Exchanging views with Amanda Linden

For the last 48 hours, I’ve been engaged in a surprising forum-based exchange with Amanda Linden over in this unfortunately titled thread (don’t feel you have to go wade through it all, the crux of the issue is repeated below  – I’m including the link for context).

I’m not sure what drew me to this particular thread, given the title tends towards the OP is looking to simply start a flame war – but I was somewhat shocked to find none other than Amanda Linden responding to a post in the thread that raised the issue of the (premature) release of Viewer 2.0.

The reply reads thus:

Thanks Void [Singer]. You bring up a great point. As with any new software product, there are plenty of bugs. And, during the beta period over the last month or two, we’ve been hard at work smashing bugs. We’ve fixed thousands of bugs, in fact. Yes, we have more to do–for sure–and the team is heads-down addressing every bug filed in Jira. We take bugs filed by Residents seriously. They are evaluated, prioritized, and then fixed. So, keep bringing us bugs and we’ll resolve to fix them as soon as possible.

This post – in typical (I have to say) light, trippy, LL form – generated a number of responses, including this from me:

Amanda,

There is a truism that states “no software is ever finished” (or if there isn’t there ought to be)…and as such, it is true that Viewer 2.0 will inevitably have bugs that will need fixing.

But let’s be honest here: Viewer 2.0 was in development – by your own (LL’s) admission – for over a year; yet what was released into Beta was riddled with issues, many of which are so basic, not only should they have been identified and dealt with prior to the public Beta, [they] are still waiting to be fixed. So why the drive to push it into prime time?

When the (then) forthcoming public Beta was initially announced, it was also stated that you intended to “go live” with Viewer 2.0 “at the end of Q1” (i.e. 31st March, 2010) – and you’ve done precisely that. Ergo, one gets the impression that roadmap was not only drawn, but printed, laminated and framed on the wall over someone’s desk at Battery Street before the public Beta commenced, and that as such – the target date wasn’t going to be missed, regardless of the number of issues / bugs found within the code.

By your own admission, Viewer 2.0 needs more work….Search needs more work….shared media needs more work (particularly around issues of security)….yet everything is being pushed out with an urgency that could leave observers speculating as to what on Earth is going on at LL.

One can only assume that LL has become purely a target-driven entity, more concerned with short-term new users acquisition over longer-term user retention.

Is it simply because you have some overall “target” of new user subscriptions – one that has been calculated as needing X months to achieve at an acquisition rate of Y new users a month – which is thus fuelling what appears to be the overly premature release of this software? Is user acquisition in fact going to become your overall measure of “success”, regardless of the potential attrition rate of non-returning users? Are we going to see something like New users in the last 24 hours appearing on splash screens?

Now I’ll be honest. When I posted this, I genuinely didn’t expect an answer. As we’re all only too aware, Lindens have a reputation for peppering the flogs with replies now and again in what seems like a scatter gun approach: it is rare that one will stick around and address concerns / critiques that call into question the “official” line.

So I was surprised when Amanda followed up:

West, Inara, Gideon, Great comments and your challenges with the viewer, including bugs–I understand and I hear you.

Here’s my experience with V2. I’ve been using it since December. I admit, when I first started using it–the bugs made the viewer tough to use–and the new design took some getting used to. Those were early days–first alpha. But, I stuck with it and the software became more stable and usable each release. The V2 that you see today is SOOO much better. For basic SL functions, as any new Resident would perform, the software is ready and stable enough to deliver a much better experience than v1.23. We are not only confident of that fact, but we see it borne out in our analytics–that we’re watching very closely.

Remember, our primary goal this year is to grow Second Life from 700,000 to 1,000,000 actives (spend 1 hour in world each month). With more Residents in SL, the larger the economy, more customers to purchase your virtual goods, more interesting events, more vibrant communitites, and more that we can do to invest in improving the SL experience. In other words, better for everyone.

That said, we think that you’ll love Shared Media and Mesh (coming this year) enough to make the switch and then give us the feedback that we need to integrate into our product roadmap to make it a great Viewer for SL power users too.

Again, it’s important to understand that this product is FAR from final. We are committed to making V2 great–stable, easy to use, and as bug-free as possible.

There are two things to note here: a) continuing the spin relating to the value of Viewer 2; b) not actually responding to questions raised. However – a reply is a reply, and opens the door for further potential dialogue; something I was (and am) determined to follow-up on:

Amanda,

Firstly, thanks for replying.

Secondly, mentioning figures like 700,000-,1,000,00 “actives” on a monthly basis doesn’t actually answer my concerns about LL’s position with regards to user retention. Indeed, it doesn’t actually reassure me in any way at all. SL is already hitting concurrent logins in the 60-70K mark daily. Even if we discount 40% of these as bots and alts – that still means SL *is* potentially hitting around 1.2 million “actives” a month….so I’m having major problems seeing any growth here….

So I’ll ask again: Is user acquisition in fact going to become your overall measure of “success”, regardless of the potential attrition rate of non-returning users?

Numbers of “actives” does not equate to numbers of retained users: it is entirely possible to have both a high number of new sign-ups on a weekly / monthly basis and a continuing high attrition rate in terms of repeat log-in falloff. Thus, rather than growing the economy and providing, “more customers to purchase your virtual goods, more interesting events, more vibrant communities” – we could in fact end up with the current status quo being continued into the future.

Once again, I received a reply, this one actually moving towards addressing issues:

Inara–Thanks for such a thoughtful post. And, YES–retaining current Residents is a huge priority here at the Lab. We cherish the SL community and you’ll see more programs rolling out to help make your experience better, too. But, the announcements on Wednesday were centered around the new Viewer and welcome experience–so it feels like we’re only thinking about attracting and retaining new Residents. More to come in the coming months….

Cheers, Amanda

Now…this could of course all be flannel. As the old cliche goes, actions speak louder than words – and as we’ve all too often observed, Linden Lab has a habit of tripping over its own two feet when moved to action. But…action has been promised, and I’m certainly not going to let things go with this, as I hope my follow-up demonstrates:

Amanda,

I’ll take you at your word regarding user retention, and look forward to seeing both future posts and affirmative action on the part of LL that demonstrate this to be the case.

I appreciate the Wednesday’s announcements were close related to new users (welcome experience / Viewer) –  but by the same token, the “new user experience” has been pretty muchthe mantra for well over a year. The “First Hour” experience, the “First Five Hours”, the viewer…search….other changes. Almost all have been accompanied by the mantra of “new users”. When concerns have been raised where some changes are concerned, many of the replies received by Linden Lab could be paraphrased as, “Ah, yes, but for new users….” (you can fill in the “…”) – so much so that it is fair to say that there is a strong perception among established users that “new users” *is* the only measure that counts nowadays.

I also appreciate that it is hard sometimes to pick out concerns above the *noise* at times, given the sometimes heated debates that go on within these forums, and the levels of emotional response that heaped in some postings.So I do appreciate you are taking the time to post here and give support to your initial replies, especially given the emotive title of the thread.

But that said – and leaving aside the “new user” mantra – another major reason why seasoned users are feeling jaded towards Linden Lab is that quite often we’ve been faced with responses from LL that suggest that those who post in these forums are a “vocal minority” (my term), who are not representative of the “majority” of SL users – even when valid points are being made.

This is very much an incorrect perception. The people who ardently post here do so because they are involved in Second Life; the majority genuinely care for the platform and what happens to it – and as such, far from being a “vocal minority”, are actually pretty representative of the feelings of those who are equally as engaged in the platform but who don’t post here for one reason or another (i.e. they themselves are already feeling jaded by what is perceived to be the same rhetoric being repeated time and again – so they read, but simply don’t post).

So again, I very much hope that the time you are taking here is an indication that – as you stated at Metanomics recently – you (as in LL) will be much more active in communicating with residents (as opposed to communicating to residents) as we go forward, and that you’ll do more to demonstrate that you are actively taking on board user concerns and actively responding to them, rather than opting to post replies that read as being both arrogant in tone and suggestive that LL prefer to cherry-pick user views and attitudes that are (possibly) more closely aligned to your desired strategy / direction.

As it stands, the weekend is here, and I obviously do not expect or anticipate any reply before the middle of next week – but I think the points above are worth making, given dialogue has been joined, and I very much hope that Amanda will continue to keep the door open on what is a developing two-way exchange. Yes, her replies are light on specifics and full of the usual Linden spin – but I can live with that.

I very much hope that she’ll also revisit comments made in the same thread by the likes of Amethyst Rosencrans and Ciaran Laval. The concerns and observations they both raise very much point to the need for better, clearer and more balance exchanges between the Lab and users, especially if Amanda’s statement that retaining current Residents is a huge priority here at the Lab. We cherish the SL community is going to be anything other that hollow market speak.

User satisfaction isn’t simply about a “more predictable” in-world experience. It’s not purely about reducing lag or boosting hardware performance or providing new and better LSL functions or integrating in-world and XSL accounts.

User satisfaction is about taking the time to engage with the community; it’s about abandoning pretences and participating in the two-way exchange of dialogue. Linden Lab has persistently failed in this  – and have been absolutely chronic in the sphere of user relationships in the last few years in particular. While they may be “small” and “parochial” in the scheme of things, even the San Francisco Better Business Bureau have noticed LL’s weakness in customer relations – awarding them a “F” rating.

I’m not foolish enough to believe that a couple of forum exchanges with the likes of me are seriously going to change things – we’ve all see Linden staff drop comments here and there across the flogs. What I do find heartening, tho, is that when pushed on issues, Amanda hasn’t simply blanked me and skipped on to more favourable comments for her replies – she’s met me (almost) head-on.

I really do hope we see more of it.

7 thoughts on “Exchanging views with Amanda Linden

  1. Rather off topic: I really enjoy your posts, but white font on black background with a rather small fontsize is really hard to read (even if I enlarge the text). My eyes are not the best due to age and the need for glasses, so in this post I gave up halfway down because my eyes literally hurt. Also you don’t send the full texts of your posts on the feed where I could read it with good contrast in my feed reader.

    I personally would prefer the full text on the feed. Usually I don’t read any blogs who only send teasers on the feed – it is in fact a compliment to the quality of your posts that I visit your blog despite those two major problems for me.

    I would very much appreciate if you could reconsider your feed and/or color contrast settings.

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    1. Peter,

      Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been considering altering the theme for this blog for a while, and you’re comment have made me decide that the change is needed. It’ll be along very soon.

      As to the feed – I’ll see what I can do. I’m actually *not* that technical when it comes down to it, so I just enabled the feed process and thought that was it. Whether there are settings that can be changed – I have no idea, as I’ve never looked! I’ll rectify that as well, if possible!

      Thanks again for supporting my efforts – it is really appreciated!

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  2. Why *not* focus on new users? Us existing users clearly show no significant signs of going anywhere, by the metrics. Some of us might famously or noisily leave. Five or six people in a group might all bail together, but the Lab can’t tell from the metrics whether it is catering well for old users or upsetting them, because the attrition rate doesn’t change. Whether they do great or they do badly, as a group we make much the same noises and it doesn’t affect the Lab’s bottom line for the following week/month in any noticeable way.

    Perhaps we make it impossible to tell.

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    1. I think my point is that there should be something of a balance. As I stated to Amanda, the view from in-world is that the only mantra at LL is to get “new users” through the store, with some window-dressing (Linden Homes, for example – themselves somewhat controversial among some business sectors), but little else to encourage retention.

      What is worse – as shown in Amanda’s post, the approach seems to be “if you say it, it will happen”: that bringing -in new users will somehow magically “grow” the economy, and be “better for everyone” – yet the figures Amanda issues in support of that hardly encouraging. They are looking for around 700,000-1,000,000 people per month logging in for 1 hour day. I tend to log in late evening my time, for around 2-4 hours, and I’ve never seen anything less than around 60-70K on line during these times. Working the math on that would suggest (and I admit there appears to be a disjoin in the “official” log-in figures when one does this), it seems we’re pretty close to those kind of levels anyway. Therefore, where is the growth?

      Further, where these newbies *do* stay on, they are going to become “established” users themselves, and face the same frustrations, limitation, confusion and frustration with LL that has been part and party of the “Second Life experience” for far too long now.

      Again, focusing more on in-world matters (beyond technology upgrades, which I see Tom Hale shamelessly holding up as a reason why the SF BBB handing LL and “F” for customer services “isn’t important” in the scheme of things) would do so much more to lift retention rates than simply hoping throwing open the doors with a few new shiny (but broken) toys may achieve. It will, for example, encourage more to stay, invest time and effort and themselves become “established”. It will encourage those already here to invest further in lands, etc., – and bring about Amanda’s hoped-for revival potentially far more readily than the “if you build it, they will come” attitude that seems to be prevalent in LL’s thinking right now. Doubly so when again, what they’ve built – is broke.

      Where “we” as users are perhaps “guilty” is that we *do* make a lot of noise when LL seem to slam their foot in their mouth (the original Copybot riots, the Homestead fiasco as two examples) – but then we settle down and carry on. But what else can we do? There *is* nowhere else available for us to give vent to the passions and creativity SL affords us.

      But that doesn’t mean in return, LL can or should respond by simply brushing concerns and views aside in a manner that is all to perceived to be both arrogant and anti-consumer.

      Balance is what is needed; I’m actually genuinely pleased that Amanda has given a public reassurance. At the end of the day, DL needs a proper mix on users – new, old, and those who are transitioning between the two. And for this to be achieved, LL carry some responsibility themselves to encourage users across the board, rather than focusing on a single sector.

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  3. PS: I’m not suggesting that the Lab should or shouldn’t do any particular thing. Just that by the metrics and measures that they have, there seems little need to do anything for midbies and oldbies.

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  4. Curiously, LL now has an A+ rating at BBB… I think too many of us have been citing that as a huge neg, that they probably sent a swat team in to fix that.

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    1. That’s more-or-less what happened. LL caught up with the widely-posted reports and lodged a complaint with the BBB with the result their rating was raised a few weeks after the stories started doing the rounds. In fairness, part of the problem was that the BBB information was based on stale data, and as such, was, in fairness, in need of update.

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