Tyche Shepherd's Grid Survey site has become more invaluable than it already was, now that Linden Lab has decided to no longer publish Second Life economic stats. Along with Louis Platini's Metaverse Business, where I get my monthly most popular SL sims data, Grid Survey (and Tyche's Twitter feed) is where I first turn to find out how the SL economy is doing. I'm not her only fan: Her data has been praised to me by top Linden Lab staffers past and present as being pretty much on the nose. So in yet another rich irony of user-generated content, the best place to learn about Second Life is not Linden Lab itself, but someone who goes by the name Tyche, and in real life, is (she tells me) a senior statistician for a renowned multinational corporation who tracks the health of another corporation's lead product for fun.
But how does she collect the data, and why does she do it? Read my Q&A with Ms. Shepherd after the break.
Why she started Grid Survey
[T]here was no real plan to do so, it just evolved... [While working on a land development project] I realized I could track the coming and goings of regions over time. The land development project is long dead but Grid Survey grew, first with my weekly reports on SLUniverse, then the development of more sophisticated survey bots and the website to house this data, finally branching out to collect other SL statistics such as concurrency rates, Lindex Prices, Economic metrics and Incident reports (the latter two now no longer published by the Lab).
What motivates her to keep doing it
Probably because it's something I'm good at and I get some recognition for what I do. My first year in Second Life (I joined early 2007) was very much as a consumer, I learnt how to throw some prims together and apply a simple texture and I was a little more proficient at scripting, but I soon realised I probably didn't have the aptitude to be a significant Second Life creator, so Grid Survey has become my contribution to the Second Life community as a whole... The data collection now fills enough of my spare time, though I regret not having enough time nowadays to properly analyse the data I collect. By making it freely available, I have to leave much of the insight and analysis to others.
Her real life background with data
Does it show? Well, I suppose for someone to have such a geeky hobby, it probably follows that they do something similar outside Second Life. My background is in commercial statistical analysis, which I've been doing for many years. Currently I'm the senior statistician of a small but very well-known multinational corporation, working as part of a global strategy and insight team. Estimating Linden Lab's monthly private estate tier is bread and butter to me, and counting Second Life regions I can do in my sleep (mainly because I leave that to my survey bots).
Why she doesn't charge Linden Dollars for her data
I originally thought about how I could make money from this, but quickly rejected the idea. Having paying customers (if any could be found) introduces a level of commitment that I wasn't sure I could give when starting out, and having a commercial interest in the data I was publishing can sometimes be seen by others as a conflict of interest, especially when some of this data is only available through the good will of many land owners who allow my bots to have brief but regular access to their land. This is a hobby for me, not a business, and so I made a conscious decision to provide free access (I don't even have advertising on my site) to the data I collect and the insight I publish, through the website, SLUniverse, and via an API which can be used in world as well as outside.
But [analyzing data is]... not what drew me to Second Life in the first place, I think that's more down to my natural curiosity. I still remember my first day in Second Life flying (yes I'm flying ...) that feeling of freedom as I flew over this vast world, not knowing where I was or what it was for, just blown away by the openness and what seem like unlimited potential. I still get that feeling every now and then nearly 5 years later. I'm sure I'd still be here in SL even if I'd never started Grid Survey.