26 February 2013

Dragging people kicking and screaming into the future

NiranV Dean makes a viewer that has a small but devoted following. He got there by having his viewer adopt every new rendering feature the moment someone codes it up, importing patches from anywhere he can get his hands on them, and generally living on the bleeding edge of technology.

That's fine, if that's what his users want.

Niran also spends a lot of time and energy on spreading hate in Firestorm's direction. His latest screed has plenty of it.

Fundamentally, it seems that Niran's complaint is that we're not dragging people into the glorious V3 future fast enough. He doesn't like that we port features from Phoenix and other V1 viewers. He thinks we're coddling people, supporting their "lazyness" and "stupidy" (sic) when we should be telling them to "STFU and get along with it".

Niran's argument shows a fundamental lack of understanding of at least three things.

To begin with, he fundamentally fails to understand the relationship between users and developers. There's no way a developer can force a user to do a damned thing. Users know what they want, generally, and will do what it takes to get that. They'll happily skip upgrades, they'll switch software, they'll complain mightily, and they'll do what they want to do. If we told them to "STFU and get along with it", they'd reply "FOAD, we're using what we like".

Second, he thinks we're not trying to drag our users along because we're afraid of losing our userbase. He has cause and effect backward. We're not doing this to amass the biggest userbase in SL. We have the biggest userbase in SL because we make a viewer that people want to use. We're giving people what they want, whether or not Niran approves. The moment we stop giving them what they want, they'll bolt - and rightly so.

Third, he doesn't get why we do this. We pour thousands of hours of volunteer effort into Firestorm because we want to improve people's SL user experiences - including our own. We do it to make a viewer we want to use ourselves. It's called "scratching your own itch", and it's the real reason open source volunteer developers do this. We know what we want from a viewer: fast, stable (comparatively), feature-rich, easy to use. Firestorm reflects those choices, as Niran's viewer reflects his.

We are all SL users, often heavy users with lots of activity inworld. We want a rich Second Life environment. That includes a wide range of other people, of varying levels of expertise and varying amounts of computer hardware, bleeding-edge and not-so-. We can't satisfy everyone's needs, nor do we want to. We want to satisfy the needs of the folks who use our viewer, though, and we're doing a pretty good job of that if I do say so myself.

Considering Niran's rant, I have to ask myself why he doesn't attack Singularity and CoolVL with equal or greater fervor. If we're not dragging people forward, they're firmly anchoring them in the past. I guess he just wants to tear down the biggest kid on the block instead. It's telling that, while many people moving away from Phoenix are moving to Firestorm, just about as many are moving to Singularity.

In any event, even if we were inclined to try to drag people into the future, there's no reason for them to actually go there. Users are remarkable that way. They'll do what they want.

If I wanted a buggy, unstable, bleeding-edge viewer, I'd run Niran's. I don't. I want what Firestorm gives me: feature-rich, a UI that makes more sense, and quite stable (as SL viewers go). I work on Firestorm to help provide that. The day Firestorm takes the direction Niran calls for is the day I fork it and keep it going in the direction we've been following.