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.

1 comment:

Osprey said...

I'm not alone in loving Second Life passionately :-D The combination of the creative abilities with the social aspects is what, to me, makes it hit the spot.

I can see how having two ways to use SL - full, build-enabled mode through a full browser, and a lightweight portal for mobile devices and punky computers that is more about socialising - would be good.

Although in the business world a company might need to make hard choices to be able to ride out a bad time, we can't know how wise or necessary this slashfest was, as we have no information to go on. We are forming our opinions based on the only things we have - the past decisions made by LL. From this vantage point it's no wonder we find trust and optimism to be in short supply.