Communications: It isn’t always the Lab

I’ve been somewhat critical towards Linden Lab were their overall approach to communications is concerned – although I’ve tried to temper my critiques with practical suggestions as to how things might be improved. I also hope that I’m not backward in coming forward to acknowledge those times when they do go out of their way to make the effort – such as with Oz standing front-and-centre regarding the recent TPV Policy changes.

However, when it comes to communications and impressions, the Lab is only one side of the coin. Whether we like it or not, we, as users can be as much to blame for the poor state of communications; we are quick and loud to anger when the Lab errs – or more particularly – is perceived to have erred, and we are equally slow to forgive.

I give emphasis to the concept of perception deliberately here. While there are times when taking the Lab to task may be justified, equally there are times when it is automatically assumed that whatever has happened, the Lab has acted with malice aforethought in a deliberate attempt to nefariously ruin the Second Life experience. Often in these circumstances, even the presentation of the most reasoned argument to the contrary will not prevent such views being publicly repeated to the point where the act of repetition itself establishes them as “fact”.

This was recently brought home to me once again by three inter-related incidents relating to a single code change that impacted a very specific use-case for RLV.  In all three, which included a wider exchange I had with someone in Tateru’s blog wherein the claim was again made that LL is a malicious entity, people were insistent that the code change was nothing less that “obvious” proof that LL were attempting to deliberately “break” RLV – and any evidence to the contrary was summarily dismissed.

It mattered not that the code change in question was a) limited in impact (one specific use of RLV restricted to two RC channels on the main grid); b) rolled back by Linden Lab at the earliest opportunity following a JIRA being raised; and that c) even if the underpinning issue itself couldn’t be fixed by LL, Marine Kelley (RLV’s creator) reported that it could be circumvented from within RLV. So the issue as a whole was hardly going to “break” RLV; nevertheless, people had made up their minds, and no discussion to the contrary would be heard  – even after the code change itself had been rolled back.

It’s a similar story with the mesh parametric deformer, where rumours are circulating that LL is trying to “kill” the project simply because they do not appear to be working on it; rumours that recently prompted Oz to comment on matters. Here the assumption is that  because Qarl released an alpha version of the code in January but it has yet to appear in the official SL Viewer, then LL must be trying to stop the project. That in the intervening months Qarl himself has been soliciting feedback from the community and refining the code, and has made further releases – any of which could have been adversely impacted by LL taking the code and developing it themselves – makes little difference to those who see LL’s lack of activity on the project as being somehow malicious.

I’ve dealt with the whole “LL is malicious” nonsense in both the recent and not-so-recent past, and I’m not going to re-harsh what I’ve said on those occasions now.  While it is right and proper to be critical of LL when the company does demonstrate poor judgement, it is also fair to say that there is also an onus on many within the community to stop treating every action or comment from Linden Lab as being adversarial in nature and / or intent.

Communications run both ways. While the onus is, as I’ve commented before, very much on LL needing to take the initial steps and start focusing as a company on more open and pro-active communications directly with the user community as a whole; it is equally important that we be prepared to lay aside subjective prejudices and preconceptions and make the effort to meet them half-way. Because if we don’t, then frankly, communications in either direction are liable to remain as dysfunctional as they’ve ever been.

25 thoughts on “Communications: It isn’t always the Lab

  1. “Customer retention may be best supported by operational integrity. After all, when you think about your personal relationships as well as your business relationships, you tend to stick with the folks that are really good at showing they sincerely care about you, and doing what they say they’re going to do. It boils down to trust.”

    Has Linden Lab every said sorry for the lapses of poor judgement you mentioned?

    It is a radical concept I know, but think about it for a moment. Take the business with Direct Delivery right now. Consider what the reaction might have been if the Lab had turned around when the problems emerged and said something along the lines of..

    “Look. We’ve screwed up. Clearly it hasn’t worked as we hoped it would and we are truly sorry about that. The transition phase from Magic Boxes to Direct Delivery is suspended while we get our people together and work to get these issues resolved as quickly as possible.”

    It wouldn’t be accepted by everyone I’m sure (someone will always find the Lab are at fault, no matter how trivial), but I would hazard a good guess that saying sorry would dilute a lot of critical reaction each time there is a problem.

    It’s a basic principle of good Customer Service

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    1. I’m not denying LL have a good way to go in the communications league.

      But if we’re going to repeatedly hold that as a gun to their head, then I seriously doubt much will ever change, even when they do make the effort.

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      1. Didn’t explain myself very well did I? 🙂

        I’m not suggesting that the Lab apologise for each and every problem on the Grid because as you said, nothing would change. What I am saying is that they have to recognise that the lack of trust has been built up over many years through their inability to talk directly with the community. IF you’ll pardon the pun, they make a rod for their own backs. And they have to do something about it. They could take steps almost immediately to chip away at the foundation of the wall that you and MIso were talking about on Twitter.

        But at the same time the community also needs to do its part to chip away at the foundation on our side of the wall. Trust has to be earned, not just given, and as Residents we have to give them the chance to make the effort. Because at the moment by accusing the Lab of malevolent intent, all we are doing is making a rod for our own backs.

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        1. Yes,

          I agree that the initial effort must come from the Lab – and (as I’ve said elsewhere here – and indeed, as Darrius Gothly remarked on my last piece critical of the Lab) – it must be sustained, no matter how initially painful it is to them.

          In some respects we are seeing it happening, very slowly. Feedback is being sought and attempts are being made to understand concerns (witness the llGetAgentStatus situation, wherein Oz appealed directly for use-cases and input); steps have been taken to seek input and deal with issues (witness the request for feedback on the proposed expanded use of Received Items, and its follow-up). One of the reasons I raised the RLV issue was because LL did respond so rapidly: JIRA raised Sunday, Monday LL acknowledge there is an issue and undertake to roll back the offending code at the next RC channel update.

          Obviously more still needs to be done and this process needs to be broadened, but again, as we both agree, that doesn’t lessen the onus on some with the user community to be a little more moderate in their perception of the Lab.

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    2. I am willing to take actions as apologies, like I would for most businesses. Lately we have seen several examples of “features” being modified or delayed and admissions that there were problems that LL had not anticipated.
      Sometimes an outright “we are sorry” is just too familiar for the corporate mindset.

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      1. “Sorry seems to be the hardest word…”

        But as I said, what a radical concept it would be!..

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  2. I’ve never gone out of my way to paint Linden Lab as a malicious entity; that would be ridiculous. Perhaps because I confine my blog reading to posts like yours, or Tateru’s or soror’s & like-minded critics of LL’s policies & procedures, posts informed by longterm involvement in VR & business experience, that I’ve missed the “LL is teh Evile” stances. Perhaps people are conflating LL with Google 😀

    It most-often looks to me like bad customer service, not being involved/invested in the product/service & a rudderless helm. I’ve also gone out of my way to publish posts wherein I commended LL for some excellent/smart/effective moves; unfortunately, those are the ones people tend to forget, as they are not “juicy” and ripe for gabble.

    “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to ordinary incompetence.”

    PS: WordPress, you sux & you are teh evile 😛

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    1. The “malicious” claim is one I don’t get. I only raise it (again) here, because that’s precisely the word that was used in a response posted on Tateru’s blog that first got me thinking about this issue again.

      As I’ve said in reply to Alex, I don’t deny that Customer Service goes some way towards at least some of what we’re seeing – but to hold that up tends to smack of offering an excuse for attitudes to continue, rather than a reason for them to change.

      Part of the problem is, as I commented on Twitter, not so much to do with LL’s actions, but in they way people tend to look at SL themselves. It is viewed as personal property – it is *our* grid, *our* business, *our* playground; to the point where the reality of the matter – that SL is actually Linden Lab’s business – gets forgotten. When this happens, and the Lab do take an action that impacts people in one way or another, the reaction has less to do with anything routed in LL’s poor track record of customer service and far more to do with a sense of personal affrontery, as in, “How dare LL interfere with my rights like this!”

      It’s funny you should raise WordPress. With all that is going on with WordPress of late, I did actually find myself remarking to a friend yesterday with words to the effect that everyone who complains about LL’s actions and behaviour really should spend time using WordPress.com.

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      1. Malice comes in as a term from perceptions of the M Linden days being about getting all of us to quit – but slowly enough that enterprise would have time to pick up the slack.

        – Which I don’t think was ever the actual plan. But it does seem to be where the idea that LLs is out to get its own customers went from the fringe perception to a popular one.

        When I look back at the Mich Kapoor SL5B (I think it was 5B) “infamous speech” about the frontier ending… I don’t think he was talking to us. I think he was talking to the lab first, then us.

        I bring that up now, because if you look at that speech in the context of a startup company – it starts to sound very much like a message that ‘we’ve arrived now, its times to become a business.’ And part of being a business is pulling your techies in a bit, and putting customer service people out into the limelight instead.

        – You can’t call this a two way street, a two sided coin, when the side that owns all of the cards has never shown up at the table…

        In the presence of deafening silence from the lab, customers speculate. And left to fester, that speculation gets increasingly wild.

        If the lab would just say something, anything, on a daily basis… and if they just started posting replies to regular concerns, even just short “we’re aware” ones – but with a little bit of insight into their take on it…

        A lot of the speculation would gain context, and as a result get less wild and rampant, and things would naturally cool down.

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  3. Most of those I see with closed minds out ranting about the maliciousness of the Lab as a company and the employees as individuals, are demonstrating their own personal maliciousness. It is amazing how that works. Basic psych 101 projection.

    They seldom know any facts about whatever case they are discussing. Since they won’t be swayed by facts we can be certain their rant about the nature of the Lab and staff is emotional and represents some issue in their core being. We often see this in political factions. Consider such misguided claims of the maliciousness of another as a warning and keep your distance as you have probably just met the truly malicious one.

    MetaReality’s discussion on Wackadooles is a recognition of the challenges of dealing with such people. There is little if anything one can do to change a Wackadoole’s thinking while online.

    When one sees a Wackadoole attacking someone and feels one must do something, don’t hesitate to say when they are out of line. Avoid trying to debate them. Send an IM to the subject of their attack and offer some support. Most importantly, I think, it helps to remember the Wackadoodles are just a noisy minority.

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    1. The problem for the lab is not one of listening, it’s hearing. When you have even a small percentage of your user base shouting at you from different sides of the debate trying to pick a path through that is almost impossible.

      Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

      Although I will say the Lab are hopeless and managing and soliciting that discussion.

      If instead of just rolling out the completed direct delivery juggernaut they had broken the project into many smaller parts it might have been an easier sell.

      The concept of direct delivery is a good one (ie, not needing a scripted box in world), so is the inbox. I don’t think either would have been a hard sell in isolation. Baby steps, bring the community to the table but don’t expect them to digest the entire 5 course meal in one go and do anything other then belch loudly.

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  4. Ha! My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts!

    This hoary old saying predates the internet by a good many years. Such people will always be with us.

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    1. Yup

      Or as my father is fond of putting it, “Don’t go clouding the issue with facts!” 🙂

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  5. Kitty Barnett is actively working with Oz to test and resolve a sever fix for this issue.

    While technically yes, the problem could be hacked round client side it would be better of fixed correctly on the region. Trying to get every RLVa user to update their client is a logistical nightmare.

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    1. Absolutely

      Marine very much stated the RLV-derived “fix” would be a last resort – and it should be. There’s no disputing that; however the fact that it is there negates the wilder accusations levelled at LL in the matter.

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  6. 🙂 You know how I feel.. enjoyed the discussion with you and Indigo on this yesterday in Twitter. Great post as always Inara.

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    1. Thanks 🙂

      I’ve missed Twitter exchanges a lot….time for me to make more of an effort once more!

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  7. Despite my parodying the view of the Lab as a malicious/obtuse/insane entity, I find the management and customer-facing staffers to be more oblivious to customer needs as well as impact on their experience/businesses/projects than deliberately cruel or mean.

    But when there’s a longtime history of this behavior, it makes you wonder how much research is done before policy decisions are made and if those doing surveying/sampling need to improve their sampling methods, or reading of the resulting data.

    It’s kinda, you know, in their name, right?

    Oh well. It was the BEST butter.

    -ls/cm

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    1. There’s no harm in parodying – especially as it does serve a purpose and pricks the corporate conscience :). But you and I are aligned on the whole matter of communications / the corporate machine anyway :).

      While the focus here was intended to be more on the unreasonableness that can be shown within elements of the user community, you do raise a valid point on “Putting the the ‘Lab’ back in Linden Lab”, which has stoked the fires of another blog post I started a while ago and then put on hold. Might be time to re-visit that as well! :).

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