Sunday, November 22, 2009

My problem with the roadmap

So, I've been pondering the real reasons I'm so displeased with the xstreet thing. The initial knee-jerk is of course "wow, fuck you for adding yet another surcharge without providing anything in return." But the real reason I really really don't like the change goes a lot deeper than that.

The freebies thing...kinda sucks, and kinda doesn't. I don't like it, but it may actually not be a horrible idea: I don't know whether it can actually _work_ (in fact, I think it stands a snowball's chance in hell of actually helping any), but it's a reaction from LL to the fact that freebies have gotten out of control, and freebies do not drive the economy. They can't ban freebies in world, where the problem has gotten to be more of an epidemic, this is one place where they can try to stem the tide and hope that it spills over- problem being, there are a LOT of freebies that benefit the community as a whole that wouldn't be as useful if they weren't freely available, as well as the fact that freebies lure new users into joining and staying, and eventually putting money into the system to stimulate the economy. I don't know for sure, as I don't browse the freebies on xstreet really, but I think that most of the free swag on xstreet is of that type, and most of the type that stagnates the economy is available only in world. So I doubt this will truly have any positive impact upon the real base problem, that too much is available for free as "promotion", but that's backfiring and causing people to not see the reason to pay for anything, period.

The bigger problem, is the 10L per month per item fee that's slipped in there. Firstly, they tried to slip it in so we wouldn't notice- note the name of the article is Managing Freebies, and that's the main thrust of the article, and this is snuck in such that many people (including myself) missed it on first reading. That is underhanded, and you don't get a warm fuzzy feeling when you realize someone is trying to hide the fact they want to fuck you over.

And fuck you over it does: aside from the fact that, quite simply, merchants will have to waste a shitload of their time delisting items to avoid fees that xstreet does not support (after having wasted a shitload of time listing in the first place on a system with a miserable interface), this also inherently changes the entire service of xstreet- it removes a service that worked in one way, and replaces it with an entirely different service that I do not think will be anywhere near as useful- I know, with absolute certainty, that it will in fact turn a useful service into a useless one, for me personally. And THAT is my deeper issue here.

I've talked to a number of people about xstreet (and onrez before that) for a number of years. Everyone that I've talked to uses these services in somewhat similar manners:

1) Web based searching, even though xstreet has an absolutely horrible search system (onrez's was far superior, which was just yet another reason killing off onrez and not implementing the better features as promised was a mistake), is still a lot easier than in world searching. In world searching will always have a lot of problems because there's simply too much out there, and it's a lot harder to find what you're looking for. You need to search in All to be able to _try_ to pick up on people who've thought to tick their vendors for search, and then you have to sift through all the things that have nothing to do with what you want to buy- if I'm looking to purchase a particular style of building, I don't really want to end up in sims with that theme instead. Additionally it takes a lot of time to go to a sim, wait for things to rez, find the particular vendor you're looking for, wait for it to rez, and then find out if you're actually interested in that, or want to keep looking down the list. There's a huge inconvenience factor when it comes to shopping in this manner- and xstreet fills a very necessary gap in services. I'm far more likely to get frustrated and give up, if I'm limited to in world options- and with less being listed on xstreet, I AM limited to in world options. It won't be worth it to even try to find things on xstreet, knowing that an already limited pool is limited even further to such a drastic degree- I just plain won't bother to even try. They should be moving towards having more listed on xstreet, not less, for a convenience to find what I'm looking for. Now, the real kicker here, is that unless there's a special deal or only available on xstreet, I would go IN WORLD and buy the item I found. There's no way to know that xstreet fostered that sale, because I wanted to see the other things people had in world, as well as the whole buying process being a bit more cozy if I can go see their place, and the way they've decorated and get a feel for the whole thing, and pay the box and get the thing instantly- instead of fearing yet another layer of failed transactions (there are still failed transactions on xstreet, far more commonly than in world, and my transaction records prove it). And if it's something I can actually _see_ physically in world, like poses? You'd better believe that xstreet fostered that sale, but could not MAKE the sale on its own.

2) Gifting no transfer items is also a huge convenience perk on xstreet- I can try to do it manually, but I have to notecard the merchant, wait for them to be online, find out how they want me to deal with it, get them to send the item, hope they actually do (thankfully I've never run into anyone who didn't, but you do need to have a certain level of trust in who you're buying from, a stranger who is doing it by hand and in whose control it entirely lies). Doing it through xstreet means I see something that I think a friend would like in SL, I know this merchant has xstreet so I bring up their profile, find the item, send it off, and I'm all done. Convenience is a huge motivator in commerce- or really, the converse is more true, inconvenience is a huge detractor. If the line at the store is too long and I don't really need what I've got in my cart, I may just walk out without buying what I'd chosen- I may buy the items there later, but on the other hand, I may buy them somewhere else, or I may simply not buy them at all. xstreet provides a very necessary way to conveniently bypass a problem inherent in the way SL has to work- especially as copy/no trans is what more people have moved towards because of transaction and asset failure (additionally there is a huge convenience factor in resizing prims and such- but that could also be gotten around if the permissions system was more sophisticated). In other words, xstreet provides a way to work around the problems that LL has never FIXED. And, the Christmas season is coming up! A time when gift giving (whether it be Xmas presents or Hanukkah or whatnot) is on the rise- this is the LAST time you want to encourage people to be taking things off xstreet. In fact, this is the time you want to be encouraging merchants to put their entire stock ON xstreet.

3) In a related point, xstreet serves as a great place for a merchant to keep stock- they can keep old retired stock, but additionally they can provide a different browsing experience- both "Textures loading slowly for you today? Browse on xstreet!", and offering an alternate organizational scheme (which, unfortunately, is another something that xstreet does NOT do well, and onrez did far better, between tags and the ability to browse tags by owner, I could easily "build" pages with different options that were related and link them in the description, in a far more flexible manner than could ever be presented in world). I had my entire catalog, constantly kept up to date as part of my releasing process, on onrez before it was bought out and discontinued. It worked as a great supplement even though people rarely bought through it. I've recently started trying to build up my catalog on xstreet again, as listing is far less friendly and takes far longer than onrez- so you've also got the pissed offedness over all the wasted time- I've spent literally DAYS updating xstreet, and will be deactivating at least 90% of what I have there, if I stay at all. The whole system with alternates (say, different colours) of an item also means that if I stay, I will be unlisting a LOT of things that LL has received sales commissions on- there's no reason to have more than one "display" colour up, even though they sell, on xstreet as well as in world, in _all_ colours.

The new system is trying to turn xstreet into a standalone marketplace- and I don't think that SL is a system that can truly support that. I know that it's not something I can actually see any benefit in having, turning the entire system just into a "spotlight" of "best sellers"- on top of that, I don't think LL really wants to be showing the world, in a forum easily viewed by outsiders without taking the time to even create an account and see the system, what ARE the top sellers. Badly made stripper wear, blinging stripper heels, that full prim schoolgirl skirt with the dropping and mooning animation that was constantly on the front page? You already have enough of a problem with SL being seen by outsiders as a den of iniquity and sex and perverts, and this is NOT an image you want, and you know this. It's the image you are more than likely to get however, because these things _do_ sell, and I could make a hell of a lot more money in SL if I sold out and didn't care and made crappily made stripper gear. Sex sells, and the internet is made for porn (the internet is also a filthy perverted place, and for the tiniest bit of proof, go to google and type in- why won't - and watch what it autocompletes. This is also why searching in SL DOESN'T WORK, until the computer can read my mind and interface with other sophisticated computers that are capable of truly understanding, we rely on algorithms, and they are always inherently flawed, it's just a case of making them the least flawed possible. Also, be very very happy I chose that as an example, not any of the truly fucked up things out there, that make clown gangbangs look tame). Now, thing is, sex doesn't sell to me, and the higher proportion of stripper wear and blingtard heels will serve to alienate me, and all the people like me who aren't interested in it, out of the market. It may not be all that's there, but it will go up in percentage, which will make it look like there is so much more of it, and so much less of anything in which I am interested. Not only will there be less I am interested in, but there will appear to be EVEN less because the things in which I am not interested will stay in a higher percentage than the things in which I am. And as that happens, it will foster the trend to continue, snowballing until there's no reason to ever use it for anything else.

People have been defending it by comparing it to ebay- without considering that ebay does offer a number of free insertions a month, it's an insertion fee, not a recurring one, and, when it comes down to it, you're comparing apples and oranges. They're both fruit, but the two systems are, and always will be simply due to the way SL works, completely different in very fundamental ways. I can't see a truly ebay like system being able to flourish in any real way in SL- limited quantities and time sensitivity are things that are more foreign to this medium, and you have to do intentionally, instead of coming naturally.

There are some other intrinsic problems here: if xstreet is such a money pit, why did you buy not one, but two of these services that were doing quite alright on their own, where they didn't have the rest of the infrastructure in place that should make this cheaper for LL to run, not more expensive. Either someone didn't do their research to start with (and a very high, higher than has happened, growth after the takeover should have been expected and included as part of this research), or something has been handled very very badly. Neither inspire any sort of confidence whatsoever in LL's ability to handle ANYTHING.

Additionally, "money" doesn't mean the same thing to LL- it is the carrot and the stick approach (mostly the stick), not what money converts to. They print the money, they control the supply, they have the money sinks of uploads, classifieds, etc. as money sinks to keep the economy moving (outside money needs to be brought into the system for it to continue functioning, additionally this means _less_ money can be taken out of the system, leaving them with the difference)- they give things worth. Textures have some intrinsic worth not simply because of the work involved in making them, but they have also an actual dollar amount (fractional as it is) added on top of that- which ceases it from being entirely "free" in any way, which instills some sliver of actual concrete "worth". Classifieds have the money system so there's a way to be "on top" by being willing to spend more than anyone else. LL doesn't "make money" directly off of these fees, instead they make money by removing this money from the system. Lindens are imaginary money until they are cashed- except to LL, when they are real money that belongs to them, until they are cashed, so they need to keep money coming into the system to keep paying for things, as well as have certain ways to keep it in the system. (Land fees are a somewhat related issue, although there's a more direct added cost on top of that that gives it more direct "worth".)

So, by instituting these fees, they're adding another money sink- but its direct result will be the stick. It actually serves as a disincentive, just as upload fees serve as a disincentive to upload trash to the asset servers. The disincentive is a mechanism of control, to mold the system into what they want it to be instead of what it is, NOT a way to make money.

And, the real problem at the end of it? The system they want it to be, is one that certainly is less useful to me, and may in fact be entirely useless. It certainly means that I have been operating under an entirely different set of assumptions when using this system, both as consumer and merchant- and the new rules don't have any benefit to me. They want to foster commerce because that's what brings them money- however I can only see them removing convenience, and placing roadblocks in the way of commerce, instead.


Whispers said...

Very very well said! Thank you for putting into words much of what I thought!

Adreahna Vlodovic said...

I totally support this post.