Saturday, 7 May 2011

There.com To Return ? Take The Survey To Make it Possible.

My Avatar in There.com
There.com was my first real experience of open space virtual worlds.

By “open space” I mean the ability to roam around freely and not be restricted by “walls” such as house walls for example.

Previous to There.com I had been a member of TSO (The Sims Online) which was arguably the Grandfather of online social platforms.

At the time (2001) it was revolutionary. 

I have never been one to use chat rooms of forums so TSO was my first experience of meeting and talking to people from all over the world, largely from the USA.




I am not sure how I discovered There,  I think someone told me about an email they had received inviting them to a free 30 day trial, so I made an account in the name of ElizaRose and logged in.

I recall vividly how vast and open it seemed compared to TSO.

Unlike TSO, where the virtual space you occupied was confined to a house, in There you could run or drive or even fly in wide open spaces, drive over oceans, fields, forests and deserts.

You could also attend social events like group card games, paintball contests or trivia competitions for There Buxs. (The official currency)

It was very social. It wasn’t strange to begin talking to a someone you encountered on your travels.

This was all new to me and at the time a bit overwhelming but also a lot of fun.
I would spend hours during the day hover boarding, racing my buggy or exploring new found areas.

There.com had no game objective like TSO.

Whilst you could skill up in activities like Buggy, Hover bike and Hover board racing and even training your virtual dog, it wasn’t “the point" but more of an option.

The best thing about There were the vehicles and racing to beat the current fastest recorded track speed, or race in “real time” against another 10 players on a member owned and built race track.

The physics engine in There.com is even today, much better than that of Secondlife.com 

The unique thing about Second Life is the fact that the terrain is not pre determined like a “normal” online game would be.

The buildings and assets in games like World of Warcraft are set in place by the creators before the game is opened up to the public.
Players can interact with some of content, but they cannot pick things up and drop them from their inventory at will like you can in Second Life.

Secondlife.com is unique because things are constantly changing every minute and those changes are unpredictable.
Trying to beat the high score

A person can drop a motorbike, boat, house or a horse or indeed anything they are carrying within their inventory, at any time and in many random places.

No one knows exactly how much memory will be required by the Second Life servers  (which run parcels of virtual land) from one minute to the next.
It all depends on who is there, what scripted attachments their avatar is wearing and what activities they are involved in.



Because of this, Second Life suffers from considerable LAG which makes racing any form of vehicle a tedious task.

The last time I tried to drive a vehicle in SL I was "rubber banding” and I always got trapped in buildings that hadn’t had time to appear due to the speed at which my vehicle was moving compared to the speed at which my surroundings would become visible and “solid"

The creators of There.com have more control over their platform.
Most of the assets are “fixed” an cannot be  moved.
You can drive and race but it is done in fixed areas like racing tracks.
Hover Bike Track in There.com


You can also drive around freely of course, but because the majority of the in world assets are fixed, there is much more control over how much each server (which supports a defined area within the game) is used.

The bottom line is the physics engine is superior to Secondlife.com and this was one of the main things I missed when I discovered and “crossed over” to Second Life.

I had been in There.com 9 months when I heard about Second Life.

It would seem, Linden Labs (the creators of Second Life) had obtained the email addresses of all of There.com members because we all got an email “invitation” to Second Life at the same time and none of us had heard of it before.

They even created a special SL surname “Therian” to help people make the transition from There to Second Life. I don’t see anyone with that name anymore. It was 2006 after all.

The first 2 seater Hover Bike
Whilst the sense of freedom in There initially seemed vast and limitless, after nine months you discovered the place did have “walls” after all and what once seemed limitless fast became restrictive.

Once you had flown your hover boat around a few times, you realised that actually, it wasn’t "that big" at all.
Hover Boat.
















Just as in Second Life, you could "own” land in There.com,  but to buy a region would set you back approx $5,000 -  $10,000 and then a further $1,000 to 2,000 a month for the rent.

Needless to say, few people “owned” land regions in There.com

You were lucky if you could afford one of the 100 virtual houses available for rent.

At the time, you would have wait patiently for one to become available in the auctions as there were so few compared to how many people really wanted to “show off” and own one.

Owning a There house was a status symbol.

When one came up, you had to bid for it or if you were smart,  you would contact the owner directly and ask him or her to "name their price" (and remind them they could have the money in 5 minutes)

It would cost anything up to $2,000 depending on how big and where the house was.
Once the deeds were in your name, you then had to pay a further $300 - $400 a month for rent, which was paid directly to There.com.

For a little while, I dabbled in the virtual property market and managed to make a few hundred dollars.
Then they released hundreds of additional virtual properties in the “Bone Yard” area which caused the virtual property market to crash. 

I am not sure to this day why they did that.

Some say it was a deliberate act to stop people making money off the property market. Others said they hoped it would generate more monthly rental revenue.

Either way, it didn’t work out too well for anyone including There.com.

Once the novelty of claiming your own piece of virtual space wore off, what followed was hundreds of empty houses and the value of property plummeting.

In the end, you literally couldn't give your house away. No one wanted to pay the monthly fees anymore.

Partly because of the unsettled economy and partly because of human nature.

When property was not too easy to come by, there was a “snob factor” attached to owning your own “There House" and people will pay for a good ego boost.

As soon as they released an additional 200 properties, it was no longer an exclusive luxury which was indicative to your real life wealth. The shine became a smudge.

Basic economics really, supply and demand.  Suddenly there were too many houses and not enough tenants. 

There.com, like SL had its own marketplace only unlike Second Life, all trading was done on the official auction based website.
Content creators would make and sell clothes, houses, dogs and household items and consumers would bid on items hoping to bag a bargain.

It was much like eBay but in a virtual form. I recall one of the first things I said when I discovered Second Life and that was: “They should have an auction website and it’s not fair that once you buy something you are unable to then sell it on in hopes of making “some” money back.

Some disagreed and said they enjoyed the “virtual reality” of walking into stores to try things on.

Interestingly, SL today has its own website marketplace, much like There.coms and it would appear “in world shoping” is a dying trend.

With the LAG and crappy search system and how badly people spam their store descriptions, its just easier and faster to buy from the official SL marketplace these days.

I have signed up to be a beta tester for the “direct delivery” feature Linden Labs are testing soon.
From what I understand, it will remove the need to own server boxes (SL Boxes) as your products will be delivered straight from your inventory. I sent off my NDA the other day.

Anyway, back to There.com...

You could make and sell your own There based content or simply sell single item products you had bought previously from other creators.

The ability to sell on one copy of a product you had purchased in the past allowed you to free up some money and I can only imagine this aided the economy.

In Second Life, you find 95% of everything you have purchased, remains in your inventory for ever or until the point when it becomes so dated and old, you delete it. Dead money.

Because the There market was governed and controlled by the staff,  this allowed control over what was being made and/or sold.
There was a time stamp of every purchase, who created an item, who purchased the item and who and when that same item was sold on.
Hover Board (My Early Photoshop editing!) 

In SL, because members can “drop” content actually onto the platform, this has opened up the doors to content theft by way of 3rd party programs that will replicate a product from the structure to the textures and scripts.

Obviously, this has had a very negative effect on the issue of Copyright theft.

Whilst content theft was an issue in There.com it was by no means as big an issue as it is in Second Life.

Further more, the owners practised “zero tolerence”
If some-one was reported and found to be guilty of committing theft more than once, they and their IP was banned.

In There.com (and IMVU.com) its not as simple as creating a free account, slapping a picture on a box and setting it for sale, like it is in Second Life.

There was a process of submission and approval.

You have to pay to submit every new design regardless of whether you wanted to sell copies of it or just import it for personal use.
Everything “new” had to be “processed” by There staff.
They checked for copyright and trademarks violations then charged you for submitting your product, you also had listing fees too, regardless of whether it sold or not, you had a fee to pay.

This, by default, made the bulk of content for sale in There.com very good quality.

Few people were likely to pay money to submit and attempt to sell content unless they believed it would sell and they could make profit.

Second Lifes weakness is the fact that literally any "Tom Dick or Harry" can bag up someone else's stuff and sell it often in total ignorance.

This is where a Merchant TOS quiz would come in handy or at the very least presenting some bullet points on the subject of Copyright.
We must not assume everyone “should” or “does” know about copyright. Why would they?

I have made monumental errors and misjudgments in the past and by now I can say I know everything there is to know about copyright. But it took me making some mistakes before I discovered the “dos and donts”
I have spoken to many people who agree they were also clueless as noobs in SL.

People should apply to become SL merchants IMO. The decision should be based on a few credentials.
Premium Account, no TOS violations within the last 12 months and real life ID verification.

No one (not even Linden Labs) knows the identity of many merchants who have breached someones copyright and this has created a sense of insecurity for many honest hard working merchants in Second Life.

Admittedly, things have got better but to many, the damage is already done.

IMVU.com for example, will not let anyone become a merchant unless they have paid for a premium account, verified their real ID and agreed to the TOS relating to copyright and merchant standards.
Good for them. 

It pisses me off when I see people in Second Life on a freebie account asking for money in exchange for products.

Three reasons for that:

1) I feel everyone should pay something if they intend on using the platform to potentially make money.

2) I feel everyone should pay “something” if they intend on using any platform for anything.

3) I feel serious, professional merchants should be upfront about who they are in real life. 
If they are "cashing out" real money to pay for real bills, then I fail to see why they should not use real names and IDs.

I have never hidden my name or address because I am running a real business and I want people to consider me and the business as “real” too. I pay real taxes, and real land tier and the licensed copy of Photoshop, Poser and 3DMax cost me real money.
But then, I think thats "just me” and I am in the minority on this one.

So anyway, thats my comparison between the two platforms that at one time were in direct competition to each other.

There.com closed its doors around 18 months ago (I think) explaining it was largely down to the economy and the fact that "people were just not spending money anymore"

A lot of ex “Therians” came to Secondlife.com reluctantly, sad and angry.

Around 6 weeks ago, I witnessed a group conversation about how the owners of There.com were considering re-opening its doors as a kind of “There2.com”

But there would have to be changes, two of them were:

1) No free access. Good.
Why is it that people are OK about paying a subscription to play WOW or EVE online (where there is no opportunity to make money) but gag at the thought of paying their way in Second Life?

2) No members under 18. (There.com claimed that running and controlling a PG platform was the biggest financial overhead)

They released a survey, initially on a survey based website. It contained 4 questions, all 4 were about payment and fees.

Then, this morning, I got an email inviting me to complete the same survey, here’s the text: 

Dear Former Member of There.com,

We have never believed in spamming our members, however, in this case, we
hope you'll agree we have good reason to send you this unsolicited email.

Since There.com was closed a year ago, we have been exploring cost-effective
ways to re-open There, as a sustainable business. With changes we've made to
our business model and new advances in technology, we MIGHT be able to
re-open There.com.

If you are interested in the possibility of re-opening There.com, you are
invited to to give us feedback in a simple survey. It's only 4 questions, so
it will only take a moment. You can read more about the survey on Michael
Wilson's blog http://theremichaelwilson.wordpress.com/ .

You can find the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/thereagain

Thanks very much for your time,
Everyone at Makena Technologies
(the home of There.com)

So, if you used to be a member of There.com and miss it and are happy to “pay your way” then please take the survey..

Alternatively, if you never had the opportunity to experience There.com but think it sounds like a nice alternative and again, don't mind paying a few dollars a month, please complete the survey.

Honestly, you will enjoy it for many different reasons you may enjoy (or used to enjoy) Second Life.


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