My apologies to everyone!

It has been a real shock when I realized I missed the last email from Linden Labs stating that they are removing the sims from the grid, though not deleting them yet, until the final outstanding funds are paid.  I was not expecting this to happen until the end of January, but for reasons unknown, but understandable taken the time that has passed, the sims were removed.

Firstly about Linden Labs – they have been fantastic since I lost my job and we were left in what I would call dire need as a family.  After attempting to apply for over 131 jobs online and in person, I finally gave up and settled back in South Africa to find a lower paid job and help my new little family survive.  Sadly the country has exchange controls in place which make moving funds offshore (from South Africa to the US for example) almost impossible.  Though I have not had all the funds to pay, I would have been able to pay the bulk of the debts soon.  Lindens have been waiting for this to happen since August, but sadly we were always almost US$1,000 behind in payments and their patience understandably have finally run out.  That said, I wish to thank them all for their kindness since they are a business and not a charity, but still chose to work with VW and I to see what we can do to resolve this mess.

About Dumisani Ah – Dumi has not been inworld as I chose to remain offline until I could pay my debts. This way the sims had hope of being live for as long as possible and the debt outstanding only prevented my avatar from accessing SL in-world.  It was a hard hard hard thing to do since I had missed so much of what was happening, and more importantly missed my very best friends, you all in Bishara.  Dumi has a chance to still prevent the deletion of the sims if I can pay the outstanding within the next month.  For that to happen I need to close two very important deals and use the commissions from that to settle the debt to Linden Labs.  I am still positive this can happen, but I am not wanting to create any false hope, so watch this space and we see what can be done.

Bisharians – I have been honored to have met some of the most amazing friends in-world that I could ever wish to meet even in RL.  You are all simply fantastic and the support I had from you all to help me save the sims, and especially from VW and the clan, will never never be forgotten.  Thank you very very much!

Surfers – What can I say to describe the shame I feel for dropping you all so badly and losing you three fantastic surf spots!  I do not have the courage to face any of you really, but want to share with you all at least this that I tried everything I could to find the funds to pay LL the backlog.  Sadly the sims have never been profitable or at a breakeven point, even when VW and I tried adding all kinds of things to them.  So the backlog simply grew and grew, and as I usually subsidize that outstanding bit every month, the sims cost became impossible to cover.  Again, if I can change this I would, as you all deserve to have these places back again.

Landowners – Some of the most important people to me have been those of you who bought and own land in Bishara Resorts.  How do I apologize for disappointing you all?  I cannot really say anything to give you back what you have lost, and as I am totally unsure what happens to your land, can only say I hope that there is some compensation from LL.  Please know that I landed in this position only because I lost my job in May, and after many promises from my employer, the 3 month backlog in salaries too.  It is the harsh reality of the global economy these days that we are all at the mercy of investors, shareholders and bosses who wish to move their funds to safer havens and do so at a wim at times.  I apologize that this is so with me and that there has been no reprieve for Bishara due to my own financial situation.

VW and team – I cannot express the amazing sense of pride I feel to be called your friend!  You have been the most amazing in this whole sad episode in my life, and I cannot ever repay you for all the pain and frustrations you had to experience on my behalf, or for the warmth and kindness you showed to me.  Thank you, VW, specifically for the friendship we have, and to have honored us with your presence, willingness to help and the unselfish manner in which you managed Bishara in my absence.  Thank you each and everyone of you!

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A recession in Second Life?

Can we be heading into a recession in Second Life? Seems to me the indicators all show towards some tough times coming up.  My reasons for this suggestion would be:

1. Large unique product designers complain of a massive slowdown in sales,

2. land parcel sales are stale stale stale,

3. and the general resident’s outlook is pessimistic to say the least.

In RL we are already amidst a massive slowdown regardless the views from some circles that things are ‘looking up’ – I tend to ignore those comments since they almost always come from either a salesperson trying to protect their fading markets, or a 7 figure salary earner who has no idea what it is to not have money in the bank these days.

In SL we have similar problems and they are worsened by some stupid decisions by Linden Labs.  The three most glaring are:

1. The huge drop in island pricing (wont even go into that in detail!),

2. The introduction of too many new mainland parcels dumped onto SL’s land store,

3. and the resistance to take strong action against residents who rip off other designers products and resell them for their own gain.

Before I chat about land, as an open source supporter, I tend to talk about releasing things into the wild when done, but I have to say I have turned a bit on my views on IPR whilst living in SL.  The main reason for this is the blatant abuse of such an approach by some residents who will do anything for Lindens, leaving designers of unique products in the lurch by ripping off their hard work (illegal in terms of the SL ToS) and then selling these on to unsuspecting residents.  The whole point of the ToS clauses covering copyright and IP is to ensure this cannot happen, but time and again I read about designers or hear from designers how they have again been failed by Linden Labs when they report a blatant abuse and do not receive a response.  This MUST stop as it is killing off the creative spirit within SL fast and leaving people disillusioned about the whole concept of creative license protection.

Now land, wow, what a statement the other day from Linden Labs. The old saying of Second Life being for the residents by the residents really got an old kick to the head by the statement that Linden Labs like to control the land pricing to ensure it remains reasonable, and have in fact got themselves a nice tool to show the average pricing per sq meter on a daily basis.  Though this seems quite acceptable to the general residents out there, lets look at this closely.  What this means is that once the pricing rises above L$6 per sq meter on average for too long, the Lindens close in and dump land en masse on the Land Store to help that price drop through the floor limit of L$6 per sq meter again.  However this action does not do that at all, it in fact does the opposite as land pricing on the mainland during auctions go completely kookoo!  And Land barons almost always close in with land bots and seize any parcel available for close to that price per sq meter, to resell again at a much higher price.  The Lindens are happy in both cases, they get a good return on the auction, and they think that the initial low price sale (if any) was a good deal to a resident.  I say all that did is enable those with money to spend on the more desirable parcels on auction and land barons through a land bot got the good deal in-world, whilst the general resident got nothing!

The worse contributor to the land price fall is almost exclusively the massive drop in island pricing, firstly hitting the private owners core (not the Lindens as they only do Mainland) with a loss of 40% in land value overnight, and the availability of Open Space or Void regions to residents to own.  This unbelievably short sighted drop in land value is the largest contributor along with stolen product designs, and these two factors will see the recession bite hard into the Second Life economy in my opinion.

As far as island ownership goes, having bought all my islands other than two Open Space or void regions at the old US$1675 per region price, I can tell you its hard work remaining positive. It seems that at Linden Labs they have forgotten just how hard a private island owner must work to draw residents away from the HUGE mainland where 95% of residents land after orientation as newbies, and then to keep them coming back to your island when you do succeed at the first.  Sq meter pricing does NOT act as a good measure for this at all and I would recommend someone at Linden Labs start to ‘own’ their own private island with the same rights and facilities as the average island owner has, to experience just how frustrating it is to survive.  Drop into this equation the fact that multi billion $ corporations can now buy land anywhere at the same rate as the average salaried individual who does so out of his or her own pocket, and the entire thing turns on its head!  What makes this even worse is the perceived actions on the part of Linden Labs to favour such corporate purchases with great fanfare, that in turn drives curious residents to these new regions without the corporate having spent much on marketing or effort.  This is all part and parcel of private island ownership these days, and hard enough to handle without the drop of 40% to your land value overnight!

My recommendations: Land – Hold onto your land if you can afford it, or sell it and rent if you cannot.  If you design, try some new ideas like forcing (nicely – call it customer support) people into a group prior to the actual sale, or if that’s too impractical, ensure you keep all the records as an audit trail so that abuse reporting can be driven intelligently by you if you find someone ripped off your designs, and report report report.  Maybe we can whittle down the wall of ignorance at LL by complaining complaining complaining in volumes they have not yet heard.

Personally I have thought many times over to simply leave this all and visit SL in the future only as a resident without land, or any in-world ambition other than having sex of course, since this still seems the most popular activity in world these days 😦 (how creative is that, and I’m being sarcastic here for anyone missing the point). I say this as I just do not believe for a moment that anyone at Linden Labs has a concern about helping those who have put their own monies into SL and worked hard to be where they are individually (not corporate or charity) and this greatly increases my anxiousness about life for me in SL.

Second Life is down, again…

Hehehe, maybe I should just haul up last week’s post and report it, he 😉 Would save us the trouble of blogging about it … yet again. So the central database in Second Life has hit the cr*pper. Again. This just hit me – Linden Labs may as well bring back gambling, because Second Life has become one big roulette wheel anyway, a gamble for avatars as to whether they would live today or not, a roll of the dice as to whether the prim they just rezzed will be there tomorrow or lost forever, a flick of a card to either blow up and crash or smell sweet success at achieving a lagless unbroken day’s experience in-world!

Thanks Philip…

Thanks for taking all that resistance during 1999 and the early 2000’s and persisting with your vision to build a Second Life for everyone. Thanks for resisting a complete collapse in 2003 and pushing forward to that amazing explosion in 2006. Thanks for believing that your weird management styles and internal working methods would still somehow keep it all going beyond the pain of a startup. Thanks for all this since it meant in late 2006 you were still around for Dumisani Ah to be born. It allowed me to share the pain for the last 2 years, but with lots of positives along the way too 😉

Most of all I wish you the very best in your future projects and companies, and I certainly commit to being one of your very first customers should you do another one of these. Except maybe if its going to be an expanded model of the famous Love Machine… I may opt out for that one 🙂

Best regards,

Dumisani Ah

Second Life problems… et al

Wow, what a start to our weekend! Nothing unusual some of you would say 😉 But hey, I wanted to address two things quickly and then add my own comments about what I think has been happening in SL, related to my personal experiences though.

Firstly, though I’ve hinted in posts or comments, a BIG THANK YOU to Linden Labs for Havoc 4 and its resolution of old SL problems like losing attachments when crossing sim borders. This problem in itself caused all kinds of bad effects in Second Life, amongst many we saw at Bishara Resorts that now seem resolved.

For example, our tour vehicles can now be used to cross sim borders without disappearing on you, or getting all borked at the crossing event. H4 somehow handles this so much better.

Second example is myself, who many of you may have noticed had gone around wearing only my skin hair for many months 🙂 This was because each time I crossed sim borders or teleported I kept getting my blond hair lodged in a very peculiar and weird spot in my groin 😉 Now I can cross borders and teleport unabashed and blonde!

Another example is Bishara Island, a sim in our resort that placed huge resource demands on its host due to the many sea creatures, rezzers and stuff we placed to emulate RL reefs and have some fun games for you. These all have much less effect on the sim’s performance now and I’m watching with interested to see if this is a lasting effect.

Though the impact on our surfing waves were negative, we have had ample reasons to be thankful for, and I think this post will be just that, a big fat THANK YOU to the Lindens for a marked improvement in my Second Life experience 🙂

Now a comment (not a complaint!) on two issues:
1. For many months now, the past 10 months at least, it must be evident that the Linden infrastructure strains under the weekend traffic specifically, the busiest time of the week for many of us in Second Life. This Friday was no exception and again we saw the usual problems surface, asset server strain and issues with the network infrastructure. Personally and as a sim owner these problems have consistantly caused more harm as my SL investments grow. Having seen over 38 login attempts from me end up with ‘You are not authorized to enter Second Life from this computer’ type errors over the past 3 months and before, and having lost a fortune in assets when the asset servers had more than their fair share of problems, I have often been left completely demoralized about this world of ours. However, I cannot do much from my side to help resolve these issues and other than join the chorus of objections on the blog (blog.secondlife.com) each time they occur, my hands are tied.

However I am trying to find a reasonable compromise with the Lindens on this issue by suggestion a payment plan based on performance in SVR-2077. Our current ToS only allows region owners recourse to financial or other compensation when SL is down for more than 24 hours, or at least this is my understanding. This is a very hard measure to monitor as we have never had a complete outage lasting that long caused by one specific incidence, SL is just too complicated for that. We do see many different problems happen over periods of heavy use and after new version roll outs that cumulatively do cause massive access and usage problems to us and our residents though, but again there is no recourse for damages as such as LL keep billing us the same agreed tier for each region regardless these problems.

Interestingly I have heard from several other sim owners that they often get discounts for their tier fees from the Lindens on request after a particularly bad period, and mostly those who have been around for a longer period of time, I think if I remember they are all from the pre-2007 expansion. Maybe they have personal friendships in Linden Labs that can bring them to such access where discounts for bad service are readily given to them. They were here in the founding days and therefore this is quite understandable to me.

However I do wish that this measure can be universally accessible by all of the region owners, even in an automated way where tier is discounted according to cumulative performance issues within Second Life. SVR-2077 is specifically aimed at asking for such a hosting service agreement. If you are a region owner, please support my request by voting for it 😉 As I state in the post this is not a complaint, but a request, as SL has grown substantially and now may demand a review of how tiers are applied in comparison to the time when it was still a relatively small community and world. For more information see http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/SVC-2077.

2. This brings me to a problem I often hear about, and myself have had several bad run-ins with. Linden Labs keeps using a third party processor and Paypal as their main methods of accepting payment for services rendered, and they both have caused many of my in-world friends, and myself, problems through the course of our association with Second Life. Let me first explain my main issue with how things currently work. We joined Second Life and had to submit our information including payment options to Linden Labs for non-free accounts and usage such as land purchases and so on. This payment information is not held by Second Life, but instead is held by their third party processor, a company well known to me and a respected processor in Europe especially.

Sometimes this processors, like others, have problems either with their communication to the sponsoring bank, or to Second Life itself, problems that cause issues with our USD payment pages in Second Life. This happens, and does so even with the very best of processors. However, it is avoidable, very much so, if Linden Labs would simply not rely on only one processor, or even better, if it would take its processing in-house instead. The first option is possible if the Linden payment API allows multiple processors or banks to connect to it, an option I believe it can handle, even in part, as it already does so for its current processor and Paypal. The other option is for Linden Labs to take the payment processing portion of its business in-house, not by building its own processing system, but by simply white labeling an existing system and using that system to acquire all its card transactions directly with multiple acquiring or sponsoring banks. The in-house system needs to handle multiple currencies and have a powerful administration module to help LL monitor and assist residents processing payments when problems occur.

And make no mistake, problems occur and they do so a lot. Most of these problems cause losses and mainly to the Lindens, as they are the merchant in the process. The card associations have tight regulations that need to be abided by, and when something causes these guidelines to be ignored, transgressed or repeatedly exceeded, fines and admin fees are all charged to the merchant (in our world, the Lindens) by their bank and the card associations themselves. This means in any payment environment the management of customer interactions need to be tightly monitored in real time on a system that offers proper transaction reporting.

With Second Life this issue becomes even more problematic as the Lindens choose to issue Linden dollars for example at the moment your or my credit card has been authorized for payment.
Why is this an issue? Well, stolen cards or compromised transactions will often lead to a successful authorization (we have managed in tests in the past to authorize cards with generic cardholder information such as the President’s name and the White House as the billing address), so the Lindens issue you or me the Linden Dollars we need immediately. We use those L$’s in-world and spend spend spend. Suddenly the banks and or card assocations put out an alert (electronically) of a disputed transaction. The card happens to have been used to buy Linden $ with and so Linden Labs may be forced to pay back the USD as the merchant to the disputed card’s owner through the bank and card association systems, but this loss to the Lindens cannot at this time be recouped from the residents as the L$’s may have been spent in-world amongst many innocent residents’ accounts.

The dispute may be simple, an authorization that is reviewed by a fraud team in a bank, and is returned several days or weeks later as potential fraud and therefore reversed, without the cardholder’s knowledge. It does not have to be a dispute raised by the cardholder for example, where things would be easier to manage. In cases where someone spends money off their own card and then disputes the transaction after spending the Lindens or buying land, Linden Labs have options to recoup their losses by going to the resident’s av account and simply reversing out the money originally loaded. Registered accounts therefore have little recourse to ‘friendly fraud’ disputes as above and are not an issue here. Not relying on 3rd party processors or payment gateways allows LL to rapidly respond to disputes from issuing banks and or card associations, and to assist residents with payment issues much more effectively. Fines and fees also have a clear source in such cases, instead of the usual blurred line when originated through a 3rd party payment gateway, and LL can address them with much greater ease.

The above digressed somewhat to offer some background and I apologize for that. I wish to focus really on building a reliable and solid payment platform that does not have a single point of failure, as my proposed solution to payment problems experienced by any merchant, but in particular by the Lindens in our case of course, and to have more sensible fraud and moneylaundering screening built directly into it.

That brings me to the final payment option left to residents and one that honestly erks me BIG time, and that is the Paypal option. I am not going to say much about Paypal other than their recent rush to gather confidential personal information about Tom, Dick and Harry caused me to pull the plug on using them completely (Q4’07). My reason is not one of ‘not wanting to be checked or verified’, but rather of privacy and the exposure of that private information. You see Paypal asked me for my actual physical address after allowing me to open and use their system for months without the need for that information at all. It started with a notice that my account had been suspended and that I needed to log into the account to enter some much needed information, as they believed my account had somehow been compromised by a ‘third party’.

In any event this turned out to be a ruse from them to simply gather more information on me, and I flatly refused (Honesty is always a better way to manage customers with, Paypal). Before you ask why I would not want to share such simple information basics as my real name, real address and real telephone number with an electronic company and people I had never met and had never before been required to work with in such confidential depths, I wish to point out that Paypal already had a very good idea of who I was from the one trusted source that I did provide them with before, during a process where I became a registered user and was ‘certified’ or ‘verified’ as a user by entering my bank and credit card details.

My point to them was that a company, my bank, who is legally required by law and regulation to know who I was and where I live, had already verified my personal information and that Paypal could use them to help clarify any doubts instead of asking me to repeat all my personal information again. In the days we live in of identity fraud and compromised financial databases, I insist that I will not spread my personal information to any party, company or institution that is not legally obliged to have it and that cannot use an already authorized 3rd party such as a bank as a source in the event that they need such information of me. It turned out that many many individuals around the world, mostly completely innocent, had been dealt with the same way by Paypal, and here I have personally seen just how little the Lindens assist in resolving such issues when it impacts the residents life directly.

Our problem with this is that Paypal is the only other payment method within Second Life, and the only method we can use to extract funds from in-world activities to use in RL in a real time manner. There are the odd country specific solutions offered by third parties of course, but exposure for the larger SL population to these options are minute or irrelevant. My suggestion for an in-house payment system or white labeled solution is again to eleviate the lack of options, and can even be used to offer a Second Life e-wallet similar in function to Paypal, but tailored to meet the demands of our virtual world and the limitations of function and use set by various international and regional regulators.

Attached to this e-wallet account feature would be the option to link a bank account and a credit card, so that initial funds could be loaded into the SL e-wallet from either source, and funds can be paid out into the bank account via ACH or BACS or GIRO or whatever regional clearance system you wish to use, all in perfect compliance to AML measures and local or regional transactional or financial regulations, and of course in the currency of registration, allowing residents to select their local country as LL already do and therefore automatically the local tax and or financial regulation governing such transaction types in their country.

With such a base, adding an option to load value into the e-wallet using a PIN based voucher or cash across a counter would be completely acceptable since the authenticity of the original account holder had been verified by this time (the key function of AML policies and regulations). Adults providing Teen Grid accounts for their kids would be able to have them load their own value into these accounts with such vouchers, and again all within acceptable market related anti fraud and anti money laundering measures.

I am not for a moment wishing here to suggest a perfect payment system free of any problems or issues. I am simply wishing to point a way to an acceptable standard that is free of a single point of failure, and that can do away with the current cumbersome anti-fraud and anti-moneylaundering methods applied by Linden Labs and the very obvious single point of failure structure in their payment network. So please see this as Dumisani Ah’s contribution to a best practices standard for a LL payment platform 😉 As the world grows, the current problems would only get worse without seriously considering a change, and this is my small contribution to alerting the powers-that-be at Linden Research of what can be done.

Again, none of this post should be seen as a complaint, as it is not the intention at all. Rather I am offering again to help, either through these suggestions above, or even my time and effort and technology to strengthen this creative world I have come to love so much. I hope that, other than our attempt to help the Lindens in 2007, this will lead to an actual resolution and project of success where our offer to help is accepted and we can progress the situation beyond the brick wall we met at that time. So I end this post with another offer to help you, Linden Labs. Just IM me inworld or use the email address for my RL avatar 🙂 and I will do whatever I can to assist you.

New CEO for Second Life… Errrr, welcome?

So we have a new CEO at Linden Labs. Someone who was a bean-counter and now goes by the letter ‘M’… Where have we seen this before?

Dear ‘M’, err, since I cannot tell you this on your own website (149 comments seem to be the maximum you like in response to a post) I will here – welcome to a fantastic world of make-belief, where you can really meet James Bond, James Bonds, James1 Bonds, James7 Bonde, James20, Bonde, James24 Bonde, James48 Bonde, James001 Bonde, James007 Bonde, James123 Bonde, JamesA Bonds, and JamesT Bonde in avatar-person if you wish, all of whom I believe would love to meet ‘M’. Walk carefully though, as this is Second Life and well, everyone has a license to kill… Lindens being a primary target from time to time, and especially ones that go by the initial ‘M’…

Personally I have only one request for you – don’t be the bean counter, but please be the artist! That will be a fantastic PLUS for you right out of the starting block! We look forward to meeting you soon, somewhat laggy as you will see, in a rather one sided process of introduction if the usual Linden meeting, but hey, look for me in the crowd. I will be the hair piece without an avatar, frozen about 20 meters off the ground, possibly facing away from you. Regardless, despite the hardships of traveling without a body from time to time, I will be there, and with a gift for you as well, as is custom. O, hang on, I need to put a proviser here, if my inventory remains intact during the transition to this public meeting, I will promise to have for you a lovely gift. I need to pass it to you by hand though, as rezzing it on the ground for collection later may lead to it disappearing, for ever, and well, we don’t want that, do we. So as I said, welcome, we look forward to your leadership, guidence and openess.

Yours Sincerely,

Dumisani Ah
Ps. Possibly you should consider changing you name to ‘the Linden formally known as ‘M” for safety reasons, at least until we all get to know you better 🙂

Second Life grid down due to routing problems… again

I just posted the following issue in the JIRA, SVC-2077, as I noticed a disparity with LL billing. It simply was this, they apologise time and time again for service disruptions, which is nice, but their billing system never seems to experience the same problems 😉 So here is my call to the Lindens – why not link your service quality and availability to your billing systems as well. In other words, should we see a loss in services we will see the discounted tier the following billing cycle, as you, the Lindens, compensate us, the land owners, for our losses during such limited or non-existant service periods. This is fair, yes?

In a very simple statement, the sense of the current billing is made laughable: Today or in the present, if you deliver the service to us, we pay full tier; if you fail to deliver the service to us, we still pay full tier… No one in Linden land see any issue here? Well I do, and I am hoping that SVC-2077 will at least get you the Linden family, to take note of this unfairness, and see us into a new Havoc 4 era where service disruptions lead to discounted tiers in the month of that disruption.