Tateru Nino is arguably the best known Australian SL resident. Over the past year I’ve run into Tateru in-world regularly at events and we’ve shared anecdotes and information here and there. What has made an impression over that time is Tateru’s commitment to what she does and how well she does it. I finally got around to asking her for an interview and as always she gave graciously of her time.
Lowell: Tell us a little about your role within SL as it stands now.
Tateru: Catalyst. Journalist. Consultant. Developer. Handy person to blame for stuff.
Lowell: It’d be fair to say your own of Australia’s longest SL users – is it a badge you wear with honour?
Tateru: I hadn’t actually thought of it like that. I’d been aware of SL since it was in Beta, but hadn’t felt the urge to try it out. Then in August, 2005 – a friend of mine and her partner (both in the UK) convinced me to give it a try. I’ve been here ever since.
Tateru: And consultancy, and a few other things. It’s what I do, and I do it seven days a week every day of the year. It keeps the bills paid, mortgage taken care of, and the family fed. I make a living doing it – though it /is/ tight sometimes. It’s my day job – a long day job.
Lowell: And will the new site, Massively, make you even busier?
Tateru: It already has – pleasantly so. Writing more, doing more research, visiting more worlds. It keeps the wolves from the door, and that’s a good thing.
Lowell: Would it be fair to say you’re an immersionist?
Tateru: I don’t hold with the immersionist/augmentationist division. I’ve got elements of both camps – most people do, in my experience. I don’t meet many immersionists who are not also augmentationists. I think the two spectra intersect, rather than existing at opposite poles.
Lowell: You’ve written regularly about mainstream media coverage of Second Life and how they tend to get it wrong more often than not – are things improving in that respect?
Tateru: Sturgeon’s law. “90% of everything is crud” – there’s a lot of mediocrity out there. I don’t think that coverage of Second Life is actually any worse than mainstream media coverage of almost anything else. Most mainstream media pieces on nearly any topic are littered with inaccuracies. Out of the remaining ten percent? There’s some great reporting out there, but it’s balanced by an increase in truly shocking reporting. I think things are trending upwards, but I won’t bet money on it – not today.
Lowell: How often do you get SL developers lobbying you to cover a build or to alter your opinion on one you’ve already written about?
Tateru: Weekly. Store and product reviews? I only review places where I or a friend actually spent our own money. I tend to shy away from covering places that send me freebies to review. It’s hard enough to tell when you’re being unbiased. Having free swag in your inventory doesn’t make it any easier to make that distinction, so I avoid the folks who send me free samples.
Lowell: We’ve had discussions before where you’ve talked about your ability to ‘see’ the grid numerically / via the data feeds. Can you elaborate on this?
Tateru: It’s tricky to describe. I see almost everything in … non-visual pictures. Abstracts. Senses of shapes and colours, relationships in any number of dimensions. I can look at a machine or a process and ‘see’ (or sense) how it all fits together. It’s a kind of synesthesia, I suppose. When I actually look at something, I’m almost never seeing the visual part of it. I’m ‘seeing’ the qualities of it that aren’t strictly visual. It makes it awfully hard to recognise people visually from photos and such, I can tell you. Graphs and numbers have trends, curves, shapes. I’ve no particular skill at math, but I can sense trends in data- as long as there’s enough data to actually work with. Give me too little and I have to shrug my shoulders. If there’s not enough, I can’t even venture a guess.
Lowell: If you had to describe the impact on SL since population explosion in late 2006, how would you do it?
Tateru: Chaotic. Second Life as a society (and I can’t think of any other word that fits all of us in aggregate) is something of a lost generation. A bit like Japan, in a way. We have our traditionalists who remember ‘the old ways’. We’ve got our progressives who look to what it could be. The rest are trying to figure out what it is now, and how to get along. Second Life society is a society that doesn’t know what it is, or what it is becoming. In a sense, it’s a grand adventure.
Lowell: How likely is the adventure to have a happy ending?
Tateru: Ultimately people are people. There’s nothing wrong with self-interest, so long as self-interest is not at the expense of others. Most of the problems we have in RL and in SL is a result of self-serving decisions that are made at the expense of other people. Just as we’ve never solved this problem in RL, we’re unlikely to solve it in SL either. But it’s something we can live with. Most people are reasonable, honest folks most of the time. That said, there’s always a balance – and sometimes a precarious one. SL is not so solid at this time that the balance cannot be tipped, and SL would vanish fairly quickly if it did. It’s still got some growing to do before it can toddle around the house on its own.
Lowell: What’s an amusing experience you’ve had in SL in recent memory?
Tateru: Your mileage may vary on recent. I was standing with Torley Linden, and another Linden staffer at the tail end of a public meeting. A relatively new (two weeks) SL user came up to us, and tried to sell us freebies from his Library folder. The name Linden had no impact on his consciousness. He didn’t know, or didn’t remember ever hearing of the name Linden or of Linden Lab. He was very keen to sell us some things to ‘make some ellz’.
Lowell: Who inspires you in SL?
Tateru: Tough question. I’m not exactly prone to a lot of that kind of inspiration at all. I suppose I’d have to say Robin Harper. She’s got a tough job with a lot to live up to. Harper, like all of us, makes mistakes and takes a lot of extra flak for hers, but keeps on pushing. At the end of the day, it’s not success or failure that’s really so important as it is that we don’t stop trying to do our best.
Lowell: Speaking of flak, Linden Lab cops plenty. Are there specific areas you believe they need to work on?
Tateru: Communication is a big one – and I don’t think a lot of people would argue about that. They’ve been looking for a resident communications manager/community manager for months and no sign of one yet. Also, I honestly think Linden Lab as a whole presents a very timid image, as if they’re afraid of speaking honestly and openly, of lawsuits, and of the appearance of favoritism. They may not be, but they give the strong impression that they are in their methods, timing and style of communication.
Lowell: What’s your take on the Aussie contingent in SL – just part of the pack or a sub-culture?
Tateru: Depends on the people. In a group, we can be quite a pack of yahoos at times. Get a whole bunch of us together and we’re pretty distinctive. Alone, we’re just part of the pack.
Lowell: If you had to provide a new user with three must-see places in SL, what would they be?
Lowell: Would you like to get the crystal ball out and make any predictions about SL in the coming year?
Tateru: Well, we’re not quite through my last lot of predictions for 2007 yet.