Monday, November 13, 2017

Commentary: Ten Years of Writing About Second Life

By Bixyl Shuftan

For most in Second Life, their big day is their rezzday. For me, I've had other milestones. There was when I first began logging onto the Grid on a regular basis, when I got my fox avatar, and most importantly, when I first became a journalist here, in November 2007.

My journey to Second Life actually started almost a year earlier. Although I'd been told about Second Life before, notably by an online friend who went by Kamilah Hauptman here, telling me how great the place was, that unlike an MMO one could build their own place and look how they wanted. But as I only had dial-up Internet at the time, I didn't think I could access the place. Finally in Dec 2006 I got high speed Internet and came here. Unfortunetly, Kamilah was suddenly unavailable due to new responsibilities. Going around, I found mostly just homes and ban lines, with no idea where the events were or how to find interesting places. There was no Destination Guide back then to look for them. So my visits became few and far between, spending more time in "World of Warcraft" with friends whom were available.

Things began to change in July 2007. Kamilah told me about the Relay for Life, and gave me the landmark for the Relay Track. Seeing many interesting builds, my interest in Second Life was rekindled, and I began to both learn more about how to go about and look around. I came across Luskwood, and began finding friends there. I soon ditched the starter ringtail for a red Luskwood Fox, and began looking over newsletters and blogs about the virtual world. The most interesting of these was "Second Life Newspaper," owned by JamesT Juno and edited by Dana Vanmoer. I found it more informative about what one could see and do in Second Life than certain other tablodish webpages. After reading it for a while, I saw a call for readers to send them stories and interesting pictures. So I sent in a few, feeling at least it would get me a little attention. It got me more than a little; James and Dana asked me in for an interview. During the chat, they were satisfied with what I could offer, and I was invited to join the team. With my first payment for a story, I bought an overcoat and a fedora, the classic reporter's garb. Combined with my avatar, it made for the "Fox Reporter" look that I continue to wear to this day as my everyday look.

I would write about all kinds of subjects in Second Life, it's people, places, and events. There were popular places and noted personalities, and there were out of the way locations that I found interesting and relatively unknown people whom had done things I felt were worthy of attention. There were many events, such as holiday celebrations, openings and the anniversaries of locations, the Second Life Birthday event, Burning Life, which was later changed to Burn2, the Relay for Life, and many more. There was the occasional personal experience that I found noteworthy. And there were the screenshot cartoons that I would send in every week. I was always able to find something noteworthy to write about every week, covering a little bit of everything, and was always finding scenes with potential humor. And we were a team, were I made friends such as Gemma Cleanslate, Grey Lupindo, Covadonga Writer, Shelly Sands, Nazz Lane, and many others. Eventually, I was giving the position of "Office Manager," which meant updating the paper when Dana couldn't.

Not everything went well. Sadly one of the first things I would write about in 2008 was the closing of my first hangout after Luskwood, the STA, and over the next few months many of my friends at the time would drop out of the Grid. Over time, I would be invited to be a part of other places and groups in Second Life, the Fortunas Club and Fortunas Estates, the Woodlin community (not to be confused with Woodland which had a different atmosphere) and the Star Tails club, the Foxworth community and the Blue Parrot Club (later known as the Bahama Beach Club or BBC). But all of these locations would eventually close and fade, with nothing left but screenshots and memories, and the treehouse I would take with me from Woodlin. It wasn't until Spring 2010 that I finally found a place that lasted, and became a part of the Sunweaver and Angels community, where I remain to this day.

By this time, my role in virtual journalism was about to change. In Fall 2009, JamesT Juno had to depart Second Life, and Dana Vanmoer wasn't able to give the time to the paper she once could. So she reluctantly made the decistion to close Second Life Newspaper. I along with the rest of the team was shocked and saddened. The newspaper had been such a big part of our experience in the virtual world, we couldn't imagine life here without it. So I talked with the others, and three others, Gemma, Grey, and Shelie, agreed to join me in the founding of a new paper that would take over from where James and Dana left off: The Second Life Newser. With the new paper starting up in June 2010, my role changed from being just one of the reporters to the editor and head of the publication. The Sunweaver/Angels offered us a place for the office at the start, and we soon had an inworld office. Under a new banner, we kept on covering the people, places, and events across the virtual world.

Over the past ten years, much has changed in Second Life. I came on when it was the darling of the tech media, considered "Internet 2.0," and mentioned in big media, including newspapers and TV news, even prime time TV shows. By the time the Newser took over from the old SLN, it was already fading from public view and the public was changing it's attention to other computer applications it could easier understand, such as Facebook. Many places here have come and gone. A few such as The Lost Gardens of Apollo have been lucky enough to be brought back by Linden Lab. Second Life's media has changed as well. Treet  TV used to do live programing across the Grid, viewable on inworld TV sets. Today, live programing is a rarity, reserved for a few special events. Shows like "Tonight Life" and "The 1st Question" that went on for a number of years are gone.

But while some things have been lost as time has gone on, there have also been some additions. Over time, new people have come to Second Life and made their own marks on the Grid. New places and builds have been constructed, giving those here new areas to explore. There's always something new here. One just needs to know where to find it.

Of "The Lab," as the residents call Linden Lab, the owners of Second Life, the love/hate relationship the residents have with them is still there. When I first came on there was some interaction with the residents. But after Linden Lab's founder Philip Rosedale/Philip Linden stepped down, they seemed to become more distant. Then with the appearance of the current CEO Ebbe Altberg/Ebbe Linden, there was more interaction again. But while the increased interaction helps, the view the residents have of The Lab is still mixed. They appreciate it's founders inventing Second Life, and the present company maintaining it. But at the same time they groan, sometimes curse at it for it's blunders. It seems the Lab puts developing new bells and whistles to getting rid of bugs and glitches. When it comes to banning people, there's a general feeling that the Lab has a way of being unable to stop a location from being repeatedly griefed by day-old alts made by the same owner, yet accounts that have lasted for years end up banned for trivial infractions. And then there is Sansar. While a few people here see promise in the "next generation virtual world" as it was originally called, at least some years from now, most residents see it as a waste of Linden Lab's time and their money, feeling all Sansar does for them is delay the amount of time bugs and glitches get fixed and raise their fees.

For myself, there have been ups and downs along the way. Old friends have stopped coming on, often when real life demands their full attention or otherwise makes it impossible to be here. This includes some hands at the Newser staff, of whom we've had to say goodbye to some talented writers such as DrFran Babcock. But new ones have continued to come in to bring in their own skill at reporting, such as Deaflegacy and Klaus Bereznyak. My home of the Sunweaver and Angels Estates has seen some changes, sims vanishing and appearing, clubs closing and opening, and people leaving and coming in. Club Zero Gravity for instance had to close it's doors for a time when finances forced it to, but recently reopened back and as good as ever. I myself have been helping Nydia Tungsten and Skylark Lefavre manage the community's beach club the Happy Vixen.

So what's ahead? Ten years ago, I had no real idea what my future was here beyond the next year or two. I never saw myself two and a half years later heading the publication that would replace the one my old employers had then. Despite Linden Lab's heavy handedness at times, it's a safe bet the Grid will still be around for a few more years, probably several more years, unless there's a major catastrophe such as a devastating earthquake in California that takes out the Lab and it's servers. I have expanded my writing beyond the virtual world, doing a blog about matters outside of Second LIfe, which I named "Food on the Table" on hopes it will eventually lead me to a writing job I can make a full time living on. I've also been writing a science-fiction novel on the side, the working title being "The Corsean Encounter." In the story, two humans end up on a pre-Industrial alien world, followed later by others with hostile intentions. If it does modestly well, I'll write more.

But I have no plans on stopping my reporting on Second Life, and the good this virtual world can do for people. As long as you keep reading, as long as I have a team by my side and as long as I'm able to, I'll keep on writing about the news here..

Bixyl Shuftan


  1. There are many many people who appreciate the SL Newser and your reporting. I am one, I read the Newser daily. Thank you VERY MUCH for everything you do for your readers. We appreciate it.