Yesterday I received an IM from a long-time friend in SL. He asked if I had some time to come see him and his SL/RL wife. I was running late for work anyway, and had to offer my apologies. "Why, what's up?" I enquired. He replied that he and his wife might have to leave SL permanently; not at their own accord, but because Linden Lab are on the verge of suspending their accounts indefinitely.
Why so? Because traffic at their shop site is high.
So, they must be using Bots right? Well, yes and no. They do use a couple of bots, but the majority of their permanent visitors are actually real people hanging out in a place they like. Bots are definied as 'non-human controlled agents', or scripted agents. Essentially they'll be accounts that someone has set up for the express purpose of just hanging around somewhere, in an effort to increase traffic (footfall) numbers at a particular location. It means that if someone were to search for a particular place - let's say in this instance "clothes shop" - and filtered their results by wherever has the highest amount of traffic, that shop would appear nearer to the top of the list. This is known as gaming traffic, in that its not real.
To quote Linden Labs: "'Gaming traffic' is purposefully having avatars on a parcel that is listed in search for long period of time for the purposes of increasing your traffic score. Whether their is a human behind them or not, if their purpose seems to be to inflate traffic then it is considered gaming traffic. If there is a genuine purpose to being there (like a model) then that account needs to be registered as a scripted agent so it does not count toward traffic figures."
So basically, even though you could actually be a person hanging out in a clothes store you love, with other like-minded people, and are rewarded by the store owner for your support in trying to help their fledgling business grow and develop in SL, you have to turn yourself in as a drone? Not quite, but that's the underlying threat relayed to this particular situation. Another question that was asked was, is the key definition concerning traffic gambling because you're paying people to be there? No, according to the Lab. The key definition is the avatars are there for the purpose of increasing traffic and for no other reason; but surely a model, modelling clothes is promoting a service, not just pushing the numbers up? "They can be models and you can use models and compensate them however you wish," sayd LL. "They just need to be registered if you do."
"If it is an avatar that is in the parcel listed in search for long periods of time, for whatever reason, it should be registered as a scripted agent so it doesn't count toward traffic", says the Lab. However, they followed this up by saying "if they have a legitimate purpose to be there other than increasing traffic, then registering so they do not count should not be an issue."
So, if you register yourself as a NON-scripted agent, you're fine then? Presumably. But if you don't, and somehow you're determined to have spent a particularly long amount of time on one sim alone, you'll be accused of being a Bot and threatened with having your account suspended.
I spend most of my time on the Raglan cluster. I could be logged on for 10-14 hours on any single day sometimes. What would happen to me if I didn't register myself? How am I tracked? And how would I ever know I'd have to register until I was threatened with suspension?
And what's the big deal with traffic anyway? The formula for determining traffic is so obscure, its bound to be manipulated every which way, even if it takes bots of of the picture. And I've been around SL long enough to know that if I'm searching for something, I tend to ignore most of the top traffic ranking places because they either won't cater to my needs precisely, but have used keywords to their advantage; they will probably be so overwhelemed with people I won't be able to move for lag; they'll probably be managed by people who are only interested in claiming they have "The Number One Jazz Club/Nightclub/Fight Club/Book Club" and not really care about their offer.
A better system that says one individual pair of feet on a sim within any 24 hour period counts as 1 traffic point. Failing that, why not have places listed in Search by votes? Vote for the quality of a sim, vote for its craftmanship, vote for its content, vote for its community, its layout, its music; if any of these things are worth a vote and good citizens want to share the experience they've enjoyed and allow SL to flourish with beauty and wonder, they'll visit there often and vote on it. That seems a lot nicer and a lot fairer. Quality wins - and therefore, so do we.