On the “Crystal Prison” – EFF gets it right but so wrong.

May 31, 2012 at 3:09 am (secondlife)

I have to disagree with the EFF in this article. 

They make some good points. Sure Apple’s ecosystem is closed. The FOSS community doesn’t like them, etc. But I have to view the FOSS position as somewhat naive. Computers, and especially mobile computing devices should, in most cases, be closed systems. There’s two problems here.

Hardness:

You can harden a FOSS system against attacks and malware, but you need to know what you’re doing. iOS promotes that security using two methods outside the developer/consumer’s control.

  • Closed APIS – with sandboxing and lockdown you can do no evil.
  • Closed ecosystem – Apple’s approval process makes sure code doesn’t sidestep security.

Open(ish) systems such as Android are basically a free for all regarding security and code behavior. Some of the most popular apps on Android _require_ root access, as they’re process killers – effectively apps to manage other badly written apps that break out of their sandbox.

Such an app doesn’t exist within Apple’s ecosystem, prompting Kapersky to complain that iOS is too locked down to enable root access to run anti-malware software – that same root access which is the primary attack target of malware. They are yet to find any malware outside a jailbroken device. Android on the other hand is rife with exploits by design.

Your phone and computer are mission critical systems these days. Most consumers don’t have the technical expertise to harden them against malware or keep them stable in the face of poorly written software they may install. There is a lot to be said for the Apple way, and consumers are certainly voting with their wallets.

Licensing:

There are many complaints that Apple and Microsoft licensing systems are incompatible with FOSS licensing. This is particularly the case in the App store. I am only going to say one thing about this. The FOSS community asked for it.

The main issue here is the legal problems inherent in viral copyleft licenses like GPL. The spirit of their design is in software “freedom”, but they seek to enforce that freedom by restricting distribution under certain circumstances. Where GPL is incompatible with a 3rd party license, FOSSers can complain all they wish, but it’s their license that has the restriction. Commercial interests are as afraid of GPL as the GPLers are afraid of things like h.264, MPEG, MP3, GIF, JPEG2000, etc.

When it comes to the issue of licensing, you have to assume some sense of trust. I haven’t seen Apple going after the FOSSers. They tend to only flex legal muscle against other corporations. But they certainly can’t relax when dealing with the FOSS community, as there have been plenty of cases of hairy anarchists with lawyers nipping at the heels of Apple.

The FOSS argument against Apple has several complaints:

That they require you to be a registered developer for $99 bucks a year. Not precisely true. You are only required to register to be a publisher within the Apple ecosystem, and you become a registered validated entity by doing so. Your code is uniquely signed and validated by a third party authority, and you get access to a whole bunch of other resources including their global market. So it’s not just a tax, you get value. You don’t need any of these things to write code, but then you can only distribute it to unsecured jailbroken devices or macs, outside the app store. Oh, you’ll need Xcode, which costs a one-off payment of five bucks last time I looked. Maybe you can borrow it from your mum.

Jailbreaking. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not illegal. You can hack your phone any way you wish. It _does_ preclude you from the Apple ecosystem (i.e. app store), and that, also contrary to popular belief, is a good thing. It offers a layer of protection for developers from having their backend services widely reverse engineered and potentially screwed with.

A third complaint, that Lion Gatekeeper stops unsigned software from being installed… well we’ve had that since windows vista on the MS side, and at least Lion’s implementation is less braindead. Similar systems exist on hardened linux boxes. From there the argument becomes “it’s secure by default”, to which the answer is “Yes, and a good thing too.” Feel free to make your system insecure if you feel up to it.

So in conclusion, It’s good that the EFF is watching these developments closely. The complaints of the FOSSers though are a bit misguided. I do wish though they’d put more of their effort into things like software patents. Now that’s an area that _really_ needs some oversight.

For my part I am rather glad these systems are moving towards being hardened out of the box. I’ve had 12 phones, tens of pcs, two Amigas, two Atari STs, an Apple ][ clone, 6 macs, and a bunch of linux boxes. Of them, 4 phones had viruses, most pcs, both amigas. One of the PCs was rooted (and blue screened) by a Sony cd DRM system!

Friends with Android tell me it’s malware central, but the phones I had with malware were java or symbion based, and rooted over the air. The linux machines were always malware free, but that was mostly luck and being a small target. Yet to this day, no viruses exist in the wild for OSX or iOS, and with the App-store/gatekeeper model, trojans are minimized. Frankly, I like it that way. I have better things to do than root my phone, to check for malware that’s rooted my phone using the same exploit. Life is too short.

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Thoughts on Apple’s supposed advertising war

June 11, 2010 at 6:46 pm (secondlife)

I’ve been watching apple’s strategy and they’re doing some interesting things people hate lately. 

  • iAds – a framework for doing advertising on the iPod/iPhone/iPad
  • Safari 5 Reader – for clearing clutter from websites you’re reading
  • Not implementing flash on iDevices – to annoy Adobe and keep “stability”

Many folk are upset about all of these. Google feels they’re locked out of apple’s devices on the advertising front. Adobe on the platform front. Advertisers in general due to reader functionality. It looks like Steve Jobs is playing “our way or the highway” on all these fonts – like he wants to own the lot. I think it may be simpler than that.

Steve Jobs hates ads. He’s got better things to do than be shouted at all day by advertisers. I tend to agree. So let’s look at these recent developments though that lens.

NO FLASH

What to people do with flash?

  • They play flash games a bit
  • They watch video that is often already encoded in formats that don’t need flash to watch them
  • They get bombarded by the most obnoxious form of eye gouging, bandwidth sucking, animated advertising

So if flash was to disappear tomorrow we may miss Farmville, but not much else. For any utilitarian animation (infographics for instance) HTML5 will do fine in future. As for gaming there’s Unity and a bunch of other quite reasonable alternatives. We won’t miss the animated ads – advertisers will miss them. As for advertising itself… it’ll just have to shout less.

If you’re on a mobile device, with a mobile data plan, you’ll probably save money too. You pay for those high-bandwidth shouty ads, when calm, low-bandwidth ads would do.

iAds

The iDevices were slow to take on multitasking. This may be for good reason. A misbehaved background application sucks battery, and that’s an annoying thing in a mobile device. It also sucks other resources (such as cpu cycles), so the iPod would not have been nearly as successful as a gaming platform unless rogue background applications were reigned in. Now they DO have multitasking however… and it comes at a price. 

Any application which asks to sit in the background could potentially pop up something to alert you. This is where iAds comes in. Folk pay for ad free applications and services. Free applications and services often use advertising as a revenue model. This is fine on a single tasking system where only the app you’re using can spam you. on a multitasking system, seemingly inactive applications can push advertising to you. This may not be so great.

Unless there’s a framework in place to ensure the device user knows exactly why something has appeared on their screen, it’s likely they’ll blame the platform. So if popup ads suddenly appear out of nowhere, and nothing tells you where they come from, you may get rather frustrated. Any foreign advertising api could potentially do this.

So iAds is a framework to box in advertising and ensure it plays nice. I’m sure you’ll hear it spun as another apple try at total market monopoly, but it’s a framework. It’ll reign in advertising on iDevices so it obeys familiar user interface conventions. When you see an ad, you’ll know it’s an ad, and why you’re seeing it. This is important stuff. 

SAFARI READER

Ah the magic button that hides advertising – or does it. To use the reader button you wait for a web page to load first. Then if it’s legible and non-shouty you just read it…. If however it’s full of visual spam and your head feels like exploding, you hit the reader button and woosh, it becomes clean text. Now folk complain this hides advertising and rips sites of the money from their ad impressions…. but let’s unravel that.

  • You’ve already seen the ads – they didn’t lose the money from those impressions
  • You only bother to use reader if a website is obnoxious
  • If you want to continue to browse the site you exit reader, and continue viewing any ads they show you
  • If a website splits long articles into pages that are too short to read on their own in order to get more ad impressions, and is shouty, it deserves to lose subsequent impressions

I’ve been using tools like safari reader for a while now. I read a lot of stuff on the web for my work. Some sites are so full of visual noise that it helps to rip the articles out to a legible format to avoid distractions. Usually that’s when there are bobbing bald heads or car crashes of flashing dollar signs happening in the side bar. It’s not like I don’t see their ads – I’m hyper aware of them enough to want to run away to a quiet corner and poke my eyes out with a pencil. These tools don’t stop you seeing ads. They stop you from enduring them. They stop hideous ads from forcing you to click away from the site. 

MY DIRTY SECRET

I figure this isn’t a war on advertisers, nor an attempt at monopoly. I figure it’s all about keeping advertising sane. We killed the blink tag on websites long ago, only to replace it by the most heinous monster imaginable – animated popup advertising. Most of the internet bandwidth and computing power we use up browsing the web is eaten by this monster. But I’ve beaten the monster… it doesn’t bother me any more. 

I filter just about all the advertising that comes into my machine. I hardly see any of it. That is my shameful secret – and I do feel bad about it. So bad in fact that, when I find a site useful or interesting. When it has good content. When it does stuff I want to support – good news sites, small developers, interesting blogs, great services and wotnot – I TURN ADVERTISING ON. When a site doesn’t badger me like a shameful hussy, I drop the filter of trust and let that advertising into my life. I enjoy it’s quiet background chatter. It ads color to the net. But when advertising mugs me, it gets a face full of mace.

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Rating my predictions for SL over the last year – Part 3

January 3, 2009 at 12:25 am (secondlife) (, , , )

Well looks like my first few predictions for Second Life this year panned out well. Let’s see how the next few guesses went.

Predictions 3 and 4 were:

  • Many new entrants will come… and go.
  • Google will release a VW which will be wildly successful, then disappointing, then wildly successful.

These are worth looking at as a group due to the biggest surprise of the year, Google. So let’s see how Google changed the game and how, despite much prognostication, they didn’t.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rating my predictions for SL over the last year – Part 2

December 28, 2008 at 9:55 pm (secondlife)

So my first prediction was kinda on the money, what about the rest of my crystal ball gazing for 08?

2) SL service will continue to improve:

Last year ended after a long period of tinkering under the hood with SL. Major scaling problems had been hit repeatedly, and it had reached the point where The Lab were turning off basic SL services (such as inventory or teleports) to keep the grid under control. Though things were improving, the consensus was they were getting worse.

I’d put those issues down to solvable scaling problems, and many instabilities due to the infrastructure and code shifts of the Het-Grid project (designed itself to stabilize the grid once finished). I figured once that was further along things would start looking rosier. This turned out to be the case.

What I couldn’t have predicted however was a new CEO popping up on the scene, who would, as his first major action, wave his arms around and shout to the world about stability. This is a message we’ve been hearing from Phil since the go-get, but Phil’s an engineer, so his utterances about stability were always to the tune of: “We’re juggling these cats you see and we know you want the cats to stay in the air, which they mostly do, but hey, it’s cat juggling…. but we’re improving.”

Kingdon however comes from a marketing background, and in a battle for minds between marketers and engineers… well, it would be more humane to just put the engineers out of their misery quietly in their sleep beforehand. Kingdon’s stability message has been constant and unfailing. More importantly it’s been simple: “stability is our highest priority.” This has improved the incredulous public’s view of Linden commitment to stability, and probably the engineers working for LL as well (though we can’t know that for sure). Certainly the hire of Frank Ambrose who kept AOL straight shows some commitment.

So yep, stability has improved, and though slower than some would like, the SL network has grown. Just as importantly LL has been devoted to evangelizing this fact. This will come into focus next year as we see the next round of stability issues hit grids… particularly the opensim grids which some see as competition with SL.

2008 was also the “year of opensim” seeing a mass exodus from SL towards opensource alternative grids. If I had a lindy for every time I’ve heard folk say “a grid is just a database, it can’t be too hard to set one up” I’d be richer than Stroker now. Of course a grid is a database, but an SL like grid is a database which has difficult issues with exponential complexity. If it was easy, SL like grids based on other technologies would be all over the place by now.

So this year we’ll see the “stability problem” move from SL to opensim. Scaling issues will be the first indicator of the immaturity of the opensim platform, and so we’ll see scaling and stability as the main proving ground for opensim as a viable alternative platform to SL. Opensim hasn’t been built particularly defensively when it comes to scaling problems, so expect them to hit hard.

Opensim will also face stiff competition from, well SL itself, which if things go well will be packaged up into a turnkey solution you can install yourself wherever you want and run your own grid. Given a choice between running an immature and unproven platform, or buying an off the shelf system that’s had 5 years to mature, to solve problems the OSS server hasn’t even thought of yet. Well if you have no money you’ll go opensim, but if you do have money you’ll buy your way out of future headaches with the LL solution.

Interesting times ahead.

Ok I got this prediction pretty much right again. I’ll call it 2/2 so far. Looking good🙂 Tune in for the next episode to see if I get a hat-trick😛 *crosses fingers*


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Someone invented virtual worlds and has the patent to prove it!

December 14, 2008 at 4:35 pm (secondlife) (, , )

As Terra Nova previously reported: Worlds.com has filed United States Patent: 6219045 claiming that it invented virtual worlds.

Unfortunately for them they invented virtual worlds some time around 1996. I personally invented virtual worlds some time around 1992, and have the documents to prove it. Many of my friends also invented virtual worlds. In fact if we organized a meet-up of all the people I know who invented virtual worlds we’d need to hire a second bus to drive us to the venue.

So what does the worlds patent have that all of us didn’t invent? (Apart of course from mysterious unlabeled diagrams.) Well Worlds patent covers making sure the client isn’t overloaded with too much stuff, or it their words:

The client process also users an environment database to determine which background objects to render as well as to limit the number of displayable Avatars to a maximum number of Avatars displayable by that client.

… though that might mean something apart from what I imagine, as I can’t quite understand their grammar. Putting limits on a client-server system to make sure you don’t overload the client seems like such a sensible idea. I’m amazed nobody thought of it before!

In fact they did. It’s standard best practice in designing any non-trivial client-server system. Before Worlds first mentioned thinking it up the problem in their patent, the United States Military had set up a team to solve the problem. Not long after this team became a member of the Web3D Consortium to work their draft spec towards an ISO standard.

For a patent to be upheld I believe there is a requirement for the idea to be novel. When five minutes googling can turn up countless prior-art examples (such as the above) there’s obviously no novelty here.

That’s not to say that Worlds.com hasn’t innovated in some ways. Everyone designing software must innovate – coding is a process of creative problem solving on many levels, so software development is innovative by nature. The patent though describes nothing that hadn’t been done before.

Folk who know me understand that I have a jaded view of intellectual property law, and expressed it in a piece for the international justice commons. To quote:

The use of patent law to stifle technological development is well documented. Arguments of this sort cite a “negative right” the patent holder gains, allowing them to exclude competitors from exploiting a similar invention they may develop independently. The legal burden of producing prior art in such cases can preclude the competition from proving their case even when they may have developed the invention first. When this is the case and a patent is contested, the competitor may be forced to cease development of the invention, or pay a licensing fee for use of the others’ IP.

I can’t see how this patent could be used any way apart from aggressively. Worlds, as an early entrant into the virtual worlds game, would be well aware of the other early developments in their emerging field. No honest software engineer would ever dare claim they were the first to invent the generic wide reaching processes described in the patent.

So this begs the question… what are Worlds.com trying to do here? Is it just trolling? Did the lawyers knock the technical guts out of their innovations? I’m not quite sure.

— UPDATE:

Tateru Nino posted quite a good article on the subject before me it seems. Much less ranty than mine.


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Rating my predictions for SL over the last year

December 7, 2008 at 11:35 pm (secondlife) (, , )

Now my original post of predictions for SL and virtual worlds has had a year to incubate, its time to see how I scored… hmmmm. (I’ll address these one per post)

1) Linden Lab will experiment with other service providers:

Originally I foresaw LL creating “mini colabs” at international ISP partner locations. I pointed out Australia’s Telstra as a likely early test candidate, as it is a national ISP and telco, was throwing a lot of resources into SL, and a great test candidate on the technical front. Australia is about as far from the USA as possible, so if they could extend their current California-Texas link to Aus and make it work, they could make it work anywhere. (They have a third colab currently at another location but I don’t know anything more about it.. testing servers?)

Well I got it half right, that was their actual strategy it seems, but Telstra is still waiting, and the hosting package they had been promised is about 18 months late. Australia probably started to look like too much of a liability too along the way when it became evident that internet service was so poor that it became an election issue. Singapore is now looking like they’ll get first dibs on a local colab, and as the most broadband connected small nation on the earth they’re a good initial market.

The Lindens are currently alpha testing a “behind the firewall solution” for SL, which means they’ve packaged up the server side so it can be run elsewhere. They have two alpha testers, but of course nobody can tell us who they are for due to confidentiality of course. When it is announced I’d bet a few lindies one of them has telco or ISP interests.

So, did LL experiment with other service providers? From a business perspective yes. It seems they had already quietly laid the business foundation to work with Telstra Australia when I made this prediction. … as far as having any practical outcome from this initiative… maybe not so much. Everyone is still waiting on the tech.

Recently however LL has started making a lot more encouraging noise about the infrastructure required to support a more distributed grid so it would be unsurprising to see announcement about practical non LL hosting initiatives pretty soon.

So I’ll be charitable to myself and say I got this one right. They have obviously laid the business foundation for it, but were let down on practical implementation by the technology. They’ve been working throughout the year though to fill that technology gap so it appears to still be a strategy. Lucky I called it an “experiment” in my prediction … the experiment failed, but it appears they’re still trying😛


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Virtual homewreckers FTW!

January 22, 2008 at 4:23 am (secondlife)

Worlds in motion alerted me to yet another silly diagnosis of the dangers of virtual worlds. Cyber affairs leaking over to real life.

I can understand the arguments they put forth but really… they require some extremely broad assumptions about what marriage, cheating, and other such things are. We find this in quotes like “if cyber-cheating is egregious and leads to a regular pattern of cruelty in the marriage, or causes the cyber-cheater to abandon completely his marital responsibilities”. Sounds reasonable enough, but let me explain.

Cyber cheating doesn’t legally constitute adultery, but it’s certainly trying it on for size. Someone happy in a monogamous marriage who isn’t prone to it already won’t cheat at all. Someone who is unsatisfied however, or feels the drive to, may very likely experiment with the idea – especially in the “safe and anonymous” space that VR and the internet provide. This being the case, cyber cheating can’t be the “cause” of someone giving up their marital responsibilities. Folk who choose to give them up do so despite the fact that they cheat on the internet. Cyber cheating does not cause abandonment of responsibilities as they are both symptoms of a greater marital problem.

None of this is surprising really. Helpful folk who give us tips for what to look for in a cheating spouse usually site “demand for privacy” as an indicator. Whilst this could be an indication that they have something to hide, it is also possible that they really need some space. Retreating to an online world where their spouse is not privy to their every move is a natural response to irresolvable marital pressures. This is the same sense of claustrophobia which can be a contributing factor in the attractiveness of extra-marital affairs – if not in VR then perhaps ordered out of the catalog of prospective (and discreet) partners offered by online dating agencies. Should the marriage problem remain unresolved it is highly likely that escapist behaviors, be they simple things like retreat from engagement with the partner to complex behaviors such as adultery, will continue and escalate.

Mis Kimberly Young wouldn’t agree with me though. She runs the Center for Online Addiction Recovery in Pennsylvania and has written a book on dealing with a partner cyber cheating. For her the affair as the root cause of that withdrawal from engagement with a partner that I describe as a symptom of broader relationship issues. Like the idea of too much time on the internet as an actual “addiction” (which clinically it isn’t) it creates victims out of folk, implying that some external thing outside the self is the cause of the problem. It is a dis empowering way of looking at things. For people already feeling dis empowered and trying to get away from real world problems in virtual spaces, it is an attractive but dangerous admission. Focusing on an all consuming online life or affair as some problem one can’t control is perhaps less useful than focusing on other aspects of their life that they may have been ignoring. Focus on the problem in this instance simply takes more time and energy away from solving it.

So my argument is this: having a cyber affair is exactly the same thing as having a real one, though perhaps safer and somewhat stranger. But that’s not the point really because people don’t have affairs unless they want to. “I was drunk” is not an excuse, and so neither is “I was on the internet”. Really, even completely sober and real life,the affair itself is less important than the effect it has on the individuals involved. Societal norms and the law shouldn’t be dictating how a married couple comports themselves, plays around, or forgives each other for their transgressions. That some of it might happen on the internet is neither here nor there.

There is one very sensible thing we can gain out of that article though: if your lover starts to sleep wierdly, demand privacy, ignores their chores, starts lying, changes their personality, loses interest in sex, or stops investing in the relationship then watch out! It’s time to reassess if there might be a problem with your marriage. Because if they aren’t having an affair already, and the underlying problem IS the marriage, sooner or later a holiday with someone else will start to look attractive.

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The ol virtual worlds numbers game.

January 10, 2008 at 9:23 pm (Uncategorized)

Numbers of avs in virtual worlds are hard to figure out, but the other day i was reading this article by Rick Van Der Wal and something didn’t ring true. Sure enough it was the numbers, which I’ll repost here.

1. Barbie Girls (4 million)
2. Coke Studios (4 million)
3. Gaia Online (3.5 million)
4. Whyville (1.7 million)
5. Second Life (1 million)
6. IMVU (1 million) *Techcrunch
7. Disney’s Toontown/Magic Kingdom (1.4 million)
8. There (1 million)
9. Active Worlds (900,000)
10. Entropia Universe (600,000)
11. Virtual World of Kaneva (600,000)
12. Red Light Center (250.000) *Wikpedia
36,550,000 active accounts (not users) in non-gaming virtual worlds.30,000,000 in social worlds for children.

These are estimates as provided by Fabric of Folly

Size Active Digital Media Universe: 350,000,000

Active users in ‘online 3d environments without a gaming focus’: 36,550,000

(very) Rough percentage active internet users in Virtual Worlds: 10.44%

You’ll notice I’ve set a few in bold – they’re what I consider serious multi-purpose free-form virtual worlds, as opposed to games or kids stuff. I’m creating a distinction between a VW’s, MMOG’s and avatar based chatrooms here. I’ll also concentrate mostly on Activeworlds and Secondlife, as they’re the worlds i’ve been most active in and am familiar with.

First onto what I’ve left out so you understand my reasoning.

Barbie, whyville, Disney etc are pretty much gaming worlds with a social focus. They’re avatar, chats and so not revolutionary. As a matter of fact they’ve been around since the early ninties, and even in primitive forms in the late 80s. In that way they’re not particularly virtual worlds.

Kaneva is facebook or myspace in 3d, so not a general purpose virtual world either. In that sense IMVU is similar but just scrapes it in on user generated content. From what I can tell WhyVille less so.

As for Entropia, often lauded as a general VW just like the big boys, well I’ll let their homepage speak for itself:

The Entropia Universe is more than a game. The Entropia Universe is for real. Real people, real activities and a Real Cash Economy in a massive online universe.

… looks promising so far…

Join people from around the globe who use the Entropia Universe currency, the PED, to develop their characters everyday on the untamed planet of Calypso.

… erm spend spacebucks on your character on another planet. Nope, it’s a game.

So what about the real virtual worlds?
I’ve never seen good statistics from There.com so I can’t comment precisely. What I have heard though is they’re about on par or slightly better than activeworlds, which we do know about.

Activeworlds says on their site:

Since Active Worlds is primarily an Internet-based platform, the
potential market for all Active Worlds-based products is global. We
currently have over 2 million individual users worldwide who have
downloaded the browser
and visited the one UniServer we operate. We
generally receive more than 1,000,000 hits to our universe server per
day, and more than 500 new users download our browser each day. To
date more than 70,000 users have registered to be a “citizen”
of our Active Worlds
universe. These users receive enhanced
capabilities in the Active Worlds environment. Users who do not register
are called “tourists.”

OK let’s get the same statistics from Linden Labs and see what the difference is (keeping in mind that activeworlds has been around a lot longer so their total premium accounts figure is going to be higher.

Linden Labs economic statistics page for today says: Total Residents 11,849,438. That’s sign ups, so not counting alternate accounts (2 million by the best estimates i’ve heard) it means that secondlife has attracted just under ten million individual users to sign up for an account. That’s a guestimate, but a pretty good one. So unique logins alone that puts SL about five times the size of activeworlds (which claims 2 million). This doesn’t take into account the fact that activeworlds has been online since 1995 (see history) whilst SL has only been active this century, making it somewhat younger for such a startling figure.

The difference in growth rate can easily be seen by comparing signup rates. Activeworlds boasts 500 new users each day, which may well be mostly unique. From what I can see Secondlife boasts about 15,000 signups a day, which is down from the peak average around 20,000 a day last year, but even so. If we don’t get tricky with the numbers somehow (eg. throw a few away for alt accounts) it simply looks like SecondLife is growing at thirty times the rate of ActiveWorlds.

Total accounts also doesn’t factor in that people leave. All those eleven-million sl accounts have arrived since I’ve been in world (just over 18 months). Activeworlds has a long history, and has been trading since 1995 as a virtual world, and 2001 as a commercial one. The average churn rate for VW users who do become residents is about six months according to some. We must assume that many of those accounts have left activeworlds over that time and a significant proportion of their two million residents are no longer there. This has happened to secondlife as well, but over a much shorter period.

To summarize this point – SecondLife has about as many fake accounts as Activeworlds has total accounts. When it comes to real accounts the difference is staggeringly large. If you imagine that over the 12 or 7 years the activeworlds figures represent, some users have left, then the difference in size between SL and AW are obvious. You’ll notice in the figures from the top ten at the start of this post, all the virtual worlds I’ve pointed out are about the one million users mark.

So if it’s not the total accounts figure it must be something else. If it’s premium accounts or active accounts… let’s see.

Well it’s not as simple as that – to be a member of activeworlds you have to pay to do anything apart from stand around in orange overalls (from memory). So since 2001 there have been 70,000 users registered to be a “citizen” of activeworlds. Many may no longer be paying. We can compare that to two figures in SecondLife, neither of which is particularly illuminating except to create a stark contrast.

If we compare paying secondlife customers then we’re onto “premium accounts”. I only have the published economic statistics for last september, but at that time 91,015 residents were paying for premium accounts. That was for that month, not over the entire history of SL. Some come, some go. If we knock off the churn for activeworlds it looks quite different.

Pulling the “6 month average churn” figure out of the aether (well out of the mouth of Corey Bridges from Multiverse actually) we’d assume AW’s active premium accounts would be much closer to 10,000. As SL’s premiums have continued to grow since september (with a brief dip recently) we can assume that SL has about ten times as many paying customers as AW. However you don’t have to be a paying customer to live in SL, earn virtual cash and do stuff….

The other figure that probably compares better with activeworlds residency is SL “active users”. They can do everything premiums can do apart from own land. We can be generous with AW and say that – back of the napkin – there might be quite a few folk who might wish to run around in world without any powers or rights and just chat. Let’s say that’s 20,000 or so. We compare that to the number of folk who’ve run around SL in the last fortnight and we get Residents Logged-In During Last 14 Days – 508,561. So there’s a big difference again. LL defines active residents as those who have accumulated at least 60 minutes in the last 60 days so it’s probably closer to 1.25 million in the figures they publish in their PR.

So there you have it. Based on solid figures from Linden Lab and some guestimates from Activeworlds, the active user base of SecondLife is about sixty times the size of activeworlds. Q.E.D. … well not quite.

These figures however, are patently wrong. This is partly due to the difficulty of getting propper statistics out of these companies, and partly cause of something I spilled on the napkin while working them out. Then again my estimates here are in stark contrast to those of the original article which says they’re both about a million. I know my figures aren’t exactly right, but I suspect neither of us has the whole picture. My best guess is that his stats are also wrong. Given that activeworlds still services their population with “one UniServer” while LL bought online “over 9,000 server CPUs” this year alone, I’d say my figures are closer to the truth.

This is not to poke fun at Mr Van Der Wal, simply to alert anyone who cares to read it that virtual worlds figures aint what they put in the PR. There’s plenty of very poor press going around with very silly numbers in it, both from the news makers, and the virtual worlds folk themselves. Given the poor acuracy of the numbers in the press you’ll often find reputable sources getting the stats very wrong indeed.

I encourage anyone following virtual worlds for professional purposes, and SecondLife in particular, to keep an eye on Mis Tateru Nino’s posts in Massively. She can be relied on to cut through the lard when it comes to silly numbers.

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Pav’s top 3 headline predictions for SL 2008

December 30, 2007 at 12:58 am (secondlife)

Hamlet Au over on his wonderful blog, asked folk for their top 3 headlines for the coming year

regarding SL and VW’s. Of course I chimed in – but I’ll repost them here for posterity.

My top 3 headlines for…..

THE GEEK BLOGS

1) Linden labs opens jabber gateway into secondlife instant messaging client.
Hilarity ensues.

2) Education boffins laud html on a prim…
in principle.

3) Trans-metaverse avatars protest having to leave their weapons at customs.

THE MAINSTREAM PRESS

1) Virtual Worlds Next Big Thing – like myspace
(but nothing like it really we just said that to get your attention.)

2) Virtual Worlds Cesspit Of Degenerate Illegality –
(err not really we just said that to get your attention again.)

3) Terrorists Plan Virtual Terror –
(eeeeh is this gonzo thing still working or do we need to start paying for research from now on?)

THE BUSINESS PRESS

1) Corporates turn to virtual worlds to get things done as facebook suffers productivity killing zombie apocalypse.

2) Government economists move to establish tax rates on Netherweave, Isogen, Prism Power.

3) As corporations leave VW’s in droves, cottage MDC industry reports record growth, as does litigation for profit.

Well they’re my predictions for headlines in 2008. I think they’re a shoe in😛

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Pav’s predictions for SL & virtual worlds for 2008

December 29, 2007 at 3:11 am (Blogroll, secondlife) (, , , , )

Everyone’s doing it – and I’ve only been vicariously tagged for my “eight things you don’t know about” post. I guess I mighta missed that boat. Nobody reads my blog anyways so I got nothin’ to lose from this weeks obligatory blog post. Here goes – predictions for 2008.

  1. Linden Labs will experiment with other service providers:

    Telstra Australia comes to mind but there’ll be more. My money’s on Japan or Brazil as the folk they want to get on board but my money’s on Australia as the beta.

    Folk in the internet industry understand that they need a strong technology partner with a small population so Australia gets used as a beta for phone systems, broadband and other such experiments which often go nowhere. It’s eager and tech-progressive enough to be interesting but small enough to lose should things go pear shaped. LL’s technology partner here has money to burn and is hungry to retain monopoly so they’ll make it attractive to LL.

    The lindies already run colabs so they’ll be looking at this from a technology perspective as well. They want to understand how database replication will work transcontinental – their “het grid” project is about making this easier (among other things). Trans-continental colabs will make Cali-Texas seem like a dream. Some sensible engineer at LL will tell them “please don’t do this in Europe or Asia if you want to keep your team” and they’ll take notice. Though I say Aus’ is a good bet here, if your country fits the criteria of progressive but disposable it could be you.

  2. SL service will continue to improve:

    “What what WHAT?!?” you say. You heard me right – things are getting better. Het grid work is like restumping a sagging house. Cracks appear in the walls, things look really bad, the roof leaks, you end up having to spend weeks living at your aunties while the builders do something heinous and scary, etc… I’ve tossed my coin and come up optimistic about this. When the work is done it’ll look a lot better.

    The reason I say this is because LL has competition now and they’re obviously tinkering with their team, direction, partnerships, and of course the nuts and bolts. They’re not kids anymore, and not so reactionary – they’re growing up. A year ago anyone in the industry (and it’s not virtual worlds like we think it is, it’s relational database hosting) was shaking their heads in disbelief about how they were doing things. Now they’re not – they may not like performance but they’re not criticising LL’s approach.

    This will start to pay off this year in stability and scalability. Naysayers will still say nay, commentators will continue to say “the damage has been done” – but it will be improvement, and it will take more than one damage to break this thing. By years end it will look a lot better.

  3. Many new entrants will come… and go:

    You don’t have to be a massive SL fanboy to realize that the newcomers into this market have a lot of mistakes to make before they get anywhere. LL has made their share of mistakes – heck they’ve made almost every one in the book – but they’re still writing it. Newcomers will avoid some of the mistakes LL has made but most of them will (after initial hype) trip on their shoelace and fall on their face. Some will do quite well thankyou: which brings me to….
  4. Google will release a VW which will be wildly successful, then disappointing, then wildly successful:

    Everything google does these days is “the end of” whatever – as if some lumbering giant could come into the market and eat all the young. Six months to a year later “google office disappointing – will not replace MS office”. Honestly who writes these things? Let me answer that rhetorical question. Pundits write these things, and they’re clueless (though well circulated and paid thanks).Linux is slowly eating MS, OpenOffice is slowly eating MS Office, Apple is slowly eating the record industry – Sony hates this. But all this stuff happens slow enough that they shouldn’t sneak up and take anyone by surprise unless their head’s buried in the sand. Google will do good with their vr eventually, but sketchup hasn’t replaced autocad yet, and neither will google’s launch replace SL.
  5. Vastpark will do well:

    They got some things right – they’ll do ok in the long run. It’ll be slower than fanboys think, but they’re a strong contender with the advantage of developing without too much legacy code. There’s still a content creator vs. resident divide though so we’ll have to wait for some kids raised on counter-strike level design to tinker with it and give anyone a compelling reason to be there.
  6. A national government and a major corporation will engage in a legal action related to SL and make complete fools of themselves:

    Erm… both of those have already happened several times, but the public eye will be watching. If it’s towards the end of the year it may involve another VW on the upswing of it’s hype cycle – watch out google😛
  7. Media pundits will coin a new phrase to describe SL and VW’s so they can stop cramming it into the same box as web2.0ish social media:

    Well, bloggers will do this, but cheapskate journalists will finally take notice – that’s where they source all their stuff anyways these days. The term “social media” and other vogues in reference to VWs will start to take on the distaste we currently have for terms like “cyberspace” to describe the internets – an outmoded term from the olden days only used by your clueless auntie trying to sound cool, or institutionalised academics writing their fourth doctorate. Discourse on the real impact of virtual worlds and social web applications will be enlivened by this change. It will also help business understand how VW’s fit into their marketing and customer contact model.
  8. The first SL based internet meme will enter the public vernacular:

    YES! WE CAN HAS OUR OWN LOLCATS. Some joke or started in SL will jump ship and turn up in your aunties mailbox, facebook or myspace. It will spread like wildfire. We will briefly fall in love with it as our own, but eventually lose respect and hate it so much we look fondly back at those innocent days of nigerian mail scams and dramatic chipmunk crossposts.
  9. Health and support for the disabled will be a growth area in SL particularly, and VW’s in general:

    This will have mainstream media support… eventually. A series of copycat articles will flood news channels at some point, repainting the model of VW residents from pasty socially bereft young males, to your aunt, sister, grandfather and others who might have non-gamer reasons for being there.

    The use of SL by the disabled or infirm to “get out of the house” will be lauded as a positive. The converse, of allowing care givers and counsellors access to those who can’t get to their offices will also be leveraged and publicly documented.

    This will be a part of a larger trend to recognize the social value of technologies previously considered isolating – like giving old folk a nintendo wii at their old folks homes, it aint about playing solo quake, it’s about engagement in a group. The public and the media will finally start to “get it”.

    This trend will play out in education as well, but the more rigid requirements of the edu arena will mean isolated uptake – not all the tools they need are there yet for widespread adoption outside narrow applications.

Well there’s my predictions for ’08 – in no particular order and so on. I hope you get something out of them, if only waggling your fist and sayin: “That Pav’s got no idea!”  I’m sure someone’ll burn a few calories doin that before this post hit’s the wayback machine.

Well happy new year anyways. May it be a good one. Toodle Pip!

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