Friday, January 31, 2020

Top Stories of The 2010s, Part Four

By Bixyl Shuftan

This is the fourth of our series of some of the top stories of the 2010s. For part one, Click Here. For part two, Click Here. For part three, Click Here.

The Content Creation Terms of Service Controversy

When content creators build things on Second Life, they allow Linden Lab a certain amount of control over their goods. Some is necessary as glitches on the Grid can easily mess up products and it takes the Lab to be able to manipulate the content to be able to fix it. There's also that when trying to market Second Life, the Lab will use pictures of the content others have made (as do online newsletters covering the virtual world). And for years, of people's creations inworld, the Lab had "rights to use it in Second Life and not much more," which practically everyone thought was reasonable, if not desirable.

Then in September 2013, word began going around about a certain change in Second Life's Terms of Service.

[..]you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service.[..] 

To many, this looked like a power grab by Linden Lab, saying it reserved the right to take people's hard-made content and sell it without contacting the maker in any fashion. Some accused the Lab of acting out of greed. Others felt the Lab was unlikely to just up and sell people's intellectual property outside Second Life, but these poorly-written terms ought to be changed as soon as possible to stop the loss of confidence of content creators. Still others called it an act of stupidity, "Other companies manage to sell digital merchandise without making the artist surrender their rights to their creations - the only thing they actually own. If LL cannot accomplish the same thing, then not only do they forfeit the right to claim to be a visionary tech business, but they will forfeit the right to be in business at all." Aeonix Aeon (Will Burns) speculated this was likely a long-term "exit strategy" by the Lab for the day they no longer felt Second Life would be profitable, selling what they could of the users content after closing the Grid.  He compared it to the owners of a warehouse where publishers go to store their books claiming equal rights to the contents. The slogan "Your World, Your Imagination" he felt no longer accurately applied to Second Life.

The Lab's initial response was to issue a long and wordy statement, saying their intention was to "unify the existing terms of service for our various products into a single version." They would go on to say they respected the rights of content creators expressing their "regret that our intention in revising our Terms of Service to streamline our business may have been misconstrued by some as an attempt to appropriate Second Life residents’ original content." But there was no change in the terms of service.

People in and out of Second Life would respond in various ways. CGTextures, a website for 3D artists, would state it was no longer allowing it's content to be used for Second Life goods, "The new Second Life ToS is simply incompatible with our own Terms of Use." They stated they contacted Linden Lab, and got only "nameless, canned replies … Apparently they don't care about this problem, so we don't see how we can come to a solution." Bryn Oh and other exhibitors resigned from the Linden Endowments of the Arts' committee, "As it stands now I don't feel comfortable luring artists into creating content for Linden Labs who can pretty much do whatever they want with it."

Tuna Oddfellow and Shava Suntzu responded by closing down their Odd Ball performances in Second Life, "Dear Linden Lab -- it's been a nice eight years, but you just broke the social contract with me as a creator in Second Life BIG TIME." Shava expressed her fear that should Linden Lab go bankrupt, that the intellectual property of it's users, such as the builds and images used in the Odd Ball, would end up taken away by it's creditors. They would take their show to the second-largest virtual world, Inworldz, for a time. Qarl Fizz, the former Qarl Linden, announced in his blog that he had deleted his sim, citing Linden Lab's new Terms of Service in regards to content creators, "i can imagine nothing more despicable. truly, you have become the most craven of the internet low life. i can hardly imagine where you might go from here - nigerian scam spams to your users, perhaps?" I myself would comment between the Lab trying to shut down third-party Linden exchangers a few months before and now this move, it was continuing to erode the trust of it's customers.

One of the more important responses was the formation of the "United Content Creators of SL" group, led by Kylie Sabra (Kylie Angel Skyborne) on Sept 29. It would hold a legal discussion in mid-October. Among the things brought up was a seldom-mentioned part of the ToS change, that the Lab could sue a third party in someone's name and act as the person's attorney. Linden Lab's actions were called part of a trend in social median, a number of companies such as Facebook demanding more control of their users' content. While there was the possibility of taking the matter up with the FCC or a lawsuit, Kylie felt the latter was unlikely to succeed as in recent years California law, which Linden Lab fell under, had been more friendly to arbitration agreements. What was the most likely to succeed was a peaceful resolution with Linden Lab.

The UCCSL would send Linden Lab an open letter. Days later, someone from the Lab would respond. It declined their request for an open meeting, "We believe that it would be more fruitful to avoid further debate of the assertions made to date regarding the intent and effect of our updated Terms of Service." But they did say they were "currently reviewing what changes could be made that would resolve the concerns of Second Life content creators." Kylie was initially optimistic, but her later messages to Linden Lab would go unanswered. On January 30, she stated that she had concluded "Linden Lab has no intention of making any change to the Terms of Services." She would step down from the group in March, saying in her last statement the Lab had caused lasting damage with it's relationship with comment creators, "we will never again feel that we are partners in this endeavor with Linden Lab: We will never again trust so blindly as we once did."

But behind the scenes, Linden Lab was going through a change. In mid-January, The company's CEO Rod Humble left Linden Lab, no one outside the company knowing until he made a Facebook post about it days later. The Content Creator ToS Controversy would be one of the darker moments of the Lab under the tenure of CEO Rod Humble, and cloud his legacy.

The new CEO, Ebbe Altberg, would address the issue at the VWBPE conference in April, saying he was looking for a solution. Just as importantly if not more, he spoke more about the issue that hour than the company had in months, which gave residents concerned about the issue new hope. Finally in July 2014, after almost a year after the controversial change had been made, Linden Lab finally revised the wording of it's Terms of Service in regards to content creators. Some of the wording was iffy enough to make a few people hesitate to say the issue was finally over. But most were finally satisfied, and the controversy faded into Second Life history.

In an interview in October 2014, Ebbe Linden felt the main problem wasn't what the Lab intended for a Terms of Service update, but "the way it was rolled out." For the residents however, this was another big example of how by accident or design the Lab had a way of unnecessarily angering it's customers. While later Terms of Service changes would raise a few eyebrows, this would be the last time, at least in the 2010s, such a change created this level of outcry. Exactly why Linden Lab dragged it's feet on the issue for months can only be speculated on. Maybe they were feeling "ignore it and it will go away," or maybe they didn't truly realize what a mess they had on their hands. If so, Kylie Sabra and others are deserving of thanks for keeping the issue in the headlines for as long as they did.

The Rise and Fall of InWorldz

While Second Life may be the most successful virtual world, it hasn't been the only one. Early on, Second Life had some competition from "There." But it never did capture the media spotlight like Linden Lab's world, and shut down in March 2010. This meant that the alternative to Second Life were the various OpenSim worlds. By 2010, two were standing out from the rest, Avination and InWorldz. InWorldz was the more successful of the two. I took a look at it that year, but at the time I couldn't stay there more than a few minutes. Trying again a few months later, I was able to stay on and look around.

So what was InWorldz like? Someone compared it to like Second Life but with fewer bells and whistles and fewer people. The people making their virtual homes there, I had the impression many were attracted to the place as sims were cheaper than Second Life and/or they were fed up with Linden Lab. I imagine for some it was what they saw as a happy medium, smaller than Second Life, but larger than the other OpenSim worlds.

I would pay only a little attention to the place for a couple years afterwards, although did mention there were events going on there. Om January 2012, it would reach a total of fifty thousand users. In May 2013, the number had grown to 75,000. Many of these were probably Second Life residents who came over to get an occasional curious glance like myself. But as only just over a hundred were online at once, I was somewhat skeptical about the place as a source of news for a publication centered on Second Life.

Then came 2013, when Linden Lab made two controversial moves that upset many residents, the Third Party Currency Exchanger ban and the Content Creator Terms of Service controversy. With their way of buying Linden dollars now in jeopardy, some communities made up of residents outside the US began talking about moving to another grid. And when Linden Lab appeared to some to be saying, "anything you bring here is OURS to take and sell as we wish to anyone," some residents began feeling it was time to make a place for themselves elsewhere. And InWorldz would get a lot more attention from the residents of Second Life.

The first big name in Second Life to make the move was Tuna Oddfellow, whom closed the Odd Ball in Second Life and moved it to InWorldz. Their first event in October went without much trouble. In November, an InWorldz Connection Center run by Zia Larnia sprung up to help residents from the larger virtual world more at ease with transitioning over. When it suddenly closed a month later when Zia's partner up and left, Nydia Tungsten would open "The Grid Walkers Welcome Center" with her help. Nydia, along with a number of my friends in the Sunweaver/Angel community were getting increasingly uneasy with Linden Lab's blunders, and felt it was time to set up a "lifeboat" in InWorldz as a place to go to if the Lab shut Second Life down. On Saturday November 30, there would be an "InWorldz Discussion Group" chat to answer questions.

With more attention on InWorldz, I began finding out a few things. One was that Wingless furry avatars were available in one location. Luskwood would also give you a copy of an avatar you bought in Second Life to your InWorldz account if you requested. The Relay for Life was holding a second fundraiser season in the smaller virtual world. Club Fur would be duplicated in Inworldz in Oct 2013. The Podex virtual currency exchanger would offer it's services to InWorldz in Jan 2014. I would end up interviewing InWorldz founder Beth Reischl (known as Elenia Llewellyn inworld). Between this extra attention on InWorldz and the desire of some readers and writers to talk about gaming, there wound be a new SL Newser section: Other Grids and MMOs, later changed to Other Grids, MMOs, and Games. And over time, InWorldz numbers would grow to almost 90,000 in November 2013, and 100,000 on May 2014. When InWorldz had it's fifth anniversary celebrations in March 2014, it was those of an up and coming grid that looked like it had a bright future.

But things were about to change. In January 2014, Rod Humble stepped down as CEO, and in February Ebbe Altberg took his place. Linden Lab under Altberg became more talkative to people, and among the first things he announced was that the controversial changes in the Terms of Service in regards to content creators would be undone. And in July they were changed to the satisfaction of most.

With the reasons InWorldz was getting more attention now relaxed, residents in Second Life became less inclined to hop over. The Relay for Life would continue to hold events there. But overall attention fell. With Linden Lab announcing the development of their next-generation virtual world Sansar, perhaps attention that would have otherwise been paid to InWorldz by residents of Second Life was focusing there. The Newser itself would continue to pay a little attention to InWorldz, but not as much. The numbers of active users would go up and down some, then in Spring 2015 start a decline that would continue. The number of sims would spike in mid-2015, then start to decline. The decline in sim numbers was slower than the numbers of active users, though. Then InWorldz found itself facing competition not just from Second Life, but another OpenSim world. Kitely grew rapidly in just a few years to become about half InWorldz size in the number of registered users. By 2015, the two grids were about equal, and in 2017 Kitely had become the largest of the OpenSim grids. Another grid, Avination, which was a competitor for the largest OpenSpace world in their early days, was the target of theft by criminals, and then hit by a "catastrophic" data failure that led to it going under in 2017.

InWorldz itself began making some moves that raised more than a few questions. This had begun early on when in August 2013 their General Discussion forums were closed, citing an increased activity of trolling and hateful posts that was taking time and effort to moderate them away from their activities in keeping up the grid. In April 2017, they announced they would no longer publish their statistics of how many regions or active users they had. And to a number, this was a signal the grid was in decline, and the owner wasn't sure how to stop it other than hide it. Reischl was distancing InWorldz from other OpenSim worlds, insisting it wasn't really one, "InWorldz has moved on from Opensim a long time ago," and seemed to be saying she was no longer publicizing the statistics because of an "us vs them" attitude there.

In January 2018, Hypergrid Business published an article saying merchants in InWorldz were becoming concerned about the grid's future. "...we have seen a drastic decline in sales and residents," one merchant told Hypergrid, requesting anonymity saying he was concerned about possibly being banned. An "InWorldz Chamber of Commerce" had been set up in fall 2016 "To help promote in-world commercial activity, and to collectively advocate on behalf of their interests." But their director expressed disappointment in her meetings with Reischl, Hypergrid reporting, "She said it was not her job to keep merchants or residents in InWorldz." The article also stated, "Residents have also complained on social media that the founders haven’t been paying attention to their concerns. Of the top managers, owner Reischl moved to Panama and founder and CTO David Daeschler has mostly moved on to other projects." Another resident commented that early on, "one of the best things about IW was the fact that it was so easy to talk to the founders on the forum and they actually listened to us and gave us feedback it made IW feel like a community." But now it was looking more and more like how she saw Second Life at the time she joined InWorldz.

But there was no sign of serious trouble to most until Monday July 23 when Beth Reischl announced the grid was facing shutdown in a few days. At the same time, she set up a Gofundme that was supposedly to save InWorldz. But after most of her goal amount was raised, she changed the objective to starting a new grid. This caused no shortage of confusion and feelings of anger. Zia would comment, "There are a lot of disabled people and older people who play here.  That sort of sudden 'get out' message is hard for someone not in great health to stay up for two days straight and download 8 years of their life." But there was also sadness as after almost a decade, the virtual world where so many hopes and dreams had been created was going away, and on Friday July 27, 2018 the lights finally went out.

Following InWorldz's closure, one of it's staff opened up a small OpenSim grid for former InWorldz residents. Other OS worlds would invite those displaced to go to theirs, and a number did, one example being Kitely Marketplace sales going up 300% in the days after the larger world's closing was announced. A number went back to Second Life. But others held out for Reischl's next world, Islandz. It would finally come online in November 2018. But it didn't last long. On Saturday January 26, Reischl announced that due to real life financial troubles she couldn't overcome, she would have to shut down Islandz, "I'm done with the metaverse. ... I have zero, zilch, zip, nada, just maxed out credit cards." Following a rash of confused and angry statments, the Islandz Discord server was taken down. Instead of a new beginning, it was a sad epilogue.

So what happened? Not being in Reischl's inner circle, one can only guess. It appears that the team she assembled early on was able to make and maintain a great grid. But as people left, the positions were either unfilled or someone not as good took over. With fewer people and less money coming in, she eventually had to borrow money to maintain it. Either the bill came due and she didn't have the money, or as she stated there was a failure to communicate with the people she borrowed it from.

As a resident of Second Life, I couldn't help but feel uneasy. The big thing was seeing the hopes and dreams of hundreds fade away. But deep down, I wondered if years from now I myself would be in their position as Linden Lab would make the decision to shut down Second Life. But our virtual world will likely be around for a long time to come. It is a small irony me and my friends got a few sims there a few years ago as we wondered if our virtual homes were at risk of being closed, and in the end it was the place we were interested in that closed down. As time has gone on, another Opensim Grid, the Great Canadian Grid, would end up being shut down. It would seem as clumsy as they can be at times, Linden Lab ended up creating the virtual world that endures year after year.

Bixyl Shuftan   

For Part Five, Click Here

Monday, January 27, 2020

Reader Submitted: My Story at Virsino

By Angel Fencer (Ender Leven)

So I have been an long-term visitor and player of the Game Greed which is  Virsino's main attraction, I can say its an fun place. The hosts there are very polite, although there customer service has been ignoring me. The experience was very confusing at first. But once I got the hang of it, it was very nice. Although the money winnable is nowhere near enough to fill up the hole needed to train for it, its still an amazing feeling to become forth, and it was fun beating my own highscore. Although I wish the system keeps track of that and that they share the pot over the four winners instead of one, it's still way better then most gambling places which are only luck based. I tried them, they're even more confusing and not as popular or social.

IRL vs Second Life gambling
So I have only gambled once in real life, and I can tell you those machines are confusing. Although I did win 7 Euros, I quit after that. But I do have to say that winning an real-life jackpot is way more rewarding money wise, if you did not throw in to much money (i only thrown in 50 cents so its literally nothing in my eyes) and stop after winning the money. There is less danger in Second Life, although I still say watch out that you do not throw in too many Lindens. There, just know your limits.

The Final Answer:
If you are just willing to pay and are willing to learn the game I recommend it, Although I also want to warn it is an very known fact that gambling is highly addictive and thus should be used with caution My rating is an 7/10 would recommend with moderation and low expectations money wise (smile).

Angel Fencer

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Top Stories of the 2010s, Part Three

This is the third of our series of some of the top stories of the 2010s. For part one, Click Here. For part two, Click Here.

The Currency Exchanger Bans

Getting and/or selling Linden dollars used to be a lot more complicated than it is now, especially if you lived  outside the United States. Some residents living outside North America found the LindeX too difficult or impossible to use. For residents who couldn't buy or sell Linden dollars quickly or easily, or would rather deal with someone other than the Lab, a number of third-party virtual currency exchangers went into business to help and make a little money for themselves. Among these was Podex, owned by Jacek Shuftan, which was the Newser's first sponsor. Every month, we would run commercial adverts for them, notably the misadventures of a bungling burglar who kept trying to rob the place but always failing hilariously. The "Clumsy Cooper" adverts were ones I loved doing, and got readers chuckling.

But in early May 2013 came an unwelcome surprise. Linden Lab changed it's terms of service to ban the buying and selling of Linden dollars with anyone but the Lab. The results were protests by residents, some saying as they couldn't use the Lindex they would have to abandon their virtual homes. There was talk of entire communities up and moving to Opensim. Some exchangers shut down right away. Jacek remained open, trying to talk to Linden Lab. But the Lab would not listen to him and chose to suspend his account. Finally, the Lab did a partial reversal. The currency exchangers could reopen after getting permission as "authorized resellers," but would operate under tighter conditions. Most notably, they could only sell Linden dollars, not buy. Several were initially accepted. Podex and others would have to wait until early June to be back in business.

Exactly why the ban came to be was the subject of some debate. Many felt the Lab was acting out of greed, seeing the currency exchangers as making money that they felt belonged to them. Others felt something else was at work. A couple months earlier,  the US Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a statement on guidelines for the regulation of virtual currencies. While this was written with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin in mind, and Linden Lab called the Linden dollar a "virtual token" or a "limited license" that could be traded inworld, one commentator felt it could potentially apply to Second Life's currency as well. "FinCEN goes by the approach 'If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck,'" he stated, "And Linden Dollar sure does 'quack' like one. Linden dollar is a virtual currency because it has value in real currency (a buck will buy you about 270 linden bucks); and people buy good and services with it." So perhaps the Lab panicked and pulled the plug without thinking of the consequences.

All was well for two years. Then in June 2015, Linden Lab announced it was disbanding the Authorized Reseller Program, and the currency exchangers had until the end up July to conclude all business. The Lab stated, "we have expanded the payment options for Second Life users, and today, you can easily purchase L$ in more countries than ever before." Once again, there were protests, but not quite at the level of before. So despite the calls for Linden Lab to reconsider, including a petition with over a thousand signatures, Linden Lab this time would not relent.

And so the virtual currency exchangers closed, including Podex. And by November, their office in Second Life had faded away. Nothing else from them is known to be around, save for one of their machines at the Newser office left up as a momento. The Newser's first sponsor was gone, and the character from so many of it's adverts would end up in one more story, a piece of SL fiction, and no more. Final salutes to an old friend.

The 2016 Presidential Election

Covering politics can be tricky as you risk alienating half your audience. If your job is to inform the public instead of appealing to readers to favor one side, you have to put aside your personal prejudices. In Second Life, it's trickier in some ways as many people come here to briefly escape real life, but so do a few whom seem to be intractable political animals (with or without furry avatars). Politics can be one of the more annoying parts of life or virtual life to many. But it's something that can't be ignored either as the results can affect you personally.

I covered the previous two Presidential Elections. The 2008 Election between Barrack H. Obama and John McCain was overall polite and even tempered, for an election. The 2012 Election between Obama and Mitt Romney, not so much as supporters on both sides seemed more annoyed and irritated with one another. The 2016 Election was a strange one in that an outsider and political newcomer, Donald Trump, won the nomination for the Republicans. While unpolished and reckless, Trump was a master of social media and had a way of making the debate all about him. Hillary Clinton, the candidate for the Democrats, was intelligent, but awkward and aloof. With the increasing political divide, they were two of the most unpopular Presidential candidates in recent US election history, and it was among the most divisive elections as well.

Early on, there were a few small political builds. Then in March came larger ones, a Trump supporter named JP Laszlo built the Trump Manor, based off of Trump's manor in Florida. A supporter of Clinton's opponent for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, built the Sanders HQ. Later in May, another supporter would build "Feel the Bern."

In April, things heated up when some Trump supporters erected a huge wall in front of the Sanders HQ, making a few comparisons to the "War of the Jessie Wall" (NWN link) early in Second Life's history. Trump supporters called it a prank. Sanders supporters called it an "annoyance" that overshadowed a number of examples of griefing. The people I talked to told me they wanted level-headed dialouge, but there was no agreement on what the "rules of engagement" should be. With some trolls causing trouble at the Sanders HQ in the name of Trump, there were calls for Linden Lab to take action.

In early June, the Trump Manor would suddenly close it's doors, with plans to build a larger location, as did the Trump Wall. Ironically, a Clinton HQ would be set up on the very spot it had been.  Bay City would also get a Clinton HQ.

Then came some surprising news. Linden Lab had banned the leader of the Trump Organization, as well as several other member of it's group. Exactly why they were banned the Lab didn't say, though as a map view of their private sim showed a large black eagle, Hamlet Au compared it to a Nazi symbol. JP Laszlo would later come out as a supporter of Woodbury, an infamous group associated with griefing and trolling, which some Democrat supporters called further evidence their opponents were basically trolls.

After that, the political drama in Second Life slowed down. The remaining Trump supporters basically laid low, some creating a "Trump Pub" where they kept to themselves. Locations such as the Clinton HQ in Bay City would show broadcasts of the Presidential Debates to small audiences.

In real life news, the plurality of polls showed the two candidates were roughly even, with Clinton having a slight lead but small enough for a statistical tie. So many Democrats were cautiously optimistic and some Republicans were prepared for a loss. But Trump ended up winning the election, after a long nail-biter of an evening in which the results were not official until close to Midnight SL time. On my Facebook feed, about a third were in a celebratory mood. About a third were shocked and dismayed, wondering how this could have happened and some accusing the voters of "betrayal." About the only liberals with less than heated opinions were a few Sanders supporters whom were going "We told you so." It seemed only bout a third of my social medial contacts didn't say much of anything on the subject.

After the election results many of the political left were in shock and fear, some of those in Second Life going to "Safety Pin" support meetings. While the mood of those who supported the Republicans was more cheerful, some were less than enthusiastic. The Presidential Inauguration's largest celebration would take place not in an American sim, but London City.

The election didn't settle political matters as many of Trump's opponents grew increasingly bitter, the most visible example of this in Second Life being the artist group known as "Avatars Against Trump." Their artwork had one or two pictures that were funny, poking fun at the new President. But most were dark and humorless. Not all who supported him were satisfied either. One conservative podcaster would go on hiatus, saying political debate had become an echo chamber and he didn't feel like taking part in debate that had nothing new to discuss.

After that, the Newser didn't write much on political matters. This was partly due to a few complaints from readers. No one complained about bias. In fact we were praised for making an effort to cover both sides. But some grumbled that they came to Second Life to escape real-life matters such as politics, one comparing the Dems and Reps to two bands of shrieking monkeys throwing poo at one another. And with the election finished and the immediate results covered, it was time to move on.

Four years later, the country is facing another Presidential election. And now, the Newser has to decide how much to cover the "shrieking monkeys" once more.

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, December 30, 2019

Top Stories of The 2010s, Part Two

By Bixyl Shuftan

This is the second of our series of some of the top stories of the 2010s. For part one, Click Here.

The Pony Community and Bronyville's Fall

Second Life is noted for it's variety of avatar types. The first ones were human and humanoid. Soon after came other kinds, neko, furry, tiny, and dragon. Since the Newser came to be, two more have come about. There are the petite avatars, which I've seen mostly pixies. And then there are the pony avatars, based off the characters of the "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" cartoons. Unlike previous "generations" of the franchise, "Friendship is Magic" gained a following among teenagers and young adults. It wasn't too long after the cartoon started airing when the cartoonish pony avatars started appearing in the virtual world, and in May 2011 came the Bronyville sim. It quickly became a thriving community. While naturally there were a few bored trolls showing up to harass the ponies, they were quickly dealt with.

Then in July came real trouble when Linden Lab took down Bronyville. It turned out that the sim's two owners were ban-evasion alts of people the Lab had banned from Second Life. For many communities, this would be the end. But once the ponies recovered from the shock, a new sim was acquired and named Bronytown. A few months later in February 2012, they had largely recovered.

Several years later, the pony sims are still around. Trotsdale and it's surrounding sims soon replaced Bronytown as the best known pony area. But there are others with their own people. As the cartoon series that inspired the fans to create the community and sims aired it's last season this year, it should be interesting to see what the Second Life ponies do.

The S.S. Galaxy's Closing

I had the fortune to visit the SS Galaxy in it's early years. This was a cruise ship built in Second Life. And what a ship it was! Three sims long, it was not just the largest ship in the virtual world, but one of the largest structures of any kind inworld. And like a cruise ship, people could rent cabins, and there were numerous parties. It would be one of the first places the Newser would report on.

Then on April 26, 2015 came shocking news to the ship's fans: the SS Galaxy would be shutting down. Why was the ship being scrapped after eight years? An investigation revealed the ship had recently suffered the worst griefing attacks in it's history over a period of several days, and the Linden they talked to told them they would be allowed exactly one rollback to fix the damage and then no more, period. Fans gathered for a few last parties. And on May 3, the place closed down, leaving only screenshots, memories, and a number of residents feeling it's leaving was the result of the Lab acting like it didn't care about longtime customers.

Finally, the Lab realized it had goofed, and on May 13 it was announced that the ship would be coming back, but under Linden ownership.  In September, the ship was once again on the Grid. While residents were happy to see it back, their enthusiasm was dampered by that it was basically a museum piece. Gone were the live events, the renting of cabins, and the crew to greet people.

The closing of the SS Galaxy would be just one of a few incidents that year that got some people wondering about Linden Lab's intentions and competence.

From Passionate Redheads to Sunbeamers

Over the years of covering the Relay for Life,  I've covered the efforts of many teams. Some have continued their efforts year after year, such as Team ACTS and the Gorean team. And some make a good showing for a short time, such as the Relay Wizards and Team Strange Journey, then fade away.

The first Relay team I got to know really well, and the one I eventually joined up, were the Passionate Redheads.  This was a team of both human and furry residents led by co-captains Sabine McGettigan and Daaneth Kivioq. Having been raising money for the Relay since 2007, it was clearing in the big leagues, raising over a million Lindens in 2010. Many of it's team members were from the Sunweaver community, including estate owner Rita Mariner. So it really was the community's team. It had some great campsite builds, such as the "Wild West" one in 2009. And there was the late Artistic Fimicloud who lost her life to cancer, whom became a symbol of the team's determination.

But in April 2011 came some horrible news. Co-captain Daaneth suffered a stroke. Shocked, the Relayers sent him numerous well-wishes and held events in his honor. Various members stepped up to raise a some Lindens of their own, such as Rita, Nydia Tungsten, and myself. And the Relay Weekend went great. What could have ended up a canceled year ended up another successful one for the team, with Daaneth being awarded the Spirit of Relay for 2011 in the "Wrap-Up" event in August.

Sadly, the stroke had lasting effects. Shortly after the 2012 Relay season started, Sabeen left the team and Daaneth both left the team and took an "indefinite break" from Second Life for personal reasons. placing Dusk Griswold and Lomgren Smalls in charge. Despite this trouble in addition to others being sidelined due to real-life troubles, the team made it to gold level, and onto the Relay Weekend.

In January 2013 came more sad news, the Passionate Redheads were disbanding. After six years and many accomplishments, the banner of the Readheads would no longer be paraded down the Relay track. The Sunweaver community was saddened, but two people stepped forward to form two teams. Sadly, the leader of one would soon leave Second Life for personal reasons. But Sunweaver leader Rita Mariner would lead the Sunbeamer team. But while the Passionate Redheads had been a proven team, with the Sunbeamers we were basically starting all over, "We are a small team." Still, we persisted with events and our campsite for the Relay Weekend, in which we reached Silver rank fundraising. But by 2014, the team was making Gold once more.

Since then, the Sunbeamers have continued to do well year after year. The "small team" became "the little team that could," and a force in the Relay. But we haven't forgotten our roots. Every year in the campsite, one can find a small pink fox statue in honor of Fimi.


On August 23, 2011, came a new way of building things in Second Life: Mesh.  One complaint Second Life was getting in the late 2000s was that it lacked the detail of many popular online games at the time. So in 2010, Linden Lab announced it was working on a Mesh import project.

Reactions were somewhat varied. Some were anxious to see what they could do with the option, or at least curious. Others were skeptical, or fearful that the Lab would end up blocking viewers that couldn't see it. Another concern was security vs safety vs convenience, that mesh would make it much easier for the unscrupulous to import and sell material others had copyrighted, and that Linden Lab's security precautions would end up blocking some builders or making it too big a hassle for them to continue.

After it was enabled, there were some early adopters. While at least some called it the most important development in Second Life that year, others expressed skepticism, among them myself. I and others felt there were too few mesh-enabled viewers being used in the first several months for mesh to have that great of an impact. There were other problems as well. While touted as a way to make objects that would be more efficient to process, the truth was it took skill to do this as a mesh objects "prim equivalency" could easily surpass the same item made with prims and end up causing more lag. And then there was that for the first time in Second Life, people had to worry about their clothes fitting. Many people dreaded having to shop for clothes in real life as they had the hardest time trying to find clothes that would fit, and now the issue had come to Second Life. 

Still, skillfully made mesh objects and avatars looked better with smoother movement, one example being that mesh furry avatars have smoother speaking movements. And with mesh people could accomplish some things they couldn't before, such as the creation of impossibly tall avatars.

The use and adoption of mesh has been a long slow process. Linden Lab for instance would offer mesh starting avatars a few years later in 2014. But unlike earlier starter avatars, they couldn't be modified to be slightly taller or shorter or slightly different facial features, or able to wear another set of clothes. So in 2015, they were replaced with another set of starter mesh avatars, though some people commented they looked less like what one could expect in Second Life and more like "The Sims." These comments would continue with the added Fantasy and Sci-fi inspired starting avatars in 2016.

Over time, mesh would see improvements. In 2014, Fitted Mesh allowed for better fitting clothes, though while a step forward wasn't a perfect solution. In 2018 came Animesh, which offered the promise of much more detailed NPCs/bots inworld. 2019 would see the arrival of 'Bakes on Mesh,' which offered the promise of less complexity for detailed avatars.

Today, while mesh has won over much of Second Life, perhaps the majority, there are still some whom have little or anything to do with it. It's made dressing more complicated, and while Fitted Mesh has helped, there's still the problem of mesh outfits not quite fitting one's avatar. All the updates eventually mean some third-party viewers that seldom get updated soon become less and less useful as more and more glitches appear due to more avatars using material made possible by recent updates. It's also been brought up has Mesh been a good thing for Second Life's content creator community. While anyone can still learn to build and script, the arrival of mesh meant creators had to learn more to make a product the masses would buy, perhaps to the point that someone with the skills to make fine mesh clothes would make more money using similar skills outside the virtual world's community. In the end though, the demand for mesh products has ensured it's become an established part of the virtual world.

As Second Life enters the 2020s, the story of Mesh is still being written.

For part three of the series, Click Here.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, December 27, 2019

Top Stories of The 2010s, Part One

By Bixyl Shuftan

As the decade comes to a close, there's been some looking back at some of the events that have happened. For the people of Second Life, ten years ago there was the creation, the rise, and then the peaking of the popularity of the virtual world. For the 2010's, Second Life hasn't made Big Media very much. But there's been no shortage of events that were for a time were of great interest to many residents. Some made news more than others. So here's some of the decade's top stories.

The Linden Lab 30% Layoff

Just a week after the Second Life Newser got started came our first big story to cover, when on June 10 2010 Linden Lab announced a "Restructuring" in which thirty percent of it's staff lost their jobs. Residents were shocked at the news. Gone were favorites such as Blue and Teagan Linden. One resident reacted by setting up a memorial to those whom lost their jobs. There was an also an "Independence Day" party in their honor as well.

A company giving a third of it's staff the pink slip is usually a sign of deep trouble. So naturally people were worried about what was going to happen next. Rumors were around for months Linden Lab was in talks with Microsoft for a buyout. This was just one of many changes at the Lab in 2010, including the resignation of M Linden as CEO and Philip returning for a short time as intirem CEO. Second Life's future was very much in doubt for the remainder of the year. It wasn't until December with the arrival of a new CEO, Rod Humble/Rodvik Linden, that the fears of Second Life being closed down had largely faded.


2010 was when Linden Lab began offering a new viewer for the residents, Viewer 2. It was not popular with established residents, and people looked for alternatives. The Emerald Viewer, offered for free by a group of volunteers known as Modular Systems, or Team Emerald, quickly became the most popular alternative, the first third party viewer to hit it big.

But on August 20, there was a DoS attack on a website of one of their critics. The attack was traced to computers using the Emerald viewer to access Second Life at the time. One of the team stepped down, and the Lab presented them with a list of demands, notably three of the team stepping down. When one refused to, the team split in two. One group led by Jessica Lyon would go on to start Team Phoenix and the Phoenix viewer. The other faded away following Linden Lab blocking the viewer from accessing Second Life, some of their leaders banned by Linden Lab or never seen again.

Emeraldgate is notable as it's the incident that sparked the creation of what now is Team Firestorm, the people behind the Firestorm Viewer that remains the most popular viewer used by residents.

The Teen Grid Merger

Also in August 2011, it was announced at the Second Life Community Convention (or the SL con) that Linden Lab would soon be closing the Teen Grid, and those 16 and 17 of age would be allowed in Second Life. Philip Linden called the grid with it's population of under 18 residents a "mistake," and expressed confidence that Second Life with it's filtering system could handle the influx of 17 and 16 year olds.

But the announcement created a storm of comments by residents whom feared this would soon lead to adult areas being shut down. The Lab tried to assure residents that there would be a smooth transition. And there were efforts by some residents to welcome them in. But others called this an accident waiting to happen, having no confidence in Linden Lab to do the job, "I'm sorry LL shafted you all. ... many of us BEGGED for a PG continent that you and us could have and be safe together. We saw what was coming and wanted to make the grid safe for all. Now it isn't safe for anyone.”

As it turned out though, not many of the 16 and 17 year olds would be coming to the Main Grid. When the Teen Grid was turned off on Dec 31, 2010, most apparently went to online games or other Internet activities. Exactly why is speculation, some wondering if the teens just didn't want to hang out with "old people," but preferred a place where they could be with just their peers. Others felt the teens were around, just simply fibbing about their age and always had been.

The Redzone Controversy

One thing many residents fear in Second Life is someone harassing them getting around bans by creating alts to torment them further. So it's no real surprise eventually someone starting offering an "alt detector." As far back as December 2010, news started going around about "Redzone." That the creator developed juvenile products such as a "Toilet HUD" probably helped in the masses not taking the product product seriously at first, especially with stories that the product stunk at delivering what was promised. Privacy activists however were very worried Redzone could potentially be used to trace people to their real-life addresses, leading to doxxing and stalkers taking their harassment to real life.

Eventually, Linden Lab responded, taking down Redzone from Marketplace on March 2, 2011. Redzone's creator, zFire Xue (Michael Prime), remained defiant and was banned a few weeks later. It turned out that zFire was a convicted criminal on parole, and in May he turned himself in when a warrant was issued for his arrest. He would be sentenced to four months in jail, and the judge ordered part of his conditions would be parole were no access to computers or Internet access, Second Life specifically mentioned in the ruling.

For some residents, it was "Emerald all over again" in that a malicious coder had caused so much worry for the residents. Privacy activists such as the Greenzone group remained vigilant for any other alt detector that might cause trouble, getting into a tangle with the Voodoo security system a year later. Fortunately, there wouldn't be another like Redzone.

Second Life Ninth Birthday

2012 was a year Linden Lab put some distance between itself and the residents. There would be no snowball fight between the Lindens and residents. Nor did the "Kiss a Linden" Valentines Day event take place. Later in the summer, it was announced there would be no Second Life Community Convention that year. Residents expressed disappointment at these events being canceled. But then on April 16, 2012, Linden Lab announced they would not be organizing the Second Life Birthday celebration that year. In a statement later on the forums, they stated they were leaving it up to the residents, expecting numerous smaller celebrations.

But instead of following Linden Lab's suggestion, some residents banded together to hold the Second Life Ninth Birthday themselves, with both sponsors and some noted SL personalities behind it. Those taking part had only a short time to get things done, so they hurried things up. It would take place on a twenty sim area, and last from June 18 to June 24. There would be lots to see and do. And the event ended with fireworks at the Cake Stage. While there were a few minor things that went wrong, the SL9B was a definite success.

For five more years, the SLB events continued to be in the hands of a volunteer staff. Although Linden Lab would slowly start to be more involved in the anniversary with "Music Fest" and shopping events, "The Birthday" was still resident-run until the SL15B. In 2019, the Lab finally fully took over, saying over time they had been observing what worked and what didn't. While it meant saying goodbye to some new traditions such as "The Cake," the residents as a whole were glad Linden Lab was taking care of Second Life's anniversary event.

*  *  *  *  *

For part two of the series, Click Here.

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

News and Commentary: More on Youtube And COPPA

By Bixyl Shuftan

In recent days, I've gotten a few requests for topics to write on. Some were about Linden Lab's announcement they were bringing back last names, in which they also stated they would be doubling their commission on Marketplace sales. The complaints along these lines was that once again, the Lab was being greedy.

One other topic was not within Second Life, but could and was affecting Second Life music video makers, the COPPA controversy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had hit Youtube with a massive fine for violating the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act for collecting data on kids watching, whom weren't supposed to be watching to begin with as to avoid trouble Youtube had a policy of not allowing viewers under 13 to watch videos unless under special accounts. Youtube's response was to tell video makers to mark their videos if they were aimed at kids or if they weren't for kids. But a video's rating could be changed if either Youtube or the FTC determined if a video marked not aimed for kids was appealing to them, and the maker would be subject to a fine of up to $42,000, per video.

The reaction of the music video maker I know best, Nydia Tungsten, was to take down most of the videos from her Youtube channel. While people could still message her for the videos, years of work by her and her friends, done not for money but to entertain, was gone from public access. Very little of her Youtube channel remains, most of it being a number of videos about a discussion on the Inworldz virtual world several years ago.

As it turns out, Nydia was not alone. Shawn Keller, whom used lioness and fox animated characters to discuss topics on the scientific and supernatural, announced he would likely stop making videos. Vivienne Medrano, best known for her "Die Young" animated music video whom more recently has gone into "Hazbin Hotel," an animated cartoon that is definitely not for kids, expressed anger about Youtube's move on her Twitter. I've come across a number of other videos and comments expressing disain over Youtube's move. I've also come across a few videos and a number of comments saying there's nothing to worry about. But it's my impression those who are afraid greatly outnumber those who are not.

So why the fuss? In short, the rules video makers now have to work under are more than a little vague when it comes to COPPA. A reader directed me to one FTC page, "Is Your Content Directed at Children?" One section was "How Channel Owners Can Determine if Their Content Is Directed At Children." Among the factors listed was "the use of animated characters." While later on the page would state "the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone," this could easily be interpreted as that Youtube and the Feds were reserving the right to go after any video with animated characters, including computer-generated ones. That certainly explains a lot of the fear as the new rules could be seen as anyone posting an anime or furry animated video on Youtube could be on the chopping block.

Youtube and the FTC seem to be saying "trust us," but many video makers feel they have too little reason to do so, especially with the potential for such heavy fines.

So what can be done? Right now, it looks like a number of video makers are taking down their videos from their Youtube channels. I imagine others are keeping theirs up, but hesitating to make more. Alternatives to Youtube are certainly being sought, such as Viemo. One I keep hearing about is Pornhub. Yes, there is the stigma of a porn channel, they state, but there's no danger of the videos being taken down and being bankrupted by heavy fines.

Hopefully there will be some changes with both Youtube and the FTC on the issue that can get clear up the vagueness so video makers will feel at ease. But a recent video I came across by ReciewTechUSA isn't giving me much hope, at least on the part of Youtube. It seems Youtube also recently made changes in it's anti-harassment policy that in his opinion are being used to silence not just online bullies but brutally honest criticism as well in an effort to make the video service more advertiser, and corporate, friendly. "The Youtube that we once knew and loved is gone," he would state, "the day where you could make content you would see nowhere else and not be corporate controlled is over."

Like so much on the Internet over time, Youtube has been changing. But some of the recent changes are making it less of the place it was where you could just post videos (other than porn or gore) for your friends and anyone else interested to watch. With the new hoops to jump through and potential hazzards, it looks like some videomakers, in Second Life and elsewhere, will be saying goodbye.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, November 22, 2019

One SL Music Video Maker's Reaction to COPPA

By Bixyl Shuftan

This week, there's been quite a bit of talk among some Second Life residents about COPPA, or Child Online Privacy Protection Act, and what recent changes and actions could mean to filmmakers who post on Youtube. Recently the law was cited by the Federal Trade Commission in enacting a $170 million dollar fine on Youtube. Youtube reacted by announcing a plan that required all makers of videos aimed at a child audience to label them as such. This left people wondering what would be considered aimed at children, and if something could be considered as such no matter what the content creator did to say otherwise. The plan was pretty vague on the subject.

One such Youtube content creator is Nydia Tungsten. For years, she has made numerous music videos on Second Life. Hearing the news and seeing some videos made about the subject, she made an announcement on Monday November 18 in several groups that she was seriously considering taking her videos from Youtube due to these recent changes.

Angel Productions on Indefinite Leave

Due to the FTC becoming involved with Youtube and the possible ramifications, I am looking into ether shutting down my videos channel or moving it. if you want to DL one of our videos do it now.  I MAY be moving platforms, but I don't know which one if any I will go with yet. it has been a fun ride and I thank you all for your support.

Thanks for the memories

On Discord, she would reference a video done by J House Law.

Soon after, I went to talk to her about the issue. She told me, "I have already noticed a major change in some of the Youtubers I watch. To help maintain their non child friendly perception, they have stopped censoring themselves on what they say. One of them have have even said while cursing, 'this will help us against COPPA,' while they were playing the game.

Nydia went on, "First Youtube hits us with 'You will be demonetized if your content isn't "family friendly" .' So we all comply, sugar coating everything for those easily offended. NOW they are telling us not only will be demonetized ( because if you mark your videos kid friendly you lose 90% of that videos income) but FINED over $42K if you mark it incorrectly. All because parents can't be bothered to raise their crotch goblins the rest of us are forced to do it for them!

"I am looking for alternate sites to play my videos on, not too excited about what I have seen so far." When I asked Nydia about Vimeo, she told me she didn't know enough about it, "The issue is, if the FTC sees a video and THEY determine that it appeals to children, and marked NOT for children, they will fine the creator. (All) because Youtube doesn't want to stop gathering DATA on it's viewers. THAT is what kicked this off to begin with.

"Youtube got hammered by the FTC for over 170 million dollars for collecting data on children, that were using Youtube because Mommy and Daddy couldn't be bothered to create their crotch goblin a child Youtube account. So Youtube in corporate fashion is side stepping any more responsibility by throwing it's creators under the bus and painting FTC targets on our backs.

"So no matter if a video maker says, 'This is not for kids,' " I asked, "he or she can still be slapped with such a heavy fine?" "According to everything I am seeing, yes," Nydia answered, "Like I said, this isn't the first time Youtube has screwed it's creators over. I am sorry if I am coming across a bit harsh, but we have ALL but so much work into these videos. And it is tearing me up so much just thinking of doing this. You KNOW the FTC will be actively hunting to make an example out of someone. With as vague as that wording is, they will get someone FAST!"

Nydia went on, "So instead of more 'family friendly' content, they are going to end up with cussing monkeys or constantly broke channels." She mentioned Yogscast's Minecraft videos, who was adding a lot more profinity to the videos, "It is a tactic to avoid being 'kid friendly.' The FTC can't ding them for appealing to children if they are swearing."

So what would have to happen for Nydia to feel comfortable about adding videos to Youtube again? She answered, "Only the FTC rewording this law so the creators are more protected." What did she feel would be the consequences of this move? She felt, "A lot of great creative creators will leave and just stop. Youtube will become full of cursing monkies and child friendly content will disappear because there is no money in it. And kids will STILL be watching it because hey, the Internet is the ultimate babysitter right?"

Going back to alternatives to Youtube, she told me, "Several people have recommended I put my Videos on Pornhub, because evidently Pornhub would like to take in all the traffic from formats that are being strangled by the 'protect the children's babysitter' mentality as well. I will be looking there. I am just concerned with how many viewers will have a problem going to a known porn site for my little music videos."

"Something else youtube is doing and I think it is to drive child friendly creators out is IF they are marked for children,  viewers can not up vote, comment mark to watch later or save or even favorite that video. so the creators get NO FEED BACK. none what so ever. and I see no reason for that at all. is that because all of those actions are tracked? is THAT the detail to which we are being mined for our data?"

Nydia had to take care of something in real life, so our interview came to a close. She would later message me, saying in one of the videos about COPPA she had watched, "it shows that children's videos will be hidden, 'They will not send out notices saying that a video is out that videos will be un searchable.' Then HOW will they ever be seen? so youtube is punishing children's video creators by hiding their videos?"

Nydia would later post in several Second Life groups the following message.

I would like to thank everyone for all your support of my channel and for helping me by working so hard to make some great videos,  we had a great time and it was a fun ride while it lasted. I am truly sorry for this happening. I will be trying to back up everything I have up now, and if you want to down load anything, do it now. I may be putting them in drop box for down loading, but that might take a while.

She would also announce on some Discord groups the following:

I just left a comment on the FTC's page about Coppa:

I create Videos for youtube, and these new regulations  are going to kill a lot of family friendly content. it will in the end encourage channels to "up" their videos out of the family friendly range to a more mature range just to make sure they will comply. Add to that parents that use the internet as a baby sitting tool will leave children exposed to more of the harsher side of the internet. if you want to truly help the children and protect them, have the parents take more responsibility for what they expose their children to with out a thought. to much legislation has been enacted that takes the responsibility of parenting off of the parents, and harming others on how they make their living, affecting them adversely through no fault of their own. youtube currently has a child viewer for the children to watch content for then and protect them. make it the parents responsibility to use it.

Please do the same.

People have until December 9 to leave comments.

When I last talked to Nydia about the issue, on Thursday November 21, she told me she would start taking down her videos from Youtube on December 1. She was considering two platforms to move them to: Pornhub and Vimeo.

So for one music video maker in Second Life, changes in the law and how it applies to the most popular platform mean it can no longer be used without risk. After over five years of doing videos, she feels she will have to give it up.

Sources: Youtube, The Verge

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Commentary: Second Life Is Dead, Long Live Second Life

By Cyfir (Cyfiremmerich)

Over the past two years, I’ve struggled to honestly see the point of Second Life, but for some reason I keep logging in and stay logged in. I believe that mostly has to do with me now owning a store (as well as being in a long distance relationship). I’ve always looked at Second Life as a social platform, and as I’ve witnessed the social aspects of Second Life dwindle, I’ve equated that to Second Life dying out. I mean, it would make sense. Social networks come and go. Since the Internet’s inception, the popularity of platforms seem to dwindle over time in favor of new platforms.

This begs the question then of why people still log in. Sims sit empty while Linden Labs collects on the rent. Clubs seem to pop up overnight just to go away a few months later. There doesn’t seem to be a point in trying to build a social space anymore unless you’re already established and have the equity to ride things out. But I believe that everything has shifted to creation rather than it being a social platform. Even though the bulk of my sales are on Marketplace and I just view my in-world stores as advertising, people still line up in droves outside of big shopping events like the Gacha Guild.

You see, Second Life has something that many social platforms don’t have and that’s a near boundless ability for talented creators to create and have others enjoy their creations. This is why it has survived this long. The Marketplace is still popular and the viewer itself has become just a way for many people to enjoy those creations and to create things for themselves and others.