Second Life

Mesh Redux: Second Life Next

Mesh is coming to Second Life. I’ve been dealing with this idea for close to three years now, when I first realized that things like prototyping and architecture could never fully “live” in Second Life until you could import mesh models.

I’ve written about it, advocated for it, spoke about it at the recent Second Life Community Center, posted thousands of words on the topic, held events at Metanomics including community forums and a full Masterclass broadcast in-world and on the Web which reached thousands of viewers.

I’ve posted examples, discussed tools, promoted things like Prim Composer as a sort of interim step, discussed how mesh will allow integration with things like Papervision, Unity3D and WebGL. I’ve held workshops and shows with architects to demonstrate use cases where mesh would make sense. I’ve suggested where mesh might head, including a road map that would include editable mesh and the ability to paint mesh objects.

I’ve been talking about this for three years, I’ve been vocal about it on every conceivable channel there is.

I’ve also written about Second Life culture and the economy. And I’ve been very clear in my opinions, across hundreds of posts, that I feel that Second Life is a world and that decisions that are made by its users and more particularly by Linden Lab should be viewed through more than one prism: it’s not just a technology. It’s a unique site of culture and community, it has an economy that’s worth millions of dollars in trade.

I’ve interviewed Tom Boellstorff twice for this reason: because the distinct perspective of an anthropologist is one lens, one example, of how you can look at something like Second Life and see how decisions on policy and implementation of new technology impact the fabric that ties people together – something like adding voice, for example, gives new tools to the people that live in that culture and changes it.

I have rarely opposed advances in technology: the problem has rarely been what’s been added. The problem has almost always been the things that were broken, the things that were never fixed, and the things that were never finished.

Instead, I have fairly relentlessly advocated for discussions that are more holistic. I was asked to review Display Names, for example, and my response was fairly typical of how I view these things: I advocated for a broader assessment of how Display Names fit into a larger vision for identity management and self-expression, to move past the ‘widget’ or ‘feature’ into something more strategic and ennobling.

My advice usually goes unheeded.

When it comes to mesh, I was one of the first people to try to paint a broader picture of what it would make possible. I avoided the mesh beta for this very reason: I didn’t want to wait to talk about it, I’d just keep plugging away at it, holding forums at Metanomics, poking the Lab to try to get dates and clarification, and pointing people in the direction of tools and resources, ideas and examples.

I tried to place mesh in the broader framework not of what would be possible in-world, but rather what it might mean for how Second Life could influence a broader digital culture by allowing variable levels of immersion, the flowing of data and collaborative spaces across platforms, and how it might allow Second Life to attract and integrate with other creative communities.

I was also very clear through all of this that the impact of mesh on the economy and culture of Second Life should never be taken lightly and that a rich, open and community-based discussion should be facilitated by Linden Lab and others so that the introduction of mesh was considered against the larger frameworks in which Second Life operates.

Clearly, I did something wrong.

Change Management
Sometimes a post sort of runs away from you. I don’t moderate comments although I’ve toyed with the idea on-and-off, but I typically think it’s better to let people sort of grind things out of their system. I expect that people will understand that the opinions of people in the comments are there own and that the fact that I don’t moderate doesn’t imply endorsement. Sometimes I reply, sometimes I simply ignore, or sometimes I jump in too, although I’m less adept with comments I think than actual posts.

I’ve almost given up blogging entirely because the shrillness, the nastiness, and the frank trolling that goes on in digital spaces upsets me. I try to guard that in myself, but clearly the better side of my nature sometimes takes a holiday.

My post on the video that Sandcastle Studios developed was clearly not my better nature. I wasn’t careful with how I worded it, it came across as vindictive or shrill, and it lacked any of the nuance or subtlety that I feel about the issue. I clearly assumed that people understood my stand on the issues because I had written close to 15,000 words on the topic over the years. This was clearly an error in judgment and my criticisms weren’t tempered.

I didn’t mention, for example, the other videos that Draxtor, Gianna and Reed had created. Here’s a great example that gives a fairly neat, clear and compelling argument for the merits of mesh:

It’s a wonderful video. It feels like the perfect complement to my own thoughts and posts on the subject. And for those of you who have the inclination, my most recent ones on the topic are here and here.

So without the larger sense of my respect for the work they had done, without knowing that I had specifically invited Reed and Gianna to be on Metanomics because of my vast respect for their insight and skills, I allowed myself to become misinterpreted to a degree that astonished me.

At the time, it really did seem like my logic wasn’t terribly complicated. And I stand by my basic problems with the video:

- Mesh is causing anxiety at a time when Second Life is sputtering along and dealing with issues like search, the Marketplace, the introduction of Display Names, and management changes at Linden Lab.
- The video, while seemingly humorous, didn’t make me laugh, but maybe that really is my lack of a sense of humor as Draxtor says. If you were rolling in the aisles laughing, I’d love to hear what you found so funny.
- By ending with the tag line “Deal with It”, what was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, gut busting hilarity, simply reasserted the types of comments that people like Reed have made in more serious venues, where he ended on a similar note: “Calm down”.
- And I actually wouldn’t have even cared. Why I REALLY cared was because Linden Lab put the video on their main channel.
- The video was not a pet project as Draxtor asserted in his comments. Linden Lab asked hundreds of people to submit videos. This is the video they submitted.
- There were other videos submitted which were not put on the main channel.

Here’s one:

I really wouldn’t have cared one way or the other. I didn’t find it particularly funny, but I also didn’t find it particularly harmful. What was harmful was that this was a video which the Lab selected as an example of how to communicate the possibilities and coming addition of mesh.

In his comments, Draxtor made the case that this was simply a personal project:

“Oh and I apologize that I am not contributing to the debate and easing anxieties of all the millions of residents with this particular machinima. I was not aware that I was hired to do that job….have to check in with management before I publish anything next time.”

And indeed, if they had published on their own and not submitted it to the Lab, and if the Lab hadn’t put it at the top of their main youTube channel – well, moving on, I guess.

You DID check with management before it was published on the Second Life main channel, because you SUBMITTED it to them. And “management” accepted.

I was very clear in my post that the astonishment, for me at least, was that the Lab selected this as the best they could do to continue communicating the feature.

So having said all that, I stand by two things: one, I should have been more generous with a broader context and demonstration of respect for the video’s creators (who, again, I’ve helped to promote and bring to a wider audience on more than one occasion); and two, I stand by my belief that Linden Lab showed a lack of judgement in choosing this as a communication tool for a significant change to the world.

A World of Meaning
You know, I don’t really know how to respond to the following comments by Draxtor, as I actually thought I was fairly open minded (although he’s right, I did bash, and I stand by that because of the reasons above, although it came across as a personal bashing of the creators as well):

“You take issue with “deal with it”? In my book this is a proactive term, implying that we better get out there and learn and debate and acquire knowledge, be open minded, instead of whining, giving in to fears and/or choosing the “bashing” response [yes, there is fight or flight, but I like to add "bashing" to that, please?]“

Or the following:

“Good thing that most users are a bit less self-involved than that & are working hard to do meaningful, good things with the platform, projects that could change the world….In re “uncreative class” – never meant to insult the legitimately anxious and answer seeking folk [remember proactive from first paragraph] by that but rather exactly people like you, who do nothing constructive, not building anything, not conceptualizing any meaningful projects, yet you claim you do by writing about those things, creating controversy, copying press releases & until the recent past, being a unofficial [paid?] spokesperson for Linden Lab, disguised as a moderator…wow….journalistic ethics anyone?”

It perplexes me, in particular, because Draxtor is intimately aware of some of the work we’re doing in Second Life. Supporting military amputees, healing communities following war, building new models for energy conservation through storytelling…

Actually, I truly don’t have the heart to defend myself or to list off my dozens of projects. I truly, truly feel, well, rather ill about it.

Mesh and the Road Ahead
Mesh is good and mesh is needed. I suppose it bears repeating that I’ve been saying this for years.

And yet I despair. And I despair because Linden Lab has a long history of failed or incomplete technology introductions: they roll-out shiny new things and then don’t ever entirely finish them: Windlight, voice (will voice EVER work properly?), Havok, Avatars United….the list is endless and I’m sure you can add your own.

They got it truly, deeply right once, when they took a holistic view and introduced C/M/T and the concept of rentable land.

Mesh isn’t just a new feature, a new technology that allows new types of content. Mesh has, like other things, the potential to rapidly accelerate the growth of the world. It allows a cross-integration of content, new development pipelines, new creation ecosystems, new forms of outreach and promotion, and new possibilities for art, commerce and discovery.

But my personal belief is that this potential will be unrealized because there is no road map, there is no robust discussion of how this fits into a broader vision, there is no sense that the Lab is looking outside its own walls or outside the idea that technology alone builds a business.

I have no idea whether they’re consulting with people or thinking through the economic models other than in their own self-interest of what to charge. I have no idea whether they have plans to do outreach to external development communities. I have no sense of whether they’re planning tutorials, in-world forums, discussion sessions, surveys, information packages, advertising, promotion, education, or press releases.

I have no sense of whether they’ve discussed the cultural implications of mesh or what it might mean to be able to co-locate content both in-world and on other platforms. I have no idea whether they’ve thought about things like creating a 3D Web site Marketplace, or whether they’ve discussed with the open source community the possibility of coding editable mesh, or whether Philip was serious about a long-term plan to make mesh paintable.

All I have this week is a video posted on the main Second Life channel that says “Deal with It” which leads me to believe that there is a strain, at least, which purports that mesh is just a widget, that this is just a platform and not a world.

I have lots of other tools I use, things that are simply software. There are lots of other places I can go if I don’t want to be under the governance of someone else, and there are times ahead when there won’t be ‘worlds’ at all, there will just be technologies.

But for now, this is still a world, and is still a community, and it still has an economy which is often arbitrarily managed by an entity we do not control, and for now I’ll “deal with it”, I suppose, and continue to plod along, repackaging press releases and creating controversy.


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