Thursday, March 12, 2009

it's time to start the countdown, I'm gonna burn it down

The Lindens are at it again. This time, they sound a bit more least until we break down what they're actually saying from the broad, and very vague, lack of specifications they're choosing to employ this month.

Cyn Linden said, when opening the thread for comments on the forums:
We have four key guiding principles to work from, and we’d like you to consider them and share your thoughts:

1) We will create clear and consistent definitions of what constitutes adult content, in line with our Community Standards,

2) We will enable easy, reliable, and consistent ways to be able to access content by type - the goal being to ensure that Residents can choose what they want to see, purchase and experience.

3) We will implement effective Resident services and dialog to ensure that those who provide Adult goods or services can continue their activities without long-term disruption or loss of business.

4) We will implement account verification systems that provide an additional level of assurance for providers of Adult content that only adults are able to access their content. Such a system might be tied, for instance, to a verified payment method like a credit card, a validation by our age verification provider, or another credible method of validation.

So of course there was hue and outcry. Some of the highlights:

Suggestions for clarification:

1. Are Avatars (Residents) counted as Adult Content? Most of the people I know, including myself, are wonderful people who have from time to time presented themselves in ways that would fall into the Adult category. Are you going to attempt to control the movements of Avatars?

2. Will credit cards with an age listed be acceptable as verification? We all know the other attempted system was not only a flop but a serious invasion of privacy.

3. Are you seriously considering uprooting half the content in current Mature sims? And if so, are you going to compensate us financially for the forced relocation to Adult Reservations? Many people have sunk considerable investments of real money into their current locations.

(As an aside on that, despite your "uncertainty" I'm guessing this is a preparatory step for an All-Ages integrated grid. And frankly you'd save us all huge amounts of heartburn and butthurt if you created an All-Ages Continent instead of an Adult Reservation.)

4. Enforcement is not mentioned. What are the potential consequences for mis-flagging content or having an avatar that random person identifies as "Adult"? Again you are treading on territory where lots of money is at stake.
(Ananda Sandgrain)

Ananda's got some definite points. Okay, sure, someone like dear Miss Sunshine is likely going to freak people out anywhere, but what about the average person on the street? Silks, for example: to some, they're everyday wear, but to others they are scandalously revealing. Or collars: on some people, they're a fashion statement (newbie goths come to mind), on others, signs of submission; which is going to cause more dissent?

And that's just surface; what about latex dolls? They are highly fetishized representations of female sexuality, some would consider absurdly so: but they are covered. In certain cases, they are encased to the point where not even eyes and mouth are left open.

Or let's take something nearer to home: people kneeling. I own more than two pieces of furniture that have sit poses on the floor. In fact, I own several floor cushions (and hells, all things considered, I tend to hang out on cuddle rugs most of my time spent idle in SL, but that's neither here nor there). To me, someone kneeling--just that, just sitting on their knees--is no big deal. Even people going into acknowledged Gorean poses to please their owner doesn't faze me. But what if it fazes someone else? What if it disturbs and angers them to the point of gnashing froth? Me, I'd say hello if I'm inclined, or walk past. That mythical frothing person? Might well AR everyone in the room.

What's normal to some, isn't normal to others. Who decides which standards of normalcy we hold? And even when we get into what's weird territory for me--and trust me, friends and neighbors, you do not want to know what I consider weird and freaky--I still say, if they just have to go shopping for that prom dress in their freaky attire, hey, I can leave the store, I can go home, I can log off--why can't everyone else?

WHY WHY WHY? Why is it the job of Linden Lab to try to sort out content? Why is it not the job of the parents to prevent their kids from logging into SL? Why do adults that do not want to see adult content continue to teleport to OTHER PEOPLE's LAND?!

The offended should be the ones that need to move... they have the ability to set up their own vision of their non-adult world. they can grab their land and do their thing.
(Doubledown Tandino)

See? Above conversation relates perfectly to Doubledown's comment. Why can't the offended just walk away? Unless it's someone involved in machine sex with a anaesthetized gerbil in your living room, why can't you just not interact?

Please define as clearly as possible what "Adult Content" is. Obviously sex beds and certain attachable body parts... but what else? Will anyone who sells a skin be relegated to be down the street from "Bob's Discount Genital Store" and "The Sexatorium?"

Likewise, is this to say that someone who has their own land in the main grid, who wants to occasionally slip up to their bedroom for a little sexual activity, will now be forced to sell their land and move next door to the nearest house of ill repute? That seems quite ridiculous.

(for whom the irony of me, of all people, posting about "slipping up to the bedroom for a little sexual activity" is not lost on)
(Marianne McCann, noted SL child community advocate)

The irony isn't lost on me, either. Nor should it be for any of us. When a token child--herself an embattled minority, in her SLife--weighs in with what she thinks of as reasonable concerns regarding adult activity, we really should sit up and listen.

Think this through: if I own, in my own house, items for adult entertainment, that is my responsibility. I have no friends with SL children (that I know of); I have no SL children myself; and I never, in the fullest and deepest sense of that word, intend to even flirt with a child avatar, let alone have adult fun. I do not believe I do anything in my SLife at present that necessitates the need for me to move far away on an adult-sanctioned grid.

Far simpler to make a continent that is PG-content only. Family-friendly? Family-safe? Why not? If you are rated adult, you will be blocked. If you are rated teen or mature, you will not be blocked. Or go simpler: payment info on file, full access. Payment info not on file or alternate means of identification achieved, blocked.

Why is this hard?

I still say the card idea works, and no one seems to be listening. The Lindens design some snappy image to put on a buyable card for some token amount--five dollars, two dollars, whatever. When this card is purchased, the clerk for the transaction asks for ID. ID is provided, and, if eighteen or over, the clerk validates the card. The next time I log in, I'm asked for that identification number, and I put that in. Simple. Easy. Relatively painless--the Lindens get to mark me age-verified, and no one has my ID number, with my home address, my picture, and access to my DMV record, on file.

But, you say, the Lindens already have your address, don't they? And--because I have nearly always had credit card information on file with my account, yes, yes they do. Why do I still prefer the card method outlined above?

1) Simplicity. It's a simple select-card/buy-card/validate/log-in transaction. It requires a slight alteration to the client, which honestly can be achieved using the same pop-up survey form they use now. It's easy. The Lindens could even make them in various values, and have anything over say, $2.50 US convert to Lindens, so you could validate accounts at the basic level, or go all the way up to $50.00, $100.00, $150.00 in Lindens.

2) Collectability. For those who collect things, like the Linden bears in world, this would be a second chance to edge into that market, and this would be for real money that would go directly to the Labs. They could release year cards, season cards, cards commemorating SL birthday events, the sky's the limit. They could offer personalized avatar options, and, if it got big enough, they could likely strike a deal with any of a number of credit card companies to put Linden-controlled content on actual credit cards, to use in non-grid-based stores, as well as for Lindens in-world.

3) Safety. This way, the Lindens don't have another database of personal info that can be hacked (as has happened twice since I joined, and I've only been in the game since mid-2006) at will by whomever's clever enough to get by the firewalls. This would ensure that only one person sees the identifying info, and that person changes, depending on city, state, country, town, store, even time of day. For me, putting my personal information in the hands of someone with no reason to retain it, to be "lost" later, is far safer than putting it in the hands of a company who tends to lose personal information, as well as make staggeringly bad choices as to which external companies are best trusted with my personal data.

"We will create clear and consistent definitions of what constitutes adult content, in line with our Community Standards."

Defining this one element alone will be slipperier than a bed of eels in a bucket of Jiffy Lube. After thousands of years of civilization the human race has not yet managed to work this one out so I'll be fascinated to see how it pans out in the virtual world.

The cultural and religious mores of the international community who inhabit Second Life are significantly different and "adult content" for one group may be more rigidly interpreted than another. For example, would topless bathing on a sim be "adult?" Not from a European perspective. And what about profanities? Will there be an installing of filters? And if so, which words are "adult" and which are not? And who would determine this?
(Sigmund Leominster)

Yet again, Sigmund raises pointed questions that deserve honest answers. What is allowable in America is not in Saudi Arabia. What is commonplace in France may raise eyebrows in England. We have already seen the breakdown when the Lindens flag certain search words as taboo; do we really want to tangle with doing that to an entire land mass in world?

Instead of requiring a flag for "adult" vs. "mature" content...

Why not go ahead, do the TeenGrid merger - and then have a flag people can set in their profile to mark themselves as "family-friendly only". At that point, then they can only teleport to PG rated areas, which would include the merged TeenGrid areas.
(TaraLi Jie)

And again, this is a rational, elegant, and surprisingly effective way to solve the issue. So why are the Lindens choosing the most destabilizing, cumbersome, ponderous way around the problem, if problem it is at all?

Someone very wise once said that the Lindens only drop these weighty issues into our laps to wrangle and fret over, when they're doing something they want us completely distracted from behind the scenes. I'm beginning to believe this is not hyperbole, but factual, hard-minted truth. So what are they hiding this time, that they want us not to see? What's big enough, fracturing enough, that dredging age verification, hints of gridmerge, and the establishment of Pervistan (all thanks to Des for the name), the as-yet-unnamed 'adult continent' to be, from the sodden depths of controversy--as a mere diversion--would be worth it?

Moving every strip-club and weapon store and personally-owned sex bed and art gallery displaying nudes off of the mainland into an "adult" ghetto seems like a highly undesirable alternative. Can you give us any insight into why that was the one that's been chosen? (Dale Innis)

I haven't heard any good answers yet, Dale, maybe you have.

"Any publicly accessible Region" that "references... Representations of intense violence depicting death". I'm not exactly sure what it means to reference a representation, but this would seem, again, to hit an art gallery displaying something like Picasso's "Guernica", or a weapon store with pictures of exploding landmines. (Isn't it true of any weapon store that "the main theme or advertising point is" violent? So aren't those all Adult even in Blondin's wording?)

Saying "oh, yeah, but we actually won't enforce that in those cases" isn't really much comfort; I hate the idea of having a bad law and just counting on the powers that be not to enforce it. If the rule is really going to be more or less rational, as Blondin suggests, then can the official rule be worded to actually *say* that, rather than saying something much much broader that we are then unofficially assured that it doesn't really mean?
(Dale Innis)

And I have to admit, Dale again raises a great point here, and a truly great question. I have yet to see if Blondin--or Cyn, or any other Linden involved in this--actually responded.

Beryllium Vella's comment was worth quoting in full:

The concept is too broad in my opinion. Yes, it's a nice idea that you can provide blinders in RL to keep people from seeing things they don't want to see. It doesn't happen in RL, you can drive down certain streets and see things you really don't want to see. You control that in RL by not driving down those streets.

In SL, what you see is location, advertising, avatars, and profiles.

There can be a mature content location, and if you don't want to see it, you don't go there.

There is mature advertising, and if you don't want to see that, you don't click give me the mature content also.

Avatars and Profiles are a much more difficult situation.

An avatar can go anywhere, and look like anything. Naked Avatars in inappropriate areas are AR'd - they should have some clothes in when in PG areas. But elsewhere, a naked avatar might be just fine. Then there's the case when SL might slide you into some other location because the location you wanted isn't available. Suddenly you're somewhere you don't want to be, dressed or undressed as you don't want to be, and it may be difficult due to some local/temporary bug to change that. Accidents happen.

The profile of an avatar is accessible by anyone anywhere. We're used to looking at someone's profile to make sure that we address them properly, to learn what they are interested in, to find out a little about them before telling them about ourselves. But in those profiles there can be subjects, pictures, data that is mature in [context], and there's no way to predict what you will see.

I cannot see how you can protect people from what's around them. I feel that it comes down to them choosing what they will see, where they will go, what they will do. Just as in RL, you make your own choices of what you will see and do, and you back out quickly from places and things that you don't want to deal with.

We laugh at the old joke (which is true by the way) of a little old lady calling into the cable company complaining of a channel mixup error that had occurred one day. "That was the worst filth on TV that I've ever watched for two hours" The immediate questions: 1) why did she keep watching; 2) why not call earlier to the cable company.

What keeps occurring to me, in this latest venture into absurdity, Linden-style, is how needlessly they complicate their own lives and the operation of their business. If it's all a cover-up for something else, then trust me, it's not worth this level of froth. And if it's honestly not, there are endless other ways--many detailed in this post--to get the job done and move on with our second lives.

A few questions I'd leave viewers of this post with:

1) Whatever happened to parental responsibility? Why is it suddenly my responsibility, Linden Labs' responsibility, to ensure the safety of your children? You don't want them in sexual areas in SL, don't let them join. Curtail their computer use, demand password access, discuss with them what's of value and what's not at their stage of development. (Oh, but wait, that would mean parents would actually be interacting with their children, not leaving them to the internet and television to answer all questions while they go off and play City of Heroes for hours on end.)

2) Why is it necessary to create an entirely new land mass just for strip clubs, escorts and sex shops? Don't we already have private islands expressly for that? Hells, don't we already have Amsterdam for that? Why an entirely new continent to "take care of the problem"--which few, among those I've interacted with on SL, even saw as a problem? (In other words, what is really behind this move? Nautilus not living up to expectations?)

3) Is this all just the first step towards merging the teen and the adult grids, which is the spectre raised over and again in scuttlebutt and rumor? If so, why are few Lindens denying it, while saying there aren't any direct plans "short term" for such a move? (And how short is short? Three weeks? Three years? Longer, shorter? Do we ever get to know?)

I'll get back to the music thing, I promise. But this is likely the start of several posts on this topic until things die down again.

If they do.


Anonymous said...

My guess is that Linden Labs think as follows:

Big paying customers like corporations and educational institutes are where the money is, not millions of uneconomical micro-accounts.

Those big customers are put off by the sleazy public image of SL.

So we need to clean up SL and get rid of a lot of the irritating micro-accounts, while we are at it.

So let's collect all the 'garbage' in one area, then it's easier to get rid of completely when the time comes.

Emilly Orr said...

While I am usually this cynical, in all honesty I think this is secondary, or even subconscious to their main desire, which is not to herd all the pervs together to be axed at once.

I'm not even sure it's to sanitize the grid for the big business accounts they hope to achieve, because the Labs are already working with IBM to perfect the virtual meeting space/virtual boardroom concepts, as well as to institute virtual training sessions for new employees. This is already going on--and has been for more than two years--with the large and variegated grid around them, so it's not that.

I'm remembering a story that ran quietly about a year, maybe fourteen months ago, about missionary Christian groups who were planning to "infiltrate" SL and begin converting the heathen masses, for lack of a better term. What I'm wondering is not how well that effort went, but how much so-called "evidence of sin" was gathered, and then sent out to the letter-writing contingent of groups such as Focus on the Family, so they could dun the Labs continually on how base and horrifying the grid was.

I can easily see someone at the Labs freaking out over that, and, in their usual extremely short-sighted fashion, coming up with this blundering attempt at reconciliation: See, they're saying, there's nothing wrong on the grid, we're making it better every day, and look--we're working on clearly identifying everything that so offended you, so you can stop writing. Really.

In fact, I'd be shocked and horrified if that wasn't a hefty part of the thought process at this point. But me being me, I'm still wondering what else is contributing to this move.

Seraph Nephilim said...

To begin with... head/desk

I've been busy dealing with RL for the past week or so and this pops up its head (along with RaceFail '09 on LJ -- not at all SL related, but.... *sighs*) So, first place I come, after discovering the LL blog posting is here, hoping (and knowing) I'd find some intelligent commentary and comments. Thank you.

I just don't know where to begin, however. Just... just...

While they're saying (at least in the little I've read so far) that we won't have to move homes with adult items, I can see that coming. I can also see not allowing those of us who refuse to verify with their third-party vendor to access areas we currently can. (Despite the fact that not only do they have my payment info, they used my *cell phone* to validate my account, back in the day!) And for those who have to move, just a sqm for sqm trade isn't sufficient. What they say about real estate is true; the three most important things are location, location, location. If I had to move from my mainland home that's so very near the waterfront, I'd be pissed for multiple reasons. Plus, there are artifacts on that land that aren't mine that I don't wish to lose. Will LL move it all for me, to comparable or better land? And it can't be comparable land. That spot has been my home since I came into SL over three years ago. *People* have sentimental, illogical attachments to things. This is one of them for me.

One a side note, I don't think your card idea will work because of one main reason: the sort of stores that will sell it have no system in place for ID/age verification that matters and will have little or no incentive to put one in place. Possibly the only effective places that check age are the tobacco vendor and the liquor store, but those are only effective because of the weight of law. And not those all the time. It's always been easy enough for a minor to get access to booze or smokes with a modicum of effort. So I don't think that will help here.

I'm not sure what would work though, in this day of gift cards and debit cards, etc. If the only choice were credit cards, then I'd say go back to using those, despite what the credit card companies now say about not using their cards for age verification. Whatever does end up being used, knowing LL, will be a major mess. These folks don't know how to do anything right, except maybe forcing out competent people, like Cory. *sighs*

Emilly Orr said...

I've been poking at the edges, talking to people, reading the forums, and I can't shake the feeling that this is the paper tiger behind the screen, throwing shadows on the wall to distract from what's really happening back there.

I know now that a large part of the Homesteads fiasco was getting people to buy into the new Nautilus continent, which oddly resulted in devaluation of land--not their ultimate goal, I'm sure.

So now this. Another new continent, with all adult-themed businesses moved to it, resulting in large patches of now available mainland, to sell/rent? Is that it? Remove the ad farms, the giant rotating for-sale signs, the micro-land ownership, the sin districts, so...families can move in? It can't be that simple. And I don't think it is that simple.

But as has been pointed out, there were endless other ways to go about fixing this supposed "problem". And the Lindens drove by each and every one to pick the single most divisive way they could. So why? Just to raise controversy? Keep our eyes on the rabbit squirming in the hand, while the other hand does something we can't see below the table?

Six months from now, I'm going to be thinking about this, and see if anything's surfaced as to a real root cause.