The three C’s: Community, Communications and Chestnuts

Recently, LL put out a call for bloggers (I’m linking to my own post, as that contains the full text of the original LL forum post – and I get tired of forum stuff vanishing down a plug hole and invalidating links over time).

The call was met with widespread derision, not just in these pages, but across other blogs as well, and frequently very humourously.

Yet there is a serious side to this – and in part, it is something I should hold up my hand to and say mea culpa to some degree.

There is an ongoing malaise at Linden Lab. It started several years ago (some might say with the arrival of Catherine Smith and grew steadily through the tenure of her various successors (all women, to my shame), wherein constructive and an open communication with the SL community has increasingly become anathema to the company as a whole. In fairness to Kim Salzer, who departed in November last year, things haven’t improved at all since she left the company – so one assume any unwillingness to constructively engage with users at a corporate is an illness that lies deep in the roots of the company.

Certainly, as Tateru has noted, it is one of the things that has become decidedly worse since Rod Humble took over the reins.

When seen against this background, the recent call to bloggers becomes a little less funny and a little more indicative of a company that seemingly is at a complete loss as to how to communicate about its primary (currently only) product and / or its brand. Don’t get me wrong – many in LL do take time out to communicate publicly, through User Groups and the like (Oz, Charlar, Oskar, Runitai, et al), and Rodvik himself does still take plunges into Twitter as well as posting to his SL Feed – and all of their efforts are appreciated greatly, as is the fact that LL staff have personally taken time out to contact me directly and provide feedback, pointers and other assistance (again, thanks to Rodvik, Charlar, Pete and Viale).

But none of this forms a part of an overall communications strategy. There is no cohesiveness in the approach. The result is that the SL blog in particular languishes to the point of irrelevancy – as demonstrated by the fact that out of 5 blog categories, three carry “front page news” nigh-on a year old or more (Land & Business (which even carries a post relating to Jack Linden – and he’s been gone from that Lab more than a year!), Tips & Tricks, Tools & Technology), while the 4th (“Inworld”) is only “up-to-date” large due to the “Flickr Pic of the Day”.

Of course, as I’ve pointed out myself, when discussing the likes of marketing (and here’s where I hold up my hand in admission), the finest resource LL have at its disposal is the user community when it comes to formulating a potential message to send to the world at large. So am I not being a little two-faced when promoting the idea of using the community, and then rounding on LL when they try to do so?

Well, no, I’m not. I absolutely have no problem with the Lab turning to the community for assistance – providing it is willing to play fair. Machinima is an excellent marketing tool, and it is probably fair to say that the best machinimatographers for SL are involved in SL – so as long as LL recognises this and offers suitable remuneration (a cash prize competition, for example), then why not seek to leverage the expertise in order to promote the platform.

The same rule applies to blogging about SL – and frankly, LL should be employing someone to take the time to blog about the platform on an ongoing basis. They don’t need to be an expert in all things server, viewer and what have you (in fact, better that they’re not). But simply paying someone to do the rounds, talk to the various project teams, gain quotes, publish articles on what is going on in-house, what is coming down the road, what is being done to fix X, Y or Z, and so on, as well as getting out and about as time allows within SL to produce articles, would enormously benefit LL in terms of how the company is perceived by its users.

It’s not, after all, rocket science (or “rocket engineering”, as my father always insists on correcting that quote). It is simple. Common. Sense.

Obviously, keeping abreast of the wider community is somewhat harder – there is much that is going on around the grid and much that can be easily missed. So again, actually making use of the community, getting people to engage with the company is not that unreasonable – providing that effort is met with suitable reward – say, through commissioned pieces.

Communications are a hoary old chestnut with me – there are times when I feel that I’m banging on about it every other week. But the fact is that LL seem to have comprehensively lost the plot here when it come to speaking with a corporate (rather than individual) voice to the community as a whole, and to the wider marketplace. And that is hurting them, and it is hurting SL (might it not also speak to why, despite routinely high user sign-up rates, actual user retention isn’t growing as steadily as one might expect?).

If the problem is going to be solved, it’s not going to be through dangling blog enticements in front of people (or indeed, locking-off the forum post carrying the enticement and deleting replies simply because people are having fun at your expense). It’s about being outward and professional and having a plan.

It’s actually hard to believe there is not someone at LL who is capable of carrying out the kind of role I’ve described above.

And if there isn’t, well, Rod – I’m willing to relocate to San Francisco for the right price and incentives, and you know where to find me: details are on file with you :).

15 thoughts on “The three C’s: Community, Communications and Chestnuts

  1. Great post!
    Likewise, I’m willing to move to SF and give some advice to LL regarding COMMUNICATION with your market. I certainly have the experience at a ground/viral level, and I certainly know the product (better, it seems, than a good chunk of LL)


  2. Hell, isn’t that why Torley was Lindenized, oh-so-long-ago? And for a time, that worked pretty well – yes, Torley was very obviously a ‘face’, but Torley also kept involved. Yet I don’t recall anything like the early days of his time there – I’m not even sure if Ol’ Watermelon is still employed by the Lab.

    At the very least, they need another blogger in that style. It would be a very small step, not the whole, but they really should recruit someone who is involved with SL socially, and not in the visionary/techie way most of the Linden crew is.


  3. There is a bit of a terminology problem afoot here.

    We have decent, if erratic and sporadic communication with the Lindens (the folks who write the code and run Second Life from the technical and support perspectives).

    We have TERRIBLE communication with Linden Research, Inc., d.b.a Linden Lab. In fact the only real communication to them is the $ we send them in premium membership fees and tier. I can think of no instance where the Corporation has made any attempt to communicate with the residents. Money is a poor communicator in that once it is withheld it is too late, the user has moved on, probably never to return except perhaps to cash out any earnings from their products on Marketplace.


    1. That’s why I’ve pointed out the issue of “personal” communications – be they through User Groups, Twitter or even direct – as opposed to “corporate” – which I denote as “message-carrying” through the blog, etc. As stated above, there are indiviuals who do communicate and communicate well most of the time – even in the face of open hostility. Rod Humble does his share as well. BUT on the wider issue of company / community communications, Linden Research (to go the whole hog, corporately as you’ve done), is consistently and repeatedly failing, despite all the efforts of the likes of Oskar, Charlar, Oz and others. It’s frustrating for us – and it must be somewhat galling for those within the organisation who are so clear and patient in their own coomunications.


  4. Thirteen years have elapsed since Linden Lab has started, and did they learn how to communicate with their residents?


    Why should we be surprised and expect them to change? It’s a tendency that has gone on for so long that I don’t believe it will ever change. Rod Humble, like previous CEOs, has been “Lindenised” in this regard. Pretty much like it happened in China for centuries: you could conquer the Empire by kicking out the former Emperor and put yourself on the top — no matter what country, race, or creed you had — but you would “become” conquered by China itself (its civilisation, art, culture, and ways of doing things) in due time, and the next generation of Emperors would be as “Chinese” as the one before the coup. This reached well into the 20th century.

    So if China resisted being “conquered” by new ways and new thoughts for centuries, why should we be surprised that Linden Lab “resists” for thirteen years and fails to change its own mindset? I personally don’t expect miracles 🙂 Not any more! The best I can (and do) expect is marginal adjustments in the right direction, and from what I’ve seen from Rod’s performance so far, it seems exactly that what he’s doing.

    Anyway, I digress. I was reading a bit the comments about all this issue, here and elsewhere, and it seems that the so-called “blogger community” (the SLogosphere, as I like to call it) is mostly angry for the following reasons:

    • LL should hire a community manager who knows how to communicate with the community, not get work for free from the community itself
    • If LL wants bloggers to work for “them” (I see it as “working for Second Life” actually), they ought to pay them whatever rates are appropriate (even if we’re talking “SL rates” — they used to be around L$3000-15,000 per article, depending on the SL publication; I have no idea how much SL e-zines are paying these days)
    • The time for expecting “the community to work for free for the Greater Glory of Second Life” has ended (specially when it becomes more and more clear that LL is unwilling to cut sim prices or any similar measure that gives residents something “back” for their effort of staying around)

    Well, I don’t share those reasons. Sure, I know that LL is “abusing our time” when they expect people to work for “them” for free, but so many already do that. I did clarify a point, though: when developers launch a TPV, they’re working “for Second Life’s community” and that is fine (even if LL, very occasionally, “borrows” their code). If a blogger writes on LL’s blog, then they’re working “for Linden Lab” (i.e. implementing their marketing strategy) and should be paid accordingly. I’m not so keen in separating those two things. Improving LL’s reach by marketing Second Life certainly benefits the company, but it also ultimately benefits Second Life, the virtual world (and not “the product done by LL”). If by improving LL’s own meagre and insufficient marketing tools (because, well, they will not change their mentality in that regard…) we ultimately benefit Second Life, so be it.

    Again, as mentioned on your other article, I can afford to work for free for LL (assuming they had any interest in my work, of course; this is all hypothetical anyway) because writing or blogging is not my principal means of income (I surely wish it was, of course 🙂 ). Obviously it would be more “fair” to pay for that work — as so many other SL e-zines did pay me, when I wrote for them — but I can estimate the exposure value of being featured on LL’s blog and consider that to be “fair value” in exchange for my own work.

    I’m sure that people like Hamlet Au, as professional writers who have far more exposure than LL’s own blog, will totally disagree with me as a matter of principle: he, after all, used to be paid by LL to do exactly that job, years ago. Others might feel it’s more important to stick to principles (I cannot disagree with that view) than to “lend a hand” and help LL do what they do worst: communicate. I have personally a different view: I think it’s great that LL recognises their own inability to properly communicate, and find a method whereby others — who claim to be better communicators than LL — are able to make their own contributions in an official way. Even if I’d prefer to get a small token of appreciation (L$5000 should be fine; plenty of clothes to buy with that!) and would find that a much fairer approach, I don’t drop the whole idea because of matters of principle.

    As said before, LL is not being original at all. This is a common practice for many Silicon Valley companies, who routinely invite their customers to blog for free for them. LL is just emulating them.


  5. Catherine Smith was a wonderful communicator, held office hours, posted on blogs, replied to emails, was a shoe addict and then they promoted her, she ended up opening a short lived office in The Netherlands. Catherine was exactly what a Linden should be until she was promoted to the echo chamber of more senior management.

    LL’s communication has been abysmal and they don’t seem to know how to get it going, they are crying out for someone who will blog from a community perspective, they have in the past tried, Blue Linden had a blog section called Eureka which was about journeying around Second Life but he didn’t have the time to make regular contributions, LL should hire someone who does have the time.


    1. Catherine was also responsible for implementing the Trademark Policy, which saw the end of the “co-operative” era of SL development between the Lab and the user community, oversaw the clamp-down on the old, old forums, implemented one-way dialogues via “communications managers” (remember Katt Linden?, who arrived as a byline to one of Catherine’s posts on the Trademark Policy, and then departed in an equally low-key way some eitheen or so months later?), etc.

      Obviously, whether she herself was directly responsible for the development of all this *is* debatable, but the overall acceleration of the downward trend in “corporate” level communications can be traced back to the period of her tenure, sadly.


  6. I wonder how many SL bloggers would really be willing to become LL propagandists, putting their own thoughts and insights aside in favor of the company line. The first first time a draft post came back from the the PR department with the content “corrected” I, for one, would be out the door!


    1. I am willing 🙂

      I’m used to be “corrected” and “edited” by editors who mangle my words to “fit” them to the “proper editorial guidelines” — it’s part of the process of being published. The reason why I still prefer to write on my own blog is that I don’t need to “fit” anything, and so I can easily write whatever I please.

      If only I were more used to being “edited” (which, frankly, I dislike), I’d have a fantastic academic career — because publishing academic papers is 99% of editing to please editors and just 1% of some research work. I love the research work but hate the never-ending editing job until everybody is pleased 😛

      Publishing outside the academic world is not really very different; it’s very rare that authors have complete and absolute “freedom” to write exactly what they wish. For that, we have blogging! And that’s one reason why so often we tend to prefer a journalist’s/author’s blog more than the work they publish under a newspaper, magazine, or publishing house: it’s unedited, un-“corrected”, un-“censored” content, and, to a degree, more “true” to the author’s own feelings.


      1. “….the never-ending editing job until everybody is pleased” — unfortunately that seems not to be the case at LL. They want to edit then publish under your name without your okaying the final version.


  7. Don’t forget about LL pushing and hiding the Blog away, making it a little harder to post/follow comments, and the not-so-hidden fact that’s probably been discussed – That they don’t really know how to communicate with Users, so…they ask that Users that blog to blog for them, to gain some familiarity, but the thing is…It’s way, way too late to start now with this trying to ‘connect with Users’.

    They’re years late.


      1. That phrase is terrible, and doesn’t really work in settings that aren’t school-related. It’s better to get a 50% than a 0 on your paper yes, but signing up guest bloggers a few years after the more-hidden-blog format because the realization hits that because THEY can’t communicate with Users, then they’ll just get USERS themselves to communicate with others and appears…rabble rabble rabble.


  8. I see a pattern of poor communication, right from the sign-up process. Consider Display Names. Would they have had the same need to program and test that system if they had made the effort to explain the old name system, as part of the log-in process?


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