Kinds of Bots
If you think there are a lot of roaming bots, guess what? Their numbers are nothing compared to non-roaming bots and semi-autonomous avatars on the grid. These bots typically fall into a few broad categories, below.
It's important to note most bots are used for tasks inworld scripts and objects cannot do, but avatars can. Linden Lab explicitly permits bots so long as they don't violate SL's terms of service or other conditions.
- Group Bots These typically handle inviting people to groups, managing notices, redeliveries, and even policing group chat, like kicking out people for spamming or bad language. Ever go to a store and some stranger immediately asks you to join a group? Probably a group bot! These avatars are usually online 24/7, in part so group operators can scan messages without having to worry about IMs or group notices on their primary avatars being capped. A subset of group bots are what I call spam bots: they seem to exist for no other purpose than distributing messages and notices to a variety of groups. Typically those groups are explicitly for receiving ads or announcements about things.
- Land Management Some private estates leave bots logged in 24/7 and use them to perform estate management tasks from the Web (even from just a phone) without requiring a human to log in. Common uses are managing ban lists or ejecting troublemakers, but also things like restarting regions or resetting parcels when a tenant leaves. One bot can manage a ton of regions, so these can move around a bit.
- Models/Support/Greeters These bots typically stay in one location and model clothing items (sometimes customers can change their outfits using scripts), answer questions from customers, or act as greeters. Ever had someone message you the second you step onto a parcel? "Hi, can I help you find some land today?" "Welcome to MedievalSpaceCowboys, the Dark Ages scifi western roleplay sim! Please grab a copy of the rules to your right! I can try to answer any questions!" Might be a greeter bot—although some of those are semi-automated avatars using lightweight viewers that real people can "hop onto" if needed.
- NPCs NPCs ("non-player characters") are bot avatars that can move around, use vehicles, even fire weapons and take other actions. They're typically limited to a single parcel, region, or estate. Sometimes they simulate townsfolk just going about their daily business; sometimes they're part of a zombie horde; sometimes they perform the "adult" activities for which Second Life is so well-known worldwide. Expect some of these to go away in favour of animesh.
- AFK avatars These typically aren't true bots; they're usually idle avatars (often logged in en masse with low-resource third-party viewers like Radegast) that wait for "customers," although some are fully automataed. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry. Sometimes their owners also take them out and about for some shopping. This is a pretty large group.
- Game Bots Some inworld games encourage users to expand their groups/kingdoms/clans/whatever through recruiting new players. Except that recruiting new people can be hard and time-consuming, whereas creating new Second Life accounts is free and quick. So some players create additional accounts to improve their standings, and bring them online in hordes using lightweight SL clients. Typically these aren't true bots—they aren't fully automated, but nor are real people driving them all the time. Game bots don't tend to get around much, but some games—particularly Tiny Empires—have players who bring enormous troupes of avatars to mainland sims and public spaces, sometimes even blocking access to the region for anyone else. Classy. Some are left online 24/7, presumably "grinding." This is probably the largest category of non-roaming bots.
- Linden Cruisers A number of avatars hop around the grid participating in traffic-generating systems that "earn" a small amount of money for visiting participating locations. Some of these are legitimately real people (sometimes in developing nations, where a Linden dollar goes farther); however, a portion appear to be automated or semi-automated avatars, and a number of those also hit locations where they think there might be money leftover in a trivia ball, "legal" sploder, or other item.
- Streaming operators There are a moderate number of bots on the grid associated with stream rental services. I'm not sure why: none of the stream rental operators I've spoken to use bots for anything unusual, nor could they shed any light on why bots would be needed. Of course, others haven't responded to queries. Insert your own opinion here.
Many SL residents fear bots because they associate the term with "copybots," software (usually a modified version of the Firestorm viewer) designed to steal Second Life content. Copybots violate SL's terms of service…plus actual laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the European Copyright Directive, etc. The vast majority of SL bots aren't copybots—in fact, it's unlikely that any of the bots types mentioned above are copybots because it would be tremendously inefficient. Copybot operators mainly want to quickly copy popular things that the users can quickly re-upload to Second Life to turn a quick buck. Emphasis on quick. Hence, copybot viewers are almost always driven in real time by humans who are familiar with SL.