By Bixyl Shuftan
It was June 2010 in which the best newsletter covering Second Life folded, JamesT Juno and Dana Vanmoer's Second Life Newspaper, and a new one began, the Second Life Newser. It would consist of four writers, Gemma Cleanslate, Shellie Sands, Grey Lupindo, and myself, Bixyl Shuftan, with me as the Editor and owner. With the old SLN, I had been the "office manager," and updated the paper when Dana couldn't. So I had some experience. Still, I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders, and had some big shoes to fill.
People messaged me for days, asking what was gong on. The overall response was sadness, but there was some anger. One former minor sponsor was furious neither me or Dana told her about this, accusing her of selfishness. Our "arch rival" the Herald mentioned our closing in an article I felt was respectable, suggesting Dana was simply being practical.
Our first article was that of James and Dana's farewell party. After that, it was reporting on people, places, and events across the virtual world as we had done before. For the first several days, we had only one section: the front page. And just a few days in came a bombshell: the Lab was laying off a third of it's staff. Later that month, we would hear about the CEO M Linden stepping down, much to the cheers of some residents who blamed him for much of what had gone wrong in the past couple years. We would also cover the Second Life Seventh Birthday. Sadly we would also hear of a classic sim, the "Greenies" home closing down. Around the start of July was an Internet ad for Second Life emphasizing the vampire community, which I called an "ad with a little bite." It was an active month for Second Life news, and we had hit the ground running.
By Wednesday June 16, we would have two new sections, People and Events, with Places and Extra appearing later in the month. Just as with Dana's paper, I would provide screenshot cartoons, an average of two a week. Behind the scenes, two locations offered us space for an office: Book Island and the Sunweaver Estates. With the latter, Ranchan Weidman offered to make the office building. So it didn't take me long to decide. And on June 23, it was on the ground and we now had a (virtually) physical presence in Second Life. Gemma's partner at the time, Quark Allen, would provide us with chairs for the meeting room.
By the end of the month, it was clear we were providing the news just as well under the Newser as the Newspaper. We were still sad James and Dana were gone, but we were doing fine on our own. We would celebrate with a party at Covadonga Writer's island.
As the summer went on, we would write about the Relay for Life and the Passionate Redheads, the team many of the office's neighbors in the Sunweaver lands were part of. The return of Club Zero Gravity would be covered. Unfortunately, there was a bit of drama involving the Newser as it involved someone once interested in an ad who later would complain against both Dana's paper and the Sunweaver's Club Xanadu. Part of the response was to write about the Pan-Pacific Auditorium build, and shoot down the argument the party in question had an exclusive right on Xanadu's name and appearance. Club Fur, possibly the oldest club still around at the time, would be rebuilt on Sunweaver lands.
Philip Linden would say his goals were to make Second Life "fast, easy, and fun," and his slogan ended up the caption for women's t-shirts. One bit of news from the Lab stunned many, that the Teen Grid would be shut down and it's 16 and 17 year old residents could go about in General-rated areas. This disturbed many whom predicted having minors going about would soon lead to disaster, and was pretty much a move that few among the residents supported. In October, he would announce he was stepping down as interim CEO.
In October, we would get another section: Design. Breezes Babii, known for her "Breezes Thoughts" in the old paper would join the team. In the fall, so did Any1 Gynoid, noted for her cheerful and bubbly manner and having articles on CNN iReports. We would also get our first reporter with no connection to Dana, Samantha Nightfire. My friend Alleara Snoodle would do a picture of me, which remains in the office to this day. But there was sad news. In November, Delinda Dyrrsen, a former reporter for Dana's paper who would later work on the Tonight Life show and "Live n Kickin," suddenly passed away.
Late November would get us our first sponsor, the Podex Exchange. They would sell you Linden dollars, as well as buy them. Not only would they do business in dollars, but also Euros and several other world currencies, some of which the Lab didn't deal with. Wanting to give them a mention every month, I would do advertorial stories for them. Half of the adverts featured tales of satisfied customers. Half were comical stories of a clumsy, hard-luck bandit whom kept trying to rob Podex with half-baked plans that never worked and usually failed spectacularly.
In later August came more shocking news. A member of Team Emerald, the people behind the most popular third-party viewer at the time, had used computers using it to launch a DDoS attack on the website of someone he didn't like. This would lead to the "Emeraldgate" scandal, and eventually lead to a number of the team breaking away and forming "Team Phoenix" with it's Phoenix viewer, with Emerald getting shut down by the Lab and a few of the people banned.
That summer, there would be fundraisers to help people affected by an oil spill in the news, as well as to help fund the cleanup. In November, Universal Studios would ask the Lab to shut down "Battlestar Galactica" roleplays. Later on, the two sides came to an agreement, the roleplays would continue, but nothing involving copyrighted material could be sold by content creators. But there would be no such deal for the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum as the Wright Foundation in real life ordered them to close or go to court. So they shut down, though later would be replaced with the Virtual Museum of Architecture. There would be more legal trouble as Ozimals, known for their pet bunnies, would take the Amarentto Ranch company, known for their horses to court.
The Newser would write some about the WW2 Combat RP that fall and winter, as well as write about World of Warcraft's "Cataclysm" expansion, and it's Worgen and Goblins.
By year's end, we felt we had reasons to celebrate. Second Life had gone through some tough times, but it seemed the worst was over, and were optimistic about the new Lab CEO Rod Humble. And after six months, we not only had a larger crew, but were continuing to publish every weekday and most weekends. Once again, we threw a party to celebrate.
In January 2011, we would start a weekly "Events This Week" article in "Events" which contained times for things like club parties to weekly book readings to science discussions. Xymbers Slade would sign up in February and would do horoscopes and various articles such as games in and out of Second Life, as well as contribute some cartoons. Sam Nightfire would leave the Newser to concentrate on her "Virtual Tonight" TV show, and I would appear on there in early February. It would last for several episodes. Any1 would also depart, and shut down her CNN iReports page.
Rod Humble came on as CEO around the start of the year. We were optimistic about him at first as he made visible efforts to go about Second Life and understand how it was for an avatar. There was further optimism when the number of groups was raised to 42 in later January. One move that caused worry was moving some teen accounts from the old Teen Grid to Second Life. There were predictions of legal trouble, and perhaps places getting shut down. But those would not come to pass as the teens either moved on to other places online such as games, or went around undercover fibbing about their age.
In late February and early March came the most controversial story since Emeraldgate: Redzone. Promoted as an alt detector, it got people nervous with fears of privacy concerns and stalking. But the Lab would soon act against it, and it's creator was banned. The IBM corporation had once funded dozens of sims in Second Life. But in April they closed their last three, a simbolic move that reminded people real-life business had all but departed Second Life. Blue Mars, once touted as the "Second Life Killer" would end up laying off many of it's staff, and announce it would be concentrating on mobile apps, a move many felt was a gamble that was most likely doomed.
Of real-life events, in February, the Arab Spring was covered in the Egypt sim as it's country's leader stepped down, as well as anti-Kadaffi demonstrations elsewhere. In March, there were fundraisers to help bring relief to those in Japan affected by an earthquake. In May, the arch-terrorist Osama Bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals, and later that month some builders made a build of his Abbottabad compound.
Of the Sunweaver community, Nydia Tungsten would create KVXN Radio in February. Club Xanadu would start having events again in March after being closed for over a year. When the Relay season started, the Passionate Redheads began as usual, but in April team co-Captain Daaneth Kivioq had a stroke. He persevered, and the team went on with many fundraisers, myself doing a "Bid Me Human" that had me without my fox avatar for a month. The best fundraiser was Sunweaver community leader Rita Mariner's own Bid Me Human that netted 75,000 Lindens ($300 USD).
Early June would be our first anniversary. It had been much hard work, but we made it. We celebrated with not one party, but two, both at Covadonga Writer's Cove, and The Lighttower where DJ Quark played his most attended sets. A plane made by Jessicabelle Dayafter was given as the prize to one lucky contest winner. We were feeling on top of the world, well, the virtual world.
June would see another successful SL Birthday. July would see the Relay for Life's Weekend Walk, with the Passionate Redheads celebrating their Co-Captain Daaneth's recover and a successful season. The Relay committee was proud too, honoring him with the individual Spirit of Relay award. It was perhaps the high point of the Passionate Redheads. Unfortunately, the good times for the Redheads would not last. That autumn would see the opening of the community's beach club, the Happy Vixen.
In July, Paisley Bebee would end her popular Tonight Live show. Treet TV, once a popular programing broadcasting network for Second Life based shows, would also shut down that month. Earlier in the year, a pony community had sprung up with the new pony avatars in the sim of Bronyville. In July, Bronyville was taking down due to it's creator being a ban-evasion alt. Undaunted, the ponies got other sims and rebuilt.
August would see the Newser get a new sponsor: the Steelhead steampunk-themed community. We would cover events there such as it's annual blowing up of Mt. Saint Hellens. We would also write about the LEA's "Avatar Games." In September, we would write about Aero Pines' 9/11 Stairclimb tribute to firefighters. Sadly in September, one of our favorite hangouts, The Lighttower, would close. Founding member Shellie Sands would also go on hiatus, never to return. In October, we would write about the "1000 Avatar Project," one artist's documenting over a thousand resident pictures. In November, we wrote on the disappearance of the Vietnam Wall. December had us writing about Linden Realms, the Lab's efforts to make an inworld game in Second Life. At the end of the year, CNN would close it's iReports area inworld.
August would see the introduction of something new in Second Life: Mesh. Touted as a more efficient and better way to build, it was a little slow to catch on at first as only the most recent viewers would see it. The "Flufee on a Meshion" videos by Pooky Amsterdam and Draxtor Despres would both prove popular and ease people's minds a little more. Unfortunately, Mesh would require the use of offworld tools, and some established builders would find themselves at a disadvantage as it caught on.
In real life, this July would have the last of NASA's space shuttle missions. Here in Second Life, a replica would go up at the same time. The landing would be broadcasted at the ISM. A massacre in Norway of dozens of children resulted in residents paying their respects in a church at Second Norway. In October, the Occupy Wall Street protests would be reflected inworld as well.
One issue annoying residents, especially newer ones, was Linden Lab having done away with last names for accounts. It had done so in late 2010 for several reasons, such as people being confused as to why they couldn't simply use their real life name and not liking any of the several names offered at the time as options, while offering residents a "display name" or more or less whatever they wanted as an option. Trouble was, with the default surname of "Resident," newcomers felt like second-class citizens. And they were sometimes treated as such as they were instantly identified as new, some venues not allowing them in, thinking they might be griefers. In December 2011, Rod Humble stated Linden Lab was looking for a way to bring back surnames. But a few months later in March 2012, the Lab announced they couldn't find a way that was fair for everyone involved. While some acknowledged the new system was a better one than the old overall,
the general feeling was that the Lab could have easily made some
In February 2012, Club Cutlass would get a makeover and change from the "Pyramid" to something round that became known as "The Donut." In March, the Sunweavers got started at the Relay for Life as the Passionate Redheads with a number of events. But in May, trouble erupted behind the scenes. Daaneth and Sabine would step down as co-captains, Daaneth leaving the team, and Dusk Griswold and Lomgren Smalls would assume temporary leadership.
Winter 2012 would see a couple events in which the residents interacted with the residents vanish, the Linden Snowball Fight, and "Kiss A Linden." But the Lab would enact a new Third Party Viewer policy that required more standardization of other viewers. So features like Phoenix's showing what other viewers residents were using had to go. In March, Linden Lab closed down it's Welcome and Discovery Islands for new residents, and replaced it with a simplistic area that would likely confuse them. In April came a bombshell: Linden Lab would not be organizing a Second Life Birthday event. And in July, it was announced that the Second Life Community Convention, it's annual real-life convention was cancelled.
Why was Linden Lab doing this? While there were a few people wondering if this was their was of trying to avoid drama, another newsletter expressed an opinion shared by more, "Linden Lab has lost any real interest in being involved with the user community." Fortunately in the case of the Second Life Birthday, a number of residents got together and organized their own Second Life Birthday celebration, with sponsors paying for the sims.
In April was one of the Newser's more controversial stories, an investigation of the maker of the Voodoo Security system threatening the members of a privacy group. Also in April, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic was marked by events on the replica of the ship in Second Life.
While not a Second Life topic, the SOPA and PIPA Internet bills would get numerous protests online. Several Sunweaver clubs would protest it by closing for a week. As the year went on, there would be various proposals for increased regulations, including a proposal to turn the Internet over to a UN agency, which would have allowed repressive nations to censor content with it's blessing.
June 2012 would be a happy month for the Newser. It celebrated it's second anniversary, yours truly recalling the large bash our predecessor paper had for it's second. And for the first time it wouldn't just cover the Second Life Birthday, but it would be part of it, with an office exhibit made by Quark Allen. July 2012 would see more good news. Despite the troubles earlier, the Passionate Redheads rallied and came out as a leading team once more. But unfortunately this would be their last hurrah.
In July, the Summer Olympics took place. While there were inworld tributes, the Duran Duran band did an Olympic concert with displays of Second Life avatars on stage screens. In August, one of the last media corporations to have an inworld presence, the Australia Broadcasting Corporation, would close ABC Island. 2012 had a US Presidential Election. But this one drew less excitement and attention than the one four years ago, both in and out of Second Life. This wasn't so much the case with Hurricane Sandy that summer, in which a number of residents were knocked offline for a while.
In August, Nydia and a number of other Sunweavers took an interest in Minecraft and started building on a server. In October, World of Warcraft would launch "Mists of Pandara," and the Pandaren as a player race, which got the attention of some gamers I knew.
In August came one certain change in the Newser that those looking for older articles in the archives appreciated. We had been following Dana's example of just linking sections to story headers. A reader suggested linking the story itself whenever another one replaced it on the top of a section. So we started doing that. In November, Gemma and Quark would have their fifth anniversary party. Also in November, DrFran Babcock would join up with the Newser. Grease Coakes would join about a month later.
In December, the original office from June 2010 was retired and replaced with a much improved that continues to stand almost ten years later.
In September, Linden Lab would get into something other than Second Life, and launch it's sandbox game "Patterns," described as a Minecraft spinoff. Alongside the iPad app "Creatorverse," some wondered if this marked the start of a shift away from a focus on Second Life by Linden Lab. On a more amusing note, a group of people came up with a Second Life version of the popular "Gangnam Style" video, one that would inspire a number of inworld parodies such as "Hamster Style." Soon after, it became normal practice for the Newser to show a video on Saturday, usually a music video.
November 2012, the Ozimal lawsuit against Amaretto is ruled in favor of the horse maker. About the same time, CBS ordered Linden Lab to enforce copyright protection of Trek items, and some content creators were suspended. This left some roleplayers concerned if CBS was trying to shut them down as well. It wouldn't be until February in which CBS would give them a clear answer. They had no problem with Trek roleplays and stated they wanted them to continue, but would still take action against anyone selling.
In December, Team Firestorm, formerly Team Phoenix, announced it was stopping support of the older Phoenix viewer at the end of the year, citing the increasing difficulty in updating the Viewer 1-based viewer.
December 21 was the end of the "Long Count" Mayan calendar, and the day a few thought the world would end. A few places inworld would react by having "Apocolypse Not" and "End of the World" parties in jest. It was one of our more amusing stories at the end of the year.
Bu things soon got a little more serious. In January 2013, for one club, Junkyard Blues, the issue of griefing turned serious with a group hitting the place with a series of "graphics card crasher" attacks, and threatening more unless money was paid. With the Lab offering little help, their reaction would be a "hunker down" strategy to outlast the blackmailers. It led to questions about the dismissal of Oskar Linden a few months earlier, supposedly it being partially due to his taking action against a griefer, and now other Lindens were hesitant to take action.
In legal matters, In February, the US Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a report on guidelines for the regulation of virtual currencies. Discussion about it the following month had people wondering if the Lab would need to hire additional lawyers to figure things out. A couple months later in April, there would be a Bitcoin crash, raising more questions about regulations. Also in April, the CISPA bill that looked to many like a threat to Internet privacy passed the House. In June, PRISM, a secret Government program that gave the NSA unprecedented access to major tech company servers, was exposed. In August, there was a proposal to declare unauthorized streaming a felony, based on part of the SOPA bill from the previous year.
Grease Coakes would go from news writing to published fiction with his "Ginny" story in January. Starting in March, DrFran began a series of articles describing what the first sims in Second Life looked like today. She would also interview some notable personalities such as Pookymedia's Pooky Amsterdam, Marianne McCann of Bay City, and Doc Gasoigne, the head of the Second Life Birthday team.
For our neighbors in the Sunweaver community, January would bring sad news with the decision to disband the Passionate Redheads RFL team. Fortunately a new team would rise in it's place: the Sunbeamers with Rita Mariner as the team captain. Nydia and friends would have some more Minecraft adventures. Club Zero Gravity would get renovated, though some would say they preferred the old look.
Draxtor Despres' work on the "Flufee" videos would end in January with the last one. But he would soon be back with "The Drax Files: World Makers" videos. Philip Rosedale had created another company: High Fidelity. In May, it would make news with the announcement of a new VR Rig: Occulus Rift.
Linden Lab's diversification would continue, buying the sandbox world Blocksworld in January. Soon after it released Dio, a "creative and social experience." In February came "Versu," which was an interactive fiction reader. In July, it would by Desura, a game distribution program that focused more on independent, or indie, games than Steam. But while Blocksworld would prove to be a financial success, the others would not be. Some wondered if the Lab was just throwing things against the wall to try and see what stuck instead of making extra effort to build up a fanbase around a product.
In February, Linden Lab would state they were offering a "surprise gift" for residents. It turned out to be ten Linden dollars for each resident, a tiny amount. Confused, some residents stated they would have preferred the return of the "Kiss a Linden" events. They were somewhat more approving when in March the Lab started to bring back it's 50% discount for nonprofit sims, beginning with offering it to some groups to bring back expired sims, though naturally some were still irritated for the discount being taken away to begin with. Only in July would it bring back the discount in full.
Then in May came a bombshell. Linden Lab was ordering all third party Linden dollar currency exchangers to shut down, including the Newser's first sponsor Podex. Trouble was, this left people in some countries overseas without means to buy Linden dollars, and there was talk about some entire communities up and moving out.
Why was the Lab doing this? Some felt the Lab was beign greedy without thinking of what might happen. Others thought it was a panicked reaction to the proposed Federal regulations of virtual currency. Podex's Jacek Shuftan tried to negotiate, but the Lab would suspend his account, shutting down Podex. Finally in mid-May, Linden Lab would do a partial reversal. They would allow the exchangers to do business as "authorized resellers," but they could only sell Linden dollars, not buy them. Several were authorized at the announcement, but for some reason would drag their feet with Podex which wouldn't get it's authorization until June 2.
So with our third anniversary party, we had reasons to celebrate. While one of our sponsors had a close call, they were still around. We would be in the upcoming SL10B, and soon after were featured in an inworld magazine, "Unforgettable."
The Second Life Tenth Birthday went well, with exhibits such as Loki Eliot's "The Behemoth," which was described as a metaphor for Second Life. Linden Lab had better luck with it's gift to the residents for the SL10B, a bear avatar, than other notable recent moves. More friends of mine showed up at this SLB than previous ones too.
In August we covered the Steelhead elections, which unlike the CDS's were mostly an RP one. Steelhead was a fun place to write about, and I would write articles such as the Sharknado party. In October, Luskwood, the oldest active community in Second Life, would celebrate it's tenth anniversary.
There was an SL game based on the anime "Attack on Titan." However, it made money by selling gear needed to play. So the owners of the anime complained, and the gear was taken off the market, closing the game to new players. Some called this a missed opportunity, feeling a deal could have been worked out between the game's creator and the anime's owner. Linden Lab would introduce a second game to the Grid of it's own in July: Magellan's Grid. This one would have a plot in which players would try to foil a villian.
In September came another bombshell. Linden Lab changed it's Terms of Service in regards to content creators, making the language vague and interpreted by some as saying the Lab reserved the right to take and claim someone's content as their own and sell it. The Lab would issue a statement saying this wasn't their intention, but would not change the language. So websites for 3D artists began disallowing the use of their textures in Second Life. Also, Tuna Oddfellow would take his noted "Odd Ball" and move the show to Inworldz, "you just broke the social contract with me as a creator in Second Life BIG TIME." Others began heading to InWorldz, either moving or at least giving the place a look.
Why was Linden Labs doing this? There was a little speculation that this was part of an "exit strategy" by the Lab's CEO Rod Humble, the content of the virtual world being a potential "gold mine" to the indie game developers on the Lab's new Desura platform. More often, people felt the Lab wasn't out to take people's content, but the ToS change was very poorly written and the Lab didn't realize how upset people were or the situation it and Second Life were in, "Linden Lab's refusal to understand the needs of its customer base is far more troubling to me than its poor contract drafting," one lawyer would comment.
A United Content Creators of Second Life group was formed with the intention of getting the Lab to listen to their concerns and remove the iffy ToS language. There were panels with discussions involving lawyers. But the Lab's response was, "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." At the end of December, UCCSL's founder Kylie Sabra announced she was sending a letter to Linden Lab. But at the end of January, she stated she had gotten no answer, and had concluded the Lab had no intention of correcting the Terms of Service.
Inworldz in May passed 75,000 users. And in November it passed the 100,000 mark. With more people looking at InWorldz, the Newser did as well, yours truly covering Tuna Oddfellow's debut of the Odd Ball in this world, getting Wingless furry avatars offered there, and covering a Relay for Life in Inworldz event. With more game reviews in recent months, it was decided in November to make a new section: Other Grids and MMOs, later changed to Other Grids MMOs and Games. Also in November, yours truly got a new computer, the one I already had was around since before writing for Dana's paper.
Among the things I was covering was the formation of the InWorldz/Second Life connection center to promote travel between the two worlds. This culminated in a meeting taking place in both virtual worlds, hosted by Nydia Tungsten and sponsored in part by the Newser. In late December, we would interview InWorldz founder Elenia Llewellyn. The Sunweaver community, the neighbors of the Newser office, would make the decision to get a couple sims in InWorldz as a "lifeboat" in case something happened to Second Life. In January, the Newser's sponsor Podex started doing business in InWorldz, and Luskwood was offering free avatars in InWorlds to users who had them with their Second Life accounts.
InWorldz it seems was going from a curiosity to starting to become a competitor to Second Life, thanks in part to Linden Lab's distancing themselves from and failing to understand it's customers.
In November, Linden Lab would settle a property-rights case out of court. It would also pressure Team Firestorm to block older versions of it's viewers, and eventually the team relented.
By the beginning of 2014, the Newser was in good shape. It had sponsors. It had a team of great reporters. We had plenty to write about and cover, posting about a thousand articles, briefs, announcements, and cartoons in the previous year. And most important, we had a large and growing following of readers who looked to us as a source of news about Second Life. However, some of what we wrote about was Linden Lab's questionable moves. Second Life was still in good shape after ten years. But it was still going through a long-term decline in the amount of virtual land being owned by the residents, and the Lab's actions certainly didn't encourage things there. With Linden Lab increasingly unable or unwilling to understand it's customers, it was starting to look like more of our future efforts would be covering other virtual worlds and games as they spent less time in Second Life and more in InWorldz.
But 2014 would bring about more stories to cover.