Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Meaning of Art on Second Life®

The SLCPro event this week certainly came with a lot of announcements about Linden Lab's current projects, including the release of the Viewer 2.0 Beta to the public and the unveiling of their new Third Party Viewer Policy. After losing myself reading about all these developments in the blogs, the one that stuck out as the most interesting to me was the establishment of a Linden Endowment for the Arts. While the prospect of LL putting this much behind a particular community on the grid is intriguing, what really drew me into this conversation was the questions that immediately sprung up in the comment section of the forum about WHAT sort of arts the endowment was meant to support.

Niko Linden admitted that if you ask one hundred people their definition of art, you will get a hundred different answers. The vagueness of the post that sparked all the debate of what art was deserving of such a program may have been due to the project being in nebulous stages, or a move to gauge the breadth of art that is on the grid by the contents of the applications they receive. The comments on the blog may be the most pointed feedback they find on this new initiative, and the Lindens involved with the initial planning stages that led to the post do appear to be listening.

What is art is an age old question, and this virtual world of ours draws in residents that wish to express their creativity in many forms. Do we, as writers who may not be involved in much of the content creation aspect of the grid, deserve to be eligible for an endowment to support our use of the grid to expand our sources of inspiration and ability to network? Are musicians not real Second Life® artists because their exploitation of the platform is more in the way of being able to personally access a worldwide audience? Should the Linden endowment only benefit those that integrate their art with 3D capabilities to the "fullest" extent they can?

There aren't easy answers to any of these convoluted questions, but then again, that seems to be the way of much in the social experiment of the grid. I personally think that the Lindens should bestow their grace on any art or artist that breathes new life to the grid through their creations, no matter what aspect of the environment is making it an unique experience.

The ability to hear original music through the live venues of the grid has been a godsend for me, I would never get to as many shows as I have in the last month without Second Life®. It is not the same as going to a bar or an arena, but that has a lot of benefits as well. No crush of people, no expensive tickets, cover charge, or drink prices, and you can still talk with your friends. Depending on the artist, they may even have an SLCD for sale so you can take the music home. A more personal way of finding new music than Myspace or Facebook, and more entertaining as well.

Visual art is also a driving force behind my grid explorations. There is art in many of the builds of the grid, sometimes in the most unexpected places. The ability to buy original art to hang on my virtual walls is also a great bonus of the Second Life® experience for me. I enjoy seeing the work ofl visual artists in the environments they wish to build around it. There is a lot of experimenting going on with 3D visual art on the grid as well, and the shared media aspect of the new viewer can only serve to heighten those possibilities.

As writers, we are mostly using the grid for networking and workshopping our current projects with fellow writers, but shared media may open many new doors for us as well when it is more universal. I believe it will make it much easier to network, and also easier to share our work between ourselves and amongst the rest of the residents of the grid. Some would say ours is the art form least deserving of an endowment from the Lindens, as most sharing of content in the literary world of sl is done through audio or offsite forums. Notecards are still the most basic of notepad documents, and texturizing our work is not really an option for novelists. I have some great ideas for doing my poems in illuminated form as scanned textures, but have yet to start that project. The upcoming poetry festival at Milkwood will hopefully inspire me to truly get to work on that project.

Should the endowment be for art that could not exist without content unique to Second Life®? Or should the Lindens be accepting of all artists that have a presence on the grid? The meaning and purpose of any art is such an endless source for human discussion, it will be very interesting to see what eventually comes of these initial plans, and what it means for all the artists of Second Life®.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beta is Crashtastic!

I started writing this blog post while waiting for my inventory to reload on 1.23 viewer. My beta testing of the new 2.0 viewer for SecondLife was FAIL in a lot of ways, yet it succeeded in showing me where Linden Lab is very shortsighted.

I also have a greater sympathy for those that have a lot of problems crashing on the current viewer because they have older systems. I am going to be in their shoes if I am forced to use 2.0 to stay involved on the grid. It is how "games" go, though. The new versions always require the latest hardware, no matter what they say in their minimum requirements. Now, you say, SL is not a game.

When it comes to its use of computer resources, oh yes it is. Which brings me to the point I would really like to discuss in this blog. How is this viewer going to improve the new user experience when their hardware is not going to be able to handle it?

I spent a lot of time on Myspace. I met a lot of cool people there. I did not, however, meet a lot of people with high end systems, unless they were a power gamer, or needed the functionality for their work. The average, casual user of the internet has a computer relatively close to mine in specs, which in SL terms means at the very minimum of listed requirements for Viewer 1.23(my current choice), and if my experience with 2.0 is any indication, below the minimum needed to run Viewer 2.0. Shoot, the one friend I almost got on SL with tales of a virtual wrestling federation had issues with 1.23 crashing the second time he logged in.

He hasn't been back. He went to City of Heroes, better customer support and better game performance on his machine. This a dude who would have spent hundreds of dollars here over time, and gotten his father's business a presence on here as well. All lost because Linden Lab expects casual users to have top of the line machines. More to the point, his machine is only a year old and had issues. You can't retain users like this. You can't live in an imaginary world where everybody has top of the line computers and expect to get new users. Do the Lindens live in SL and pay no attention to the average net user? I believe that is the truth of this matter, since the Facebook style of the chat is an obvious push to get some of that crowd.

If the problems of this viewer crashing on lower end systems are not solved, this may be the death knell for SL in the internet media. If they succeed in getting new users over here from Facebook with their "noob" friendly interface, they're going to lose the majority of them at the first crash. It's that simple. People expect the magic box to just work, dammit. Those are 75% of your heavy users on social networking sites. If they had computers set up to play the newest bells and whistles online game, they would be there, not building up plots on Farmville. I know this, because I have a lot of friends that try to get me to play the Facebook apps with them. They'd be here if their system could handle the viewer.

In conclusion, the UI is perfect to lure in the noobs, but the push will fail the first time they crash. For those with a real urge to join the grid, they might give it a few more tries. I have crashed about 20 times in the past two days trying to test out the features of the new viewer. Media on a prim is great. The sidebar smooshing my view of the world is not. It crashes my graphics card. It would also be nice to use my inventory at all. I'm not sure if my full inventory has downloaded ONCE during my beta test experience. I am pretty sure it hasn't. The most consistent thing that threw me into FAIL? Searching my inventory. As soon as I type a letter into the search bar, it is instant shutdown. I could try to toss it off as just an issue because I use Linux, but I don't think that is the case. Said example friend is a Windows user. In fact, 1.23 never crashes on Linux for me, but if I try to run SL in Windows, I join the legions of crash abused.

Sorry Lindens, but new users aren't going to run out and buy a new machine so they can spend enough time in SL, without crashing, to get hooked. You need to make the sidebar an overlay or you're not going to retain the majority of the new users you're looking for. So sad that you have made most of your current residents irate over a viewer that won't work effectively for the audience it is targeting. So sad. Get out of the techgeek bubble you live in and learn about what the average internet user is running to access the web. Then build a viewer that will actually work well on their machines. If you don't, I may have to leave the grid. I have never been fond of watching anything die.