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What The OpenCollar Name Stands For

At the end of October 2017, Wendy Starfall sent a notice to the OpenCollar group announcing her retirement from the project. Upon seeing that, Athaliah Opus and I started talking about how to keep the project true to its founding values. Then we saw notices from VirtualDisgrace calling Garvin Twine the project lead. That raised further concerns. I tried contacting VirtualDisgrace to talk about our concerns, and offered friendship so we could catch each other online. I received no response to these inquiries. The recent ownership changes in the group have flowed from these events.

As founders of the OpenCollar project, we (Athy and Nandana) both feel that now is an important time to reiterate the project's commitment to its founding values of openness and community. Though Wendy's return a few days ago makes the situation more muddled, it does not change our commitment to keeping OpenCollar open and free, including not favoring one merchant over another. In this notecard we will review some history of the project, outline a few areas where the project was straying from its founding values, and briefly talk about the future.

Starting OpenCollar

OpenCollar was started as an experiment. In 2008 the dominant collar brands were Amethyst, Master & Slave (M&S), and Dari's. All were closed, commercial systems, and one of them (M&S) was very expensive. I (Nandana) personally used an Amethyst collar, but I was unsatisfied with being unable to wear different collars with different outfits, while keeping the settings between them in sync (especially ownership settings). I tried writing a plugin that would save my Amethyst settings to Google App Engine and then sync from there when I changed collars, but found that Amethyst's plugin system did not provide the access I needed to make that work. So I decided to write my own set of collar scripts, and OpenCollar was born.

Athaliah was already a good friend of mine at that time, and I quickly enlisted her help. Decisions about the project were made by consensus between us. She created the OpenCollar group, set up an inworld location, handled project finances, and managed QA testing and releases of new versions. I continued scripting, designed collars, wrote documentation, built the original "Temple of the Collar", and recruited other scripters and designers to contribute to the project. Of all the things we did at the time, one simple one stands out as most important: rather than starting a competing for-profit venture, we made OpenCollar free and open source. That altruism and openness led to a rapid explosion of interest from both users and contributors.

Gratitude

Fairly early on we started hearing from users who treated us and other contributors as though we owed them technical support, specific bug fixes, and new features. We used group notices and chats to counter this attitude, establishing an ethos that I would summarize as "Gratitude, not Entitlement". We should all be grateful for the contributions that many people have made to the project, and we should resist the temptation to act as though we're entitled to them giving us more of their time, talent, or other resources. Though I risk accidentally leaving out some important contributors, I'd like to list those I remember who have given important contributions. In very rough order of appearance:

  • Nandana Singh (now Nirea Resident)
  • Athaliah Opus
  • Lulu Pink
  • Doggy Core
  • Alice Callaghan
  • Khiara Kanto
  • Summer Seale
  • Velveteen Scribe
  • Jayne Giano
  • Lecina Enigma
  • Eiko Zeffirelli
  • Anika Mureaux
  • Quitero Klaar
  • Andria Babenco
  • Ivald Huldasson
  • Jenniferz Vita
  • Cleo Collins
  • Asami Imako
  • Satomi Ahn
  • Sei Lisa
  • Wendy Starfall
  • Master Starship
  • Romka Swallowtail
  • Garvin Twine (aka Otto)
  • Silkie Sabra
  • littlemousy
  • Medea Destiny
  • Sumi Perl
  • Ray Zopf
  • Toy Wylie
  • Joy Stipe
  • Kyrah Abattoir
  • VirtualDisgrace
  • Grey Mars

(If you have contributed to the project and I left you out, please let me know! You deserve our gratitude.)

Wendy has probably given more to OpenCollar than anyone, and for that we should all be extremely grateful. But contributing time to the project does not entitle anyone to ownership of it. OpenCollar remains about being free, open, and community-driven. It is not about any one person, whether that's myself, Wendy, Athy, or anyone.

Community

We want to welcome and support new users. In the past couple years, however, there have been times when those moderating the group have been insulting to users in group chat. This is not OK, even if the person is acting entitled. Troublemakers may be kicked or banned, but no one should be insulted or attacked. Doing so runs counter to OpenCollar's goal of creating a welcoming community for new users.

Openness and Fairness

Guiding principle 1: OpenCollar is a labor of love, given freely to the Second Life community. While any designer is free to make a collar and put OpenCollar scripts in it, the project itself is nonprofit, and will not favor one designer over another.

Guiding principle 2: People contributing money should know where it's going.

At one point we had our main inworld location organized around separate contributors, with a list of each person's contributions to the project, and a personal tip board for each contributor. Whenever we had a generic tip board for the overall OpenCollar project, the funds it collected were dedicated to project expenses like tier and web hosting fees.

In the time before Wendy started maintaining the project, Athy and I saw a number of people try to subvert its commitment to openness for their own profit. Some of these were outside creators with far-fetched ideas, while others were insiders who saw an opportunity to use the OpenCollar name to promote their products in ways not available to their competitors. When I removed the web-based settings database, for example, one developer tried to make his for-profit replacement the preferred alternative. We shut that down. Another time we had a team member providing group/land management bots who tried to use his position to take over the group. We shut that down too. OpenCollar's well-known name and large inworld group are tempting targets to people who want an advantage in marketing their for-profit products.

Everyone has RL obligations, and Athy and I are no exception. We reduced our online time as career and family obligations increased, and Wendy very generously helped to fill the void, first with tasks focused on the community and handling releases, and later with changes to the code.

I eventually proposed a structure where Wendy would act as a CEO, while I and perhaps others served as a board of directors with say over major decisions. That arrangement was followed for a while between Wendy and I, but decayed over time. As part of that CEO+Board structure, I created an account named OpenCollar Organiser to hold project funds and the full perms versions of designs, and shared the login credentials with Wendy.

When Wendy first talked to me about partnering with VirtualDisgrace (VD), I expressed my concerns over a potential conflict of interest between the ideals of the project and the for-profit nature of VD. Wendy reassured me that the two would remain strictly separate. As I saw how things played out, however, some concerns remained. It seemed to me that VirtualDisgrace products were being promoted to OpenCollar group members in a way that was not available to other collar makers in SL. This felt to me like a departure from the more even-handed practices of the past, and OpenCollar's commitment to be open and fair. Both Athy and I have been concerned that some things that should be free (like the spy plugin, updaters/transmuters, and tools for installing OC into your own products) were instead being sold for money and promoted in the OpenCollar group.

In July 2016 I tried to log in to the OpenCollar Organiser account to check up on how finances were being distributed. I found that the password for OpenCollar Organiser had been changed and I had been locked out of the account. This was concerning. Imagine the feeling of coming home from vacation and seeing that your housesitter had locked you out of your own house and changed the locks. Without a view into the account's transactions, I had no way of ensuring that funds were still going to the project's stated mission. I asked Wendy about this, and she mysteriously told me to talk to Otto/Garvin Twine. After some more discussion, she walked me through the systems then in use for distributing funds. I was satisfied that she was doing so honestly, with one exception. I saw that 50% of all tips to the "OpenCollar" tip boards at the temple were being paid to a single developer, Otto. This was very concerning. I was not comfortable with people thinking they were donating to tier and server costs but really having it go to an individual.

In more recent months, tips have stopped going to OpenCollar Organiser. It's my understanding that they now go through VirtualDisgrace, though I'm not 100% sure.

The Future

With the removal of Wendy, Otto, and VirtualDisgrace as OpenCollar group owners, we are returning to a clean separation between the OpenCollar open source project and all for-money products. All merchants are free to use OpenCollar scripts in their products. No merchant gets special treatment, such as exclusive access to promote their products in the OpenCollar group. Someone in group chat today made the analogy of OpenCollar being like Linux, and VirtualDisgrace being a distributor like RedHat. I think that's a good analogy, and I look forward to a world where there are many such distributors. But just as the Linux Foundation wouldn't choose a single distributor for preferential treatment, neither will OpenCollar choose a single merchant for preferential treatment. While anyone is free to clone or even fork OpenCollar's open source code, only myself and Athaliah are authorized to designate official OpenCollar releases and locations.

In the upcoming months I will be working on filling some of the gaps discussed above. The first release will be an invisible object containing the collar scripts, that you can attach in addition to whatever visual collar design you like. Later on, we'll release either a simplified OpenCollar version 7 or new free tools to make it much easier for designers and merchants to install OpenCollar into their products.

It was OpenCollar's commitment to openness and community that initially attracted the surge of involvement that the project has seen. I'm confident that holding to those values will continue to attract people who want to give back to the rest of the Second Life community.