Winning Back the Lead: The Battle of (Viewer) Developers to Rebuild Trust

Branding, Community, Second Life, SLCC, social media, Virtual Worlds on August 24th, 2010 10 Comments

trust large

In addition to Linden Lab’s official viewer, users can access the virtual world of Second Life through a number of customized third party viewers.  This has created much debate throughout the Second Life community as to whether these third party viewers are safe to use.

While Linden Lab does provide a Viewer Directory that highlights viewers that have self-certified their compliance with the Lab’s Policy on Third Party Viewers (TPV), they have also stated that it is the responsibility of the user to take reasonable precautions, before installing or using a third-party viewer as it is the user (as well as the developer) who is accountable for all risks, expenses, and actions while using a third party viewer.

While these rules and risks apply to all third party viewers, the Emerald viewer has been surrounded in far more controversy and concern than all the viewers put together.  However, it is also believed to be the most popular third party viewer.  While we don’t know for sure the number of users who access Second Life using the Emerald Viewer, most estimates place the figures around 20-30% of all users.

Emerald Controversies

For those who are unfamiliar, the controversy around Emerald begins with the actions of a number of the developers behind the viewer.

Initial apprehension stemmed from the fact that several of the developers were well known griefers and had previous accounts permanently banned from Second Life.  These concern were then followed by a slew of others such as:

In addition, last week,  (now former) Emerald developer LordGregGreg published a sharp-tongued post questioning Emerald’s integrity and the moral compass of it’s developers, citing issues such hidden code “that braodcasted your viewers title bar and executable path in a obfuscated manner” and stating ”To the people who have took my word on emerald’s credibility, I apologize deeply for my claims.”

Denial of Service and the TPV

As if that wasn’t enough over the weekend news came to light that Emerald lead developer Fractured Crystal, committed a crime by launching a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) and used the computers, bandwidth, and (blind faith) trust of every Emerald user to do so.

Emerald PR representative Arabella Steadham denied the attack stating that is was just a prank or “shenanigans” as she called it.

“This idea was to target a blog owned by a creator of a malicious viewer, and boast of the traffic Emerald has captured. The method for doing this was to add links to the Emerald log in page linked to said blog. Each time anyone logged in, our page loaded up and also the other page loaded up – simply to show off our volume of traffic.

This was not a DDoS. This was a poor attempt at boasting that failed miserably. Once we discovered this, these links were deleted and the dev concerned was disciplined.

The entire Emerald Team offers it’s sincere apologies for concern, panic, worry, mistrust and disappointment felt by our users because of this. I can most strongly assure you that this will not happen again.”

As news spread on Twitter under the hashtag #EmeraldGate, Linden Lab began to take notice.  The Security Technical Lead for Lab, Brian McGroarty (aka Soft Linden) responded by stating:

“’Crosslinking’ drops the context of hiding gibberish requests to a critic’s website in a hidden frame that will never be revealed to the user. This isn’t a mere hyperlink to another page or naively stealing someone else’s image hosting.

My read (but I’m no lawyer) is that this looks like 2.d.iii of http://secondlife.com/corporate/tpv.php and we’re already having that discussion. If anyone can come up with specific reasons why this might have had legitimate reason to be there, or how this one could be yet another oversight or mistake, that would be helpful. I sure haven’t heard any to date.”

The TPV policy section referred to states:

“d. iii. You must not launch Denial of Service (“DoS”) attacks, engage in griefing, or distribute other functionality that Linden Lab considers harmful or disruptive to Second Life or the Second Life community.”

Some time later, the Emerald Viewer was silently removed from the viewer directory by Linden Lab.

Eventually Fractured Crystal admitted the DDOS, removed himself from the project,  and transferred control of the project and the web server to Arabella Steadham.

A New Emerald

New owner Arabella Steadham and Emerald Quality Assurance officer Jessica Lyons appeared on the Tonight Show with Paisley Beebe to discuss the entire cluster of events as well as to announce that the Emerald team had undergone a massive restructuring and would be applying again to the viewer directory.

Today the new Emerald site went live.

Trust Issues

While the appearance on Tonight Live was reassuring to some users, many are still questioning  whether the Emerald team can be trusted.

As of this date, the Emerald viewer has not be re-included in the viewer directory, despite the fact that it advertises the listing on the About page of the new site.

Is the Emerald Viewer compliant with the Second Life Terms of Service? Yes, Emerald is compliant with the ToS, the Community Standards, and the Third Party Viewer Policy. We are also listed in Linden Lab’s Viewer Directory.

In addition, while it was announced that the development team was restructured the new site’s team list includes previously scandal-plagued members Skills Hax and Lonely Bluebird (aka Phox).

New owner Arabella Steadham has now also come into question.  During her appearance on Tonight Live she told host Paisley Beebe that she did not lie when she called the DDOS a prank.  She states that she herself was lied to about the attack.  Her lack of technical knowledge has led many to question how she can ensure Emerald’s integrity.  Ms. Beebe also asked her if she would now be accountable to users by providing real world contact information.  She declined stating that she was accountable to Linden Lab and “they know who she is”.

In fact all that Arabella Steadham could offer Emerald users was her apology and her word.

But is that enough?

Project Snowstorm

Third Party Viewers aren’t the only ones who receive criticism.  While users of official Second Life viewer have no concerns about security, privacy, or ethics, they do have trust issues.  Many users anxiously waited for the new elusive Viewer 2 while Linden Lab worked on it behind closed doors.  When it debuted many were not only disappointed, but annoyed by the changes.  In fact, it was these changes that led many to download a third party viewer.

At this year’s Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) Linden Lab announced several significant changes including Project Snowstorm.  Project Snowstorm hopes not only to improve the viewer, but CEO Philip Rosedale says that the Lab wants to “win back the lead”, and have the best viewer overall.  With Emerald users wary of the Emerald viewer, Linden Lab is positioned to do just that, but first they will also have to regain user’s trust.

Project Snowstorm is prepared to begin rebuilding that trust by promising transparency and allowing users to participate in the process.  It sounds like a good plan, but many users are still skeptical that the Lab will follow through with what they say.

Rebuilding

It seems like both Emerald and Linden Lab have a lot of work to do if they want to gain back their users trust.

My suggestions:

  1. Acta, non verba”  - I borrowed this phrase from Crap Mariner who applied it to both Emerald and Linden Lab.  Declaring trust does not create trust. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do that counts.  If you want your users to trust you, show them by your actions.  You are what you do.
  2. Lead the debate, don’t hide from it – In our new culture of social media, we now have the ability to identify and address potential crises as they surface.  Users are listening to what you have to say and are eager to hear your response.  Defensive posture implies that you have something to hide.  However, when you are silent, others can create the truths about you.
  3. Be AccountableTrustworthy messages must come from a trustworthy source. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you were wrong, or made a mistake, admit it.  Give users a way to communicate.  Robert Scoble is the perfect example of this. Here’s a guy who is an internet celebrity, worked at Microsoft, has just as many haters as followers, and was willing to put his cell phone number on his website.

Update 2:20pmThis afternoon at I received an email from Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale that informed Second Life users of the denial-of-service attack and that Emerald had been removed from the viewer directory.  Philip explained that the Lab takes take privacy, safety, and security very seriously and work to protect it.  You can read the for email on (which has been posted on the official blog as well) here.  I applaud Linden Lab for their action throughout this manner.

As users the ball is back in our court.

Who do you trust more?

Can you trust Emerald again?

Are you willing to trust the avatar Arabella Steadham?

Has Project Snowstorm met your expectations?  Have you participated?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “Winning Back the Lead: The Battle of (Viewer) Developers to Rebuild Trust”

  1. Captain Redgrave says:

    I absolutely do not and will not trust Emerald. They are a bunch children and criminals. All they know is stealing and griefing. How anyone can use their viewer is beyond me. And who is this Arabella person? Where did she come from? She has already demonstrated she has absolutely no technical skill and no idea what is going on. And she is going to manage the servers? Her blatant refusal to be accountable does make me want to trust her anymore either. If she doesn’t take this seriously, why should I?

  2. Sarah Westland says:

    Emerald needs to be true inside before trying to be true outside.

    What is this Snowstorm thing? Another new viewer?

  3. Joshua says:

    I loved Emerald. It was the best viewer with the best features by far. I tried to ignore all the negative talk surrounding it and thought much of it was just rumors and speculation. After receiving Philip’s email, I have switched to trying some other TPVs. I hope Emerald gets their act together, but I don’t think they can or that I will be able trust them for a long time.

  4. Ryan Graves says:

    I can’t believe Emerald was this stupid. They really handled things poorly. I don’t believe Fractured is gone for a second. Even his post “off with their heads” it shows that someone needed to take the fall so he did. But there is no way he just turned everything over for free to the spin witch. He’ll be back. They didn’t even bother to get rid of the other trouble makers with blood on their hands like Phox. Have you seen all the videos where Arabella lies or decides whose comments to approve? What’s “silly” is how they assume we are all idiots.

  5. Kent McDunnough says:

    Linden Lab should just buy Emerald and be done with. Users will also want the features, but we are tired of their games. There is no leadership or trust on that team. They are done.

  6. JASEEEE says:

    Goodbye Emerald, Hello Imprudence

  7. WarKirby says:

    I can’t believe no one has said it yet, but WHAT THE HELL IS QARL THINKING? I know he wants to get back at the Labbies, but really? REALLY? I can’t believe someone with his talent wants to be involved with these antics. He went from genius, to Linden to Griefer? What next terrorist? WTF.

    • reed says:

      Qarl loves SL, and he loves making cool stuff. Emerald, as far as I understand is pretty cool. If it wasn’t, the droves of people using it wouldn’t be.

      He’s been around a long while coding this and that. Including some maya plugins, which I ended up compiling and trying to use, and then expand on. Eventually I got him to walk me through the code step by step in order to help me understand what was going on. Most of it was way above my head. However, with his assistance, the veil was pulled back enough for me to actually get my head around what was going on.

      I imagine he wants to write code, and do the same thing he did for me for the emerald devs. Why? “Because they asked nicely.” Thats the way he put it at his weekly office hours.

      It isn’t his fault that SOME of the devs are apparently children. He has had nothing to do with that.

Leave a Reply