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…?