Enemies known: The Linden Lab Board and their thinking

In 2008, Mitch Kapor spoke at SL5B, finally coming clean with the community and voiced his belief that the time of the “pioneer” in Second Life (i.e. you and me) is now drawing to a close, and it was time for the “pragmatist” (largely identified as corporations and business entities and maybe not-for-profits) to come in and take over.

Since that time, LL have seemingly worked on two levels:

The first took the form of the development of an Enterprise tool (“sim-in-a-box”) for the so-called “emerging” corporate market which has also seen:

  • A hiving-off of “worthy” sections of the business community in SL, the development of closed groups such as the Gold Solution Providers group (complete with much angst and/or outright misunderstanding on the part of the wider community)
  • LL spinning out what – when all is said and done – is set to be a pretty dumbed-down version of SL in terms of a simplified viewer (Viewer 2.0), potentially lacking functionality that many of us not so much enjoy, but need
  • The suggestion that even things like Landmarks are no longer sacrosanct, and are somehow better being replaced by an “address bar”, and SL being “webbified”
  • Most tellingly, this approach has lead to what can only be described as thinly veiled hostility towards existing residents / users from the likes of Amanda Linden, to a clearly stated wish to limit the freedom of “casual” users around Mainland areas, as voiced by LL’s bed-partner, Justin Bovington of Rivers Run Red.

The second thrust has been at the social engineering level. This has come in many forms.It started innocently enough, with a desire to improve the “first hour experience” for new users. To be honest. this move was actually required in some respects, as the sign-up process was tedious and one had to grit ones teeth and just persevere if one wanted to make some sense of SL and its interface. However, what started as a worthwhile move seemed to grow viral-like across LL’s planning, including:

  • The hiving-off of “adult” themed activities and content
  • The GOMming of SL Exchange and the destruction of its independent forums / the closure of On Rez
  • An open bias against small communities within SL, as exemplified by the Community Partnership Program
  • The closure of the information-rich old forums in favour of a system many users were, and remain, highly critical about due to both its lack of reasonable functionality
  • The heavy-handed “moderation” of discussions within the “new forums”, including stomping on any – even reasonable critiques of the company
  • Public statements from Mark Kingdon that LL is pretty much about “streaming” new users – i.e. directing them into pre-defined silos LL intends (one presumes) to manage and control  – including extending the “first hour experience” for new users to their “first FIVE hours”
  • The provisioning of Linden Homes which a) provides a direct demonstration of Kingdon’s desire to “stream” users, b) sees the Lab further move into the business of content creation (and is an experient which actually fits quite well with what I have to say below)
  • Linden Lab seeking stronger ties with the likes of Facebook – both directly through their own pages there and indirectly through innocuous-seeming “fun” – presumably in the hope of finding a mythical wellspring of “new users”
  • The promotion of their new viewer (see above) as “the” tool expressly for new users coupled with the suggestion that anyone seeking “power” from their viewer should redirect their attention to third party viewers – thus again driving forward the move to dumb-down SL in the mistaken belief this will make it “more popular”

And now – and thanks to Prokofy Neva for pointing this out – we have Board Member Biil Gurley waxing lyrical about virtual goods as rental items as a means of generating revenues. Despite the caveat given at the end of the piece, vis: I have received several comments that concern this post and how it relates to SecondLife…..SecondLife doesn’t actually sell virtual items, its residents do. As such, this post does not relate to SecondLife at all.  It pertains to the 98% of virtual worlds where the hosting companies ALSO is in the digital goods business; it is pretty clear that Gurley is thinking in terms of SL.

It is hard to believe that a post that relates to virtual goods, server space, monetarisation and turnover, written by a current Linden Research Inc board member, coming at a time when all four of these points are very much on the minds of said board & the company’s executives, can be purely coincidental. Further, of the six points Gurley raises in defence of his position, the first two, if adopted, would directly benefit Linden Lab far more than anyone else. Beyond these, it is easy to see how items 4, 5 and 6 also benefit LL in terms of simplifying their metrics and encouraging more in-world transaction turnover which proportionately feed into LL’s coffers in terms of tier and – in the case of XStreet – listing fees and sales commissions.

But it goes much deeper than this, and Prok herself gives a very direct and balanced rebuttal to Gurley’s points.

What is really appalling about Gurley’s suggestion, and his oblique references to LL opting-in to such a system (again discounting his view that the idea “does not” apply to Second Life) is that – as with the recent social engineering trends prevalent in LL’s thinking over the past 18 months – this idea essentially breaks the very thing that makes Second Life compelling to its existing user base.

This is the fact the Second Life, unique among virtual environments, allows each and every one of us to create our own narrative. We have the ability to so much within Second Life that is forever out of our reach in real life, and on so many levels from “simple” role-play escapism through to the ability to be genuinely creative, and have the opportunity to make a real and lasting contribution to the richness of Second Life, be it through the painstaking development of breathtaking sims or the creation of in-world art, goods and services.

If growing the platform is really LL’s concern, then they really should focus on extending this capability, of giving more people the means to write their own narratives. If these means investment in terms of time and energy and, admittedly, outlay, then so be it. Rather than limiting users’ abilities to develop their own streams of narrative, their own abilities to create and contribute, LL should be proactively enhancing the tools and services that make this possible.

Yes, Kapor – we may well be pioneers, but we are hardly the “misfits” you are so dismissively of in your SL5B address. By making this assertion – and possibly imprinting it on the minds of the executive team at Linden Lab – you forget one thing. Rather than being socially inept, we rather represent the majority of your potential users. We are, so to speak, the tip of the iceberg. While we may be small in number on the surface, we represent the mindset of people willing and able to invest time and money into Second Life if they see it as a compelling environment.

And no, these people are not Facebook users or Flickr users or users of any of the latest flat social media tools that are all so busy chasing their own tails. Rather they are the people using the likes of Eve, WoW and other immersive environments. You appeal to these folk, you offer them a compelling, rich environment that offers them the opportunity to experience new ways and means for them to express themselves in a virtual environment  – and give them the freedom and ability to constructively express themselves within the SL community – and you’ll generate a far greater new user take-up than you will through trying to dumb-down SL to the point where it is a 3D mirror of Facebook.

As to Gurley’s view – as I said, Prok has done an admirable job of rebutting his argument. So much so that my saying anything here would be redunant. Certainly, there is space in SL for a purely “rental-driven” market (outside of land)  -  but it should not become the only market model or be thought of in any way as an absolute, as Gurley’s article suggests. At the end of the day, any move towards this model on a larger scale – and I can see some in LL relishing the thought simply because of Gurley’s listed inventory “benefits” will spell the complete marginalisation of SL as viable community platform.

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3 thoughts on “Enemies known: The Linden Lab Board and their thinking

  1. Peter Stindberg

    I am always surprised at the apparent inability of the LL execs to “get” SL. They simply don’t understand what they have in their hands. That it is a communicative and creative tool which is unique in the civilizations history.

    I work in a high-tech industry. We never did a single videconference, and our execs have long refused (and later showed a shocking ineptitude) at things like webinars/webexes. The idea that we do meetings in a virtual environment is hilarious.

    I don’t understand the fixation of LL on the corporate market. The chance LL has is to become the backbone and the bank of the metaverse. Instead they are blindly focused on the corporate market, not realizing they lost it to opensim already.

    1. Inara Pey Post author

      It is a sad fact that those who “got” SL and were the best placed to steer it in the manner you state – and which I agree with – have been systematically ousted over the last two years; upto and including Philip Rosedale himself.

      Perhaps the biggest drawback in utilising venture capital to finance a company – as opposed to seeking out Business Angels – is that sooner or later those putting their funds into the business will want their pound (or six) of flesh. Anyway who has ever watched Dragons Den will be familiar with that tennet.

      In this respect – and playing Devil’s advocate -, one can perhaps be a little forgiving of Kapor and Gurley and others on the Board, in that they have dug into their pockets and been someone patient – until 2008, at least – to get something “worthwhile” back from Linden Research. (And indeed, more fool Rosedale and co for seeking them out, rather than going for the hard sell with two or three Business Angels.)

      However, this doesn’t excuse the fact, again as you point out, that the chances of the corporate environment running out a embracing a virtual world environment as a communications tool are pretty slim. In the large organistions I’ve worked for, video conferencing has been around for 10-15 years. Friend better placed in various market sectors tell me that distributed, direct-to-desktop video streaming and intranet video conferencing are now common among blue chip organisations in finance, banking, IT, etc. Thus, the idea that any company wishing to develop their “virtual” conferencing capabilities would opt for the SLE product over tried-and-trusted tools is, as you say, hilarious – as is the idea that those with existing capabilities would suddenly jump onto the SLE bandwagon.

      This being the case, and while I’m no expert in big business, I can’t see SLE moving much becuase the SME market – and even then the take-up will be mediocre.

      And this is the tragedy for SL; had Kapor, Gurley and co really “got” the platform, they would have realised its true potential as a possible world leader in metaverse development – albeit among “casual” users, rather than the “pregmatist professionals” Kapor himself harps on about. Has they done so and shown a willingness to be more proactively involved in making it thus, the chances are they’d already have a good pound or two of flesh in their pockets.

      Sadly, like Shylock, they seem determined to rip the heart out of the platform, the only difference being that they are driven by a desire for short-term profits rather than a desire for vengeance.

      1. Inara Pey Post author

        I’d suggest all three are worthy of keeping and ear open about.

        One could argue that FB exposure, as long as it remains an opt-in situation it is fair less of a threat than some are jumping up and down over. For sure, LL are trying to tip the playing field towards getting people to “out” themselves by gaming things like the recent Scvenger Hunt, and we should continue to voice displeasure at such moves. But FB is still a matter of personal choice.

        Similarly, and while I simply cannot believe that Gurley (whom I assume you’re referring to in your reference to “temporary inventories”) would *not* have floated his inventory model to the rest of the Board, I still think that the wholesale implementation of such a paradigm shift would cause a massive discontinuity within the SL enconomy that would dwarf anything preceeding it. As such, and despite me posting on the matter, I would in all honesty put it a lot further down the road than a grid merger *if* it were to be taken up as a serious option by the Board and exectuive team.

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