Linden Lab has officially updated their Policy on Third Party Viewers connecting to Second Life by adding four new clauses. This led to an explosive and dramatic public outcry from users that Linden Lab was trying to kill off third party viewers (TPVs) or kill off all sources of innovation so that people would be forced to use their viewer.
These changes were discussed with TPV developers at a viewer development meeting* with Oz Linden. With so much misinformation being posted, I sat down to talk with a TPV developer in order to learn more about these changes, understand Linden Lab’s motives, and find how they will impact the Second Life community.
*Side note: recently an audio transcript of this meeting has started publically circulating, but it was explained to me that this transcript was meant to be a record for TPV developers only and was not intended for public consumption so I will respect the developer’s wishes by not posting it here.
Here’s what you need to know about the new changes:
The first three clauses added were in relation to privacy issues.
2.a.iii : You must not provide any feature that circumvents any privacy protection option made available through a Linden Lab viewer or any Second Life service.
The intention of this clause is clear. As of this time, this clause only seems to directly impact features that display “true online status” (displays whether a user is online despite them having set the option to hide this in their preferences). In the near future, Linden Lab will be breaking the (llRequestAgentData) function which will cause scripted features/objects to only show “true online status” if the script is owned by or created by the subject of the request. Otherwise, the request will return a false value. The Lab is aware of other ways this function is being used and are taking those uses into consideration when resolving privacy concerns. Online indicators will still work as long as the script is owned by or created by the subject whose status is being displayed. This clause will not effect client side radar features or tools.
2.i : You must not display any information regarding the computer system, software, or network connection of any other Second Life user.
2.j : You must not include any information regarding the computer system, software, or network connection of the user in any messages sent to other viewers, except when explicitly elected by the user of your viewer.
The intention of these clauses are also clear. At this time, these clauses mainly seem to effect client/viewer tags (that publically display what viewer you are using). Linden Lab became concerned about these tags after observing the common and widespread harassment of users (especially new uses) in relation to the viewer they were using. Therefore, this feature will be broken grid-wide this coming Tuesday/Wednesday.
The last clause added had to with the overall shared user experience.
2.k : You must not provide any feature that alters the shared experience of the virtual world in any way not provided by or accessible to users of the latest released Linden Lab viewer.
This is the clause drawing the biggest complaints. Due to the broad scope of this clause it’s been widely misinterpreted as Linden Lab ending the TPV program once and for all. However, in actuality, the intention of clause is nothing of the sort. When talking to the TPV developers Oz Linden repeatedly went to great lengths to reassure them. He explained that no one at Linden Lab wants to ban TPVs and that this clause is only in reaction to observed user confusion resulting from fragmented user experiences. The Lab’s goal is for all users to equally be able to see and experience the same world. Oz also doesn’t anticipate any dramatic actions as a result of the clause. He stressed that it was not aimed at any specific current feature, nor does he have plans to take any enforcement actions based on any current feature of a TPV. The clause will not effect features that change the way the world is “presented” (such as Exodus’ visual settings) or “controlled” (such as the way in which you move objects), but only changes to the world itself in such a way that the experience of users running other viewers (particularly the latest Linden Lab viewer) is fragmented in some way. Oz also pointed out that this could have been enforced under the current policy, but that the Lab wanted to clarify it.
Intention set aside, many users still feel that this will kill innovative new features because the Lab now has executive control over all new features. Oz Linden again repeatedly professed that the Lab is under new management who are very sincerely trying to do things differently. They want to work with developers. Oz recognized that the Lab historically has been bad about this and as a result has a bad reputation that needs to be fixed. He pleaded with developers to try to work within the process and test this new system first, before judging.
Like many people, I too am skeptical based on the Lab’s own admitted past history. However, I do believe things can change. The Lab has no motivation to kill innovation, and would receive no true advantage by doing so. On the flip side, as Oz pointed out to the TPV developers, the adoption rate of users running viewers capable of displaying mesh demonstrates that users will in fact upgrade when the features are sufficiently compiling. In fact, I’m told that 1.23 based viewers now only account for 2.7% of user hours. This dramatic change (that the Lab wanted for years now) as a result of mesh only provides them with further motivation to listen to the community, cooperate with developers, and foster innovation. The big question is, will they? Only time will tell, but so far, some developers seem to think that all signs point to yes.