I am a long time opponent of the traffics system, and Jack Linden has made a good step by announcing that the Botopular Places pages are going to go away. Good move. But what about traffic itself? The only people in favor of it are people reaping the newbies and renting bot code to people.
Why has LL chosen this moment to start going after traffic? Well let's look at what traffic did for them, once upon a time. Traffic was a way of renting publicity. Money was paid out, the people who got that money largely spent it in world, and so it was a form of dole. I won't say welfare, because it was in no way structured to protect people from loss, it was, a dole. Bread and Circuses. This had benefits to LL. It increased the player base, gave people an easy introduction to the virtual consumerism which drives this place, and gave an incentive to those who didn't want lagged up sims, to pay for classified ads. LL wins all the way around, in keeping free accounts coming in, inflating numbers, because people multi-camped, helping the low end of the designer economy, getting people hooked on content, and pushing others to buy something from LL in the form of monopoly ads.
So what has changed? Well, in a few words, everything.
The root causes of the change are in the collapse of the boom economy of last year. SL's economy is still smaller in absolute terms than it was pre-gambling. Banks and casinos offered the enticement to camp: camp, gamble, put money in a bank offering 30% interest. It was a fraud, but it was an attractive fraud, complete with gratis hookers for the ones who did well.
The end of this economy meant that camping suddenly stopped being a break even game for the economy as a whole. Over time, every linden given out camping was sucked back into the economy, and casino operators often knew that they weren't giving lindens out, they were merely passing them around. Gambling gone, there was a brief period of camp and pirate, where giant BIAB farms would offer camping, and then entice people to by things that could be gotten full perms for 10L, for 300L. I saw freebie cocks going for 500L.
Around this time, bots took off. A bot isn't as good as a log in for traffic purposes, but it is almost as good. And it is much cheaper. There are bot runners who run hundreds of bots all over SL, creating fake traffic. With bots, why put up with campers? Campers crash sims with their scripts, create more lag. Where as a bot, stripped of any scripts or even any textures, has the minimum impact on a sim. Costs, less, less trouble... it was an obvious decision.
With bots, camping rates have collpased. With the collapse of camping, the number of "log ins in the last 60 days," the number LL had pushed as proof of growth, collapsed. They've shifted to size of the economy. But campbots don't grow the economy, in fact they shrink it.
So the benefits that LL got were being greatly reduced. Rather than putting money in the hands of potential future customers, and creating an incentive to buy classifieds, it was creating a way money was leaving the economy.
Now I am going to remind people of what is the most important principle of LL's existence: reduce the number of people who can draw money out of LL. They want to create some such people, or no one will play the game of trying to do it. But they don't want to make many such people, because they would rather have money coming back to them in tier. Remember, LL makes money by people renting servers from them as a service. It's in that little article I linked to yesterday: LL is a service company.
Bot runner draw money out of the economy, and they crush people who have a copy of photoshop and the dream to make content, who don't have the ability to either pay for classifieds or enough traffic. Bots aren't people, so they aren't future customers. LL will, inevitably, break any business model which pumps money out of the economy. First the Lindex, then speculating on location, then gambling, then banks. LL wants to have a monopoly on the high ground of the economy here. That means that if it makes money, and is not part of what they want to allow people to make money on, it goes away. Just as land speculation just took a huge hit. Basically, if people are still setting up, and dumping money back into LL to scale to enough to make a living, LL will allow it, once they can draw out, LL will stop it. This is why the best voice operators in escorting don't tend to charge in Linden. What LL does not see, LL cannot put a stop to as easily.
Which is to say I think that LL will clamp down on escorting on the day some pencil neck says "You know, phone sex operators drew 500,000 dollars last month out, with out paying for more than a couple of sims!"
So what should replace traffic? Well almost any automated activity you can name can be faked. I can have two bots buying things, getting refunded, putting things in the trash, emptying trash, and then buying again. All shifting from traffic to transactions would do is put a load on the asset server as bots were coded to create churn. In short, since LL decided to cripple LSL, and therefore created a need for bots, the other side, that bots can simulate a real user to any degree necessary. Want chat? They can read wiki pages to each other. Want mobility, the bot runner can rotate his or her bots around from location to location. What bots can't have, is a life.
That's why ultimately the resource that LL needs to fix things is in their hands: things like the wiki, profiles and so on. I'll discuss this in more detail soon.