What Is This Fascination With Display Names?

In case you tried to tune out the daily catastrophe that is Second Life today, you missed a good one. Actually it started yesterday, but because Linden Lab has this habit of rolling out “fixes” and then going home for the day, it didn’t raise their attention until today. (So that’s one day gone in the path to “rapid and responsive customer support”.) Now that they are aware, they seemed poised to enact a half-fix, undoing the changes they made yesterday but ignoring the 100’s of thousands (if not millions) of transaction records already incorrect.

Confused? Well read on and I’ll happily explain. Just pardon my somewhat unpleasant demeanor about this latest fiasco, I’m still fuming yet again over yet another boneheaded move made at Linden Lab. So dive in and mind the spikes … I will try and point them out as I add them to this post.

Display Names 101

Display Names are a rather misunderstood (and near universally contentious) addition to the data carried around by an Avatar on Second Life. Introduced within the last year, Display Names arrived at the same time as the single-name Username. The idea was to assign each Avatar Account a single Username and then offer people a chance to customize their name as desired (using the fancy characters available in the extended set supported by Display Names). The justification for allowing multi-byte characters in the Display Name was to allow people with idiographic languages to spell their name properly, using their native alphabet. It makes sense to an extent.

But overall, the most important attribute of a Display Name is that it is fungible. That means it can be changed by the user once per week. It’s not the frequency that matters either, it’s the mere fact that it CAN be changed thus rendering it useless for positive identification. It’s useful for identifying who you are in personal interactions, but when it comes to doing business (buying or selling for example) you need an identifier that cannot be changed by anyone. The Display Name certainly does not fit that requirement.

The Uproar Over Display Names

When Linden Lab first announced Display Names, there was a furor stirred up almost as loud as the famous Freebie Roadmap debacle. But this time, instead of realizing they’d stepped on a big landmine, Linden Lab merely redecorated the concept a bit … and pushed it out. Since then the incidents have been few and relatively minor, but that’s only because the developers of the Third-Party Viewers (TPVs) have come to our rescue with proper tools to hide or show the Display Name as well as the preferred format we’d like to view names.

And the furor hasn’t abated either. As I recently wrote in my post “The Case for Last Names”, the JIRA strongly requesting (okay, demanding) that Linden Lab fix the whole Avatar Name/Account Name/Display Name/Username fiasco in an intelligent fashion. But they’ve turned a deaf ear to the whole issue. Well, that is until yesterday.

The Latest Misstep

Yesterday, in the process of rolling out a fix to the SL Transaction History web page (mainly cosmetic, updating some buttons to graphics, etc.) they also changed the data displayed in the report. Now bear in mind that the SL Transaction History is THE final authority on money transactions in Second Life, so any changes to that data and report is something that must be done with extreme caution and careful testing. The importance of that single report is hard to over-estimate … it’s just absolutely crucial to almost everyone in SL. So what did the Linden Lab software dev team choose to do? Change it.

Changed it radically. Without notice. Without warning. Without testing. Without consultation. Without freaking THINKING ABOUT IT FIRST!!

(Late Breaking News: They have rolled out the fix AND repaired past transactions. So now all we have to do is completely redo all of yesterday’s data. Gee, thanks?)

The WAY they changed it though just defies comprehension. They replaced the static guaranteed to never change Avatar Account Name with the Display Name followed by the Username inside parentheses. The problem with this is that the data is not only in a new, totally unfamiliar format, but it’s data that doesn’t help track transactions in the least … the Display Name!

So What Gives Linden Lab?

This is yet another occasion where it comes to Display Names and Linden Lab. For some reason they just keep trying to stuff Display Names down our throats. And they keep picking exactly the wrong places to do so too. Yet I am given to wonder the motivation behind these moves. I just cannot buy into the prevailing theory that LL is just that inept. I keep coming back to the sense that something is pushing them … and pushing them HARD … to ignore the obviously overwhelming desires of their Customers regarding Last Names and Display Names, to continuously insist we use them when it is evident they are improper AND unwelcome to use in those situations, and they keep acting as if they don’t hear anything bad being said about Display Names.

So what is the motivation? What is pushing their hand like this? I wish I knew. If anyone has any theories, I’m wide open to listen. Please, contribute your thoughts below and maybe we can all figure out this irrational fixation on Display Names.

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4 Comments on What Is This Fascination With Display Names?

  1. Wizard Gynoid on Thu, 10th Nov 2011 9:31 PM
  2. Display Names are the solution that Linden Lab came up with to enable a Second Life user to identify themselves with their Real Name, i.e. their so-called “Wallet Name.” This is so that the avatar can be identified with a Real Life person, who is already identified by Facebook and Google+ (in theory if not in practice) and any number of other related identification services. The underlying impetus for this is a White House initiative to do away with anonymous use of the Internet. http://www.nist.gov/nstic/
    Those who don’t agree with this policy can be followed on Twitter hashtag #nymwars or #plusgate. Botgirl Questi has a good blog summarizing the topic here: http://www.scoop.it/t/plusgate

  3. Darrius Gothly on Fri, 11th Nov 2011 11:58 AM
  4. @Wizard – I heartily agree with following Botgirl Questi .. I do as well. The battle over anonymity on the Internet though mainly involves so-called “Social Havens”, places where real people hang out and socialize. I know the gubment wants us to be fully identified at every turn, but it’s something they’ll just have to learn to want and never attain. If LL is indeed running in fear ahead of the initiative .. that’s a shame. It indicates the lawyers are running LL and not the business people. Sure would be nice though if we could get a clear statement from Rodvik on this though. (Yes, I’m very familiar with wanting and not attaining. *smile*)

    @Teagan – You’re very welcome .. and thank you for the kind words. Now get back to work! *chuckle*

  5. Teagan Tunwarm on Fri, 11th Nov 2011 11:48 AM
  6. I enjoy your posts. Thanks for writing and thinking through these issues.

  7. Nalates Urriah on Sat, 12th Nov 2011 2:56 PM
  8. Management is often out of touch with reality. They are often guided by stats and often mislead.

    Display Names came out with the changed the signup process as part of the change. The single name sign up is supposed to be easier to accomplish. I personally think most humans can choose two names easy enough. But, the difference between 1 and 2 name sign up is hidden in the stats showing how successful current sign up is.

    The stats can’t show which part of the new sign up process makes the most difference. Without that knowledge single name sign up gets the credit. So, the Lab is not going to risk a decrease in sign up success. We are stuck with that.

    Trying to use display names for transactions and commercial purposes where money is involved seems ridiculousness to anyone that understands business and human nature. It is obvious many of the programmers and planners in the Lab do not.

    I doubt there is any nefarious agenda at work. Nor is intelligence at issue. IMO it is simply a lack of knowledge and experience with business and people. There are also philosophical issues that prevent understanding some of the problems. Ideology turns up in odd places and creates often ridiculousness conclusions.

    Expect some changes in middle management.