Group tools: giving notice to people

Group Tools is a Windows client for Second Life specifically designed for those who need to send out group notices or IM messages simultaneously across a number of groups.

Rather than having to create individual notices for each group, or copy & paste a message multiple times into different group IM sessions, Group Tools allows you to set up a single message (with attachments, if required) as a notice, as an IM or both, to all groups you have determined should receive the information. As such, the client is aimed towards people like entertainers, large event organisers, venue owners, and so on, who may operate multiple groups which need to receive the same information, or are members of multiple groups to which they frequently send the same information.

To achieve its goals, Group Tools is designed to be used with an alt account, which is treated as an in-world bot for the sending of messages. So to make effective use of the client, you will either require an alt account which can be used in this way, or create one specifically for use with Group Tools. The bot itself needs to be a member of all the groups to which you regularly send IMs and notices (ans will require permission to send out notices in the case of the latter), and be logged into SL via Group Tools in order to send messages as required. To add flexibility, Group Tools includes the concept of an “Operator’s Group”, which allows those you trust to be able to send out notices / IMs through the bot (they do not need to be running Group Tools).

Account Registration

Group Tools is unusual in that it requires an account registration process and a licence fee payment in order to be used. The registering account should be your main account, which is used to manage your bots, and not any account you intend to use as a bot. Accounts are registered in-world at the Group Tools office.

Licence fees can be purchased on an in perpetuity basis (one payment only) or on a monthly renewable basis. For those wishing to try-out Group Tools, a free one week trail period is available, which provides access to Group Tools in full. Licence prices can be found on the Group Tools website, as can the Privacy Policy, which is a recommended read.

Registration will also supply you with a sample notecard which can be used as a template to help with formatting your own message notecards.

Once you have registered, you’re ready to download Group Tools (if you’ve not already done so), and set-up your bot(s).

Download and Install

The Group Tools download .EXE is 7.56Mb in size, and should install OK once downloaded. However, issues have been reported using Norton Internet Security, and guidelines have been posted on the Group Tools website for those who may encounter similar problems.

Control Centre

Group Tools comprises two parts: the Control Centre, used to set-up bots and log them into Second Life, and the Client Window, where specific operations can be carried out.

Launching Group Tools displays the Control Centre screen which you use to define your bot(s). Bots are set-up using the account name / password for an SL account and linking them to the registered  Master account. Account names are entered with a period between the first and last name, not a space (i.e. “Inara.Pey”, not “Inara Pey”).

Control Centre screen as it appears before any bots have been defined

Once this initial information has been entered, SAVE BOT should be clicked. This will create a dedicated bot account within Group Tools, complete with a Group Tools-specific password, which is quite separate to the bot’s SL password (and so cannot be used to log-in to SL with the bot via other means). Clicking SAVE BOT will also refresh the Control Centre screen to display a SETTINGS button next to the bot’s name. Clicking on this opens a tabbed panel (below), allowing further options to be set for the bot.

Updated log-in screen for a saved bot

The Settings tab comprises options to:

  • Set a default log-in location for the bot when using Group Tools
  • Allow the bot to automatically sit on a defined prim (useful if the bot is logged-in to a busy area and you do not what it to be an obstacle to traffic – just supply the UUID of the prim on which the bot is to sit)
  • Assign the bot to an Operators Group – see below.
  • Set whether or not Group Tools should start and log-in to SL using the bot whenever you start Windows.

The Misc tab allow you to set various options, including:

  • Whether or not the bot can accept friendship offers from anyone or just from operators
  • Whether the bot can use money
  • An automatic IM reply sent in response to incoming IMs
  • How inventory offers are received by the bot.

Once you have set / changed any of these options for a bot, make sure you click SAVE BOT to ensure the settings are correctly stored by Group Tools.

You can create as many bots as you’ve purchased Group Tools licences, and you can assign individual settings to each one. Every bot you create is added to the Select Bot drop-down list at the top left of the Control Centre.

During the bot creation process, you will be prompted to back-up the bot details locally. In addition, the FILE menu option presents you with additional options for exporting or importing bot account details (useful if you are using Group Tools on more than one computer, and simply want to import backed-up bot details rather than having to create accounts from scratch), and to delete bot accounts which are no longer required.

Operators Group

The concept of Operator’s Group is important, as it allows others to use a bot you have created to send out notices and IMs on your behalf. This is particularly useful where a group has multiple managers / event coordination staff, as it means that notices, etc., can be taken care of by more than one individual. Operators do not need to have Group Tools installed on their computer – they can work with the bot directly from their SL viewer of choice and use the notecard option defined below for outgoing messages. All that is required is that they are in the same group as the bot you wish them to be able to use.

When setting-up an Operator’s Group, make sure that it is not set to open enrollment, or anyone will be able to join and potentially access the bot to send group messages and notices.

The Client Window

Logging-in to SL using Group Tools will display the Client Window, the default view of which is shown below, and which is fairly self-explanatory.

Client window – default view

Sending Notices and IMs

There are two ways in which notices can be sent using a Group Tools bot – using Group Tools, or using a formatted notecard via an SL viewer.

Sending Using Group Tools

To send a notice or group IM using Group tools, click on WORLD->TIMED MESSAGES. This will open the message screen, which also allows you to define which groups will receive messages and notices sent by the bot.

Message options

Groups to which notices  / IM messages are to be sent are selected by checking the group names in the panels on the right of the display. Note that only those groups for which the bot has notice and / or IM rights enabled will be displayed in these panels. The message is composed in the left side of the display, which is also used to set whether the message is sent as an IM, a notice, or both. In addition, you can add an attachment to the message in the form of a notecard, landmark, etc, just as you can with a notice, providing the item is copyable and is contained in the bot’s inventory. Messages can also be sent immediately, or can be set to be sent on a defined time / date – thus allowing them to be set-up in advance and effectively queued by Group Tools. As long as the bot is logged-in to SL, the messages will be sent.

Sending Using a Notecard

Sending a message / notice via a notecard is potentially more flexible in that it allows anyone assigned to a bot’s Operator’s Group to send messages through the bot to all of the selected groups. All that is required is a pre-formatted notecard with the required message information and embedded items such as SLUrls, if required. A sample of notecard formats is supplied when you register an account with Group Tools. The following video demonstrates how to send a message in this way.

Note that you can also allow others to operate your bot via their own copy of Group Tools – all they require is the bot’s user name and Group Tools password, and your Master account avatar name. Providing you have set-up the bot with a Group Tools specific name and password, other users will not be able to log-on to the bot account using an SL viewer.

Details on how others can use a bot can be found on the Group Tools website.

Other Functions

Group Tools includes a range of other functions, which take the form of a set of menu options under WORLD and a set of commands. These are outlined within the Group Tools website and are not expanded upon here. There is also a HUD which can be used with Group Tools and which can be purchased from the Group Tools store. As I have limited use for the client beyond this review, I did not purchase a copy of the HUD to examine its functionality.

Opinion

This is a very specialised client, already listed on the TPV Directory, fulfilling a very specific need. It this, the functionality appears very comprehensive, and the overall usability is very flexible – particularly with the idea of the Operator’s Group for bots. How popular such a tool is liable to be is questionable, but the fact that it has been created is indicative that there is an identified niche need within SL which it is filling. Certainly, for those working across multiple groups and who need to send the same messages / notifications out to them on a routine basis, Group Tools is liable to be a major time saver. As such, and if you are in that situation and haven’t given it a try yet, it might be worth giving the week’s free trial a go and seeing how it works for you.

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