Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boo's Bits vs Linden Lab Marketplace - Part 1

This posting is going to end up a rant, I just know it...so apologies in advance. 

It's not easy to maintain a business in Second Life. This is the biggest thing I have learned since i started this little endeavor. Sure it is easy to make a business...all you need is some land, a couple of things you built, a fancy shop and sign, and prices set. But that is a worlds of difference from actually having a successful business. And by successful i mean, a business that no longer costs you money to run.

I now run a "successful" business. Boo's Bits easily covers my Sim payment, and my Second Life fees, and has been a huge part of pulling me out of debt in the past year. The secret isn't really a secret. Hard work, word of mouth, making things that don't suck and offering good customer service...the kinds of things you expect from a business.

I also am a bit of a social monster, or at least I was....before the Business become so overwhelmingly busy...but being social, getting out and about to meet and interact with people, community forums, and even with other merchants/businesses all help with the word of mouth part of the business, and build a reputation. Hopefully a good one are happy to stand by.

But one of the major contributions to any success I have had, is the ability to have my products found on the Second Life Marketplace. Here you can easily pay for featured advertising, and make browsing much simpler for a potential customer. The benefit of someone seeing one thing you sell, then clicking a link to a ton of things you sell can make all the difference in the world to a day of sales. It is invaluable.

So you can imagine my frustration when a large number of my items, end up getting unlisted. And not only if they get unlisted, but there is no email notification that they are unlisted. So if i don't go to the marketplace for a couple of days...and why would I if I have no customer issues or no products to add or update, then I will have no idea that products I rely on to maintain my business are not showing on the marketplace.

And here is the reason they get unlisted: Not Flagged As Adult Sexually Explicit Content

Alright, so apparently someone went around, and found any product i sell that has sex options in it, and flagged it for not being listed as adult. And according to Dakota Linden,  who i discussed this with in the past, A linden is always the deciding factor on the product actually being removed for that flagging. So instead of just moving items from one rating to another, they take down the listing altogether, and give you a notice only on your marketplace merchant page that tells you what items were removed.

Lets back up some here. A while back, when Linden Lab was planning the move of Adult Content to its own seperate island called Zindra, a lot of fuss was made over the difference in what would be considered mature, and what would be considered adult. I remember watching these discussions fairly closely...and this was before I even had a business. I was watching mostly so I'd have some idea the greater effect this will have on my shopping habits. Will stores i go to be considered adult now? Will i have to rent Adult land if i want to partake in any sexual activity?

In the end we got some examples in the responses from Linden Employees along the lines of "A furniture store that sells a bed with a sex menu would be considered mature, while advertising a public sex room would be considered adult. A strip club would be generally thought of as mature. A strip club that advertised offering sex, either in a private room or a public room would be considered adult"

This seemed pretty straightforward to me. And these are documented. http://wiki.secondlife.com//wiki/Adult_Content_FAQ

Seems pretty straight forward, and all was good. I wasn't allowing public sex on my land, I was just selling furniture, and while most of it does have a sex menu in it, it is not advertised as a place to come have sex.

But there came a new problem, when Linden Lab took over Xstreet and did the swap to the Marketplace. There were only 2 ratings, while we had 3 in world. General and Moderate. At the time, the rule set for listings came from Xstreet, which was independent of Linden Lab. So the policies for listing did not entirely match the Linden Lab vision. In general you'd only click the Mature option if you were looking for BDSM or specific sex toys. Beds, couches, dance poles, lingerie...all could be found listed in the general setting, with no one taking issue of that.

But things changed a lot when the decision was made to merge the Teen Grid with the main Second Life Grid. All of a sudden, our "adult" world was going to have to go over a makeover to let people under the age of 18 in.

Around the time it was announced, one of my products, Boo's Ultimate Lapdance Chair, was flagged and removed from the marketplace for not being listed as mature. After doing a search I found that if you searched lapdance on the general setting, you'd get 18 pages of products like my chair that got flagged. So I ended up in, what I thought was, a fairly reasonable conversation with Dakota Linden, through filing a ticket about my item being removed.

In the course of the discussion, I made it fairly apparent that I have the right to sell on a even playing field with other merchants. That is, if it is generally acceptable for beds to be sold on a general setting, most of which containing a sex menu, that my own beds should be listed in general settings. Same with Lapdance chairs, Docks, Couches, Tables, Kitchen sets....and I suggested that part of the solution could be to make the Marketplace ratings match the in world ratings...giving us General, Moderate and Adult.

And right now, I am starting to regret suggesting it. Don't get me wrong, I think it was the right move for Linden Lab to make that change. It just seems to have come to bite me in the ass some, as in the last week I have had over 200 of my products flagged for not being listed as adult.

The products that got flagged are beds, couches, my piers, my campground set, my lapdance chairs, my showers...pretty much anything that has a sex menu in it. I re-listed them all now, but either someone is abusing the flagging system, or Linden Lab need to definitively answer the question of what is mature and what is adult.

All the products that were flagged fell under the in world definition of a moderate rating "

"(1) Mixed content in a public area, for example a store that sells a
variety of items, some of which are adult in nature, but those are not
advertised explicitly or provided for public adult usage. This would
require a moderate rating. "

Even the marketplace listing guidelines say this:

"Moderate Content Is Only For 18+ Year-Old Residents.

   * Mildly sexual content, including:
         o References to sex, as long as they are not explicit or
         o Intimate avatar animations, as long as they do not depict
sexual activity that is explicit or highly realistic."

And the only other piece of info i could find that would say why something was flagged to adult was if you use any graphic images, or images showing explicit sexual activities...and I'll tell you, I may have a picture of a woman dancing for a man in a lapdance chair, but there is no explicit happening in those images at all

So I'm at a loss. I can still search the Marketplace and find Lapdance chairs and dance poles on the general setting (which is the default when you are not logged in, otherwise your default depends on your adult verification on your account) but yet anything I have with a sex menu, that was listed as Moderate to begin with....is now to be considered adult?

So while I go on my 5th Day of waiting for some kind of response to my inquiry to Linden Lab (i have asked them to definitively tell me what about my products makes them adult and not moderate) I am still fighting products getting flagged.

Lately, I have been so frustrated with it that i have considered removing my items from the marketplace altogether. But frankly that would be shooting myself in the ass. over 60% of my products sales come from the Second Life Marketplace. without it, I don't know if i could run my business as comfortably as I have. I like many other merchants prefer when customers buy at the store (no commission for LL) but it is not realistic for many merchants to not have products there. I like being able to maintain my business and continue making fun stuff. So I stay

But i feel a breaking point coming. And I don't think I am alone. We'll see if anything comes from having a new CEO, one that apparently "gets" Second Life , and we'll see what comes of my relisting of the products that were flagged, but I will say this: If my products have to be listed as Adult for including a sex menu, then I sure as hell am going to spend a day on the marketplace seeking any other products that have a sex menu, and flagging the fuck out of them.

So if you suddenly see my products disappear from the marketplace, notice my store listings are smaller than they used to be, see one color of something but all the other colors are missing...send me a IM to let me know, so I can once again curse at LL and fix my listings.

/End Rant....for now

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