SLM: How about some Direct Disclosure?

Yesterday, Brooke Linden blogged requesting SL Merchants volunteer to help with the new SL Marketplace Direct Delivery system. I actually missed the post, as unlike the old Jive system, news such as this doesn’t get pushed to the Featured News announcements on people’s dashboards, so you have to go hunting for the sodding information – which is about as pleasant as dropping a hardback edition of the OED on an exposed toe or two (and I speak from a position of authority on this latter point).

Direct Delivery (as it is now to be called) is a method by which the current Magic Boxes (themselves a hold-over from the days when SLM was still XStreet SL) can be replaced by a method to deliver items direct from a merchant’s inventory. This in itself is not a bad idea – some OS Grids actually already have such a system.

However, as it currently stands, the testing programme for this new system looks like it might not get out of the starting gate because Linden Lab seem hell-bent on keeping the whole thing a Sooper Sekrit to the point of absurdity.

  • There is no actual information on what the testing actually involves, beyond the broadest outlines (people will need to spend “several hours a week” involved in “trying to find problems” and “try out typical Marketplace Merchant activities”
  • There is no real information on how the system works, what set-up is entailed, how the Beta might impact a Merchant’s store and current delivery mechanisms, what additional overheads will be involved on the part of Merchants in order to actually position themselves in preparation for taking part in the programme
  • No information on what support will be available from Linden Lab for Merchants in the event of significant problems occurring that impact a Merchant’s ability to do business or which might adversely impact their reputation
  •  No information on what this is likely to do to inventory loads and organisation, etc., is provided.

The lack of such up-front information means that it is next to impossible for any Merchant to reasonably evaluate whether or not they should offer to participate – and this despite previous promises from Brooke that such information would be forthcoming.

Instead, Merchants are being asked to blindly sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) covering their involvement in the programme. On the one hand, this suggests that there is a high degree of paranoia evident at LL (an NDA is required for testing an enhancement to a product for which there is not credible competition in terms of scale? Is there something broader going on here that users are being kept in the dark about?). On the other hand, LL’s NDAs have in the past helped to create rifts between company and users, so the use of the term “(updated) NDA” in the sign-up form is already going down faster than a lead balloon among many well-established Merchants.

There are a myriad of other questions surrounding SLM as a whole, and precisely where LL are going with it.

While many are reporting that their SLM sales are growing (I’m one of them), in-world sales are equally declining for many (I’ve seen my own in-world sales significantly drop). Significant drops in-world sales calls into question the viability of keeping stores and shops open. After all, why pay $40-$100 a month in tier if you can achieve the same volume of sales for $2-$5 dollars a month in SLM commissions?  This in turn opens up the risk of land rentals plummeting as stores are closed down and Merchants re-focus their effort on web sales supported by perhaps a single, low-cost store, and thus further undermine an already fragile in-world economy.

At the same time, there cannot be any doubt that Search in the SLM works somewhat better than the Viewer 2 in-world Search; so why isn’t effort being put into actually sorting the latter out properly and making it possible for people to enjoy shopping in-world once more?

Make no mistake, there is a need for a service such as SLM, and a Direct Delivery mechanism such as appears to be under development would be a welcome addition to managing stocks. However, the manner in which LL are once more approaching what should be a relatively straightforward development and implementation of a worthwhile feature is fast becoming shrouded in frustration and mistrust.

So how about it Brooke – or better yet, Rodvik – can we please have some Direct Disclosure around the topic of Direct Delivery before we’re asked to sign our lives away…again…?

Advertising SL: the machinima effect

It’s been said many times that LL are pretty weak when it comes to promoting Second Life through advertising. Like their attempts at PR promotion for the platform (as opposed to the company), their approach is both lax and sporadic, rather than being proactive and focused.

When you consider that anyone with an interest in virtual worlds can barely flip a web page without hitting yet another ad for IMVU, you have to wonder at how LL can be so reticent to get out there and aggressively promote the platform on a continuous basis. Lets face it; when does SL tend to hit the headlines? Either when the Lab is facing a lawsuit (or when users are hitting each other over the head with legal claims such as the bunnies vs. horses situation) or when some erstwhile pundit is predicting the “imminent” demise / sell-off of the platform.

As readers will know, I’ve found LL’s lack of willingness to actively promote Second Life pretty frustrating over the years, and have commented on this a number of times – including quite recently.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Earlier today, Crap Mariner tweeted:

Linden Lab needs to make some ads like this for Second Life:

It’s super advert. It prompted me to reply:

Or #LL should work with the machinima folk for suitable ads: say a competition; top 3 promoted on YT,, etc.

Which I think got us both thinking, as Crap followed up with a blog of his own even as I set out to blog here.

Next month is Machinima Month, in which the platform’s burgeoning machinima community is encouraged to participate, and to “encourage the creation of new work, and showcase existing work to the community and beyond”. As monthly rolling event supported by the Linden Endowment of the Arts, this is an excellent move on LL’s part.

But – as I hinted at in my Tweet, why not go further? Why not have a machinima competition: the top prize(s) being the active promotion of the resultant (time-limited) videos by LL (with full credit to the originators) throughout all channels available to LL – including things like an official You Tube channel and the SL Facebook page (both of which should be used to show-off the “winning” submissions from the month Machinima event overseen by the LEA).

The competition could be free-form (limited only by time length – say no longer than 1 minute), or be defined by specific content LL wish to see covered (in-world creativity, in-world entertainment, commerce, etc.) – with these aspects acting as categories for the competition.

Integrated into a broader-based advertising campaign (why not take a leaf from IMVU’s book?), a Machinima-based advertising approach such as this would score in three ways:

  • It engages the Lab directly with a talented section of the community who are capable of producing material that promotes the finest attributes of Second Life
  • It relieves the Lab of the burden of attempting to produce something themselves, while allowing them to determine what should be used through their own advertising / promotional channels (You Tube, the SL Facebook pages, etc.)
  • It provides a clear demonstration that Second Life is a collaborative platform, where user creativity is fully supported and encouraged by the Lab.

Art is an incredibly powerful tool for promotional purposes. Let’s see LL and the community leverage the creative potential with the platform to actively promote the platform.