The one-sided love affair…

I keep going back over the transcript of last Friday’s in-world presentation. In my first piece on it, I tried to give a reaction to the gist of the presentation rather than a review, so a part of me keeps thinking I’ve sold some of it short.

To be fair to Philip, he does make some valid points. It’s just unfortunate that these are outweighed by the feeling of having, “been there, heard that,” and the doubt that there is sufficient recognition within LL that they need to change their culture if anything is really going to change for the better.

There is one aspect of the presentation I did find interesting. When it comes down to it, Rosedale’s focus is very clearly locked on to the idea of SL becoming a place for business enterprise – as is evident from the latter half of the presentation. Not so much the business you and I might conduct – although he does give more than a tip of the hat towards this and the work of content creators in SL – no, he’s referring to “big” business.

Again, it’s a familiar meme. Throughout the Kingdon era, a good part of the focus at LL was the “business community”: we had the development of the (former) SL Works website into the microsites, the drive to expose how SL is “transforming” business and, of course the behind-the-firewall SL Enterprise product. No surprises there: as I’ve stated elsewhere, Kingdon may have had some ideas of his own for SL, but by-and-large it is safe to say that most of the direction LL took under his tenure was at the behest of the Board itself.

What is interesting is the frame-work of Philip’s comments on business (in the corporate sense). First off, he makes it clear that sorting out lag is a priority because it is seen to be hurting SL where bringing in business is concerned. He also implies that LL doesn’t actually know how well the SLE “behind the firewall” product is doing: An example that speaks to a broad point, SL Enterprise, we don’t know who is using SL.  We think it is used by educators, those casual users, by people at work. Really? you mean no-one in LL is tracking sales? Granted, this may not reveal who is actually taking the software out of the box and putting it to use on a server…but tracking sales would give an indication of the markets for SLE..if any. Is this comment in fact a coded, “SLE isn’t selling like we thought it would”?

However, what is most interesting in Philip’s comments on the involvement of big business in SL is his statement that, In SLE, we’re not trying to move away from use at work, but we aren’t going to work on deploy behind fire wall. We will work to support them on the main grid.

“We will work to support them in the main grid”. It’s as if Philip is hoping for a repeat of the “glory days” of 2006, when business from all markets  – technology, finance, footwear, automotive, television, and so forth – poured into SL.

But didn’t actually stay.

Worse, when reading these words, I couldn’t help but remember Justin Bovington’s (of Rivers Run Red a (former?) strategic partner with LL) outright hostility towards “ordinary” users, and his cries that swathes of the Mainland should be turned into “no go” areas for the likes of most of us, reserved purely for the “serious” or “business” user.

Now, to be sure, for SL to do more than subsist, it needs to thrive. Getting big business and the likes to invest is potentially one of the major ways that LL can hope to ensure it thrives. This much isn’t rocket science; the dots would appear to be there waiting to be joined up.  But again, please note the key words in that statement: “potentially” and “appear”.

Why are they key? Well, simply because there is a very big question mark as to whether the business community need Second Life as much as Linden Lab believes to be the case.

So far, we’ve seen two attempts as trying to lure business in: opening the doors in 2006 and riding on a wave of media popularity, and the launching of Second Life Enterprise. Both have been far from stellar. Between both we had the likes of Bovington and Amanda Linden pushing a “let’s get real for business” theme that came across as – frankly – openly hostile towards the rest of us.

But…aside from the early takers like Toyota, IBM, Nike, NBC, etc., no-one has really found am ongoing business-oriented use for SL; least of all Linden Lab. Oh sure, there was the flurry of activity around the US Navy’s project and there are various small-scale projects and case studies in the “SL Work” microsites; there has been talk of the US Army using (and note this, given Philip’s statement) SLE for “war game modelling” and the like; and even some US Federal Agencies have sniffed at SL. But the fact remains that these are niche markets with limited scope; and if SLE is going to be shelved, it is really hard to see them going anywhere on a scale that actually matters in terms of revenue development.

Certainly, the Grand Vision of SL being at the “centre” of all things corporate, “revolutionising” communication, collaboration, the way meetings are “held” and so on and so forth that have been dreamily blogged about on the official website (and note the central position of Viewer 2 – those still asking “why” Philip won’t “drop” it therein have their answer) remains little more than a gleam in LL’s own eye.

Of course, LL-ites will point out that SLE is only “beta”, and therefore it shouldn’t be used to judge SL’s “potential” as a “business platform”; similarly they’ll say that the reason business came and went in some six short months back in 2006 was because “we” (i.e. LL) didn’t “understand” the potential or what was happening.

Well, yes. SLE *is* only “beta”, and yes, to some degree, the influx of 06 may have been hard to foresee. BUT – and here’s the rub – none of these excuses matter.  The simple fact is that, outside of niche activities, as stated, Second Life simply isn’t ready for big business to pay anything more than a cursory interest in it; there is simply nothing here that is compelling for big business to invest time, effort and money in SL on an ongoing basis.

And this is where Philip’s assertion that lag is somehow a critical factor in preventing business leaping onto the SL bandwagon raises more than just one eyebrow. Compared to issues such as data security & integrity, confidentiality and a host of other business-critical issues that would need addressing before business dipped anything more than a big toe into the water of Second Life, “fixing” lag would seem to be something of a trivial item upon which to focus. Let’s be honest here, who didn’t read the aforementioned blog post (March 2010) lauding SL as the Next Big Corporate Thing  – or indeed Amanda Linden’s “Open Letter to Your Boss” (remember that?) without having something of a laugh and the rose-tinted manner in which the Grid and SL’s capabilities were presented in both?

Beyond this, there is also the question that if LL is serious about reaching beyond niche markets, whether driving corporations towards the main Grid is really the right way to go. OK – so SLE might not be selling well right now – but surely, if it is packaged, presented and promoted properly, it stands to be a much better product for LL than simply leasing server space. A single sale of SLE represents eleven years of income from a single sim, or the equivalent income from 9.5 sims over the course of 12 months. The financial math alone isn’t hard to work out. Plus, SLE checks the boxes companies are going to want to see checked: it operates behind their firewall, it is completely under the control of their own IT bods, it doesn’t have strangers flitting around, it doesn’t suffer from questions of data integrity or communications issues as much as the Grid does, and so on.

But again, all this pre-supposes big business actually needs SL or can, indeed, find a practical use for it. To date, it is fair to say the love affair has been entirely one-sided. We’ve yet to see a single runaway success for SL / LL where the corporate world is concerned. And frankly, it’s really hard to imagine that we will if everything is to be pushed back into the Grid itself.