ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Metafuckers —

I dream of a time when I won’t have to write things like this. When I can focus on uplifting, informative posts or essays or speeches in which I talk about neat stuff I’ve found, or connections I’ve tracked down, or some crazy hilarious thing that happened that I want to share with you.

But that day’s not here, so let’s instead talk about Metaplace.

In September of 2007,  Metaplace was announced as an alpha [1][2][3] after nine months of speculation about what it was. [4] About a year later, the system was open to a selection of users in a “closed beta”. [5] Finally, it went to a complete open beta in May of this year. [6] Estimates are that about 70,000 “virtual worlds” were built on what turned out to be a neutral, facilitative background for multiplayer experiences.  A lot of press is out there about this place, with a lot of haughty language, discussions of an “avatar bill of rights“, and the potentials for the future power of the metaplace arena. [7]

Faithful readers will of course know that the reason I’m bringing this up, this thing you might or might not have heard of, is because metaplace has announced that they’re shutting down.

In 9 days.

As of January 1st.

Let’s not think I’m exaggerating. The announcement came on December 21st, and is effective on January 1st. Less than two weeks, for people to pack up their shit, shit they worked on for months, shit that they were paying money for metaspaces to host.

Except they kind of can’t pack up their shit.

This is what I’m talking about of dreaming of a day. In that hopefully-mundane day, the closing of a website or a service would be tragic or delightful, but the data, which the users contributed and added to the place, would be something they could easily, and quickly extract out.

The question I had for Raph Koster and Tami Baribeau, the forward-facing people behind Metaplace, was this:

“Where’s your export function?”

Actually, that’s not big enough.

“WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR EXPORT FUNCTION?”

Don’t waste my time apologizing for them. Don’t tell me I’m being too harsh. Maybe I should be giving them some big ol’ hugs here, a few days before Christmas, that they are closing up shop during the holidays and expecting people to go through the insane manual procedures they’ve blown in to get your stuff off. It’s a nightmare maze of manual URL grabbing, save-as lists, and weird commands that give you even more work. At the end of it, your data is a jumbled mess, subject to however you downloaded and classified it yourself, and prone to error because you were fucking trying to do all this during the holidays.

If your thing that takes in user content doesn’t have an export function, that is, a big button with a few selection boxes for exactly how much of your shit you want to take down, with one of the options being “all of my shit”, then they are stealing your shit from you.

Oh, sure, we have gigabytes of record of Koster bloviating about player rights and the meaning of games and what it’s all about in the process of building community around a virtual world, but here we have the real story: make no preparations for the end, assume all the stuff made with you is yours yours yours, and make it difficult for people to go elsewhere. Guess what, kids – it’s 2009. The days when it was this amazing crazy-ass thing that a server on a computer out there on the Internet could hold data for you and still be there when your browsed back… well, that was probably 13 years ago and counting. It’s not amazing anymore. It’s not something that lets you get away with acting like you just strapped together 400 milk jugs and put a wooden door down and miraculously floated down the fucking river. It’s basic shit. And along with something becoming basic shit is the idea of an open platform, of letting your company’s skills and interaction with customers define why they should keep their data, and not locking them up behind what they call a “walled garden” but which fails to make clear your users did all the gardening. Excuse time is over. It shouldn’t be the way it is now.

But it is. So Metaplace will die, as they all die, with a pathetic message blown out like it was all a big fun old time, and with a few mumbled incoherencies about being able to “manually save” some jigsaw pieces of your work, and a few articles and then a long black space where it used to be. A few people will mention it in the same breath as other failed virtual spaces, a punchline, an insider or industry reference, a few years down the line. Koster walks the Earth free. Baribeau becomes “community manager” of another unsuspecting chicken coop of suckers, unaware the flamethrower might be turned on at any moment.

I am saying, basically, that this is bullshit. It has to stop.

Raph announced this closure letting people know that even though he was shitcanning metaplace, there were still “exciting plans” afoot.  To this I say no, you shitheel, you don’t get to have “exciting plans”. You get to desperately scramble to come up with some solid reasons why metaplace imploded, and why anybody should trust you with a fucking three-byte string anytime in the next few years. You get to grovel, and explain why there was no warning, and why the best lifeboat you can muster up for the people who trusted you with their creation and data is a Do-It-Yoo-Seff(tm) notepad-and-right-click combo, repeated endlessly, throughout Christmas.

Otherwise, O wise god of gaming theory, you are a fuck.

Metaplace has set up a new website/forum called metaplaceveterans.com which acts like it’s a hang-out spot for people who used Metaplace and want to connect. In point of fact, it’s an IQ test: if someone burns down your rented apartment, and then pulls an RV up outside your smoldering wreck, exactly how much of a gullible retard are you to happily get into that RV with what you have left? At best, it functions as an instant mailing/contact list entitled “People we can do whatever the fuck we want to and they’ll take it like little giggly bitches”. At worst, it just shows the level of ignorance implied in destroying metaplace so quickly, so viciously, and then smiling at the end like our awesome kegger got broken up by the cops.

How many more times? How many more?


Categorised as: computer history

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16 Comments

  1. max.elliott says:

    I beta’d for them for a couple weeks, until they (it seemed at the time) “upgraded” their client to ignore linux users. It was so much work wrapped up in almost no reward. I’m kinda amazed they qualified for your attention.

  2. Grimmtooth says:

    I have to ask this question: export the fuck to WHAT exactly? A meaningless metaformat that has nothing to do with anything other than other meaningless metaformats?

    Or, what, exactly, do you mean? Because it’s pretty goddamned useless to export to ‘xml’ if there’s nothing to import it.

    Just cold, dark, internet, perhaps?

    Seriously, I could use a USABLE answer here. I have no idea. Maybe that’s my bad, but I suspect not.

    Educate me. What should this thing export TO, exactly?

  3. Mr. Copy says:

    Raph trusted his “l” to the cloud and swore to never give others the chance he never got when it went explodey. =(

  4. Raph says:

    Grimmtooth, Metaplace uses standard image formats. We offer hosting for them, but users who made their own generally uploaded them. (So most users would have them, we think, but we offered a way to get an HTML file with the links to every image in your world).

    Scripts are in Lua, which is the “cut and paste in Notepad” that he’s referring to in the post. We didn’t offer a way to grab a ZIP of all the script files with a button press to retrieve them all, that is true.

    I’m sorry that Jason feels this way, but quite a lot of services never let you get anything at all, or leave the content locked in a proprietary format. I think we could certainly do better — a one button solution would have been lovely –, but honestly I feel he is being a bit unfair as regards the issue of asset retrieval. I doubt I will change his mind, though. :)

    BTW, if users can’t manage to get their assets before the time runs out — we’re still here as a company, and arrangements can be made. The support site and contact forms are still there and regular users know how to reach us, and that we will answer.

    That said, I think Jason is over the line in accusing us of ignorant viciousness. We made metaplaceveterans.com so that users could stay in touch with *each other*. Doubt I will change his mind on that either, and I don’t mind if he heaps scorn on us here at Metaplace… but I don’t appreciate his calling Metaplace users stupid or gullible.

    • Jason Scott says:

      I only consider them stupid and gullible if they continue to utilize any service you are in charge of.

      And seriously? “There are people who do worse than us?” Well, hell yeah! That’s one heck of an accomplishment standard.

      Go speak to Henry Lowood about getting a copy of Metaplace to his academic archives with a 10 or 20 year moratorium on the usage/publishing/accessing of the data.

  5. WB says:

    This problem is only going to become more commonplace. Don’t become like a certain Cory D. and turn your rants to 11 each time this happens.

  6. Kuro says:

    Damn. Someone get converting this stuff to a usable and archivable format, fast.

  7. Earle Martin says:

    “Metaplace.com will be closing down permanently on January 1 at 11:59pm Pacific. Please click here to read the full announcement.”

    Only… if you “click here”, you have to log in with a Metaplace account. Nice work on hiding your stupidity from the outside world, Metaplace.

  8. Drew Wallner says:

    Clearly the “register to log in and find out exactly how registering here is about to be made pointless” logic comes from the same type of mind as the “DVD on how to hook up your home entertainment system” and my personal favorite, the late night television ads for “the CD-ROM that teaches you how to use your computer”.

  9. Jason Scott says:

    For the record, Tami Baribeau’s response on her blog was:

    “For what its worth, its not a few days over Christmas. We gave 10 days and detailed instructions on how to save their work. It’s not optimal, I know. But we’re doing what we can.”

    So that’s the response (both on this blog and elsewhere) to the entry is one of either indifference or dismissal. So be it.

    For the record, the 21st of December is, by most standards, “around christmas”, and it is not unheard of of people to not check their metaplace status during this week before Christmas, and then travel. (I know of a few people doing such within my circle; I’m sure there are many others.)

    Like someone who would smoke in a nursery, or a hunter leaving the untouched corpse of a rare animal save a tiny piece, my hope is that this mindset will become regarded with revulsion or a disengagement from thinking it was ever the norm.

  10. Alan Ralph says:

    Considering the timing of the announcement, plus the fact (as Jason stated) that a lot of Metaplace user won’t be around their computers to get in and (attempt to) export their content, I have to wonder the founders “exciting plans” will include a large amount of content that (oh noes!) didn’t get reclaimed by users of Metaplace… or am I being too cynical?

    • Jason Scott says:

      Unlikely – Raph has always staked himself on making a lot of noise about the contract expressly indicating creators continue to own their stuff even if uploaded to Metaplace. I think this whole thing is shitty and incompetent, but I do not think it’s a land-grab. I think they literally failed to plan and have had to drop a 10 day warning. They live in a world where 10 day warnings are OK, which inspires me to think of a host of other things they should consider what a 10 day warning would mean. Like, oh, anything else they’re hosting themselves.

  11. James Jones says:

    I was really looking forward to Metaplace. I was eager to use the hell out of it. I have long approved of Raph and was thrilled about the possibility of creating my own content in his framework.

    But I didn’t. I loaded up Metaplace, and within 10 minutes had decided not to ever use it. Why? Because I didn’t see an easy way to save my shit. I have been through this process too many times to ever be willing to create content in a system where I couldn’t easily save it off elsewhere for later use. For me Metaplace was a failure before it even launched.

    I agree with you 100% with this, Jason.

    Raph: “That said, I think Jason is over the line in accusing us of ignorant viciousness.”

    No, Raph, he’s not. You of all people should have been fully aware of this from day one. And I do look forward to your next project, but if it again has no way to save my shit, just like Metaplace it will not be something I will use.

  12. l.m.orchard says:

    Look at it this way:

    You’ve been keeping a bunch of Arduino projects, old Heathkit robots, and costumes in a storage unit specially built for that purpose. Lots of other people doing the same thing around the site, too. It’s a fun place.

    Then, on Monday of the week of Christmas, when most everyone’s screwing off for the holidays, the owners post a sign on the security gate saying that they’ll be levelling the place on New Years Day.

    You didn’t see it until Tuesday, which sucks, because you’re on a plane that afternoon to go see family for the holidays.

    When you get back that weekend, you go see about getting your stuff out of there. That’s when you realize, oddly enough, that none of the crap you built fits through the doors in one piece.

    Luckily, the owners left you instructions: peel the roof off; use a chainsaw to carve the bigger things up; and use this basic block and tackle to hoist things out.

    But, even if you manage to manhandle some of your things out of there, you realize nothing runs off standard household outlets and the rest will never fit back together the same way.

    So… yeah. HAPPY HOLIDAYS, FROM OUR CLOUD TO YOU!

  13. l.m.orchard says:

    (Of course, the consolation is that this particular storage unit has a roof removable by chainsaw – whereas competing storage units just self-immolate without notice. So… progress!)

  14. xinit says:

    Perhaps the Metaspace wikipedia page needs to be flagged for deletion as no longer notable?