Friday, May 2, 2008

New SL site rankings may signal end to camping

From Reuters: New SL site rankings may signal end to camping
Text: Eric Reuters

Linden Lab is working to revamp its current traffic ranking system, which has long been manipulated by landowners who pay users to camp out for hours or days at a time in an attempt to climb to the top of the “Popular Places” list.

“It is clear that the current Traffic system is not an effective means of determining the success or popularity of a parcel, nor does it provide useful information about Residents visiting those parcels,” Linden executive Jeska Dzwigalski said in a blog post.

The “Popular Places” tab is often one of the first places that new Second Life users look when exploring the virtual world. But the sites listed almost never offer the rich educational and social content beloved by Second Life’s dedicated users. Due to property owners gaming the system, the top results often offer “free money” or adult-themed content.

Linden is seeking input on how to change its site rankings as a first step in improving Second Life’s in-world search engine. Dzwigalski said Linden will offer a “Second Life Showcase” of content it feels best represents its virtual world.

The current system gave rise to the Second Life phenomena known as “camping”: in order to boost their listing on Linden’s traffic rankings, landowners pay avatars called “campers” simply to visit the sim and spend time there. Camping benches, which pay cash to an avatar simply for sitting on them, are ubiquitous at top ranked sites.

“The system was completely gamed and useless,” said Taran Rampersad, author of “Making Your Mark In Second Life: Business, Land and Money.”

Surprisingly, many owners of sites currently listed on the “Popular Place” list say they don’t mind the change.

“We all knew that the popular list wouldn’t last forever, and it will force some of the islands to reconsider their whole marketing strategy,” said Doug Sievers (Second Life: Doug Pau), whose “Freebie Island” currently ranks as the sixth most popular place in Second Life.

Sievers and other camping site owners complain that even as they’re gaming Second Life’s rankings, users are gaming them. The past few months have seen a rise in “bots,” software-controlled avatars that take up every open camping chair. The bots have forced camping sites into an arms race of open seats and pushed camping rates down from as high as L$24 per hour to under L$3.

“One of my associates and I worked out how much the ‘camping bots’ could be potentially making if they just ran 3 PCs on a 24 hour schedule and it was well over a few hundred dollars a day,” Sievers said.

While the absolute sums are trivial — L$24 translates to less than nine American cents — within Second Life’s economy they can represent significant pocket money. Many avatars have no access to credit cards and no way to purchase in-world currency, and in Second Life’s inexpensive economy, many virtual goods are priced from L$1 to L$10.

If the traffic rating is eliminated, one unexpected result may be a decrease in Linden’s population metrics. It’s impossible to measure how many of the roughly 60,000 avatars typically online in Second Life are campers or camping bots, but it is widely considered to be a significant component of Linden’s population. Second Life’s total hours may also fall sharply.

The camping sites say bots poisoned the old model anyway, and they’re ready to adapt.

“Things change and the system needs to be changed,” said Kenneth Boone, whose Second Life avatar Tray Dyrssen runs the number three and four ranked places in Second Life, “Money Island” and “Money Tree Island.”

“I am not worried about the popular places,” Boone said. “We are able to build interesting things to bring in the traffic.”

Dear readers what do you think about the end of camp? Will that be good for the SL economy?

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