Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The SexBots Are Already Here

Well, it turns out some people have already written sexbots for a profit motive - to steal your personal information.

According to a recent piece in the Guardian, Russian software developers recently unleashed a program called CyberLover, which roams chat rooms posing as flirtatious women, then duping users into giving them personal data—phone numbers, addresses, even sexy photos.

The author of the column on cybersex, remarks about the amazing repetitiveness of of most of it and wonders if most guys would notice or care if it really was a sexbot on the other end of the "conversation".
Still, the idea that a computer program could fool even the most desperate lover in cyber bed makes an online sex enthusiast wonder: is some cybersex so predictable that it could be done by a robot?

I’ll admit: some days I feel like a sexbot myself. Camping out for research in the AOL Big Flirt chat room, where online love is practiced 'Wam-bam-ty-mam!' style, it’s not hard to get cynical. After the third guy in an hour has asked “Do you swallow?” within moments of introducing himself, the repetitiveness of uninspired cybersex makes itself strangely clear. Descriptions of the same-sex acts with the same outcomes (“First I’d lick you, then I’d fuck you, then I’d cum all over your face”) pop up on the screen again and again. A girl can’t help but think: if cyberers are so uncreative, maybe they’d be happier with a machine.

Finally, she does a little research of her own, by using stock responses copied and pasted into a chat room to see if people would notice that she wasn't being "creative".
Still, inspired by my Russian brethren, I decided to head back into the AOL chat rooms and test out the idea myself. Armed with only 30 responses (see below), ranging from the harmless (“Not much. Just horny”) to the hardcore (“I’d love to take your cock deep in my throat”), I stuck it out for ten conversations with ostensibly male counterparts whose screen names alone—HardCock, BigDick4U—were enough to make me consider turning in my human skin and resigning myself to life as a computer. Each of the conversations lasted at least half an hour. Most got pretty down and dirty into the cybersex act—though some guys got excited, orgasmed early, and disappeared half way through. Classy.

Unsurprisingly, I found my lines worked 95% of the time. “Mmm” and “Oh yeah” came in handy often, as did “I’d like that” and “I’m rubbing my pussy.” No one asked me, “Are you sure you’re not a sexbot?” In every conversation though, there was at least one moment when my lines just weren’t enough. One user asked me where in New York City I lived. Another asked me whether I’d ever taken it up the ass and what specifically I liked about it. A third wanted to move the chat to webcam, and I had to explain multiple times why I wanted to stay put—without sounding like a broken record.

Her list of 30 "stock" phrases could keep most of her "partners" busy for up to 30 minutes! One scary thing about her list of phrases is that it really doesn't include much hardcore in it.

When I did escorting, I definitely found myself using some of the same words and imagery again and again. I even found myself copying and pasting certain phrases I said into a file I kept of "good phrases". A particularly good turn of word or a phrase that struck me as particularly sexy would go into the file so I wouldn't forget them. Later, if I was feeling uninspired or at an impasse over what to say during a session, I'd glance through the file for ideas.

I also kept a file on most people I met, and not just clients, so I wouldn't forget who they were or why I knew them. Linden Labs even have a feature for this, the 'notes' tab of a profile - a place to put comments and notes about a person. When glancing down your list of friends, it is nice to be able to look someplace and remember why they are on the list. Those files I made, in the case of clients, also recorded their particular kinks and which phrases seemed to turn them on and which ones didn't.

Lillie comments on a different column by the same author that also speaks about the repetitiveness of cybersex. She hints that a good story is coming. I can't wait.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do Robots Dream Of Electric SLex?

Bots are becoming more and more popular in Second Life, to boost traffic numbers or even dance with guests.

Yes, dancing with guests and even holding a rudimentary conversation. The complexity of the bots is increasing and they will only become better at responding to others as time goes by.

While others debate the considerations for a parcel's 'traffic numbers' and whether or not this is giving an unfair advantage to certain merchants, I think unrestrained 'bot experimentation in Second Life is incredibly promising.

The Turning Test was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a computer program to fool others into believing that they are interacting with a human instead of a machine. Simple programs like Eliza can fool people for a short period of time, whereas more complex ones can fool people for longer. Eliza is a simple program that simulates a therapist speaking to a patient. It is surprising how a little bit of pattern recognition can mimic simple human interaction.

In the past, the tests have been largely academic. Commercial exploitation of artificial intelligence has mainly been limited to expert systems that are good at their designed task. It has always been a challenge to find a situation where people interact with each other without knowing that the other 'person' may not be human. Robotic technology has yet to make something that significantly resembles a human well enough for them to replace something like an order taker at McDonalds. For example, replacing phone support with a software system runs into the problems of speech recognition and natural language processing. However, online chat began to offer an area for software systems to begin to interact with people in a way that computers can easily understand.

Online chat never really had a commercial driver behind it, until now...

Second Life marries a chat environment with a profit motive. Businesses can now interact with people through a virtual environment completely described in terms that a computer can understand. Natural language processing is now the only barrier to having effective simulation of a person. Businesses will not have to solve the speech recognition and robotic simulation problems as well as the natural language processing ones. More importantly, some of the particulars of Second Life such as traffic numbers are actively driving businesses to consider 'bots an effective business tool.

The 'barrier to entry' has been made very low, you only need a compiler and an Internet connection and you can begin to write your own 'bot, but Second Life added that magical twist, money. Now, people will have an economic incentive to develop better general artificial intelligence rather than expert systems. And this goes far beyond just having dance partners in a club, this can now strike at the very thing that drives most human technical innovation, sex.

Soon the ranks of sex workers may be joined by truely virtual escorts - no human involved. Have it press some XCite! buttons and go, "oh god, yes! you are *so* huge," and you are halfway to doing the 'bread and butter' of escorting in Second Life. Guys are already flocking to Second Life for virtual sex and paying money for coordinated chat and XCite button pressing.

It will start small, with a couple of incidents where it was discovered that an escort was a 'bot. There will be calls for more verifications, bot registration, etc. Linden Labs will wisely say nothing while the crowds of 'regulate everything I dislike' call for more bans and restrictions. Later, a 'big' scandal will unfold where it is revealed that a well known escort uses a 'bot to handle the 'tedious' parts of SLex. Linden Labs will resume having interactive help support in the client, while behind the scenes 'bots will handle the simple stuff and only escalate the issue to a human if it gets to a point it can't handle.

Eventually, the town halls where everyone gathers to complain about the bugs will be run almost entirely by 'bots replying, "We are actively working on that issue at the moment, we saw that it was important to the community, so we have dedicated developers to work on that and resolve it as rapidly as possible." Wisely, the complainers will soon begin sending 'bots to the town halls to repeat the same old, tired mantras. 'Bots will be talking to 'bots.

The men who are insecure now about possible having SLex with a guy pretending to be a woman are really going to have their egos crushed when they learn that 'SexyHooker69 Cummings' whom they've had a crush on and have spent thousands of Lindens on is really a 'bot.

Seriously though, the days of being able to tell if you are talking to a human or a 'bot without significant interaction are coming to an end. My original 'Only In Second Life' post pointed to a dramatic blurring of the lines where human pretended to be robot and the robot pretended to be human. It makes the issue of whether or not the 'bots are artificially inflating traffic numbers seem insignificant when half of the escort business could be replaced by them and few guys would notice.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Meaningful Thing Have You Done Today?

I love Second Life for a number of reasons, but one of my favorites is that it gives disabled people a place to interact where they are not limited by many of their disabilities. Early last year I wrote that one of my Second Life neighbors was in a wheelchair in Real Life and that I had SL friends who had MS, were deaf, were shut-ins, and had all manner of disabilities. In SL they could fly, dance, chat with people, meet lots of new people, and "go places" that would never happen in RL. It still brings a tear to my eye how wonderfully liberating Second Life can be.

Via Lillie Yifu
, again, is a wonderful post all about The Heron Sanctuary, a community for the support and aid of disabled people in Second Life.

The post puts it well:

...people with disabilities want the same things everyone else does: we want companionship and friendship especially with people who understand the limitations placed on us by our disabling conditions; we need to learn more about our own conditions, about health and wellbeing, and about resources available to us to make our lives better; we want a chance to be employed or to do volunteer work since both give back to our community; and we want to have fun.

This was really no surprise, nor was it a surprise that these things were difficult to achieve in the world outside our homes.

Those of us who are disabled are often socially isolated, even physically isolated, within our geographic communities.

So three of us from LoveByrd decided to explore virtual reality as a setting within which to build a supportive community. We began to collect medical research about the benefits of operating in virtual reality that accrue to people with different kinds of disabilities.

We visited the websites of a half dozen different virtual worlds, and chose Second Life as the one to colonize, since it seemed at the time to be the richest cultural environment and the most fully developed.

The coming of voice to Second Life disturbed me because I didn't want my deaf friends to be stigmatized or relegated to 'voiceless ghettos' because they couldn't use the voice client. I'm glad Second Life exists so that my friends can lead fuller, richer lives.

It makes me look at myself and go, "What meaningful thing have you done today?" Thankfully, most of my days I can answer, "I may not have been an advocate, but I had fun with a lot of people and hopefully made their lives better by just allowing it to be 'normal'."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Secret Of How To Get Paid For The Work You Do

Via Lillie's blog, I read a post by Eshi about her experiences with being cheated by corporations out of the money she was owed. Update: Eshi says she was actually paid, just not given credit for her work.

The story is familiar, at least to me, you work hard producing a labor of love only to have the people who commissioned it not pay you, then treat you like a pariah. It is horrible how she was treated and this problem is not isolated to Second Life, it happens all the time in Real Life as well.

Calling for better regulation from Linden Lab won't really work either. The only solution to this happening is contracts, lawyers, and common sense.

When I worked as a consultant (both as part of a firm and as an independent), there were many people who wanted 'something for free'. They truly didn't seem to think that you were making money to live, eat, and have a life. Somehow, your time was all free.

After being on the losing end of this many times, I ended up becoming very good at negotiating deals and writing contracts out of self-preservation. It's lousy and I hate doing it. I like being Pollyanna where everything just 'works out' and the world is all rosy and full of smiles. In other words, I like being optimistic and naive. Someone would ask for my help, sell me on their vision, we'd agree on the price, and then things would all go wrong after that.

It is heart-breaking to become emotionally invested in making something, producing that 'great work', or bringing a truly great vision to reality only to have the real world of money and broken promises intrude. I've been in tears over projects that failed because the other side were lousy business people with more hope than money.

Part of the 'secret' of getting paid for your work is to negotiate a schedule of payments. You need a deposit and clear intervals of payment or clear deliverables after which incremental payment is expected. You deliver some, they deliver some money; you effectively hold the 'end product' hostage.

This is truly a rotten part of life. I'd become excited about working on some project, do a lot of preliminary thought on it, and become attached to it. Then, the deal would not happen and I'd be crushed. In the end I had to learn that there were tons of good ideas out there and that a new one would be along very soon. Sometimes, I had to take the risk of not eating for a while instead of getting involved in a project that wouldn't make certain I was making enough to live - and more importantly was willing to negotiate appropriate payment at appropriate times.

If someone is not willing to put down a deposit for your work, walk away. If they are not willing to pay you regularly or at specified milestones, walk away. If they are not willing to sign a contract, walk away. If they are not willing to provide you with a letter of reference or a case study when the project is complete, walk away.

I had to learn self-respect and self-worth. I had to learn that I didn't have to jump at every chance that came along, hoping it would work out. I had to learn to 'trust but verify.'

Why can't life be as simple as I once thought? Because some people are jerks and cheats while others are merely clueless optimists with more hope than money.

A Fur Joke Would Be Inappropriate Right Now

After encountering the Golden Compass daemon thingie on multiple blogs, I thought, "Why not see what it gives me? I hope I get something cute." Besides it can go with my "Which Barbie are you?"

Some of the questions had me thinking I was going to get a fly, "You have problems concentrating," some sort of lizard, "You are solitary," or perhaps a howler monkey, "You are an opinionated loud mouth."

Instead, I received an Ermine. Hmmm, a mustilidae, I wouldn't have thought of myself as a carnivorous, weasel-like person with offensive scent glands. But this sort of thing goes with the movie, if they did this with Harry Potter, everyone would have either a toad or a white owl. If they had a biologist do this type of quiz and put in a wide selection of animals, too many people would end up as three-toed sloths, wildebeasts, or something else that would have lots of irate mothers calling in saying, "My daughter is crying because your site called her a warthog! Why couldn't you have used cute things like bunnies?"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The DMCA And Evil Ad Spammers

I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, but I hate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Recently, a number of people have taken to posting pictures on Flickr showing 'Ad Spam' places around Second Life and their owners. Attempting to shame them or inform others about who they are so that no one supports them monetarily.

The example to the left in this post is a mega-prim ad spam. Oh, and it spins. Yes, you too could be the lovely recipient of that in your backyard.

The ad spammers did not like the fact that their name and their handiwork were being splashed all over Flickr. They invoked the DMCA and Flickr pulled down three of the pictures in that stream.

Over on New World Notes, they are reporting about how Rik Riel is trying to provoke a DMCA takedown notice. He is trying to force the issue of intellectual property and fair-use in Second Life. New World Notes makes a good point:

If you're a photojournalist reporting on the news in New York's Time Square, you don't need to get the permission of every business owner whose logo and trademarks will surely show up in the published photo. That's because there's already an established legal precedent of fair use.

I suggest all of you camera mavens and people who live next door to ugliness like this, post to that Flickr group, it would be very hard to takedown everyone.

This also raises the interesting point of what these ad spammers mean for Second Life real estate. The spammers own tiny parcels of land, 16m2, and they try to sell them for large amounts of money. Having them next to you drives down your enjoyment of your land and lowers its resale value. All sorts of things could come about:
1) People move to private sims because you don't have to deal with this.
2) You try to sell your mainland parcel, but can't because of the ads, you have to abandon it.
3) Mainland occupancy goes down, Linden Lab makes less money based on tier.
4) Ad revenue for these things dwindles as traffic dwindles. Eventually the ad land is abandoned due to lack of money.

Basically lots of economic churn, both good and bad.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Porn For Women

A post by the "Are We Not Men" crowd demonstrating how Xcite! would script doing the dishes made me remember a very amusing book called, "Porn For Women".

Guys, close your delicate eyes so you don't see any hardcore porn for women...

Sieg Heil Mein Fuhrer Philip

There is a hilarious video making the rounds of SL blogs. In it Hitler throws a tantrum and the provided sub-titles are written as if it was Philip Rosedale from Linden Labs. Hitler/Philip raves about the 'invasion' of the Open Source pirates who have nearly achieved teleporting on their OpenSim project and who already have SexGen beds.

It's nice to know that the OpenSim people have their priorities straight - sex before teleporting.

Some choice quotes:
"[why can't we go] ... back to the days where you could shit in box and sell it!! Before people was smart!!"
"At least we still have Orientation Island... WITH AN 80% DROP-OUT RATE!! WHOS IDEA WAS TO MAKE IT SO STUPID!! I tried to go there last night... to reassure myself... I like it still, I rode the Segway... BUT I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OFF IT!! THEN I GOT STUCK IN THE GROUND!!11"

"All I ever wanted to do... ...was make a virtual utopia where people could own fake land."

I love that quote - it pretty much sums up Second Life :)

I saw the first link to it from Vint's blog where an interesting thing came up in the comments. People in Germany and France seem unable to watch the video. I believe it is illegal to display the swastika and other symbols of Nazi Germany in those two countries and I believe that YouTube is blocking anything tagged with 'Hitler', etc from viewing by people from those countries.

It makes me glad I live in a country where I can watch parodies of "mass-murdering fuck-heads" without the government thinking I must be a Nazi sympathizer or that it would corrupt me.

Maybe we should all go around chanting 'Seig Heil' ('Hail Victory' for the Germanically challenged) like the Germans did as their country died. Nicely ironic. Perhaps the Second Life equivalent is 'having sex in SexGen beds as the Grid crashes around us.'

Hmmm, perhaps all those freebie penises doing the 'Nazi Salute' have been telling us something all along...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Expanding Beyond Your Core Competency

Lillie Yifu is expanding beyond her 'core competency' of escorting to hold a 'working with huge prims' class this weekend. As long as I'm not tied up, literally, I plan to go. Well, if I can wrap my blond brain around remembering an event that far in the future, which is part of why I'm writing this post.

She is making good on her 2008 resolution to get out of the escorting business and is also making more of her kinetic art. I wish her the best of luck, escorting is, or was, an easy way to pick up some quick cash, but as a sustainable 'business', unless you provide photos or other saleable goods, you can never make more money than you can type (or vocalize). Using her creativity to make things she can continue to sell over and over will, I think, make her more money and more happy in the long run.

Perhaps I should expand out of my core competency of being a bimbo, but some people may remark that I've already done too much expanding and am already too experienced with huge prims.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Been There, Done That, Got The Sucker Marks To Prove It

The Herald has an amusing article about the "new" fad - tentacle sex (article is not work safe at any sane workplace). They rave about it in an amusing way and claim to have found the "source" of the fetish, a specific designer. Unfortunately for them, I've seen it around before now, first at "Mistress Knows Best" and then at "Sensual Stoneworks," and it's probably not original there either.

Been there, done that, got the sucker marks to prove it. Perhaps, "I had sex with an Elder God and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

The thing about it that elevated it to a commentable article was this very well-done comment:

Oh, one day, if only the public would quit being so bigoted and realize that the love between an Elder God-like monster and its doomed prey is as valid and important as the love between an anthropomorphic fox and an anime-inspired llama in a diaper, or even the love between grown adults who like to roleplay as children and get they nasty on after virtual pre-school. I think it will take some time, fellow seekers - mainly because these things will never be taken seriously outside of your special little fetish world.

This goes back to a number of things I mentioned in the Gay Furry Nazi Robot post - the range of specificity in kinks in SL is truly enormous.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Daily Bimbo 2

Since the last post didn't have a very high bimbo quotient, I'll give you another dose of bimbo for your enjoyment. You've all probably seen this one by now, but no collection of bimbos should be without this one.

Miss Teen USA 2007 from South Carolina explains why some Americans, excuse me, some "US Americans" cannot find the US on a map:

Why didn't *I* think of that, duh, of course it's because they don't *have* maps. And because of, like South Africa and Iraq and stuff. See, she's one of the smart ones, she's figured out the big problem with US American education - the lack of proper materials. I wish I was as smart as her.

Pontiac Is Closing Up Shop In SL

The SLNN and the SL Herald are reporting that Pontiac is leaving SL and closing it's sim. Like I was saying the other day about the cement plant, companies are going to be coming and going until they figure out what SL is for, just like they had to find out what the Internet was for a decade ago. The article makes a couple of interesting points:

Motorati was one of the few corporate builds that seemed to get SL right -- offering not a ghost island, but regular events and races and offering free land for people who were making contributions to Second Life car culture.
Sad but probably true. Until corporations stop thinking of SL as an advertising billboard and start actually building something of lasting value the metaverse is is going to be in Neutral and the gauges are going to read Fail.

[Updated since I accidentally hit the 'publish' button instead of the 'save'.]
What do you want in a corporate sim? What do you want in a corporate website? Well, if I ever thought of buying a Pontiac car, I might go to the Pontiac website to learn more about their cars, their company, and their service plans, all of which can be presented very nicely in a website. What can't I find on their website that can be provided in SL? Live help and advice? A 3D view of what their car's look like (although really good photos would possibly be just as good).

I don't know anything about car culture really, so this is all conjecture, but one thing that SL can provide is live interaction - and I don't mean by driving the cars. Perhaps they could have live help, but that could be provided by phone or taking your car to the service station. Perhaps they could provide a 'build options' thingie where you could put together your own car and see what all of the options/colors/etc look like. (Although a flash based picture on a website is still pretty good.) Most of these things can easily be done on a website or over phone as well.

The real advantage SL may have is in providing a place for a Pontiac community, where people who like and drive Pontiac cars can go to be steeped in all things Pontiac. Club meetings, shows, and public question and answer sessions with Pontiac engineers and experts are all possibilities. Anything where a group would like to interact. To build that community, they'd need Pontiac info, cars, events, etc. it sounds pretty much like what they had - although I don't think I was ever there and can't tell from personal experience.

A website can provide information readily, but it can't provide good, live interaction, especially with a group. Pontiac could have used their sim as a public face for the company to communicate with their customers. Not as advertising, but as public relations. For example, if Apple wanted to build a sim, they could put all sorts of nice displays and give away free objects modeled after their computers. But that would only be the surface, the real value would be in providing a Genius bar, learning sessions, Mac group meetings, and, basically, a place for Mac-heads to hang out and be Mac geeks together and talk all about Macs. Also, public announcements that don't warrant a full stage show like MacWorld or that you want to interact with people who can't make it to a big stage show like MacWorld.

SL is good at group interaction at a level of the proletariat, not at the level of reporters and insiders.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's The Year Of The Bimbo And The Gay Nazi Robot Furries Are Yiffing

Lillie IMed me the other day and said she was going to dub 2008 the 'Year of the Bimbo' because it had an hour-glass figure built right in. I don't remember a bimbo on my Chinese restaurant table setting. She wrote her list of ins and outs for 2008 in the Looking Glass magazine blog. Here are some highlights:

Out: Blow jobs
In: Roleplay sex scenes

I bet the guys will be disappointed to find that blow jobs are out, dressing up in a skimpy French maids outfit may distract them for a while, but I think they'll still want blow jobs.

Out: Hoes
In: Bimbos

I don't want to know what sordid uses gardening implements have been used for, but I'm happy to hear that bimbos will be in good favor this year.

Out: Big Ugly Boots
In: Prim Shoes from Shiny Things

Were 'Big Ugly Boots' ever good things?

Out: Cheap prim skirts
In: Couture influenced pants

You want to dress your bimbos in pants?

Out: Barbies
In: Boobs
Out: Barbies
In: Upscale

Bimbo's are in, but you exclude our exemplar? Sacrilege! Melissa will be happy to hear that boobs are in, though.

Out: AOs with Model poses
In: MOCAP dances
Out: Sinwave
In: Zhao
Out: Hug attachments
In: Rendez-Vous

MOCAP? Zhao (as in the open source AO)? Rendez-Vous? Huh? Speak English slowly, I'm blond.

Out: Partnering
In: Collaring


Out: Men as women escorts
In: Men as women characters in roleplay

Either way, they should walk a mile in our heels sometimes.

Out: Orgy Rooms
In: Bondage Rooms

Both, please :)

Out: Cheap Sex Beds
In: SexGen Diamond

Diamond! Does it have more than my platinum? BTW, did they ever fix those annoying chains and use one of the Lock* varieties?

Out: Threesomes
In: Four way

Will it be 5-way next year?

Out: Blingy Shoes
In: Armidi Boots

Awww, but bling is so cheesy it's fun.

Out: Nazi Fur
In: Gay yiffing

Early last year, I saw a group in the group-list that was something like, 'Vampire Gorean Furries' and I thought that was a pretty precise kink. "Unless I'm a platinum blond fox (literally) Free Woman running for my life in a raid on my city from a bunch of blood-sucking undead domineering slave owners in pink bunny outfits who want to dress me in silks, I just can't get off." How often does that happen? Once a century? Which in Second Life time is like every 10 minutes...

Maybe it could be gay Nazi robot furries yiffing or something like that.

Which makes one of the earlier bits of Lillie's list more obvious:
Out: Cheap SL Sex
In: Long Roleplay

With setups like these, you are going to need long sessions. "Okay honey, now that I'm tied up by my toes with a latex surgeon's mask and a steel wool bikini on and you are dressed up like Cary Grant from 'Some Like It Hot' wearing silver-spurred cowboy boots and a lizard's tail and Elvis is singing 'Blue Suede Shoes' we can begin. God am I so hot and turned on right now. Oh, don't forget to put the peanut butter covered soft-boiled egg on the chair over there for later. I said the chair not the conveyor belt! The chair and the egg come after the conveyor belt. Can't you get anything right? You just ruined the entire mood for me, I'm no longer turned on, we'll just have to start all over again. And this time, try to get it right."

Yeah, this year is going to be fun. I'm off to install the conveyor belt.

Your Daily Dose Of Bimbo

Since some people were disappointed with the lack of bimbo content in my previous post, I thought I'd give you more bimbo in this post.

Here is a bimbo on a game show explaining how her husband is urban, why he had to go to the doctor because he's urban, and that the doctor gave her something because of it. Thankfully he's only been urban for two months.

See she's definitely a dumb bimbo, everyone knows you go to the doctor because of your husband's rural.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bait Shops, Cement Plants, And Dogfood

Over on Girl Meets Second Life, Caterin spent an afternoon at an SL Cement Plant. A cement works in SL? Is it part of an urban role-playing game? Evidently, the cement works is from FLSmidth, ‘FLSmidth is a Danish world-leading manufacturer of cement and minerals plants’. It's like a cement plant theme park. What do they expect out of SL?

This reminds me a lot of the early pioneering days of the Internet. Back then, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon - they didn't know where it was going or what it meant, but everyone was talking about it, so they had to be there.

The Internet was a heady, confusing, eclectic, mixture of sites back then. There were new forms of money, dog food was being shipped at exorbitant rates, and everything was free. How do cement companies figure into this? Well, small business was trying to get on the Internet or the Information Superhighway as the press was hyping it back then.

Small companies, who had no other desire or need to get on the Internet except that their CIO read about it in a magazine, were trying to make websites. Most of these failed.

Friends of mine who, at the time, worked building websites for companies tell me about small businesses coming to them and asking for websites. When asked what did they want it for, what purpose did it serve, and fundamentally, what did they expect, had no idea other than, "we need a website, if we don't have one, we'll be left behind."

"Left behind" of what, they had no idea about, but everyone was raving about it, so like greedy little kids, they wanted one and they wanted people to go to it. They thought it would drive real world sales. Website builders kept telling these small companies that you needed to "be different", to make the site like "a game" or to "give something away for free." The common logic was that you had to provide something that consumers wanted so that they would come see your real world products and then go buy them. I don't know about you, but I didn't sit around going to big name brand web sites playing cruddy games and then thinking, "I want a Big Mac."

To this day, some companies still think like that, have you ever been to Pepsi's website? Me neither. I've heard they run contests and they used to provide games to play, or something like that, maybe that was Coke's website or was that any of a number of other big, real world brands.

I've been watching Second Life since I came to it over a year ago and it bears much resemblance to the early days of the Internet. The graphics sucked, really, a child with crayons made better icons than what passed for cutting edge on the old websites and the first things in Second Life also look like anyone could make it. The ease of writing a simple web page and throwing together some graphics so that nearly everyone did it is very similar to how the simple prim and texture objects that we build with in Second Life are right now. Do you see many of those types of websites floating around on anything other than hobbyist pages? I didn't think so. You either spend lots of money to have an IT department to have a site or you use an internet application like Blogger or eBay Stores. If you are really fancy you use a "website in a box" on a rented server, like WordPress.

If we look at Second Life to determine what it will look like ten years from now, we will see that big corporate sites like Pepsi are only useful for finding the phone number so you can call to complain about their real world products and not much else. I think that Playboy and other sims are going to end like this. The real winners are sites that allow you to find what you are looking for or to buy those hard to find things. But, perhaps the most successful will be like the unforeseen winners of today. Perhaps, there will even be a new revolution in user content, like what you are reading right now, a blog.

The big counter-point to the "all websites are professional" is that most of what we do on the Internet outside of shopping is social networking, blogging, and watching videos and it's created by amateurs for consumption by amateurs. That is remarkably like Second Life. Is Second Life a YouTube, for person to person interaction, or is Second Life, like Linden Labs would lead you to believe, a platform like the Internet? I think it really is a platform and you are going to see more "Bill Joe Jim Bob's Bait Shop" style sims until both big and little business figures out what it's doing.

Eventually the real selling will arise and we will be using Second Life to buy furniture and clothes online because now we can actually "see and touch" them. You wait, open registration is only the beginning, Linden is probably thinking about registration-less Second Life, so that Ikea can point its website to a sim in Second Life with models of all of their furniture where you can see how it looks next to all of your other furniture and then purchase it. Or enter your measurements, an avatar is created and now you can see what an outfit will look like on you. Some sites are already doing something like this with your picture and trying out new hair-cuts before you go to a salon.

Then will come the "new media", similar to blogs or YouTube, what will we be trading around? 3D models, animations, toys and gadgets? Maybe. All I know is that for Second Life to realize its potential as a new "platform" it will have to become more open, not less. Less like a pay-per-month game like Warcraft and more like a browser - always there. Will Linden Lab go the way of Netscape, giving us a browser and a server for free, then dying? I don't think so, the asset server, lindens, and a few other things prevents that.

Anyway, enough pontificating and conjecturing, now I really do want to go find small businesses like the cement one and get any freebies they are giving away. I missed out on the "big freebie giveaways" of the mid to late 90s. Give me my free loot!