Tuesday, June 29, 2010

State of Love and Trust

"State of love and trust is/busting down the pretext." Pearl Jam

Papa grid has issues getting the mainstream adoption it so desperately wants and needs due to two main factors: hardware hurdles and community fragmentation.

What does this have to do with Inworldz immersion? Well, the hardware issues stay the same for all virtual worlds. Third party clients may run a bit lighter than officials, and Heritage Key has a web portal option now, yet these things alone do not overcome the hardware hurdle for OSGrid worlds. A web based viewer is needed for mainstream adoption. Accessibility is the heart of the mainstream.

The community issues are the same as well. All grids after papa grid are in the unique position of being able to establish their niche from the start. All also have the trials and tribulations of papa as a living history lesson to study. What is the defining characteristic of Inworldz? Why should people make this grid their home?

Papa grid made some big mistakes here. At first, his defining characteristic was community. Come join a community and build a new life in a 3D world, he called.

And many answered.

Over time, though, it seems Papa has become all about the money; corporations and commerce. And all the pretexts and secret dealings that come with that focus. I doubt many would say that papa's grid is in a "state of love and trust". This revelation made me open to trying other worlds.

A friend asked me to try out Inworldz with her. I read the TOS, I poked about on the forums, I registered an account. I waited for a time when the two people I knew were on, took the plunge, and rezzed in.

The experience was altogether different than my rez in on papa grid. Instead of a fancy wasteland where I knew no one, I rezzed to a warm and inviting area, with two friends and a mentor saying hello. Everyone around us was chatty and open, both established residents and noobs like me. I logged out a few hours later, marveling at the feeling of possibility on this new grid.

All because of an open community based on helping people, not selling them stuff.

So imagine my surprise when I go to read ilivesl and find she has a different impression of Inworldz's overall focus.

maybe true niches will grow from this, like Reaction Grid’s focus on education or Inworldz on commerce similar to SL

grids like Inworldz will need to have very good protection of their creators if they will succeed more than LL has

Now, there is a money system in place Inworldz, and there are shops, but I thought they were looking for a better, safer community-not a consumer haven. Maybe the advertisers that stand in the path of the newly rezzed over at the coffee shop have more place there than I. Maybe the mentors are so bent out of shape over residents hanging out at the coffee shop because they're marking territory. Maybe Inworldz is a place all about exclusionary corporate consumer culture.

I hope not. I am worried, though-these trials are coming up so quickly. Most that make it over to Inworldz have been indoctrinated by papa grid. They assume it's all corporate. They assume the newly rezzed are consumers ripe for the picking.

Let those of us that came here to feel a part of a greater community of help and beauty make the stand with you. Don't push us off IDI. That's a state of love and trust. That will bust down the pretexts of consumerism.

Can the Lottery be Won?

Are you a mentor or are you a volunteer? The answer for that would depend on who you speak with, their views on the subject, and what they hope to gain from the title. Can the two be combined and work for a community such as Inworldz?

Tigerbeatle presented very valid points why it may not in her post, Winning the Lottery. However, my experience with such programs offers a differing opinion.

If we look up the word volunteer in the dictionary, it offers a description of someone who performs a service willingly and without pay. If we couple that with mentor, which is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher, you have a combination of someone offering their knowledge without pay and for the better of the community as a whole.

Recently, the forum community has been made aware of the mentoring program currently running the IW welcome center, The Coffee Shop, having internal issues. The exact issues at hand are unknown to me, as I am not a mentor. My knowledge, as with others that read the forums, is sketchy at best. However, this post isn't about the issues that plague the mentor group, it's about how a volunteer mentoring program can indeed work if a few things are taken into consideration.

First, and probably most importantly, they need to make sure they keep any internal conflicts within the group off the main forums and out of the Coffee Shop. The community at large does not need or want to know about any personality conflicts, drama, or other issues arising from the mentor program. We want a happy coffee shop with mentors willing to help new and old residents as needed.

The community does not care if Mentor A is having a problem with Mentor B or if Mentor C takes issue with policy 1, 2 and 3. We're human, we'll watch it just like we slow down and check out the accident on I-90 during rush hour. We don't want to look, but if you display it, we will. Then the community starts second guessing things and before you know it, a cluster is forming, feelings are getting hurt and confusion ensues. Founders are then left with the task of clearing the field of misunderstandings a few times over. It's not a pretty sight for anyone involved, as we have recently found out.

The second important task is to make sure that the mentors volunteering their time are not there for their own personal gain. Yes, there is self satisfaction in mentoring, that's not what I'm referring to. The coffee shop is a place to return to, visit with friends, take a moment to relax from building and also the first place all new residents see and experience. The people that frequent the coffee shop are not there for any one particular mentor. They are there for the atmosphere the mentor helps provide.

The third task, probably one of the hardest of them all, is making sure that mentors are all on the same page regarding the rules and what will happen if the rules are broken by residents. Being a mentor isn't always about helping new residents, it's often about making sure the area is a safe haven for others to enjoy. By establishing clear cut rules on how to handle rule-breakers that every mentor must follow we can alleviate personal annoyances from coming into play. This also lends to the fact that there needs to be some sort of system in place for times when personal annoyances are over riding the clear cut rules.

The fourth task is to not step on your residents toes while keeping the mentor group happy with their volunteering. Residents are often happy to share their knowledge with new residents, they are excited to see them rez in and gladly offer their assistance. This is a good thing, it ensures that the Coffee Shop is covered even if a mentor is not present. It also helps alleviate pressure on the mentors to assist every new arrival when they are at the coffee shop. In my world, there is no such thing as too much help. The last thing anyone wants to do is make residents feel as if they cannot speak, interact or help out a new resident if a mentor happens to be present. If there is one thing more harmful to the community, it's making residents feel unwelcome.

Lastly, and I agree with TigerBeatle on this one hundred percent, is that there does need to be a hierchy; a boss, leaders and volunteers. The boss oversees and has final ruling on any internal conflicts, the leaders guide the volunteers on their day to day operations, making sure they are following the guidelines set forth by the boss and the volunteers who mentor new arrivals and help older residents as the need arises.

Will there be drama occasionally? Will there be conflicts and the occasional mentor stomping off because what and how they want things are not happening? Yes, there will be. It's a group of people with differing opinions on how things should be run. Not everyone is going to get along and in all honesty...mentoring or the responsibilities that come with every aspect of it is not for everyone. The goal is to make sure the community is not witness to the train wreck and the coffee shop community is a safe haven for everyone to enjoy and to have fun.

The founders and the mentoring program will find their feet. They have gone from a small world with few mentors to a large world with many mentors over a very short period of time. What they are experiencing now is growing pains. These hurt, but lessons will be learned and the mentoring program on a volunteer basis will work.

Often those who volunteer their time do it because they love to help others. Not for fame, fortune or notoriety. They simply want to help, which is why such groups, if run properly and once out of the growing pain stage, work very well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Inventory Improvements?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that inventory is loading faster? It seems to me that I used to have to wait for what seemed minutes, before I was able to get at some landmark I was after. Now that I think about it, I used to have to actually go looking for something before the inventory would load. Now it loads when I log into Inworldz without my having to even go into it.

This is a vast improvement that I believe has slipped by unnoticed. While it isn't the ideal condition of inventory being persistent between logins, it is a start along that path and I applaud its silent implementation.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Winning The Lottery

Running a mentoring operation is typically expensive. Inworldz has avoided this expense by getting people to volunteer for their mentoring program, which is fine, as long as the entire mentoring staff are not volunteers. This is one area where Inworldz management team's lack of experience shows though. They actually expected the mentoring group to be self sustaining, with near zero conflict, while they reaped the rewards of the group's efforts. All this with little to no investment in the group. Sounds like hitting the lottery.

Unfortunately, the Inworldz management team is learning that it is hard to win a lottery. While they are being schooled, the mentors themselves are paying yet another price. First their labors, ideas and time were greedily absorbed and now the mentors have to deal with the fallout of internal conflict, which had the group been properly organized, would have been avoided. Something for nothing is nice and can actually be pulled off in the short run; but to expect to continue to get free labor, ideas, and momentum without a proportional outlay shows a lack of understanding of group dynamics, organizational management, and human nature.

The all volunteer mentoring program needs to end today, and be replaced with a hybrid where some key members are paid Inworldz staff with both policing and policy powers; which are used to guide the volunteers. This will go a long way in controlling internal conflict while showing the community at large management's commitment to the program.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Can Inworldz Learn From History?

It has to happen as surely as the sun rising in the east. Give a group of people near total freedom or, as in virtual worlds, a sense of total freedom, and some will opt for anti-social behavior. It has always been like this and it will always be like this whether you are in real life or in a virtual world. To think otherwise is folly.

Inworldz is not the first MMO to draw the attention of griefers, nor will it be the last. Inworldz is slowly becoming ripe pickings, for just such an influx of disgruntled, disenfranchised or otherwise troubled personality types. This isn't to say all griefers are socially dysfunctional, but the anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that the majority of griefers are, at the very least, malcontents.

With the increasing incident rate of griefers on the Inworldz grid, the Inworldz community and governance body will be challenged both tactically and strategically in their efforts to minimize the disruption caused by the griefer's antics. This is where Inworldz must learn from history and avoid the mistakes of other MMO's before them. While Inworldz cannot completely control the actions of the community, Inworldz can and must develop an appropriate stance well before griefing becomes an institution within their borders.

From a governance standpoint, we need only look back into history briefly for examples of how not to deal with griefers. Linden Lab first took a hands off approach, believing the problem would simply go away with time. When this failed, they set up some crude and obtuse guidelines on how to discipline offenders and then, finally, they opted to join with the community in its policing activities. They arrived at what the lab believes to be a workable solution, but the company took a heavy credibility hit along the path. There are many, myself included, that to this day distrust the Lindens over their handling of griefers.

Reading over the transcript of the last Inworldz Mentor's meeting sent a chill along my spine as I saw within the typical ramblings, seeds of what could become the foundations of institutions like the "Sim Shadow Government" (SSG) found in the now defunct “The Sims Online” or the “Justice League Unlimited” (JLU). Both of these organizations were founded to combat griefers. While well intentioned, in my assessment, they both caused more harm than good.

Vigilante groups such as SSG and JLU get their start by community members first voicing unease with griefers, then once their voice finds other like minded voices, they come together to form a group. Naturally such a group needs to have meetings and to protect any strategic advantage they may develop, these meetings must be held in secret. For the group to have any real power it must also forge an alliance with the governing body, else their only real recourse is to employ the same tools griefers use. The trouble here is three fold, hidden group meetings tend to breed suspicion by those not invited, and it allows radical or repressive ideas to be more easily accepted by the group. Finally, a secret community group with membership that includes employees of the governing organization has disproportional influence.

In reading the Mentor's Meeting notes, I saw evidence of such a group forming as a byproduct of the mentor's good intentions in protecting the community from griefers. Don't get me wrong, I believe the Inworldz Mentor group is doing wonderful things and should continue to do so, however, I do see the start of what could become yet another secret group - and this must be avoided.

The group has decided to develop secret communications tools via private areas in the forums. This is an innocuous development on the surface, but considering historic patterns in MMO's, it should be avoided. What gives me greater pause is the unique relationship the mentor's have with the founders. If there were ever a reason to not go private, this cozy relationship would be it. Nothing the founders do with a small subset of the community should be secretive, else the founders risk alienating the community at large.

Another thing of note from the Mentor's Meeting notes is the tendency of its members to voice, without chide from other members, objections to various interest groups such as vamps or furries. As a half Drow, I can only wonder what they think of my dark ways. The point is, while the group members have a right to their own views, as does the group as a whole, their close association with the Inworldz governing body casts these views upon the founders, like it or not. Just being a part of the Mentor's group ties the grid founders to the perceptions the community holds of the group as a whole.

In fairness, during the meeting Legion voiced opposition to segregation or discriminatory trends and stated a neutral position repeatedly, which is commendable. Yet while his voice was strong, so were others with more restrictive viewpoints.

History is always there to teach us the lessons we need to overcome our obstacles. This is true in life and no less so in a virtual life. We need to know our history and be wise enough to head its lessons. Look at the ugly histories associated with the Sim's Online and their SSG or the JLU and learn from them. Keep meetings and communications as open to the public as possible, and avoid the temptation of injecting personal preference into any rules, recommendations, or courses of action. The Inworldz founders would be well advised to avoid getting too close to one group, and never allow one group to have either greater voice or access, or the credibility of the governing body will be quickly called into question.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Swiss Cheese Blues

We have all been there and if you haven't yet you will soon. Nothing like logging into Inworldz and having your avatar dressed in the latest from the Swiss cheese factory. That is right, I am talking about when your textured self is all exposed to the wind like some sort of aged honeycomb. While for the first few minutes its all a big fun fest, that enjoyment quickly turns to annoyance once you realize your avatar is going to stay that way until you take action.

So what can you do? Well there are a few things you can try which will force a redraw of the textures and hopefully you will be spared the drudgery of logging off and then back on in hopes of avoiding the holey textures on your next trip.

The first thing I would try is to force a re-bake of the textures. You can either navigate though the menu system (the location varies with each viewer) or you can simply type Ctrl-Alt-r. Make sure you press all three keys at the same time. Give it about a minute or two before deciding this didn't work, because it can take a bit before you notice a change. If this still hasn't worked, then you can try jumping into Appearance Mode for a few seconds and then back out-but to be honest I haven't had a lot of success with this work-around.

So you have re-baked and you have jumped in and out of appearance six times and still your innards are your outtards. Well, then, the only thing left to do is to log out and come back in. This almost always clears the Swiss cheese effect, but it is a total pain in the clicking finger to do so. Such is the price for living in the Wide Wild West of InWorldz.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Intro through Pictures.

Finally took some pictures of Inworldz today, beyond the random shot at the Cafe near the entry point. Actual writing can come tomorrow, along with captioning. Need to see the site with some sort of content up before I can sleep happily.

In other news, I now have a seat, desk, and laptop in YWC headquarters on Blues Island. Now all I need to do is find a texture that looks close to a Commodore 64's casing, or break down and make one myself in GIMP.

Tomorrow. Tonight, I smoke a pipe and sleep. Any sculpt makers out there that want to make a pipe, let me know. Though learning Blender may be in my future as I settle on this grid. I want pipes and glasses and trees and writing animations, darn it!