In Motion

It’s been a long time since my last post, but there have been some good reasons for it. I have been buried in a number of projects, and couldn’t be happier about it. Some projects can’t be discussed at all under the terms of Non-Disclosure Agreements, while others have either partial NDA’s or aren’t governed by legalese at all. While that may sound like it would be confusing or limiting/frustrating, it’s something I’ve grown accustomed to over many years working in the tech & entertainment industries in RL. Posts that effectively say “ha ha I know something you don’t know but I’m not going to tell you” aren’t any fun to read, so let me focus on what I can talk about, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

We’ve created a Youtube Channel for BlakOpal Designs. I was opposed to the idea for a long time, since BlakOpal and I each have our own accounts (here and here) and don’t really make any effort to keep our RL and SL separate. We’re real people, we spend time in SL. To me, the idea of creating a separate account just for our Second Life-related videos seemed like it was building a wall between the two and not something I wanted to spend any time and energy on.

What changed my mind, and made me suddenly rush out and create an account for the shoppe? The new SL Marketplace. I can share that I’ve been working with Linden Lab since springtime to help develop and test the new site (more on that in the coming weeks), and one of the features that intrigued us both was support for product videos. Of course, the existing site allows you to include a link to a product video (and we’ve done that with a few outfits), but with the new site the plans are to take things further.

In the initial phase (where we are now), merchants can post the link to the video clip they have posted on a site like Youtube or Vimeo, and the site will display the link at the bottom of the listing. Customers can then click the link, and it opens a new browser window on the video page. The next phase (which will likely happen within a few months of the Markeplace beta wrapping up) will see the videos go from being links to being embedded right on the product listing page. Sounds like such a small thing, but I think that’s going to be huge! A third phase (which is much further out and is still in development) would hopefully function as a sort of like a home shopping channel showcasing some of the wondrous creations in SL. People would be able to browse and skip through SL videos and click on over to the product listing if they like something they see.

No, I’m not embracing it as any kind of get rich quick scheme. First, there’s nothing quick about it, and second, I doubt it will lead to any kind of riches. We’ve posted and linked some videos of outfits before, and while we’ve enjoyed making them and people have enjoyed seeing them, they haven’t caused sales to skyrocket. BlakOpal and I think it will be a lot of fun, and make for an even better experience on the new marketplace.

Ideally, we’d like to have a video for each of the items in the shoppe. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yeah, well as it turns out we now have over 250 items - that’s a lot of videos! Aside from the work that will go into shooting, editing, posting, and linking each of the pieces, it becomes an issue of bombing our individual Youtube accounts with videos that the average person might find a bit boring. Enter the BlakOpal Designs Youtube Channel. A perfect place for us to post shoppe-related videos.

The product videos will be fairly basic. Aside from having a lot of videos to produce, I want to avoid using glitz and effects to make the outfits seem better or more exciting than they are. No camera tricks, no fixing texture or alpha glitches in post production, no color correction... none of that. Each piece will consist of a few shots that show the outfit ‘in motion’, and possibly show some close-ups of the outfit’s details. The clips will be set to music not only so we can share some music we love, but also showcase the work of my RL friends/artists/producers. If you like what you hear, please check the description for credits and support the artists.

Over most of the last year or so BlakOpal and I have been slowly upgrading our studio setup, which is helping to make this project come together much more smoothly. We’ve got the hardware, software, network, and storage capacity for the job, it’s now just a matter of time for me to go through all our outfits and get something put together.

Construction Time Again

Nothing specific to report, but a whole has been going on. For starters, I’ve updated the software and most of the plugins that are used in the creation of this site. Additionally, Adobe has finally released the long-awaited update to their Creative Suite family (BlakOpal and I both use Adobe apps extensively for RL and SL projects). Aside from simply updating what we use, I’ve been looking to expand my horizons on programs I use for RL projects, and I’ve been making use of some of the excellent courseware at Lynda.com to help.

I’ve also had my hands full with testing other assorted pieces of software, the details of which I’m not liberty to get into. SL-wise, I’ve had great results using both Snowglobe 2.x and Kirsten’s S20 viewers, in addition to the official viewer. I’d also like to point out that, contrary to the spreaders of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (or FUDdites as I prefer to call them), the 2.x viewers are not completely unusable for builders and content creators. Once you take a little time to get acclimated, they’re fine. I’m actually at the point where I prefer them to 1.x viewers.

I’ve also gotten lots of shopkeeper stuff done lately, as well. Servers and vendors have all been recently updated, and have better SL region communications than ever. I’ve also had some fun with a number of construction projects, ranging from designing a bunch of row shops, a complete re-work of our space in New Babbage, re-doing the landscaping on Reachra, setting up a new shoppe building, and playing around with a few other primmy projects that haven’t yet made it down to ground level. We’ve also just opened up locations in Sapphire City, at The Carrington in Seraph City, and Triborough NY, and there are some exciting new outfits on the horizon too. On top of that, we’re gearing up for the International Fashion Fair and a major upgrade of the XStreet shopping experience (seriously, it is about to get much more awesome).

One thing we don’t have coming up in the weeks ahead is the SL7B celebration. Yes, we’ll both probably be there during the event, but we’ve decided not to apply for a build site. The parcel sizes and prim limits are much smaller than last year, and realistically we don’t have the time and resources to start the process from scratch and come up with something that we’re both excited about. We think sitting this one out is the right thing to do, and we look forward to future large scale community events that we will have the opportunity to participate in.

As I work, I find myself occasionally taking lots of snapshots and screen grabs (either for my own purposes or to share with BlakOpal). This post seems like as good a place as any to share some of my favorites from the last few weeks.

Summing Up Shoppe Things

After having read loads of clatter over the last several days on message boards, group chat, and in-world it seems an appropriate time to sum up our position with regard to BlakOpal Designs.

  • We have no intention of leaving XStreet. We wish the best of luck to those merchants taking their business elsewhere, but feel that XStreet will continue to deliver the best shopping experience for our customers and our business. And that’s what really matters.
  • We have no intention of tacking on surcharges to our prices, either in-world or on XStreet. Regardless of where our customers prefer to make their purchases, we are simply grateful for their business.

With that said, it’s back to work playing the role of the builder, designer, and shopkeeper. :-)

XStreet Forums Makeover

While much has been said of the changes to the XStreet Forums (mostly prophecies of doom and mourning the death of a community), I've got to say that I'm pretty optimistic. In fairness, I was never a big fan of the PHP BB systems that have been all over the internet since June of 2000. While a few sites have done them well, they all have the feel of plugging in some standard package, and only a feeble attempt at implementing features or customizing the user interface. The SL Forums and old XStreet Forums were no exception, it's a shame to see a commercial operation using such a generic implementation.

The new layout seems nice and clean by comparison. Below the main SL header (and site-wide menus), you've got the forum indexes on the top left and helpful links below that, the welcome messages and general discussions right in the middle, and then notifications and top participants on the right. Personally I feel the top participants module should be a lower priority, but that's a minor complaint. It's ironic to note that many of the current top participants are some of the biggest critics of the changes - I guess it wasn't the death of the community they were predicting it to be ;-) If you scroll further down, you'll see most recent forum activity on the left, and a tag cloud on the right. I'm glad they kept recent activity from the old forums, and I'm extremely happy to see the tag cloud being added. The old forums had an almost completely useless search function, and if a tag cloud makes it any easier to find something you're interested in then I'm all for it.

Surfing the boards and making a few posts, I see a lot of potential. For now you can only put text in your auto-signature (that's due to change in the near future), which results in some unfortunate-looking signatures with lengthy URL link text just pasted in. Quick tip for forum members who want to link to a long/ugly URL (like a link to their merchandisse on XStreet)... use a URL shortening service like TinyURL! Readers/customers are more likely to copy/paste text into their browser window if it's short and painless. Creating/editing posts seems more friendly than on the old boards, you can add tags to your profile, and it looks like we'll soon get the chance to have our own blogs. And when you consider that all this is integrated within the main SL site, I think there's a lot of potential for community-building ahead. Not just customers reaching designers, but people from all walks (and flights) of SL connecting with each other. Sure, we can do that to a limited degree now through the use of random sites like LiveJournal, Ning, WordPress, Blogger, and the like... but this is something that's SL-specific, it's common to all SL residents, and you already have a member login (since it's the same thing you log into SL with). Then when you combine that with a more customized dashboard main page (where you can arrange modules the way you want them, and customize your view to your tasts), you've really got something interesting going on.

While part of me wants to see all these new features turned on and hurry up so we can all get to the next level, I'm glad LL is going in phased rollouts. Take a few big steps, then step back and see how everything's running, and make minor fixes and course corrections as necessary. Many thanks to Pink Linden, Collosus Linden, and all the other LL team members involved in teh XStreet upgrades.