Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Name Game Blame Game

The naming of avs is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games.
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you an av must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES...

To wit, your User Name, Display Name, Full Name and possibly Legacy Name.  Wait, that's four.  I'm confused already, and so are a lot of other people.  And it may be about to get worse.  Let's recap....

Prior to the late-middle of  2010, avatar names were actually quite simple.  You signed up for SL, and you picked yourself a first name, which could be any sequence of ordinary letters, and you then chose from a list of allowable last names supplied by Linden Lab.  This was not popular with everybody, but it worked OK, it created a weird sense of community among people with the same last name (I have wandered over with a cheery "Hello cousin!" to the odd other Bulmer I have encountered, and some of them are very odd, let me tell you), and in general people got by with it.  So, all right, some people picked silly names like, for example, "Glorf" and were then saddled with them, but that wasn't really all that much of an issue....

... well, except for two or three classes of people who wanted some ability to change their names.  The first group consisted of people with a legitimate reason for wanting a permanent name change.  These might be business people who wanted to use their RL names in SL, or it might be people who, for example, had taken SL partners and wanted to change their surnames to reflect their SL family status.  (A third example, of people who just had rubbish names and wanted to upgrade, can safely be ignored; they should have known better than to call themselves "Glorf" in the first place.)

The second group consisted of roleplayers who wanted to be able to shift between multiple personas as whim (or RP need) took them.  After all, if you start off in a Roman RP sim and drift away a bit and get invited to take part in a Star Trek RP, it'd be pretty grim if you had to keep an inappropriate name like "Tiberius".... wait, bad example.  But my point stands.

Now, it may be apparent to you that these two classes of people actually want different things.  One of them wants a permanent name change, one time only (or at least one time for the foreseeable future only).  The second group wants a whole constellation of different setting-appropriate aliases that they can change between at will.  Can you see the difference, there?  Well, that makes you smarter than Linden Lab, then!

In the latter half of 2010, LL announced a completely new and different approach to names, and fur has been flying ever since.  The whole first-name-last-name thing would be gone; you would have a single user name that was just one single string of letters.  But, people said, surely people would soon run out of coherent and sensible things to call themselves, and would be forced to resort to things like "33434434" and suchlike?  (Genuine example, btw, I know the guy.)  That doesn't matter, said LL, because no one will ever see these names.  All they will ever see is the brand-spanking-new Display Name, which can be anything you like, can include all sorts of funky Unicode characters, and can be changed whenever you like!

Astute observers will have noticed that that's not the system we've got now; it was pointed out, with some force, to LL that a setup where anybody can change their name to anything is as close to a full-scale griefers' charter as one could possibly imagine.  And so, after some hemming and hawing, the current system was adopted, whereby:-
  • The basic User Name is always visible,
  • If you do bother with a Display Name, other people can choose whether or not they see it
  • You can change your Display Name only once a week
  • There are some protections against impersonation - especially in the case of the Linden last name, for pretty obvious reasons
  • Because a whole bunch of existing scripts, and even the login screens of third party viewers, would get broken by the change, a setup was introduced whereby the word "Resident" was used as a placeholder for the last name in the case of a new, single-named avatar.  This is where the idea of "everyone now has the last name of Resident" comes from
Clear as mud?  Right.  But this is where the three different names come from.  I used to be called "Glorf Bulmer", but that is only my Legacy Name now, only it's sometimes also referred to as a Full Name.  My actual User Name is "glorf.bulmer".  I don't bother with a Display Name, normally, though I did once call myself "Brian Spartacus" just to make a point.

I sometimes wonder if the Lab could have come up with anything that so singularly failed to meet anyone's needs or expectations.  You want to change your User Name to reflect your in-world marriage?  You still can't.  You can change your Display Name, of course, but many people won't bother with it, and anyway it isn't the permanent change you were hoping for.  As for the roleplayer communities; well, I just hope you enjoy playing the same role for a minimum of a week at a time.  (Actually, you can change from your Display Name back to your User Name - well, OK, your Full Name - I think - any time you like, but you can't take on another Display Name for another week once you've done that.)

(Are you still mixed up about these Full Names?  So am I.  It might help to think about a newer, single-named avi; if their User Name is "affordablecustompcsdotcom" - again, not a made-up example - then their Full Name is "affordablecustompcsdotcom", but their Legacy Name is "affordablecustompcsdotcom Resident".  Clear as mud, I know.)

Ancillary problems have, of course, developed.  Gibberish User Names very quickly became the norm, as new users discovered the names they wanted were already taken, couldn't think of an acceptable alternative, and settled for adding on random strings of numbers and letters until they found something that worked.  The option to include Unicode characters in Display Names allowed many non-English users to have names in their own alphabets, a triumph! - except for English-speaking users who had no idea how to type in those new names.  (And if someone's Display Name is in Chinese ideograms, and their User Name is something like "ituweds7533dkfteq", one's conversational options are pretty much limited to "Hey, you over there with the face".)  The whole "Resident" marker became synonymous with "newbie" in people's minds, leading to discrimination and distrust, leading to resentment and further distrust.

And let us not even talk about the problems for scripters, or for merchants (LL made the boneheaded decision to use Display Names in transaction logs, the one place where you absolutely have to have a clear record of who you've been dealing with), or people with obscene or otherwise unacceptable Display Names and even User Names (like "affordablecustompcsdotcom" and his wife "mrsaffordablecustompcsdotcom", lovely couple that they were)....

Now, it would be fair to say that this state of affairs has attracted adverse comment.  Granted, pretty much everything LL does from breathing upwards attracts adverse comment, but in this case it was fairly well deserved.  A change request (SVC-7125 ) was officially made, and it has attracted thousands of votes and a comment trail a mile long.

And, now, Linden Lab is moving on this.  And I just hope they're moving in something like the right direction.

Granted, I am more confident about LL these days; under the direction of its new CEO, things seem brighter and happier than they were.  Rodvik Linden has not been afraid to listen to SL residents and introduce improvements (the new V3 viewer answers pretty much all the genuine criticisms levelled at Viewer 2, for instance) and even to reverse his own mistakes (the much-touted and thoroughly horrible "Basic Mode" was quietly dropped once its Bad Idea-ness was amply demonstrated).  So I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some effective change on this issue.

Except... the latest messages we've had on the topic indicate all sorts of odd things being considered, "user-community-granted titles" being among them.  And I am dreadfully worried that this might mean they are thinking of some new system of Byzantine and wonderful complexity - and that this might prove to be even more of a dog's breakfast than the current system.

So... all I can say is: please, Lindens, don't eff this one up again.


  1. You know, you just KNOW they will! But I'm crossing my fingers, too.

    Wonderful blog, Glorf! I've added it to my Follow list.

    1. Thank you! and thank you for commenting - I was starting to think I was talking to myself here!

      (Not that that would stop me. Oh dear no.)