Naming and displaying

Hot on the heels of Philip Rosedale’s appearance at SLCC, Jack Linden brings us further news on the new Display Names option Philip mentioned.

On the whole, I find this a very good move; that people have been forced to select a predetermined last name for Second life – and have been unable to do anything about it (or indeed their first name, should they subsequently wish) – has been something of an annoyance. It also has to be said things like the lack of unicode capability with names, or the inability of partnered couples to share a common last name has caused endless grumbles. Similarly, and while I don’t engage in the same myself, I’m sure those that like to be Klingons, Romulans or orcs or elves  – or the whole rainbow of creatures / races / breeds that live within Second Life will welcome the ability to be more than just Joe Smith with a fancy helmet and a big sword / blaster gun / whatever.

Even so, despite the positives, it’s interesting LL have been careful to lay out the justification for the new (Viewer 2 based) feature alongside the announcement – almost as if they’re anticipating a backlash at the move and want to be able to point fingers back at the community as to why it has been done.

Good as it potentially is, it is not without concerns – many of which are raised in the comments that follow the announcement.

From a personal perspective, I’d question the “convenience” of some aspects of the new system, such as the find that Display Names will take precedence over “user names” (your current avatar name) in things like Friends /Contacts lists. Given that the user name is the constant that underpins an Avatar’s identity, I would have thought it more sensible not to change functionality so that Display Names are show in preference. Those who find a lot of their Friends and Contacts using this feature – even with changes limited to once a week – are going to find trawling through their lists to find if Joe Smith is now H’uspank’l chithulyTa, Sorovin Paladin, Howling Vishniac or Amy Anne Martha Fleetwood this week somewhat tiresome.

The idea that IMs will be logged under Display Names is similarly questionable. Business owners rely on IMs to trace conversations, record information and feedback about / from customers, etc. Right now all IM exchanges with a customer tend to end up in the same .TXT file – so over time it is easy to build up a history of correspondence with repeat customers, information that can be used in a variety of useful ways. With Display Names things could get very muddled. Given the transient nature of Display Names, some business owners potentially have a nice little task of ascertaining whom their most recent conversation was with (or who actually sent an IM that went to e-mail while they were offline), then having to prat around copying the info to the relevant IM log.

I’m not convinced by all of the “con” arguments put forward in the responses to the announcement; those familiar with Second Life and the antics a minority like to get up to will inevitably make sure that the option to display “user names” beneath Display Names is checked at all times. However, the potential for bilking the unwary does increase somewhat – though not enough to make this a no-go idea.

That said, I do find it objectionable that anyone can use my name as a display name. I’ve invested time and effort into my Second Life, and I regard “Inara Pey” very much as a part of my identity (to the point I now use the name outside of SL in the likes of Blue Mars and elsewhere); ergo, I’d be somewhat affronted at the thought of someone using it because they think it “cute” – leave alone creating any mischief while doing so.

Torley and others do their best to field questions raised in the commentary (although Amanda’s admonishment to Anne O’Toole on the subject of the use of all lower case in the “user name” is more than a little patronising), but it is interesting to note that there is a continued silence around the subject of scripted tools that log resident names.

These – such as security orbs – rely on a specific name being entered by an operator. It would appear that those maintaining such tools – say for access control to areas, etc., could find themselves constantly updating things or issuing “rules” users aren’t going to find popular.

It is going to be interesting to see how the “beta” period goes with the new feature – and how many will actually recognise / see it, given the size of the Viewer 2 user base compared with the 1.23.5 user base (where Display Names won’t be visible).  This in itself may cause problems where feedback is concerned, as issues such as those raised here may be simply discounted by LL purely because a “minority” seem to find them a problem.

Overall, Display Names add a flexibility to Second Life that has been missing for far too long; nevertheless it is not something that should be rolled out with a bang and accepted as “working”. LL have put a lot of emphasis on listening to feedback going forward; one hope that they’ve already started listening now and will work with us to make sure that Display Names is the cool feature they predict and we’ve wanted to see.