Thoughts on the Health of InWorldz

I’ve recently been asked to explain why it is that I have, for the most part, left InWorldz for another grid. Don’t get me wrong, I love InWorldz, but there are some very important things I feel that are not doing as well as they could. I hesitate to publish this because I don’t want to put IW down. The staff and community has accomplished a lot and they deserve respect and thanks for their hard work.

InWorldz is an online community that is at a crucial point in their growth where they need to take a long hard look at the vision of what their community is. I think I have some insight that some may find useful. While I am not a sociologist or professional, I have spent years in real working as an organizer for nonprofits at the grassroots level in my community. I understand people and groups, how they interact and the small things that make a community work or not work. However, this is still my personal opinion so please take it as such.

My Experience in InWorldz

First off, let me tell you my experiences on the InWorldz grid and how it affected my eventual decision to leave. It’s subtle things that are difficult to explain sometimes and, taken individually, might be explained away. Taken as a group, I might be seen as a conspiracy nut or something but, it’s my experiences and my decision where to play and spend my money. All I can do is tell you my story and how each thing added to my eventual decision to leave IW. You can take it for what you will.

A few years ago I came to IW wanting to start a building school. I had taught at Builders Brewery for several years as well as part time in a couple other sl schools. I wanted to do that here. I proposed the idea to staff a few times in a few ways but never got a response. I later found out that the owner of Builders Brewery in sl had been asked to come to IW to start a school with the full support of the staff. Note taken.

Some time later I hooked up with someone who was trying to put together some classes at IDI. The location at IDI was laggy at best. The builds of students as they worked would get returned. People hanging out there would interrupt the class with conversations and their personal opinions despite not actually participating in the classes in any way. The way the classroom area is set up at IDI, I had no land settings control, no control over who could participate and in what way, so therefor no control over my classroom’s environment.

I asked the person who recruited me to teach at IDI to speak to the staff about the difficulties and issues. She said she had little input but tried on my behalf. Very little was done. As an experienced virtual world teacher I know what a good school needs and how people learn. That was in no way, shape, or form, a good learning environment. I had to give it up – it was just not doable. Note taken.

I still liked IW’s friendly atmosphere despite not being able to, so far, begin to achieve my original goal. I decided to keep to myself and do my own thing. I did that for awhile, goofed around with a few friends doing this or that. At a couple points I made attempts to get hooked up to the waterways and be part of the bigger community but no one was willing to allow a connecting water sim that would provide me access to the waterways. For the most part the very limited premium areas connected to the waterways are controlled by those who came first. It was obvious that I was not part of that ‘in crowd’ and my requests were always turned down. It was clear that whatever I did in IW, it would have to be on my own.

Eventually I started organizing the Stormborn Creative Collective. A community for creators, new and experienced, who wanted a place to work where they could network together, share resources, and work together on things that take a lot of work but creators tend to not have a lot of time for – marketing & promotions. A friend started helping me with the project and I set her up with all the tools and abilities I had and let her do her thing. We were growing slowly but steadily.

I asked to be put in the newcomer’s HUD and explained what we are – a creative collective building community. We got tossed into the category for malls. Ugh! Note taken. Without the support of those who controlled the HUD, those who referred people to where they could find classes, support, or a builders’ community, it was hit and miss. It was discouraging but I had a few ideas up my sleeve.

Hearing that IW staff was actively looking for someone to volunteer to organize a learning area I responded with my interest. I now had my own thing going but I felt I would have access to newcomers interested in learning to build and might show an interest in our community so I met with the staff person. They wanted the classes at IDI and so we met there. It was so laggy that I crashed several times during the discussion. I explained how IDI was not the place to hold classes and why. They suggestd a rooftop on one of the IDI buildings. Realizing the person just wasn’t getting it, I sent a notecard that explained what a school environment needed, made some location suggestions (a corner in a sandbox maybe?). I never received a response. Note taken.

Another strategy came by accident. Not as good but still a way to get more visitors therefor the ability to build what we were doing while also finally getting the opportunity for becoming part of the bigger community instead of just an isolated island off in the distance. Chat had started in the forums about connecting more sims to get more extensive navigation area in IW. I jumped on it while the subject was hot and got permission to get connected to sims that would indirectly connect us to the waterways and navigation. We’d be sort of the tail end of things but it was a solid first step.

We got connected and starting building some shorelines and such. I then saw an opportunity to get even closer to the IW straights and therefor be less dependent on several others to remain connected. Although this was the same person that I was already bordered to and the move did not in any way infringe on the person’s areas other than to change where we bordered them and I was the one footing the bill for water scenics buffering all the joined borders, I was not given permission to make the move. Via notecard I was informed that my move did not benefit this ‘in crowd’ person so permission would not be granted. Note taken.

Meanwhile I had been invited to join another community where not only would I be connected but I’d be helping to build what comprises on that grid as the ‘mainland.’ I originally gave it no thought but with the insult I was fed up and realized that no matter how long I was in IW, I’d always be excluded and restricted by the ‘in crowd’ – those who came first and enjoy the limited resources and access to community ties.

I’d worked it for almost three years and I was getting nowhere. Even my patience and tenacity had been worn through. Imagine if I was new to virtual reality or non-sl grids? How long might I have lasted in my efforts? How long is the average stay of newcomers?

I closed down the creative collective (my $1000 a quarter investment) and, with my friend who was also excited to move on, took my energy and money to a new grid. We’re both now part of something special, even get thanked (not that it’s necessary but, gawd – thanked!) for our contributions and we’re both enjoying being able to be a part of something and not just two people paying out big for some isolated island of sims with little hope of being a real part of the bigger community or do anything worthwhile and personally rewarding.

Thoughts on What This All Means

Technically, InWorldz is a great grid. The staff listens to technical concerns and responds to their residents on that level. They dedicate time, money, and effort to making the technical aspects work well and to promoting the grid. But that’s not enough to sustain the community long-term. People aren’t code – they operate by their emotions, their passions, their needs.

I know a lot of people interpret these attitudes they experience as ‘favoritism’ or as ‘forum trash talk’ but I think that’s because they can’t quite put their finger on what’s going on and explain it well. I also hear occasional comments in IW groups and forums about ‘noobs’ and the silly dreams they bring to the grid and how those will soon die. Of course they will. Many of the long-term community members that should be, in my opinion, supporting these new residents and their dreams, instead disdain them.

I pretty much concluded that the staff only want volunteers on their terms. They do not demonstrate respect for their volunteers, and their skills, talent, and experience, or provide the tools they need to be successful (a rooftop on a laggy sim – really?). I’ve spoken with a few mentors over time and some feel the same way about the mentor program and consider that part of the problem for why there are not a lot of mentors welcoming new visitors any more.

These are not the kind of attitudes that build communities. They’re the kind of attitudes that drive dreamers, intelligent people, and creatives away. And they are leaving in droves. I know – I’ve been running into them on my new grid!

My Recommendations for InWorldz

1) Lower the Learning Curve

In order to succeed, residents need to have somewhere they can settle in and learn in an environment that is supportive, respectful, and dependable. I’d suggest checking out Builders Brewery in SL. Not just the space – that’s the least of concern – but the tools provided to the teachers as well as the control they have over their classroom settings.

A good learning environment cannot exist unless the teachers are given the trust to be able to be responsible for their work, students, and environment. That trust is important. It not only effects the teacher and students but is felt by everyone. At BB, it provided an environment where creator/teachers with various opinions and methods respect each other and other creators regardless of differences in methods or styles. Here in IW it’s not considered bad form to put down other creators whose methods, vocabulary, building styles, or applications used do not match your own. That discourages valuable potential teachers to assist in groups and the forums.

2) IW staff needs to stop being complaint driven

That’s where favoritism arises although it’s not intended. Input and suggestions are always good but important decisions on how to do things in IW should be based on experience, knowledge, and thoughtful consideration for the success of all. Driving decisions based on complaints garners favor to a few who are generally motivated by personal goals – not the welfare of the community. The mindsets that I most frequently experience in IW are competitive attitudes based on gaming or marketing with heavy competition for limited community resources controlled via the complaint driven system.

Community building requires the ability to understand what helps each individual in the community grow and succeed. It requires a mindset of sharing and cooperation, not exclusivity and competition. How can the limited community resources be better used to build the community rather than benefit individual personal goals? Answer that question, make decisions based on that question, and stick to those decisions.

3) IW staff needs to tap into the rich resource of community leaders among their residents

IW staff does not have the time or money to do the things that a strong community needs done. Teaching, supporting, and policing the community is a huge task. It need not be expensive. Self-governed groups of volunteers with goals set by staff and community leaders, who are given respect, guidance, support, and encouragement can and would grow and flourish.

Volunteers who put in their time on a regular basis need to be rewarded with respect for their skills and be given the ability to do their jobs. That would mean having to have in place some requirements for taking on volunteers and a structure through which volunteers can work toward proving their abilities and skills AND when they show they are ready for another level of trust, they are given that trust and the ability to make decisions based on the level of trust they have achieved.

The respect given volunteers by IW staff will also be perceived by the bigger community and reward the volunteers with intrinsic value that money cannot buy and will provide the community a stronger sense of ownership – something that breeds a bond of long-term involvement and loyalty. This sense of ownership is way more powerful than anything that getting your complaints addressed would ever bring in the way of loyalty and commitment.

Ever hear the saying ‘mean people suck?’ I beg to differ. Mean people complain. Good people work to help others. Encourage those people with support for volunteers, not support for complainers.

IW staff needs to recognize natural leadership in the community and tap into those talents. They need to stop giving their respect and consideration to people based only on their long time reputations but, instead, on their current and RECENT contributions. For example, when anyone at IDI asks about a building school they are referred to a school that has not, as far as I know (and I’ve watched closely), taught a single class in, at least, a few years. Apparently some long time, well respected person’s computer has been down for a few years and they are patiently awaiting for it be fixed or some such a thing. I don’t mean to put that person down. Their intentions were great but they are not who IW should have been backing up and referring people to for classes. Meanwhile they neglected interested and motivated teachers.

Here’s another example of how that sort of thing plays out:

When I first came to IW Rowland’s coffee shop was at IDI then it had it’s own home then it had no home, now Rowland is my next door neighbor on my new grid – see the pattern? That’s how IW fails. It fails to recognize, support, and encourage community building activities.

Here’s how it should play out:

Let me tell you a story about a kid I knew. We called him Izzie Bear. He was an angry low-working class teen who was into writing street poetry. He had all but given up on any personal goals or dreams and was lashing out with his words. I talked him into submitting his poetry to Street Roots, a street paper I was helping to put together at the time and he began to build some confidence in himself. Then I talked him into attending the writers group I started there and he began to feel like he was a part of something important. Then I talked him into volunteering to run the group (and I backed off and let him do it) and he began to feel respected for his talents. Then I talked him into becoming the volunteer poetry editor on the paper (and I backed off and let him do it) and he began to feel respect for his leadership abilities. Today he is the paid director of Street Roots and is a happy man achieving his dreams and helping to make Street Roots better everyday.

That’s just one of many stories I can tell you. That’s how working with volunteers works.

Rowland should have been sucked in step-by-step, supported and encouraged, and given the tools to grow what he was doing, not only for himself but for the whole of IW. Had they done that, IW would be a different place today. This is just one example of how the lack of a community vision and respect for the talents and skills of gifted leaders in the community leads to missed opportunities.

Instead staff worries about complaints and perceived favoritism (while giving favoritism via responding to complainers) and they have ended up with a competitive environment that’s shrinking and not growing. Addressing complaints rather than tapping into demonstrated leadership encourages petty thinking rather than visionary thinking.

It’s not too late to change that direction. But because the current paradigm is deeply entrenched it won’t be easy. They have to be committed to the whole concept of changing their way of thinking.

Whether you agree or not, feel free to comment below,
however, harsh or degrading comments will be swept under the rug in a swift and decisive manner,
thank you,
Remona Stormborn

Remona Stormborn

Co-Owner of Gaia Foundation in the Great Canadian Grid. Owner of the Builders Resource Center, Rose City Design, & IDEA! in the Great Canadian Grid & InWorldz.

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