Dear Rod Humble…

Dear Rod Humble,

It is now some ten months since I last wrote to your company regarding its apparent inability to keep customers informed as to issues and problems impacting the service it provides. And while it may appear presumptuous of me to do so, I feel compelled to now write to you directly.

In that missive, I made mention of the fact that once upon a time, whenever there were problems, or when maintenance – planned or otherwise – was about to commence, Linden Lab would push out an in-world notice. As I said at the time:

It was informative; it was helpful; it was reassuring to know you guys were out there, keeping an eye on things and letting us know what was going on. It gave us a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside. In short, it was communicative.

And then one day it stopped, leaving us with no option but to find out about Things Going Wrong or that planned maintenance had started by experiencing it the hard way: through teleports failing or transactions going astray or No Copy items poofing into the ether, never to be seen again.

I’m not alone in feeling the in-world notifications need to be re-instated, and I drew your attention to this fact at the time of my initial letter:

At the same time we have seen what amounts to something of an erosion in the use of the Grid Status page. Once, matters pertaining to the grid were displayed directly on the Viewer splash screen, up in the top right corner with other useful information. For some reason never really clarified, they were removed. I commented on this to you directly about this on a couple of occasions, specifically with regards to the “new” log-in splash screen introduced around the time of SLCC2011. While your initial response was non-committal…

…You did seem to respond more positively when I raised the issue later in 2011:

Yet here we sit, almost a year on from my original letter and our exchanges, and nothing has changed. This fact was brought sharply into focus by the outage which occurred on the 26th April 2012, and the terse explanation that was eventually given for it happening.

The matter appears to have been the result of “unscheduled maintenance” – although the subsequent explanation released on the 27th suggests that the risk of it causing problems may have been anticipated. To me, the use of the term “Triggered a bug” – rather than say, “Resulted in a bug” – suggests there was a known issue / risk here, even before the maintenance commenced. Was this perhaps the cause for the maintenance in the first place? But I digress into speculation. Whether or not the potential for issues arising from the work was anticipated ahead of time, the fact remains that even as unscheduled maintenance, there was an opportunity to inform users of what was about to happen ahead of time.

Indeed, can you not see how much better it would have been if there had been an in-world broadcast that the work was about to commence? While such a broadcast would not have prevented the subsequent outage, it would have given fair warning to those already in-world and encouraged them to proceed with care, rather than people suddenly and unceremoniously booted out of SL and bewildered as to why. Of course, you did provide the log-in warning for people attempting to log back in to SL – but really, that was pretty much akin to saying to someone, “This may hurt,” after you’ve suddenly kicked them in the shin.

It is hard to fathom why Linden Lab appears determined not to re-implement such warnings – and I can only take it as a determination on your part, given that a) it’s almost a year since the idea was mooted both personally with you and with the likes of Viale Linden and despite the positive feedback, nothing further has happened; and – more particularly and relevantly – b) it appears that the JIRA (VWR-20081) from Marianne McCann remains unassigned. Further, given the lack of feedback following Oz’s comment from May 2011, it would appear that “support and ops” simply weren’t interested enough in the idea to warrant any such feedback; which in itself could be seen to speak volumes.

There can’t be any technical issues as to why in-world notices cannot be re-implemented; after all, they are used to give warning during the weekly server roll-outs. This being the case, one can only assume that in-world notices are not used is down to a complete lack of interest / concern on the Lab’s part, and the same holds true for providing links to the Grid Status page on the Viewer’s splash screen.

I know that from our direct exchanges that you feel you have, as CEO, been far more communicative than your predecessors at Linden Lab – and I’m not about to deny the fact that you have. But reaching out on Twitter or Plurk  – as welcome as it is – is no substitute for ensuring your company is fully and properly engaged in the process of communicating with its users through the channels that are most likely to reach the majority of said users.

To be more succinct: when it comes to keeping people informed of matters of import that may impact the Second Life platform, the most appropriate place for Linden Lab to communicate with its users is through the platform – Viewer and website. Everything else should be seen as a secondary or back-up means of getting the word out.

So again, why oh why do you, as a company, refuse to accept this?

No-one expects Linden Lab to handle everything perfectly; there will always been times when the unpredictable and/or the unexpected happens. There will be times with the best will in the world, the sky falls in or SL simply blows a raspberry at everyone and disappears up its own left nostril. We don’t expect you to be superhuman in your efforts to communicate.

But we do ask that the company communicates, and does so through the channels most likely to reach the majority of your users. When it comes to notifying us of the need for grid maintenance – whether it is scheduled or not – or in informing us of issues that may impact our use of the platform, then the channel most likely to reach the majority of your users is in-world notifications. As such, it’s hard not to interpret the ongoing refusal to make any attempt to do so as anything less than a cavalier disregard as to how users might be affected by either the need for immediate maintenance or by known issues.

And frankly, we deserve better than that.

Yours sincerely,

Inara Pey.

18 thoughts on “Dear Rod Humble…

  1. I’m on neither Twitter nor Plurk and I don’t see why I should be in order to get timely updates on Second Life when Linden Lab have perfectly good technologies for disseminating information to their users, such as their website, the login screen, and in-world messages.

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    1. Have clicked WATCH – voting on JIRA is now ignored by LL, they require people Watch (and watch their mailboxes fill at the same time) instead. Were one of a cynical nature, one might suggest the switch to watching, with the associated receipt of e-mails, was a ploy intended to discourage active involvement in the JIRA process. But only if one were of a cynical nature (she said, cynically).

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      1. Yea, actually I have been discouraged and had to drop out of STORM-1716’s watch list because I was tired of getting five e-mails a day thanking other people commenting.

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        1. Which is a little sad because I wasn’t watching it as a vote, I was watching it to follow progress (which very little is ever posted on that particular jira because of egos)

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        2. As much as I like Oz, I couldn’t help but laugh into my coffee recently as a result of his pleas for people to stop thanking him via the JIRA – not because he didn’t appreciate the thanks (as some tried to make out at the time) … but because all the thanks were overloading his mailbox!

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      2. Those of us who Watch a lot of JIRA items find incoming email filters solve many problems — any time anyone comments on a JIRA I’m watching, it bypasses my inbox and goes to a special JIRA folder in Gmail for me to look at when I’ve got time.

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  2. Agreed strongly.

    I work for a major webhost/infrastructure company that quickly tweets alerts, has a status page, and puts out alerts on the customer portal. There’s also a systems monitor and notification system. When the crisis is over and investigations are complete, a detailed reason for outage is posted for general issues and RFO’s/investigations can be requested at the server level.

    If we had a viewer-client, yeah, we’d broadcast out to that, too. Because the more information posted means the less calls, chats, tickets, and emails to wade through trying to get that information.

    The risk is that if you post all that info, prospective customers will look back at the trends and forums and boards and think twice about hosting with you. That was the previous management’s paranoia, and it resulted in floods of WTF? calls, chats, tickets, and emails where techs ended up being expensive copy-pasters for the same stuff instead of dealing with the critical issues unaffected by the general outage/issue.

    But if your engineering and support is as good as your marketing claims it is, paying for excellence instead of just paying someone to boast about it, then you should have nothing to fear.

    However, seeing as there’s competition or portability/fungibility of assets (?) with SL/virtual worlds at the moment, I don’t think there’s a lot of Labbies staying up late at night worrying about such things. Hence, why little votes of low-confidence happen, like secondlife.com keeps getting renewed for one year… and I’m waiting to see if they only put coins in the meter for another.

    -ls/cm

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    1. I’m not expert on these matters – but I’ve read (willingly and otherwise) enough about ITIL and the likes to have some idea of what makes for a customer-oriented service support environment. However you look at it, the Lab ain’t it.

      Your points are – as ever – well made, particularly the last one vis-a-vis competition/ non-portability. I’d say more, but I admit to being somewhat dour at the moment all things considered, and so will wait until my perspective is more balanced… 🙂

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  3. Thanks for mentioning VWR-20081. I still wish that we had that. Would make my life a whole lot easier, ‘cuz it’s not like Twitter or anyone is going to pop up inworld any time soon to tell me. 😉

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  4. There’s very little to add, that once a most excellent missive. I will question why LL thought it a good idea to get into social messaging via our profile feed, yet refuses to use it to communicate with us. That, plus grid status on the login screen… hey you are communicating with us in and out of world.

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  5. I follow a fair few people on twitter and I don’t watch it like a hawk, if Rodvik or LL say something there is a pretty fair chance I will miss it.

    But then why should I need to resort to third party social networks to find out what’s happening on my favourite social network, Second Life !! It would be like checking out facebook to find out what linked-in were up to .. oh wait, bad analogy.

    If I am in world and the asset server is on the blink and the advice is not to spend money, how about LL tell me, you know, in world.

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  6. Not really a great deal of point in my adding my name here: just that I thoroughly (spelling??) agree, Inara, I don’t use Plurk, Twiddle or Faceplace to get status info, and I do NOT see why I should have to…I added my vote to that JIRA and am watching it.

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    1. To be fair, Grid Status is reported on the dashboard of the website once you login, somewhere cluttered in the middle column halfway down where recent forum posts used to sit.

      Personally, I don’t login to the website but maybe once a fortnight, and usually straight to the page with the information I need (usually transaction log). I don’t take a second look at dashboard.

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      1. Well, Inara, you may well do that but the Grid Status page is precisely that…the Grid Status Page.. it is not the Secondlife website.
        If it is simple to log into Twiddle or Lurk or Facething, it is just as simple to log into the GSP.
        The fact that many folk seem incapable of assimilating information not provided on those accursed sites baffles me utterly…just WHAT is it about those newer sites that makes them so compulsive?
        I want my information on Linden Lab’s own Grid Status Page end of story.

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