Looking mostly like fluffy clouds, this box of bots at a gambling site in the Joywind Korea sim in Second Life makes the site seem more popular than it otherwise might be.
Jack Linden, head of Linden Lab's Land Team, handed down the news yesterday. Linden Lab will be taking action against traffic and camping bots (both of which artificially boost a Second Life site's traffic figures, and thus search rankings) starting in one week's time.
It's an interesting move, and for many, one which has been too long coming. It's more interesting however, because of how it is being applied. You see, it isn't the bots themselves that are being targeted, it's the people who benefit from them, and that's not quite the same thing.
You see there's no real point in taking action against the bots themselves. They're somewhat difficult to detect, and they're nearly infinitely replaceable. Ban a bot account? Another is made. A few minutes of inconvenience to the bot operator is all.
You could target the operator of the bots - but there's not necessarily any easy connection to be made between the operator and the bots.
Applying administrative sanctions (warnings, suspensions and bans) to the users who are benefiting from the bots appears to be the tack that Linden Lab is taking, and it is an interesting one. The users who benefit from bots are most likely to be the operators of them, or people who are paying the people who are operating them.
Either way, it is a pretty solid target to hit. When in groups, bots are fairly easy to spot, though it is hard to distinguish them from campers (people who sit idle, being paid a trivial stipend to remain at a site and boost the traffic).
In fact, it looks like the Lab may not end up drawing much of a distinction between traffic bots and campers, which could result in camping installations throughout Second Life being targeted by the policy. Certainly camping bots flock to sites where there are camping chairs (though not all of them look like chairs) available. That could provide an active disincentive for people to maintain camping chairs at their sites and sims.
Bot operators have an out, however. Measures are going to be put into place where an operator can choose to identify their bots as bots, and exempt them from traffic calculations. Within minutes of the new policy being announced, many of you wrote to us asking if we can find out if you can have your own non-bot user-accounts and avatars similarly exempted from Traffic. That's an interesting and unexpected question, and we'll be asking Linden Lab about that for you in the coming week.
You see, an bot operator doesn't only rely on traffic figures and search ranking to boost their visitor counts. There's also what is known as "the green dot effect". Some people are drawn towards what appear to be large concentrations of other users on the map (represented as green dots), while others are repelled by such apparent crowds and tend to keep towards areas of lower occupancy.
Relying on "the green dot effect", according to one bot operator we spoke to late last year, is far better for attracting potential customers than search rankings, especially since traffic was devalued as a primary sorting key in "Search > All" (one of the most commonly-used search systems in Second Life).
We presume that operator will be one of those first in line to get her bots legitimized by having them exempted from the normal traffic counting.
One other downside comes to mind, here. By targeting those who are benefiting from the bots, bots gain an extra bonus as a potential griefing platform. Dump a few at the site or sim of someone you don't like, and wait for the lidless eye of the Governance Team to gaze upon them.
Will the new policy have an effect? Absolutely. It will also have some flow-on effects through the culture and economy of Second Life that are going to be absolutely fascinating to watch, especially if large numbers of non-bot users wish to exempt themselves from the Traffic system.
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