Fixing the Unbroken
Filed under: Linden Lab and Second Life, SL Marketplace, The Project to Save Second Life
Well they’re at it again. Repeating a pattern that seems to be solidly entrenched in the Corporate Personality at Linden Lab, CommerceTeam Linden is readying the release of an update to the Second Life Transaction History resource. It wasn’t broken of course, but that’s all the more reason for them to invest their precious programmer time in changing it and making it incompatible with what has been working perfectly for years.
The Transaction History Report
When you log into the main Second Life web site, the function menu along the left-hand edge of the window provides a report called “Transaction History”. (Shown here on the right.) This report has been stable and functional for as long as I’ve been a member of Second Life, and I’d bet it is one of the oldest pieces of web code present on the site. But that’s not a bad thing. No, far from it. That’s a very good thing because it indicates a resource that is useful to many, functional for many and dependable in its operation. So what is Linden Lab doing with it? What else? They’re breaking it!
The Initial Baseball Bat to the Head
Apparently there was an initial release of the new report format. The release happened absent any notice. In typical LL fashion, they just turned it loose and didn’t bother to notify anyone that it was being released. The immediate reaction to this “Stealth Update” was the creation of a thread in the Second Life Forums titled “THE WORST THING THEY HAVE DONE YET”. (Click HERE to view the Forum Thread in a new window or tab.) Frankly I have to agree with the title, the use of all caps to make it stand out, and the sentiment expressed in the title and the subsequent posts to the thread.
Not only did Linden Lab turn it loose without letting anyone know that it was coming, but they removed a number of features that many people have come to depend on to maintain their daily business operations.
Stuff They Removed
The existing functionality provided by the Transaction History report included the ability to select beginning and ending dates. Once selected, the resulting report could then be downloaded in either XLS (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet) or XML formats. Here is an example of the basic Transaction History report:
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture a screenshot of the new report, but apparently they removed the ability to download the XLS and XML format files and replaced them with a single CSV file. I think I understand why they went with the generic CSV format; it’s very easy to generate for any size of dataset. The current Transaction History report is limited to 500 transactions max. I use a PHP library called PHPExcel that allows me to create Excel-compatible files, but it is fairly limited in the size of dataset it can work with as it loads the entire thing into memory in order to convert it into the output format. Thus it’s entirely possible the LL Developers are up against that wall and solved it by simply eliminating the XLS format. (The same probably goes for the XML format as well, but that’s pure conjecture on my part.)
Stuff They Added
Going on the comments in the above-mentioned Forum Thread, it appears that they’ve lifted the 500 transaction limit .. and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately they’ve also broken the data provided, the order of the columns within the data generated, and generally moved things around on us. Those of us that use either third-party or homebrew systems that use the data format provided by the existing Transaction History report depend on that data remaining stable and consistent. So while they’re trying to do a “Good Thing” by improving the report, they’re actually doing a “Bad Thing” by moving things around. But what makes it really bad is .. they’re doing it with virtually no notice or recovery time.
What they need to understand is that people really depend on having the downloaded data in specific order, with specific columns containing specific data. Any changes to the data order, content, formatting .. or anything else they do that alters the downloadable data .. that will have the effect of completely hosing up our well-worn and well-understood processes. This is why they need to do a few things to go along with this new update.
First of all they need to provide a way to continue using the existing report format with the existing downloadable data formats. They can simply keep the existing page, just rename it so that it’s not on the main link but is still available. This will give those of us that depend on the existing data structure the ability to continue operation while we begin converting our systems to use the new format.
Secondly they have to understand that there are a lot of people that depend on stability in the data they have available. For one reason or another, Linden Lab has for many years operated as though they purposely want to destroy the viability of customer-owned businesses. They routinely make decisions, implement changes or alter operation of the grid and its resources in a manner that impedes or flat-out destroys in-world business. For the life of me, I’m completely at a loss to understand why they operate in this manner, but it’s no longer a matter for debate; their actions are absolutely designed to cause harm and not aid or improve.
So here we are again at a point where they have the ability to seriously damage a lot of in-world businesses. They’ve taken at least a few weeks working on the changes to the Transaction History report. It would be only fair for them to provide at least that much time, or preferably more, in order for us customers to adapt and adopt the new structure. Instead there is every indication that they will release the new format, completely remove the old format, and do so in one night so that no one is able to make the conversion in a calm, reasonable time frame. Frankly that’s just plain disrespectful. Sadly though, it is also how they have operated in the past, and how I expect them to operate this time as well.
The Telling Point
This latest change, affecting something so absolutely critical to operation of Second Life, will be an excellent “Telling Point”. By that I mean a moment in time by which their true motives and goals will be exposed. If they do offer a path to maintain backward compatibility, if they offer a lengthy period of time in which to make the conversion, if they do things in a respectful and professional manner then it will be evident that Linden Lab is working to improve relations with their paying customers. But if they hold true to past performance, if they make the change in one night and completely cut off any ability to maintain continuity while adapting slowly then they will once again demonstrate that their true motives are the destruction of customer-owned businesses .. and by extension the destruction of their own golden goose money maker.
It’s up to you Ebbe. Which way will you point your people? Toward a future that is made of cooperation and respectful partnership. Or toward a future that is adversarial, confrontational, and demonstrating an utter lack of respect for the people that put money in the accounts that fund your paycheck.
NOTE: There is a JIRA BUG report that can be used to provide feedback and concerns to the CommerceTeam Linden contact that is overseeing this change. Click HERE to open the JIRA BUG.