Saturday, February 25, 2012

TPS Reports, I mean TPV Policy

I might as well weigh in on the latest controversy to shake the metaverse and Bring About The Death Of The Grid, namely the revision of LL's policy for including Third Party Viewers in its official directory of same.

The basic points of contention seem to be two-fold; firstly, a tightening of controls on privacy - specifically, information that can be requested about another user by the viewer you're using - and, secondly, the requirement that a TPV cannot include stuff that "affects the shared world experience" of SL users.  And, honestly, one can see both sides, about both these points.

To start with the obvious - the first constraint means a lot of useful stuff, things like identifying what viewer someone else is running in (for example), will no longer be allowable and will disappear.  The second is easily seen as LL excercising a strict and onerous creative control over the product, stifling innovation except on lines that the Lab defines or permits.  Commentators have been quick to suggest how this is going to cripple development for compliant TPVs, some going so far as to infer than LL has declared war on TPVs in general.

You can see their point.  However, you can also see LL's point, albeit you might have to think about it a bit.  The tightening up on private information has fairly obvious roots; in this age of Facebook and data mining and suchlike, people want to be able to control what personal information is given out about them online, and strict privacy controls in the viewer code help to ensure that nobody learns anything about you that you don't want them to know.  LL has always been big on privacy in SL, it's a cornerstone of the TOS, it's a consistent position for the Lab to take.  (And, arguably, some TPV creators have been abusively intrusive in garnering data from their users.)

The second point is more a matter of interpretation, and, while some commentators have taken interpretations to all sorts of extremes, it's fairly easy to deduce what LL wants this policy to mean.  It's all about the world of SL being consistent for everyone.  The first thing I thought of, when I saw this, was a TPV development which breached it in a very obvious way - the old Emerald viewer's extra attachment points.  If you had Emerald, you could stick attachments on places other people didn't have; if you didn't have Emerald, you saw those attachments placed in some pretty bizarre arrangements on the avatars in question - I've seen one person apparently impaled on a feather boa, another with her prim (ahem) floating around her midriff (and, really, that one is something you'd want to keep private).  So, LL wants, not to impose a vicious Fascistic hegemony onto TPV development, but simply to prevent the world from turning into a complicated visual mess.  (Again, you have to note that LL's own work on extra attachments actually resulted in more possible attachments in a  more flexible arrangement than the Emerald approach.  So, it would make sense, wouldn't it, to nip the less productive development approach in the bud?)

In short, the whole situation is rather like the English Civil War, with TPV devs in the role of the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and LL as the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive).  And, one has to say, the LL developers really could have tried a little harder to be less Repulsive over this.  I can't help feeling that they have an attitude - not, by any means, uncommon among developers - that they are proceeding along logical lines of development, and of course they are doing their best, and of course they have SL's best interests at heart, and of course they know what they're doing, so, really, we should all leave things in their capable hands and trust them to get on with it.

In much the same way, I think, developers at Microsoft once said to themselves; hey, our new Active Desktop stuff has communications protocols based on web stuff, right? and we need HTTP integration at a low level in that, so of course it makes sense to take this to a higher level too, and of course it makes perfect sense to bundle our Internet viewer with our OS, and hey, no one's going to object to us giving away IE4 for free with every operating system, are they?

Regrettably, sometimes developers need better political senses.

As someone who is usually described on the charge sheet as a computer programmer herself, I can't help but sympathize with the Lab's team a little, here; I feel they do genuinely mean well, and if you stop to think about it, they do have perfectly valid points here.  At the same time, somebody should have thought about how this policy change was to be presented.  Users and TPV developers are wary, not without reason, of such obiter dicta coming out of LL... and, also, there's no doubt that this will have a negative impact on users, and that it will hobble the pace of development in TPVs, possibly to the same pace as LL's, which is worryingly slow in some important areas.

The thing is: this is not an attack on TPVs, or an attempt to wrest away creative control of projects.  But, for a number of reasons - some of them perfectly sound - it's being seen that way.  And the Lab really should have seen that in advance, and done something to prevent it - annouce proposals in advance, invite discussion, make their case in a persuasive manner.  You might argue that they don't need to do this - SL is, after all, ultimately their property - and that it would take up time that could be better devoted to other things, like bug fixing for example.  Possibly.  But LL does need not to butt heads with its users on issues like this, too.  It's not enough for them just to be Right; they really need to be less Repulsive, as well.