19 March 2015

LL says "we know what's best for you!"

Inara Pey posted a very good rundown of Ebbe Altberg's comments on SL:TNG at VWBPE 2015. There's nothing really new there, but Altberg did come flat out and say what LL had danced around before:
We have stated that we’re not planning for our client, at least for the beginning – and possibly never, but never say never -, but we’re not starting with it being open-source.
I can certainly understand why they're doing it, but it doesn't speak well for their openness to NIH ("not invented here") ideas on the new platform. Basically, they're saying "we know what's best for you, so shut up and eat your Brussels sprouts".

We've been here before. Remember Viewer 2? Yeah, me too. There's a reason that Firestorm has the overwhelming majority of users on Second Life, and Viewer 3 (the descendant of Viewer 2) is in third place: LL's viewer does not fail to suck. Users told LL all about that, loud and long - and LL didn't back off and didn't listen.

I'm sure LL has a vision for SL:TNG. I'm sure it's great stuff, working equally well on platforms from the iPhone to the Nexus 9 to the PC/Mac to Oculus Rift to...you name it. I'm equally sure it, like every software system, is designed with a specific usage style in mind. Programmers develop software with a mental model of how it is supposed to work and how users are expected to use it. No matter how hard they try not to, they can't help it.

Those mental models are very difficult for a programmer - or a system architect - to overcome as he works, and yet they're the first thing to go by the wayside when actual users start to use the system. Just like no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, no software system survives contact with users intact. This is the way of the software world. A wise system architect takes that into account, and designs systems with maximum flexibility for different usage styles and patterns and needs.

LL's track record in this regard, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks rancid pond water. Why? Because they have a terrible record when it comes to listening to what their users have to tell them.

In an ideal world, there would be little need for a Firestorm, let alone room for it to demonstrably become users' favorite viewer. That's because, in an ideal world, LL would implement the capabilities of the viewer that users want and need themselves.

As I said, I can understand LL's hostility to the idea of SL:TNG being open source. When it comes to SL, LL is in a very unenviable position for a business: they do not control their own platform. They can't make significant changes to it without getting viewer developers - a bunch of unpaid volunteers who have other things to be doing with their time - to line up behind changes. No business wants to be in that position, and most businesses can't afford to be there for very long. In fairness, the only way LL was going to regain control of their platform was to do exactly what they're doing.

This is the nightmare scenario that LL, at least in their own minds, cannot afford to repeat with SL:TNG. If I trusted them to actually listen to their users when we tell LL what we want and need, it wouldn't bother me very much. The problem is that I don't and neither does anyone else. Can you see LL doing the equivalent of RLV in SL:TNG? Me either.

And that's the problem. They don't understand that there are people whose use cases for the platform do not match what their intentions are for it. Yeah, they'll probably accommodate furry avatars. (And the folks who can get in early with good stuff will do well. But Maya, LL? A 3D modeling program that's hideously expensive and has a reputation of being even harder to use than Blender?! Forget about user-created content...) But the adult BDSM community, for example, can go whistle.

Make no mistake, there's lots to like about what Ebbe laid out for SL:TNG. A new avatar skeleton and base that fails to suck is a welcome advance. C# as a scripting language is a sensible choice, if not the choice I'd make. (I'm a Python bigot.) (And to the guy who claimed on Inara's blog that LSL is a functional, fourth generation language: What are you smoking and where can I get some?) An emphasis on new user discoverability is a good thing, to draw people in and keep them. Scalability is immensely important. And the change in emphasis in revenue generation from tier to sales taxes is imperative.

Still, there's a big gaping hole in LL's plans, labeled "user direction for the platform". LL's not going to hand over control to outsiders. But there has to be a happy medium there somewhere. I'm disappointed they're not even trying to find it.