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  Identity Confirmation Features Coming to ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-04-06 by Tony Walsh
Users of Second Life will be able to confirm aspects of each other's identities, such as age and legal jurisdiction, if plans announced by the virtual world's maker are implemented. "Hopefully, these features will help Residents as they conform to their own local laws," a Linden Lab rep wrote on the company blog.

No further details on the planned identity-confirmation features were revealed, such as when the plan might be enacted, or the full range of identity "aspects" made available for confirmation. Currently, Second Life users are able to hide from others aspects of their identity such as their real names, ages, or location, but are unable to hide whether or not they have supplied Linden Lab with billing information. Those users unwilling or unable to provide billing information to the company are known as "Unverified" users, and are subject to stigmatization by groups of Second Life residents. All members of Second Life "Main Grid" are ostensibly at least 18 years of age or older, although it's trivial for underage users to slip in. I suppose stricter entry requirements are pending.
  ‘Qwaq Forums’ Promises Secure Virtual Office Space  
Posted 2007-03-14 by Tony Walsh
If teleworking via virtual worlds such as Second Life makes you feel insecure, Qwag Forums might be the digital office space you're looking for. Described as "the world’s only secure virtual workspace application" by maker Qwag, Inc. the Croquet-based platform promises to provide teleworkers with "all the tools and collaboration capabilities they need to work more effectively together," allegedly facilitating "synchronous communication, collaboration, resource sharing and computation among large numbers of users on multiple platforms and devices." I would have assumed such broad language meant Qwag Forums offers video chat, but apparently that feature isn't currently available.

Based on a few early screenshots, the Qwag virtual office space looks about as interesting as an average corporate cubicle farm. It's not immediately apparent to me why I'd use this space instead of a few core 2D collaboration and communication applications, or even a combination of Skype and a private Second Life island. But best of luck to Qwag, Inc., particularly with that whole "security" thing.
  Notes: ‘Gamer’s Games: Microcontent and User Creation’  
Posted 2007-03-12 by Tony Walsh
Following are my abbreviated notes from the SXSW panel "Gamer's Games: Microcontent and User Creation."

Mark Wallace
Betsy Book Dir of Prod Mgmt, Makena Technologies
Raph Koster Pres, Areae Inc
Reuben Steiger CEO, Millions of Us
Corey Bridges,

Continue reading: Notes: ‘Gamer’s Games: Microcontent and User Creation’
  ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
Today I present some scattered seeds of an idea that have been clanking around the back of my brain since I put together a presentation on "Productive Play" last year. In that presentation, I talked about how the important task of baggage screening might be improved by turning it into a massively-multiplayer game (a refined version of an earlier blog post). At the very least, the player-base for Airport Screening: The MMO would consist of actual airport screeners, but I also suggested the results might be improved by opening up the game to the public (I imagined that the number of well-intentioned participants would vastly exceed the number of griefers).

In the same presentation, I also imagined a variation of the prison-themed MMO PrisonServer, where players could adopt the role of guards: Part of a guard's responsibilities would involve watching surveillance cameras and reporting suspicious activity. In this imaginary variation, the camera footage would be actual prison footage, and reports would be submitted to actual prison authorities. False positives would seriously harm one's in-game reputation or right to play, hopefully mitigating griefing. Granted this all seems quite far-fetched in terms of actual implementation, but I submit that it's not such a stretch, based on real-life examples.

Continue reading: ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game
  ‘Second Life’ Millionaire Interview Penis-Bombed  
Posted 2006-12-20 by Tony Walsh
‘Second Life’ Millionaire Interview Penis-Bombed
A virtual-world interview with Anshe Chung, Second Life's best-known real-estate magnate and self-proclaimed millionaire, was marred this week by swarms of wriggling penises. According to interviewer Daniel Terdiman (and corroborated by Something Awful's Chris "Petey" Peterson), Chung's interview on Monday was disrupted for 15 minutes, prompting a retreat to Chung's own land, where the attack reportedly continued, crashing the hosting virtual-world server for that specific region.

It is not only possible, but easy to execute such an attack using the built-in user-creation tools provided by the Second Life platform. If caught, attackers (also known as "griefers") are usually banned from using the service by Linden Lab, the owner/operator of the virtual world. It is currently nigh-impossible to reliably prevent such attacks from occurring, and it also seems to be very difficult to quickly stop in-progress attacks, thus anonymous griefers operating through disposable user-accounts have very little to lose but everything to gain. Event-planners, however, aren't so lucky. A couple of weeks ago, the recent in-world launch of the TV series Big Brother was attacked by griefers, another example of a high-profile event under siege. If any good can come out of stunts like this, it's that Linden Lab will be pressured to provide more robust security features or risk its virtual world being perceived as hostile to mainstream business efforts.
  ‘Second Life’ Griefers Set ‘Big Brother’ Ablaze  
Posted 2006-12-04 by Tony Walsh
When I discovered that TV show Big Brother was coming to Second Life, my worst-case-scenario-sense started tingling. "[I]t's entirely possible the event could be marred by griefers seeking attention or fame," I wrote, considering the outcome if virtual-island security wasn't properly implemented. As The Second Life Herald reported yesterday, the event was indeed marred by attention-seekers due to a lack of proper security.

The Herald posted a two-part interview with a single griefer--although "griefer groups" were reportedly present at the event. According to the interviewee, official contestant avatars were caged and set on fire while traversing the red carpet on the way to the Big Brother house. The interviewee says s/he passed through the walls of the house, assigned his/her avatar with the same nametag ("Resident") as the official contestants, and chatted with the group for 4 hours. Only two Big Brother crew members were allegedly present, and asked the intruder to leave after 10 of his/her friends were teleported into the house.

The rationale for the infiltration? No surprise to me: "I thought It would be this huge event with lots of media...I kinda got the idea 'hey I could ruin this and It might make the newspaper or tv.'" I doubt the event was ruined, or even a "huge" event at all, but based on how it was allegedly set up, I'm of the opinion that Endemol doesn't actually care what goes on inside Second Life. Like so many other corporate events staged in-world, it's all about generating outside buzz.
  The Computer Says You’re Violent  
Posted 2006-10-27 by Tony Walsh
Have you ever wondered who might be watching any of the surveillance cameras mounted around your city? According to NewScientistTech, it's not "who" will be watching, but "what." A computer may some day review closed-circuit camera footage, deciding whether or not violent activities have transpired. The technology, still in development, analyzes footage frame by frame, trying to match pixel-clusters against a model of the human form. The makers of the system believe they can determine what an interaction means. "For example, when identifying two people shaking hands, their hands must not only be close, but must also move in synchrony." Asynchronous movement might not be a handshake, but a punching-match, believe the inventors. "On average, the system was 80% accurate at identifying these activities correctly."

I'm glad to read the makers of the system recognize it has a long way to go. Personally, I think technology like this is going to turn up too many false positives to be useful: How do we know when two people are play-fighting as opposed to real-fighting? Is playing paper-rock-scissors or doing Tai Chi going to alert the police? Daydreaming about the social ramifications, I see flash-mobs staging "false positive" events such as breakdancing, crunking, or pillow-fighting in public spaces--would the authorities then feel obligated to restrict our freedom of expression to make up for a technological failing?
  Linden Lab Considering Customer-Service Charges  
Posted 2006-10-27 by Tony Walsh
Second Life-maker Linden Lab is considering "expanding" customer service options by charging a fee for support. This has so far largely been met with derision from the community, and for good reason: Historically, many users have complained that the company's current customer service is sub-par. What I find ironic is that Linden Lab actually gives its users the ability to deliberately or accidentally crash the entire world of Second Life, resulting in crippling denial of service incidents. The same company that's made a house of cards is considering charging users to clean up the mess when someone knocks it all down.

It was only last year that Second Life hit the 100,000-user registration mark. At the time, I inaccurately predicted that due to "numerous software patches, global denial-of-service attacks, and poor performance," Linden Lab wouldn't reach its stated goal of one million registrants in 2006. While that number has been exceeded this year, the same problems still exist, and appear to be scaling in magnitude in relation to the number of active users. Establishing a paid customer service system isn't going to solve those problems--at best, Linden Lab will be able to respond more effectively to those willing or able to pay.

Continue reading: Linden Lab Considering Customer-Service Charges
  Linden Lab: No More Free Alts  
Posted 2006-10-24 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab, maker of the virtual world Second Life, has resumed charging users for "alt" (alternate) accounts. While a single account is still free, additional accounts will rever to costing $9.95 USD each. This is a return to last year's policy after a temporary period of free alts the company has described as a test. According to Linden Lab's announcement about the fee structure change last month, the test was meant to "determine how the addition of free accounts would impact the Second Life community. The test showed that the new trials accelerated growth within Second Life in a healthy way by growing economic activity and increasing the innovation and diversity in-world while not causing any additional negative results (no increase in griefing by the free accounts)."

While it's true that Second Life's population exploded this year, it's also true that the virtual world saw a record number of denial of service attacks, glitches and other outages over the last two months. Now that Second Life has exceeded a million registrants, and is creaking at the seams, it seems to make sense to limit growth by charging for alt accounts--even if a tenth of a million registrants pay for additional accounts, that's some decent coin for Linden Lab. I'm curious to see how the policy change will affect the expansion of the virtual world--I attribute the explosion in population in part to a glut of free alt accounts.
  Media Landscape in ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2006-10-15 by Tony Walsh
Renegade avatar Prokofy Neva has posted an exhaustive examination of the media landscape inside and surrounding Second Life. Neva makes some excellent points--primarily, that the two major sources of mass media in the virtual world are Linden Lab (maker of Second Life), and "griefers" who execute denial of service attacks against the system. Linden Lab has at its disposal system-wide messaging capabilities, as do griefers, who recently broadcast through rapidly-self-replicating objects "Terror will rain down upon the unfit gods and the flock that they govern, from now until the End of Days." I'd add that there's also a method to write over top of Second Life's world map that is visible to all avatars. Aside from these three methods, there aren't many ways I can think of to demand the attention of most of the roughly 11,000 avatars logged in at peak times.

Ironically, the media outlets that are the most embedded inside the virtual world have the least amount of reach (this is something I don't think the business community really understands yet). Media inside the world are distributed through specific locations (meaning you have to go somewhere to get it), or via attachments to group messages (reaching potentially dozens, but not thousands of avatars). Even if the in-world media outlets could "broadcast" to a subscriber base, my gut tells me we're talking about hundreds, not thousands, of avatars. It's arguable that in-world media outlets provide more an immersive experience, as opposed to outside media outlets (blogs), but I'd present The Second Life Herald as an example of an immersive outside outlet (your mileage may vary).

Continue reading: Media Landscape in ‘Second Life’
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