook Account With Your Avatar Name? Just Prove to Facebook You Use That Name Offline, Too

Facebook Second Life real name policy

Good news (maybe) for the many Second Life users who have a Facebook account named after their avatar, but are under threat of Facebook blocking their account for not being a real name: You can petition the company through Sister Roma, a well-known and widely-admired San Francisco drag queen who has been helping Facebook improve its real name policy, especially as it applies to people like her, members of the LGBT community who are better known for their stage/persona name, than their legal name. I asked her if she could also help SL users use their avatar name for their Facebook profile without it being deleted by the company.

“To some extent, yes,” Sister Roma tells me. “Facebook has acknowledged that users may have authentic identities that are not reflected in legal government issued ID or displayed on a piece of mail like a utility bill. Your user name should reflect the name you are known by as and use in your everyday life, on- and offline.” (Emphasis mine.)

So for Second Life users, there’s a fairly big catch: Facebook defines your “real name” as “the one you've chosen and live every day.” (In other words, not just when you're logged into the servers of a for-profit Internet company.)

“Are you saying a Second Life user who goes by their avatar name on Facebook needs to prove that they also use that SL name in real life?” I ask Sister Roma.

“That's the way to get Facebook to recognize an authentic identity,” Sister Roma simply answers.

As it happens, Sister Roma has helped a Second Life user restore her Facebook account with her avatar name -- however, this person (who I won’t name for privacy reasons), also uses her Second Life avatar name when performing offline in the real world:

“I took her name as a performer in clubs and venues doing comedy and performance,” she explained to me recently. “I worked with actors, Broadway stars, musicians, celebrity stylists, cultural icons, and during this time people knew me as [my SL name]... it was an adaptation and a brand that became recognizable in New York City and beyond..”

So if you’re a Second Life user who wants to keep using your name on Facebook, my guess is you should take some steps before contacting Sister Roma: Perform on a real stage (with published billing) under your Second Life name, for instance. Or maybe publish a book or magazine article with your avatar name. Or hell, maybe legally change your real name so your middle name becomes your avatar account? Frankly, outside public figures or performers, SL avatars (or any other MMO avatar name, for that matter) still seem to be in a nebulous state, in Facebook’s eye.

That said, here’s Sister Roma’s guide to requesting her help with Facebook:

Continue reading "Want a Facebook Account With Your Avatar Name? Just Prove to Facebook You Use That Name Offline, Too"

Posted at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Iris Wants to Know: When (and Why) Did You First Spend RL Cash on SL Currency?

SL Currency
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Is there anything worse than a tired old meme? Yeah, there is, and it's called being broke. Super broke, right when something you want more than anything else is glittering just under your nose. It's an awful feeling -- powerless and yes, guiltily materialistic -- but in Second Life it's a feeling that seems so temptingly easy to alleviate. For the cost of a mildly fancy cup of RL coffee you can inject your balance with enough funds for at least one shiny new bauble.

But there's a hurdle for most of us, or there was. Remember the very first time you bought Linden Dollars? You'd just started playing a 'free' game and maybe you even you swore you wouldn't spend a single red penny on it... But there you are, standing in front of something that you want and that really, when you think about it, only costs a few red pennies anyway, right?

The ways we talked ourselves into buying our first L$ are different for everyone. That's why I want to know: What was it that finally pushed you to make your first SL currency purchase with RL cash? 

As for me, my story will probably be familiar to a lot of avatar fashion enthusiasts...

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You Can Buy Chocolate With Bitcoin in the Capitol of Bitcoin Hype... But Hardly Anyone Does

Last week I was wandering the fancy shops of the San Francisco Ferry Building, when I came across this friendly dude behind the cash register of a pop-up shop for Buyer's Best Friend, selling gourmet chocolate and other treats:

Bitcoin purchases Embarcadero

"How many people actually buy stuff with Bitcoin?" I asked him, while munching on a chocolate sample*.

"Not too many -- maybe 2-3 every month," he told me. However, he added, it was even less before December last year, but Bitcoin purchases "took off during the holidays". To, you know, 2-3 purchases a month. On the one hand, given my ongoing skepticism, I expected roughly zero purchases. On the other, the San Francisco Ferry Building is one of the most popular shopping destinations in the entire city; in 2003, it drew 6 million visitors. It's even more striking when you consider where the Ferry Building is:

Continue reading "You Can Buy Chocolate With Bitcoin in the Capitol of Bitcoin Hype... But Hardly Anyone Does"

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Watch This Excellent SL Machinima Version of Melanie Martinez's "Dollhouse"

Notwithstanding the lip sync, which is distractingly off in places, this is a really impressive version of Melanie Martinez's massive hit, "Dollhouse" -- watch:

Shot by Glam House Films, it's not a direct one-to-one copy of the Martinez's original video, but an inspired and ambitious re-interpretation of it. Watch the OG "Dollhouse" (now viewed over 14 million times) after the break to compare and contrast:

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Quick Tips: SL Content Creators, Here's How to Start Livestreaming Your Work

Nylon Pinkney Streamshot
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Earlier this week I posted about Second Life artists and designers who have been streaming their work process live for anyone interested to watch. There are people designing mesh fashion, editing snapshots, and even painting avatar portraits, and the fact that they're streaming means that there's a valuable opportunity to pick up a few new tricks from them.

But what if you have a few tricks of your own that you want to share? It might seem like a complicated and troublesome thing to set up, but these days it's incredibly easy to stream your screen out to dozens (or even hundreds) of viewers. Here's how to get started:

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Virtual Reality Hype: Why Isn't It 1992 All Over Again?

In 1992, which as it happens, is the year Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey was born, TV programs like this were shown all the time:

Note that the host refers to there being "So much hype around virtual reality" (thanks to novels like Snow Crash published that year, along with constant references in film and TV), goes on to covers real world applications of VR like marketing research and architectural modeling. Then a VR evangelist comes on and enthuses, "It's coming out of the labs and into our laps, almost".  

Or course, that turned out to be way wrong, and is still wrong -- for 99.99% of us, VR still isn't in our laps, so to speak. And the obvious question is, besides the hairstyles and computing systems that are far better and cheaper now, what's the essential difference between 1992 and 2015?

This video comes via Reddit's /Oculus group, with the top comment in the thread being this trenchant one from a virtual reality developer -- and it's surprising it's also the most upvoted:

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Lost an Item from Your SL Inventory in the Past Year? Take This Quick Survey from Linden Lab

SL Inventory WindowJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Inventory loss has been the bane of avid Second Life users for years now. Although there have been periods where it was more or a problem than usual, it's never not been there, lurking in the backs of our virtual closets and waiting to devour one, just one shoe from our favorite pair. It's not a simple issue, either. There are a multitude of ways it can happen, and addressing every one of them is something that Linden Lab has undoubtedly been struggling with for as long as Second Life's existed. 

If you've lost an item out of your inventory in the past year there's not much you can do to retrieve it at this point, but you can still help LL by providing a little information about that loss. They've recently put a call out for victims of inventory loss to fill in a simple survey. Expect to answer questions about how many items you've lost in the last 12 months, when the majority of those losses occurred, what viewer you use most and, of course, what happened immediately before the loss -- trying to rez something on a no-rez parcel, for example, is a pretty common way to lose an item.

You can fill in the survey for yourself here, and with any luck the information gleaned will help limit future losses.

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Facebook Reportedly Blocking Traditional Native American Names as "Not Real"

According to the EFF, Facebook's policy allowing only "real names" for Facebook accounts has hurt Native Americans with traditional names like Robin Kills The Enemy or Shane Creepingbear, who have been getting messages like this:

Facebook Real names Native American names

It's often noted that Facebook's policy makes some Western assumptions around what constitutes a real name, and for reasons that are too obvious and painful to mention, it's uniquely ironic when that policy hurts Native Americans. Reports the EFF:

Lone Hill isn’t the only Native person who has been affected. As Aura Bogado at Colorlines points out: "The company appears to have been questioning certain Native users since at least 2009,when it deactivated Parmelee Kills The Enemy’s account. More recently, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Facebook deleted a number of Native accounts." She’s referring to the takedown of Shane Creepingbear’s account. These takedowns illustrate the continued problems with Facebook’s policy. As we pointed out last year, Facebook would be much better off if it simply stopped requiring verification of names at all. But if it won’t commit to doing that, there are still other steps it could take.

As longtime NWN readers know, this Facebook policy has also impacted members of the transgender community (though the company is now trying to make amends), and people using virtual world names for their Facebook accounts. Speaking of which, I have a partial update there:

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Learn from the Masters by Tuning in to These Second Life Content Creators Who Livestream Their Work

Nylon Pinkney Portrait Voshi paineJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Earlier today, Second Life designer and artist Nylon Pinkney livestreamed her process as she worked on one of her gorgeous avatar portraits, just like the one shown on the left. Nylon does these streams pretty regularly, but unless you follow her on Twitch.tv there's a good chance you'll miss them.

Nylon's not the only Second Life creator streaming their work, for that matter. There are quite a few others taking advantage of the various streaming services to broadcast their process. Some like Nylon spend their streams painting or drawing, others edit snapshots, and still others work on 3D models and textures that will be brought into SL once they're complete. Watching these talented folks work can be a great learning experience, but since not all of these streamers store their archives it's crucial to catch them live.

With the help of folks on Plurk (the Second Life community's social network of choice) I've compiled a list of Second Life artists and designers that stream, so you can follow your favorites and be alerted whenever they go live. Take a look:

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Top Seven New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

History of Second Life

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Weekend Second Life Machinima: "Smooth Criminal" Dance Video That's One-Take, Shot-Handheld, Super-Cool

SLer Blaq Magik recently shot this excellent Second Life machinima dance video, and it's just about the coolest SL machinima I've seen in quite awhile. (And not because it's shot to what's just about MJ's coolest song.) For one thing, it's shot in a single take, which seems like a miracle of matching SL dance animations to every downbeat of "Smooth Criminal". (And the dancers hit their mark almost every time.) That's impressive in itself, but Mr. Magik does something to make it even cooler:

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Look for the Rose and Find a Bargain on Ample Avi's Voluptuous Avatar Shapes (NWN Partner News)

Ample Avi Valentine's SaleThis weekend, NWN sponsoring partner Ample Avi will be having a rather unique sale on their original curvy shapes. Between the 13th and the 15th of February, Ample Avi designer Xme Xue will be placing a rose on the photo of a shape in her main store [Teleport link]. While the rose is on the photo, that shape will be steeply discounted to L$100. Xme will be moving the rose several times over the course of the Valentine's day weekend, so if you've had an eye on any particular shape then you may want to stop by a few times to make sure you don't miss your chance.

As I mentioned last month, Ample Avi's plus sized shapes have become some of the most used shapes in my inventory. Though it was a gradual and completely unconscious shift, these days I wear them more often than the shape that i had been wearing and tweaking since I joined SL.

Be sure to swing by Ample Avi's in-world location [Teleport link] to take advantage of the sale before it ends this Sunday. Unfortunately the reduced prices won't be available on Ample Avi's Second Life Marketplace storefront, but it's still a good place to browse what's available. 

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How to Slim Down Your Second Life Avatar's Draw Weight

Second Life avatar draw weight

This is a great tutorial by SL content creator Penny Patton on how to trim a Second Life avatar's Draw Weight. That Linden Lab feature shows you how much effort it takes to render your SL avatar onscreen (green being fast, red being slow), but as Penny notes, it's caused SLers to complain that the range "was unrealistic, that we'd all have to wander around naked to get ourselves down into the green, or even the orange." However, she goes on, "the truth is, the rendering levels displayed by Draw Weight are not unreasonable at all, it's just that content creators are making no effort to produce reasonably optimized content for avatars." (And so, thanks to the Tragedy of the Commons, we have a whole world of slow-ass rendering avatars.)

However, there's some solutions to this, which Penny lists in much detail -- and as you can at right, it's possible to greatly trim down avatar Draw Weight without hardly changing an avatar's appearance. Solutions such as:

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rod Humble's Cults & Daggers Now Available (and Featured!) on Steam - Watch His Playthrough Here!

Cults and Daggers Rod Humble

Rod Humble's ambitious new strategy game Cults & Daggers is available on Steam now, and there's good news for the former Linden Lab CEO who left the company to start his new studio: Valve is now also featuring the game, too. (And good thing, because indie games on the service tend to get lost in the maelstrom of content on Steam otherwise.) Sort of Age of Empires but with religious sects instead of nations, I interviewed Rod about the game last month, who told me how he hopes it provokes people to think about religion:

"This is a game about the religions that did not make it and the people who devoutly believed in them. It takes a view point that individuals make a difference in the trajectory of a belief. My hope is that people of faith and non believers will both enjoy it, there is nothing in here which is likely to offend anyone, but some I hope to provoke thought."

This is ambition on a grand scale. Still not convinced? Watch this playthrough video from Rod himself, who gets deep into the Cults & Dagger details despite a nagging cough:

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Stop and Rewind: The First Episode of Life is Strange is Flawed, but it Still Deserves to Exist

Life is Strange 1  (1)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I went into Life is Strange Episode 1 trying very hard to like it. I knew it wouldn't be perfect; as much as I love Remember Me, developer DONTNOD's previous release, that game still had its problems. Even so, Life is Strange looked different. It promised to take a thread of Remember Me's interesting but underutilized Remixing mechanic and weave it into a more contemporary, more relatable tapestry. Given that the combat was one of the more awkward parts of Remember Me I also wasn't too upset to hear that Life is Strange would be an episodic adventure game, heavily inspired by Gone Home and Telltale Games' recent work. So far, so good.

But after playing episode one, I feel conflicted. While I still admire what DONTNOD is trying to do with this game, its heavy-handed approach risks souring something that could be quite special. Here's why:

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"Just the Right Amount of Weird for Me": Meet Emiliana, Star Second Life Fashion Photographer

One day, a girl named Emiliana was watching TV when a segment on Second Life showed up. "I saw them making fun of it on a show," she remembers, laughing, "and I thought, 'Hey, that's just the right amount of weird for me.' And I love taking pics in real life, always have, so it was only natural I brought that into SL also."

Consequently, she now takes spectacular Second Life images that look like this:

Second Life fashion photo

Emiliana entitles it, of course, Charlie Bob and me defending the universe against the spiders from Mars and about 40 prim cats, and it's simultaneously the geekiest and hippest image I've seen in quite awhile. (Seriously: I live near Silverlake in Los Angeles, a global epicenter of hipster-ness, and hipsters who look exactly like these two are fricking everywhere. Except maybe without white bazookas.)

See much more great SL fashion pics by Emiliana on the blog she co-produces right here. (Iris is a fan too.) Speaking of which, here's how Emi gave this pic its extra luster:

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Five Tips for The Perfect Virtual World Valentine's Day

Marketplace_V-Day_Gifts
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Valentine's Day is almost upon us, and if you're planning on celebrating with that special someone in the SL then there's a good chance that you've already lined everything up for this coming weekend. 

Either that, or you're scrambling.

And I don't blame you. Second Life has its limitations, and those limitations just love to get in the way. Even the best laid plans can be ruined when you realize that perfectly boxed item isn't transferable, or that leisurely drive around the mainland in your mesh convertible will get a little too bumpy whenever you're crossing sims.

Whether you're looking to polish up some existing plans or you're not even sure where to begin, I've got a few simple pointers in mind to help you have an utterly seamless evening with your virtual Valentine. First up:

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

That Time Jon Stewart Gave Second Life the Daily Show Treatment (Without Actually Using Second Life)

Jon Stewart, America's longtime voice of reason, is leaving The Daily Show to pursue a second life, so let's remember that time back in 2008 when Jon Stewart talked about Second Life on The Daily Show:

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Player Creativity is King in Physics-Based Building Game Besiege, Now in Early Access

Zeroharker compact crossbow wagon
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I've got three words for you: DIY Siege Engines. That's the pitch for Besiege, a physics-based medieval destruction sandbox which launched in Steam's Early Access program late last month. Although the game's current version only offers a slice of what will presumably be included in the final release, players are already sharing their own clever, creative constructs like the one above by Besiege player zeroharker.

"I've been working on trying to make the smallest most concealable weapons so far in this," zeroharker wrote in their original post on the Besiege forums. "This latest invention," they continued, "Combines my collapsible crossbow with the siege wagon into a tiny terror."

So what exactly does this unassuming little contraption do? Well, just take a look:

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Take This Quiz to Find Out How Much You Know About the History of Second Life

History of Second Life

Take this quiz by Canary Beck to find out how much you know about the history of Second Life. I only got 82%, even though I actually, you know, wrote a book about the making of Second Life. To prepare for the test, there is, as Canary herself points out, a history of Second Life in Second Life - a year-by-year, first-person, walking tour of the would-be metaverse (made by a guy named Sniper Siemens), which you can visit for a short time by copy/pasting this place in the SL viewer of your choice:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/LEA17/26/237/22

I definitely flaked on at least a couple questions, though in my defense, some others are not strictly accurate or open to interpretation. For instance, here's a hint for one of them from my book, which might (or might not!) totally throw you off in this quiz:

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Kids Don't Want Online Pseudonyms (Comment of the Week)

In last week's excellent conversation over Twitter and the use of online pseudonyms, an academic who plays Second Life under the name Kitty Revolver made this interesting point:

"Most kids today have multiple social media (most media now has some social aspect so...) accounts attached to their real life identities whether formally or informally. It is interesting to note that I find most adults are the ones looking for pseudonyms whereas teens are more willing to put up real info (unless circumstances dictate otherwise). If teens are looking for anonymity it seems largely attached to trolling rather than adopting another hidden identity. While I understand [using one] for things like SL, why would you want to hide? To me that would question people's motives in 'hiding' like the professors and grad students that are venting [on social media]. Once they are found out they have to give up the account."

But hey wait, isn't Kitty Revolver a pseudonym -- so why are you using it? Kitty's reply:

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Want More Clothing Support for Your Favorite Second Life Mesh Bodies? Fill Out This Survey!

Slink Physique HUDJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Mesh bodies and avatar enhancements have been a huge step forward in terms of the way Second Life avatars look, but that advancement hasn't come without a cost. Developing products fitted to all these different add-ons is a time-consuming process for designers, since each individual system will have its own requirements and quirks. And that's not to mention the fact that picking what bodies/enhancements to support involves a fair amount of guess work about their respective popularity. 

That's where SL designer Iki Akiri's survey comes in. Iki currently has a survey open to gauge the level of interest in various mesh bodies so that she can better tailor her releases to them. In her own words:

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Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Ultima-Underworld-The-Stygian-Abyss-3

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Friday, February 06, 2015

SL Fashionista Challenge: Shoot Your Avatar Dressed as a Well-Known Movie Character - Including 3 of My Favorites!

Second Life Movie Avatars

I love Strawberry Singh's latest meme challenge:

Dress up your avatar as a character from a movie. Don’t forget to share the link to your post in the comments and add your pictures to the Blog Memes flickr group.

Pictured above: Strawberry herself, evoking Labyrinth with a David Bowie-esque friend, and this tribute to Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's by Michely Blogger. In fact, since I'm such a cineaste geek, I'll add to this challenge:

Dress your avatar as characters from three of my favorite films: Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, Terence Malick's Days of Heaven, or Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express. Because if you can pull it off, I will totally blog you.

All of those are on Netflix, in case you haven't seen them already, and here's some trailers to get you started:

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Play it This Weekend: Sunless Sea's Full Release Finally Sees the Light of Day

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Lose your mind. Eat your crew. That's the tagline that captured my and many other games writers' imaginations when Failbetter Games' Sunless Sea launched in Early Access on Steam last year. Sunless Sea iterates on the world already thoroughly fleshed out in Fallen London (a popular free-to-play browser game from the same developers) but with a slightly more action-oriented approach to its gameplay. It's a game that tangles you up in its lush descriptions, its unsettling characters, and its stunningly surreal locations, and after several months in beta the full version has just been released. 

I reviewed Sunless Sea when it made its debut, but plenty has changed since then. The timing based combat system it once had has been replaced with a much more active system that will have you carving wide arcs in the Zee to point your cannons at your foes. The Zee itself, static and predefined when I wrote my review, is now a procedurally-generated enigma, dropping carefully designed sections in at random. They've also invited many guest writers including Meg Jayanth of 80 Days fame to fill out the world even more. Sunless Sea wasn't exactly hurting for great writing even in its beta stages, so this only gives me more to look forward to when I replay it.

If you'd like to read a review of the game in its completed state, swing by Eurogamer for Simon Parkin's particularly vivid take. Otherwise you can pick up a copy for yourself on Steam or Humble for both Mac and Windows. Happy sailing!

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Second Life WWII Roleplay Game Set in Nazi-Occupied French Town is Also Great Idea for a Sandbox MMO

Second Life WWII Roleplay

Zoe Connolly pays a multi-part visit to the Secodn Life sim of New Bastogne, which has been created to look like Caen, France in 1944, and is the location for a brilliant roleplay game:

You can play Axis, Allies, or even French citizens (as either collaborators or part of the Resistance). [Above] night falls and battle lines are drawn. The Allies maneuver and hide... waiting for their best opportunity to attack the Nazi occupiers.

The sim runs on the VICE combat system, so this is straight up combat gaming, and I gotta say: This is a great goddamn idea for a sandbox MMO. Second Life is pretty excellent for prototyping game concepts, but I'd love to see a single-shard, massively multiplayer version of New Bastogne running on the latest game engine. Anyway, if you want to visit the city under siege, here's the SLurl to copy/paste into the Second Life viewer of your choice:

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Kickstart This: Underworld Ascendant, Reboot of Groundbreaking Game Which Inspired Numerous Noteworthy Immersive Worlds - Including Second Life

Underworld Ascendant is a new Kickstarter, and it's a reboot of Ultima Underworld, a 1992 PC game that's inspired countless game/virtual world developers. Created by Looking Glass Studio, Ultima Underworld was the progenitor (directly or indirectly) of the Thief franchise, the Deus Ex franchise, the BioShock franchise, Skyrim, Dishonored, Dragon Age, and countless others. (Developers who worked on many of those games are leading development of Underworld Ascendant.) And New World Notes readers will find this particularly interesting: Ultima Underworld even inspired the creation of Second Life.

Yes: As Linden Lab founder and Second Life co-creator Philip Rosedale told me for my book, Ultima Underworld is the game that confirmed to him that his vision of being an avatar in an immersive virtual world was technically feasible:

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The Sims 4's First Expansion Could Be Just What the Sim Doctor Ordered... Or Not

TS4_435_EP01_BOP_03_002
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The first full expansion pack for The Sims 4 was announced yesterday, scheduled for release this April. You could be forgiven for thinking that Get to Work is the game's second expansion after the nature-themed Outdoor Retreat released last month, however that was technically a "Game Pack" and not an expansion -- the equivalent of the neighborhood sets sold in The Sims 3 Store. But that's beside the point.

Opinions on what's been shown from the upcoming expansion seem mixed. On the one hand, it's the first major piece of content for a game that could desperately use more major pieces of content (something I gestured at in my review of the base game for Paste last fall). On the other, it has some uncanny similarities to expansions released for previous Sims titles, serving as an unpleasant reminder of the repetitive, cyclical, money-draining nature of the franchise. 

But The Sims 4 is a bit of a special case, even compared to its predecessors...

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Twitter CEO Basically Admits Pseudonym Policy a Disaster

Twitter pseudonyms

Hey remember when Twitter's CEO said this about running a social network without real names, which we thought seemed super cool?

In a recent open house at the company, CEO Dick Costolo talked about how the service doesn’t really care what your real name is — all it wants to do is connect you to the information that you care about. And if that information happens to come from a “real” person, then so be it; but if it comes from a pseudonym, then that’s fine too

Well, that was four years ago. Since then, the social network's been inundated by vicious trolls, the worst of whom almost always being pseudonymous users without real names or identifying information attached to their accounts. (GamerGate is just one noteworthy example from thousands which choke Twitter's channels everyday.) So here's what Twitter's CEO is saying now:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day... We're going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them... Costolo's comments came in response to a question on an internal forum about a recent story by Lindy West, a frequent target of harassment on Twitter. Among other things, West's tormentors created a Twitter account for her then recently deceased father and made cruel comments about her on the service.

The thing is, Twitter's already tried protecting its users from abuse; but with hundreds of millions of them, it would take a gargantuan work force to stem the tide. Requiring users to register their real name and real details with the service would help with self-policing quite a bit, because then, other users could hold them accountaable... but the company has defined itself against doing that.

And here's the result from a financial perspective:

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