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“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval

Second Life: The Titanic or the Good Ship Lollipop?

By Buttercup Thursday.

Lately, I’m in a constant state of confusion about Second Life.

No, it’s not my brilliantly complicated and challenging personal life (I sort of wish), or my sometimes boldly fulfilling and other times crushingly frustrated professional life (who me?)… No, it is the mixed messages I get from friends, SL bloggers, tech sites, the media and Linden Lab itself.

Is Second Life doomed to failure–and soon? Or will we tootle along as we always have done, forever til we die?

Are we on the Titanic or the Good Ship Lollipop?

titanic

To the tech sites and the media, Second Life, when it’s not mentioned in passing as a “failure”, is brushed aside as mostly irrelevant. I take these comments personally, since to me it is decidedly not a failure and is far from irrelevant. What – or how many people with a genuine commitment – does it take to make an enterprise relevant? How many tech reporters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two, one to screw in the light bulb and the other to mind his high horse. So, they simply don’t understand SL, and I move on.

But Second Life residents, bloggers, and Linden Lab understand. Their opinions matter. Right?

Here is one of the more recent episodes that summarizes what the trend looks like to me:

Recently, Linden Lab, as reported by New World Notes, quietly reached out to some of the educational/non-profit institutions that bailed when their special rate tier was abruptly withdrawn, and offered them the discounted rate again. Some view this as an act of desperation on the part of LL; since it was done quietly, it seems less of a PR move and more of a financial decision. There is a lot of discussion on some of the Second Life blogs. As is usually the case, the discussion is based on speculation and very little else, since LL chooses not to be transparent about this or indeed, most of its actions and policies.

Pulling out the rug from under non-profits back in August of 2010 was a turdilicious move on the part of LL, resulting a lot of negative PR, closures of popular and highly esteemed regions, and a general notch down in the richness and community spirit of Second Life. We were outraged, and expressed those opinions.

And as is the case with any outrage on the part of SL citizenry, it was completely ignored by Linden Lab. And the outrage petered out into mutterings and murmurs and we carried on in our somewhat less interesting Second Life world.

lollipop

This happens ALL THE TIME. Botgirl Questi recently posted a timeline of what she calls Linden Lab “faux pas” –Second Life controversies from 2003 through 2012. The issues before my time were frequently about governance, taxes, ownership rights (all worthy subjects). I do remember the controversies revolving about sex and gambling – many passionate opinions and Linden Lab dealt with the issues, for better or worse. I remember being deeply sorry about the creation of the Adult regions – I somehow loved the anarchy of Second Life, and managed to survive those unsegregated days relatively unshocked and uncorrupted. I remember horrible lag and stability issues from those days too, we howled and complained, things did not improve, but SL was still so utterly fascinating that we carried on anyway, with our bragging rights at how many crashes we endured. Seriously, I felt like a pioneer, even as late as 2007.

Then I suppose participation peaked, and SL started its slow, Detroit-like decline, Philip Rosedale stepped down as Linden Lab CEO, and LL became quieter.

Disasters and missteps continued, but now with even less dialogue. Mainland prices continued to fall, LL introduced Viewer 2 (a particular hate of mine) and Display names, closed the teen grid and plopped the poor souls into Second Life, among many other events. Residents had opinions and ideas about all of these. We expressed them. Among ourselves, since it was becoming harder and harder to connect with anyone from Linden Lab.

The lines of communication eroded. Examples: Linden Lab trashed Help Islands, discontinued the mentor program, laid off staff, dismantled JIRA (the community bug/problem reporting system), ended the comprehensive economy reports, removed themselves from SL birthday celebrations, allowed serious abuse reports to languish unattended, use the official blog for little but press announcements. (Torley Linden doesn’t even offer “Friendly Greetings” at the beginning of his tutorial videos any more!)

Every single thing that affects Second Life, is speculated about, discussed and blogged. Solutions, compromises, ideas are put forward by SL residents. Threats, foot stomping, dire warnings, outright pleas also ensue. And what happens? Precisely nothing. Linden Lab quietly does what it wants, and the uproar dwindles to a whisper, then a silence. Some do leave of course; no doubt this accounts for some of the decreasing numbers of residents. But most of us stay.

botgirl cartoon customer retention

The above comic by Botgirl Questi shows a cynical self-awareness on the part of Linden Lab management.

But I happen to think it’s worse than that. But, you ask, what’s worse than a cynical disregard?

Recently, an interview with Philip Rosedale  about the beginning of Second Life led me to a site called Glassdoor.com, a site which, among other things, features reviews of companies by current and former employees. Linden Lab is one of the companies, and one review included the following comments:

“Own worst enemy”
Former Employee – Reviewed Sep 24, 2012
Pros – Second Life is utterly unique across the internet.
You’ll never work on a more socially focused app.
Customers care so much it’s literally disturbing at times.
Cons – Management culture is terrible – disconnected and confused. This continued across different regimes so it’s not specific to people.
Core culture of ‘work on what you want’ leads to very little progress in any direction.
Most managers in the company don’t understand SL, use it, or even feel comfortable around it.

[Emphasis mine.]

“Customers care so much it’s literally disturbing at times.” We do care and to me this is mysterious and sometimes disturbing.  It’s why we talk about it so much. Some of us like to call ourselves addicts, and some do neglect real world activities to spend more time in a virtual world. The reasons are complex, and something I have never seen satisfactorily explored. Perhaps a company that created and runs a virtual world with dedicated users might want to look into this?

But no. “Most managers in the company don’t understand SL, use it, or even feel comfortable around it.” They what? They don’t understand or feel comfortable around it. They don’t use it.

What is more likely than Botgirl’s cynical-management scenario is that Linden Lab blunders its way through the decision-making process, puts on a cursory show of change and progress, but for the most part thinks very little about serious improvements or about Second Life residents, its customers. (I am aware this is not a democracy. But in every successful company customers are heard, one way or another.) Why? We have no way of knowing.

So what’s worse than cynical disregard? Indifference.

I am leaning towards reserving a deckchair on the Titanic. One close to the lifeboats. Where will the lifeboat take me? Maybe to OpenSim, or Cloud Party, or something new, or even away from this virtual experiment forever.

There is still a little voice inside my head telling me not to give up, and to remember how resilient we are in Second Life, in the face of indifference, contempt, and contrariness. And how, miraculously, we keep on keeping on. Maybe Linden Lab will become responsive; address the soft communication issues as well as the hard technical issues. Maybe they will visit Second Life and become comfortable with it. Maybe even start to understand it.

It might never be the good ship Lollipop. But perhaps Linden Lab won’t hit that iceberg just yet.

Second Life photographs by Cat Boccaccio. Comic by Botgirl Questi.

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slum magazine is about all things Second Life: art, music, news, reviews, shopping, love and life.

3 comments on “Second Life: The Titanic or the Good Ship Lollipop?

  1. Richard A Goldberg
    March 23, 2013

    Interesting commentary Butter (and a nice photo Cat). Our involvement with SL and LL, is like a science fiction novel where the Creators are nowhere and never heard from and the Residents go on living in blissful ignorance. When you start looking under the hood interesting things happen….or dont. And one day, will we wake up to a World that has vanished?

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  2. buttercupthursday1
    March 24, 2013

    Hi rag… What is bothersome is that the “Creators” felt benign at one time, and now are just absent. If I wake up one day and SL is gone, I guess I will have to go outside and prune the killer roses. 🙂

    Like

  3. Vbinnia
    June 7, 2013

    Stumbled across this blog recently. It’s a change to see a quiet assessment of SL and not a rant for or against which we are all prone to do at times for good or ill.

    I’m one who jumped ship for Opensim in 2011, because I was fed up with with LL’s handling of everything to do with the virtual world it had created, it seemed intent on destroying a jewel it didn’t know the value of, or didn’t care about. I can identify with so much of the sentiment expressed in this blog.

    Opensim is not a substitute for SL, that’s like trying to comparing Windows to Linux ( I happen to use the latter so the comparison is stark ) they both cater for different needs and have a different ethos but are quite capable of doing each others work to a greater or lesser degree, both have strengths and weakness, far too many to go into here.

    Someone once summed up the difference to me once as, “SL is for spenders, Opensim is for builders.” That includes all the Opensim commercial grids run on like SL. That is in my experience pretty accurate. It all needs a pioneering spirit, a willingness to learn, and do without some things you are used to, plus a lets all pull together to get over problems.

    Unlike LL, people from grid managers to server developers to TP viewer developers DO listen and DO respond as long as you learn how to approach them properly and also have some idea of what they can reasonably do. So things improve all the time slowly but surely. I have witnessed this personally over two years.

    The FUD about piracy is just that.. FUD. Whilst it does and can happen, no one would deny it, it also happens in SL. Some things that are perceived as the ability to pirate within an Opensim server are in fact a necessary part of running a server.

    Most piracy when it does happen is done out of pure frustration. If you migrate from SL to an Opensim grid and have to leave an inventory full of stuff behind you have paid a lot of good money for, I defy anyone NOT to feel aggrieved and to try and find some way of getting at least some of it out if at all possible. This practice is certainly not rife, I have been looking for two years and would have found it to be widespread if it was. In my world we give stuff we make to each other, that certainly makes piracy a little improbable, and seems to make residents very pleasant people to get on with. There is nothing like the content of SL and physics scripts can be a bit so so, for now at least, which can sometimes enough to drive people screaming back to SL.

    I have often wondered if content providers in SL would loose their fear, even of closed Opensim grids, and sell things on trust, how much they would actually be pirated? Some would for sure, but most people I have mingled with are honest, I would willingly pay again for some of the stuff I had in SL because it was so good and irreplaceable.

    So why do I stay? I must point out that no one HAS understand an Opensim server or run one, you can open a free account on any grid commercial or otherwise, and just wander about, some even give away free land and homes; what’s not to like? Explore them all, these worlds are your oyster.

    Well, I run my own server with seven full regions ( or more if I chose ) connected to OSgrid. I don’t even have to be connected to a grid, I can just have my own private world in my PC and allow access from outside to people I choose. This something I actually do as backup of the ones on OSgrid; something not even remotely possible in SL!

    Cost = the electricity required to run a PC.

    No TOS, I can do what I want, run round naked all day if I wanted. Run a Gorean or BDSM scene privately or publicly if I wanted to, literally anything I can think of with no restrictions, only respect for neighbours and guys that run OSgrid and Plaza’s which DO have TOS’s

    So why aren’t Opensim grids heaving with people? Fear of the unknown, inertia, lack of willingness to learn anything different, expecting too much, not finding huge crowds of people, having to leave huge expensive inventories behind and starting again, not wanting to get their hands dirty and try to make stuff, not being able to cope with varying performance at times, commercial grids are less susceptible to this. In truth I really have no idea? But I can say that the longer I am here the more at home I feel, with more fiends than I had in SL and a steady stream of visitors to my regions ( I log them ). With constant steady server and viewer improvements and very interesting developments appearing over the horizon the signs are good. So I have less reasons to think about returning to SL with every day that goes by.

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This entry was posted on March 21, 2013 by in Original slum Content, Reviews & Opinion, SL Life & Love and tagged , , , , , , , .

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