Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Is OpenSim For?

          What is OpenSim for?
          Many things. It's like a large garden, with different flowerbeds, trees, rockeries and ponds, maybe a vegetable patch, and a compost heap too. Each zone  has its own needs, but they are all connected.
          By what? Paths, weather conditions, hedges... but above all, the will of the gardener.
          So, which are you? Are you planted in the garden, or are you a gardener? Or do you belong to a middle category? And why does it matter?
          Over the past few weeks you may have seen a poll on G+ and in Facebook.
          This is the G+ Poll, as of today.

          G+ is not a very poll-friendly forum, but the immediacy of the stark question 'What is open sim for' was designed to get your gut reaction. Some kind folks apparently thought I was looking for a wiki definition, rather than a 'choose one' opinion from each participant, but hey, that's G+ for you.

As you can see, the absolute winner in this poll is sharing. It thoroughly beat 'building for yourself' which most people would probably admit was what got them into open sim to start with. Over the past couple of years, the community aspects of open sim have blossomed and seem set to go from strength to strength.
          Here is the Facebook poll. The structure of Facebook polls allows for more options, and lets you choose 'all of the above' if you want. But in the end, the top two, 'making stuff', and 'enjoying other's builds', were way ahead. So again, sharing is significant in people's minds.

          The least surprising thing is that nobody wanted to admit they are inworld looking for love. I don't believe that, but hey.
          Almost nobody voted for making money. Is there anything wrong with admitting you are in it for the cash?  On G+ making money and work are combined, yet it still only managed to get a small percentage of the vote.
          But the really quite shocking thing is that so few people voted for 'improving the code'. Now, I know most devs don't 'do social' and are still walking with the dinosaurs over on IRC (don't worry, they won't be offended by that, I'm pretty sure devs don't read blogs like this one) so for sure, they did not vote on either poll, and we are missing their voices. But this poll suggests that, despite dev meetings and mantises and whatever else, there is a massive disconnect between, to continue the metaphor, the plants and the gardeners.
          Wait, no, that's wrong. It is not a massive disconnect. It is a difference in perspective.
          Let me give you an example.
          Freaky Tech has developed a fork of OpenSim called Arriba, which a lot of people love. I am sure it is great, I'm not a code person so I can't really have an opinion. However, one thing he brought up in our recent visit to his region on Dereos illustrates my point. 
          Freaky explained that he has special settings for a party sim. Profiles are disabled, to reduce lag. There is also an issue with people clicking on their Map to tp to the place where they see the little green dots representing the group of party-goers - if you do that, you may crash the sim, or get kicked. So he plans to disable the green dots, so as to discourage people from clicking on the Map picture. 
          Makes sense.
          When Freaky, who is very smart and very kind,  came up with these two solutions to lag and crashing, I imagine he was basing himself on the tight knit, familiar community he calls home. Not being part of a single grid community myself, my first reaction was - That is a terrible idea! Why would anyone NOT want/need to look at people's profiles?Plus - hasn't it ever happened to you, that you were unsure if your clothes are going to rez, so you tp to a quiet spot on the sim, wait for your appearance to normalize, and then tp over to the group? You ladies know what I mean.
          There has to be a point where the efficiency of a region serves the purpose of the region - and that purpose, that 'what is it for?' is a question with a more complex answer than we may at first think.
          In the short term the disconnect or difference in perspective between plants and gardeners means ..what? Problems are grumbled about instead of being reported. Is this because reports are not taken seriously, ignored, or acknowledged and then forgotten? Is this true? If it is, what could we 'Joe Ordinarys' do to help that situation?
           Everyone is a volunteer here, and nobody is obligated to do a whole lot of boring work in their spare time.
          Fixing code is - it's got to be - boring. Even if some say it's relaxing, it's kinda boring. You know how I know that? If it wasn't boring, all the bugs would have been fixed a long time ago.
          The good people who do this work donate valuable time to the project, and they deserve our thanks and respect. The question is - does only the code-maker's time have value? Do the end users matter to the devs? It's one of those questions that makes you think of The Matrix... are we alive, or are we cascading green numerals?
          If, just to give a silly example, it takes me 20 minutes to make one hg jump to organize a safari trip, do those 20 minutes have the same value as 20 minutes spent by a dev looking at the code?
          I suspect if they were brutally honest, they would say no. People always think their own time and talent is worth more than other people's. What do you think? Do you get a different vibe?
          In the long term, the disconnect between users and makers might be even more significant. This is where that middle category, neither all plant or all gardener, could make the difference. Experiencing OpenSim in the way that the majority of its users do (as opposed to being inworld, but just tucked away on your own region) requires a little bit of a different mind set, perhaps, but it is surely a healthy way to run things. Don't forget, what we do with open sim as a community affects how much money people are prepared to contribute to its development.
          The fundamental overarching purpose of OpenSim ought to form a sort of road map that all of us could contribute to.
          Did it ever have one, and has this changed over recent years? Perhaps not... what do you think? 
          What features do we need to make it a viable place for people to do their stuff? You may say, an infinite number of features. In that case, what do the majority need or want? What features should be protected? What matters more to you, (again, just to give an example) that your Friends List doesn't suddenly go walkabout, or that you can smoothly cross a sim border in a physical vehicle? 
          Maybe you don't care about your contacts, maybe you only come inworld to sail around your own region by yourself. That is certainly the way OpenSim used to feel, a lot of very loosely connected folk just doing their own thing. The polls suggest those days are waning. 
          And maybe Friends and Physics are both possible.
          The word on the street is 'it's going to be a bumpy ride'. My question is - where is this ride going?

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