Rod Humble on Second Life

Hamlet, over at New World Notes, lets us have the low-down on his interview with new Linden Lab CEO, Rod Humble.

It’s an interesting piece which, doubtless, many will find disappointing. Restructure the land pricing model? No; and much that others will take heart in: greater Facebook integration? It’s a nice idea, but…

What is interesting about the interview is that on the one hand, it again repeats themes that LL keep hitting on time and again like a needle hitting a scratch on a record: make it easier for new users; *click* need to fix lag; *click* make it easier for new users… But on the other hand, it shows a solid perception of where the company has been going wrong in jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon in vain attempts to drum-up new users, damaging both itself and Second Life in the process.

For me, I have to say that I’m a little disappointed by the new user / fix lag mantra. As I’ve said elsewhere, what is need within Linden Lab is an ability to look at the platform a lot more holistically, rather than trying to poke things into individual, easy-to-tick boxes.

Yes Second Life is exasperating when one comes to use it for the first time; yes lag is an ongoing issue. Yes customer service sucks worse than a vacuum cleaner with a hole in the cylinder – but constantly mucking around with the “new user experience” or simply reducing lag and getting friendlier, more knowledgeable people sitting on the end of the phone or responding to tickets isn’t going to revitalise SL.

Let’s face it, when I joined SL originally in 2006, we had lag. We had sim crossing that would throw you into the middle of next week rather than the middle of the next sim; we had a new user experience that was both frustrating and confusing (and with a bloody annoying parrot, to boot). We had a Viewer that was somewhat arcane and needed to be looked at sideways via a mirror to make any sense of it. But – it didn’t matter! Why? Because suddenly our computer screen was a window – a door into a marvellous world where we were – to all intents and purposes – limited only by our imaginations!

When I came back to SL at the end of 06, after a few months away, things were as aggravating: lag, asset server failures, Black Wednesdays without the grid for up to 8 hours – sometimes longer (maintenance time coincided with the afternoon / evening here which made it even worse). The Viewer still required several belts of the forehead against the desktop  before it made a degree of sense. But – it didn’t matter! The Wonder was still there. A Wonder encouraged and nurtured by residents and Linden Lab employees alike.

It’s easy to say I’ve got rose-tinted glasses on as I write this and that the “old days” always look better; but that’s not the case. We accepted Second Life warts and all, because we could immerse ourselves here. There were precious few barriers preventing us from exercising imagination and mind.

Over past few years, that ability to freely immerse ourselves has been eroded. Policies have been drawn up and implemented with the barest consideration of precisely how they might impact communities. Where residents have raised valid and considered concerns over them, the response from LL has run the measure from trying a deaf ear through to the blandly patronising. Even where the changes have been necessary and potentially beneficial, LL have handled matters in such a cavalier manner, they’ve frequently managed to alienate those that initially supported their efforts. In short, these newer policies have left users feeling as if they are being fenced in on either side and herded and prodded away from the very things that enticed them into SL in the first place.

As a result, our tolerance for dealing with technical issues has been eroded; lag has become more and more of an issue for us – along with matters such as crossing sim boundaries – not because they are any more annoying to people than they were in the past, but because it seems that it’s only when dealing with these tangible problems we feel anyone at LL is listening. As a result, rather than people within  LL looking at SL as a whole, we find them drawing up – as I’ve said before – laundry lists of things to do to “fix” SL and make it a “happy” place.

And it is somewhat frustrating to hear Rod Humble roll out the same mantra so early on.

That said, I have to admit to smiling at his candour around Second Life as a brand and the tacit admission that Linden Lab have messed this up for themselves. I’m not convinced his candour will result in anything substantial in the short-term – but taken with the introduction of the new User Groups, I’m hopeful that we might at least see a redressing of the balance in corporate / user interactions which may just filter back into the company; possibly returning it to the core values that made SL work through the early years. In short: seeing the platform as an inspirational, collaborative environment in which they provide the tools, the means and the general guidance – and the users provide the content, the dynamics of interaction (creativity, roleplay, gameplay, etc.), that together make Second Life a vibrant, healthy growing place.

Elsewhere, Mr. Humble struck a chord that is doubtless going to please a lot of people, stating that linking Second Life with the likes of Facebook – while not an outright no-no – should be handled with caution and a respect for the privacy of Second Life users (something LL have blundered around with up until now). I certainly had to smile at his nixing of Hamlet’s overly Facebook-oriented suggestion of “first fixes” for SL. Again, there is nothing wrong with providing the hooks for those that wish to use both platforms, but the future of SL should not be defined in terms that actively push the user base into FBland.

I doubt, on the other hand, Mr., Humble’s views on the current land “sales” revenue model will be received so well. While promising that LL will be seeking to improve what is on offer, he made it clear the pricing model won’t shift.

Where I was disappointed in the interview is that it avoided all mention of Mr. Humble’s belief that user creativity is important to Second Life. He’s said so in his own initial blog post and again in meeting with the “SL Press Corps”. While hearing the CEO of LL say this (especially after Philip Rosedale seemingly denigrated in-world content creation last year when he voiced the opinion most users won’t “even rez a prim”) is exceedingly positive, it needs more meat on the bone.

What is LL going to do to encourage in-world creativity? While mesh is exciting and has a lot of people all hot and bothered, the fact remains it isn’t “in-world creativity”. So what else will there be because, with respect, people in a year’s time will want to come to Second Life because they know they can be who they want to be.. and when they join, they’ll be able to meet interesting people, and they can have a home… that’s more than enough? is a deeply worrying statement. People can already “be who they want to be” and “meet interesting people” and “have a home” without ever setting foot in Second Life. That’s what they’re doing in Facebook right now.

If people come to SL for self-expression, they need to be confident that they can express themselves, that they have the means be which they can find self-expression through an engaging, exciting medium, whether they are in-world to build, socialise, play or role-play.

As such, LL have got to start helping define (redefine?) the environment so that residents feel they can contribute to it, help nurture it, grow with it, and by a part of it.

“Your world, your imagination” is regarded as jaded and beyond its sell-by date with some quarters of LL. This being the case, I offer Mr. Humble an alternative that may help embrace the idea of Lab and users working together:

“Our worlds and our imaginations”.

Apez sold

After all the confusion, Apez has now been sold. It appears that Egoisme is now the new owner. Some Apez users are reporting on SLU that service continued more-or-less “as normal” during the last few months, and Cenji has indicated that all accounts have / are being honoured in terms of payouts.

How things will pan out for people remains to be seen. Certainly, with the demise of, the apparent disappearance of Metaverse Exchange and the wholehearted chewing-up-and-spitting-out of On Rez in favour of the SL Marketplace (nee XStreet SL nee SL Exchange), a good, solid, competitor is required to face-off against Linden Lab if only to encourage further development of, and enhancement to, current services. Whether this can be Apez / Egoisme remains to be seen.

Certainly, no-one can deny that Apez as a brand is now  – pardon the pun – damaged goods. Therefore, any attempt to “restore” the Apez name (as Egoisme state they would like) is potentially going to be akin to trying to push water up a hill.

However, the Apez system – servers, vendors, etc., did and do work well, and retain a lot of potential. Put them together with a reliable level of customer service (which many complained was a major issue with Apez), develop a really solid front end that disposes with things like “Sekrit Naughty Words Of The Day” lists, which offers both consumers and merchants a flexible means of both finding and promoting goods and services under a brand entirely distinct from Apez, and Egoisme might just have something. It’s still going to be an uphill climb – especially given the overall state of stagnation within Second Life and LL’s ability to massively steer people towards SLM; as such whether the possible rewards of persevering with such an effort prove worthwhile for those concerned remains to be seen.

Update: Egoisme apparently sold Apez not long after acquiring it. When this took place & to whom is unclear. All reference to Apez (including the press release announcing the acquistion linked-to above) has been removed from the main Egoisme website.

Communications and the Lab

On Tuesday, we were apparently supposed to get information from Linden Lab as to the future of user / Lab communications, following the gradual winding-down of Office Hours.

Seems it didn’t appear.

However, Suella Ember grabbed the scoop on the way things may be going – and in the process raises very valid points and ideas for future, more robust interactions between Lab and users. As she points out, since writing her piece, information on the new User Groups has gone up on the SL wiki.

Going off the wiki, these new forums for discussion are already active. One certainly hopes that someone within Linden Lab will get the official word out via the blog before too much longer!