clearly is not the same when it comes to @Rodvik in #SecondLife
As reported by Wagner James Au on New World Notes (and probably other places), Kim Salzer has left Linden Lab for greener pastures elsewhere. As the former Head of Marketing & Product at Linden Lab, Kim found quickly that a Metaverse is a wholly different platform than a video game. This is a valuable lesson that can be learned by Rodvik and Will Wright who remain at Linden Lab in official capacity and guide the vision of Second Life ongoing.
The problem is that the vision lacks actual vision.
Rodvik Humble at SLCC | You can only bullshit your way for so long.
I’m not as enthusiastic about the direction that Kim Salzer was looking to take Linden Lab and subsequently Second Life, in that from the start I had my reservations concerning her appropriateness and understanding of Second Life as a Metaverse construct and not a video game. It was not a stretch of imagination to believe she, along with @Rodvik, was making a left turn with their understanding of Second Life and how to address it going forward.
I expected that she would, coming from Activision/Blizzard and Electronic Arts, see Second Life as just another video game and focus solely on that aspect with her efforts which would, in turn, be expedited by Rodvik who is coming from the same background of video games. After all, they are both veterans of the video game realm, and seeing Second Life with similarities to a video game, they would be more than likely to blanket their approach likewise thinking that if there is a minor similarity with video games, then the entire approach being the same as video games would be most appropriate.
But the fact remains;
Second Life is patently not a video game.
It is not a game... it is a Virtual World. Wikipedia defines a Virtual World as an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects. – APixelLife4me
Why is this such a hard concept to understand at the executive level of Linden Lab? First we see Mark Kingdon completely ignoring the community and trying to make Second Life about Enterprise Solutions, and now we see Rod Humble trying to treat it like a video game. We may never truly have insight as to what was really going on in Philip Rosedale’s vision, but I’ll bet the virtual house that there are people in the existing community who can come damned close to revealing that vision with clarity.
I find it nothing short of irony that a high profile woman working for Linden Lab, the makers of a vast virtual environment, would cite “the regular commute to the company's San Francisco office from Los Angeles” as the defining factor for her moving on. Second Life being, among many other things, a platform which by its very nature facilitates in-world communication and telecommuting opportunity for business use. It becomes, yet again, a moment where we take pause and wonder if they truly understand the nature of the product as a platform for content and communication. If anything, her stated reason for departure glosses over the fact that her tenure at Linden Lab enacted some of the most draconian policies which directly led to some of the worst PR disasters I’ve seen, PR disasters which could have been trivial to avoid on the whole, yet were not only facilitated but actively fostered to fruition with the blessing of Rod Humble.
Ginny Business Center – Because it has nothing to do with machinima, Meeroos or Vampires.
After all, there is countless business ongoing within the virtual environment itself, and even regular business meetings and such for marketing and other business use, yet the memo hasn’t reached Linden Lab, as we see by their action… or more appropriately their inaction. This constitutes a systemic failure on the part of Linden Lab to immerse themselves in their own product and environment, and thus become the champion example of the benefits of their technology. If the company isn’t willing to seriously utilize their own product, then it becomes little surprise that no other company in the real world would want to either.
Focusing on the in-world games such as Meeroos, reopening the development of further gaming aspects to facilitate further gaming development in-world, and focusing on the A.I. framework to facilitate the equivalent of NPCs and unintelligent “bots” disturbs me because it shows a contradiction in understanding for what truly matters with Second Life. It was the blatant position of stonewalling and ignoring the community that led to a very public community effort to raise the money and hire Qarl to code Parametric Mesh Deformer, in light of policies that likely stemmed from Kim Salzer.
As I’ve said before, that’s the sort of colossal PR screw-up that is grounds for termination, and company-wide re-evaluation of priorities. Again, I’ve been on that evaluation end of a company a number of times and have made those observations and decisions. It’s not easy, but it’s far better than the alternative of consistently running a company into the ground and causing widespread public damages to your own brand. Doomsayer or not, I still called it in advance – she didn’t stick around too long and her misunderstanding of what Second Life actually had rendered her nearly incompetent in relation to the job position she held, doing far more damage to the long term image of Linden Lab than we may possibly imagine.
It is the real, breathing and living people that make Second Life what it is. The community are using the platform (because that is what Second Life actually is: A virtual environment platform which is use agnostic) to create a wide range of virtual goods and services, fostering an in-world economy and literally creating most aspects of the virtual environment and not a multi-million dollar design team in-house. So again, I find it counterproductive when I see Linden Lab essentially undermining that community time and again by pillaging the existing ecosystem for “added value” and applying those things to exclusive Premium Accounts or even worse, polarizing the vision of an agnostic system by seeing only ways to facilitate games or machinima.
What good is artistic measure when Linden Endowment for the Arts may as well be defunct – seeing the demise of Shakespeare Theater and Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in-world? What good is having a platform that is suited for immersive education when you aren’t intelligent enough to subsidize those educational institutions and indoctrinate the future generation to your technology? Even Apple had enough sense to donate computers and equipment to schools for free or drastically reduced cost for this very same reason, and write it off as a charitable donation.
Where is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Second Life? Where is the Aerospace Museum? Where are the Universities? I’ll tell you where – They’re rapidly jumping ship and moving over to OpenSim or elsewhere, because Linden Lab essentially screwed them over royally in exchange for cuddling Meeroos and Vampires.
Loyola Marymount University – Coming to an OpenSim near you, thanks to Linden Lab.
It’s not a priority… but Meeroos and Machinima are. Being a Vampire is the marketing focus. I’m not saying that Meeroos, machinima and roleplaying vampires aren’t important in SecondLife, but they are all things which can be integrated and put to use much better than they are currently presented today – especially not at the expense of cutting the things which have greater importance for breaking the stigma that your platform is nothing more than a video game niche’.
This is what you would expect from a group of people who do not really understand what Second Life is, or that there is a thriving ecosystem of community which the system itself is built for. Instead, it is the sort of myopic maneuvers that you would expect from somebody coming in and seeing only a video game, while surrounding themselves with video game veterans. After all, it is no surprise that the message isn’t reaching Linden Lab when they surround themselves with video game “yes-men” and “girl Fridays”.
The focus also on machinima is endearing but still heavy handed, as is promoting as an official stance that you can be a Vampire on Marketplace. Again, these are the sorts of attitudes you would only expect from a video game executive mentality, but clearly not from somebody who has a deeper understanding of virtual environments on the whole.
Of course, I cannot mention Marketplace without noting the unbelievable amount of grief content creators receive concerning the usage of marketplace and their own inventory. This content is time and again sabotaged, leaving little recourse for the content creators except to wait it out and manually change their listings in order to compensate. If you want to know what sort of horror this creates, simply ask Avril Korman at @DamnedGoodesign
This isn’t a Public Discussion
Furthermore, as James Wagner Au reports,
“Kim was instrumental in implementing a corporate policy that tightly controls information and internal communication within Linden Lab, both between departments, and between Linden Lab staff and the community”
This direction has been extremely clear over the past year and has had wide-reaching detrimental effect. A recent altercation with Oz Linden in the JIRA left me completely taken aback at the shear ignorance of his response, which I know must have stemmed from Kim’s own ridiculous policies of tight control. At least, I seriously hope it wasn’t the sort of attitude that would come out of his own accord. It was this same asinine approach that led to the string of events concerning Parametric Mesh Deformation as well, and I point the finger clearly back to Kim and Rod for that – because the Linden staff are only taking their marching orders.
One would believe that actually correcting the broken feature you spent years on is a priority.
Essentially, in a JIRA that is designed for discussion, bug and feature reporting/requests, and targeting a demographic of the community which is on average technically savvy and of the highest contributors – their biggest proponents to the world – these are the sort of people you want to have discussions with, and when possible in the safe harbor of the JIRA and in-world, I was informed by Oz Linden that the JIRA was not an open forum of discussion. Even though the discussion was pertaining directly to that particular JIRA and whether or not it still held relevance in light of current roadmap implementations.
What’s worse is the dismissive attitude overall for community requests which possibly mean the absolute most to the community and Second Life as a whole. Case in point: Parametric Mesh Deformation, which is a necessity in order to make the much touted Mesh import feature of actual use on a wide scale. Instead of understanding the absolute need for this correction, it was officially dismissed and largely ignored by Linden Lab until such point as the community not only publicly raised the capital independently but went ahead and contracted a former employee of Linden Lab to do the job Linden Lab was unwilling to acknowledge or do.
This, in itself, is absolutely unbelievable. It shows that Kim Salzer (facilitated by management at the highest levels) clearly did not understand the repercussions of her policies in the bigger picture, and more importantly neither did Rodvik Humble. For instance, it would be common sense to actually encourage on-topic discussion in the JIRA and with Linden Lab employees because it is a safe harbor. The JIRA is the first arena of discourse behind relatively closed doors and a first line of defense for addressing issues properly before the most passionate of your own community takes that discussion worldwide and public through social media and blogs – much like you are reading here.
If anything, the very concept of Agile Development is a system of work habit literally designed to handle rapid iteration and changes as they arise. So where was that Agile Development practice when the need arose to focus on Parametric Mesh Deformation? Better yet, where is that Agile Development prioritization when Linden Lab is writing out their roadmap going forward? Is it not disturbing that in the process of rapid development by Linden Lab, major features and components of the system overall are left in the wake indefinitely?
Whatever happened to finishing what you start? Where are the mirrors, what happened to Dazzle and the ability to skin the viewer, what happened to the other half of Windlight technology itself? What happened to making Windlight Settings an in-world asset tradable and able to be used by double clicking the asset in inventory?
“They are not on the short term roadmap” is the common answer. But more importantly, they aren’t even on the long-term roadmap either. Windlight being a system acquired in 2007 and left half dead on arrival for now going on 5 years. Mirrors following suit shortly after, and so too Dazzle. Whatever happened to sincerely blending the Web and 3D together in a seamless manner using a layer over the 3D Canvas like you do with the login screen itself? Blending virtual worlds with the web has been the dream of the industry since it began, and here we are twenty years later and no closer to realizing that dream on a wide scale*.
* Note: And I don’t mean pre-created environments or pseudo-plugins that cram a full viewer into a web page.
Viewer 2 shows full well what having half-baked priorities and implementation looks like. We have an address bar at the top and no UX logical connection for why it should be there – even though I’ve clearly and concisely explained why it should be there if it were to be finished properly.
If public perception from Linden employees are such a concern, simply institute a policy which states the following:
The views and opinions of Linden Lab staff do not necessarily reflect or represent the attitudes or opinions of Linden Lab as a company and should be taken as personal opinion only.
Then you remove the gag order from your employees and allow them to converse with the community freely, as long as their opinions and expressions are respectful and do not incite. When you allow the community and your employees to speak freely, you’ll find that there are grievances and issues which should definitely be looked into, and you’ll find that the sentiments of the community may also reflect the sentiments of your staff. If you want true feedback and direction, you have to be willing to face when you are screwing up and make changes for the betterment of all. The alternative is surrounding yourself with people who will only serve to lie to your face and tell you everything is under control when the empire is crumbling down around you.
This is why the community itself gets it right, even when Linden Lab continues to get it so wrong. The community isn’t afraid they’ll be fired from Linden Lab for telling it as it is, but those employees are. You’ll never likely hear a more honest evaluation of what Second Life is doing right and more importantly what they are screwing up beyond recognition than from the most prominent members of the community. They speak the raw and unfiltered truth of the situation.
The fact that they are often speaking that unfiltered truth from the confines of OpenSim should be the most telling indication in and of itself.
I’m not the sort of person that will lie straight faced despite knowing full well the situation is rapidly deteriorating or highly likely to have profound negative consequences. I’m also not the sort of person that isn’t capable or willing to point out the raw and unfiltered consequences (good or bad) that current actions are likely to have. For that, you’ll have to hire people like Kim Salzer, a woman of professional pedigree but no professional experience within the context of a Metaverse. All the professional pedigree in the world didn’t make up for the fact that she was wholly unsuited for the position she was offered, nor had any willingness to truly understand that position. No amount of business pedigree made a difference in the ongoing public relations nightmare that has been the status-quo at Linden Lab since 2007.
By all means, not having this hang-up often makes me the messenger of very harsh realities, and there are quite a lot of people who would rather I didn’t put these things forward unfiltered. I get called all manner of names from people across the board – but it doesn’t phase me in the least. Nor will it phase me – because I continually prove to be correct well in advance despite not being the perpetual ass-kisser. Virtual reality needs a reality check – and I have no problem being one of the messengers, because you’re nobody until somebody hates you in the professional world.
I’m more than qualified for that position, too, as a Synthetic Environment SME with well over 15 years of actual, hands-on experience in virtual environments and technology research. There are people more qualified than myself, and I readily admit that. What I will also admit is that those people and myself are the last to be heard in a priority that is horribly skewed in the industry. We aren’t the sort of people who are going to tell you only what you want to hear, and in fact are likely to tell you what you don’t want to hear (but is highly necessary).
It’s time to understand what innovation and creative vision really mean on a wide scale.
The issue here is that the JIRA isn’t likely to show up in a Google search for Second Life, but all of those social media posts and blog entries will, in abundance. So one has to ask the obvious question of whether or not Kim and even Rodvik really understand the repercussions of those policies of restriction and how much damage it does to the image of Second Life and Linden Lab in public when enacted. Just like the Internet itself, censorship and restrictive control is treated as “damage” and is routed around in a virtual environment, much to the grand demise of the company trying to enact them. This also applies to IP protection policies in a virtual environment where every single user is capable of creating every part of the world at will. Second Life and Linden Lab owe its existence to the very fact that it is the very users of the virtual environment platform which are wholly responsible for a majority of the in-world content and services.
The best policy Linden Lab could muster on that front was a typical non-solution. Make everyone take a questionnaire about IP policies and swear on their scouts honor they would be honest and uphold those policies.
From day one, the Mesh policies for IP protection were widely violated – even on the Beta grid itself in plain view, and it wasn’t a surprise (at least to anyone outside of Linden Lab). It is wholly unenforceable as a solution, and any company thinking they can adequately enforce the public sentiment to the contrary is outright delusional. However, there is an actual workable solution to curb and enforce IP protection that actually becomes beneficial to Linden Lab, real world brands and the content creators in-world simultaneously if they really thought about it.
The underlying point to this is that not only is something like JIRA a public discussion forum, but outright denying that safe harbor for discussion wherein Linden Lab has some expectation of PR damage control in order to push those people out into the open of the Internet in general serves only to create collateral damages. This is a fundamental understanding that one would expect to see from the likes of a high profile Marketing Director at a major corporation. Second Life on the whole is a community driven experience, and absolutely demands public involvement and discussion on all levels. No amount of restrictive policy at Linden Lab is going to turn that tide, and all attempts to do so will end in failure on a grand scale.
Not-So Agile Development
Let me be perfectly clear. Agile Development policies are absolutely not an excuse to make half finished and broken products the official face of your company. Agile Development is a method by which rapid iterations can be worked on and implemented, facilitating rapid solutions and stability in shorter periods of time before making those changes the release candidate or official software release. When you miss that underlying point, you end up adhering to Agile Development even when it means putting out broken products to maintain the development roadmap timeline.
New features do not become release candidates until such time as within rapid development they become stabilized and proven within a high degree of stability across many use cases. To push them out half finished and widely broken, and call them the official viewer of your company is disastrous at best and lazy coding at worst. There is absolutely no sane person that will today state that the Official Second Life Viewer is remotely a stabile or finished product worthy of being the public face of Linden Lab to new users or existing veterans.
Again, I will not fault the actual staff at Linden Lab for this, because they are taking their marching orders from management and higher up. They are only doing their job, even when that job includes severely breaking the community and power that the wonderful platform they design and implement has.
Copy + Paste Premium
Absolutely, unequivocally no.
If I had a rolled up newspaper, I’d be swatting the ever-loving hell out of Rodvik right now and yelling “Bad CEO! Baaaad!”
At the very least, squirting him with a spray bottle.
Premium accounts serve professionals in Second Life more than consumer demographics. It should be billed as a Second Life Pro account, and not as something that desperately searches in vain and steals existing community structure for added value to appeal to consumer usage that has all of those added value available to them without the monthly surcharge.
You cannot poach the existing offerings of the community and offer them as added value for a Premium Account. There is absolutely nothing of added value in rehashing existing offerings from your community and calling them exclusive access only. If anything, you are deliberately polarizing the community and alienating your biggest supporters.
The community does not need exclusive sandboxes, they do not need Linden Homes, they do not need “exclusive” gifts, and they do not need a company so narrow-minded as to deliberately undermine existing content and practices within their own community for short term expectation of profitability – a result of which is one of the many reasons OpenSim exists. Targeting new users with this premium content is little more than a slap to the face of the existing ecosystem, and functions on the premise of the P.T. Barnum business model (sucker born every minute). Linden Lab is literally preying on the fact that new users simply don’t know that a majority of those “added value” offerings exist in abundance without a premium account, and many times far better in every way imaginable.
Contrary to popular belief, Linden Lab does not have the luxury of continually driving their product into the ground without repercussion, nor do they have the luxury of playing the P.T. Barnum vision statement.
When new users who buy premium see this, they feel like Linden Lab ripped them off.
There is a healthy land rental market, there is a healthy custom homes market whereby the entire infrastructure facilitates the sales of those custom homes and rewards content creators. There are sandboxes maintained by the community – and if anything, a “premium” sandbox offering only makes sense to professionals in the very slightest of sense, only because one of the major real incentives for having a Premium Account is the ability to actually buy your own land, defeating the point of premium sandboxes. There are countless amounts of merchandise available to free members, so offering “exclusive premium” gifts is insulting to that foundation and misses the greater value of the community by ignoring what already exists and subsequently playing favorites with content creators.
Instead of poaching on the existing ecosystem and delivering it to the consumers, why not instead promote Premium Accounts as Second Life Professional accounts, showcase the existing content, land rental, and marketplace in conjunction with Second Life Verified Professional Accounts – which in turn encourages more users to pay for Second Life Professional accounts to become high visibility content creators to the consumers? Encourage it from the foundation of the Second Life ecosystem, and not the tip of the iceberg. In this manner, you are rewarding existing producers of content across the entire virtual environment, collaborating with them to foster a balanced and sustainable prosumer ecosystem instead of sabotaging it.
:: The most important paragraph in the virtual universe ::
What can you offer as Added Value and incentive for purchasing the Second Life Professional account upgrade? It makes you a Verified Professional in Second Life, and eligible to participate in submissions for Real World Brand Names coming to Linden Lab looking for virtual product representation for marketing purposes. Those Professional accounts then get to include those brand names within their own in-world store for added revenue and notoriety (Verified Vendors on Marketplace), Linden Lab benefits from increased volume of legitimately branded sales through transaction fees, and the Real World Brand Name receives innovative and brilliant viral marketing in-world for a fraction of the cost and orders of magnitude of meaningful longevity. This also solves the problem with supply and demand for real world branded IP in the virtual world in that verified professionals will facilitate the supply aspect of those brands readily, thus reducing the consumer need for illegitimate products.
For somebody who is largely ignored at Linden Lab, I seem to have just succinctly and brilliantly outlined a wide-scale marketing strategy that Kim Salzer couldn’t accomplish in all the time she worked at Linden Lab, despite her video game marketing pedigree.
The funniest part about all of this is, it will never be considered by Linden Lab. They will continue looking in all the wrong places for somebody capable of coming to the same conclusion as above, and they are likely to continue finding more Kim Salzers instead.
I wish with all my heart this wasn’t the case, I really do.
The sad alternative is that at literally every possible level of engagement, Premium Membership not only misses the point and deliberately undermines the community, but it is the very example of misunderstanding the ecosystem that is a virtual environment such as Second Life. It is the expectation of a video game professional in a world where only 10% similarity to a video game exists, and applying video game management practices as though they constitute 100% of the very different ecosystem you are working within.
What we have is excellent vision and perilous execution at best.
The Second Life X-Factor
As I said shortly after Kim Salzer was hired, if you cannot recognize the potential and the x-factor that a virtual environment like Second Life offers within your first week on the job, you shouldn’t be doing that job, let alone making sweeping policies concerning it.
Clearly this was the case, and she didn’t last long – regardless of whatever politically correct reason she gave as her reason for leaving. It’s in her nature to act as a marketing person, spinning a bad situation into something else, but for some reason she could not foresee nor adequately react to the myriad of situations which arose as Director of Marketing and Product for Linden Lab. see also: the most important paragraph in the virtual world above
The job of Marketing Director means it’s your job to reverse corporate ghost towns like this.
It’s very simple:
Facilitate and expedite the existing prosumer community to be paired with real world brands wishing to utilize your platform for long term marketing potential and ROI on behalf of the prosumers, Linden Lab and those brands.
This has been the missing factor since 2006 and is highly likely the underpinning cause to the hype bubble and subsequent collapse of the Second Life brand in relation to real world brand proliferation.
All of the infrastructure is in place today, with the exception of official policy and vision from Linden Lab to utilize it all to their advantage. Worse still is the misunderstanding of what exactly the ultimate power for the Marketplace itself holds in terms of long term ROI strategies. If you want innovation and something new, look no further than this as it brings to the table something fresh, new and massive potential for rethinking the way we approach virtual world marketing and community based producers and consumers. It also serves as a solid method by which to harness the creative power of the community, while helping to curb IP infringement on a wider scale, all while bringing in a successful revenue stream to Linden Lab and the in-world content creators.
What’s not to love about this?
At the base of it all, Linden Lab should first make it a point to realize that even “free” users of Second Life are highly valued customers. The free users outnumber the premium users by far, and they are providing a massive secondary revenue structure in their purchasing habits, making them one of the most valued commodities in the virtual world, even though they are routinely treated as the very last priority.
Instead, Linden Lab focuses on direct revenue streams at the expense of lucrative secondary streams, which in turn serves only to fracture the entire ecosystem overall. This needs to stop if they ever want to return Second Life to another Golden Age of virtual environments. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory should not become the battle cry of Linden Lab.
The Virtual Light At The End of the Prim Tunnel
I know full well that I come down hard on Linden Lab and many other virtual environment companies. I offer a cynical and harsh reality check to current situations. However, keep in mind that while the things that I’m pointing out are those that are the negative sides of things, they are also alluding to the positive side as well when you read between the lines.
What I do not want to see is blatant and ignorant decisions which harm this company and the community. What I do not want to see are all of the educators leaving Second Life for other virtual environments, what I do not want to see are perfectly good content infrastructures squandered for short term gains.
I want nothing more than to see Second Life and Linden Lab return to their rightful position as the darling of virtual worlds, and I want nothing more than to see them rise again and taken seriously on a worldwide basis. Most importantly, I want the CEO of Linden Lab to succeed at doing all of this.
I want to see Second Life as a viable platform for Education, The Arts, Collaboration, Business and Real World Brand Marketing. I want to see this once amazing ecosystem of prosumers return to their golden age and find balance once again in conjunction with understanding at Linden Lab. I want to see Linden Lab actively promote and utilize their own system in the myriad of ways that I know it can be used for, to be the champion of their own technology on an ongoing basis.
What I want to see is that Linden Lab can not only work hand in hand with OpenSim and the greater community as part of the greater Metaverse, but that doing so would be the most beneficial thing possible. What I want to see is that the spirit of open communication and collaboration be restored between Linden Lab and the community which continually helps to build this wonderful and awe inspiring environment. What I want to see is that Linden Lab understands that doing all of this will give them everything, while ignoring it will leave them with nothing.
What I want to see more than anything, is the future of Second Life.