Of storms in teacups and dear diary articles

For what was a fairly minor piece on Second Life, Karyne Levy’s August 1st piece for Business Insider, Second Life Has Devolved Into A Post-Apocalyptic Virtual World, And The Weirdest Thing Is How Many People Still Use It, created quite a storm in a teacup, ripples from which continue to spread with accusations it is “negative” and “poorly researched”.

Yes, it is a tad lightweight, has a ridiculous title which has no bearing on the content, and gives every indication of being written in a hurry. It also gets a couple of things wrong: sex has always been a part of SL, rather than something that filled the void left by big business; and it isn’t actually as easy to see adult themed items in search as is suggested (not without setting the right Maturity ratings first).

But “negative”? Not really. Sure, it quotes William Reed Seal-Foss saying that SL stagnated (a view actually shared by many in SL); however Ms Levy counters this herself, pointing out the platform is pretty much still as popular among its users as it ever was. She also references the fact that it is embracing new technology like the Oculus Rift and she references Chris Stokel-Walker’s excellent 2013 article on SL for The Verge (which I reviewed when it first appeared).

Nor is any failure to mention the likes of the LEA or live performances or any of the hundreds of photogenic regions in SL evidence of a lack of research on Ms. Levy’s part. The reason such places aren’t mentioned is simple: they’re not the focus of the article.

Karyne Levy: "Dear diary" article (image via Business Insider)
Karyne Levy: “Dear diary” article (image via Business Insider)

The bottom line is that the article isn’t supposed to be any kind of analysis or examination of Second Life; nor is it an exploration of the creative opportunities within the platform. It is simply this: a “dear diary” account of one person’s venture back into Second Life and her experiences in doing so, and to judge it as anything else is to entirely miss the point.

As it is, and given the way the piece demonstrates just how shoddy the new user experience is, with its sink-or-swim approach to new users, I’d suggest Ms. Levy is to be commended for not sitting down and dashing-off an article along the lines of “after ignoring it for X years, I tried SL again. It still sucks”.

Let’s face it, she comes in-world, apparently negotiates the Learning and Social Islands (both of which are anything but), and gets herself to a role-play region only to find herself summarily ignored. As experiences go, it’s hardly great, and I suspect there are more than a few who can attest to having a similar experience when coming into SL for the first time.

Fortunately, rather than running off never to be seen again, Ms. Levy uses the assistance of an acquaintance – Judy – to help her on her way. How and where Ms. Levy may have contacted Judy isn’t that important given the nature of the piece; the fact that she at least had someone willing to help her is.

Ms. Levy met-up with Judy at the Caledon Oxbridge new user orientation centre, where she was able to acquaint herself with the rudiments of Viewer 3.x
Ms. Levy met-up with Judy at the Caledon Oxbridge new user orientation centre, where she was able to acquaint herself with the rudiments of Viewer 3.x

Nor does it particularly matter whether or not Judy took Ms. Levy to the “right” places in SL or that her personal view of SL seems oddly slanted. What matters is that she was able to provide help, and enabled her to have a little fun whilst in-world.

That last part is actually quite important, hence the emphasis. Having fun is what is likely to bring newcomers back to Second Life. Probably more so than bashing them for writing something which fails to measure up to some preconception of what their article “should” be about.

At the end of the day, there is nothing intrinsically negative about the Business Insider. It doesn’t malign the platform, or cast judgement on the initial experience the writer had when in-world. It doesn’t poke an accusatory finger at anyone or mock Judy’s SL / RL relationship. The most that can really be said about it is that it overplays the adult / sex element; but that’s not bad research, that’s unfortunate titillation.

Would I have preferred something with more meat on it? Yes; I’m not about to deny that. But by the same standard, I’m also not about to start clubbing Ms. Levy about the head with a rolled-up version of her article because it doesn’t meet my expectations. As strategies go, that’s probably going to be a lot less successful in getting her to write something more considered in the future  than, say, inviting her back in-world and showing her the things she might enjoy writing about.

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13 thoughts on “Of storms in teacups and dear diary articles

  1. Mrs. Levy’s article, for all its shortcomings (I would have hoped for a more extensive research), is a sobering reminder of what a new user’s experience is like. The introductory regions (learning and social islands) simply fail to deliver what they’re supposed to deliver. The “welcome areas” are anything but, and most of them should have gone the way of Woodbury University long ago for being griefer havens and falsely advertising themselves. Now, I’m sure that this can be handled with more careful design and management.

    However, there’s only so much the Lab itself can do, as there are also other factors of a social play at play here. What do I mean? Her experience in the GoT-themed roleplay region was downright negative; she was ignored for being a “n00b”, as I had written in my own coverage of this article. And right here, I need to point out once again that many oldtimers in SL are prejudiced against beginners. They expect the newbies to know what took the oldbies years to learn – at best. Others tend to think “newbie = n00b = griefer” (a classic example of stereotyping) and either ignore them (as the GoT roleplayers ignored Mrs. Levy) or act in a hostile manner. There’s a very strong element of elitism in SL, and the clique mentality is just plain rampant. This is a social issue, and I’m not sure the Lab can do something about it.

    It’s fortunate that Mrs. Levy made it to Caledon Oxbridge. Maybe her experience could have been richer if she had come across a mentor. At any rate, she was welcomed by Judy. Judy gave Mrs. Levy her own perspective, perception, understanding and view of SL. I had pointed out that this view didn’t include any of the more impressive or spectacular aspecs of SL, which I do find surprising, given the age of Judy’s account. Even so, as you pointed out, Judy tried to help Mrs. Levy have some fun in SL. But how much fun can you have in a place where you either don’t meet anyone to hang out with or, if you do find people around, they’re more likely to shun you?

    One could perhaps touch upon the issue of people’s attention span. Yes, I know, people don’t persevere nowadays. They have the attention span of a yogurt pot. Well, c’est la vie. That’s how things are, and both the Lab and SL’s “community” will have to face the music.

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    1. Further research isn’t needed. As I said, this isn’t a piece that is intended to be an examination of Second Life; it’s a very clumsily-written catalogue of a step back in-world. Had it been used to springboard into a diatribe of all that is “wrong” with Second Life, then your claim to a lack of research and the piece being negative would have more weight. But she doesn’t.

      “And right here, I need to point out once again that many oldtimers in SL are prejudiced against beginners…”

      Perhaps. Equally, many are more predisposed towards helping newcomers than might be the case with “newer” users. Be careful your own generalisations aren’t taken as a sign of prejudice. Also, you have no way of knowing the relative ages of the avatars Ms. Levy encountered at the GoT region, so your equating them with “oldtimers” would appear to be little more than an assumption. What was that you were saying about better research?

      “But how much fun can you have in a place where you either don’t meet anyone to hang out with”

      Except she did, and appeared to enjoy herself.

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      1. I didn’t claim that the piece was negative; there was indeed no intention on Mrs. Levy’s part to malign SL, and I myself said that her article warrants attention.

        Even though I have no way of knowing the avatar ages at the GoT region, I’m pretty sure they were not rezzed on that day. As for this oldtimer attitude towards new users, I’ve encountered it on several occasions. Not everyone views newbies with suspicion, but the prejudice is there.

        On the issue of fun now: Yes, she did have some fun. Judy helped her enjoy the little time she spent in SL, but the odds are generally stacked up against a beginner in SL.

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        1. “First of all, there was very little research as to what has been done so far with Second Life; just mention of a negative comment”

          You roll both a lack of research and an inference towards the negative right there. Particularly given you opt not to mention the favt that Ms. Levy immediately counters Mr. Seal-Foss’s statement hereself.

          “Even though I have no way of knowing the avatar ages at the GoT region, I’m pretty sure they were not rezzed on that day. ”

          So, anyone older than a day is an “oldtimer”? Generalisations, generalisations! 😉

          Again, I’m not disputing that people can be intolerant and suspicious of newbies. My point is that it isn’t a malaise necessarily restricted in “oldtimers” or which necessarily increases among “oldtimers”. It happens across the SL demographic (I might even suggest that “oldtimers” are potentially more disposed towards helping genuine newcomers rather than simply shunnng them; there’s a danger in confusing caution with intolerance).

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          1. “Anyone older than a day is an ‘oldtimer’?”

            No, but there’s a tendency in many people to think “hey, I’m at least one day your senior here, ergo I’m superior to you.”

            Regarding her countering Reed’s ideas, I viewed this as something she wrote without being entirely sure of it, so I chose to put a question mark in the margin where I keep notes.

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  2. The author said ” hey guys ” in local — that was it. And she was “summarily ignored. “????

    That was the best a journalist could do to get people to talk to her? “Hey guys” is not much of a conversation starter.

    The article didn’t match the headline and she didn’t look at SL’s economy at all. Remember the old who what where when?

    She should have asked who makes this – sims, houses, clothes- why? Etc. Current creations would have at least made her see the modern SL.

    It was lazy , it was superficial and used dated information. Going to curl up with a new article just posted ” the Apple iPod- why it will never change things” ;p

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    1. So because she said “Hey guys” she’s not deserving of any reply? Interesting.

      “he didn’t look at SL’s economy at all.”

      Because she wasn’t writing a piece on the SL economy.

      “The article didn’t match the headline ” “It was lazy, it was superficial”

      No argument from me there. Hence why I pointed to the article title misleading and the piece being lightweight. But I still don’t see the need to beat-up on the author to the degree people have. It’s certainly not going to change the article or, as I said, really encourage her to give things another go and find out more.

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    2. “Hey guys” is a common greeting one uses when (i) greeting people they already know, (ii) trying to “break the ice” with unknown people in a room. It’d have been basic courtesy on behalf of the GoT roleplayers to return the greeting. How would you have felt if you entered a place that’s filled with people you don’t know, said “hi” or “good morning/afternoon/evening” and everyone stayed silent?

      As Inara said, the topic of the article was not SL’s economy. The body of the text made it clear (contest is everything!) that the author wanted to share the experience she had by spending a few hours as a new avatar in SL. This, however, doesn’t match the title at all, and – yes – the article does leave a few things to be desired. But much of the criticism has been unfair (almost reaching the point where it becomes a string of ad hominems) and misses the point entirely.

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  3. After 8 years of these kind of articles, I have little patience for them. Some glorified blogger begrudgingly logs into SL “spent a few hours” staring at an empty parcel, rezzes out a cube “like Minecraft” looks up what was going on years ago, lets everyone know this is no (facebook, farmville, or whatever) and sends it in. Now you are right she does go on to actually have some fun, despite being taken to some of the most dismal locations. (“Abbotts Airport, which has been around since the beginning of Second Life”, and it looks like it hasn’t changed in 10 years too!)

    If she did end up having some fun, shouldn’t that have been the point of the article. No? You stick with that frankly offensive click-bait headline. It’s like the usual phoned in article, with a laundry list of some things she seemed to like and then… Nothing. No conclusion, no “despite what I assumed I was going to find I had a bit of fun”. Did she dose off at the keyboard and send the article in with her forhead? You are right that this isn’t the worse SL article ever written, but it’s hardly defensible.

    I know you know how important the headline is in this search engine indexed zero attention span world we live in. Now we have another headline telling people how SL has only gotten worse and there are a million people that are oddly still in there. Just what we needed.

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  4. I’m not sure who writes the headlines at Business Insider, I know it’s not unusual in many publications for the author to be blissfully unaware of the article until it goes to print. Business Insider Malaysia had a different headline for the article : “A NIGHT IN SECOND LIFE: The Legendary Virtual World Is Still Around But Getting Weirder.”

    I’m not sure that really works as a headline either but it’s a lot less antagonistic than the other headline.

    The article contains some fair criticism of the new user experience, it contains some unfair criticism too, such as the comment about adult content. Unless something has changed, you need to opt in to see adult content, so it would seem to be a bit odd to opt in to adult content and then make a comment about seeing adult content.

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    1. Writers don’t always get to choose the headline for their piece. In this case, it’s hard to say, given Ms. Levy is the West Coast Tech Editor, and so may have more sway in how her pieces are titled.

      I agree on the adult content, and pointed to it myself – the Maturity rating must be set. I don’t see it as a major critique of SL however. When it comes to sex in SL and sensationalised journalism, there has been a lot, lot worse (and doubtless will be again); it’s certainly not enough to lift this piece above the level of harmless fluff in that regard.

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      1. If only I had a penny for every hypocritical “criticism” of the existence of adult content in SL… Remember the other storm in a teacup, the one about the “bikini babes” ads?

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