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Category Archives: Usage Patterns

AFK sex, the popularity paradox, and the lack of male avatars

Going back into Second Life after three years has given me a lot to think about. I wander looking for interesting things and people, then spend equally as much time pondering what I’ve found.

Princess and the Elephants

At Luanes Magical World in Morning Glow

I’ve started several posts but, being a methodical person, I keep stopping and asking myself more questions. Could this be the result of selection bias? What is really going on? How do others react to this? So, I thought I’d share what I’m working on. If you have any people I should speak with or things I should read to get more perspective, please pass those along to Kay Jiersen (in SL) or kayjiersen at gmail.

Where are the men?

My observation after exploring a variety of SL regions that were not particularly gendered was that there are fewer avatars presenting as male than there were in the past. I don’t have historic numbers to compare against but I have started a study counting avatars in public spaces. Primarily, I’m looking at gender presentation of avatars in user profiles — not the people in RL nor their appearance at the time. There are ways I could dig deeper into this and perhaps I will, but this is a start. In my sample thus far, male avatars (of any species/type) are about 27% and avatars of undetermined gender are about 4%.

AFK sex venues

You can’t search the in-world destination guide without coming across these, because the continual presence of parked avatars drives their traffic numbers to the top of the list. For people unfamiliar with Second Life, these are relatively new areas where unattended avatars are left on furniture that has scripted sex animations, while the RL people behind them (theoretically) leave the screen and go on with their physical lives. A client avatar can join the AFK escort on the furniture and take charge of the controls. There is no personal interaction, but the visuals are the same as if there was an active human controlling the other avatar. Payment is made by tipping the escort and proceeds are automatically split with the venue. Popping into several to look around, I’ve never seen an active client (though I have seen AFK escorts being utilized at less specific venues). I’m awfully curious about these places and the avatars that use them, actively and passively.

Traffic, popularity, and concurrency

As mentioned above, having avatars at a venue all the time will raise its position in the search results. I visited a highly-ranked beach sim last week that had more than a dozen voluptuous, scantily-clad female avatars milling around the landing point and on the dance floor. They had profiles like those you’d find in any crowd, none of which said they were bots. I watched them as I explored. They went through their AO (animation override) standing motions, but none danced, walked around, or interacted. There was no local chat. So, I started running through them like the cue ball breaking the triangle on a pool table, and there was no reaction. Bots. The place looked full at first glance but felt dead.

On the same weekend, I experienced two venues that had legitimate crowds: a store that ran a 50% off everything sale and a club with live musicians. The unfortunate truth is that popularity in a virtual space presents a paradox: the performance of the region degrades as more avatars enter and interact. Concurrency is a technical challenge where improvement has been sluggish, no matter the platform. (Philip Rosedale wrote a good explanation on the High Fidelity blog in September, when they achieved 356 avatars in a single instance on that service.)

Since my technical interest is tempered by my anthropological mindset, I’m curious more about the lived experience of being alone, surrounded by bots, and in a glitchy crowd in a virtual space. That’s what I’ll explore in depth, soon.

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YouTube vs television: I’m such a geezer

Since Stephen Colbert took over The Late Show, we’ve been recording it on our DVR to watch in the morning. Unfortunately, that means that we missed most of Thursday’s show because of football, so I only caught part of his segment with PewDiePie on YouTube:

Age-wise, I’m firmly Generation X. I was born in 1970, which means I surfed into adulthood along with video games, personal computers, and the Internet. Gnarly to the max, like totally! When I was a kid, the family room was the only entertainment source on most evenings and I’d watch whatever my parents were watching, sometimes over the top edge of the book I was reading. The Captain and Tennille, Sonny and Cher, Starsky and Hutch, Bonanza, Battle of the Network Stars, Soap, All in the Family, Three’s Company, The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Dallas, Dynasty, and so on. Once I hit my teens — and cable TV didn’t get to my town until after I left for college — I had other things to do in the evening, but I’d stay up for Friday Night Videos and Saturday Night Live. My parents let me have their old black and white TV in my room so I could watch series that didn’t interest them (which is why I didn’t know Star Trek was shot in color until I got to college).

I’m still very much a television watcher, though almost all of it is time-shifted via DVR or VOD. In fact, except for news in the morning and Formula 1 races, I only watch live TV when the DVR is empty and I want background noise, like DIY shows on lazy weekend mornings. I like stories and I can appreciate good writing, costuming, and camerawork. Sometimes I just like a goofy comedy, too. My parents are certainly of a different generation of TV watchers; they don’t understand their DVR and still arrange their schedule around live programming, which I can’t imagine doing.

But now, I’ll go full geezer: I don’t love YouTube. Sure, I watch things there, including PewDiePie sometimes. He’s funny and charming. I like Rob and Corinne over at Threadbanger, catch up on Get Germanized now and then, and enjoy some short educational series. I’ll watch tutorials or put on playlists of music videos while gaming on my other monitor. But, the content of big YouTube stars isn’t relevant to me. I can see how it might appeal to teens and people in their early 20s, but watching those would be like my mom reading Tiger Beat in the ’80s. I also find it annoying to listen to appeals for subscribers, comments, Patreon support, and views on subchannels and affiliated channels. Combined with unskippable ads, that’s like the worst of both public and commercial TV channels, with less content between the ads. I think it’s fantastic that any creative, enterprising individual could build a following on YouTube, but the monetization model is grating to me.

Do you have a favorite YouTube channel that would change my mind? What should I check out? Prove me wrong!

In the meantime, I like being able to curl on the couch with my laptop and dog, watching scripted programs with decent production budgets on a large-screen TV. Sometimes we stream Netflix to the TV over our Chromecast, and I suppose we could stream YouTube shows too. Meh.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2015 in Usage Patterns, Video

 

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The wonderful rainbow world of /r/thebutton

Let me get this out of the way: I’m a grey. A non presser. Not because I’ve made the decision to never press it — I will, before I leave for my trip — but because I’m waiting until it matters… or I can nab red flair.

animated gif of the countdown clock and button from Reddit's "the button"

You can only press the button once. Only accounts created before 2015-04-01 can press the button. We can’t tell you what to do from here on out. The choice is yours.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the button; it’s so mainstream that even Time covered it and Fox News got their tighty-whities in a bunch over it, but this Vox piece is a good overview with some details. I, um, appropriated the image above from their article.  Shhh.

While the button itself interests me, the button community is more fascinating. Groups of button-protecting knights have formed, committed to keeping the timer alive. Button “religions” with different philosophies around the button have emerged, many of which are waiting for the Pressiah, the final presser before time runs out. Pranks have come and gone, as have campaigns to get the greys to all become purples or wait until the clock ticks down into the teens or below. There have been reports of auto-click trojan software and trolls tricking unsuspecting users into clicking before they planned.

Users are also rolling around in data like happy puppies. People have developed bots to track statistics and post when the button reaches a new low time. (As I’m writing, 15 seconds was the lowest click.)  Here’s a list of some of the known button analytic resources. Some visualizations can explain the progress more clearly than numbers, like this graph that user incitatus451 posted:

graph plotting number of clicks each day against the remaining seconds on the timer for each click

You can see the community growing more daring over the past three weeks, with oranges finally appearing over the weekend but as of yet, no legitimate reds. When I first discovered the button, the timer was always reset before the 30 second mark. Now, it’s not unusual for me to see low 20s and upper teens before someone clicks. The ranges for flair colors can be found on the subreddit wiki. Of course, when the button first launched, there were few instructions and no information about flair colors, so these have been determined over time and red is still a guess.

As long as the rules remain in place, the button timer must eventually run out. There are a finite number of Reddit accounts created before April 1st; even if every single qualified user clicked the button, the pool would be depleted. Users have calculated when that day might come, on various assumptions of the average click time. It’s vastly more likely that the timer will run out when there are few greys online — the hours before dawn in the Americas, when it’s still early in Europe — and there is a lapse of attention or users wait too long in the quest for a low number. Nobody knows what will happen when the timer reaches 0. It could simply vanish. I wonder if Reddit expected their April Fools’ Day launch to last and develop as it has.

Even if you pressed long ago or can’t press because you don’t have a pre-April 1 account, it’s worth spending a little time in the subreddit. There a lot of clever gifs and interesting graphs, and you can almost feel the anticipation. If you have a qualified account but have been ignoring the button hype, when you go to the subreddit, the button will show as greyed with a lock symbol over it. The REAL button is blue and only appears after you have clicked to unlock it, so you don’t have to be concerned about an accidental click.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Culture, Usage Patterns

 

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

The title of this post is a quote from Arthur C. Clarke. I’m reminded of it frequently during a visit from my parents, who have an average age of 73. Despite the fact that I worked for Internet companies for more than a dozen years, they often view connected technology as some sort of sorcery. They are awed of it, with frequent anecdotes about other people that end with, “…and she looked it up on her phone thingy and there it was!” Yet they are also frightened. My father won’t touch the Internet and my mother stays on the periphery of recipes and coupon sites, though she’s getting better at researching travel. She’s had computers for a long time — I started giving her my slightly-outdated tech about 15 years ago and she bought her first laptop this year — but my husband and I expect to spend hours of any visit providing tech support.

HERO_PINGXI_Sheng-Fa_Lin

Yesterday they told me a long story about driving from store to store trying to find “those floating balloon-type things that you set fire to and then let go.” The story involved frustration, triumph as they found a few lanterns, then humor as they discovered a huge pile of them at the only store in their small town, which they hadn’t checked. If I were looking for the same thing, I would have searched for a likely name, probably “flying lanterns”, discovered millions of results and that the more common name is “sky lantern”. Then I would have searched for the best price and shipping for a lantern style I liked. Five minutes later, I would be done.

My way is faster, easier, and less expensive. However, it doesn’t give me the story — which will surely grow into an extended quest with future tellings — or the feeling of triumph at the end.  I don’t have the funny postscript. While I won’t equate shopping for lanterns with the Hero’s Journey, I wonder if we are losing something important as we gain convenience and efficiency.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Culture, Usage Patterns

 

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My conventionally pretty avatar is not a Barbie

This morning after watching Nico Rosberg zoom to the podium in Monaco, I checked out the recent Designing Worlds discussion about attracting and retaining new Second Life residents. It’s almost an hour long and has some good ideas, but nothing surprising if you read a bunch of SL blogs like I do. Of course the SL bikini ad came up again. There was some chuckling in the discussion when one of the participants said that from what she has seen, people who remain in SL for years aren’t those who wear bikinis all the time. Right!  Nude beaches are at least as popular as those where bikinis are worn.

Yes, I know that wasn’t her point.  I agree that SL has a skewed reputation in the outside world and it can be frustrating to see ads and media coverage that reinforce that idea of SL as nothing but a flirting and cybersex hangout for idealized humanoids.  We want more rounded representation.  As someone who has specifically spent time searching for the places where groups of avatars congregate, however, I’m convinced that socializing — sometimes with music, sometimes in a region with a sexual theme — draws far more people than any other category of activity. The Lindens didn’t pull that bikini ad concept out of nowhere.  Also, clubs and adult areas have plenty of visitors with avatars four or more years old. I don’t believe there is a correlation between SL longevity and what some see as higher pursuits.

I’m fascinated by the variety of experiences in Second Life and I chafe when some ways of (Second) living, within the ToS, are looked down upon or treated as frivolous. The term “Barbie” was used in the discussion to refer to some avatars, too. My personal opinion is that there is nothing superior about preferring a niche experience in SL, whether in how one spends time or designs his avatar. Virtual beaches don’t only attract bimbos and himbos and I’ve met some real assholes in thought-provoking artistic sims.  It doesn’t take great intelligence to adjust avatar shape sliders nor does it signify moral correctness to reject idealistic proportions or perfect hair. That “Barbie” on the beach may very well have a successful, ambitious, well-read, artistic human on the other side of the keyboard, who chooses to spend her leisure time relaxing in a form she finds pleasing. She could also be boring and dumb. Either way, she should be able to live her SL as she wishes without intelligent, outspoken resident advocates chuckling condescendingly about her behavior.

Snapshot_006

Tall and blonde, NOT a Barbie

Appearance in SL can mean a lot of different things. A few us us chatted at length about this in the Basilique Salon a week and a half ago (read summaries of the discussion: part 1, part 2) and I think we barely scratched the surface. I’ve gone places inworld where I felt uncomfortable and judged because my avatar was conventional, where there was pressure to show quirkiness or RL verisimilitude or be treated like a dullard lemming. It’s a strange reverse lookism and I wonder if some of it is a reaction to the pressure to conform to beauty standards in RL. That can spill over into SL, with dress codes and bans for non-human avatars even in places that are not meant to be historical recreations.

The look of my primary avatar evolved over time. My first avatar had cherry red hair, green eyes, and curves, as I did in real life.  When shapes and skins evolved, I made her younger and “cute” to fit in with how I was spending my inworld time then (sometimes as a half-copper wind-up roaming the steampunk sims).  A few years ago, I put her aside to create Kay, who I planned to reflect the RL me better than what my previous avatar had become. Initially, Kay looked enough like RL me that the photo on the 1st Life tab of my profile had a spliced image of her face and mine, half and half.. She had light brown hair to match mine (without the bright dye job) and I modified her shape to be rather conventional so that I didn’t have to spend time adjusting every clothing prim, which I find tedious. I updated her skin a couple years ago and by chance found that I liked the way it looked with light blonde and white hair, so that’s what I’ve purchased since. Mesh came along and standard size Small was closest to her; I made those adjustments. Her eyeballs were a rather old design and I got some nice blue ones that suited her just fine as a store gift. I like being able to have a polished appearance, which meant that I built up a folder of makeup as well as adding mesh fingernails and feet. Does she look like RL me anymore? Not much, except in skin color and that we both occasionally wear glasses. Her appearance is the result of incremental changes and whims by a human who doesn’t much care about using her avatar as an exact RL substitute, to showcase fashion trends, or signal her eccentricity. I have a lot of options so I can adjust as my travel or situation demands, but I come back to this base look.  For now.

I have great respect and admiration for the SL residents who design, build, perform, write, lead communities, teach, organize, advocate, conduct business, and otherwise add richness and depth to the world. Everyday I benefit from their dedication and creativity. It would make my outside life a lot easier if SL had a reputation as a creative and entrepreneurial hotspot, too. Perhaps we can continue to work toward that end without incidentally disparaging residents who use SL for a little escapism or fun in whatever way they choose. Just because it isn’t my preferred Second Life doesn’t mean it isn’t a vital and important way of existing for someone else.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Culture, Side Topics, Usage Patterns

 

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Meaningless, misleading, and incomplete SL statistics

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!  Out of curiosity, I did a little dive into some data I’ve collected recently. The stats below are from 3137 Second Life avatars that I saw online in public spaces this month. Those spaces ranged from educational spots, infohubs, sandboxes, and welcome areas to night clubs, roleplay areas, stores, beaches, XXX regions, and casinos. There are definitely a few bots and griefers (one sandbox I visited was a mess) in the set.

I expected I would see a spike of very young avatars and then a pretty straight decline over time with tiny tail. That’s not precisely the case.

avatar_age_prelim

For comparison, here is Tateru Nino’s all time sign-up chart reflecting June 2005 – May 2014:

signupstotal-alltime_May2014

Gap and drop correctly reflect data as published, per Tateru Nino

So, does this give any insight we didn’t have previously?  I think we’ve all speculated that there is a high burn rate on new avatars: either new members drop out quickly or these are avatars created for less-than-honorable intentions that end up banned or abandoned. 213 avatars in my set — about 40% of the “12 month and less” group and 6.8% overall — were actually under 1 month old. When I’ve finished collecting data, I’ll have to correct for any skew if I have a disproportionate number found in areas specifically intended for newbies, but at this time, I don’t think I do.

The rest of the chart could be seen as a retention hump in the 60 month old range or a trough in the 36-48 month group. Looking at the data by calendar year, there is a noticeable dip for 2011: the number of avatars seen that were born in 2010, ’11, and ’12 respectively were 395, 289, and 391.  Hmm.  My primary avatar was born in 2010 but it wasn’t because of any particular promotion or push; I created her to replace an avatar that didn’t fit me anymore. (In this set, there were only 17 avatars that entered SL before I did. I’m old. Turn down that noise and get off my lawn!)

As I warned, these are meaningless, misleading and incomplete. I simply couldn’t resist the lure of some early data crunching.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Research, Usage Patterns

 

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Internet trends 2013

The annual KPCB Internet Trends report is out.  It’s US-centric and doesn’t look at immersive worlds or gaming, but I think it’s important data for people who think about those topics. Consider, for example, the growth in tablets and mobile devices versus desktop/notebook — the computers usually required for virtual world use.  Or the increase in video and the “return” of voice. I know that the High Fidelity project is looking at wearables in their quest to produce “low latency avatar-to-avatar communication” and I think they’re headed in the right direction.  The KPCB report slideshow is embedded below:

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Uncategorized, Usage Patterns

 

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