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  ‘Second Life’ Operational Problems Spike  
Posted 2006-09-19 by Tony Walsh
September seems to have marked a low point in the history of Second Life security and stability. A database for the virtual world was breached on September 6, 2006, , exposing personal information of over 600,000 Second Life virtual world residents. The following weeks saw region performance issues, packet-loss problems, service interruptions during a live software patch, temporary outages, "presence" issues. Yesterday, as 3pointD points out, Second Life was downed by two separate global attacks [1,2]. A source in-world at the time tells me that the first attack involved self-replicating spheres while the second involved self-replicating party hats.

While massive technical problems and security issues are nothing new, the frequency seems to have increased this month (one of Second Life's worst). Coincidentally, the total number of registrations for Second Life is well on its way to the predicted 1 million mark (734k signups at present). Registrants are not obligated to use legitimate identification when signing up. Could a recent spike in anonymous registrants be related to Second Life's recent stability issues? Is Second Life's infrastructure unable to scale to support its increasing population? How long can SL-maker Linden Lab--a company with fewer than 100 employees--reasonably continue to be the gods of a universe with a million free-willed registrants in its near future? With Second Life positioned as a next-generation World Wide Web, I can't help but think that beauty of the Web is that each site is a self-contained entity within a greater ecology. It's probably impossible to destroy "The Web" in a single attack. Wish I could say the same for Second Life.
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Comment posted by MattMihaly
September 19, 2006 @ 2:32 pm
Registrants means next to nothing in a product where registration is free and requires no credit card info. Iron Realms (my company running text MUDs) manages over a million free-willed registrants with 10% of Linden's staff.

Comment posted by Tony Walsh
September 19, 2006 @ 2:49 pm
Perhaps you could elaborate a bit, Matt. If SL had 200 million signups tomorrow, would that mean "next to nothing" to Linden Lab? SL users have a lot of impact on their virtual world--for example, they can easily take it offline.

I'm not familiar with the abilities users in Iron Realms' worlds possess--can your users easily disrupt the experience of ten thousand others by unleashing a malicious object in-world? Can't a text world's most harmful attributes be easily filtered out? Try filtering a harmful bitmap image or 3D object--and I'm not simply talking malicious scripting here, but "offensive" or otherwise disruptive material.

I'm not sure it's fair to compare a text-based world with Second Life in the way you appear to be. How much data describes a single character in an Iron Realm game? How much data do you think describes a single avatar in Second Life? My guess is that an SL avatar carries more data in its right hand than would completely describe most text characters. I don't mean this as a value-judement against text-based worlds or Iron Realms, it's just SL seems so much more complex.
Comment posted by MattMihaly
September 19, 2006 @ 3:07 pm

The issue isn't whether individual users are heavy in terms of impact on Second Life. They're ridiculously heavy. The question is how many of those users they actually have.

Your hypothetical 200 million signups in and of itself doesn't mean a whole lot. It might mean that a small handful of users are creating many accounts to grief Linden, or it might mean that that whole lot of people have created accounts and Linden has 200 million new active users. The more likely truth would be that it's somewhere in between there.

What registered users -doesn't- have much direct bearing on is how many actual users a world has, which all your questions are predicated upon. How you count actual users is kind of a black art in the case of non-subscription games, but a simple registration has literally virtually no bearing. For instance, Achaea, our biggest text MUD, has had over a million registrations, but it's never had more than 800 people online at once and only has probably 5000 active users.

Look, Linden is well aware that it gets them good press to tout registered users, because their active user count is far lower and less impressive sounding (whatever that figure is, measured by whatever measuring stick you're using). Reporting registered users and treating it as a meaningful number is, and I mean no offence, kind of like working for their PR department.

(Incidentally and irrelevantly, I suspect you'd be surprised how much data our characters carry considering they're text.)
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
September 19, 2006 @ 4:10 pm
Ah, I see your main disagreement is with the distinction between registrations and peak concurrent users and/or "active" users. This is a distinction I've made on numerous previous occasions (including speculation about a high number of alt accounts)--basically you're preaching to the choir.

As you probably know, SL's PCU has increased by about 25% over the last 2 months. Meanwhile, SL's registrations have recently doubled in the same time period. The "active" user base usually hovers around 250k, but is sitting at over 300k today. I could have swapped in "300k active users" for "750k registrants." The big picture is that there's an increasing demand on Linden Lab's resources--I didn't feel that it was important to speculate whether that demand results from an increase in registrations, an increase in active users, or an increase in PCU. I've made the distinction between these numbers in the past. It's not often that I assume the reader will bother to read any of my previous articles, but I did this time. My bad :/

As my regular readers know, I am *hardly* a PR instrument for Linden Lab (unless bad press counts as PR). I've been quite critical of the company and its platform over the years, and in particular of the oft-misinformed hype surrounding Second Life. I appreciate you trying to educate me on SL population numbers, but it's a rather misdirected effort given my track-record.
Comment posted by MattMihaly
September 19, 2006 @ 4:18 pm
Doh! I even read the article you're referring to! Sorry about that Tony.

I'm curious how you get 300k active users for SL though? In other words, what's the measuring stick? What I think I'd tend to use would be something like "Accounts that have spent more than 3 total hours in-world and have logged in in the past 2 weeks."

Comment posted by Tony Walsh
September 19, 2006 @ 4:32 pm
No worries :)

The SL home page publishes a few population-related stats; currently:

Total Residents: 734,611
Logged In Last 60 Days: 318,188
Online Now: 6,528

I agree totally with your yardstick. I bet those parameters would produce some verrrrrrry interesting results.

Last month, Linden Lab indicated it would be reforming its population numbers, but I haven't noticed much of an improvement. A company rep said: "The number [of residents] that is currently on our home page is a time-weighted average between 'total number of signups ever' and 'total number of logged in users over the last 60 days'."
Comment posted by Brace
September 21, 2006 @ 4:00 am
Look. What's going to happen is this. And really, its already happening.

Those people trying to run businesses in SL are going to eventually give up on it.

Those residents who have been around for two years or so will start defecting to other games with more stability.

The oldbies have pretty much already vacated the premises. Playing other games while cashing out their lindies from their previously entrenched businesses.

Did philly want a million users as a number? Did he want a million quality and active residents? I guess we'll never know. Or maybe we will - seeing as everyone seems excited about the numbers with complete disregard to what they actually mean.

Oh and I forgot. The new and newer folks coming into SL and wanting to do the usual - start a business, play house, dance in clubs etc - they are getting highly disgruntled by all this instability.

They are seeing behind the curtain, and what they've found has not been a happy revelation. What you get then is people who could actually be those quality residents, opting to tier down and/or get the hell out.

So we get Alty McAlty and the griefin brothers comin in to take their places. We ALL know that the number of actual individual people playing second life is far from being anywhere close to the numbers we see being shown to us.

Deal with it.

The question here is not really about numbers. The question you might want to ask yourself, is are you going to like being in the Second Life that is chock full of a million people (made up of mostly alts and their alts) who's main idea of fun is griefing? Not to mention the constant problem of SL just not being up to spec to handle what few people we got now, much less a cool mill.
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