Saturday, 26 June 2010

Flip Linden

This past week saw M Linden step away from Chief Executive Officer duties at Linden lab and Philip Linden (aka Rosedale, Lab co-founder) step in as interim CEO.

Some have seen this as a blessing, worthy of Grid-wide parades and celebrations. I, personally, haven't been that enthusiastic.

Why have people been celebrating? Because M Linden has parted ways with the Lab? Seems a pretty shitty reason to throw a party; a man's just lost his job. Regardless of the fact that he may be able to step into another high-profile position fairly easily, being told that you've lost your job is something you don't ever really want to hear - unless you're a suicide bomber, perhaps.

M Linden was never widely accepted by the SL-community, for reasons I'm not exactly sure why. I don't follow the politics and ins-and-outs of a company based thousands of miles away from me, I have my own life to be getting on with (by the way, that's not a sleight on hardcore SL-bloggers at all, just simplifying the fact that I don't really care); but for some reason, he immediately seemed a bit detached. Maybe it was having the M prefix - meaning that his name couldn't be brought up in Search, and therefore made him seem distant and inaccessible. Regardless of whether he ever saw an IM, Philip Linden's profile was always on-hand to rant at via IM.

M Linden lead an increasingly-large team of Lindens to pick-up things like Avatars United, XStreet, SLim...and do very little to the actual platform that all of these things supported. Despite some early signs of promise with regular blog posts about the status of the Grid and efforts to fix things like group chat and general lag, nothing really improved. We all just became a little more accustomed to it.

I spoke to another Linden on the day that the changes were announced and he was genuinely sad to see M Linden go. "I had some good conversations with M," my Linden friend told me. "And despite what people think, he did get Second Life." Unless you worked in the same office, I can't see why you'd have any reason to object or challenge that, so I won't.

And so Philip Linden is back. Huzzah, people cry! Um, really? I started out in SL in the latter part of 2006 and by the time Philip Linden stepped down from his original CEO position, lag had gotten worse from the time I joined, an excellent customer support was beginning to dwindle and people were already beginning to look at other virtual world platforms.

So, I'm generally unfazed about the whole thing; I'll admit to directing people towards blog posts about the rumours of a switch-around before it was officially announced, but then I knew some other people would be more interested than I was/am. I'd like to believe the hype of a 'second coming' but I'm more concerned that it might be the rapture.

Friday, 18 June 2010


Wow, another year rolls around so soon? Doesn't seem like 5 minutes ago we were setting up for SL6B!

SL7B (Second Life 7th Birthday) kicks off next week, and as usual, Raglan has a plot, and I was lucky enough to be able to design and co-ordinate the build for Raglan this year! The theme is Unexpected Collaborations: it seems a strange theme, very open and therefore good for some really creative stuff to happen, but I find SL a wholly collaborative experience already. At Raglan, we collaborate with each other for every event held; we all come from different corners of the globe, all have very different lifestyles and yet we're able to find a common ground and common language to make things happen. Without collaboration, we wouldn't achieve anything. Surely it should be the same for any resident? Well, yes, that is true, and the SL7B Wiki does actually support my belief too, but it still seemed like a strange title to me.

Anyway, with that in mind, I decided that we should do two things: 1, celebrate the awesomeness of tinies and 2, highlight how contradictory the theme seemed (to me, at least - I can't speak for the Raglan community as a whole, or my fellow builders). And how best to do this? By making tinies the be all and end all of all Second Life.

Our build is a 'power hub', powered by a couple of interactive hamster wheels and a conveyor belt that feeds waffles into the Grid. It's kitted out with big mechanical gears and computer terminals. We've also got some 'control flowers' that Misa made up, where we can access the infrastructure of any sim at any given time and fix things on that sim - for example, fix lag or clear griefer debris - at the flick of a switch. We also have a network of TinyCams dotted around the Grid where we can keep an eye on whats going on and where, via a live feed of CCTV images fed back to the power hub.

Well, not really - but that's the general idea!

It all looks great, and much thanks to Misa Delight, Panacea Pangaea, Dagmar Klaar, Bree Himmel, Shadow Marlin, Luna Twilight and Etheria Parrott for their assistance and ideas in helping us get this build together! Another collaborative effort, as we'd have expected.

The only downside to the whole thing is, is that (some of) the moderators seem to have developed a God complex over the course of a fortnight. It appears that some residents have been given the task of moderating the sims (I can't remember of that was the case last year too?), so they've come along and picked on anything that might cause even the slightest bit of upset to the Lindens; I guess the ones who are left must be feeling uber-sensitive at the moment.

We (at the Raglan plot) were told we had to change our textures, with no clear reason why ("check the rules!" we were told. I did - nothing about textures in them); deadlines were changed at the drop of a hat; rules were talked about that never seemed to appear in any of the number (and there were a LOT) of notecards that were sent out. Poor Noramyr of Extrovirtual had all of her stuff returned to her - BY A LINDEN at the behest of a resident moderator! - because her build looked unfinished, leaving her just six hours to get something set up properly. I can appreciate that the mods are trying to manage a large number of plots over just a two week build period, but come on - you've had a year to prepare for this, surely the rules can't be that different from last years? And if you're a mod and someone says Hello to you in open chat, at least have the decency to acknowledge them with a cursory greeting rather than ignoring them.

Same time next year then?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Lindens Lost

I’ve been reading a number of articles this morning about Linden Lab’s mass culling of over 140 employees, including the potential phasing out of the UK office (based in Brighton) and other international areas such as Germany.

I use Second Life a lot; at least six days a week. I go in, do my thing, chat to friends and enjoy what I can from it (which is usually the company of others). I can’t really offer any more to the stories about Black Thursday that the more hardcore Virtual World bloggers have already written; I can only offer my own opinion, based on my own experience over the last several years, so I hope this blog posted doesn’t get noted or bounced around Twitter, because the VW snobs will only be down on me telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about. So, pre-empting any that might stumble across this, this isn’t coming from a tech-side, or even business-side argument. This is my opinion, based on what little I know.

More astute, educated or controversial observers will say (and have already said) that it’s the beginning of the end; I don’t want to agree, because I love the community that Second Life has allowed me to become part of, but I can see how they be drawn to that conclusion; the sight of any company slashing over 30% of its workforce within a single 24-hour period is never going to be pretty nor fill you with optimism. I do hope it’s simply a case of taking eight steps back before shuffling forward again, whatever the ultimate aim. It’ll be difficult though; even though residency seems to have stalled with the maximum number of online residents never really at any more than 75-80K users, that’s still four times as many as it was four years ago, and now with a substantially smaller staff to support that.

I think it’s a real, genuine shame that people such as Blue has gone; he was a frequent voice in the Friends of Raglan Shire group, very quick to offer assistance to the 1000+ people in chat with any operational problems they had or solutions they needed. He and Tiggs Linden’s helpfulness (the latter of which has survived the cull, despite reports to the contrary) harkened back to a time when I was a noob and needed support; back then, instead of plucking a ticket off of a virtual reel and waiting to be served at the deli counter, Lindens would actually be IN-WORLD (what a novel concept!) and would zip from sim-to-sim showing residents what they needed to do to fix their problems. My first experience of such support was when I’d lost a transparent object in the branches of a tree; Ethan Linden turned up (incidentally, as a Wynx Squirrel, my first ever experience of a tiny!) and promptly fixed the problem before zipping off again. It was that personal approach that made me feel valued as a resident; a feeling that I’ve long since lost. Blue and Tiggs came some way to doing the same, and I’m sure some of the Raglan residents felt very valued to be in conversation with a Linden, fixing their minor gripes.

Pink Linden hadn’t been at the Lab a great length of time either, but had had to face some serious resident vitriol over the XStreet changes (and fired on the deadline day before new migration to the new Marketplace? Poor timing.) and in retrospect, had held her own really well, in my opinion. As a tiny Wynx bunny, she’d also shown up to a couple of impromptu Waffle Day parties we’d held on the Shire for the Lab and had always demonstrated a kindness, a warmth and a fun attitude that only tinies can demonstrate.

There are many others on the list who I didn’t know as well, but whose names stand out for me, so I know that they must have had an influence on my Second Life in some small part. For them all, I am very sad. They’ve lost their jobs, and I’m sure their treatment has also tempered their approach to using Second Life themselves. If you got fired from Starbucks through no fault of your own, would you go back and drink their coffee? Maybe, but I bet it’d taste more bitter than you remembered.

What’s the answer? I don’t know, I’m just a casual blogging-bunny. I kinda wish that some financially secure, independent educational establishment (for example, the Open University in the UK) bought out the Lab, reinstated the old school developers and community managers across the world (Claudia Linden first in line please) and gave the platform more of an emphasis towards learning. Learning isn’t confined to increasing one’s academic knowledge within a specific subject matter, but can also be applied to wider cultural, theological, political and artistic development. The commercial aspect could be allowed to stay, but it might give the Grid a better long-term future. At the moment, it seems to be the case of adapting to current market conditions in order to preserve an end-of-year bonus for several key individuals.

As for the announcement that M (which I think must stand for Money) Linden wants to develop a web-browser based version of SL, I can understand why. Look at the success of Farmville (just look at its success, not necessarily the game itself which to me resembles something like ‘Charlie Brown At The Farm’ on an N64). It’d give a lot more people an opportunity to get in-world, although it could also open the doors for any number of idiots/lunatics/weirdoes to drop by – presumably, they’d only be allowed to access certain sims or certain features? But who’s going to support the Grid now that the focus of an international community seems to be being eroded and the ones who are left seem to be less-product orientated? As one of my good tiny pals noted, “I think Geo Linden, who couldn't work a dance ball, still works for them? What that about? He must empty trash cans for them because he couldn't work SL, which should tell you something. Just sayin’.”

We’ve left our fate in his hands. Or trash can.