Web Profiles – privacy leak?

Tateru Nino posts on a privacy issues surrounding SL web Profiles – or more particularly, the “old” profile API utilised by 1.x Viewers and the likes of Firestorm.

Although there is an issue here, I’m not entirely with her on her take on the situation, or in the options she provides as potential solutions.

Essentially, the problem lies in the fact that people seem to be under the impression that setting the privacy options on a web Profile via my.secondlife.com will “hide” the selected parts of the Profile from being viewed in-world. For example: if Groups to be viewed by Friends in my.secondlife.com, people take it to mean only Friends can view the Groups information when viewing the Profile in-world.

While this is the case for those people using the official Viewer 2, it is not true for anyone using 1.x-based Viewers or some TPVs based on Viewer 2. For these people, your entire Profile remains fully visible, regardless of the Privacy settings active on mt.secondlife.com.

This is because 1.x-based Viewers (and Viewers such as Firestorm) use the “old” 1.x Profile API, which has no privacy settings associated with it, and it simply doesn’t care what has been set via my.secondlife.com.

As such, and while acknowledging the situation, I’m hard-pressed to call it a “privacy” issue in its truest sense; the behaviour exhibited by the API is exactly what it has always been – no more, no less. In that regard, it’s certainly incorrect to describe the resultant situation as a bug with the 1.x Profile API.

Rather than being a matter of “privacy” with regards what is viewable on Profiles in-world, I’d actually suggest that this problem is actually an unfortunate outcome of another poorly worded communique from Linden Lab coupled with taking the “easiest” route to providing a solution.

Let’s put matters in perspective. The privacy settings on my.secondlife.com came about not to limit the viewability of Profiles in-world, but rather to address users’ concerns that my.secondlife.com initially made it far too easy for non-SL users casually browsing the web to see people’s avatar Profiles. Unfortunately, when LL moved to fix the matter (and very clumsily so, in the first pass), Q Linden issued a blog post that unintentionally linked the web aspects of privacy with the in-world viewing of Profiles; something that was possibly exacerbated by the clumsy manner in which “privacy” was first invoked.   As a result, some people have become confused.

Unless LL unequivocally state it is their intention to enable the blocking of certain parts of a person’s Profile from in-world viewing (and there are actually valid arguments for this), then I’d dispute Tateru’s view on how to resolve this matter.

Far from there only being two options open to LL (backport the privacy controls to the 1.x API or to shut down that API entirely), there is actually a third. It’s this: add the necessary clarification to the privacy settings page on my.secondlife.com. It’s around 10-15 minutes work at most. The wording itself is pretty simple:

“Please note: These privacy settings apply to how your profile is seen at my.secondlife.com or by residents using the official Viewer 2. Residents using older Viewers and third-party Viewers may be able to see your full profile in-world, regardless of the settings made here. Please ensure you only supply information you wish to be made “public” within Second Life, and ensure your profile remains within our Community Standards guidelines.”

Voice comes to the Basic Mode Viewer 2

Viewer 2’s Basic Mode gains a new feature today – that of Voice.

While I don’t use Voice myself – I have nothing against it, I just move largely in the world of role -play in SL, and Voice can be illusion-shattering in that regard – I think it’s a pretty good option to have within Second Life, and adding it to the Basic Mode makes sense. To a point.

The problem is, a lot of things are “coming” to the Basic Mode (or have been indicated at coming) – currency, for example. To be fair, I’ve suggested some additions myself, although they appear to be fewer than those LL are contemplating. Which leads to a problem I’ve touched on before.

If LL keep adding to the Basic Mode, how long until it ceases being the “Basic Mode” and becomes “The Viewer”?  The function of a Basic Mode, I thought, was to ease new users into the Second Life / Viewer experience. Ergo, it makes sense to keep the Basic Mode relatively simple and clean. While things like Voice are very useful to have, the fact remains that if things keep getting added to the Basic Mode, then it won’t be long before any advantages gained in introducing it are going to be washed away.

In discussing this with Rodvik a while ago, I pointed out the need to provide a better transitional experience between the Basic and Advanced modes of the Viewer. It’s something he apparently generally agreed with, although he also appeared to imply that Basic might be more to do with making Viewer development more iterative, and that at some point in the future, Basic may merge with Advanced – presumably because the code base has been overhauled and made somewhat more modular, making future Viewer maintenance a lot easier.  If so, this throws the purpose of the Basic Mode into a whole different category than “simply” being a tool to help new users – and it’s future becomes somewhat more intriguing.

Personally, while I’m all in favour of making the Viewer a lot more modular (something I understand Bagman Linden (Jeff Petersen) is quite keen on) to the point of potentially making elements of the Viewer “optional”  / “installable as required” where users are concerned, I still think that the Basic Mode holds a lot of potential where new users are concerned, providing LL address its current shortfalls without overloading it with features and providing they add the means to bridge the gap between it and the Advance Mode smoothly.

It’ll be interesting to see which direction they do opt to take.

Who is spamming?

We all hate spammers – you know the type, they pitch up in Group chat and fire off an IM, complete with Surl for some sale or event that has nowt to do with the Group itself. Groups with open enrolment are, sadly, particularly susceptible to these idiots.

Deeply annoying.

But, in the case of large Groups, equally annoying is the tirades that then follow said spammer as Group members proceed to gnash teeth, yowl, shakes their fists and generally react – sometimes for several minutes at a time, the comments scrolling up the Group Chat window, and, well, spamming the rest of the Group.

Yes, spammers are a PITA but I really wish people would remember that by the time they’ve pulled up the IM window, typed a reply and hit RETURN the spammer is long gone. They’ll have closed their IM window and sodded off somewhere else – if not left the Group entirely to find another target.

So, before jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation (however tempting it may be), please spare a thought for the rest of your fellow Group members who have been equally affected and try not to become as much an irritant as the original culprit.

A 2nd Hub – Part 2

<- Return to part 1

2ndHub is a social media site specifically developed for users of Second Life. In this 2-part review, I take a tour of the site and look at the various features and options.

In part one, I gave a general overview of the site, and looked at setting up accounts and profiles, as well as how to gain an overview of the various sections of the site.

In this part, I look at the various communications options for 2ndHub, including Events management, and I take a look at the tools provided free of charge by the site for in-world integration and connectivity and provide my personal feelings on 2ndhub.  

Events

Events list (auto-updated)

You can notify 2ndHub users of upcoming events via the MY EVENTS tab, which allows you to set up multiple events which then appear in the Current and Future Events list on member’s MY HUB page (located on the left side of the page, under the Business Spotlight section.

Events are counted down in terms of the number of hours before they commence, while clicking on the + button can open-up an additional pane of information on the events (what is is, who is participating, for example) as well as displaying any SURL / URL that was included in the original event notice. I personally find it more appealing than the SL “dashboard” web page Events list.

Communications

Communications within 2ndHub are pretty impressive. Within your Profile page and your My Hub page is a Twitter-like set-up, comprising a “What’s Happening” text entry box, and a series of tabs: My Personal Feed, My Priority Feed, Public Feed and My Activity Feed.

The Public Feed for messages (My Hub and Profile pages)

The “What’s Happening” text box allows you to send out messages on any subject you like – how you’re feeling, general greetings, observations, etc.,  – a-la Twitter and Plurk. Messages can be targeted to go to all 2ndHub users, or just to your Friends, or even just to yourself. You can also set-up who can comment in reply.

Like Plurk, images (from your Flickr account, at least, if you have one) and YouTube videos can be embedded into messages. These will be displayed as a link in the message until clicked upon, which will either expand the image / video within the message window, allowing it to be viewed / played. Clicking the link again will close the displayed image / video.

In a further nod to Plurk, you can add a descriptor to a message (i.e. “Inara Pey says,”, “Inara Pey shouts”, etc.).

The HUD option that can be downloaded from the site (see Tools, below) extends the messaging capability further, allowing you to send messages to the 2ndHub site from in-world – very useful if you’re enjoying an event or something and you think others might like to pop along.

Additionally, 2ndHub includes a live chat engine, allowing you to chat directly with other friends who are online (or leave them offline messages). However, this is purely on a one-to-one basis: you cannot invite two or more people into a live chat session (or at least, none I’ve been able to find), which is a shame.

Group communications allow for the creation of Group-based notices which can be posted either to the 2ndhub website or in-world (where they will be received by all avatars within the Group, providing you have a 2ndHub delivery server set-up (see Tools, below). The system supports the sending of attachments (in-world items) with notices, making them almost as flexible as in-world Group notices.

Tools

The in-world HUD

In-world HUD. Looking like a small remote control, the HUD provides you with a means of connecting to 2ndhub from in-world. With it, you can:

  • Friends: Send messages to a specific friend when they are not online (or if you are not connected to them as Friends in-world) leave a comment for them on their profile (will also appear in your Personal and Priority feeds; invite a 2ndHub friend to join one of your Groups
  • Groups: Post a Group notice; invite someone near you in-world to join a 2ndHub Group you’ve created (they *do not* have to have a 2ndHub account in order to do so)
  • Posting: send a message to your Profile (will be displayed on your MY HUB page in the Personal, Priority and Public feeds
  • Mail: Allows you to alter your e-mail settings associated with 2ndHub
  • Image Viewer: allows you to use the HUD to view images loaded into it (an interesting tool, but not overly useful, although it does rather nattily cause the HUD to rotate through 90 degrees to a landscape orientation for easier image browsing)
  • Settings: Get the HUD’s help Notecard determine whether you wish to use Second Life’s chat box to enter text with using the HUD or a dedicated pop-up text box (chat line option may not work in all SL Viewers).

Delivery Server: a single-prim in-world server (think SLM Magic Box) that enables you to send Group notices in-world and add attachments to such Notices. There is a dedicated sub-tab under MY TOOLS for managing any Delivery Servers you deploy in-world.

Subscriber Boards: wall-, or floor-mounted board that allow avatars in-world to subscribe to any defined 2ndHub Group(s) you have set-up (one board per Group). Subscribers will be able to receive Group notices, etc., without losing a Second Life Group slot. Like Delivery Servers, there is a dedicated sub-tab under MY TOOLS for managing any Subscriber Boards you deploy in-world.

The tools are all available from MY TOOLS -> Tool Delivery and are free of charge. Each tool selected will be delivered in-world to your avatar.

In Summary

A basic business profile

Overall, 2ndHub is a well-considered website that offers potential for Second Life users who wish to widen their SL-related social networking links and opportunities. Business interests are reasonably well supported, while things like communications capabilities and Group support are well thought-out. The level of SL integration is very good, offering considerable flexibility of use.

Not everything on the site is completed, nor is everything entirely logical. The latter is a minor quirk, and easily overcome; the former suggests that active development of the site might be a little lacking – possibly because the current take-up is perhaps on the low side (around 2.5K registered users at present). Various items like greeters and vendor systems have been promised, but there is no clear indication as to whether these are being actively works upon or not.

Getting to grips with the site  – beyond setting up profiles – can be a tad confusing, this is not helped by the fact that there is no apparent Search option. While “Browse Directory” might be a more accurate description of what someone is doing when seeking friends and  / or businesses, it is not instantly intuitive – as the number of calls for assistance tends to point out.

The other thing that would be good to see – assuming the site is still being actively developed, is it being opened up to virtual worlds that are similar in nature to Second Life – such as Avination and InWorldz. Many people involved in Second Life have a presence in these worlds as well, and providing a central social networking capability that enables these various identities to be linked (given most do link them), would undoubtedly increase the popularity of the site.

The most surprising thing about the site is that it is not in wider use; indeed it seems to have been one of the best-kept secrets of Second Life these past 18 months. I personally cannot recall seeing it mentioned in ads for blogs anywhere, and it was purely by chance that I stumbled across it. I certainly hope this article will help to change that.

This is not designed to be a comprehensive look at the site – there is much that I deliberately haven’t mentioned; so think of this review as something to whet your appetite. Certainly, if you are looking for a new social media environment to which you can link your Second Life identity, 2ndHub is a very good place to start. Equally, if you’ve just been booted from Facebook and do not wish to trouble yourself further with it, or are not convinced that Facebook pages are for you, then 2ndHub may well offer a viable alternative.


A 2nd Hub – Part 1

2ndHub

As shown by Facebook’s actions this week in deleting accounts linked to Second Life avatar names, social media sites and Second Life can make uneasy bed fellows. For a time, it looked like Linden Lab themselves were prepared to bridge the gap when they purchased Avatars United. Sadly, that particular deal went nowhere at an initial flurry of activity, as Avatars United was left dangling for some 12 months prior to Linden Lab pulling the plug on it.

However, during the same time, a social media website designed specifically for Second Life users has been quietly flying under the radar, gathering a solid membership and providing the kind of facilities that Second Life users are liable to use and appreciate.

That site is called 2ndHub, and it is actually pretty cool. Highlights of the site include:

  • Simple sign-up process integrated with your Second Life account(s)
  • Multiple profile types for individuals, SL businesses, groups, etc., with comprehensive linking
  • Twitter-like micro-blogging
  • Easy trending to help you stay in touch with others and share
  • Unlimited update groups that can be linked to personal or business profiles, with in-world notices & attachments, complete with their own pages for posts and comments
  • Flickr integration, with your most recent Flickr uploads showing as small images in your profile, with links to your Flickr page
  • Searchable directories for people, businesses and groups
  • A range of web-enabled tools including SL update groups, subscribers, delivery servers, an in-world HUD

Sign-up

Signing-up to 2ndHub is straightforward, requiring you to provide your Avatar’s name, a user name, password and e-mail address. The latter is required as a part of the verification process; for those concerned about data privacy, the site includes a fairly comprehensive privacy policy which covers how the information provided will be used, and other information relating to privacy and security.

Once you’ve submitted the sign-up form, you will need to complete a 2-step verification process. The first part of this requires you to respond to an e-mail sent to the given address used in the sign-up process; the second requires you visit the in-world 2ndHub location and verify your Avatar via one of the in-world terminals.

As the sign-up process is linked to a specific avatar, you can set-up individual accounts for as many avatars as you may have or wish to include on the site.

My Hub

The My Hub Page

MY HUB is effectively your 2ndHub home page. From her you can access your message options, view your dashboard (both also available from your Profile), and which features live “feeds” on forthcoming events, new users signing-up to 2ndHub, the most recent messages published to the Public Feed, and a very useful rotating selection of business profiles created on 2ndLife – click on any of the featured businesses to go to the page for the business and find out more information, or hover over the + sign for an insert with expanded information.

Tabs and sub-tabs

Navigating from here is relatively straightforward – simply use the tabs below the site banner, together with any sub-tabs they display to help you look around.

Site tour page

The best way of understanding what the major tabs do, is to have a look at the Quick Tour pages. These can be accessed in one of two ways: either by clicking on the ABOUT tab, and then the TOUR 2ND HUB tab, or by clicking on the VIEW OUR SITE TOUR link, located in the 2nd Hub Tour pane, around half-way down the right side of My Hub.

It’s not an entirely comprehensive tour, only providing a static display of each of the major pages – Profiles, My Hub home page, etc., but it should help get you familiar with things enough to find your way around and get started on doing stuff.

Dashboard

The Dashboard

The dashboard provides you with a quick reference as to what is going around you – if you have received any personal messages, any alerts (such as requests for friendship) and so on.

From here you can also log out of 2ndhub, edit your profile, and access your account details (both of which can also be reached via the site tabs). You can also jump straight to your completed profile page by clicking on your avatar’s name.

Additionally, the dashboard also provides access to the Live Chat, which provides a form of instant messaging direct to any friends you’ve connected to in 2ndhub, and provides shortcuts to your business profiles, Groups and the list of Groups you have joined.

Profiles

My 2ndHub Profile Page

To get noticed, you should set-up a profile for your Avatar (and any business you wish to promote via 2ndHub); like Second Life, people rarely respond well to a blank profile. Setting-up your  profile is a very straightforward task: click on the MY PROFILES tab and complete the displayed form – making sure any required information is given. As long as you keep obscenities out of any descriptive text, it’s really down to you as to what your write.

You can include a link to any website (such as a blog), and came also upload as many images as you like (in batches of four), one of which you can select as the default image that will appear as your main profile image. When you’re ready, you can preview your profile prior to publishing it.

Business profiles (if you have a business) follow the same principle, and can be automatically linked to your Avatar profiles(s).

Making Friends

Connecting with people is relatively easy, once you’ve worked out the initial step of finding people, as there is no obvious search option; instead there is a tab called Browse Directory, which enables you to browse through profiles (personal and business), Groups, Groups you’re a member of, review those you’ve blocked, and set up a list of personal favourite businesses.

A series of input fields allow any directory searches to be more focused; you can for example search by country, SL user name (in the case of avatar profiles) and / or keywords.

Displaying a specific personal profile will take you to the individual’s profile page, where you can, among other things, send a friendship request. It is here that 2ndHub can flex its muscles: friendship requests are sent to your 2ndHub Dashboard and if you are on-line, will pop-up as an alert for you in Chat. Additionally, a copy of the request will go to your e-mail, complete with a link-back to accept / refuse the request. Accepting an offer will see the requestor’s default Profile picture pop-up in you’re my Friends window on your MY HUB Home tab, and added to the list of Friends in the My Friends sub tab of MY HUB.

Groups

2ndhub supports Groups in much the same way as Second Life. You can create your own Groups, invite people to join them, send out notices (with attachments), and so on. A major feature with 2ndhub Groups is that you can invite anyone to join, whether or not they have a 2ndHub account, using a variety of options (see Tools, in part 2 of this article), and joining a 2ndHub Group doesn’t take up a Second Life Group slot (which perhaps isn’t as vital since in-world Groups were increased to 42).

Joining a Group is a similar process to adding a friend, although all Groups appear to be open (although the creator can limit them to be available only to friends), so joining any Group is automatic on clicking the JOIN button. Groups you are in are listed under the Groups I’m In sub-tab of MY HUB, while you can also opt to leave a Group.

Continued in part 2 ->

Endeavour: Favourite images

I’ve already blogged about the affinity I have for the space shuttle Endeavour and how it came about, and while there are many, many photographs from NASA and others that define the space shuttle era, these are the ones that symbolise, for me, the career of the Endeavour.

Ready to fly: STS-49, Endeavour’s maiden flight (Crew (L-to-r): Mission Specialist (MS) Richard J. Hieb, Pilot Kevin P. Chilton, Commander Daniel C. Brandenstein, MS Thomas D. Akers, MS Pierre J. Thuot, MS Kathryn C. Thornton, and MS Bruce E. Melnick)


STS-61: the First Hubble Servicing Mission, December 1993
The Borealis Australis, STS-59, April 1994
STS-126 night launch, November 2008
On the limb of the world, STS-130, February 2010
Final ascent: STS-134, May 2011