If you suddenly see a metal robot with a suspicious resemblance to Bender from Futurama, it's probably not a camping bot-- just an automated census taker, quietly gathering names, and compiling them into a database. The bot is an alt account of Adz Childs, proprietor of SLNameWatch, a site which does exactly that. Reading his list of top surnames in Second Life suggests all kinds of social analysis. Why is Allen far and away the most popular, currently with 154,317 active users holding that last name? How about the name Oh, a distant second with 96,164, or Beck at third with 95,952? (A high degree of Asia-philes and fans of the surreal Scientologist popstar?) The high number of Residents named GossipGirl (83,841) confirms the popularity of the themed area promoting the popular TV show, while the excess of Writers (70,205) implies a strong presence of creative types.
To gather these names, Childs' bot logs into Second Life, does a surname search, collecting 101 names every few seconds, then dumps these to the SLNameWatch server. (A more detailed technical explanation after the break.) Through this process, he tells me, "I can verify that the [number of]registered users number on Second Life's economic stats page is accurate, at least within 96%... I know because I have counted nearly every one of them!" Through this process, Adz Childs also has a plausible explanation for the number of strange first names you may have noticed recently, with numbers and odd use of capital letters. I assumed people were just recreating their AIM/MSN Instant Message names, but Childs has another theory:
"Linden Lab suspended name rotation from January 2007 to about a month after I created this website in June 2007," he explains. "This led to some major headaches for new users trying to create an SL account. By way of illustration, on July 7th, after I created the website but before the first rotation [of names], each of the 315 available last names had an average of 13,974 avatars registered under them! The least-used available last name had 2,413 active users. This was an astonishing number, since it did not include accounts which had been terminated whose names were no longer available for new users. This explained in black and white why it was so very difficult to find a first name that hadn't been used for every available last name, already. During this time, many new users increasingly resorted to using misspelled or gibberish first names, or introducing numbers to their first names."
Those are the findings that interested me most in Adz's extensive e-mail, but SL demographers and open source developers are sure to get more out of it, so I've included the rest of it below, but lightly edited:
Additional Trend Observations:
[A]fter I created this site, Linden Lab began rotating the available last names on a more frequent basis. There were no rotations in the six months prior to the site, and there have been three in the six months following the creation of the site. Beyond that, the only pattern I've been able to glean about name rotation policy is a rather loose one -- they seem to release new names whenever the average number of agents per active last name reaches about 2500. I base this observation on only two data points, though, and from memory. It is just something I have been watching.
Another observation is that, at the time of the rotation, they retire only some of the names that were available in the last round. That is, they retire any last names that have more than a certain number of registrants at the time the last name selection is updated. I believe this number to be about 2000. Any last names with less registrants than that stay in place until the next rotation. Apparently, to new users, these last names are apparently less desirable than others. Examples include Tendandes, Olchowy, and Kangjon. I make no judgments about the quality of these names, and mean no offense to the 2,870 users who chose them so far.
One thing is clear, decisions about name retirement do not depend on "days active". Rather, LL retires names after fair number of people have registered under them.
Currently, the most-used available last name is "Aeon", with 35,995 avatars registered under it. For some reason, last names that start with "A" are significantly more popular than others. Consider "Aabye" with 66,862 avatars registered under it. This may simply be because the names appear in
alphabetical order on the Join Now page; the default name is one that starts with an "A".
Finally, there is a surprising proportion of accounts that never appear in the people search, or disappear from the search before I have a chance to count them. I recently did some research for someone wondering why a certain first name was unavailable for all last names. She was perplexed because a name she wanted was coming up as "unavailable" during registration for particular last names, but this first name-last name combination clearly did not appear in in-world people search. I explained the most likely cause: someone registered that name but never made it into the game, or is no longer in SL. The alarming part was that the person who snagged the name disappeared before my website had an opportunity to count them. This means they created the account and were terminated within 8 days!
There are 465 available last names. All of them have been available for at least 58 days. Due to the very high avatar creation rate, it is safe to assume that someone has attempted to create an avatar with an extremely common first name, such as "Mike", in upper or lower case letters, for each of these names. Therefore, if "mike Trenkins" appears in my database, this means they were in SecondLife for at least a few moments, probably longer. If they do not appear in my database, this means they disappeared from SL less than 8 days after being created! Here is a breakdown:
Of the 465 available last names, 160, or 34%, of new avatars with the first name "mike" never appeared in people search, or disappeared within 8 days of being created. Five, or 1%, of new avatars with the first name "mike" were terminated 9 to 90 days after being created. 300, or 65%, of new avatars with the first name "mike" entered the game and still appear in the search.
How it Works
Last names currently available for new accounts are collected once an hour through a PHP script that extracts information from secondlife.com's Join Now page. Any changes to the available names are detected within one hour.
As for the "usage counts" for each last name, I use a bot created with the help of the libsecondlife library. I created the bot using the language C#. It was my first experience with C#, and I relied heavily on the examples provided by the libsecondlife contributers. Many thanks goes to them. The bot runs under mono on an kubuntu Linux pc in my home.
The bot logs in as one of my alts... While in world, the bot mimics the operation of the People tab of the Search window, searching for all people with a given last name. It receives 101 results at a time, and waits a few seconds before requesting each next page of results. I feel this matches the pace a human would use to do the same search. It dumps these search results into a text file, and later uploads it to an FTP repository on the slnamewatch.com web server. The bot then restarts the process for another last name. A PHP script on the web server keeps track of what last names are most in need of counting or re-counting.
Several times an hour, another PHP script on the web server checks the repository, and reconciles the lists of people having each last name against what it already knows. The usage count for each last name is updated as a result of this process.
The bot also has a "first name mode", which enables it to discover last names that were retired before I started the site. Instead of searching for people with a certain last name, it searches for people with a certain first name, and the website checks if this resulted in any last names it hasn't heard of yet.