Communications and the Lab. Again

So, Kimberly Salzer (Kim Linden), former VP of Marketing, has gone from Linden Research.

Reactions to the news have been mixed. Hamlet Au’s overall tone is one of regret, while Aeonix Aeon (aka Will Burns) is more forthright and views it as good news.

Kimberly Salzer

Both state that among other things, Kimberly Salzer was responsible for the most recent communications regime at Linden Lab which not only regimented internal communications, but also impacted how the Lab engages and communicates with the user community and the world at large.

If this is true, then I would tend to stand on Will’s side of the fence where her departure is concerned. It’s an inescapable fact that since late last year (Kim Salzer arrived at the Lab in September 2010), outward communications have not so much continued to decline as they have apparently tumbled headlong into a void.

The inability for the Lab to effectively and efficiently engage and communicate with its own user community is nothing new; it’s a fact of life, sadly. Regular readers of this blog will know it is something I’ve repeatedly banged on about over the course of the last couple of years. Indeed, such was the downturn during the first quarter of this year, that I wrote at some length on the need for, and value in, more constructive engagement from Linden Lab towards its user base.

Catherine Smith

The origins for the collapse can be traced back to early 2008, when after years of encouraging users to embrace and use the company’s trademark, it was announced that henceforth there would be a new Trademark Policy which would severely curtail people’s ability to use it. This initiative was spearheaded by Catherine Smith (Catherine Linden) who was at that time Linden Lab’s Director of Marketing. That the company had the right to define how and where its trademark could be used was never the issue; the problem was the way in which the company summarily went about setting up the new rules, which many saw as a betrayal of Lab / user trust.

It was the start of a long and steady decline in open communications between Lab and the user community which has, in many respects, now reached rock bottom. In the course of the last twelve months alone we’ve seen:

Amanda Van Nuys

Amanda Van Nuys (Amanda Linden, another now ex-Linden Lab Marketing executive – spotting a trend here?) announcing the forthcoming arrival of the new Community Communications Platform (CCP) – and then promptly championing its future use by telling users that actually, if they want to keep up with the news from LL, then really they should go elsewhere.

In a near total re-hash of the Jive platform roll-out two or so years previously, LL ignored all requests for a General Discussion forum to be included in the new CCP. Instead, on rolling it out, they instigated a heavy-handed moderation process, arbitrary shutting down threads and discouraging discourse. At the same time they introduced some kind of “keep it clean” censorship policy that meant, as Ciaran Laval memorably blogged, the name “Dick van Dyke” became “bleep van bleep”. The result of these actions were to a) actively discourage the use of the new platform, driving many users elsewhere; b) turn the whole CCP into something of an item of derision.

Office Hours have, for a variety of reasons, have been replaced by User Group meetings. Some of these have thrived, but when reading the transcripts of others (when available), the information flow out of LL in these meetings often comes across as cautious and stilted – almost as if staff have been told to mind what they say to the point of being unable / unwilling to say anything at all.

JIRA policy was arbitrarily changed. Rather than voting for issues, people were told that, henceforth, they’d have to watch issues. Given the fact the watching leads to people receiving an e-mail each and every time someone else comments on (or otherwise edits) an issue, and that for hot topics, this can lead to dozens of e-mails per day hitting one’s in-box, this could only be interpreted as an attempt by LL to actively discourage people from engaging in the JIRA.

Any attempt at structured communication seems to have ended. I’ve nothing against the company using Facebook, Twitter, Plurk and what have you, as long as they are consistent in the use of such channels. The problem is, LL isn’t. Rather, what seems to be in place is a “heads-its-the-blog-tails-its-Twitter” approach. And while it is good to see the CEO engaging in discourse on third-party forums, even going so far as to provide information on upcoming changes to things like the Viewer, one has to ask why the hell such conversations aren’t being encouraged in LL’s own blogs and forums.

It’s fair to say that during the first four months of the year, communications from the Lab were close to non-existent to any meaningful degree. Tateru Nino summed it up beautifully by referring to it as “The Silence of the Lab”. It’s something I’ve failed to understand, particularly as Kim Salzer came to Linden Lab from Blizzard, a company known for its willingness to engage with (and indeed listen to) its user community through its blogs and fora.

Come May, Rod Humble was indicating (via Twitter) that we could expect a resumption in communications from the Lab. If only that were so. Other than totally vapid “monthly updates”, we’ve seen very little improvement in the use of the channels at LL’s disposal, much less a more disciplined use of their own Community Communications Platform.

The other side of the coin is in the matter of the Lab’s outward communications to the world at large – and here things are, in many respects, very much worse. Simply put, and as Tateru comments on her blog, Linden Lab appears to have relinquished all control over the presentation of the Second Life brand to third-parties – many of whom do not have the brand’s best interests at heart.

The most recent example of this is Dan and Chip Heath – and forgive me fr bringing this up again; it’s been done to death a dozen times over, I know, but it does serve as a timely example.

In their latest book, they offer up Second Life as an example of a “failed” venture. To them, Second Life is dead and done. That their viewpoint is largely incorrect isn’t actually the point in the context of this piece. Rather the issues of note here are that:

  1. They picked on Second Life as an example of a failed enterprise (note past tense);
  2. Of all the chapters in the book, it was the one on Second Life that media outlets chose to go to press about.

However you look at it and regardless of the inaccuracy of the Heath brother’s conclusions, both these points demonstrate that the prevalent view among pundits and the media alike is that Second Life has failed and should thus be referred to in the past tense. Not, I would venture to suggest, the kind of message most companies would want to have in the mainstream media regarding their sole product.

Nor do LL particularly help themselves. The last time LL issued a press release was December 2010. That’s an awfully long time ago; which is odd, because there is much going on in SL that is worth celebrating and promotion in the media. Indeed, LL actually do keep track of things that reflect positively on Second Life through the In The News page (although admittedly, you’d never know they actually had an In The News page given the distinct lack of obvious links to it – great going on the communications front again, guys).

Again, one doesn’t expect LL to create a song-and-dance about absolutely everything that happens in SL and which gets a positive light shone upon it; but by the same token, it doesn’t mean all should be left with only passing mention.

Take the SL Relay For Life. This is a stunning annual event which this year smashed all records: $375,000 USD raised – $100,000 more than the hoped-for target – which took the total raised by the event in-world over the years to over the $1 million USD mark. However you look at it, this is a remarkable achievement, one deserving of being placed squarely in the public eye,  as indeed ACS did, yet Linden Lab gave it little more than passing mention.

Given the lack of this kind of pro-active management – which any marketing executive should be able to handle – is it any real wonder that the media at large refer to Second Life in the past tense?

Communications are the lifeblood of an organisation. Yes, they can  be difficult to manage where there is the added complication of a large and active user base – but this doesn’t mean they should be pushed to one side and looked upon as anathema (which is only how one can view LL’s own reluctance to openly engage with its user community). Similarly, outward engagement with the press is a vital part of any organisation’s activities: you either control the message and respond to misleading and potentially damaging articles  – or you allow others to define the message for you, and allow their perceptions control how others see you.

Tateru hopes that we’ve now hit rock bottom, and the only direction left is up. Frankly, and despite my enthusiasm for the platform and the overall technical direction LL are taking, I’m not so sure. In terms of communications over the last four years (2008-2011), LL have behaved like an existential elevator, demonstrating that whenever down isn’t an option, there’s always sideways until such time as entropy resumes its natural course.

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34 thoughts on “Communications and the Lab. Again

  1. Due to how quiet Kim was officially it’s hard to say whether she did a good or bad job, it all seems a tad unfair though to criticise someone without knowing what she did or didn’t achieve. Criticising Kim because Second Life wants to appeal to people whom are interested in games seems a tad off because there’s a big market for games and their development, such as introducing NPC’s, so I find Will Burns post a tad wide of the mark.

    Joe Linden and Cyn Linden were not big talkers either, Cyn as VP of customer relations hardly ever blogged, I once linked to a blog interview with her which I entitled “Harpo Speaks”.

    However I have been critical of Linden Lab’s lack of communication for a while now, they are slow coming forward on a lot of matters, whether that was Kim’s policy or not is a matter of rumour at this stage but Kim wouldn’t have been able to instigate such a policy without the support of other senior execs.

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    1. I agree, it’s unfair to critique Kimberly on the basis of her gaming background – and I’ve avoided doing so (my one comment on her background was ro remark on the fact she came from an environment where company / user communications are seen to be positive, so it is odd that she presided over th reverse at LL). She’s certainly not solely responsible for the lack of open communication – as I’ve attempted to show, the problem predates her tenure and seems to have been pretty much the marketing approach since 2008. However, one cannot deny that under her tenure, things have become appreciably worse – and it would appear that part of her brief (self-proclaimed or passed on as a management directive) was to tighten the screws on how communications are handled. And according to “insiders” at the Lab, she was a driving force behind the policy.

      The wider aspect of the whole communications issue is why I don’t honestly expect things to dramatically change. There is something embedded in the corporate mentality at Linden Lab that suggests they’ve come to regard communication – as I’ve said – as anathema. It goes beyond Kim Salzer and it goes beyond Rod Humble – and it leaves them both culpable.

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  2. It amazes me that they are capable of continuing to operate and demand such high prices (and get them) as a company when they have the kind of marketing, customer service and policy issues that they have. I cannot figure out how they stay in business at all, if you consider that using these same practices just about any company that deals with the real world and not a virtual one would have closed or have been forcibly closed long ago. People would never tolerate the kind of service from, say, a restaurant or a store at the mall or a service company. Yet, over and over again, the lab continues to practically thrive in spite of treating customers like mushrooms. What makes this possible, I do not know, though I hate to think that it is still the lack of viable competition which provides the opportunity. There is no place else to go and do what we do, to make the world that we have made of it, despite the difficulties.

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  3. @maxwellgraf the computer industry is certainly full of strange examples of success, you should take a peek at Robert X Cringely’s “Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date”

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  4. What I find remarkable is the claim, via Hamlet Au that she was responsible for setting policy on internal communications.

    That is not anything to do with marketing.

    Either Hamlet’s sources are flawed, or this collapse of communication is more to do with some serious mismanagement at the Lab. There is somebody we don’t hear about cracking the whip. How else can you resolve the past records of these people with the messes they make at SL? How does a company hire an experienced Director of Marketing who doesn’t end up doing any significant marketing?

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    1. I’m not so sure Hamlet is off; there does seem to be a track record of Marketing staff taking a wider remit for communications within the Lab. He’s certainly better-placed to find out than I, as is Tateru.

      There does seem to be some fundamental dysfunction within the organistion as regards communication as a whole. As I’ve tried to point out, while Kim Salzer may be the last person to apparently have the hands-on where communications are concerned, she’s not actually solely to blame. She didn’t start the decline. Sadly, and disappointingly, given her background, she didn’t do much to stop it, either. Leaving aside whether or not she presided over an internal communications regulation (and this actually needn’t be a bad thing – the fact of the matter is, if the company’s internal communications were as bad as their external communications, then some control and regimentation was probably needed. It’s why I’ve more-or-less steered away from analysing that aspect of things – I’m simply not in a position to know).

      Is it a hidden hand still cracking the whip? Who knows. The real breakdown in communications, as I’ve mention, commenced in 2008. Not only did we have early signs with the heavy-handed implementation of the Trademark Policy (“remember how we encouraged you to use our brand? Well, stop it!”), but we all had Mitch Kapor’s infamous SL5B presentation where he essentially invited all “early adopters” (i.e. almost the entire SL user base) to step aside or get used to the fact that changes are a-comin’ that they ain’t socially equipped to handle.

      Not an entirely positive message coming from the board. I’ve no idea what the overall ramifications were / are in terms of communications policy where the user community is concerned, but everything does seem to flow down (literally and metaphorically) from that period of time. Perhaps someone is still mandating what can and cannot be said through channels, if so, it might explain why Rod Humble seems a lot more comfortable in hopping over to the SL Universe forums when an opportunity presents itself for him to drop in commentary on the new Viewer UI ahead of the launch, rather than him simply hopping over there and playing the tease.

      As to marketing – I agree. Sure, we’ve had Premium membership drives, the resumption of the cringingly-named “Be your avatar” promotion and the promotion of breedables during her tenure – but I don’t think any of us have seen any actual strategic approach to marketing over the last 12 months. Scattergun, yes, strategic and planned, capitalising on the strengths of Second Life to present it in a cogent manner? No.

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  5. Even coming from a gaming background (perhaps especially), I’d expect those people to know that community is the best force and tool they have for brand longetivity and loyalty for keeping original users and for then to be promoting the environment/game to other potential users.

    And coming from a background of successfully promoting punk bands at a time when clubs were on lockdown with Big Hair Bands, Excessive Guitar Solo Bands and radio was almost the pap it is today and continuing with promoting crazy secretive tribal raves/performances and art, I do not understand exactly where the Linden Lab/Second Life PR people are because the evidence is scant that anyone qualified for the position actually works there.

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    1. Agreed.

      I don’t think it is fair to blame Rod or Kimberly or anyone else at the Lab for having an heritage in the games industry, and I do find it odd that having come from an environment where, as mentioned, there is a willingness to embrace engagement with the user community, Kimberly Salzer apparently presided over a further shut-down of company / user communications. It just seems counter-intuitive and pointing to something being fundamentally broken in Linden Lab.

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  6. I have heard rumours that the next Forums “Event” is apparently a Hara Kiri exposition, at which all the remaining Lindens in the “Marketing” function have been invited by Rod, starting with Marc Viale Linden, to explain how to shoot yourself in the foot when you can’t even find your ass with both hands.

    Pep (Bitter, me? Surely not, after being permabanned for “spamming” after three posts in an old-ageplay thread in the the role play forum – taking the piss out of repeated content-free threads in the Spampire debacle – saying that my memory wasn’t what it used to be; I should have remembered that the moderators were officially told by Amanda to leave their sense of humour outside, and have the IM from a mod to prove it – and asking me not to publish it!)

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    1. Actually, you finger the issue very well, even in jest (but then that is your talent as we know :).

      On a one-to-one basis, my dealings with Mark Viale (and I admit they have not been extensive) have been very positive. He’s helped me out and given a little shove when I’ve encountered issues – entirely off his own back. But, in terms of “policy” he would appear at times (like so many other front-line Lindens) to be under some kind of gagging order and there is only so much he can say (vis-a-vis the Adult Gateway RFP situation). Blondin had the same problem; he could only say so much before he had to “get back to” people – and he was by no means alone.

      This has been inferred that it’s because (in Mark Viale Linden’s case), he’s just “not willing” to engage, and in Blondin’s case that he wasn’t sufficiently senior enough to make decisions. Perhaps the reality of the matter is that there is some communications regime in place that means they are / wer simply “not allowed” to step beyond a specific point in engagement – as much to their frustration as anyone else’s. Hence we’re left with the outward impression that the left hand and the right hand have actually no idea as to what is going on, much less what one another is actually doing.

      Which is not to say there aren’t times when the Lab produces a large calibre handgun and proceeds to unerringly aim it at its own collective pedal extremities…

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      1. It’s Kingdon’s fault, I reckon. Well, him and the desperate-to-find-an-exit-strategy investors on the Board who appointed him. He attempted to turn LL into a “normal” corporation, whereas its strength was in its uniqueness. Once you dragged in the “product” marketing people (Philip knew they were selling the sizzle not the steak) LL was doomed in its interaction with existing and potential customers. If they trusted us we would have forgiven them most of their failures. Hell, the biggest “problem” was that LL had too many Oliver Twists as users, who all wanted “More!”. Now capacity exceeds utilisation, which is a disaster in the long run.

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        1. Here’s where we differ.

          I don’t think it was “Kingdon’s fault” per se. That’s an easy cop-out.

          Was he the right man for Second Life as a platform and as the users see it? No, utterly and unequivocably no.

          Was he the right man for Second Life in terms of the direction the board wanted to take it in? Utterly and unequivocably yes.

          Again, as I’ve mentioned here and written on at length elsewhere in this blog – the tone for SL’s direction was set at board level in 2008; Kapor himself publicly informed the user community to shape up or ship out as SL was heading back to the realm of big business (or the “pragmatists” as he called it). As such, while Kingdon was the front man, and implemented much we, the suers didn’t like – he was (to borrow from Will Burns) marching to the drum of the board.

          That board is still there. Sure, they are a damned sight more low-profile that Kapor (and Bill Gurley) were when it came to discussing Second Life (croiw is a difficult bird to swallow, even when cooked) – but that’s not to say the influence isn’t entirely gone. Even Rod Humble can only go so far (although admittedly, his leash seems a lot, lot longer, fortunately).

          However, that said and coming to your comment on the matter of trust – I can again only say one thing, “Word!”

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        2. I must also differ. I believe what most attribute to being Kingdon’s fault is Philip’s fault. That’s the way Philip was already taking things, and he supported Kingdon as someone who had the same way of thinking about Second Life as he did. Much of the things that happened during Kingdon’s term were things that had started during Philip’s and finally reached culmination at that time.

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  7. I suppose you can’t really blame Kingdon for doing as he was told. I’d be happy to pocket a few million for the amount of effort he put in. Amanda was his appointment too, and her gaffes were significant milestones (or millstones) on the road to recovery (“recovery” in terms of the AA 12 step program!) and now LL has a bunch of loose cannons at middle management level, with “minding the shop” turned over to homeworkers with hangovers and chips on their shoulders, as my friend Rudi discovered to his cost this morning!

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  8. Criticism of Kim is totally valid. She was in charge of MARKETING, instead she created a information black hole and a culture of fear. Don’t talk about fight club.

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  9. I don’t know enough of Linden history to comment on much of this, and I haven’t been active in the forums during the recent fiasco. But in regards to public image and LL’s communication with the world at large, I’ll say this; As an entertainer, I learned early on that you need to get press or exposure several times per year in order to stay in the public eye. And getting press that often requires a constant flow of press releases. Many of them will never get picked up, but the targeted outlet knows you are active and will likely put you in print eventually. LL would do well to realize this, and every press release doesn’t need to be a sweeping upgrade, reporting growth even in small amounts is impressive in this economy. And there are plenty of recent changes to be trumpeted. They need to learn to blow their own horn, and blow it often.

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  10. I’d like to clarify for a moment, if I may.

    I’m not stating that either Rodvik nor Kim’s gaming background are solely to blame for the situation, and I did make it a point to mention that. What I attribute it to is a combination of that gaming background and a further inability to expand from that in proper context with a wholly different paradigm that is SecondLife.

    It boils down to the typical “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail” approach. Wherein, tight control of communication within the company and between the staff and community is a natural expectation from a gaming executive sense, but it is absolutely a toxic policy in the context of a virtual environment such as Second Life.

    I don’t condemn the gaming aspect focus from Linden Lab, but I do approach it with a bigger context of priority. In that if they are focusing primarily on gaming aspects, then there is logical conclusion that they will apply further gaming executive strategy to the whole for the long run – tight control of communication, inflexible mandates for TPVs, and a number of other very myopic and detrimental policies which will serve to do far more damage over time when enacted – as we see with Premium Accounts and the Copy + Paste “Added Value” currently being instituted.

    All of these policies and attitudes point to a single goal: Linden Lab wants the existing veterans and content creators out so they can realign the company as purely consumer oriented (treat it like a game where they can control the entire message from entry to exit). They want to control the entire delivery channel, even if that means excluding the TPVs and harassing the content creators into leaving. They want the use agnostic system to become something far more restricted, and something they can manage within the confines of their current understanding – essentially forcing a square peg into a round hole by trying their best to force the community and system to conform to them instead of the other way around in a compromise.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, but sadly that is exactly what they seem bent on doing. Intentionally breaking the “Work within the system” rule as well as completely missing the lesson of invoking a “Streisand Effect” in the long run.

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    1. Thanks for the comments, Will. Your piece does make thought-provoking reading – and a lot of sense. It’s interesting you mention TPVs. I’ve heard rumblings elsewhere on this front.

      Your analysis of the current situation also ties back to the attitude taken by the board back in 08 (through 2010, as mentioned) – and certainly among large organisations it is rare to see the board change direction so rapidly and radically.

      I sincerely hope this is not the underlying intent – on the surface things do appear to be moving somewhat opposite: the tools being delivered are pretty much what users have been requesting for years. But hearing noises about exculsion does set off alarm bells, especially as you are the third person in the past week who has suggested something on these lines is going on…

      …Perhaps the Streisand Effect starting to take form?

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  11. People criticized me back during SL8B when I called this year “The lindens have left the building.”

    Now look where we’re all sitting.

    More or less, they’re gone in terms of communication.

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  12. Second Life has a problem of communication. If a company cannot respond to it’s customers or provide basic customer feed-back, eventually it will shut-down.

    Linden Labs for years have given its customers the worst type of service that makes a gas-station more customer-orientated.

    Not to mention the use of the software has a steep learning curve as well as several problems within the second-life platform(some of it from the community like the unnecessary and easy drama that happens to plague the platform sadly). As much as fans want to keep leaning on SL it’s starting to become a sinking ship. Others will began to migrate to other platforms/opportunities that have better tools and over-all better human resource departments to provide users the social and technical abilities they want.

    The rough, sudden bans forcing users to loose $$$ of value in real-life dollars. The inability to ^save^ own objects in SL (with the exception of 3D software) and exploits that have lead to corruption and greed are just a few of the poison cocktails unaddressed by Linden Labs.

    It’s best to balance Second-Life, the community here is becoming smaller and smaller. Please do not become trapped in SL and use it as the only source of technical achievement/social-outlet. If one person leaves SL and it affects the out-put of creator content then the company isn’t doing their job to keep people interested in SL or to bring in new ones.

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  13. I’m pretty much going to lay the blame at the feet of Salzer’s marcomm policies. While they didn’t outright outlaw the routine communications that we’d become used to, it seems that they made it so difficult that Labbers simply stopped trying to fight them.

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    1. I am happy to agree to differ, since the result is the same, but it is fairly apparent that Philip hasn’t a fucking clue (actually, doesn’t really care) about business as a profit making concern, as evidenced by his rediscovery of the slow fail of the Elance “business model” and the complete lack of advertising from the very start (Why are they using Facebook as a paradigm rather than Google? Well, I know, but they’d have to pay big bucks for me to remind them.) which means that he has been “influenced” by the guys dropping dollars in the money-pit, who haven’t grasped the different revenue opportunities SL offers.

      Pep (They did a study once on the essential characteristics of businesses doomed to failure; the most prevalent one was a CEO who was an engineer.)

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      1. Sorry – that’s confusing. I was trying to reply to Tateru’s reply to me further up saying it WAS Philip’s fault all along.

        Pep (entirely agrees about Kim’s disastrous reign and her effect on MarUnCom)

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    2. Was it purely Kim, or was she more battening down the hatches on a policy already in place, but not as tight as it might be?

      Catherine was fairly directive-driven in her time at the Lab – although she was present at various Lab / user meetings on major policy changes, IIRC.

      Amanda arrived with what many of us commented at the time was an almost hostile attitude towards the user community – as several bloggers commented at the time (remember her tacit agreement with Justin Bovington’s (RRR) view that areas of Mainland should be made no-go for users and turned into corporate store front (my term, not his) areas. She was also in a position of influence where the “old” JIVE forums were concerned, and the crackdown on discussions and dialogue within the, (no General Discussion, heavy-handed moderation, etc.).

      Given Mark Kingdon did march to the beat of the board’s drum (and before him, Philip *was* the board as well as CEO), is not Kim victim of the same situation: following through on a policy derterined prior to her arrival, rather than guilty of setting it into motion?

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      1. Your points are extremely well-reasoned. You’ll note the distinction that I’m blaming Salzer’s policy, not Salzer herself. I do not know (as you quite rightly observe) the conditions under which they were formed – and this degenerate communications policy appears to have survived her tenure.

        Did you know: There was about a year (it was pretty close to 12 months) where any Lab employee talking to me at all (for anything) was putting their job on the line. A certain Lab exec had mistakenly thought a number of sensitive, internal communications had been leaked to me (they’d actually been leaked to well *hundreds* of other people, but *not* actually to me – I just happened to publish first). There was an internal witch-hunt (now *that* got leaked to me), and apparently some jobs lost and I went onto some internal black-list for a while. I might still be there, potentially, though I think not – since the Lab hired me (for the third time) a little over a year later.

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        1. Your point was well taken :). Policies, policies. The marvel of business that can be both a boon and a burden.

          I had no idea on the blacklisting side of things. I also note the touch of irony in your references to leaks and which came to you. Goes to show there are “leaks” that “go through channels” and leaks those controlling the channels get worked up about…

          I wonder if you’re also hearing the same whispers of “big” changes (personnel and otherwise) that I’ve been hearing in the breeze. Perhaps that’s the subject of an off-comments conversation!

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          1. Nah, that’s just a rumour I started in retaliation at them banning me for spamming by making three posts to the forums in five minutes.

            Pep (does have a habit of making up ridiculous things which then come true, however.)

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        2. It hasn’t come up. While quite a number of the Lab employees have been my friends, family and proteges, when we talk about things it’s like two people chatting about work over wine. Various anecdotes, likes or dislikes about a boss or a co-worker. Anything of substance – particularly anything that might breach an NDA is off-the-record. It’s something I never speak of and that you never see in print.

          Traditionally, though, the Labbers are a loose-lipped lot, and chatter gaily away to the general population about all-sorts. And once the info is out, users almost inevitably send it to me. I get all my info either from there, or by asking the PR department, or cross-referencing public sources of information. So, no special access. I trained these kids too well to have them go leaking me all kinds of things that they ought not to be.

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          1. I should have been clearer in my comment – my fault :).

            Wasn’t asking in terms of inside info; more what is being said in the breeze by the user community itself. Daft of me to ask in a public forum either way like this, given even an innocent expression of what you’ve heard from the community could be taken the wrong way. My apoligies for putting you on the spot.

            Blame it on my staying up until ungoldly hours like a nit the last few days, trying to cover Firestorm and also get a piece done on jumping from Phoenix to Firestorm.

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          2. I know what you mean. At a trade show once I met a protege of mine who had, in the intervening three years, become a turncoat, as well as getting married. After I had been chatting to him for half an hour our Marketing Director started frantically signalling to me from outside the bar (she was hiding behind a pot plant like a bad comic movie) so I excused myself from my friend for a moment. She hissed at me “He’s a journalist! You are not supposed to talk to him. You haven’t had the training!” So I told her to fuck off and went back to looking at the photos of my friend’s new baby. The amusing thing was that one of her own staff blabbed something she shouldn’t have to one of my friend’s colleagues later that day, and a word from me resolved a situation that had her requiring incontinence knickers.

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        3. No harm. I probably came across as a bit clipped, when I wandered off into tangent-land. It’s half-past three in the morning, and I’ve been having keyboard battery problems 😉

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