LL look back at 2012. Will they learn to communicate in 2013?

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.

Pathfinding: let down by poor Lab communications
Pathfinding: let down by poor Lab communications

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.

Failed subscriptions for August - courtesy
Listing enhancement issues have been a repeated cause of upset for merchants through 2012, one of a litany of errors and problems occurring within the Marketplace during the year; some of them apparently as a result of the introduction of Direct Delivery  (image courtesy of Ry0ta Exonar)

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.

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14 thoughts on “LL look back at 2012. Will they learn to communicate in 2013?

  1. Ah… Don’t You just love Linden Lab? They know how to churn out buzzwords left, right and centre, but what is delivered is, more often than not, of precious little substance (if at all). And, when they communicate, they often make childish blunders that would make a second-grader’s face turn tomato red in shame.

    The problem, though, in my opinion runs far deeper than a mere inability to communicate with the users.

    When i first read of “advanced creator tools”, my mind went to a more powerful in-world build tools floater, with options for free-form line drawing, a lathe tool, extrusion, chamfer and other such niceties that i’ve been reading in the old manual my boyfriend had when he was learning Pro/Engineer in his undergraduate years. i expected that they’d give us the ability to create sculpts in-world, even – ah, how gullible i was! – mesh. i even was stupid enough to believe they’d include a transparency control for tinting texures (i.e. for controlling how transparent the coloured layer applied on top of a layer would be).

    But noooooo… First of all, to upload mesh one has to go through a pointless and utterly idiotic IP tutorial that even lists glaring instances of fair use are “copyright infringement”. And then, we have the half-baked “advanced creator tools”, which are just a temp rez and temp attach system.

    Everyone keeps babbling about how “content creators” drive the economy of SL. Well, if SL is going to get more content creators, maybe it’s high time the Lindens got off their collective posteriors and enabled budding creators to do more in-world? And how about a more comprehensive system of teaching people how to script efficiently? As far as i remember, a great selling point for SL has always been what one can do in it, with it and impress themselves and their friends. In that case, maybe LL needs to vastly update and enhance its in-world content creation system. And no, i wouldn’t mind if that meant that a viewer would become a 150MiB overnight. That’s what ADSL and VDSL connections are for, so bring it on and let me have at it!

    And furthermore, LL needs to finally come to terms with the fact that, as long as it doesn’t guarantee that users’ privacy is respected by the company (not only by having the company say “look, we respect your data by complying with this and that legislation, but also by having the company enforce a strict anti-spyware, anti-snooping policy in accordance to US and EU legislation and, of course, crack down on “superhero” and “super sekrit 1337 h4x0r scripter” vigilantes), it’s going to keep losing users – as if the double-triple-quadruple-dip world recession, which has seen thousands of great sims off wasn’t enough…

    In all, i think it’s not just a problem of communicating with the userbase, but also a problem of communicating with reality itself.

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          1. “Fixed It For You” – normally meant when a comment / phrase in a thread post has been altered by someone else to take on a more humorous meaning.

            In this case, I’ve simply corrected it for you as you indicated :).

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    1. Couple of points.

      “A more powerful in-world build tools floater”. This is actually far more easily said than done, as a recent attempt driven through content creators and TPV developer themselves recently proved. Suffice it to say, the attempt very much showed that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, with ideas put forward be some being an instant anathema to others – and all for valid, if somewhat subjective – reasons. Sadly, the attempt didn’t get very far as agreement couldn’t be reached. Doubtless, were LL to try any radical overhaul of the build floater, they’d end up being stoned by some, chased up a tree by others and thanked by a few.

      Which is not to say the build floater doesn’t need overhauling and updating (or that it isn’t getting some updates in order to prep it for materials processing). Just that doing so isn’t really an easy task.

      As to teaching techniques and helping people improve themselves, the Lab is, in fairness, taking steps through the Good Building Practices guide, which is available on the SL wiki and which is highlighted in the blog post. It’s by no means complete, but it is a work-in-progress.

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      1. First of all, thank You for fixing my typo. 😀 **BIG KISS**

        The Good Building Practices is a good guide; i think it should be more prominently flaunted. As for enhancing the build floater, i’m not talking about ditching it and replacing it with something alien to most users; my idea is enhancing it. And i think that LL and the TPV developers would do well to form an alliance that would aggregate the best aspects of in-world and off-world sculpt and mesh tools and sit down with the developers of well-established CAD applications to perform this task. Of course, i understand that the likes of Autodesk, Dassault and PTC will have no reason whatsoever to offer any assistance here. But i’m pretty sure that the teams behind BRL-CAD, FreeCAD and OpenCASCADE (the open-sourced engine by Matra on which FreeCAD is based) would be happy to cooperate. This would help Second Life to become an even more powerful environment for creating virtual products and worlds and it could also help these open source CAD applications grow in power and usefulness in yet another direction.

        In fact, it would even make SL more useful for educational institutions, especially for simulation purposes etc.

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  2. Going by too many years experience of using Poser, and making objects for it (which is the same as making a mesh for Second Life), I am not convinced that putting a set of tools into the Viewer is worth the hassles. There is no one true way of constructing a mesh. I think the Mesh Movement may be a little too focused on Blender, and the Lindens seem almost paranoid about losing control of the intellectual property that is the Avatar Mesh—it’s nearly ten years old, and Poser figures have seen three or four generations of development while Second Life has been static. Expecting that bunch to put a Mesh-builder into the viewer is just stupid. They don’t have the skills to make good management choices for such a project.

    That’s why they went for Collada. They only had to handle import, and let other people deal with the creation process. And, Mister Oh-So-Clever Linden, just what did you think rigged mesh would be used for if it wasn’t for clothing?

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    1. Oh, I think they’d be capable of grafting the necessary bits of an open source Mesh builder on the front of SL, and the pay-off would be that at least some folks would stay in-world longer (even if their attention is largely consumed by their Mesh projects). But they won’t–the internal Mesh architecture really doesn’t want to see models changing after upload–so screw it. In fact, I’m pretty much bored with Mesh altogether at this point. There’s no way to script any interesting interactions with Mesh–let it bumble its Pathfinding way around the sim, whoop-di-doo–so I’m happy to leave it to others who like to do this stuff. I don’t feel compelled to knit my own socks, either. Maybe I’d feel differently if I could create Mesh in-world, but I’m no longer so sure.

      On the other hand, I’m pretty excited about Materials. For one thing, it’s not going to be limited to just the tedious Mesh stuff. Also, it’s bound to drag more users into running with full-fledged lighting and shadows all the time, so finally projected textures will be seen by enough folks to be worth doing.

      As for the Lab communicating, fat chance. It was understandable that Lindens gave up on dogfooding their own broken community / social tools, but they’ve withdrawn pretty completely from external social networks, too. I’m coming around to the view that Rod is yet another distraction–it’s been an awfully long time since he’s shown an interest–and that SL’s best hope is for the other products to Fail Fast, before they’ve bled the old cash-cow completely dry and there’s nothing left to resuscitate.

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  3. One of the reasons why I don’t expect much of the Labs are the stories like this one: real computer code is always a bigger mess than anyone admits
    At least the viewer had that reset on the crud-factor when Viewer 2 appeared. Have they ever done the same with the servers?
    That all may be one of the reasons why MMORPGs get retired. And if total staff numbers have fallen while they have taken on creating new products, the big new shiny in Second Life is competing with bug-fixes for even scarcer resources.

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  4. Enabling amature content creators in SL the ability to have the freedom of MESH creationis is a difficult one. SL is a different beast to the one I first arrived in. I’ve grown as SL has and my skills have changed as SL has. There is now a massive gap between building with prims and making a mesh object and SL risks becoming a world of matured mesh content creators and Newb Consumers. Closing that gap is gonna be a real challenge and maybe it should not be closed. If I want to make a real efficient mesh, (which is the number one reason we have a mesh import option) it won’t be with anything built into SL.

    Perhaps LL could release an extra collection of prims based on Mesh objects to allow new users more choice to to construct more efficient builds. Like pipes or squiggly limbs, I dunno really.

    The communication of what SL offers users is so über complex now , if they blog about pathfinding, how much of the user base will understand and care what it is? Would a blog post about a new shopping experience be better received by the majority of SL users for instance.

    I do wish we could get more statistics from LL, like for what percent of users use Marketplace, how many use SL feed, how many upload mesh, how many use voice.

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    1. “The communication of what SL offers users is so über complex now , if they blog about pathfinding, how much of the user base will understand and care what it is? Would a blog post about a new shopping experience be better received by the majority of SL users for instance. ”

      I find LL’s use of the blog to be atrocious in the last couple of years. Yes, Pathfinding blogs wouldn’t be for everyone, but there’s enough interest for it to be worthwhile, the same with materials, Mesh yadda yadda yadda.

      Even a regular forum post in the content creation section linking to the user group minutes would be an improvement. I would imagine that plenty of people aren’t even aware that those user groups exist, let alone that you can read the minutes on the wiki.

      A shopping experience improvement would be more widely appreciated … depending upon what the improvement is!

      I get more information from Inara’s blog and Nalates Urriah’s blog, than I do from Linden Lab’s, whereas the Lab can’t cover everything, they should be covering more than they currently do.

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    2. “The communication of what SL offers users is so über complex now , if they blog about pathfinding, how much of the user base will understand and care what it is? Would a blog post about a new shopping experience be better received by the majority of SL users for instance. ”

      There is a balance to be struck, sure. But that’s part and parcel of the communications game. Pathfinding didn’t require long, technical blog posts on the subject to be made for all and sundry – all it required was some simple, easy-to-understand posts ahead of time as to what it is, what it does, and what people can expect. As it is, and as pointed out, the complete abdication of any advanced communications meant that pathfinding became mired in misconceptions, misunderstandings and confusion which might otherwise have been mitigated to a greater degree, simply because enough people had been spoon-fed information in order for them to understand the principles and thus help spread the word more accurately.

      I’ve long called for LL to consider implementing a “round-robin” approach to bog posts: nominate one of their staff trained in communications (yes, they do have them in fairness to LL) to blog a couple of times a month on the headline projects the Lab is working on, based on feedback from the various teams. This doesn’t have to be an onerous task, and it needn’t be a constant dig-down into the depths of code. All it needs is plain English communication and links to the relevant User Group meetings people can attend if there are pressing questions and to the relevant UG agendas & transcripts which they can use to both add questions & read responses if they are unable to attend meetings in person.

      Of course LL cannot be expected to communicate absolutely everything – but they could be leveraging the channels at their disposal a lot more intelligently than is currently the case – for their benefit as much and anyone else’s.

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