Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Glorf by any Other Name

Revisiting the topic addressed in this post in the light of Rodvik Linden's very disappointing response on the subject.  (Bad Rodvik!  No plaudits-from-obscure-SL-blogger-nobody's-ever-heard-of!)

There has been a lot of heat already shed on the question of names, and I doubt I shall be able to shed any more light, but here goes.  It seems to me that the problem is reducible to a couple of bullet points:-
  • New users want to be able to have a user name that looks like a real human name.
  • Right now, they can't do that.
There has been much shouting about the (frankly dubious) merits of both the new Display Names and the old pick-a-last-name-from-the-list system, and really, one could address the central issue without either.  I'm sure nobody wants to get rid of Display Names (although, as I said last time, they really are a hopeless compromise that pleases nobody much), and as for the list system, it just takes time and effort from someone at Linden Lab who could probably be more usefully employed fixing the damn bugs already.

Rodvik's last pronouncements on the matter contained, to my mind, a germ of common sense, in that he suggested being able to use some special characters, like dashes and underscores, in a new user name.  Being able to be jack-bloggs instead of jackbloggs12345 would, at least, be a tiny step forward.  Presumably, some client-side validation is going to be needed to make sure people don't call themselves "--------" or something.  Or maybe not, what do I know?

The more-or-less obvious solution, it seems to me, would be to allow periods in the name - remember, when the Great Change In Naming occurred, all existing avatar names were converted to the unitary format, only with a period to indicate where the first name left off and the last name began.  I am "Glorf" to some and "Miss Bulmer" to others, but to the servers I am simply "glorf.bulmer".  A bit of software finagling allows that to appear as "Glorf Bulmer", on my nametag and where scripts call for two-part names.

I don't pretend to be privy to the internal workings of the SL software, but I don't see any reason why, in principle, if "glorf.bulmer" is a workable name, I shouldn't be allowed to sign up as "glorftwo.electricboogaloo" tomorrow.  (I mean, apart from obvious ones involving good taste.)  I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this - in fact, I'm told the whole idea has been explicitly disallowed already, and why, I cannot for the life of me imagine.

But, then, I don't understand the reasoning behind the single-part names in the first place - the back-end changes must have been a chore to do, and I can't think of anybody on the user side of things who actually wanted this change.  It would make sense if, as with (say) Dungeons and Dragons Online, you had a login identifier you came in with, and then picked which character/identity you wanted to appear with inworld.  But SL doesn't work like this, and there are no signs that it ever will.

It is always a bad idea to impute motives to people you don't know, but I wonder if the whole Display Names thing isn't somebody's pet idea, and they are plugging it, and shooting down any suggestions of viable alternatives, in the hope that eventually the user base will get tired and give up and go along with it.  If so, bad idea.  As I pointed out last time, the reason why Display Names haven't taken the world by storm is not because SL users are reactionary and afraid of change; it's because Display Names are an inadequate compromise attempt to meet two different demands.  Ploughing on down the "get everyone to use Display Names" path, therefore, is a Bad Move.  The Lab has reversed itself and backed away from Bad Moves before now, and I hope they will have the wisdom to do so again.

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