Linden Lab published a blog post on December 20th looking back over the last twelve months and looking ahead to 2013.
This year hasn’t been a particularly sexy year for Second Life in terms of Big News. The Lab has been more focused on working “under the bonnet (hood)” to sort out a lot of the mechanical aspects, as it were, of Second Life. It matters not as to whether some of what they’ve been working on are things people feel should have been “sorted out years ago”. The fact is that the Lab are working on long-standing issues and is also trying to bring new capabilities to SL which do serve to improve out in-world experience, and that is deserving recognition.
However, it is when there have been “major” deployments through the year that the Lab’s inherent weakness and seeming inability to learn from its mistakes comes to the fore. In particular, the blog post points to three major roll-outs in 2012: advanced creation tools, pathfinding, and Direct Delivery. While one of these, the advanced creation tools, did initially hit problems when first deployed to a Release Channel, the matter was quickly dealt with such that they could be safely deployed and properly announced by the Lab. True, we’re still waiting on the updates to the permissions system, but at least we did receive decent and widespread notification of their deployment.
Alongside the advanced tools, pathfinding was one of the “big things” for SL in 2012, trumpeted by Rod Humble himself. In many respects, pathfinding was potentially a “bigger” release than the advanced creation tools, so one would have thought it would be more prominent in the Lab’s communications with users.
Not so. While we did get a sneak peek in September, the Lab relinquished all attempts to communicate the project to their wider user community, leaving it almost entirely up to bloggers to carry the message. And while no-one set out to deliberately misinform people, the fact remains that pathfinding was so complicated that the lack of clear-cut information from the Lab did lead to misunderstandings which in turn led to reports that it would result in a “Tsunami” of problems or would have a huge adverse impact on SL as a whole once deployed.
In both instances, people at the Lab did move to try to clarify matters and redress the misunderstandings. However, by the time they had, the damage had been done. In abdicating all major responsibility for communicating with their users, the Lab had opened the door to misunderstanding, misconceptions and mistrust, with the result that the negative perceptions of pathfinding continue today, with the functionality remaining disabled across many private estates.
With Direct Delivery, the situation is somewhat worse, with everything from the initial deployment through to mounting issues across the Marketplace as a whole becoming something of a catalogue of errors in which a complete unwillingness on the part of the Commerce Team / Linden Lab to engage in a decent level of communication with merchants has played a major role. Even Rod Humble’s own intervention in matters on two separate occasions, the first via Twitter, the second time on the Commerce forum itself, have proven hollow. Despite all assurances to the contrary, communications on the ongoing issues with the Marketplace remain minimal, with little indication that matters are approaching any form of resolution.
Both of these situations point to a need for Linden Lab to be more openly proactive in communicating with users – and there really is no excuse for them not to do so. A recent response from the Lab to the question of why they don’t routinely blog any more was that “no-one reads the blogs”. However, this is hardly an explanation – it is an excuse. Keep the blog reasonably up-to-date with information, be it news or periodic updates, give people a reason to read it – and they will.
In 2013, we’re promised some more new capabilities and options which can and should significantly improve th look and feel of Second Life and do much to improve the overall user experience. Things like materials processing and server-side avatar baking. These are all to the good and will hopefully be “nice to haves” when they arrive.
What would also be nice to have in 2013 is more proactive and widespread, informative communication flowing out of the Lab. Sadly, the cynic / realist in me is not holding her breath in anticipation.