Monthly Archives: December 2008

Practice purrfect

This article was originally posted to on December 16, 2008

This morning I had a chance to catch a practice session for Waypoint Yacht Club’s upcoming Leetle Cup Distance Race. I couldn’t help running back here to post a few snapshots!

Taku Raymaker’s designed a simply spectacular course for this contest, and it should be enormous fun for both sailors and spectators alike. The view above shows the fleet on a reach as it cuts through the “roaring 40s” on the way from South rock to West rock.

West rock safely in the distance, next stop is Christmas Island, a good 15 sims  further North.  In fact it’s so far North, it’s already snowcovered!

A great fleet of sailors turned out for this practice session, and the weather conditions for sailing proved near perfect (except for  a few laggy spots in the far south latitudes below Vella Lavella Island and over in the Schooner Run).

Although this was just a practice race, the entire fleet demonstrated rather terrific ability sailing this new Trudeau pocket rocket, and the fastest boats completed a course in slightly more than one hour.

Woots go to the whole fleet:

Yacht Harbour
shinobi Woodget
Kei Cioc
Takeshi Schnyder
Massy Johin
macro Nacht
Miwha Masala
REVO Blitz
Odysseus Yiyuan
Sizimi Babenco
Dahral Huet

The official race is scheduled for a week from today, December 23 at 6:00am. Don’t miss it. From today’s preview, it looks like the LCDR has a wonderful course matched by a truly great, enthusiastic race fleet!


Talk like a Sailor

Originally posted to on December 5th, 2008

Sailors Talk Tiga

Sailing has expanded quite a bit over the past two years. There’s now a wide variety of boats to choose from, and the physics algorithm that powers boats is progressively closer to a true emulation of real-life sailing.  At the same time, the number of sailors has steadily increased over the interval and the regions available for sailing on both the mainland and in private estates has dramatically increased as well. As the sailing community grew and diversified, the number of yacht clubs also increased; for example, at the moment there are seven clubs in the United Sailing Sims alone!

Although each yacht club and sailing group has its own unique focus and style, they all share common interests and goals. In fact most sailors are members of several yacht clubs; there’s no real rivalry between the clubs for membership, financial support, or even for first place bragging rights at a regatta. I think it seems clear to all that the clubs accomplish more when they work together on  projects we all believe in.  Having said that, it’s worth commenting that there are few opportunities where the officers from different clubs can get together and brainstorm ways to jointly solve common problems.  Since sailors are members of multiple clubs, it may not have seemed necessary in the past, but as SL sailing grows, the number of issues and potential problems will mount in parallel.  It’s increasingly clear that the major clubs need a mechanism to communicate, to cooperate on projects, and to resolve problems and misunderstandings.

Toward that end, on November 15 Schiffsratten Yacht Club hosted an open meeting of sailors from the various clubs and sailing groups in Second Life. TigaThe purpose of that initial meeting was to get the race directors and officers from different clubs to sit down and talk together about common issues, without any specific agenda on the table. The need for better communication was obvious as I spoke with sailors and club officers about the scheduled meeting. A large percentage of them did not know where the Schiffsratten Yacht Club was located (it’s in Tiga sim), and some had no idea who the Schiffsratten were. The same was true for Le Club de Voile Les Glenans. Clearly we all need to be talking more.

The meeting was very well attended; 20 – 30 sailors participated in the discussion, representing Starboards, Nantucket, Fisher’s Island, Tradewind and Mowry Bay Yacht Clubs, as well as Les Glenans Sailing Club. Taku Raymaker from Waypoint Yacht Club was not able to attend because of scheduling, but he stated he was happy to participate in subsequent meetings.

Yacht Clubs and Estate Management.

It might be helpful to back up just a bit and  talk about the various kinds of sailing clubs in Second Life, and how they differ from each other.

If you want to build a sailing program, two items are pretty essential. First, you need water, preferably a region with multiple interconnected sims and navigable waterways. You also need estate owners that support sailing who are willing to enforce sim use policies that are favorable for sailing. Second, you need sailors. It’s important to foster an organized group of sailors, a community, that works to build and expand programs of racing, cruising and community activities. In order to be successful, any sailing  community requires both of these elements; a well-managed, dedicated place to sail, and a well-managed, dedicated yacht club full of sailors. Both are equally important.

That might seem obvious, but I’m emphasizing it here because occasionally issues arise where the estate owners and the Yacht Clubs may legitimately have a different opinions. That should not be surprising; the owners and club officers have different responsibilities and perspectives, even though they may ultimately share the same vision and goals. Because they see different sides of sailing issues, When disagreements arise the owners and club officers are ideally positioned to work together for a mutually agreeable solution that serves the best interests of the sailing community.

While estate owners and managers have responsibility for property issues, the yacht clubs are primarily SL Groups; they organize sailing events and represent the sailors when community issues arise.  This distinction sometimes gets blurry, however, since there are basically two kinds of yacht clubs. One type of club is created by, and intimately linked to, the estate owners. The club and the sailing sims are are owned and managed by the same individuals, and the yacht clubs serve mixed functions. Starboards Yacht Club and Fishers Island Yacht Club are examples. A second type of club are the independent yacht clubs in second life. They may have a well-established physical presence that usually includes a clubhouse, waterfront space, and one or more race lines, but the yacht club remains separate from estate ownership and management. Waypoint Yacht Club, Nantucket Yacht Club, Schiffratten Yacht Club, Mowry Bay Yacht Club, Tradewinds Yacht Club and Free Adriatic are examples. I’m not arguing here that one system is better than the other; I’m simply acknowledging what presently exists, since the relationship with estates undoubtedly does influence the policies and procedures of the clubs. Mark Twain somewhat colorfully acknowledged this issue a few weeks ago at a general meeting at Starboards yacht club, noting that some of the clubs “had dirty hands,” and the lines between estate owners and clubs were blurred.

I think it’s fair to say that most of the clubs acknowledge this potential problem, and try their best not to get too soiled in the process. In day-to-day operations and planning, the issues of who owns which club and what estate rarely emerge, unless a permissions issue arises.

Common issues.

The group on November 15 asked Jane Fossett to chair the meeting. Jane stayed for the first 50 minutes, then asked Chad Sawson to take over. The group agreed to give Taku Raymaker copies of the minutes.

The group began by discussing the purpose of the meeting and potential issues the sailing group might address. At the time of the meeting there was an ongoing ‘crisis’ over a change in Linden policy for OS sims that could seriously impact sailing on private estates. The eight USS estate owners were engaged in ongoing discussions on how to reorganize in response to the Linden changes. Some sailors attending the meeting thought there was nothing for the sailors to discuss, and the meeting should be postponed to a time we knew where we could sail. Others wanted to make recommendations to the owners and give advice.

After a lively discussion, the group seemed to reach a consensus that  a plan to handle the sim issues was the responsibility of the owners, and that the sailors should focus on sailing issues.  There was general consensus that a number of sailing issues were largely independent of sim boundaries.

Notecard dispenser at NYC

Jane Fossett brought up the first sailor issue: A need for the clubs to share general information with each other, and the need for the group to post “public service announcements” about sailing in SL. The announcements would give new SL members information about sailing in second life; they might also include very practical details on how interested people could visit the yacht clubs and when/ where they might get sailing lessons. The group agreed this was a good idea.

Nber Medici and  Jane Fossett came up with a basic notecard this past summer that was handed out during the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. I have revised the text a few times since then, but it’s still could use a additional input from the individual clubs.  A draft of the present version of this announcement is available here, and if you want a copy of the actual poster and notecard dispenser, you can get one in front of the NYC clubhouse. this is a joint venture that should benefit SL members, all of the yacht clubs, and hopefully serve the SL members.

Sailors should provide new or revised versions of the information in the notecard concerning their club, and feel free to take actual copies of the poster and place them at appropriate locations so an increasing number of interested users might learn why sailing is so remarkable in SL.

The poster/ notecard was available during the Heroes Sailing for Life event and its still posted at NYC and SYC. Hopefully other clubs will have a chance to post it once they add their own information and where needed translate it into their language. In the last two weeks the poster’s gone up at Virtual Ability and New Citizens Plaza (thank you Chaos for that).

The second issue was brought up by Epicurus Emmons, the Commodore of Fishers Island Yacht Club. Epi stated he was interested in teaching  new sailors how to sail Trudeau Leetle Cats. Several individuals expressed their interest in this same subject or alternative topics related to beginner sailing instruction. Jane Fossett emphasized that for a considerable period of time  Starboard Yacht Club has been teaching “learn to sail” every Sunday. it was important not to interfere with such a successful program. Chad Sawson acknowledged that Starboards’ is in the process of reorganizing their program.  Chad’s vision was to teach a class on the principles of sailing, independent of any specific boat.  How to apply those concepts to the boat the student owns, or a boat the student is thinking about purchasing remains to be seen.

There was broad consensus among all present that teaching was an important aspect of a yacht club’s mandate.  It’s fair to say that all of the clubs were not only willing to participate in specific forms of sailing education, they were quite enthusiastic on the subject and wanted to be involved.

Jane Fossett recommended that a committee be formed to work out details concerning the way teaching should be divided up across the clubs while also considering different sail platforms. Chad Sawson today stated that in response to the meeting he will draft an outline proposal and circulate it amongst the officers of the various clubs this coming week.

Teaching is our life-blood in SL sailing, it is where our new sailors come from. All of the clubs and sailing groups should be involved.

Ship rats sailing the AdriaticJane Fossett then brought up a third point:multiple languages.  At the present time, Nantucket yacht club frequently meets sailors who primarily speak Japanese, German, Italian or French.  It’s NYC’s policy to make sure those sailors know that second life has language-specific sailing clubs.  NYC won’t discourage anybody from joining their yacht club; They just want make sure new students are also aware they can meet sailors and receive sailing instruction in their primary language. this overlaps the first point above concerning information and advertising.  It’s important that new students know all the services available to them.

There was strong consensus on this point.

The group completed its meeting with a sense that the yacht clubs did indeed have an important voice in SL sailing, and the size and complexity of the sailing communities across the grid made cooperation and communication among the clubs more important than ever.

A new meeting will be arranged as soon as the groups working on the issues outlined above have progress they can report and proposals for the clubs to discuss.

Wages of Sim

Originally posted to on December 2nd, 2008

Orca Flotta stated: I really don’t get it. …not too long ago we weer charging tiers fees of 2125 L/week for 1/4 OS sim. And we sold land like crazy. …Now after the upcoming increse in fees… the tier fee will be 2044 L/week. Big deal! …Can’t they see 2044 is still cheaper than the 2125 they had to pay only a few months ago???
Also I want to add that LL is recently busy with a major operation trying to make its network of servers more reliable, stable, and faster. …These activities are pricey, LL isn’t earning nearly as much money as many of you think they do. In fact they are borrwing money on a great scale … and of course the are trying to squeech out as much as possible from their customer base as possible.
In the end LL will again be at the top of their game, always one or two or more steps ahead of the many new contenders in the field of virtual worlds.
So the best advice I could give you now is a pretty lame one: SIT IT OUT! Or, if you think you must opt out of OS then be offensive: Upgrade to full sims instead of throwing in the towel completely.

I very much respect Orca’s opinion and we usually end up in agreement, but I disagree with Orca’s main points on this issue.

I can’t comment on the significance of her sim rental fees numbers, since each real estate development group works out an individual pricing strategy designed to recoup its costs and hopefully generate some profit. Selling a large volume of sim properties for a low price sounds good, but only if that price is realistic and covers all the costs.

At the same time, it’s undeniable that the 67% increase in Linden monthly tier and 50% increase in initial sim setup cost will negatively impact new sim purchases and small profit margins will require owners and developers to pass the increased charges on to renters and parcel owners. They will be forced to increase the weekly or monthly charges previously established by secondary real estate agreements, and many renters and buyers will protest or back out of their previously stable and mutually agreeable deals. When that happens, more likely than not the owners will need to add an additional surcharge to rental properties to cover the increased risk of the investment, given the loss of confidence in LL and the associated market instability. Of course this will cause further damage and escalate uncertainty even more. One might easily conclude that real estate sales will remain flat on the floor for the foreseeable future, and my real guess is the floor will collapse too. See Bitova Loon’s comment relevant to this point.

However, let me also state that my criticism of LL is not soley about the extra cost to landowners resulting from the astronomical hike in LL’s OS monthly tier.

I think the OS sim ‘problem‘ became a ‘crisis‘ because of LL management’s handling of the issue. LL appeared to inadequately plan the rollout for such a major policy change; prior to October 27 they failed to work with the user base to develop options that might mitigate the damage to the estates and projects involved. Following the October 27 announced policy change a predictable user uproar occurred, but once again LL showed apparent gross mismanagement of the deluge of user questions and concerns that were legitimately raised in response to the new policy. If there was any LL public relations effort to keep LL’s image and reputation with it’s users from driving straight off a cliff, I didn’t see it.

There are several web opinions that accuse LL of managerial ineptitude or mere ignorance over their handling of this issue, and twice this past week people savvy with the industry remarked that I was wasting my time hunting for a deeper, more complex explanation for LL’s actions. “Don’t attribute to conspiracy those actions that are readily explained by incompetence.”

Although I respect that advice, I don’t buy it in this case. It’s far too easy, and too frequently a tremendous mistake, to assume that decisions that contradict past policy and anger the user base are the result of mere mismanagement. I think it’s far more likely LL’s recent decisions reflect a significant correction in their business model and strategy. LL has a smart team; they didn’t fumble, they switched to a new playbook. That view makes more sense and is consistent with public statements, common business management strategy, and the recent sequence of events.

Most businesses go through at least three phases. There are probably a lot more phases, but remember it’s me explaining this and three is about the maximum I can handle at once. Phase One is the start-up phase. The company focuses on product awareness and user acceptance as well as brand identification. Phase One companies often need a relatively large staff and a considerable budget to establish public awareness and market position for the new product. In Phase One, the sales force focuses on building a broad and diverse user/customer base with knowledge and interest in the product. A company’s business plan will often anticipate a substantial loss during Phase One, since the startup expenses are large and little product is sold at full price. It’s common for a company to give away introductory free versions of a new product — which could be software, laundry detergent, broadband access, or bubblegum — during Phase One promotions.

At some point in the first couple years a company achieves Phase One goals; the company has name recognition and a diverse and growing user base. Thrilled by all the attention and support, many users develop niche applications using the company’s platform. The company encourages user-developed third-party products as a ‘win-win thing’ that benefits everyone.

At this point the company will often shift its business strategy to what I’ll call Phase Two. In my opinion, Phase Two is where LL is now sitting. Phase Two’s primary goal is to maximize profit from the sale of Phase One products and services. A Phase Two company will often strongly limit further R&D and focus on the core products. That eliminates costly staff and streamlines product identification and marketing; no more confusion over ‘upgrades.’ The company can cut back on its human sales staff and largely eliminate meaningful customer support as well, riding largely on Phase One success and core product focus.

Although Phase One cultivated an encouraged a broad-based and diverse user group, in Phase Two the standardized, “proven and market-accepted products” are more profitably re-targeted to corporations rather than individual users.

Mitch Kapor SL5B KeynoteMitch Kapor provided an interesting assessment of Second Life’s current position and future direction recently as part of his keynote address at SL5B. Although the terms he used to describe SL’s transitions were different, in large measure he was making the same point that I’m discussing here. He argued that the initial public phase of development for a new communication interface like SL involves a community that was primarily made up of “early adopters.” As I understood his point, this group largely consists of innovative and technically knowledgeable individuals that are willing to evaluate and adopt new tools they feel have significant promise.  The “early adopters” are the Phase One users/customers I discussed above.  They have a very important role in the company’s early stages, identifying new uses for the product, developing services and third-party applications based on the product, and helping the company evolve an interface that is easy to learn but also highly robust across a wide range of interests and user adaptations.

Kapor then described the next step.  Once a product like second life has been widely accepted by a broad user community of “early adopters” that have demonstrated the value of the product, helped develop new applications for it, and identified a variety of market segments where the it could be particularly useful, a transition occurs.  At that point the “pragmatists” are willing to step in to strongly ramp-up the market acceptance of the platform and strongly expand the user base.  Mitch Kapor SL5B keynoteKapor made it clear that his “pragmatists”  were corporate business users, although he preferred the more general term “pragmatists” since it defined their motivation; Kapor included large nonprofits as well business corporations in the pragmatist group. The switch from “early adopters” to “pragmatists” is analogous in broad strokes to my discussion of “Phase One” and “Phase Two” above.

It’s probably no surprise that Kapor emphasized SL was now right at the transition from his phase one early adopters to those phase two pragmatists. since he emphasized innovative uses of the platform, there was little discussion of the significance of this transition for LL’s  actual business strategy. However Kapor left little doubt that those essential, innovative early adopters were now pretty much benched for the rest of the game.  It was time to bring in the big players, it was time for LL to cater to the corporate business world. If Kapor was talking to a different audience he might have added “and it’s time to focus on profit so LL can pay off its investors.”

As I said, Kapor did not address LL’s strategy in this transition and next phase. For example, one big question is: How does the company maximize profits while it makes a strategic switch away from individual end users and towards corporate clients? Well, one possible tactic as part of a bigger strategy might be to strongly ramp up the cost of products and services to individual end-users, particularly those that encourage third-party entrepreneurs. Under Phase Two, LL might ramp up OS sim tier by 67% and actually maintain the income from private sims despite the loss of a significant segment of end users that don’t fit the Linden strategy.

LL’s decision to cancel past policies and agreements that gave price breaks to educational and nonprofit groups using OS sims seemed a particularly cold-blooded application of this strategy.
(Good grief Lindens, was that really necessary?)

I know, I know…
“It’s business, it’s not personal.”