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« My Predictions for 2007 | Main | The Liberation of Second Life: Part II, Anti-Hiro »

December 13, 2006


bushing Spatula


I can't help but feel that your critcisms of the "tekkie" type are akin to a straw-man argument. You come forth and say "there are people that are bad -- they are tekkies". Then, you say "tekkies are all bad people". You haven't really said anything here, other than telling us that you don't like people that you don't like.

Fair enough. In the interest of having a constructive discussion -- are all tekkies bad? Is it somehow inevitable that once someone reaches a level of knowledge or involvement in the technical realm, that they lose all touch with the rest of the world?

Put another way -- when you talk to a "tekkie", do you automatically assume they look down upon you? What would a tekkie type have to do to earn your respect?

Prokofy Neva

oh, I'd start with your discredited and disreputable group, bushing Spatula, and kick out not only the new v-5/w-hat alts but also have the people found making, selling, and griefing with copybot and other "products" to step down, out, away, gonzo -- not without some different title in the group.

That would only be for starters?


Second Life is considerably harder than HTML, and most people still don't have their own web-pages.

Furthermore, according to Google Analytics 99.9400086% of all online shopping without any form of flash or 3D. Those are an impediment to shopping, not an aid.

You don't know about LambdaMOO, you don't know about VRML. That's fine. Not learning from history is a great way to go about repeating it. I don't think i've run across (if only it were "run over"!) anyone quite so proud of their own pig-ignorance before.

Tyken Hightower

As a GEEK who has a high interest in MOO and understands its failure, I'm most certainly not one of the people stuck harping on the 'mistakes of the past.' Sure, VRML and MOO were impossible to catch on. It's rather expected, they're not terribly easy to use or implement. The average user playin a MOO will get sick pretty quick. The subset of people who find enjoyment in text-based games is (unfortunately) quite small, the immersion factor is nil for them. In VRML's case (I think, from what I know) the difficulty is in the creation process and feeling of freedom. Here, indeed, only a technically sophisticated person can truly express themselves.

But as new things come along, one can't help but see the new possibilities opened for even larger amounts of people. Long before WoW came around, I played Ultima Online. That's 1997; I joined in 1998-ish. Besides being a fun MMORPG experience (none of its successors have met my expectations as derived from UO), it was quite an immersive world. While limited, you had a quite customizable avatar, in a world where it was so very easy to express yourself as such. It was also notably without levels or quests at the time. Without as much of a treadmill, even 'powergamers' still mixed effectively with the rest of the lot. The possibilities of the player economy were massive. You could own houses, make vendors, sell out of your pack; these could be things you crafted yourself, found, whatever. It's amazing how long it took future games to start catching on to some successful aspects of UO, and most still haven't captured all of them. Supposedly, it was the FIRST MMORPG to break the 100,000 user subscription mark, outstanding for its era.

I think what is happening with each new environment that's emerging is we're seeing the threshold of difficulty to express oneself and immerse into the environment lowered by leaps and bounds. SL happens to have a threshold low enough that it's really catching like wildfire. With all the opportunity within SL, and the possibilities that will be opened in the future by even more sophisticated worlds that follow in its footsteps, indeed, people like Shirky should open their eyes. But that doesn't mean all of us geeks are blind.

Ace Albion

In 1996 probably the only people in my town with significant internet access were in the university.

In 2006 probably half the houses on my street have broadband. It's one thing to say you have to learn from the past, but there's such a thing as critical mass, and now we have myspace and blogs making it even easier for people to be social and/or express themselves through a virtual place they call "theirs". No HTML required.

Maybe SL isn't the next great thing, and it is horrible to get started in- but besides that it's not too difficult to get a 16x32 virtual plot of land, put a prefab cabin on it and call it yours. I speak to people in SL all the time who aren't technical or internet geeks. Some of them likely never did more than book a holiday online before or email family. They're not dumb, they're just not geeks, and that much is clear. But they are in SL now, today. Ok not *now* today, as it's down for patching.

In 1996 *everyone* on the internet was a geek. I think the Chief Geeks who have all the answers and theories about it forget that they've been swimming in internet geekery for decades in their academic or technology speheres. Middle aged couples on your street are figuring it out too, and the computer they got from PC World last year runs SL. That's the difference ten years makes.

It only takes enough people to find something compelling for it to stick. It doesn't have to be more useful than the alternatives. The kind of people immersing (or augmenting) themselves in SL now are not the people who gave up on MOO 10 years ago. Those are the bitter ones sniping that if they want to waste evenings chatting they have IRC for that.


What a strange culture gap we have here.

By and large, Prokofy, I think your read is wrong.

Not all tech-savvy people cut from the same cloth. In this essay you conflate several different points of view and lump them all together under "tekkie."

Copyleft is a separate issue from atomicity, which is a separate issue from property, which is a separate issue from community, which is a separate issue from hype. And it is possible to have nuanced opinions about each of these issues individually.

Frankly, many of your comments sound... well, parochial. They are so absolutely centered in just one way of doing things, when there is not yet One True Way for online worlds. I don't mean that as a slam; I'm just trying to point out that you seem to be implying that you & others "get it" while those who have been working hard in this field for years to decades and who are trying to point out some of the pitfalls "don't get it." Frankly, that's silly and shortsighted. Everything you have said about emotional connection, frontiers, bringing in the common people -- every word of it is something that I, and others have said already. We're ON YOUR SIDE on this, but also have been around long enough to be able to point out some of the realities.

I hope you and those like you CAN walk around those pitfalls like they weren't there. But I guarantee that five years from now, you'll look back and say "damn -- look at those huge pitfalls -- we didn't even notice, but it's a good thing we walked left in the darkness right then."


SL is considerably harder than HTML?

Well, I know how to do SL, but I don't know how to do HTML.

Maybe part of it is motivation. I had a pretty good reason to learn SL, because I could create anything I wanted to with it.

HTML? As far as I know, I could create a web page with that. I'm not interested in that.

I think a lot of people are more interested in being able to create anything they want - houses, hats, pets, avatars, you name it - than being able to create a web page.

The creation of the web page itself - the HTML, etc. - is not the most creative part anyway. It's what you put ON it that is creative, and I don't believe I need to know HTML in order to put things on a web page that someone else has already created for me anyway.

Similarly, we don't need to learn how to create SL or something similar itself. We may not be interested in creating platforms or games, but we are interested in creating houses, hats, and avatars, and selling them.

Kinda like - I may not want to build television sets, and improve on television sets, but I may well want to be the talent on a television show.

I think it is a truism that, where all things computer is concerned, people WILL struggle to learn that which they have some reason to learn, and will ignore the multitudes of other things, also a bother to learn, which they don't want or need.

(This is true of all technology, by the way - including remote controls, VCR's, digital cameras - you name it; we learn what we want to learn, and ignore the rest.)

One thing I have noticed in my long years on the computer is the general unwillingness of coding types to share their knowledge.

When I first got my computer, I was crazed that no online things really explained things clearly. OK, I thought, these people simply aren't writers, and aren't interested in writing that teaches how to use these products.

Over time, though, I decided these people were actually unusually proprietary about their knowledge, and I toyed various times with the idea of writing truly clear explanations for things.

Since then, though, I've decided they really don't WANT people to understand how to do what they do, or even how to use what they have created.

SL itself is a case in point. It's almost stubborn how you can't find out how to work anything.

With coders, I think it's that way because people are guarding their livelihoods, trying to make themselves irreplacable.

But even with all that, people WILL struggle to learn that for which they see a big payoff, and that means they will learn what they need to - despite the lack of clear instructions, and despite the constantly increasing and changing bugs that presumably aren't important enough to fix - while remaining totally unmotivated to learn HTML.

As Tyken said, it may be harder than some other things, but the threshold is low enough - and, I would add, the motivation high enough - to make it do-able by thousands who want to express their creativity this way, and to profit from it.

Geekiness is a relative term anyhow, by the way. People pride themselves on being geeks, i.e., being computer programmers and the like, enjoying varying degrees of geekiness within confined and specialized hothouse environments like SL.

But to the rest of the world, I'M a geek. (Computer lingo-wise, not circus-wise.) I'm the computer "go-to" person for bunches of people! Imagine that.

And the same is true of Prok's Wal-Mart clerk example. Clerk by day, "go-to" computer person by night, making money selling fashions on SL, and helping her Wal-Mart co-workers with their computer problems.

The singular, and monumental draw SL enjoys over all other things out there is the ability to make content and to profit from it. This is truly unique in the online world, in that SL has done it better than any other place so far.

Good piece, Prok.



Priding ourselves on geekness seems, I suppose, as silly as people priding themselves on being "stupid about math" or "useless with those newfangled technical gadgets." Some of us are simply jaded from users incessently chanting "I don't care how it works, just tell me which button to press and, tomorrow, when I need to do it again for a slightly different purpose, I'll call you again and again and again and again."

You don't need tekkies in SL because you can build your own objects and texture them and script them yourself. Thank Heaven for the liberation. No wait, is the point that users don't need tekkies or that tekkies notoriously don't share howto information? Now I'm confused.

Well hopefully PL isn't a bubble and is ultimately scalable and is becoming the free-for-all-users Metaverse. It'll likely be an entitlement for every US citizen to afford the equipment to connect to The Grid All Hail The Central Grid before the decade is complete.

I remember when URU online's original beta shut down. We were aghast that a place we had inhabited and invested so much time working to improve had just ceased to exist in a day. We were frantically posting "they can't do this, it's not right, it's not legal, they just can't." But they did. The same sort of thing happens when a popular TV series finally airs the final segment and that virtual world is closed. Except that fans continue to write stories, roleplay, host conventions and do a hundred other things to expand the universe and keep it alive. Are we yet branching out of the grid so that our second lives consist of more than just living on the shaky grid?

If a closed culture of dedicated livlihood really *has* developed in PL, I feel deeply emotionally worried for the people who are rooted in it. If they don't know how it works, they can't know how tenuous the system really is. Even hours of unplanned downtime and increasing numbers of critical errors don't seem to register. But then people don't evacuate hurricane and volcano zones either, sometimes even when they *do* truly understand the danger.

So we should just continue playing house and having sex and building and scripting and shopping and not caring a wit how it all works or whether it'll continue working tomorrow. I ain't no tekkie gawsh can't neither be pressin no buttons y'all cause in touch with my feminine side and Black Power too.


On a positive note, it's good to see Prokofy and Jarod agree on something.


Well, yes, I'm going to keep on doing what I do in SL as long as it's fun, even though I know the whole thing could go poof any minute.

I think most people realize it's tenuous.


Storm Thunders

One of my friends who's a writer and public speaker recently joined SL. She's smart, and a competent computer user. Helping her learn the interface was an adventure. A lot of the newbie experience assumes an engineering mindset; people are expected to just start pushing buttons, picking options, and go explore. The new help material I've seen is far better, but SL's Knowledge Base still feels a lot like using Microsoft's Knowledge Base.

Barrier to entry. Learning curve. Ease of use. Interfaces designed "by engineer."

The worst of the techies that piss you off so much are what my crowd mockingly call 133t Hax0rs. Predatory self-esteem is probably their most noticable trait.

There's techies who are just clueless, most of them can be retrained if they spend enough time outside their usual crowds. They've fallen into the habit of assuming the people they hang out with are "normal" and tend to not understand the difference between ignorance (not having certain information) and not having an engineering mindset. They'll earnestly explain the pros and cons of various network protocols when all their grandma wants to know is whether she'll be able to see her email.

I put bread on the table by wrangling software. I drool at a lot of the toys on I've also spent time helping newbies. (No intention on my part, but they keep finding me.) I've watched more than one of them go from "I can't script" to realizing they can put hovertext on a prim, or make it spin, or add bling to something. I want to see what they create, when they aren't limited by all the things they can't do. That's why I made and give away those Sound Prims. I think everything they do should have been available from a tab in the editor. I currently can't change the editor, but I like knowing that the retired elementary school teacher I met in SL can make her own doorbell.

Storm Thunders

For techies called "one trick ponies" that kind of change is frightening. For the rest it is exciting. There's always new tech, ideas and abstractions, languages, tools... it is a great career choice if you love learning. There's others (journalism and teaching come to mind) but in the US tech pays better.


Too long, didn't read.

Michael Chui

Geek war! Except one side is the Non-Geek Geeks.

Crazy geeks.

bushing Spatula


Nice ad hominem. Pretend you don't have a grudge against me (or the people I associate with, or whatever), and please answer the question in the hypothetical. Again, I'm trying to be constructive here.

When you talk to a "tekkie", do you automatically assume they look down upon you? What would a tekkie type have to do to earn your respect?

F. Randall Farmer

"Everyone will be having a Second Life, as easily as they have a second car, job, house, wife, chance."

Could you defend this statement?

Today we aren't even close to the point where everyone has a web-site or profile page.

Dismissing those who have encountered these problems before is shortsighted. There are things that we've learned about online human interaction that are *independent of techonological concerns.* There are still so many problems to solve that ignoring history just compounds your chances of failure.

Tyken Hightower

I think it's been made fairly clear by now that one of the leading factors in the gradually increasing success in online worlds is due to how much easier it's becoming to take part in them. Sure, not EVERYONE is making an avatar, getting a blog, or making their own online shopping business. However, the number of people who are doing so relative to the number of people using the internet as a whole is increasing fairly rapidly. Compared to 10 years ago, it's ridiculously easy for someone to set up their own personal website. I can click a few places and sign my name to have any number of blogs available to me. So in response, you could at least bother to outline what these things *independent of technological concerns* are, in your mind. Tell us some of the problems, instead of just saying they exist and not explaining why.

Prokofy Neva

As it's not my software nor my company, I don't "compound my changes of failure" -- Linden Lab does. I'm merely a customer, and while I'd aspire to have more equal treatment as a respected partner and more democracy, I don't take on all the sins of LL.

Your comment just seems pointless to me, I'm sorry. Everybody *can* have a web page, usually for free. This doesn't mean "everybody in the world even the poor suffering people in Africa". No need to get literal and preachy about it. But everyone who is in a reasonably developed urban educated center. If my colleagues from Africa or Central Asia have email and webpages, and my little cousin in Ohio has a web page, well, lots of people have web pages. If they don't have them, then they have access to one. No need to overstate this, but here's what my statement means: that it is easy for those who decide they want access to it.

I could spend $40 on a cable bill; or spend $40 on Second Life and a 8192 m2 of land on their server.

And, note I said SECOND. Second job -- that's quite a bit, landing and doing. Second wife -- what, the first one wasn't good enough? Was that second one THAT easy to find? Second home -- you mean you are rich enough to pay two mortgages? See, I said, LIKE having the other things in life that are "seconds" so that it is clear: this is the affluent in a middle class kind of way. You CAN have a second home -- if you decide that is what you want.

A lot -- a lot! -- of people have DSL lines or broadband now. That was the biggest hurdle. That means on a lot of new-generation computers, the graphic cards they need are already installed. They log in from all over. It's not ubiquitous; it is not electricity. But it is there, to be had, easily enough.

Why is that so hard to understand, and why would you need to browbeat it?

I was turned away and turned off by Second Life the first time I came in 2003. In 2004, I almost left. It's not easy, starting out. But it has gotten better since then in terms of accessibility. I think it's a pretty reasonable statement now that if I have a computer at home or the office with broadband, I can do this.

What's so hard about it? are you artificially hyping imagined hypothetical scenarios just to be contrary?

Prokofy Neva

Tyken has summed it up very well. It is ridiculously easy to start a web page or a blog now with far less clicks than 5 years ago. What's annoying is that starting forums has gotten so much harder due to all the spam and anti-spam ware and menus to toggle. I wish I could find a good free forums software -- PHPB or whatsis is a horror.

One of the classic ways that geeks try to emotionally blackmail you into accepting their position is through invoking the poor, the unconnected, the unwashed waiting for um...THEIR intervention and management. I've run across this now so many times as to declare it a syndrome. Geeks, who are supposed to be rational, and high tech, are some of the most emotionally manipulative and infantile types out there. It comes with the hypertrophied development of one side of their aspect, I guess, that they then use wierd logic like "None of the people in Africa have this so you can't". Gosh, if you waited around to catch up Africa to every technological advance, you'd never get anything done. AND Africas in fact get the technology and adapt way more than you think -- and hey, without having to become dependent on Western do-good tekkies as they are more and more becoming educated and becoming their own networkers.

And those that try to say, oh, my brother and my grandmother don't have this are the same people that told us AOL was death for the Internet and AOL is a terrible model. It's as if they can't recognize the truth: HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE STILL ON AOL. This always amazes me. I walk into all kinds of homes and even offices and find people still on AOL. They are supposed to be elite, passe, hopelessly clueless. But...they like AOL -- mainly for the AIM, I guess.

I guess I just want the reality of the culture of ordinary people to intrude more on the consciousness of people who are immersed in geekdom.


Prokofy! ;0 Are you stoked or what?! They put automatic logging into the client under preferences! Now anyone can have word for word accurate logs of any conversation they have in SL without having to save them out by hand..

This will save you a lot of time I'm sure.. No more worries about crashing before you copy and paste the logs! No more missing important conversational cues while saving the log.

It's truly the dawning of a new age in Second Life! The age of accuracy in reporting! REJOICE!

Allana Dion

A counter argument or why I'm glad the "geeks" won't go.

Nathaniel Eliot

Way to stereotype, man. People like you do just as much damage to the way geeks and non-geeks interact as those you decry.

I'm a "tekkie", who is buildin a project in Second Life precisely because of its accessibility to non-geeks. Most of my friends aren't geeks, and I don't look down on them for it any more than they look down on me for my artistic lacks. It takes all types.

Prokofy Neva

It's not a stereotype, it's identification of a deep pattern, and critique of it. The pattern is there to be seen. And Clay Shirky and fans are stereotyping the rest of us non-tekies explicitly. The idea that people who criticize put-downs of SL on the grounds that it is not MMORPG-y or geeky *enough* are somehow "harming relations" is one of those geek fallacies of control. Let it go.


I'm not stereotyping anyone on those grounds, Prok. Sure, i'm a geek. I've spent the last month or so developing HLSL shaders and procedural animation techniques. When you know what those are, you might begin to see why i think SL is a bad joke....

I honestly don't care about the skills. If someone develops a tool that means you can do everything that i can do or more, that's great. I'll probably use it, too, because i'm lazy that way.

But i mean, seriously, you are coming across in a deeply kindergarten whine kind of way here.

"OH NOEZ, bigger boys keep laughing at my sandcastle!" So what? Why should it be a problem? If you like your sandcastle, that's great. But if i build skyscrapers and dams for a living, then i have the right to comment on anyone charging for sandcastles among my peers, and bitching about it is not going to make me stop.

In this one instance, i think the best thing you can do is stop reading. You seem to be proud of not understanding what you read anyway, so why bother?

You could do something you like better instead. I'm certain that has some suggestions.


After everything I've read from you today, I can't believe you describe Shirky's piece as "petulant"! Meow!

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