When putting the “lab” back into “Linden Lab” might need more consideration

The recent Marketplace issues are not precisely news any more. LL are working to resolve matters, but in the meantime are coming under increasing backlash from users as in response to the overall management of the situation, both in terms of the manner in which the company has handled open communications with merchants on the matter and in the way the Marketplace as a whole has been handled over the years – which frankly, has been far from stellar.

My thoughts on LL’s handling of communications on the core issues is a matter of record here. Others feel the same way, so much so that a vexed comment from Sera Lok on Twitter lead to a response from Rodvik:

On the one hand, the honesty in Rodvik’s response is to be applauded. Free from BS, it speaks to the heart of the matter in many respects. However, it has to be said that one apology via Twitter isn’t actually enough.

Not One-off

The problem here is that the current Marketplace issues are not a one-off situation; the fact is that the Marketplace as a whole has effectively lurched from controversy to controversy ever since XStreet, its progenitor (so to speak), was purchased by Linden Lab back in January 2009. Indeed, some of the problems being experienced today are as a result of issues relating to the re-coding / relaunch of XStreet as the SL Marketplace back in 2010, as LL themselves note in updates to their forum posts on problems.  As such, it has caused merchants and SL commentators to give voice to the widespread sense of frustration many feel towards LL and their management of updates and changes:

And herein lies the rub: one can well understand the managing, maintaining and updating a beast such as Second Life, which has had an organic growth over its 10-plus years of life,  to be nothing short of a major headache. It’s a difficult and complicated monster to control without sometimes breaking things; but the same cannot be said of SLM. This is a product that was originally purchased  as XStreet in a reasonably robust and working form, thus LL had no reason to rush through its redevelopment  and implementation  – yet that appears to have been precisely what happened in the drive to replace XStreet with SLM.

There can be no excuse here: the entire process appears to have been mishandled from start to finish, frequently with deadlines seeming to come ahead of consideration as to whether code was ready and often missing critical functions.  Even the recent roll-out of Direct Delivery trod this all-too-familiar route; while merchants openly pleaded with the Commerce Team not to roll out DD without ANS (Automated Notification of Sale) with some even posting precisely why ANS is vital to many merchants. Yet, when launched, DD brought with it the statement that ANS would be enabled in “next couple of weeks” (a time frame which itself, unsurprisingly, has slipped given the ongoing problems).

“Putting the Lab back into Linden Lab”

In a recent interview with Games Industry,  Rod Humble indicated that one of his goals from the start of his tenure as CEO was to “put the ‘lab’ back into Linden Lab”. Well, the mark of a good lab is its ability to rigorously apply robust and consistent processes and procedures to the work it carries out. At the moment, particularly with reference to the company’s management of the Marketplace, it would appear that much more needs to be done before the “Lab” is anywhere near being back in “Linden Lab”.

While it is very good to know the team is “crunching hard” to resolve issues, one very much hopes that the outcome will be more than a simple “fix it and move on”, leaving the door for the same mistakes to again be made in handling future Marketplace updates. Rather, one hopes that a long, objective look will be taken as to how things are being managed and the necessary checks and balances implemented to ensure that product roll-outs are no longer subject to the poor level of quality that  – as Tateru points out in her Tweet – users have been forced to expect and accept over the years.

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16 thoughts on “When putting the “lab” back into “Linden Lab” might need more consideration

  1. What’s needed, I think, is for the Lab to take a look at its attitude toward its customers. As an outsider, it’s impossible for me to know what they really think, but I honestly believe that LL doesn’t like us. They find themselves in a business that serves customers they would gladly live without… and yet the business is profitable, so they go on.

    I don’t know how else to explain why they don’t feel the need to communicate with us.

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    1. I don’t think LL “doesn’t like us”. I think that, in all honesty, they actually don’t know how to collectively deal with such an impassioned user base. And, as I’ve said on these pages, the flip side is that we don’t always make it easy for them to do so.

      They are making efforts – that cannot be denied. Feedback on issues is being sought, we’re seeing more individual attempts to engage and exchange views – and it is far to say that Rod Humble has been far more active than either Rosedale or Kingdon when it comes to communications. The problem is, as I’ve again stated elsewhere – is that in a lot of cases the conversation is going on away from SL itself – through Twitter or elsewhere. And when it does go on “within” SL (such as through Humble’s own profile feed), it gets shut down at the first sign of negative feedback.

      For communications to work, LL need to start being consistent and using their own platform to carry the message and to directly engage with its users – and not be afraid of leaving itself open to criticism.

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  2. The recent spate of Marketplace bugs is just one more chapter in the long saga of LL’s mismanagement of this part of SL, as you point out, Inara. From the beginning, the purchase of both XStreet and OnRez, the closing of OnRez to create a monopoly, the glitches in just changing the XStreet software to integrate more closely with the web page and avatar accounts, the addition of the broken Shopping Cart, the increasing number of delivery failures…oh, it just goes on and on.

    But the REAL misstep that LL made with the Marketplace is their heavy advertising of it. More and more merchants are closing their in world stores and selling ONLY on the Marketplace, because the overhead is so much lower. This contributes to the shrinking of SL as more regions become empty and are taken off line or abandoned. They should have made MP an online catalog only, with NO purchase options, only links to merchants’ in world stores.

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    1. Oddly, I don’t see the shrinkage of the main grid as an issue other than the longer-term impact on LL’s revenue model, and even then, as Tateru and others have pointed out, it’ll take around about 2-3 years at the current rate of shrinkage to reach a point of irreversible damage. And I doubt that LL are ignorant of the fact that the biggest threat to SL’s sustainability is its current revenue model.

      As it stands, I tend to think the grid is far too big – look at the number of complaints levelled about sims rarely having more than half-a-dozen people in them. While I cannot find the exact post right now, one of Tyche Shepherd’s Grid Survey posts from last year highlighted the fact that peak concurrency at the time equated to something like just 1.57 avatars per sim across the grid. That’s spreading the population awfully thin.

      I also don’t think that the Marketplace is hitting stores as hard as might be thought: many people report they do use SLM as a catalogue – they browse it, find items, then use the in-world link (when provided by the merchant) to zap to the store itself and take a look, before making a purchase (I actually do this a lot myself).

      Where the Marketplace has had more of an impact in this regard, I’d suggest, is where malls are concerned, simply because there is no relationship between SLM and in-world malls: people who want to come in-world get directed to merchant’s main stores and thus malls are circumvented entirely.

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  3. The original explanation for releasing SLM in alpha — not beta, as it was labeled — was the Agile software development methodology. Very hip and cutting edge, I am sure. However, that methodology depends on customer involvement and feedback, which LL never sought, so it was a miserable failure from start to finish — SLM is still horribly crippled compared to Xstreet functionality.

    Since then there has been no mention of Agile — and Brooke stated that the deadline for killing Magic Boxes — unlike that for killing Xstreet — would be determined by “metrics” of functionality. Very un-Agile like, so I breathed a sigh of relief.

    Imagine my surprise when the first arbitrary deadline was announced! And then a second! What happened to the metrics?

    Compounding all this is the truly, profoundly apalling

    I can only imagine what my own customers would think if I released my products in alpha or beta and then refused to respond to CS requests.

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    1. Agile always seemed to run contrary to LL’s “island” approach to development. And now, of course, we have “scrum” – which given its rugby football connotations suggests people huddling together and desperately kicking things around in the hope the right person will eventually get the ball and run with it…

      I noticed that on the metrics / deadline front as well (think I commented on it either here…or somewhere (forgive me, it’s late here). The switch to a deadline was surprising – in an oddly unsurprising way.

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  4. Oops hit send too soon — to finish:

    Compounding all this is the truly, profoundly appalling response of customer support, who have treated merchants with near-contempt for following instructions given by the Commerce Team.

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        1. I agree that support is outsourced.

          However, this is largely irrelevant from the perspective of the user. They see support as an integral part of the service being provided, and have little interest in the mechanics of how things work. As such, ensuring that the correct information is communicated to the support company, I would venture to suggest, is a matter of internal communications.

          As it stands it is very evident that the information initially held by the support company was fundamentally wrong to start with (i.e. that all support for Magic Boxes had ceased with the roll-out of DD) even before problems arose. It’s very unlikely the support company arrived at this conclusion in a vacuum – they were acting upon information received from LL. Ergo, internal communications do play a role here.

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      1. The Blogger -> Twitter -> Lindens -> Bloggers -> residents is a pretty poor excuse for communication. Rod at least should be more proactive and post to the Official LL Blog (which is hardly used for any more than the “Flicker Pic of the Day”)

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