The very short “goodbyes” as the rumour-mills churn

The names of those “let go” following yesterday’s restructuring announcement are beginning to appear. Pastebin has one of the most comprehensive lists. Whether it in complete or not is another matter. Elsewhere there is much speculation that Cyn Linden and Babbage Linden have both gone – but this remains unconfirmed, while Prok Neva points to Blue Linden is among the casualties and also mentions Cyn.

Running an in-world search, it appears that the speculation surrounding Babbage and Cyn is misplaced. I’d actually have been very surprised if Cyn was on the list of the departed, given her very recent promotion. Similarly, given the mighty work that has been done around LSL and Mono, I would also have been surprised had Babbage gone – and would certainly looked at his departure as a negative portent.

Blue, sadly, has gone; and despite what some may say about him, I personally shall miss him. Despite a rocky start to our relationship, he and I went on to have many private conversations on a range of subjects that convinced me that, while the corporate need may have forced his hand at times (and indeed stifled a desire to provide greater support to users), he had a very genuine love for the platform and the people with whom he interacted.

I have to say that, while I wouldn’t wish redundancy on anyone (I’ve been through it twice myself and I know how devastating it can be), I find myself unable to feel much in the way of remorse at the loss of Pink Linden. Her attitude from day one was autocratic, and despite knowing little about SL or the SLX/XStreet SL environment, she was very quick to unbendingly follow the corporate line where a modicum of understanding might have been more welcome – and more appropriate.

If I’m honest, part of my opinion of her was shaped by the whole XSL Content Roadmap situation – particularly her determination to stifle any and all discussion on the subject at her Office Hours meetings, while at the same time using her real life blog to decry the fact that the owners of her apartment block had opted to cut down some fourteen trees around it without consulting the residents. Pot, meet kettle and please note its colour.

I also did wonder at her potential longevity at LL after a) Jack effectively took over matters of commerce; b) the Content Roadmap was shelved.

Beyond the names, the speculation and rumour mill continues apace with tidings of woe and doom for SL, and a general consensus that the platform is heading for a Farmville type future, or that it is about to become Flash-driven. Many are claiming that Viewer 2.0 and the new user experience have been complete failures and have thus precipitated the situation.

Me? I think it is still too early to judge. Let’s face it, the New User Experience hasn’t been around that long, and there are more than enough issues with Viewer 2 to possibly prevent LL pushing it into the spotlight in terms of widespread external advertising. Indeed, it is hard to see any signs of a concerted advertising campaign across the full breadth of the media that one would assume would be needed to raise SL’s real world profile.

As I’ve previously posted, Mark Kingdon and his colleagues are not stupid.  They may not get Second Life, but that doesn’t make them stupid. They are marketers, and they know the value of advertising. At the moment, Viewer 2 and the New Viewer Experience stand in a vacuum  - few, if any, outside of Second Life have ever heard of them. So is it really any wonder than since their “launch” new numbers haven’t dramatically increased?

Unless, of course, Viewer 2 has been put together in a Costneresque view of the world wherein if you build it, they will come. If this is the case, then I’ll gladly revise my view on the levels of stupidity potentially prevalent in a certain boardroom.

No, current figures on user throughput are simply too fresh to squarely point the finger at Viewer 2, etc., and lay blame. Q2 figures might start to revise this, but even then it might be a tad premature.

So… what has happened? As I said in yesterday’s post, leaving aside the hysteria around the “Web-ising” (or possibly not) of SL and the “Facebook joining”, layoffs and retrenchment of this scale (Singapore shut, Withdrawal from Germany (SL’s 2nd largest national market), closing down the Brighton, UK office) do all tend to point to a company scrambling to save money. And I think that Gwyn Llewelyn may have hit the nail on the head a little more squarely then the theories of Viewer 2 failures, identifying one factor of the equation everyone has been overlooking:

The SL Business Enterprise “solution” isn’t working.

SL Enterprise, and what is now SL Workspaces were launched a long time ahead of either Viewer 2 or the New User Experience (last October / November). Their roots go back a lot further than that, however, and have been the cause of much angst for many of us. Throughout 2009, Linden Lab was constantly being badgered by the likes of Justin Bovington of LL’s (former?) business partner Rivers Run Red to develop huge swathes of “business only” Mainland. For a time, even the likes of Amanda Linden displayed what amounted to a hostile attitude towards residents.

Everyone seemed to be far too enamoured with the 2006/2007 situation where big business suddenly “discovered” Second Life, with the likes of Nike, IBM, Toyota, NBC, etc., all rushing in to set-up shop here…before just as quickly vanishing again.

Many theories have been cooked up to explain “what went wrong” – both within and outside of LL – with many within LL thinking they’d potentially missed a golden opportunity, albeit one hovering just outside their reach that could be recaptured if they only get things right.

Among all the theories for the 06/07 “boom/bust” business cycle, I don’t think anyone considered the most basic and simple explanation: Second Life just isn’t really very good for real world businesses.

I’ve long been a critic of the “business is all” ethos that did pervade LL for a time. The idea that what amounts to a recreational pursuit could somehow become the nexus of corporate communications and technology development always struck me as simply ludicrous.

Yet it became a major mainstay of LL’s strategic development. But beyond a few “case studies” and the dozen-or-so companies using SLW just what – as Gwyn asks – has it actually achieved?

SLE remains in beta. While there has been some take-up of it (the US Navy, for example, appears to have pulled most of it in-world studies back behind their own firewalls where they use SLE), all news relating to it has dried up. There has been no move to move it out of beta; there have been no really big corporate fish hooked by the “promise” of SLE.

Even Justin Bovington has gone quiet.

So one cannot help but wonder if this might not be the reason behind the current situation. Was someone rash enough to pin LL’s future cashflow and turnover largely on the SLE / SLW tool and environment? Where the rose-tinted business glasses worn to the degree that projections were based around the $55K-a-pop sales of SLE and the ability for LL to pull in even more revenue via business “consulting”, rather than through resident tiers, and the chicken is now home to roost?

So what of the future? Does this all point towards LL going “solely” web?

It really is hard to judge – but I do remain of the opinion that those who are condemning SL’s future are speaking prematurely. While new user numbers have not skyrocketed – they haven’t actually fallen. As a recreational platform, SL remains viable and afloat. It is also going through a series of upgrades that point – if anything – not towards a flat browser experience, but rather towards a more immersive experience: we have Havoc 7 about to be finally rolled out; later in the year full mesh capabilities are arriving. While the latter brings with it a host of other issues, it bodes well overall for SL’s ability to remain competitive and engaging.

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8 thoughts on “The very short “goodbyes” as the rumour-mills churn

  1. Gwyneth Llewelyn

    Thanks for the heads-up!… As for Babbage Linden being gone, it’s very sadly not a rumour — the Brighton offices in the UK are being shut down, and he’s going to leave the ‘lab, as he explains on Twitter. This is something really, really sad… we had some fun together, in SL and RL, and I personally owe him quite a lot (he’s one of the few Lindens that I have the pleasure to have met in the meat world, and he’s even cooler iRL).

    And, of course, for SL itself it’s even more sad. Babbage was “almost single-handedly” tackling the Mono virtual machine and doing some incredible things with it. I mean “incredible” because even Novell, who currently leads the Mono project, was baffled with the insanely advanced techniques employed by LL to do their wizardry — if Babbage didn’t already have a PhD, his work at the ‘Lab would definitely be worth a second PhD, at the very least.

    Explaining the details of what he was working on — which has no parallel in the history of computer science, but will sadly remain an obscure footnote, appreciated by few — is quite hard to explain. I’ll try to explain it on a blog post of my own… suffice to say that if sim crossings with vehicles is at all possible, it’s thanks to Babbage.

    I don’t think that SL is “not appropriate” for business use. But it’s definitely in its “early alpha” stages for that (but so is every other VW technology!). This means that mostly just the early adopters will “get it” and use it successfully. There are some areas where you simply cannot do things wit any other technology — simulating a crisis in a hospital or a fire in a school building, and doing virtual drills under stress and confusion, without the need of shutting the hospital/school down, for instance. There are other VW technologies that allow to do that but… how hard are they for non-expert 3D modellers to tweak and change? SL does all that easily. Granted, not everything can be easily done in SL… and some areas are really very obscure and just appealing to a small number of companies.

    No, the biggest problem really, from the perspective of Linden Lab, is that all those companies and universities in SL don’t earn LL much revenue. They have, at most, one or two sims — few need more than that. Some might be multi-million projects, but that money goes to the developers, not to LL: LL just gets their US$295/monthly for tier. So even if a large percentage of the Fortune 500 are in SL, this doesn’t translate in added revenue for the ‘Lab. They get more income from an above-average land baron than, say, from NMC or IBM or U. Kansas, or even the US Army. These are nice names to use as references on presentations, but… in terms of sheer income, they’re not interesting for LL. They are, of course, very interesting for the consultants and developers who got the contract!

    So at the end of the day, this is like imagining that a big company, say, GM, is developing a huge multi-billion project based on Microsoft’s technology. Cool, it’s a multi-billion project. Yay! Lots of good PR! But… ultimately, Microsoft will not see much, since their compiler tools are for free… and GM won’t really buy more Windows licenses for that multi-billion project. So it’s good for PR, but not for revenues.

    I think the same happened with LL’s Enterprise division. They managed some to get good PR and credibility on the corporate and university markets. But they didn’t make any money out of it, and had to support dozens and dozens of employees in the teams directly and indirectly working for that division. For little or no return — less than 1% of their overall income, according to my own estimates. It was simply not worth it.

    So it’s not that SL is not “good for business”. It is. It’s just that LL won’t get a big share out of that market.

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      So Babbage is departing? I don’t Twit, err, Tweet, so missed anything that may have slipped out, and couldn’t find anything beyond speculation.

      This is sad given that he has put so much effort into fixing a vital element of SL – the scripting tools, and is perhaps the one best-placed to make recommendations and oversee future developments along that path.

      As to SL and business, I think you and I are really going to have to disagree. It really isn’t suited to the corporate environment beyond being a glorified toy – especially in the manner William Linden would have us believe. This was a ludicrous statement on so many levels (some of which I referred to elsewhere).

      Your own arguments in its favour offer exceptionally limited value, and I would argue that the use of SL to “model” simulated emergencies doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, nor does the argument that using SL is less “stress inducing”. At the end of the day, SL isn’t designed as a modelling tool in any real sense, and “hosting” hospital evacuations (or any other kind of evacuation) will have little benefit beyond the level of senior management.

      And land tier? Please Gwyn! Enough with the hookwinking! This is nearly as bad as your, “Ops! it was just an April Fool’s Joke” posting on the F Rating fiasco.

      Do you really mean to imply that SLE was not about the money? That LL were solely focused on in-world tier as the business revenue stream? Let’s look at the numbers.

      A company rents one PRIVATE sim = revenue stream of $4540 to Linden Lab in the first 12 months ($295 tier + “purchase” price), $3540 thereafter

      A company buys ONE copy of SLE = $55,000 revenue to LL or the equivalent of fifteen years tier for renting a sim.

      Now. Call me silly here, but I’d rather suspect the LL will take the $55K over the tier, which they’d leave as a nice-to-have-but-not-vital-to-income.

      And if said company were to rent a Mainland sim, the time for LL to earn the same income from them as buying SLE would have cost gets stretched out even further.

      It’s only IF the company rents multiple sims within SL would we see the balance swing in favour of tier.

      But…who would be willing to invest in multiple sims on an on-going basis, where development work will always be carried out under the potential threat of unprovoked attack, within an environment that is less-than-secure on so many levels when it comes to data handling and managed by a company that could quite possibly come off as less than stellar under any due diligence review. So again, buying-into the SLE package could be seen as far more worthwhile as it removes all of these issues and places them behind an company’s own firewalls and in the care of their own IT gurus.

      No… the pricing structure itself was no accident. It feel into that category where smaller businesses could take the view that while it is somewhat expensive, it is at least giving them control over the environment, rather risking all on a “public” platform that does have a rather mixed reputation on so many levels; while big business could view the investment in two or three sims as more than acceptable ($55K for a 100-user “licence”? not a lot for the big boys) with the same added benefit of complete control of the environment.

      So, let’s not play games. LL actively developed and promoted SLE as THE tool for business: THE tool for video conferencing, THE tool for application building; THE tool for data modelling – it’s all their in William’s (and other posts), priced at a point that they hoped would make it a mainstream revenue earner.

      From the outset, this strategy was doomed, simply because either a) SLE isn’t geared to positive empower businesses in the manner promoted; or b) offered a complicated means of doing tasks that business has already mastered through tools specifically designed to carry out the required tasks. Simple as that.

      And really… your analogy on Microsoft products! Shame on you, Gwyn! Of course Microsoft would benefit from a “multi-billion project” with GM or whoever with more than good PR. Can you say “end user licences” or “development licences”, “solution expertise”, “training spin-offs”? I rather think you can, so stop with the wool-over-the-eyes tricks, please! :)

      Reply
  2. Gwyneth Llewelyn

    @Inara, THE tool for business sold what… 20 licenses? At best? That’s less than 1% of LL’s overall income. Spending a third of the annual budget into 1% of revenues doesn’t look like a wining strategy to me. Sure, it was worth the experiment — you couldn’t predict in advance how poor SLE would sell — but not the ongoing investment. And that was my point; I totally agree with you on the points a) and b) that you mention, and these same points popped up everywhere I heard SLE being discussed with prospective clients and developers. LL simply didn’t want — or didn’t know how — to deal with them.

    But I was talking about reality, not speculation. LL speculated that their enterprise pitch would get them lots of SLE licenses sold. Business listened to the pitch and bought single sims or openspaces instead. That was what happened, over and over again — at least for the ones who commited to a SL solution, of course. Some simply got their own OpenSim instead, or bought a license for Unity3D. Or, well, felt it was “too early” to commit to a VW solution. At the end of the day, LL’s enterprise pitch definitely brought a lot of revenues to the developers who did VW-based solutions for their clients, but little income to LL themselves, and that was my point.

    The GM analogy was just because GM already has all those licenses :) Training, consulting, project management, development costs, and so forth would never be done by Microsoft directly, but by their partners, who would certainly benefit…

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Yes, my point exactly. SLE wasn’t going to sell.

      But this doesn’t support your earlier argument that the thrust of the business campaign was about land and tier. SLE was about superseding the vagaries of land sales and tier for something that provided solid, up-front revenue. That’s the reality of the matter; and LL put considerable effort behind it, only to get it wrong from the outset. Ergo, to view the Business aspect being “really” about land and tier as you’ve suggested is far wide of the mark. And given the degree of effort behind the project, you can bet your last penny projections were made as to its revenue potential. That’s how businesses work. Add to that the fact that many in LL are still starry-eyed over the “lost opportunity” presented by the 06/07 business influx and you do have a recipe for misguided thinking.

      As to licencing, you’re still baiting! Matters not if the licences are “already had” – they still need to be annually renewed, and if the “big” project exceeds the current licence caps, more licences (or a re-negotiation) will be required. And Microsoft never do training or consultancy? At HC the IT dept went to Microsoft directly on several occasions for the very same.

      Reply
  3. Shockwave Plasma

    I think Inara is mostly correct.

    I does look like Linden Lab was trying to make Second life the new 3D conferencing solution, I never really saw this as taking off.

    It would work for the IT people, those who are comfortable with games, and making the time to make and Avatar look decent, and learn to build and have fun with it.

    But for the non techie person, it’s just to much hard work, a conference call on Skype or Webex is just what busy people want.

    Software that is easy to use, or works in a browser, and won’t crash were you can hear each other, and see each other if you want.

    You can show plans and drawings by waving them in front of the camera, or if displaying 3d images, then using remote desktop to display and manipulate the software on the callers screen.
    No fuss no bother.

    Reply
  4. Ciaran Laval

    Cyn is definitely gone, Hamlet contacted her directly, it also looks like Tom Hale is gone.

    These are interesting and disappointing times but I do think when M talks of more scaleable options, he’s talking of getting others to provide services.

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Ciaran, Thanks for this. Cyn’s in-world profile was still active when I checked. After her recent move, I’m surprised she got the order of the boot, but c’est la vie. Tome Hale – surprising in some respects as well.

      See my latest about service provisioning ;-).

      Reply

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