|February 27th, 2009|
A meep is a fuzzy critter I made in Metaplace that is sort of a cross between the things Marvin Suggs beats on in his Amazing Muppaphone and a Miyazaki soot sprite. They come in a variety of colors and with a variety of behaviors — some like people, some are shy, some have big teeth… I put them on the marketplace, and they quickly became popular on the service.
If you have been on Metaplace, you may have noticed that people get “meeped” instead of “poked.” This was put in by our web guys as a joke, originally, when meeps became popular. Sure enough, everyone started asking, “What is meeping?”
Well, last week we decided to rename the feature to “nudge” or something else mundane. Too many people in our user testing were getting confused, didn’t know what it meant, or were commenting on it. So with regret, we decided we needed to change the term. Meeps would remain running around the worlds, but the feature needed to be easy for new folks to understand. We figured some of the veterans would not like this, but that everyone would understand and be supportive.
We were wrong. Within an hour after we posted about the change, a petition had been created. And the eventual result was this (another article here, and another screenshot here. Here is a marketing take on it. I hear an MPInsider video is on the way as well). Edit: here’s Cuppy’s take.
Julian Dibbell has already commented that this is Metaplace’s “naked-protest-at-Lord-British’s-castle moment.” Yes, yes it is. With some key differences: this happened in a user’s world, not ours. One of the organizers of the protest does political organization for a living. We have guaranteed rights of assembly and free speech. This was the first time, silly as it may seem, where the rubber met the road on our version of user rights.
The text of what I said at the rally:
Thanks, Joe. But I really don’t think I am most responsible for any of this. It clearly couldn’t have happened at all without the contributions of you the users. Without people in a place, even a Metaplace, is cold and lonely. You guys matter more than we do, in the end. That’s why we built MP.
So I want to start by saying something. Maybe they are just big furry bouncing monsters, I know that. But they are also near and dear to my heart. I drew these meeps, you know. So I have great affectiion for them.
We should not, however, think that just because they are cartoon critters that this moment is any less important. Yes — they’re silly, and the whole thing has a bit of a carnival tone. But we should take it seriously for many reasons. There are online services out there where what you are doing right now would not be permitted to happen. Where this world isn’t yours. This may be an issue that has its roots in green fuzz versus impersonal nudges, but the underlying principles are still important.
On that note, I want to briefly reference an incident earlier today where, entirely in jest, some of the MP employees were having fun with their admin powers here. No offense was meant, but I want to tell you all — MP employees included, here and now — User worlds are THEIRS. We have our power only for the good of the community and we use that power in their worlds only by invitation. So even if it was meant well, I want to let you all know that this principle is important, because it is also the principle that permits this protest in the first place.
It doesn’t matter if offense was taken or not; we as MP employees and admins do stand in an odd place. We own the worlds in between yours, the overall context, and we have a responsibility to make the overall framework one that helps you all succeed. Some of you are here to hang out with friends. Some of you are here to chat. Some of you wish to build games. Some want to throw tomatoes. And some want to express themselves politically and in serious ways.
When we originally made the decision to change meeping to something else, we did it with the best of intentions. We have gotten consistent feedback that new folks simply don’t know what meeping is. It isn’t adequate to say “well, they should just learn” — we want to help them be successful, and that means meeting them halfway. So it was a decision made with the intent of helping, not hurting.
That said, it is with pleasure that I want to let you all know –
BUT! And there is a but.
With this comes a responsibility. We will still have those newbies entering, and they will still be confused. We still have to introduce them to the unique culture here.
So I also want to tell you all that we are going to be implementing a newbie helper flag whereby anyone who wants to help can flag themselves — just a UI tag, no hours, responsibilities, or anything — just visible notice, just a UI tag on your nametag that you can turn on. And I hope that those of you who are passionate enough to defend meeps are also passionate enough to help solve the problem that we were trying to fix.
I have great faith… this is one of the most amazing online communities I have ever been a part of. So thank you for your passion, and thank you for the protest — and I mean that sincerely.