Tin Foil Hat Theory – SLM Slowdown

In case you weren’t aware, for the past few months the Second Life Marketplace (SLM) has been experiencing horribly delayed deliveries of items purchased during the midnight to 6am SLT time frame. The past few posts have dealt with this problem from a technical perspective and how it has shaken (if not completely destroyed) customer confidence.

Several of my good friends and contacts within Second Life (and on the Internet in general) are … hmmm … the best description would be “habitually paranoid”. However one concept floated past me in the past few days and I’ve found myself pondering it ever since. So with no further ado, let’s dive into the Tin Foil Hat Theory of why SLM Deliveries are being delayed during a major portion of the shopping day.

(To learn more about the Delayed Delivery Issue, please refer to the full JIRA located here.)

SLM and Direct Delivery

Since last year the developers working on the SL Marketplace have been touting the virtues of their new but yet-to-be-released delivery mechanism called “Direct Delivery”. Direct Delivery is their answer to the constant and long-suffering problems that result from the old (but still very functional) Magic Box delivery method. Magic Boxes are the devices created by the dev staff that created the ancestor of SLM known as XStreet (and before that it was called SL Exchange, but that’s reaching way back in history).

With Magic Box deliveries, the SLM must send a series of commands to an in-world device that tell it to give a copy of one of its inventory items to the purchasing customer. Because it is an in-world scripted device and because sometimes those types of things just don’t work right, the Magic Box delivery method has come under fire since its debut. Over time, most folks have established a means of taming their stable of Magic Boxes, but even so quite a few folks still have issues with them. With Regions going up and down, the outdated communication protocol used to talk to them and the general tendency of people to not manage them properly, Magic Boxes seem to account for quite a few problems; problems encountered by new and established Merchants alike.

Direct Delivery takes a whole new approach to delivering customer purchases. Instead of sending commands to an in-world device, Direct Delivery does a straightforward database copy into the purchasing customer’s Inventory from the Merchant’s Inventory. This eliminates a whole raft of problems and also reduces the amount of data overhead involved in each sale. (In reality, the copy will come from a separate special Inventory maintained by SLM, but that special Inventory is drawn from the Merchant’s Inventory, so it’s essentially the same thing.)

There is apparently a lot involved in making this actually happen as evidenced by the extremely long period of time it has been in development. Linden Lab has been hyping DD for quite some time now, and they’ve even had their Closed Beta Test group going … but so far there is still no concrete delivery date quoted. Some think they are waiting till after the upcoming hot shopping season, but truthfully there is always some new “hot shopping season” just around the corner, so I prefer to believe it’s just one of those involved programming things that stymies the interns they generally employ at LL.

Customer Confidence

Linden Lab has almost always had a horrible reputation for releasing horribly flawed software. Of course it wasn’t always that way or SL itself would never have gotten off the ground. But over the past few years, they’ve released crock after crock and called it “the BEST evar!” … leaving their customers shaking their heads in disbelief. With DD, the fact that their customers have absolutely no faith in them has been the root cause of so many people stating flatly “I’m not going to use DD because I know it will be screwed up.” Such delightful examples that helped form this opinion are Viewer 2, Scripting Limits and most recently the release of Mesh. (But let’s not rehash that old news .. k?)

Despite the obviously paid-for opinion blogs from specific ex-Lindens, LL has no one to blame for this total lack of confidence other than themselves. The fact that they put a non-computer geek type in charge of SLM Development is even more proof that no matter how hard they try, DD will be hopelessly flawed at its initial release and may not ever reach a state of reliability now enjoyed by Magic Boxes.

I’m pretty confident that LL is well aware of the majority opinion on DD. Despite their (seldom and hopelessly thin) statements that DD will make things much better (and really they’ve not done nearly enough in that vein to combat the confidence deficit). LL’s past behavior with new software they want folks to use is to essentially “force” folks onto it. With Viewer 2 they did include some features that are not supported in the older V1 Viewer, but their main crowbar has been to eliminate support for the older viewers. It is my belief they are going to use the same approach with DD … essentially forcing folks to use it instead of Magic Boxes. But since they’ve publicly stated that they will support Magic Boxes for some time yet, they also need a way to force people to DD. (BTW: It is my strong belief that the support for Magic Boxes declaration was made off the cuff and without prior approval by upper management.)

The Crowbar

So how will LL force their customers to use the new Direct Delivery method instead of continuing to rely on the well-known and well-understood Magic Boxes? (Put on your Tin Foil Hats) By “breaking” Magic Boxes.

In a previous post I theorized that the slowdown now being experienced is the fault of the way that SLM communicates with the Magic Boxes. I suggest that since the main SLM website continues to work just fine even though deliveries are delayed 30 minutes to several hours, it is because they are doing something “wrong” in talking to the Magic Boxes. However the new conspiracy theory (and it is just that, a conspiracy theory … but a logical one nonetheless) is by introducing a known failure. This failure is not so much that it kills sales all day long; it only affects deliveries from sales during 25% of the day. But it is an obvious and well documented failure. It is also a failure they have acknowledged and even stated they’d “fixed” just recently. But even so, the failure continues on and their fix did absolutely nothing to fix the issue.

And this is their “Crowbar”. Right now the delay in Magic Box deliveries only impacts 1/4 of the shopping day. However as they get closer to releasing Direct Delivery, that failure will extend to 1/2 of the day. Then, once DD has been dumped on us released, the delay will extend to the entire shopping day. However, those brave enough to start using DD right away will find their purchases are not delayed in the least. Obviously the Merchant community as a whole will whine and bitch about this, but they will also hasten to switch over to DD and chuck their Magic Boxes post haste.

Why This Makes Sense To Me

I’ve been a computer programmer and propeller head since High School. (That’s about 40 years now.) It has been my experience that problems that are this repeatable and predictable are quite easily spotted and corrected … usually. Those that are not fixed easily are either due to some totally weird and external cause (such as the janitor that unplugged the router cabinet every night to plug in their vacuum cleaner), or they are intentional in nature. I’ve already stated that I have no doubt in my mind that Linden Lab can and will and has in the past used fraudulent means to accomplish their ends. The idea that LL is doing this on purpose doesn’t shock me in the least. It does infuriate me to no end, but it doesn’t fall outside the range of dirty tricks I believe they would pull.

The proof though will be in how the delay behaves after DD is released. If the delay for Magic Box sourced purchases continues and gets worse then we will know it’s a crowbar. But if the delay goes away then maybe not … maybe. Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t expect LL to fix anything. They may say they have, just like they did recently. But the fix won’t work and they’ll just shrug and continue ignoring it until … well until they’re done deriving use from it.

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