Who is gaming what?

The debate is getting heated. Following Amanda Linden’s blog on the new communications channels, people are making their feelings clear on one item in particular: the removal of voting from the JIRA.

Prokofy Neva has posted a constructive essay on the matter, and it is clear that people are getting very upset about things – and equally clear that, despite claims that the new channels are to help Linden Lab do a better job of listening and that as customers, your satisfaction and input is critical to the success of Second Life (quotes from Amanda’s post), it is abundantly clear that in the issue of JIRAs, the Lab has set its face on things and will not listen.

I have to admit, in my initial post on the new channels, I was somewhat flippant on the subject of JIRA voting being removed, which may have given the impression that I don’t care. Actually, I do. At the end of the day, it matters not whether votes are tallied and acted upon by Linden Lab, they are whichever way you look at it, a measure of gauging customer satisfaction – no matter how “small” a segment of the community they may appear to represent. What’s more, whether Linden Lab like it or not, they tend to represent the views of those who are the most passionate and caring when it comes to Second Life, and who want to see it succeed.

While voting shouldn’t be the single criteria for action on any given JIRA, that the people who live, breath and work Second Life take the time and effort to raise issues, track issues, and vote for them frankly, should account for something.

And this is where I find the excuses LL roll out around the concept of voting laughable: “voting can be gamed”; adding a “vote against” option alongside the current “vote for” won’t work because they will still be “unrepresentative” of the “larger population”; “watching” is easier because people will be more willing to register an interest than take a vote.

Taking the latter points first: Linden Lab has a long history of “listening” to minorities in order to justify an action. Most recent case in point: the changes to the Adult Policy and creation of Zindra. LL stated this was because “residents” wanted the change. I’m sure some did – but compared to the massive outcry against the move, those that were in favour had to have been in a minority.

The same to, with the case for establishing a G-rated continent. LL set their face against it, because it was “not what residents” wanted, when again, there was overwhelming support from all sectors of the community.

And as to the idea that the JIRA is gamed – one has to ask precisely who has been doing the gaming? Lets face it, JIRA voting has been absolutely fine and dandy with LL when it has suited their agenda. They’ve actively encouraged people to go vote on this, that and the other regardless of how many / few have lined up and voted – and often trumpeted it afterwards.

Yet when it is something they are unwilling to face – again, the Adult Changes – then a high vote count doesn’t matter because of the relative insignificance of even high vote counts compared to the size of the user base overall [Yoz Linden]. In short, it is easy to come to the conclusion that LL are themselves guilty of gaming the system as much as anyone else.

Watching is supposedly the preferable means of gauging interest – but the problem here is that Watching inevitably leads to a veritable snowstorm of e-mails. This was a major cause of angst when the JIRA system first came in, and nothing has been done to solve it – and Oz Linden himself admits people are liable to be inundated.

This being the case, it is hard to see how “Watching” is going to be a better measure, because a lot of the people who are aware of the e-mail problem aren’t going to sign-up, because they are not going to want to have to face the influx, even with spam filters running. The same goes for many who come to the JIRA for the first time: they’ll register with one or two cases, get hit by the flood and think, “Sod this for a game of soldiers!”

So Watching, in and of itself, is hardly a more “telling” means of weighing the relative merits of JIRA X against JIRA Y and voting for one or the other…or both…

I also don’t hold this Oz’s view that watching is more valid that voting because people get to read comments. So what? The chances of getting more people engaged in the discussion as a result are slim; so again, it’s hard to understand the logic / justification here. Certainly, I don’t follow that abolishing voting in favour of watching will  put a premium on thoughtful commentary as Oz asserts – because I don’t have to comment in order to watch. Period.

A further argument against Watching over voting is that watching doesn’t imply support for. I’m deeply interested in politics. During the run-up to the General Election, I watch all of the major parties at both a national and local level. I receive their bumpf I even read it. But that doesn’t mean I necessarily support any or all of them. That doesn’t happen until I actually come to vote. And its the same with JIRAs: I may watch, but that’s not indicating anything beyond (potentially mild) curiosity – but when I vote on a JIRA, I’m making a clear statement.

Given JIRA voting does account for so little in the LL scheme of things, I fail to see why the system – as Ciaran Laval suggests – remain, but with “vote for” being replaced by “show interest”. It would achieve the same result, it would encourage participation, and it would avoid the headache of spam.

And anyway, is abolishing voting in favour of watching really making things more relevant? All it is actually doing is moving people listed in Column A into Column B and nothing more. So whether you call it “voting” or “watching”, the more cynical among us might say that a high count on any JIRA is still meaningless because of the relative insignificance of even high counts compared to the size of the user base overall – to paraphrase Yoz somewhat.

Thus, the whole thing comes down to a game of semantics and little more.

As it stands, it is more than a little ironic that in a blog post that is supposedly aimed towards ensuring Linden Lab does a better job of listening, and to provide a means by which we can all have a more productive dialogue there is very little evidence of any form of dialogue coming from LL on this matter, other than “this is the way it’s going to be, so there!” And that is hardly an encouraging start to things.