Monday, January 31, 2011

The Jekyll and Hyde of Linden Lab

by Cummere Mayo

In the time spent as a volunteer at Linden Lab one thing that has been constant is Linden Lab's lack of consistency. The teen grid, attempts to turn SL into a social networking site, taking marketplace live before it was ready, mixing the SL with RL, all things sworn by LL not to do, then done. Then there are the things like Adult content scandal, the homestead sims, the new search, display names, web profiles where vastly unpopular things were rammed down the community, often with severe consequences for the community, and in turn Linden Lab. These things helped contribute in a drop from concurrency of over 120,000 to well under 60,000 on the average day.

Yet throughout all of this Linden Lab keeps saying that they listen to the community, accept feedback, and want more community involvement in policy making. This is both Linden Lab's biggest truth, and their biggest lie.

Much if not most of the community seems to feel these statements are a lie. For those that don't, sometimes reconciling all this is hard. Sometimes, very hard.

Here's the deal: Linden Lab is bipolar; it always has been, at least in the three and a half years I've been active in Second Life. To drastically over simplify things there's two camps at Linden Lab. The part that desires community involvement and the part that just feels they know what the community needs more then the community does and this split has had drastic consequences for both Second Life and for Linden Lab themselves.

From the time I joined Second Life there were those like CG, Nyx, Andrew, Bambers, and many, many others, that opened their offices and sent a great deal of time explaining changes coming to Second Life, projects they hoped to see happen, and things they were working on. At the same time they collected feedback from the residents they could which sometimes changed things, and sometimes didn't but at least these lindens were visible, listened and explained their reasoning.

At the same time we had the Jacks and Fredriks of Linden Lab. Those who pushed through things because it was what they saw as good for Linden Lab and/or Second Life and to hell with the thoughts and needs of those that actually use Second Life, even those that make their livings though Second Life.

Many of these decisions forced to a feeling that is best described by one of my merchant friends: "We succeed despite Linden Lab, not because of them." Many of fled Second Life and many new users aren't sticking around. Other grids have been watching the past two years and pounced on their chance to take away business from Second Life. As a result two of these grids have concurrencies that are almost as high as Second Life and will probably surpass them by the end of this year.

Currently, there's hope that some of that can be reversed. Snowstorm and the Mesh team are not only incredibly open to feedback but actually have used much of that feedback in the decision making. Today Gez stated at one of the open source user group meetings that he wants tvp devs, heavy chat users, and chat mods to join a user group he intends to start in order to get feedback and help coordinate the transition to a better group chat system within Second Life.

Snowstorm and Mesh have shown their way is better. They are far more productive, and while users don't agree with every decision made, the discussion is open, and users at least understand the reasoning leaving for a much happier user base and a better, more respectful kind of interaction, even with some of the most passionate of disagreements.

This is the kind of thing that will save Linden Lab and Second Life. I truly hope Mr. Humble will recognize that fact and push those at Linden Lab that still opt for closed doors and "we know whats better for you then you do" kind of approach to work with the community or find work elsewhere.

It will take allot of work for Linden Lab to turn Second Life (and both its and Linden Lab's reputations) around. One of the first steps would be to temporarily shut down the new profiles and force the Social and Marketplace teams to adopt approaches much more like Snowstorm. The next is to get these new user group meetings going within the next two weeks and then to have those groups spend the next two weeks actively listening to the Second Life community. Maybe more.

Allot of those in favor of keeping the users in the dark seem to rationalize it with "We can't please everyone," "The users don't know what they really want. They can't even agree with each other," or my personal favorite, "We need to do this for new features we have planned."

My experience in Snowstorm shows that while you can't please everyone you can please most users, that the community can often come up with great compromises on its own, and where it can't, having options wherever possible does, and that by being open about your ultimate goal, you often can get there faster and with less friction by listening to the community and working with them instead of against them. While it can delay things initially to get user feedback and have community involvement, often that time is a better investment, because often later on things go faster because there's less to rewrite or change, and because there's far less damage control to do afterwords. Furthermore, dev time is far cheaper then PR time, and it takes allot more PR time to get back in good graces then to just take the time to communicate in the first place.

I have a huge investment in Second Life, although at times it really has hurt my real life, especially thanks to the privacy disaster with the new profiles. I don't want to see Second Life fail, and I am working very hard to do what little I can to make Second Life a much better place.

So now I am calling upon Mr. Humble and all the Lindens that truly understand that Second Life cannot exist without the vast diverse community to step up to the plate. Its time for those who have been working with the community to not only suggest but to demand their coworkers do the same. It is time, ladies and gentlemen, for Linden Lab to bury its Mr. Hyde.

ps: Crossposted to another blog.


Hitomi Tiponi said...

'As a result two of these grids have concurrencies that are almost as high as Second Life and will probably surpass them by the end of this year.'

OK - name them!

~CM~ said...

osgrid for one...

Anonymous said...

ATM, osgrid has 179 users (out of a total of 56K)

JayR Cela said...

Hey there Anonymous I think you a lil off on your figures, you may want to do a quick search on the keywords HyperGrid Business.

Regardless / thank you for posting your comment

JayR :_)

Hitomi Tiponi said...

So the various OS grids (and let's remember they are seperate grids) listed at Hypergrid Business between them amassed about 13000 users in total being active on these grids over the entire month. Second Life averaged almost five times that number at any one time!

So I ask again which grids are you referring to that have concurrencies almost as high as Second Life?