Why Second Life Has So Little Ambient Soundscapes

Voice Meeting

This is an interesting /SecondLife thread on the comparably small market for user-created audio samples, which includes this great analysis from "gothicmuse":

Soundscape is one of the most neglected aspects of environment design in SL. Partly due to platform and scripting limitations and partly because anecdotally many people seem to mute them or to play music and so miss them that way. The main barriers are the falloff distance being very sharp for some sounds - people can't hear them unless they are up close or the volume is set very loud, a persistent bug that prevents sounds from reliable playing for all listeners and the difficulty of making longer loops with enough variation not to sound odd or annoying. Sound becomes a secondary aspect to the design, much like lighting, when your expertise lies elsewhere and you are pretty sure many of your audience will not experience it at all or will experience it badly.

This sounding on sound sounds right. (See what I did there?) Overwhelmingly, the soundscape of Second Life is streaming music and voice chat, neither of which contribute much to immersion (and in fact, tends to mar it).

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Does Second Life Really Have a "Community"?


In the very chatty conversation over Friday's post, "The Second Life Community Should Lead the New Virtual Reality Wave, Not Follow It" sirhc deSantis makes an interesting and provocative point:

These continual references to the 'Second Life Community' rankle me. With my 9th rez day at the end of this year I have yet to stumble over this mythical beast. Been involved in communities (plural) over the years made up of people with shared interests (of many kinds) but never met this all encompassing one.

As the word is mostly used as marketing speak to mean 'people who buy/use our stuff we want to make feel involved in a more or less touchy feely way so they buy/use more stuff and act as an unpaid evangelical force' I may be a trifle jaded.

The only thing users of SL have in common is that they use SL. Does that make it a 'community'? In the same way as a FaceBook 'community'?

Fair couple of closing questions. As I've noted before, less than 30,000 people typically attend Second Life's annual birthday celebration, which leads me to conclude that there are few SLers who have a deep affinity with SL as a unified virtual community, and more who are just interested in going to their favorite nightclub or roleplaying sim or whatever sub-community they're affiliated with.

In a follow-up comment to his post that started my Friday post, Maxwell Graf makes a good defense of the community concept:

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Survey: Women in Second Life Less Private About Their RL Than Men - and Harassed Much More

Online Second Life MMO harassment

"Adam harassing Eve", scene from the upcoming SL movie Paradise Lost

Canary Beck queries the Second Life user community on a variety of topics 

Second Life users often raise concerns about maintaining a separation between their avatar and their real life identity, but an extensive survey of SLers paints a more complex picture. Only a minority of users surveyed take proactive measures to keep their SL and RL separate. And remarkably, while women are much likelier to be harassed or stalked in Second Life (a common trend for online communities), they are also less reticent about sharing some of their real life details in SL.

Here’s some of the key findings from this survey:

  • Only 1 in 4 Second Life users take active steps to protect their real life privacy

  • Women report being harassed and stalked far more than men do in Second Life: 60% versus 44%.

  • Nearly twice as many men 36% reported not being harassed or stalked - only 16% of women reported the same.

  • Young women (between 18-29) are far more likely to be harassed/stalked than any other demographic.

  • For both genders, Second Life-based stalking/harassment has led to phone calls (5% of the time) and even real life confrontations (2% of the time).

Below is a summary report of my Second Life / Real Life identity and privacy survey from August, with nearly 800 respondents completing the online survey.* I’ll publish a full report and commentary on these findings on www.canarybeck.com next week. 

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High Fidelity's Philip Rosedale Believes Virtual Reality Will Make the Internet More Civil - SL Griefing Notwithstanding

Cross Platform VR Oculus Vive

Philip Rosedale recently said something very interesting to Christian Nutt of Gamasutra about his upcoming VR platform, High Fidelity, which is already compatible with users in multiple VR setups, so Oculus Rift and Vive owners (for example) can already interact together in the same metaverse:

Interestingly, Rosedale sees VR as a natural antidote to the current abuse-soaked state of the internet: "The more synchronous, the more real-time you force the interaction to be, the better everyone behaves. In VR, it’s much harder to be a bully or be abusive if you’re doing it face-to-face."

This caught my attention, because it doesn't quite square with my 10-plus years writing about Second Life, Philip's first VR platform, where real time interaction often leads to months-long battles, user-to-user racism, and griefing of all variety. And so I asked Philip about that:

"What makes you confident this will happen?" I asked Philip. "As you know, Second Life has constant griefing and harassment, even though avatars make eye contact, and there's real time voice/interaction. There's several memes about SL griefing ("Ralph pls go") and YouTube video channels devoted to griefing (like this guy). Why do you think the opposite will happen in virtual reality's next generation?"

Philip Rosedale answered this way:

"I have two thoughts here: First, you need to consider the percentage of griefers-to-users, which I believe is much lower in face-to-face environments like SL as compared to places like forums or chat rooms. Said another way, even though there is griefing in SL, people are much nicer overall than they are on something like Reddit or in blog comments."

He then pointed to updates as another path to VR civility:

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Are LSL Scripters Too Powerful in SL's Content Ecosystem?

Second Life Reddit

/secondlife's very interesting "Ask Me Almost Anything" thread from programmer "HisRant" (which I blogged last month) led to an interesting conversation from him and "jaggedpuma", who makes a ranty but substantial case that scripters are too powerful in Second Life:

I think scripters have far too much power over the other kinds of content creators... I have yet to find a LSL scripter who wants to be reasonable about commission splits or they charge in excess of $500 USD for a full perm script which could break after a server update or be remotely disabled at any time by the scripter if he thinks I’m too successful. How many artists have been screwed this way by scripters? Too many I reckon.

Agree, disagree? Whatever you think, he goes on to make a salient point about Project Sansar:

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Linden Lab Quietly Removing Confederate Battle Flag Items from Second Life Marketplace?

Second Life Confederate Battle Flag

Linden Lab still hasn't officially responded to my questions about the sale of the racist Confederate Battle Flag being sold in the Second Life Marketplace, but evidently, seems to be taking action behind the scenes. In the last couple days, searches for "Confederate Battle Flag" in the Marketplace have returned a lot less results for items based on that flag, first popularized in the South to intimidate African-Americans. Some items still exist (see below), but as you can see above, most of the top results from the SL Marketplace search are not related to the battle flag. This is consistent from reports I've received via readers on Twitter, and what Ciaran Laval recently blogged, citing an SL content creator:

According to Linden my items have been removed for “Listings for harmful or disruptive content”. They are just outfits with a flag on the chest or the back. Nothing else. Some of them have been removed for “Post, display, or transmit Content that is obscene, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable”

So now there's a couple more mysteries: To start with, if Linden Lab is enforcing its Community Standards against the battle flag in Second Life, why haven't they officially and public confirmed this as policy? A chance to reaffirm the values Second Life was founded on seems like a serious missed opportunity on several fronts.

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Black Second Life User Shares Real & Virtual Experiences With the Confederate Battle Flag

Confederate Rebel Battle Flag Second Life

"It is good to see someone speak about what the Confederate flag is about, and what I, my family, and other African people have had to live with for many years," wrote SL user "bellahyae", commenting in Tuesday's post on that flag's sale in Second Life's official store, reflecting an opinion similar to that shared by many African-Americans for many years, but largely ignored until last month's atrocity

"I wish people knew how much it hurt to see the flag on TV and in places which are supposed to represent everyone in a fair manner, like court houses. I have been to places in Second Life which had the flag up." She continues: 

"We always knew what it meant. That we and others with our color are not wanted around that area. It is like putting up a 'Caucasian only' sign. I have a lot of bad memories with that flag. Like walking past homes of people who have them proudly displayed in front of their homes... while at the same time, the mean stares we got just for walking by their home. People looking at us and then spitting. Being called the N word for no reason and often out of the blue."

"Bellahyae" goes on: "I do not know its full history, but for people of my color, that flag always means one thing: You're not welcome here. With a feeling that your existence is looked down on, and the threat that they would love to have us swinging from trees by our necks again."

A number of New World Notes readers have defended the continued sale of the flag in the SL Marketplace, and she had a comment on that as well:

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Racist Confederate Flag Items Openly Sold in Second Life

Second Life Confederate Flag Marketplace

Since last week's murderous terrorist attack in Charleston by racist suspect Dylann Storm Roof, a number of corporations are finally addressing the sale of the Confederate Battle Flag, argued to be a symbol of regional pride by many of the flag's supporters, but in historical fact, created and popularized by racists as a symbol of white supremacy. Unsurprisingly, Amazon, eBay, Sears, and Walmart recently announced plans to discontinue its sale.

In Linden Lab's official Second Life Marketplace, however, virtual versions of the flag like the bikini above are still widely available. (A Google search reveals about a dozen SL Marketplace listings of the flag.) This despite the fact that Second Life's own official Community Standards prohibit public displays of intolerance in SL:

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What Happened to the Arab Community in Second Life?

Arab Community in Second Life

A reader named "MH" stopped by last Friday's open forum to ask an interesting if concerning question:

Were are the Arab Sims? After 4 years i have returned to SL to find the entire Arab community gone! What happened to Arab World & Kuwait City and the other 100 region estates? What happened to the 50,000 active daily people in those regions? Kuwait city once had the highest traffic on the grid at 190,000 per day..What happened?

If by "Kuwait City" he means this sim, it's indeed gone. Not speaking Arabic, I can't speak directly to MH's question, though NWN's top 50 sim chart used to fairly regularly include one or two Arab-themed sims, and now none are extant. Arab language speakers reading NWN, any ideas?

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WordPress' DMCA Takedown of Second Life Images Exposes Thorny, Ambiguous Issues Around Virtual IP

Wordpress Second Life content DMCA

Since blogging about WordPress removing a Second Life screenshot due to a DMCA claim yesterday, the original story as reported by Canary Beck has been deluged with dozens of comments, many by the person who filed the DMCA. A lot of them are fairly angry and uncivil, and illustrate a point which made me hesitate to even mention Canary's post in the first place: There's a tremendous amount of confusion and ambiguity around virtual IP rights, and just as much anger.

For instance, while Caitlin Tobias writes:

In this case, despite all the things that could have done better by the blogger and the creator, DMCA is abused to get pictures offline for the wrong reason. DMCA is to protect content creators, to protect intellectual property. It is not meant to be used to get pictures/images offline just because: you do not like them. No stealing happened in this case, no copyright infringement happened either.

... I'm not even sure this is actually the case, legally speaking. Since the Second Life content (in this case, a robot arm) is actually a 3D model, I believe it can be copyrighted. At the same time, that runs counter to how we deal with the real world analog. If I take a real photo of a real robot arm made by Toyota, I don't have to ask Toyota's permission. Then again, like most everyone on the Internet: IANAL. Then yet again, even the EFF's actual lawyer says Second Life copyright issues are "In some ways worse" than real life, and full of "gray interesting mysteries".

And as it turns out, the SL creator who filed the DMCA claim against the blogger claims that she has received them herself, from major companies:

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