Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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Why Katharine Quit: Teen Second Life's prodigy explains exit from Teen Second Life

Katharine_berryLast July, an unassuming British girl named Katharine Berry created AjaxLife, Second Life's first Web-based viewer, beating several real world companies (as here and here) to that goal by many months.  Her offhand innovation was widely blogged (as here, on Boing Boing), and it's not an exaggeration to say that what Katharine created substantially changed the entire Internet industry's perspective of Second Life as an online world, and a business.  (My reasons for saying so here.)  For all the Lindens' efforts back then, it was not chiefly them, but this 15 year old member of Teen Second Life, who kept the world relevant.  (At a time when so many were apt to dismiss it, no less.)  It's not surprising, then, that the Lindens recently flew her to San Francisco to attend a user feedback session, and also presented her with an Innovation Award honorable mention.

What is surprising, perhaps, is what Katharine Berry just announced on her blog:  she's leaving Teen Second Life.  Work on AjaxLife will continue, but she'll no longer be part of the world her software provides access to.  "Linden Lab continues to neglect the Teen Grid," she wrote there, listing her reasons, "[and] I actually can’t afford the extra 17.5% due to VAT."  (With no advance warning via anonymous e-mail, the Lindens recently imposed the EU's Value Added Tax on European Residents, sending economic and cultural shockwaves through the entire Second Life community.)

Her announcement was so surprising, the loss of her presence so staggering, I contacted Katharine to explain further.  She replied in detail with a set of reasons that might also explain another mystery: the unbelievably low population of Teen Second Life, while other teen-centric online worlds are so huge.

"Since the list of problems probably makes little sense outside the Teen grid," Katharine Berry began, "I shall expand slightly on my points. With screenshots, because I like those."  Katharine's illustrated essay (lightly edited by me) followed:

Signup impossible

When I say "impossible," I should say "Impossible for anyone outside the United States or Canada who happens to have an appropriate phone."

Tgsignup

As shown by the above screenshot, the only usable verification method is "Mobile Phone." If you don't live in the US, there are no mobile providers. As such, signup is impossible for the vast majority of people. This has been the case for months, and should really be fixed.

Upgrading to Premium impossible

I (and judging by reports, nobody else) can't upgrade to Premium, and have been unable to for several weeks. If you use their website to do so, you get a blank page. If you try to force it in-world by buying land, you get this screen:

Landfailure

I'd imagine the TG is even less profitable if they disable most new accounts, and disable upgrading to premium for existing accounts or successfully created accounts.

No website update in two years

Take a look at teen.secondlife.com. Then take a look at a copy from February 2006. It's actually unchanged since 2005 (I think), but the Internet Archive refuses to show things properly before that date. In that time, as I'm sure you're aware, the main SL website has been updated repeatedly.

No MapAPI

This point is fairly nicely illustrated by SLurl. Visit this one. Notice you don't get any pictures. That's a longstanding issue that many of us would like fixed.

Other Complaints

Forum PMs/Profiles - never been enabled, despite them being handed a patch to enable it a while back (meaning 2005.)

BBCode - I know this affects the MG too, but we'd really like it turned on. Please?

"Summer Party" - all concierge members on the TG were sent invitations, but (of course) couldn't go. Some more care in their mailings, or actually holding a party on the TG, would be nice.

I'm sure there are others, but I can't think of them now.

What it would take to bring me back

So, what I want is for Linden Lab to fix any two of the following: MapAPI, website, signup, forum profiles or erroneous event invites. Or just merge the grids.

Or simply pay more attention to us-- in some obvious way.

- Katharine

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Alanagh Recreant

Well done! I am really impressed that Katherine (1) is such an inbelievable innovator and (2) stands up for what she believes is right! I applaud your guts...

Katharine Berry

Oops. "I (and judging by reports, nobody else) can upgrade to Premium" should really read "I (and judging by reports, nobody else) can't upgrade to Premium."

Pretty big difference there. Sorry!

Also, they never gave me an innovation award - they almost did, but then realised that I didn't qualify for one, and thus didn't. Can't complain, given that I hadn't done anything to the LL client code.

Hamlet Au

Thanks, KB, I tweaked "award" to "honorable mention" and corrected the typo.

Dobre Vanbrugh

I have to agree with the problems mentioned. We are currently in a project that involves the Teen Grid, where Dutch teen students have to access the TG for an educational simulation project. We had the same problem with the sign up, LL pointed out that we should have used the RegApi for this. Which is quite ridiculous to my idea, kids should just be able to sign up for the TG!

Pavig Lok

Award or not, Katherine will be remembered as the teenager who created their own secondlife client before the major companies and their giant budgets and crack teams got anything much out the door. As the flood of new SL clients begins to go live she will be remembered as one of the first. I know this commands a huge ammount of respect from folk I've talked to at IBM, ESC and so on who make their living out of working on sl connectivity. Rest assured Mis Berry's work has been an inspiration even to professional developers with many years of experience under their belt. I am sure she will continue to go on astounding folk with her brilliance.

It is sad to hear of the poor state of the teen grid. Due to the required but unfortunate apartheid which stops our major whistleblowers from attending, it seems the teen grid has stagnated. This is a pity as it creates barriers for SecondLife's adoption by education, and treats our teens as second class citizens. Mis Berry is living proof that our younger generation are the innovators of tomorrow, and deserve as much attention and respect as those on the mainstream grid.

I am sad to see Mis Berry leave secondlife, but I respect her decision to do so. I think I speak for many of us when I wish her well in whatever she does in future, and am sure that her impressive hard won talents will not go to waste.

Atlwolf Blabbermouth

Why would any teen in their right mind go to the teen grid? it requires more work and has no content. The main grid is probably 50% underage. Don't be fooled. Teens are all over Secondlife, I kick them constantly from my mature themed tavern.

Katharine Berry

Because some (about four thousand, apparently) teens have some vague sense that breaking the rules is a bad idea. I also have little desire to be banned.

Just because the vast majority of people are dishonest and such, doesn't mean everyone has to be.

Viajero Pugilist

I'm just amazed how such obvious and glaring problems persist for sooo long. The Teen Grid's problems affects the Main Grid, too.

There are apparently so many reasonable points as to why the Teen Grid sucks, most of them fairly quick fixes listed in the earlier NWN story: http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2007/07/open-forum-wh-1.html

Lindens, why don't you pay attention to those points, as well as Katherine B's prescient critique, and immediately do some radical and decisive surgery??

Personally I'm dismayed that there are so many teens on the Main Grid. It's also irresponsible of LL to enable/tolerate this on the scale on the scale that it is (although Atlwolf's estimate of 50% is complete crap).

I do believe that ramping up the other grid and allowing it to become more compelling with the no-brainer fixes that have been provided is a big part of the solution. Hello, Lindens?

Why not be bold and hire Katherine Berry to get the job done? I'm sure it would be a big win for everyone. Hell, she could probably do half the fixes in a weekend ;)

And, as "Laetizia Coronet" pointed out in the earlier article, change the damn name. "Teen Grid" is completely dorky and a contributing reason to the low numbers.

Blue Linden

As when any resident chooses to leave SL, Linden Lab hopes they will return in the future with the expectation that the evolving platform and ever-changing nature of the community will once again provide value to them in a significant way.

Katharine is regularly credited for Ajax Life - certainly something cool and groundbreaking - but is also notable as a frequent and dynamic contributor to TSL and an excellent forum moderator. One who's efforts and attention to detail meant that I was regularly in her debt for keeping things civil.

To Katharine's points...

1) Guilty. TSL registration is currently limited to SMS-enabled cell phones, which are limited to the 3 major North American carriers. There is a fix currently in the works.

2) Premium upgrade is not impossible as stated. Premium signups in October were down by just 3 over previous months. However, Kat was the first to mention a problem and I was able to confirm that premium upgrades via the My Account page on the site fails a percentage of the time (I was able to successfully upgrade a test account after 1 failed try). This bug is now currently in triage.

3) Changes have been made regularly to keep the information available on the TSL site current. Cosmetically the TSL site hasn't had a significant update it's true, but to be fair the TSL website was never meant to duplicate the functionality of the SL site or require the same resources to maintain. I do agree, however, that the site could use an aesthetic face lift.

4) Guilty. LL's limited resources have never been allocated to teen mapAPI.

5a) Forum PMs/profile are intentionally disabled, this is not a bug.

5b) BBcode. As Kat indicates, this is not a TSL-specific issue.

5c) There WAS a summer party for teens. ;p


I think that it's easy to pick on TSL for a few reasons, and there is a certain amount of bashing from teens and adults alike. But it's fair to mention that at one point minors were not allowed in SL at all. LL knew that teens had important contributions to make so it invested the time and resources to create a space for them, and will continue to look for ways to more broadly involve teens in SL. The results of this thinking can be seen clearly in the excellence and innovation provided by teens such as Katharine.

Blue Linden

Ooops, the above post responding to Kat's TSL issues is mine. Sorry for any confusion!

- Blue

Hamlet Au

Thanks, Blue, I added your name to the post.

Katharine Berry

I can't claim to be entirely convinced... using the same numbering:

2) Okay then, I'll say "Premium upgrade is difficult" - I'd made at least ten attempts on the website and three in-world before giving up, and I know I wasn't the only one having problems. Admittedly I didn't report this through official channels (i.e. JIRA), so I can't really complain much here.

3) What, may I ask, is the purpose of the TSL website? It provides nothing the other site does not, and hasn't even had the front-page image changed (which was originally happening every month or so). It also makes (currently) inaccurate statements about your ability to sign up if you aren't in the U.S. - i.e. implying you can.

5a) I'm aware that profiles/PMs are intentionally disabled. I'm also aware that you were sent a patch in 2005 that would keep MG and TG profiles separate, thus removing any obvious need to keep at least the PMs disabled.

5c) Was this the pirate party that I couldn't get to because you had me on a plane at the time? :p

Additionally, if it was, then the email was still useless to us - everyone was invited.

"LL knew that teens had important contributions to make so it invested the time and resources to create a space for them" - which would be all very well, if you hadn't made it impossible for said teens to make any contributions reaching beyond the bounds of said space. E.g. we have no access to the (majority of) office hours and no triages. You have collaborative efforts in conjunction with the Residents, whilst making it impossible for us to get to them.

As it stands, our contribution comes to a dent in your accounting and someone writing an article in your newsletter whenever someone happens to feel like publishing it.

Sorry to sound ungrateful - but, as it stands, the "teens had important contributions to make" idea doesn't work, because we still can't make contributions except by bypassing Second Life - this arguably defeats the point.

Katharine Berry

Oh, and by "first to mention a problem," I assume you're excluding this person. (TG forum - sorry everyone else)

Given that I suspect the vast majority of TGers (perhaps not active TGers, however...) have no forum access, this is not a representative sample.

On that topic, I would also like to complain about the total absence of TG stats. You say there were 40 upgrades to premium in October. Since we can't even see total residents, let alone anything more detailed (excluding, oddly, the number of active accounts - this is made available in the "key metrics" every month), how are we supposed to know this?

I'm adding that to my list of issues.

Viajero Pugilist

Both grids could be even more amazing, and used, if LL focuses and acts on these valid inputs and pointed criticism from frustrated users. My nephew had the same problems described above, and he's just another who has gone elsewhere.

My own comment here was harsh, though not meant to bash. It's all in the context of the magic opportunity that LL affords us, one that I'm completely grateful for.

Blue and other Lindens have created a most amazing space which is head-and-shoulders above the passive, Disney-esque competition in virtual worlds. It's time to tweak, though.

Meatwad Extraordinaire

Your stay on the TG has been the most productive period of time seen so far and your infinite knowledge of the inner-workings of pretty much everything is truly appreciated by everyone that knows you. Hopefully, either LL will get its act together or you will decide that you'd like to come back when you turn 18. I'll be waiting. :)

Mariel Voyunicef

Because you guys love numbers :p...

"i)I think that it's easy to pick on TSL for a few reasons, and there is a certain amount of bashing from teens and adults alike. ii)But it's fair to mention that at one point minors were not allowed in SL at all. LL knew that teens had important contributions to make so it invested the time and resources to create a space for them, and will continue to look for ways to more broadly involve teens in SL. iii)The results of this thinking can be seen clearly in the excellence and innovation provided by teens such as Katharine."

I know the overall effect of my humongous comment will be of harshness, but the truth is that's not my intention - I just want to propose the opposite side to see if, somehow, this will have a productive ending.

i) Agreed. It's part of people's nature to bash. Still, we have to admit that this bashing is not entirely baseless in many occasions.
If we try to put our perspectives of LL+SL on the same level, I think we can simply look at SL as a service that is intended to be LL's means to achieve something. Quoting from http://lindenlab.com/about, "To connect us all to an online world that [1]advances the human condition."

[1] Excuse me if "advances the human condition" has been defined by LL elsewhere, but I never found it. I agree that you are not there to reinvent philosophy, but, given the lack of objectivity, I have something to say: just as you are advancing the human condition, you are committing the same mistakes that many ethicists our laws are supposedly based on condemn. I can see why you wouldn't care about their/my opinion, but there's room for comments like this when people step into ethics.


ii. And I thank you for the fact that you guys decided to think of us. I really do.
At the same time, though, you guys provide a service - and you can't deny the fact that having a space for teens will give you opportunities, if not to advance humanity (which can't be discussed further until we all know what 'advance humanity' means for you), to earn more money in the future.

It is clear that the TG is economically irrelevant to you at the moment, but, then again - where are most quasi economically irrelevant users from if you leave proportions aside? I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that people who are currently on the TG in the process of establishing a business will be the ones to become the next Anshe Chung. Plus it is not like having space for "teen educators" (which is subject to a different discussion, I guess) does not give you more opportunities, or that you have one more legal justification if someone decides to make fuzz about one of us watching porn on the MG. I wouldn't know the outcome if we put the benefits and the efforts on a balance, but, even if there is a lot of room for good will (and many of you, Lindens, have proved to us that it's not all about the money), LL is not a non-profit. Therefore, maintaining the welfare of the TG is not a matter of good will only, but also one of business. And, if this business doesn't benefit you at all (and I don't mean economically only), then I don't see why the TG, neglected or not, is still up in the first place.


iii. I'm sorry, but I second Kath here. "Sorry to sound ungrateful - but, as it stands, the "teens had important contributions to make" idea doesn't work, because we still can't make contributions except by bypassing Second Life - this arguably defeats the point."

In summary (and to avoid the tedious reading for the ones who're not interested at all), I'm grateful for what LL has done for teenagers, but it's not valid to say the TG is the product of acts of selfless good will. I look forward to seeing this company achieve its goals more consistently, as I consider that it's also giving many others opportunities, but revising the way things are going is good from time to time. :)

(SOOORRYYYY for the humongous post, btw).

Zee Pixel

As an adult resident of the main grid with two teenager boys on the teen grid, I have been sorely disappointed with their experiences there. While my wife and I have been able to encourage them on occasion to experiment with building and scripting, they have not been able to maintain interest due to several issues as they've explained to me:

1) Nothing to do except combat.

2) Tired of childish teen griefers in training that make it impossible to do anything in the sandbox spaces. (I've told them it doesn't get much better on the adult grid, but that doesn't really cheer them up)

3) General displeasure that we made them sign up for the teen grid when their other friends who are on lied about their ages and joined the main grid.

4) And the most common feedback "the teen grid is boring and nobody has any money there".

It makes me sad because we had some real excitement going and apparently there just isn't enough going on there to keep them engaged. It's to the point where I've contemplated many a time just saying to hell with it and let them make new accounts on the adult grid, and letting them build on our land but keep holding out that some kind of miracle will happen on the TG. Sigh... I can't believe that we're the only RL family in SL struggling with this.

Zee

Katharine Berry

It's worth noting that Linden Lab have just fixed registration (it still throws an error, but works anyway. Strange, but true). They're also holding a TG Town Hall on Tuesday. Woo!

Crissa

It's kinda funny.

All of these problems are legal ones, not LL ones. Or perhaps you should lead into what happens when you make a service with user created content in the US.

They're not allowed to record information from people 13 or younger. They're not allowed to take money from people under 18. They're not allowed to let people over 18 interact with people under 18, if any sort of measure exists in the game to note that.

It's just a mess. And none of it is LL's fault.

Nor is the VAT LL's fault.

They could pretend that none of those restrictions exist... And let the teen grid thrive, and threaten the existence of the rest of the grid.

Or they can let it languish. Which they do.

Mariel Voyunicef

"They're not allowed to take money from people under 18." I will give you the benefit of my ignorance this time, but, if they can't take money from people under 18, then why do monetary transactions take place on the TG? The fact that they are symbolic doesn't mean they don't exist.

Also, is letting adults buy sims without any requirements outside the name of an educational institution and a background check a legal problem? As far as I know, service providers can set their own rules as long as they are not violating the law in the US.

Otherwise, I agree with you on the VAT (though it could have been handled in a better way) and the other age-related legal problems.

Katharine Berry

If they can't take money from us, why do they let us pay them for tier/land/premium accounts?

If the answer involves parents/guardians or such, the point is irrelevant - they still get money, so that doesn't count. I wasn't blaming them for VAT, I was noting I couldn't pay it. There is a general absence of people under 13, and signing up for the TG requires OUR (not our parents') name, address, phone number, etc.

I have never seen anything else that segregates based on age without clearly defined reason (hey, doesn't "PG" count for anything?), but I'm quite happy to accept that this is a legal requirement. I fail to see your point at all.

There is no legal requirement to leave the TG behind - there are, however, valid time and money-related reasons. That doesn't mean I have to like their existence, however - even though I'm aware that there's no easy solution. At least registration is possible now.

Smiley Barry

It's truly sad that Kathy is leaving, and I agree with the issues. I do have some temporary problem fixings, though:

1) BBcode: There is a BBcode Greasemonkey script to fix that, built by Strife Onizuka. It can be found here. Works pretty awesome, hehe.

2) Separate Grids: My recently created project, DuoGrid, deals with those issues. It hosts a database of legally shared Assets, soon including automated scripts and LibSL bots to recreate (again, done with creator's consent) objects too. Visit it at www.DuoGrid.com, and see one example for a shared asset here. Another feature is "Optimized Websites", making M-rated Second Life websites "TG-13", so teen grid Residents could sign up and use it. The first one is SL Talk, but due to bugs i'll soon close it down and recreate it entirely different.

3) Out-of-date website: This sparked me the idea of creating an unofficial website, although i'm not so good with HTML design. I'll give it a shot though.

Sabine

This is soo cool to be in Second life:)

Alister Harrington

Hi. I'm another resident on the teen grid, and I mirror most of Kath's complaints about the grid. It is pretty cool that they apparently received enough of a kick up the butt to repair registration and hold a town hall, but the land market and grid growth is still stagnant. We do need separate treatment from the main grid, maybe an actual set limit on the amount of money land can be traded for as a fixed maximum price per square meter that changes with the exchange rate, or simply a large flood of First Land or standard land in general. With the LindeX limits, a large enough flood would prevent barons from buying all of it, and give everybody a chance.

The main grid must be hauling in more than enough money to give the TG a comparitive flood of land.


--
Alister

Takura Thielt

Just saying but... If she quit SL then why is it that she last logged in on Febuary 5th, 2008?

kyo_hellmann

ok look.

as a teen on TG i have some complaints.

1.although many people talk about how great our *teen ideas are* our tech is nowhere near as good as MG is.

2.most things online, like Xstreet, are only available to MG.

3. Every grid merge group on our grid is completely ignored by the lindens.

4. can anybody really see the harm in teens going MG? other than the sex crud....

5.MG has a grid devoted to NARUTO!!!! as an anime fanatic, i would have to say that its a kid show.....so why only MG???

6. in order for us to get somebody banned for hacking... we actually had to send 40 REPORTS....40!!

Alister Harrington

Also, I know I'm bumping a 3 year old comment thread to say this, but I have one last thing to add:


- Blue. I know I've transferred, but if there's one thing I know as a fact about the TG it's that without Blue there may as well be no TG. :p

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