When I started thinking about Infohubs in the virtual world Second Life, I considered analogues in the physical world. The best I came up with was a city neighborhood that thrived until it was bypassed by a new highway, leading to business failure and soaring crime.
The Lindens building SL in the early ’00s scattered telehubs around the continent(s), intending them to form the center of commercial and social districts. In the early days, you had to pay a small fee to teleport directly to a location, so most people took the free option of teleporting to the hub closest to their destination and traveling from there. It seemed reasonable that businesses would group where people would see them in passing, and for a while, that’s what happened. Flying or walking from a telehub to a distant destination could be full of graphic glitches and near-crashes, so there was a clear advantage to being near a hub and real estate prices reflected that.
Free point-to-point teleportation was introduced at the end of 2005 — a significant improvement in user experience — and the telehubs were removed or converted into Infohubs, rebuilt by residents. The Infohubs were intended to be places to meet and chat as well as to learn about what was available in SL. Now that people could teleport directly to their destinations, stores and clubs started moving away from the Infohubs to less expensive land or eventually to private islands. This made the Infohubs less laggy, but it also reduced the reasons for established residents to visit them.
The type of people found at Infohubs began to change. Instead of a cross-section of residents passing through on the way to a spot nearby, now you’ll find:
- Victims of technical problems. If a region crashes or is shut down for maintenance, the avatars in it (and those trying to sign on to an offline location) are automatically teleported to a hub. Accounts with adult content enabled end up at Safe hubs — Infohubs on the Adult-rated mainland.
- Homeless avatars. If you don’t have a place to call home, you can set your home location to any mainland Infohub. I think there are a lot of better options, but I’ve seen avatars who have been in SL for many years who still use a hub as home.
- Helpers. These were more common years ago, but you’ll sometimes find a volunteer for a resident-education group or simply a helpful person, offering assistance to new residents.
- New residents. Welcome areas and Infohubs can provide places to pause and get oriented. Some actually do provide useful information.
- Griefers and troublemakers. Since nobody takes responsibility for behavior at the hubs, they’re favorite spots for people who want to be jackasses.
Last week I spent a couple hours wandering around hubs. Some of them look quite nice, but on three different occasions I was hit with graphic driver overload attacks that caused most people at the hub to crash. Once I noticed the announcement in public chat as someone attached a black market griefing HUD that I recognized, shortly before one of the attacks, so I was able to report him, but usually those attacks happen out of the blue. I watched two female avatars having a nasty, obscenity-filled fight in public chat in a General (kid-friendly) area. I saw bots holding signs advertising virtual escorts. I saw someone in a little girl avatar twirling around an adult hub in a short dress, playing gestures with clips of very sexual songs and grinding her hips, while being snarky to anyone who told her she was being inappropriate. At one point, a furry walked across the hub and bumped into me wordlessly. He moved away, then came back and did it again. He continued to bump my avatar repeatedly, even when I had blocked and derezzed him, even when I moved from standing to hovering. Really, hubs are cesspools and people have been complaining about them for many years.
(I should emphasize that griefing is really not that prevalent in SL. I’ve had a mainland home for close to 3 years and have had griefing incidents on my property twice, both of which were quickly fixed by deleting objects and adding people to my ban list. Except at hubs, I haven’t experienced griefing anywhere except public sandboxes in many years. There are griefer groups and there are vigilante groups, but you can be an SL resident for a long time and barely come into contact with either. I’m sure that it is a different experience for business and sim owners and I’ve read their horror stories, but I hope that no one is scared off by those tales.)
Personally, I think the hub system needs an overhaul. They’ve outlived their purpose as greeting and information areas — the info kiosks are often broken or outdated — and taken away from their origins over a decade ago, they don’t make objective sense. I’d hope that a much smarter person than I comes up with a better solution for the next Linden Lab world.
In the meantime, I’d suggest that you don’t spend much time at the hubs. Need a Home location? There are a number of sandboxes where you can join a free group and then set your home location there. Builders Brewery is a great option and also offers changing rooms (and lots of classes to learn about building and scripting, if that interests you). I use an adult sandbox as the home location for my alt; I really don’t care if I’m surrounded by pornographic ads while I’m changing outfits or opening boxes, and nobody bothers me. Need a place to meet with friends and chat? SL is full of cafes and natural areas and places you could gather. You could try the Infohubs in the Linden Homes areas (near the bottom of this list). They’re large and often completely empty. You can’t set your home location there, but they’re pretty good for chat spots. Need help as a new resident? Try NCI – New Citizens Incorporated or Caledon Oxbridge University. If you find yourself at a hub often, you might want to try the free Stop Right There, Crasher Scum! Anti-Crasher HUD, which is relatively effective against graphic crasher attacks.