User not online

This is just a short post about a longstanding privacy issue in Second Life. If you are offline when somebody sends you an IM, the server gives them the message “Second Life: User not online – message will be stored and delivered later.” If, on the other hand, you are simply pretending to be offline by not allowing them to see your online status, they receive no message. This is a dead giveaway that you are hiding from them, perhaps because you are currently busy and don’t want to hurt their feelings or whatever reason, and completely undermines the point of having the function. It should really say “User currently unavailable – message will be delivered when user is online” or some similar message, and this should be sent whether or not the user really is online. That respects the decision that they have made about their privacy.

This is easy to achieve. All that is required is a check of the flag, in the database table, which shows whether a user has decided to appear online or offline to a particular friend. It is best implemented on the server.

However, if SL (and/or OpenSim) doesn’t implement this, the viewer can emulate it, since the server message is standard. It could simply send the existing standard message when such an IM is received and the flag is set to invisible for that friend. It is true that the message would then be strictly inaccurate but, on the other hand, that it how the user wished to appear. The message must be exactly the same as the existing standard server message, or again the real status could be deduced. Emerald already has a function allowing you to send custom automated responses: this would simply be a minor extension of that. You could switch it on and off as you liked, like most other custom features.

But as I have previously commented, Emerald already undermines the function by showing whether a particular friend has allowed you to see their online status or not. This part of the list is updated in the viewer only when you log on, and not at any other time, from some simple tests that I have run. This removes much of the point of the function in the first place, since a user will now know whether you are hiding from them, though not if you are actually online at that moment.

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