Charge for Traffic

Saturday, November 22, 2008

There's a lot of talk these days about what to do with the bot problem. Estimates for how much of Second Life's population is made up of robot accounts range from 10-50%.

Broadly speaking, bots can be classified into two main groups. There's the "traffic bots," which are robots placed in a parcel by the parcel owner as a means to boost the traffic score for that parcel. A sub-variant of the traffic bots are the camping bots, which seek out camping chairs that have been placed to attract traffic by paying out miniscule amounts of money.

The other kind of bot is "everything else." These include models used for demonstrating clothing for sale, group bots that automate the group joining process, and scanners and such that enable data collection for people looking to monitor trends across the entire grid.

It's really only the traffic bots that upset people. Because the traffic bots are good for only one thing -- boosting traffic -- and the more of them you have, the better they are. Bots that actually perform some useful service, tend to stay out of your way while they go about their business. So when people say, "let's get rid of the bots," what they really mean is, they want to get rid of the traffic bots. If the traffic bots all went away, and the "other" bots stayed, I don't think anyone would be complaining. It's the traffic bots that consume resources, warp traffic figures, and confuse people when they make worthless spaces seem popular.

People have proposed many solutions for getting rid of bots. These include: forcing bots to identify themselves to the Linden Lab server, eliminating the free accounts bots use, and eliminating the concept of traffic altogether.

I have another solution. I think Linden Lab should charge for traffic.

Traffic is a measure of how many resources you, the land owner, are consuming. If I run a website, I'm generally charged for the bandwidth I consume. If I have a popular website that gets a lot of hits, it pulls more bandwidth and my provider charges me more, accordingly. So I think Linden Lab should charge people for traffic. It seems fair.

Of course, they'll have to lower tier to compensate. Let's say they cut everyone's tier in half, and then charge additional fees for traffic to compensate. For a small homeowner who doesn't get any traffic to his home parcel, his overall fees to Linden Lab would drop. In fact, I suspect most people's fees would drop.

The exception would be large clubs, and busy, successful stores. They would likely pay more per month than they are paying now. But supposedly those venues are making money, and can support higher fees.

There would be some uncertainty involved. The amount you pay Linden Lab would change each month depending on how busy you were. I don't think that's a huge obstacle. Most people keep a large enough cushion of money in their account.

The big losers would be bot farms. Anyone who is placing 40 bots over their parcel would see their traffic payments skyrocket. It would be like saying, "Here, Lindens, take my money." I think this would kill traffic bots faster than any other suggestion.



Unfortunately, I could see people gaming this approach and using it to grief others. Send a mess of bots to hang out on their target's land and cause their target to incur increased fees. But I nonetheless like the concept.

Seraph Nephilim said...
December 11, 2008 at 10:11 AM  

You are correct -- if Linden Lab charged for traffic, then griefers could cost land owners real money with a bot attack.

To continue my analogy of server hosting, the analogue would be someone launching a DDOS attack on your site. Those attacks can and do cost people money. The preventative measures most hosting services have in place involve shutting down a site if its bandwidth/traffic becomes too high. So a DDOS attack represents a temporary inconvenience to a web site owner, but the chance of losing a significant amount of money is not that great.

Linden Lab could implement similar measures -- if there are too many avatars on a sim for too long, the sim shuts down. Inconvenient, true, but Linden Lab has information at its disposal that an ordinary hosting company does not: mainly, the accounts of the people launching the attack (DDOS attacks are run from random computers scattered across the internet controlled by bot nets and are generally untraceable). So anyone trying an attack like this would have to generate the forty or so accounts each time.

Rifkin Habsburg said...
December 13, 2008 at 2:30 PM  

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