Display Names: the case for them

This post is about the peculiar policy of the OpenSim devs to refuse Display Names as a feature in the face of very widespread and long-standing demands for them. They do not want to write the code, fair enough – but they don’t have to. It already exists and, despite previous assertions that they would accept patches implementing the feature, they have not and will not. This undermines basic trust among the community in one of the main killer features for many people.

I have never myself used Display Names in Second Life and have only a marginal interest in them in OpenSim. However, while I am not interested enough in Second Life (and very rarely go there) to be bothered, it does make rather more sense in the more informal situation of being at home in my own grid or in the more liberal environment of the open metaverse via Hypergrid. Imagine my name is really Starflower Bracken offline – it isn’t, despite me having used this identity exclusively as my primary identity for 14 years at the time of writing. My neighbour probably calls me Starflower or, if she knows me rather better, Star. I may perhaps have a title like Reverend, Doctor or so on that I use in certain contexts. At a conference or event, I may wish to be Dr, Prof or Reverend Starflower Bracken, Her Sublime Highness S. Bracken, Starflower I of Wales and so on. I don’t do roleplay but I might temporarily need another name for some such reason, if I later became so inclined and developed that as a hobby. Who knows? One friend who speaks Welsh calls me Seren (a Welsh name meaning Star) and I’d rather like to use that in her company. I can’t because of their decision. But otherwise Starflower Bracken has been my name for a long while. It might make sense to be Starflower (Display Name) and Starflower Bracken (full, official or formal name rather than the peculiar SL term “legacy name” that only makes sense in their business context). I’ve got used to “Starflower Bracken” hovering over my head but even I have some use cases for temporary tweaks in specific, quite useful situations.

Recently I had to make some alts in OpenSim. This should not have been necessary. It’s highly inconvenient and wasteful of database resources to copy inventory all over the place but for the basics like clothing, skins, hair and shapes I am obliged to do so. Yes, I use scripted NPCs that look like me for some purposes, but they don’t answer most of the use cases above where I need to be personally in-world with a viewer.

The only arguments against them that I have heard are weak:

(1) Abuse cases can’t be pursued. Oh yes they can! The “legacy” i.e. account name or full name is there for all to see in the logs and can be retrieved in a fraction of a second. In 14 years I’ve never had an abuse report situation. How many has OSGrid even had?! I bet very few and nothing would prevent them being investigated properly. I have a policy in place for my grid. I can see no problem whatsoever with enforcement, should it ever be required.

(2) Names in strange characters provide a problem for others speaking to them. This is bordering on racist in certain situations, although not so meant intentionally. What about people needing Chinese or other names in different scripts or characters? The defence was that people might write their names upside down and it’s awkward for others to type. So don’t type them! You are not even obliged to talk to that person. It’s a social matter between them how they address each other and, as such, is seriously none of your business. It’s a non-argument.

Further, what about people’s personal lives? – and I don’t just mean BDSM or other sexual situations. Maybe a wife has a nickname for her wife that the other partner likes to show as part of their personal affection for each other in one context but then goes back to her normal name elsewhere, either no Display Name or simply her first name, or a short or nickname that her friends use away from home, or whatever. Maybe she has a football name or whatever. Maybe Liz at work is Lizzie to her sister and Eliza to her grandmother. I’m pretty confident Esyllt might adopt a name people can pronounce when in exclusively English-language environments outside Wales! Maybe she’s just Es or whatever.

One can opt out. Anybody not liking Display Names can disable them in the viewer. This has always been the case in SL or anywhere that has them in their fork of the codebase. Any grid operator may simply not enable the option. The OpenSim devs are free to have it disabled by default if they like in the standard OpenSim.ini.example. They can add text recommending against its use or even that they think it’s crap but users can enable it if they really must. Sorry, perhaps that is perhaps not really necessary – but you take my point. More practically, they could hide it away in OpenSimDefaults.ini for us only to dig out if we want it, if they’d like to really discourage it. There are other unusual settings hidden away there too.

The names binding code is reasonably simple, according to the documentation. The code is written. This is one of the factors that has led to forks and splits in the developer community already, which weakens the joint effort. Personally I am a liberal-minded person who likes to enable other people’s preferences where those don’t actively hurt me or anybody else. It seems authoritarian to say that because we don’t like it, neither may anybody else have it. It’s such an obvious time-saving and resource-saving thing. People DO have multiple names and identities. Reverend Daniel Peters may be Rev D. Peters, The Reverend, Dan, Peters (in sport, say), Fuzzy Bug, Daddy etc. Why not let him do his thing? you really don’t have to if you aren’t so minded. Google and Facebook tried to police people’s identities and it created a storm. Don’t repeat their mistake.

It’s a bit late in the day for this but could still be easily resolved. It would heal a rift in the community. Please consider it. Personally I’ve reached the point where it makes sense even for me. Others have been asking for *ages* and have even written the code for you. One or two of them are developers who contribute to the OpenSim codebase or forks of it, and whose patches are already parts of OpenSim. You won’t even notice when it’s in the code, since it may well not be operating in your regions or in your viewer.

Thank you for all that you do, by the way ❤

The slow death of Viewer 1.x, the half-life of the hypergrid, and other stories

Despite the popularity of third-party viewers such as Phoenix (formerly Emerald) and the disastrous design and usability problems of Linden Viewer 2.0, it has now become clear that Viewer 1.x is dying a slow death. The final release of the Phoenix viewer is out, to be replaced by a new Firestorm viewer based on the 2.0 codebase, and there are similar plans for Imprudence to be replaced by the new Kokua viewer (whose name, I’m afraid, does not strike me as nearly as memorable – what’s wrong with Phoenix 2.0 and Imprudence 2.0 for names, rather than changing them just when they start to get well-known?)

This is, of course, a demonstration that the world of OpenSim grids, so dependent on the Linden codebase, is still very much semi-detached from development in SL, and interoperability will always remain a core issue.

One reason for this is mesh, coming soon (but we’re still not sure when) to a simulator near you. Look out, OpenSim and ModRex! Despite the latter’s support for mesh being far older than the Linden effort, ported back from RealXtend‘s version of the OpenSim codebase to a region module for OpenSim, it has never caught on. Although OpenSim developers seem to be working on mesh, it’s no longer clear if ModRex is the main plank of this effort. It still only works in standalone mode, not in grid mode. The pace of development on ModRex seems still to be incredibly slow, after an initial burst of activity, and it’s blog and web presence remains embryonic and dated.

The 1.x codebase can support some newer backported features such as Display Names (which is not likely to be complex code) but it will be increasingly difficult, and most likely impossible, to continue developing viewers that work for both OpenSim and SL without embracing the viewer 2.0 codebase. Incidentally, Display Names will not work on OpenSim, but apparently will on Aurora based-grids (see below). Hopefully, however, the terrible viewer  design will be completely ignored. Even the developer of Kirsten’s viewer, which rather slavishly avoids any affront to Linden Lab by providing direct support for OpenSim (which is a simple matter of using the open source grid manager code from the Hippo viewer), has been critical of the Viewer 2.0 design. I should say, in Kirsten’s defence, that it is not completely impossible to use the present version of the viewer with OpenSim.

Meanwhile, new forks of the OpenSim server codebase are appearing, notably Aurora, which provides a great deal of core functionality that users have been crying out for. The new Kokua Viewer (a separate project loosely associated with Aurora, previously known as Imprudence) will support some of these extra features. At present, things like profiles, groups, search and web interfaces have to be hacked together once per upgrade, and database changes leave all of these side projects struggling to keep up with the OpenSim codebase.

OpenSim developers, after their huge success with Hypergrid, have managed to undo their own work by fracturing the community into no less than three mutually incompatible and often unreliable versions of what is the most fundamental part of the open metaverse. At present, Hypergrid is barely working at all, and it is a major victory to teleport off one’s own servers. Yesterday I finally managed to reach OSGrid (though it’s misconfigured locally, so that one cannot leave) using a test grid running Aurora, although I cannot do so with any revision of OpenSim 0.7.1-dev on which it is based. Admittedly the latter is development code, but many grids are already running it, including OSGrid. People were astonished to see someone arrive from the outside: one said it had been a year since they had known it to be working! Obviously, some of the unreliability is down to local server configurations, which is an operational problem. But why keep breaking Hypergrid with every new release? Why does it have to be so hard? This is no way to help grow the open source metaverse.

It seems that the OpenSim developers do not seem to see the hypergrid as a priority even though it is what makes people compare OpenSim grids to the Web and its rich competitor SL to the once-mighty AOL. At present, documentation and communication about OpenSim remain amateur and patchy. Of course, the developers make the blinkered ideological claim that they are NOT a competitor to SL, but such claims are often made by those who are manifestly failing to capitalise on their obvious strategic advantages. However talented the OpenSim developers are, they are terrible salesmen. And they are convincing nobody. Their user base certainly is competing with SL, even if they personally, as developers, are not. Remember, the user is queen – or even king!

Get it together again! All this fine work needs a bit more coordination, no?