Monday, August 20, 2012

Heard That One Before, Part 2c&d

This is an installment covering a series of statements that members of the Phoenix/Firestorm support team hear fairly often and that are more likely to pose barriers to troubleshooting than to help the process along. This is because they point to misunderstandings about the way that viewers and/or issue-fixing work. For more of an intro, see the initial post on this topic.

This is also a continuation of last week's post, on the statement:

2) "A lot of my friends / people I've talked to / people in this group are having the same problem."

…which comes with a bunch of possible underlying implications. Here I want to address these two:

 * "…so I must belong to a group that your developers don't care about."
 * "…and I need to tell you this because I'm more in touch with the wide world of SL than you must be."

c) "…so I must belong to a group that your developers don't care about." This one's far less common than the first two, but I wanted to touch on it because I hear this mostly from Mac users. Poor, downtrodden Mac users. You are my people. And "poor, downtrodden" was pure sarcasm.

There are a few who pop up on a regular basis -- well, ok, just one in particular comes to mind -- one who blames every single problem he has on the fact that the viewer (or SL) supposedly isn't designed with Mac users in mind. Never mind the fact that a good portion of the issues he complains about are affecting Windows and Linux users as well. But he can't be arsed to pay enough attention to the other reports we hear in Phoenix/Firestorm Viewer Support to know that.

While there are certainly some issues specific to Macs, they don't, in my experience, outnumber the issues that are specific to the other OSes. If anything, they may be proportionally fewer. Meanwhile, issues that only affect Windows are relatively invisible as OS-specific issues; instead, they simply get labeled as "issues" or are referred to by the graphics card or driver they mainly affect. So when folks on Mac Snow Leopard couldn't view shadows on Firestorm 4.0, it was called "a Mac issue." But when Windows users with ATI 3000-5000 series cards were seeing pink textures on Firestorm 3.3, it was called "a driver issue." (They were both driver issues, but the Mac users in question could only have updated their drivers by upgrading their OS to Lion or the still-unsupported Mountain Lion; Windows users can update drivers and OS independently.)

As for the issues that are system-specific, do your research before complaining that it hasn't been fixed yet because of the Mac factor. There's a profile-opening crash on Phoenix that only affects Mac. The fact that it hasn't been fixed yet has a lot more to do with the fact that no development work is being done on Phoenix right now than it being Mac-specific. The devs are focused on Firestorm and have been for many months. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Phoenix issues in general might never be fixed, so you might want to find a Plan B.

Sometimes the group in question isn't Mac people, though. Sometimes it's an inworld community. I spoke with someone at one time who was having general performance issues. This is not an uncommon thing to handle, but he insisted that everyone he knew was having the problem and so he flat-out refused to try anything that implied (in his mind) that the problem was individualized. Ok, I said, then you should file a JIRA and have your friends comment on it. The devs can determine if there's something you all are doing in common…. But no. Flat-out refused to do that, too, because he didn't want to have to check it. Not kidding. That was his reason.

I suppose I could have also gone around to all of this guy's friends, gotten their system info individually, and polled them about their use habits so that I could analyze all the data and come up with some carefully calculated conclusions about why this group of people were having a problem that normally occurs to a sprinkling of isolated users for highly individualized reasons, but, uh… no.

This particular group had a serious case of hivemind going on anyway. Apparently they all had to be using the same viewer at all times, and if I (this user did indeed imply that their future use of the viewer was in my own two hands) couldn't fix their collective Firestorm problem, they'd use something else. Enough said about that.

And that, actually, is the implication of "All my friends are having the same problem" that I was almost (but not quite) too tactful to bring up: collective reinforcement. The fact that it's downright uncanny when a specific group of individuals end up being the only ones among our many, many users to have a certain problem. If it's not a more general viewer problem, and it's not attributable to habits you all have in common, sorry to be so blunt, but it's either one person exaggerating the extent of the problem or a group of people reinforcing each other's hypersensitivity to something that they just can't all realistically be experiencing to the same degree.

The current version of Firestorm has an insanely low crash rate. Insanely low. I can't say what it is in numbers, but the viewer has been at the top of the TPV list (which is ordered inversely by crash rate) since release. And yet we still get people who tell us, "This is the crashiest Firestorm ever!!! My friends and I can't stay on it!!! Fix your damn viewer!!!" Sweeties, you don't need to do that. If you're experiencing crashes yourself, we can try to figure out why. You don't need to make exaggerated claims about your friends to make us take you more seriously; there's a good chance it'll have the opposite effect.

Incidentally, this subtopic melts nicely into the last reason people sometimes say, "All my friends are having the same problem":

d) "…and I need to tell you this because I'm more in touch with the wide world of SL than you must be." Hang on one second.


Ok, I'm composed now. Sorry, but this one doesn't even make sense. Still, I pick up on this vibe sometimes. Once, I was handling a support ticket with someone who, when my first suggestion did not work for her, filed a new ticket, saying, "Get me someone who spends some time in SL to help me." I refrained from replying to her with the actual number of hours I spend inworld. It's embarrassing to admit even to SLers. Really. But somehow there is this assumption that "residents" and "support" are mutually exclusive categories, the way they are with *cough* some outsourced support-providers who are *cough* not us. If you didn't know it, though, folks on the team were invited to join specifically because we are typical residents with an atypical degree of insani--I mean, interest in helping people.

Second Life does tend to consist of a wide variety of subcommunities, though, all with their separate concerns, norms, and ways of using the viewer and the grid, and it can be surprisingly fragmented. So it's not unusual for you to take certain activities and other things for granted as just part of what SL "is," while it may be totally foreign to others.

For instance, I posted a research blog post about subcommunities once, with Gor as an example, and a couple of people who responded said they'd never heard of it before. I have no connection to Gor, but it seems so ubiquitous that if you've been in SL for any length of time, you'd probably have run into it. A lot. But if you generally hang out with the same people and do the same things all the time, that's not necessarily true, and it doesn't make you out-of-touch. Well, maybe just a little.

On an individual level, too, people fall into viewer-use habits and can't imagine how other people do things differently. You might end up describing an issue that affects people in your subcommunity and not a whole lot of others. If that's true, then let's figure out whether it's a bug that affects behavior more common for you than for most, or whether it's a support issue related to your community's habits. Yup, that last part implies what you think it does -- that, going back to scenario A from last week, a common problem may nonetheless be something you caused or, at any rate, need to do the work of fixing.

Once in a while folks tell us that a change that was made is to the detriment of not just themselves but to everyone like them. Be careful of how you represent yourself and others when it comes to communities, though.

When Firestorm was still in its early development, our devs found a way to solve a most annoying problem with the V2 design: that of having more than one group profile open at once. The old sidebar behavior prevented this, so when the devs found a way around it, it was a big deal and very popular (relatively speaking -- FS didn't have big numbers a year ago). One thing we've learned over time, though, is that no matter how popular a UI change is, there will always be some who liked it better the old way, and so most of the time our devs build in options. This was an exception.

Sure enough, a few months after this change to group profiles was made, I spoke with someone who hated it. She preferred it when one group profile would replace the next when opened because it made it easier to spam group chats with event announcements (I don't think she used the word "spam," but the rest was as stated). Rather than presenting her complaint in terms of personal preference -- which I honestly would have had more sympathy with -- she decided to claim that her preference represented that of the larger population of event hosts. As if we neither had any on the team nor came in contact with a single one over the months since the change went in. Maybe I'm just not spammy enough with my events to qualify as a true host, but it's more likely she was just trying to generalize the impact of her gripe in order to make it sound more legitimate.

If it is true that your issue would be a popular one and that an entire community is being overlooked, well, the proper means of communicating that is through the JIRA. After you create your feature request or bug report, you're welcome to point other affected people in its direction. Unlike on Linden Lab's JIRA, votes on the Phoenix/Firestorm JIRA are taken into account (albeit alongside a number of other factors, such as dev ability and availability, prioritization of other issues, and whether action is needed from Linden Lab). Some roleplay communities have been communicating their needs in this way since the non-RP-friendly early history of Firestorm and thus their needs stay on the radar.

So in a nutshell, the people on the support team tend to be exposed to a lot more than the average SL user just because we help people from all corners of SL every day and come from a huge range of communities ourselves. But there will still be things that are totally normal to you but we haven't dealt with before. More importantly, you never, ever have to use the "All my friends" line to convince us to help you. It's completely unnecessary, and if it's an exaggeration, it will be counter-productive. Let's just learn how to touch base with each other and get your problem solved.

Look forward to the next topic: 3) "My computer is brand new / has 20 gigs RAM / has a graphics card that can beat up your graphics card / is on a super-speed connection / could launch a space shuttle if I told it to / ."

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