SL on the move?

Tateru Nino, her eye ever on the ball, reports that LL are looking for a “Senior Software Engineer, Mobile“.

The job specification is pretty interesting to read, but I tend to side with Tateru when she says, “I wouldn’t expect this job to involve putting a Second Life viewer onto a mobile device, and neither should you. Most likely this will involve a very lightweight application..” 

There is much that is going on that would tend to point in this direction: SLim was canned last year (but then it never really worked), we have the upcoming new web-based profiles which will offer an initial level of “social networking” tools – and which will, apparently – be enhanced and built upon in the coming months. Users themselves are calling for easier and more flexible ways of accessing Second Life while on the move which are potentially free of some of the constraints found in the current crop of text-based “viewers”. Ergo, it seems fitting that LL move to provide some form of toolset that can leverage (at least initially) the new web profiles and offer the potential for improved interaction with those in-world when one is mobile.

Perhaps where I’d diverge from Tateru’s view is that I might be tempted to add, “At least, not yet” to the end of her comment. While it is difficult to see a more interactive element of SL existing on small handheld devices (phones, etc), there is nevertheless a vast opportunity to be mind in the field of tablet devices, which looks set to open-out this year, with just about every hardware manufacturer trying to push funky devices running a multitude of OSs into the hands of anyone willing to buy them.

Therefore, it would make sense – further down the road perhaps – for LL to see how they can leverage this burgeoning market and provide something of a richer experience within SL for those routinely using such devices that goes being merely texting and IMing from a frozen avatar in-world.

New Firestorm Beta

firestorm-logoFirestorm today released a second public beta version of the viewer. The 2.5.2.16922 release came somewhat unexpectedly and added a slew of new features and bug fixes which do much to move the viewer very much closer to a prime-time release status.

Note: the following comments apply to the Windows version of Firestorm. Other OS versions may differ.

Build Tools

Chief among the new features is a full port of the Phoenix build tools, so that Firestorm now includes:

  • Clickable group name on build floater
  • Object highlight toggle on build floater
  • Pivot point controls
  • Default size and material controls
  • Link number of build floater (with same bugs as Phoenix)
  • Build options pref panel Prefs> Firestorm> Build
  • Copy/paste object position, size, rotation, parameters and textures
  • Alt, control and shift keys modify increment on spinners (Alt: x10. Control: x1/10. Shift: x1/100)
  • Higher precision on position, size and rotation (4 decimal places)
  • Phoenix’s additional path profiles and transforms types
  • Added button for copy keys (UUID) to clipboard
  • Added requirement to confirm before setting object for sale (prevents sale sniping)
  • Expand/Collapse button
  • Added always show last owner.

Other notable changes include:

Quick Preferences Button

Quick Preferences options

The inclusion of “Quick Preferences button” in the bottom tool bar that provides quick and convenient access to a host of options that can often require frequent adjustment (see right), including the ability to rapidly step through windlight sky and water defaults or select them from a drop-down menu in much the same way as can be found within Phoenix via the arrow option at the extreme right-hand end of the tool bar.

Group Pop-up Window

New Group pop-up window

It’s pretty well known that I’m not a fan of the Sidebar, which tends to be little more than a disruptive waste of space where I’m concerned – so anything that Firestorm adds that prevents me having to be tossed around the Viewer and into the Sidebar is going to get a big thumbs up from me.

So it’ll come as no surprise that the new Group pop-up window is a big hit with me. As with Viewer 1.x, it allows you to pull-up information on a Group and peruse it quickly and conveniently in a simply pop-up.

It even includes a couple of new buttons – although one of them could perhaps do with a clearer title. CHAT opens up a Group Chat window – very handy when you want to make an announcement; GROUP CALL also opens up a Group Chat window, although the function of the button is actually to initiate a VOICE call between group members. As such, the latter button might be better off labelled “Voice Call”.

Movement Controls

I’ve rarely used them, but many do like Viewer 1’s movement controls. Until now, these haven’t been offered within Firestorm as a discrete option.

This latest Beta changes that by presenting them with a toolbar button of their own, and the palette fully repositionable. This will doubtless be seen as a very welcome addition by those who prefer to use the palette.

Land Details

Another small, but to me significant, improvement is that with this release, the land name displayed at the very top of the Viewer window is once again clickable and will bring up the ABOUT LAND window. This has been one of my hang-ups with Viewer 2.x; despite having the LAND button sitting in the navigation bar (which I rarely turn off), I must admit that I’ve been unable to break the habit of pointing to the land name and clicking on it, a-la Viewer 1.x, in order to bring up ABOUT LAND. Kudos to the Firestorm team for rescuing me from the need to consciously break myself out of this habit!

Bits of the rest

Other changes I particularly like with this release are:

  • “Restore to last position” added to inventory right click menu
  • Contacts tab in Conversations is now closable
  • World map search results are now alphabetical
  • Copy outfit your wearing to text option in the worn tab on appearance panel. From gear menu, copy to clipboard.

Performance-wise, this represents, on my hardware at least, the best results to date with Firestorm. When on a sim with one or two others and draw set to 360m, I can achieve 60-65fps, easily putting Firestorm on a par with Viewer 2.6. On more crowded sims, this falls to between 45-50fps, which is still superior to the last release. What really stuns me however, is that on a sim with 5 other people and with shadows enabled, Firestom can manage 20-25fps on my machine, making it easily the best when it comes to rendering shadows for me.

Opinion

Firestom simply goes from strength to strength and this release potentially marks it as ready to move to a “final” release status.

If you’ve held-off downloading Firestorm or making the move to a Viewer 2.x-based TPV, now is really the time to start re-thinking your position, especially with Viewer 1.x search about to lose effectiveness in some areas and mesh due to be rolled out over the next 6-7 weeks. And if you’re not impressed with Viewer 2 either from direct experience or through the reports of others, Firestorm is liable to suit you right down to the ground.

Web Profiles: Major updates ahead

I actually started writing this post back last week, but abandoned it for lack of in-depth information as to whether we were seeing something new or something abandoned that had accidentally resurfaced. However, after attending today’s mysecondlife.com User Group meeting, I’m now more confident in going to press – even if the news is now rather old!

Essentially, in the next few weeks our web profiles will be turning a lot more “social” in their look, feel and capabilities. With the “new” Profiles, people will be able to:

  • Link more closely to any other social networking identities they may have & which they wish to connect to their SL identity (e.g. Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc.)
  • Allow people to comment on their own and other profiles (subject to permissions being set) in a Twitter-like manner
  • Manage their Friends and Group lists through the web profile as well as in-world
  • Upload snapshots directly to their web profile.

Some of these changes can already be seen on my-demo.secondlife.com, although the more recent code updates appear to be only available if you actually physically log-in to the Beta grid and use the new profiles through the in-viewer browser.

Several of the new features look to be well-considered and have been much-requested: the ability to manage Friends lists for example. Others are likely to prove more questionable among the masses – and indeed are already generating concerns.

Feed option

The Feed Option

The Feed option is most analogous to Twitter in many respects. Essentially it allows those to whom you give permission (defined as a Friends only, or anyone in SL or anyone coming across your profile while browsing the web) to leave a comment on your profile. Replies to comments can also be made – as shown in the example above.

This has already given rise to concerns about spammers abusing the system and people finding their feeds filled up with ads for tat, tosh and trinkets. However, this can be mitigated against by adjusting the privacy settings for the Feed option (setting it to just “Friends” – which really, it should be by default).

Another concern with the Feed is that if it is used via the in-viewer browser and Viewer 2 / a V2 TPV, your in-world location is automatically appended to the message you send out. This is something that did not prove to be popular among those attending the my.secondlife.com user group meeting today, doubly so when it became apparent that the option to transmit your location is opt-out, rather than opt-in, and that there is currently no blanket opt-out option: you must do so message by message. However, Fredrik and Teddy Linden, attending the meeting on LL’s behalf, appeared to take concerns about the opt-out rather than opt-in situation on-board, with Fredrik commenting:

[11:41] Frederico (fredrik.linden): again, we want to help people socialize and stay up to date with what’s happening in Second Life. Location does that, and we want to push it. we’ll be sure to tweak the opt in/out before we go live to agni

Given that people will be able to comment on your profile, the new system includes options to notify you when someone does so – you can elect to be notified in-world and/or via e-mail and these options can also be set should someone comment after you or comments on a message you leave on another person’s profile.

Faster, smaller, neater

Fredrik (left) and Teddy Linden at the my.secondlife.com User Group meeting

A repeated complaint about the web profiles, and I’m as responsible as anyone here, is that they a) take far too much time to load when using the in-world browser (4 seconds on average for me – others have reported up to 10 seconds on busy regions) and b) they take up far too much screen real estate. Again, LL appear to be listening to these concerns, with both Teddy and Fredrik giving assurances that the “new” profiles will be faster on loading and “more integrated” into the Viewer.

The new profiles are not ready for prime-time as yet: the data used at my-demo.secondlife.com is from the Beta grid, and thus is very stale for many users (other than those who routinely spend a good deal of time logged-in to it). More work is required on various aspects of the new look – and both Fredrik and Teddy seemed keen to take on board as much feedback from the UG meeting as they could – presumably so that it could be fed-in to the development process in the lead-up to the release some time in the next few weeks.

Right now it is unclear (at least to me) as to which page / tab will be the item others see when looking at your profile; “Home” would appear to be the obvious choice, but given this is essentially a blank page with a feed box in it, it would appear somewhat redundant. The ABOUT tab appears more informative – and it is actually hard to understand why this isn’t, by default, the “home” page for a profile.

Home page (l) and About tab

Overall, the new-look profiles offer much of promise and provide a set of potentially useful social networking options. A part of me wonders as to how effectively they will be used, however – those that want to extend some of their SL contacts and activities into the “pure” social networking space are probably already at home with the likes of Plurk and Twitter, and may not be overly attracted to the new profiles unless deeper integration with their preferred communications medium are available, or all their existing contacts can be persuaded to swap over or get involved. For many SL users however, there is a risk that these additional bits and pieces will be at best ignored, as they don’t have any place in their in-world lives, or at worst seen as a complete distraction.

For my part, I do find it hard to believe that things like the Feed will do much to pull me away from Twitter (and to a lesser extent, as I don’t use it so much, Plurk) – it simply isn’t as convenient a tool to use. However, I do like other aspects of the new profiles; overall the new tabbed approach is a lot cleaner and easier to grasp. I also look forward to seeing just how LL tweak the profiles for “better integration” with the Viewer as a whole.

I’m also curious as to how the Firestorm team will respond to these changes – if at all. Currently, Firestorm takes profile information and displays it in a Viewer 1-style window within the browser. This actually works a lot better than the in-browser approach – but will it be able to display all the new widgets and options, or will Jessica and the team opt to leave that to using web profiles through the in-viewer browser.

My Profile in my-demo.secondlife.com

Sharing Creativity

(Copyright Linden Lab)

“From a customer perspective, it’s a virtual world, [but] it’s a shared creativity tool.” So speaks Rod Humble during a recent Bloomberg interview I’ve commented upon previously.

A shared creativity tool. This is not the first time Mr. Humble – Rodvik to us all – has referred to Second Life in this way. It’s been his means of referring to the platform virtually (pun intended) since he arrived in-world and started pushing prims around.

And it is perhaps the most concise (if somewhat dry) description of the platform I’ve come across in recent times – at least where LL is concerned.

Yes, of course there are the obvious elements that underpin the description; Rodvik himself touches upon them when he refers to the fact that everything (well, almost everything!) within Second Life is created by the users for the users. All of us who spend any amount of time in-world get this, so on the surface it is perhaps easy for some to dismiss Rodvik’s comments with a, “D’ya think?!” shrug of indifference. There is also much that the description misses out on as well, such as the immersive, 3D aspects of Second Life; after all, a “shared creativity tool” could equally be used to describe something like Microsoft Sharepoint as much as SL.

But the fact is, his description uncovers a much deeper truth about Second Life that tends to render (no pun intended) the more obvious aspects of the statement (and what it potentially misses) moot. This truth is that SL allows us to create and share in ways beyond what might be called the “physical” aspects of SL – prims, sculpties, textures, and so on.

I’m referring to everything else that exists in-world, which is equally created by users for users, but which we rarely consider to have been “created” in the same was as our houses, clothes and attachments. Look at the Groups you belong to; look at the activities you join and enjoy when in-world; look at the opportunities presented to you to engage in activities, roles, situations and opportunities within Second Life that could never – for whatever reason – be a part of your “first life” or “meat life” or whatever you want to call it. All of these are part and parcel of the shared creativity tool.

This has always been Second Life’s USP – unique selling point – that it can be whatever we chose it to be, however we chose to come together and engage with one another and create both through the physical medium of prims and through the other capabilities presented to us through the Viewer. This is also something that Linden Lab themselves seemed to lose sight of during the “bleak years” between mid-2008 and the end of 2010, when the company appeared to focus solely on the coin rather than the creativity, ignoring the obvious connection between one and the other.

So it really is comforting to here Rod Humble publicly describe SL in terms we can all appreciate and agree with. It may not be as dynamic as Your world, your imagination and fails to rate as a strapline for advertising, promotion or (re)branding; but it is a step in the right direction. One that Linden Lab need to key an eye on as they and we move forward and things like mesh start to make their presence felt across the grid with the risk that it may well cut a swathe across the ability for many to create sellable content from within SL, simply because prim-based content cannot always compete with the look and “feel” of mesh-based creations.

But in the meantime, kudos again to Rodvik for cutting to the heart of what Second Life is and can be. Shared creativity tool may be a dry, “techie” term unsuited to actually promoting and selling SL to a wider audience – but if it helps the new LL Director of Communications and the Marketing Dept at Linden Lab to more accurately put a finger on what SL is and empowers them to by more dynamic around the concept when promoting SL, then Linden Lab just might find themselves getting further back on track when it comes to gaining and retaining users, and growing the platform.