One concept I learned about in a writing project is "The Triangle of Fire." A fire needs heat, fuel and oxygen to burn. There are other kinds of combustion, but that is the one we worry about: heat, oxygen fire. Peter Daou who has been called "the foremost student of how media, politics and blogs work together," there is a triangle of power that has to "close" to create real political movement. I am going to take Peter's idea of social triangles and apply it to second life.
In second life the holy triangle that produces growing and living social experience is content, provider and user.
Content people make things, like clothes. They don't spend as much time in world, because they are busy in Blender, Photoshop or Poser. They make your clothes in world, perhaps, but mostly they are in an application, and are in world long enough to test it. They often don't have much time in world. It is amazing how often I have just written to a designer and made a friend, because the designer does not meet many people.
Providers manage the world. They are in world, building malls, clubs, providing escort services and so on. Providers at the top spend less time in world because they are managing websites and staff, but they are still intimately connected with being in world and managing the social intricacies of Second Life. Some content people spend a great deal of time in world, like scripters and builders, but they are often "busy" with their work.
Users are what bring the two together. Even if a club is just run for fun, even if a designer is only working for their own amusement, there have to be users to make the work really worth while. What good is a club, if the floor is always empty.
That triangle coming together is the key to making anything in Second Life, especially money. The provider creates a location, a reason to come someplace in Second Life. Content people rent mall space or come to the conferences and and meetings. Users are drawn to the place, and they buy things there, and provide activity. The content they buy makes their social presence more valuable, by looking good and having more capabilities in world. This is the second life "triangle of fire."
There are two other triangles. One is the corporate triangle of business that wants presence, corporate provider like Millions of US. The third is "audience." This is a less powerful triangle, as the number of large, expensive, flashing, but empty builds shows. Has Playboy knocked any of the big three out of contention? No, because the build is a disaster! It is my contention that many businesses need to realize that going to a corporate website for a build is often waste of their money, because the corporate builder is a content shop, and does not have providers.
The third triangle is the one that is killing Second Life: scammer, spammer and parasite/noob. The scammer provides poor quality content, the spammer provides low quality social interaction and camping, the parasite camps, and the noob is the one fleeced. Go to the Red Light District, look at the amount of pirated content for sale their. The scammer spends his or her money on camping and creating a fake crowd, and therefore does not have the ability to charge for real content. Instead, they rely on people who, trained by the World Wide Web to look at the top few hits on Google and assume the rest are pretty much the same, to get fleeced. I've seen freebie dresses sold for 1000L, freebie cocks for 500L, 1000L clubs on 50K of land offered for sale at 200K. I am not making any of those examples up.
Ultimately, while there are many different levels how the people in the triangle of fire work, and many levels of quality and taste, the prices are actually sensible relative to each other. If you look at Vindi Vindaloo's prices, and Last Call's prices, they work out to being much the same for the relative qualities. The camping farms like "Sexy Land" charge much more for much less. To take my own example. I rent an advertisement at "Ami's Place." I get real business from it, and real clients. Ami Lang is a provider, and her space works. She works hard at making her space work. As an experiment, I rented an advertisement for over twice as much at Sexy Land. I got zero touches for my notecard for the 500L I spent. I get, regularly, about 5K to 10K of business a week from Ami's Place, or regulars I met there. 0L for 500L or 7.5K for 200L. Which makes more sense? Camping farm clubs may charge 200L for an advertisement, but they deliver no business.
This means that ultimately, real providers: whether Twisted Orchid/Bondage Sex Dungeon, Bad Girls, Paris 1900, Arsheba, Phat Cats or the small gay club in Sterling Mall I used to go to relax from work in, are all in the same position. They want to find people with a real devotion to the game. Providers hire other providers: the escorts and dancers who work a club are providers. They want users who are willing to devote real outside world money to playing, or who are successful providers in their own right. As an escort, I am a good customer of good designers.
Very successful content people don't need providers on the surface. Lost and Amby don't need anyone else's mall. But this is a mistake. The provider for much of SL isn't the club. It is land. The land earl who creates a pleasant residential space. People making their home dreams come true. Just as there are good land earls and even some good land barons, much of the business is dominated by people who don't make sims better, but worse. For every Raymond Figtree who is conscientious about how he treats mainland, there are dozens of ad farmers and spam splitters who put a freebie house on a lot, and charge double the price. Why not? It works!
Linden Labs has consistently sided with the scammer triangle, and to a lesser extent with the corporate triangle, and against the user triangle. They have had their reasons. One reason is that the scammer triangle creates pumped up numbers, and the corporate triangle creates headline articles in the business press. These have been, until recently, the two kinds of publicity that Linden Labs has depended upon: "Make money! Lots of people to reach!" The people in this triangle may say We are all in this together but I don't see that from where I live.
However, the third triangle is the real user base, the people from which the money to be made is made, and the people who tell the rest of the world about Second Life. They are also the ambassadors to Second Life, the mentors, the volunteers, the activity. It is users that people go to meet, not botcampers. And these users, while they love VR, and love their role in Second Life, are very angry and disappointed. While fleecing people for $50 or $100 and waiting for the next unshorn sheep is a good business model when people are flooding through the doors, it is less good when the user base has stabilized. The scammer kills the game, because he cashes out the whole value of a real world person, and provides nothing but a story of playdo sex and eerie quiet.
Many important businesses on Second Life are in trouble, or are producing less and less return. LL is sucking up the profits from Second Life into tier, and its recent crash of the land market has made many people who bought land not for speculation but for their work in Second Life down hundreds of dollars before they even started. LL's pursuit of voice was a product both of corporate demand, which wants voice presentations in VR space, and of camping: one fast way for people to find people is voice. The voice design only allows one voice connection per IP, which cuts out multi-camping.
Witness how little an impact voice has made on Second Life to realize how much effort was spent on a feature that the user base, and the future user base, does not really need.
Earlier this year there was an escalating "camping war," as providers, working hard to stay in the top 20 popular places, put in more and more camping. This started a dismal spiral. More camping means a nastier experience, and less room for actual users. Real users stopped coming, camping costs escalated as casinos paid higher and higher camping rates. I knew that it would stop: instead people would provide only enough camping to get to the top of their little world, because you can't compete, in the end, with people who sell 0L goods for 100L, 500L or more. They can pour everything into camping, or allow all the user space to be dominated by newbies pumping on pose balls, because they will make it back on the first noob who doesn't know that those five wedding dresses are everywhere for almost nothing.
LL has started to wake up. One reason was the Casinos were hurting them. A casino may rent a couple of sims, and may dump some money into the economy, but most of the money goes right back out again. Why wouldn't people set these up? They are vending machines in cyberspace. Come around once a week and empty the coins and dollar bills. But LL has allowed other activities, equally illegal, which pour money into LL: namely fake banks and fake stock exchanges. These pay set up costs on sims. A person who rents a sim from LL does not get the option of stopping renting it and keeping the use of the software, even if disconnected from the grid. Imagine the value of having your own sim, even if people had to log in as a new account on an open grid.
LL needs to realize that if Second Life becomes known as the Nigeria of virutal reality, it will never get the consumer base that it craves. Regular people avoid places that they have to fear for their money. While getting the money back from the collapse of Ginko isn't going to happen, the wisest course that LL can take is to look at them as no different than gambling. Sooner or later the people who run these places will cash out and run, leaving behind the wreckage of LL's loyal content, provider and user bases who know have had a year of their lives wiped out.
But the real reason is that the scammer cycle has basically peaked. LL needs to start retaining players, that is people who really want to have fun in world, because they are not getting wave after wave of people who just adopt. They are also facing IBM. IBM, just by announcing that they are working on a platform, has given corporations reason to wait. Why take a chance on very buggy software from an unknown provider, when better software from IBM is coming?
LL's last year of robbing its user base blind, and it has done so by crashing the land market and favoring scammers, has left it with a content, provider and user base that is angry and often depressed. Many people in this base have lost huge amounts of mony in the scambanks. Many of these people have set up clubs or places, in expectation of incoming people, which would overflow the current places, and found, instead, that the current big places are just barely able to hold on to their space. Great builds have risen and fallen in months, because the flow of customers didn't come.
No small part of that is how people like me, who love what we do in Second Life, talk to other people. We warn them that Second Life is like the web before google: great if you love it, but it doesn't really work yet. This "anti-word of mouth" is killing, because while people may hop into Second Life because of a television program or newspaper article, if they are to stay, they need to have friends who will help them sort through the mountains of freebie content, and get to the few dozen that matter. I have 18,000 objects in inventory. Many of these are the freebies that lie around every place. Only a few hundred are worth it.
The other reality is that the scammers are hurting second life in another way. Many of the camper bots are people who actually want to participate in second life. But the camping farms don't give them a good start. On the contrary, camping farms want you to camp, but they then sell you back the freebies for hours of camping rates. I regularly see people who have been in game for months looking like they are fresh off the island, only with the imfamous "One Linden Woodie," you know the one I mean, and a pair of non-flexy unscripted wings. Maybe they have some bought clothes. They could look better just by visiting Yedo or Free Dove in an hour. They don't realize it, but by not using their hair coupons, they have lost about 1400L worth of completely free, high quality content.
They want to be here, but they are trapped in the dismal world of slugly content.
I have finally gotten the idea that will help change things: two new continents.
One would be new mainland, but instead of a Russia-style big bang auction, the land would be for sale by invitation only. Invite all the dozens of best small providers a simple deal: new land on the new continent, in connected parcels at sim corners, in return for releasing the land they have to "Governor Linden." No more than one quarter of every sim would be "commercial." "Buy" would be disabled on the rest of the sim, and it would be offered to large residences, and high value coastal residences by invitation. So you would have a balance of processor chewing commercial and good looking residential.
The second one would be a "user super-continent." Get the large providers, the best clubs and real providers, to move all their islands into a single connected archipeligo. Offer them the move for free, and a discount on tier. Make it worth their while, but also have a bit of a stick. This user super-continent would have every good club, and every good mall on it. The advantage for LL is that these continents would be show places for the best of Second Life, and thus both a publicity draw, and a place where the information needed to really know what content costs and what it is worth, could be in one place. Let current mainland become basically residential. Disallow sales of parcels below a certain size on both continents, so no ad farms.
The deal would be compelling: trade rapidly devaluing mainland in the slugly lands, for land in a new, better, place. In return, LL gets what it really needs, a happy triangle of fire, and a growing city.
LL has tried to outsource this to people like Anshe, and Anshe's continent of Plush is a good example of what Second Life can look like. But it is tiny compared to the volume of SL, and it is very pricey compared to what people will pay. Anshe will still be making money: because an LL that grows will have an even larger market for people willing to pay a super-premium for ready to use aesthetically pleasing builds.
This Russia model has not worked. Not my description, but as soon as what happened in Russia in the 1990's was explained to me, it "clicked" as to what had happened in SL. People selling things, without actually producing anything didn't lead to a better Russia. In fact, the people who I know tell me, Russia is headed back to being a dictatorship based on oil with people living shorter, unhappier lives.
So that is my simple plan: take the cream of Second Life, put them in two places, near each other to be moved around, create a sensible zoning plan, and ban camping while ending "traffic" as the way of sorting anything in "search." By concentrating the good content, and it is possible to find it by having user ratings that really work and by using web links through SURLs, Second Life gets a "best of the metaverse." It needs it to convince people that LL's Second Life is not just one big sprawl of camping farms, scams and orgy rooms.
The triangle of fire needs it, because only if there is a closer contact of real places can real users be grabbed and maintained. There is a reason why every developed nation has zoning and planning, and that is that the incentive to make other people's lives worse for money needs to be taken away, to reward the people who make people's lives better. Even if that is a second life.
Or LL can just keep doing what it is doing, and die under a stream of complaints from users about how Second Life is just too hard to use. LL is relying on users to make content, and even fix bugs in their software. But if the ability to make a living in VR is gone, then there is no flow of content. I asked a techie friend about how open source got so much free software, when SL had proprietary almost everything. He said "D'oh, open source is driven by people who have work to do, they are paid for it, and they release their tool to the public and work with other tools. Until every company has a VR piece, filled with people doing VR as their day job, they will have to charge for their work in Second Life."
Hmmmm. That makes sense to me.
So there it is, it needs shape as a manifesto, or declaration. But it can work, it will not take that much work. For the people who want to run camp and scam places, it isn't much solace. They will have as an audience people who don't want to spend money in game, but want "irc with pictures," and whose idea of foreplay is "hop on the poseball, slut!"
Because right now, LL's time is measured in how long it takes someone to come out with a VR that people can make their own content, or get good free content, and invites them over under some generous set of terms similar to these: "here have a free sim! Just put your SL land for sale to us at 0L, and we will give you better land in a better VR! And look, more stability and better building tools!"