Chatters love, love, love their user names, even as the names mutate. “Warlock” gets banned, and signs up as “w.a.r.l.o.c.k.” which becomes
“-.-warlock-.-” “becomes “_-_warlock_-_” and on and on. Want to really piss someone off? Register your own variation on their name. You’ll be accused of harassment, identity theft, and threatened with legal action.

People say a lot with their names. It’s pretty easy to surmise the state of someone who registers “EmotionalButterfly”.  “MasterDeath” would sound a whole lot tougher if he weren’t playing REO Speedwagon in his personal chat room. “LiquidPoop” defies classification. Some chatters seem baffled by the response their user name elicits.

One person wrote to customer support, complaining that male chatters were being crude to her. The Ignore Button wasn’t enough, because chatters she didn’t know would proposition her out of the blue. “They keep asking me if I want to fuck,” she said. “They just won’t stop.” I looked up her account information and discovered the cause of this unwanted behavior. Her chat name? “GangBangMe”.

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CourtVP

May 14, 2006

A while back we tried a new kind of event in VPchat called CourtVP. There’s so much drama in chat, it seemed a perfect fit. Two parties could come onto the VP stage and state their case. We’d randomly select 12 people and bring them onstage to act as the jury. There wouldn’t be any harsh penalties or anything – just some simple sentences. “You have to stay out of so-and-so’s room for a day.” That sort of thing. We started talking up the event, and people seemed really psyched about it. When we started looking for feuds to use for the event, though, we got a very different reaction. We got no takers for CourtVP.  Nobody seemed interested in airing their dirty laundry in public.

Recently a veteran chatter contacted us about all the stories out there in the VPchat community. There are many groups who met in VPchat and get together in real life. There are friendships and marriages, drama and divorces. This customer was eager to share his stories. Makes me believe it’s perfect timing for putting up boards. I wonder, though – will people want to put their stories up in public? Will chatters want other chatters sharing real stories about them? We’ll find out. We’ll make space for it – the chatters can do with it what they wish.

Boards Launch

May 8, 2006

We launched boards the other day. We had a few glitches to work out – we had to synch up the boards registration with the VPchat membership database. After the first pass, we realized that everyone who has ever been a member of VPchat could get in – even those on closed accounts. We also had to make sure that if a chatter was penalized (but the account not closed) they couldn’t post. Fortunately, both were relatively easy fixes. We launched with very little fanfare – I put an ad up in chat, and the guides spread the word a bit. I think it’s something that will grow organically. People are posting already – most of it’s pretty innocuous.

“Drama” has its own category. I’m not convinced it was a good idea to name it that. Many chat-related boards have “rants and raves” as a category – “drama” was meant to be a less inflammatory title (“rants and raves” invariably turned into all rants), but I’m not sure chatters care to define their conversations as drama. We can always change it if need be.

As much as I have concerns about hateful content on the boards, I’d like to see a bit of drama. We need something to generate a bit of excitement in chat. I’m a little surprised none of the groups are posting much. I set up categories for BDSM, Gor, Vampires, and Wolf Dens – all very popular groups in chat. If I really wanted to generate some drama, I could remove those categories. Nothing like people feeling slighted to stir up some lively conversation. We’ll see.

Thinking About Boards

May 2, 2006

Since the inception of VPchat I’ve refrained from putting up bulletin boards for our customers. My resistance was inspired by an early experience back in my Excite days. Boards were the second community product my Austin team implemented back in 1996.We used a flat-file solution at first, and the popularity of boards quickly made that unwieldy. We needed to change platforms. Along with a software upgrade, we redesigned the interface – moved from unthreaded to threaded discussions and changed the color scheme. We didn’t touch the existing posts or mess with the taxonomy.

Well. Apparently a few members of our loyal audience had different plans for the boards. This was my first experience with rabid users. My first exposure to wackos. The day I learned that customers do not like change. The day I received my first death threat. For real. I’m not sure how they found my name (I didn’t publish it) or our number (Excite had just acquired my company – we weren’t listed as Excite anywhere) but they did.

“Put it back the way it was, or I’ll see to it you don’t live to see tomorrow.” Click. He didn’t even have the nerve to stay on the line to hear my stunned silence. I didn’t call the police, but rather laughed it off as a nutjob with too much time on his hands. It creeped me out, though. I worried that he could find my unlisted personal information too. I quickly learned that such over-the-top outrage over minutia is commonplace. Soon it became an ordinary, often entertaining part of the job.

My aversion to boards was cemented in the early days of VPchat. There were 3rd party boards out there, run by fans and foes, and they inevitably filled up with hateful posts. It was only a handful of people who were the most vocal, of course. They posted under a variety of nicknames, artificially inflating their numbers, making the vitriol seem pervasive among our chatters. A great deal of the hate was directed my way and I admit I took much of it very personally.

The idea of putting boards up to accompany our chat service used to seem like a bad idea, but I’m over it. Let the people speak. It’s all about communication, right? And IMO, more communication is always better. VPchat is a community, after all. I hope it doesn’t get too ugly.