What is Linden Lab’s role?

On May 4th, there was a lively Twitter discussion about many things SL, during which, Tateru Nino asked the following question:

@InaraPey @isfullofcrap Question. Should Linden Lab Rule, or should it Protect and Serve? Where do you see it on that continuum now?

This lead to a further discussion on just what people felt LL’s role should be. Given that the company itself has seemingly been trying to move itself more into the realm of service provider more than anything else, I suggested that Provide and Inform might be a better means of describing LL’s role.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of “ruling” – although that is at times how LL appears to be operating (and outside of questions of ToS and arbitration*) – as that implies an autocratic approach completely devoid of any form of interaction with the user community, and if we’re honest, that’s actually far from the case. Yes, LL frequently suck in the manner in which they go about things, and they may not do things quite as we would like; but they are not entirely autocratic in nature. Were this otherwise, it’s doubtful we’d have the likes of third-party Viewers, nor would we have the likes of sim “donations” to the likes of the Linden Endowment of the Arts.

Similarly, I don’t think Protect and Serve entirely fits the bill because “protection” is something Linden Lab should be doing (and is, for the most part) as part and parcel of providing the Second Life platform, while “serve”, while warranted in terms of customer service potentially puts the shoe a little too much on the other foot when compared to Rule. Again, I’m not saying that Linden Lab has got either “protection” or “service” right, rather that both should be intrinsic to how they go about running Second Life.

Which brings me to Provide and Inform. I settled on these because to me, they are pretty much the two foundations upon which and service-oriented company should establish itself. “Provide” in this regards is pretty much self-explanatory; “Inform” brings us back to the issue of communications, which as we’ve again see this week is an area where Linden Lab pretty much sinks itself once again.

Much has been said in the intervening time between Tateru posed her question and I gave my initial response; some of it – such as today’s Metareality podcast for example, covers much of what I’ve been slowly cogitating over the last week and slowly forming into words for this post (so much so that I’ve actually thrown a large part of this post into the bin).

However, I’m not intending to turn this into another post on LL’s failure in communications (that may well come later, depending on what happens through today). What I am aware of is that even provide and inform is not entirely sufficient in defining what the Lab should be about, as both tend to perhaps point to an outward flow, rather than something more bi-directional in nature.

So, at the risk of appearing to be jumping on Tateru’s bandwagon with her recent, and excellent post / question relating to Linden’s Lab’s message, I’m going to throw this question out to the wind and see what comes back:

How do you – as succinctly as possible – see the Lab’s role, and how would you sum it up into a suitable expression?

*ETA as I totally forgot to ensure that remained after editing this piece. Mea culpa.

17 thoughts on “What is Linden Lab’s role?

  1. Trying to remember what I said… I’m going to take a while guess and say that I probably hammered on that word Inform.

    But then, I look at everything through MassiveHostingCompany-colored glasses these days, and here the staff gets hammered into a pulp if they don’t document the daylights out of their work, then push to the customer(s) as much information as possible, then provide RFO (reason for outage) on request.

    -ls/cm

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  2. To answer your question:

    The role of Linden Lab (as is any product/service provider) is to provide a product that works as specified, the support needed to use it, prompt fixes when something is broken, and clear and timely communication about changes in service level, features, etc.

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  3. I don’t see how we can leave “Rule” out of LL’s role. They are the arbiters of all disputes and abuse. They set and enforce the TOS. They are the courts, the police, the banks, and yes, the service provider and educators. If you want the shortest most succinct expression I suggest “Gods”.

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    1. I agree. They own the product and can do pretty much what they want. Part of the requirements for a platform like Second Life is a Governance Process. It should be well documented and transparent.

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    2. I agree and should have expressed that insofar as the issue of ToS and disputes is concerned. But need they be totally autocratic?

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  4. Ideally: Benevolent Dictators. Unlikely in the extreme given they are a for profit company.
    Loving Parents?: Maybe the very best we could hope for.
    Rather geeky, distracted babysitters: Feels closer to the truth.
    Wicked uncle Ernie (fiddle about): Definitely some days!

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  5. They are a business trying to make a living. Giving them any other role is sort of loosing sight of reality.

    Shug’s benevolent dictatorship is close. But as a company they are like a sovereign country marketing to the world. Whether they are a dictatorship, military structure, or a democracy internally is moot to users. US citizens buy from China, the UK, India, wherever without much regard to those countries internal structures and organization. May be it should matter more. But, it doesn’t seem to.

    As a customer use their services/products or not. Provide feedback and hope market pressure can make them shift behavior. When someone really doesn’t like what the Lab is doing, they start a company to compete. When they do better than the Lab, we’ll move over to them. Otherwise, we’ll stay with the Lab regardless of our abstract ideas of whether they are a ruler or servant.

    I’s not personal… its business.

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    1. That it’s a business is taken as read. That said, people’s perceptions vary widely, as anyone involved in discussions on SL and LL knows only too well. The question was asked in that spirit, both on Twitter and here.

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    2. As with all businesses there is a relationship between the company and the customers. This is especially true when the product is a service as is the case with LL.
      I believe that relationship is the topic of conversation here.

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  6. I like “Geeky Distracted Babysitter” 🙂 One aspect that somewhat differentiates LL from the average “business dictator” role is the nature of the relationship between LL and its “customers”. We are more than just consumers of a service or product. In fact, we are collaborators and partners and co-creators. In a sense, we ARE the product. Anyway, we help create the product. The LL Gods provide the iron but we create the steel blades. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that encompasses many roles including Creator/Consumer, Service Provider/Subscriber, Developer/3rd Party Partner, and Community. Complicated but Cool.

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  7. Which Linden Lab? I see three: the part that actually deals with the world; the part that tries to get more people in, and the part that answers to the investors. The way I read Second Life’s history, all those parts were once combined and shared by all of the Lindens, all the way up to Philip… no more. Now they seem, from the outside, not to even talk to each other — small wonder communication with the Resis is in its current state.

    However…

    For the first group — which I believe is the topic of this post — I kind-of like “Park Ranger,” combining an element of routine law enforcement (when some campers get rowdy or dangerous) with facilities maintenance and improvements and the occasional disaster response.

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  8. I think we need to return to basics, to the initial core idea of what SL was.
    Mark Kingdom already perverted it -trying to make his own “personal realm” of SL and looking for buyers for “his serfs”.
    Rod Humble is pulling in a crazy way: from what could have been a new way to understand Internet to a simple “computer game”.

    Sl has life on its own. LL$ should stop to do what they don’t know (create content, steering Sl to their “area of expertise”) and leave it flow, in the hands to those really know what they want (the residents)

    The main, and only task, of LL$ should be “to enable” SL. And is already hugh: open vier policy, seamless World, less stick and more carrots for those “real residents”. Simply: let us live our Second Life. Less “bells and whistles” and more “meat and bones”.

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    1. So Provide and Inform? 😉

      Rod did look like he was interested in recapturing some of the early feel of SL, although he caveated the view somewhat, and has taken any discussion on the matter behind closed doors, sadly.

      When it comes to Mark Kingdon, I do feel obliged to say (as usual), that we shouldn’t forget that he didn’t come to LL and do as he pleased; he was serving at the pleasure of the board – and the board is responsible for at least approving the direction the CEO takes – if not setting it (which may well have been the case when Kingdon joined LL, which came at a time when board members were speakin directly about “the future” of SL). So while the “Kingdon era” wasn’t successful per se, it likely wasn’t solely his fault. Not a popular view, I know…!

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      1. I think Rod is falling on his past as “safe place”, and fully understanding that he is moving in a completely different environment here.

        On “My Kingdom Kingdom” era, well. If he was “victimized” by the board, it was his fault, as did not offered a clear view of what he wanted or what he could do. Looks more another step (or a runaway) in his career. Incongruence like to say that he had a “background in Arts” and then showing his bigotry banning a piece of art because showed “topless” female figures goes beyond any comprehension.

        That is why I say that they should go back to the bare basics and let SL flourish again. Less “Divine intervention” (like in the several changes of the TOS in a negative direction for the SL citizens -better than “residents”), more focus in “in world possibilities” (and not generating “spin-offs” like the commercially disastrous “marketplace” for in-world business, or the on-line profiles).

        SL is an ecosystem that should attract others, and not the way around.

        May be I am a too proud SL citizen, may be just a fool full of ideas and visions.

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  9. Probable memo to Rod Humble:
    SecondLife is on life support. The LL owners see it as something that makes a nice little profit as it is right now but as something that has run its course as far as spending any new money on it. It is to be maintained until no longer profitable and nothing more. If you can squeeze more profit out of it, fine, but there will be no increase in resources attributed to it and if possible, fewer resources. LL will instead put their development money into new endeavors that can make a much faster return on their investment. All innovations, improvements, and the like, for SecondLife, will have to work within the current budget and possibly a lesser budget the next fiscal year as LL shifts focus to new products.

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    1. I would rather hope that the investors still see the Virtual World / Second Life concept as a money maker and somewhere LL has a team working on Second Life II, taking a new look at everything and not being committed to backward compatibility. It has to happen some day, someone will do it, might as well be the Lindens.

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  10. A company like Linden Lab needs to be thinking in playing safe, they know they have for now a stable income, but if they don’t keep it stable, new competitors will show and replace their role!
    Make sure your product works, make sure you understand it before trying to implement new features, listen to those who pay your salary, Clients are not suckers but supporters and the ones that keep you alive!

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