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Second Life Teen Grid Merger: The Kids Are All Right... But The Minders Are A Problem

korman-avril
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Last week, in the midst of the latest ruckus involving breedable virtual animals (yeah, I know... I know...) the Teen Grid finally (albeit a bit later than originally scheduled) merged with the main grid. The results were mixed, but probably not in the way people expected.

Wayback Machine

Just as a refresher, as I've mentioned before- for years Second Life operated on two systems. One for adults, and one for teens. They were kept separate for various reasons and there was no connection between the two. As much as this separation solved some problems, it created others and further was very expensive to maintain. It was decided in the fall of last year that the Teen Grid would close and be merged with the main grid, allowing 16 and 17 year olds access to the Adult grid (with significant restrictions). They hadn't really figured out a solution for the 13-15 year olds yet, but that wasn't enough to stop the grids from joining. This merger was supposed to happen at New Years, but wound up being delayed for a few weeks and finally happened last week instead. The move went smoothly when it finally did go off, and as of now, the two grids are now one.

The Aftermath

As you might expect there was some trepidation about the merger. What you might not expect is that it came from both sides. The adults, fully aware that the main grid was designed as a playground for folks over the age of majority were (and frankly, still are) concerned about the arrival of the underage folk from the other grid and what that would mean for them, particularly for businesses. Though you might expect the teens to have been eager to join the main grid, by and large it seems that they weren't quite as interested as you'd expect- they were really happy being amongst people generally guaranteed to be around their own age and those who had been on the main grid (by various means- I'm getting to that.) didn't really like what they saw or in many cases how they were treated, even by people who had no idea of their actual age.

But the merge was going to happen either way and everyone accepted the inevitable, with varying degrees of grumbling.

The Concerns

The merger went smoothly, if a bit delayed, but people were still very worried about the implications of it all. While most people can remember being 16 and 17 well enough to confirm that they don't know a single teenager (themselves included) who had a G rated life, there were very strong concerns about teenagers misrepresenting their age, getting into adult situations and then the *actual* adult taking the fall for the situation. That was originally addressed by the Lab by restricting the teens to G rated areas of the adult grid only. Objections were then raised as to the teens lying about their age. However it's important to point out that teens have been lying about their age *all along* in order to get onto the main grid- there have always been some poking around (no pun intended) for years now. With no absolute requirement on age verification (until recently, and then only to access adult areas, not mature ones) The teens that are coming over now are the ones who were honest about their ages in the first place, and have no particular impetus to abandon that practice now. In theory, they are all within two years of being able to access the entire grid anyway and don't seem to be in a particular rush to jump that gate. But businesses have additional concerns.

The Adjacency Problem

There are two types of regions in Second Life. One type are Private Regions; islands owned by an individual and run by them (and not the Lab directly), and Mainland regions which are owned and controlled by the lab directly.

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Though the issue that I'm about to describe could conceivably happen in either location it's far more likely to happen on Mainland due to simple logistics. Even though the Lab moved all mainland adult content(private regions can still be adult, anywhere) to its own ghetto, I mean continent called Zindra last year, mature regions can and do often sit alongside G rated sims. When sims are adjacent, you can see from one to the other, assuming your graphics settings are adjusted properly. As an example, I offer the view from the roof of Gothika on Dark Eternity. Dark Eternity is a Mature sim. But the view you're getting here is of the adjacent Adult sim, Cursed. If I were to stand close enough to the sim border, I could in theory not only see things on Cursed, but manipulate scripted objects from the DE side of the border as well.

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While in this case there's no issue- teens in theory can't access either sim- this becomes a much more interesting problem when one sim is mature (where teens are not allowed) and the one adjacent is G rated (where they are.). You see, not only can you see over the border, you can use your camera to zoom in on things there as well. Combined with the potential to manipulate scripted objects, it's not hard to see why this could be an issue for businesses on sims with a G rated adjacency. Even though the business on the mature sim is there legally, and not violating any Lab rules, the concern comes when a teen on the other side of the border circumvents the restrictions in place. Now, most reasonable people would think that in a case like that, the folks on the mature sim would not be considered to be at fault. Reasonable people are far too optimistic. Which leads to...

Oh Hey Guys, the Lab Busted Marketplace Again!

Yes- again.

Two weeks ago, on Thursday morning, the Lab sent out an email to all and sundry talking about new listing guidelines for items on Marketplace. The title of the email was "Important Maturity Changes to Marketplace." Well, maybe but I'm not sure it turned out the way they think that title implies.

I won't quote the whole email here, but basically it was discussing changes in the Marketplace ratings system, to align more closely with inworld restrictions, as well as responding to (as opposed to planning for) the merger of the Teen Grid with the Main Grid. However in reading this I came to this ominous sentence:

"Your listings have been automatically updated with new maturity ratings, based on keywords and other algorithms."

In case the words in that sentence that struck fear into the hearts of many (and rightfully so) aren't clear to you, here they are:

"Your listings have been automatically updated"

This, gang, is why there was a small cloud of dust two Thursdays ago as I *FLEW* to marketplace to see what they'd "automatically" done to the listings. The results (not just for me, but for thousands of merchants) were not good.

Keywords and Other Algorithms

Instead of simply sending out the new guidelines and saying "Here's the new rules. You have x number of days to modify your listings, where applicable. After x date any item not found in compliance with the new rules will be delisted" and putting the onus on the merchants to alter their listings accordingly, the Lab decided to play nanny, using a computer to do the grunt work. This went about as well as you might expect, which is to say very poorly.

For every Marketplace listing there are three main components: A photo, or series of photos, a description, and a series of keywords. Only the photos and the description can be seen on the front end of the site. The keywords cannot. Here's an example of what you see looking at a Marketplace listing:

houstontableshot.png

As you can see, you cannot see the keywords from the front end of the site. But the Lab did all their "automatic adjusting" based on keywords alone, not paying any attention to the photos of descriptions of goods.

This essentially screwed up Marketplace listings in two different directions:

1. Let's say you have a g rated item. The item itself is innocuous. It could be (using actual examples from people who reported this problem) a Roman toga, a set of wind chimes, or a bread baking oven with a baking animation. None of these things is anything other than G rated. The photos you use in your listing are G rated. The description of your items are G rated. All good, right?

Not necessarily.

Let's further say that you have noticed in your market research (this is a business after all and you're in it to make money), that fully half the people who buy your product are involved in Gorean roleplay. Now you don't care what they're going to use it for personally, you just happen to know that your items are popular with that community. So like an intelligent person, you add "Gor" and "Gorean" to your list of keywords which are *not visible* on the front end of the site, so that when people check for "Gorean clothing" or "Gorean furniture" or "Gor house" or whatever- hey! Your stuff shows up! Awesome, right?

Except the Lab only checked for keywords, and kicked the ratings level on ANYTHING that used those words in keywords up to moderate or adult- even though your item, photos and descriptions are entirely G rated. The only way to get back the G rating is to drop those keywords, essentially crippling your marketing. If you leave them there, you limit your audience, also crippling your marketing. And because you can't list the same object twice, you're screwed either way you go, even though you're listing things honestly, appropriately and using good business sense. All because a computer is playing nanny.

Then there's the other problem:

2. Let's say you have an item with G rated keywords, and G rated descriptions. But the photo included contains content that while not the focus of the image, contains content that could be considered mature, or adult according to these new guidelines. You have listed your content conservatively, choosing to flag these items *as mature* to begin with. But when the computer nanny did its sweep, it only checked keywords, *REMOVING* your self-imposed mature rating and changing everything to General (G rated.) This, in essence meant that the Lab opened *YOU* to sanctions and potential disciplinary action because of something *they* changed on YOUR listings, which were listed correctly to begin with.

This, btw is what happened to us for nine separate listings.

Further, there seemed to be little rhyme or reason to how the nanny operated. For example, I have four beds in one furniture line. They are identical in their listings, save for the color. I had marked them all as mature when I listed them the first time. However the Lab kicked 2 of them to adult and 2 of them to moderate, even though they are *the identical item*, and the only difference is the color (I made all my beds adult just to avoid hassle.)

Ironically, no one is complaining about the actual teens themselves. To date they seem to be perfectly fine neighbors and very friendly when you visit their lovely sims. It's not the teens causing any trouble at all (which is awesome!). It's their nannies, who have decided that the rest of us need to be treated like children as well.


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