July 26th, 2010 by Marianne McCann
(Sorry, it’s tl;dr! next one will be shorter and less serious – honest!)
It’s June 9th, and I’m working on my build for SL7B, the annual celebration of Second Life’s birthday. It’s an event where we celebrate making it another year, and look to the horizon. While I put the finishing touches on the oversized toys that made up the Unexpected Childhood build, a friend tells me that things are “not happy” at Linden Lab that day. Pressed, she could offer no additional information — but I soon did not need any. I begin to hear about various Linden Lab staffers who’ve been given their walking papers. I start IMing and e-mailing those Lindens I know, asking them if they’re okay.
Lists of names begin to circulate, and I too start doing searches on those I know, seeing if their accounts are still showing up. Many of them did not. I stop by Mia Linden’s office, which appears largely intact. Then I notice that many of her prized “Resident Bears” are gone. It has the feeling of someone who made a hasty retreat, or who did not get the chance to finish collecting her possessions. Blue Linden’s chair has a simple sign of thanks.
I know that my experience is not the same of most Residents. Living in the SF Bay Area, there are people I’ve known before they had the last name of “Linden.” There are many who work for the lab who I know outside of Second Life, who I have a friendship beyond the confines of the virtual world. find myself sorry to see them gone from Second Life, but more concerned with the real-world people beyond their pixelated selves. I find myself growing sick with anxiety, finding that some of my closer friends at the Lab have now joined the ranks of the unemployed.
I think of friends lost:
Mia Linden, who I first knew under her Resident avatar. Someone who would spend crazy long hours putting together hundreds of special events armed only with an XStreet account and an inventory that makes mine look miniscule. She encouraged my own desire to volunteer my time and talent within Second Life.
Blue, the big ol’ dragon-ish monster who helped develop Bay City. Someone who I could take a problem to and — when he could — he’d kick it upstream. I look fondly on his old office hours, and seeing his passion for the world and its Residents. I was glad to sneak him into the background of one of my Bay City shots, a monster in fedora and pipe.
Teagan, who was in a chibi kid avatar the first time I met her, floating over one of the stages at SL5B. She made her way over to Kids5B a bit later, showing herself as a voice of compassion in a time when the future of child avatars seemed very dim. She was someone who I felt I could come to if I needed a Terms of Service issue discussed — and even if the answer wasn’t the one I might have wanted, I’d still feel like she was being fair.
There were others I knew who lost their jobs that day, and many more who had been phased out in the months leading up to June 2010. One thing I would say about most of them is that they did use this world we share. They “ate the dog food,” shopping and socializing alongside the rest of us. They grumbled about the same troubles we did, and dealt with all we dealt with. Yes, some of them still do, and are not gone from our world simply because they no longer have “Linden” at the end of their username.
But I think we’ve all lost something. While they’ll go onto other jobs, I’m sure, our world has long some people who did genuinely care for this place — and did what they could to make it a bit brighter. That’s our loss.
It’s June 22nd, and I’m at SL7B. Philip Linden did a nice, inspirational speech about the future of Second Life. It was far better than the SL5B calls for the “Pioneers” to step aside for the “Settlers,” or SL6Bs nostalgic — but largely unsubstantial – speeches. It was someone who both acknowledged the missteps of Linden Lab while laying the groundwork for making things better. That same night he was out roaming the SL7B lands, asking people one on one what they did not like in Viewer 2, and what features in Emerald LL really should look at incorporating.
The next day, M Linden was scheduled to speak, but ducked out due to an emergency. Philip spoke again, giving a very similar speech to what he did before. Only to be expected, I suppose. M’s emergency, though, fueled the rumor mill — and the rumors became reality soon after, with M joining the roster of lost Lindens, and Philip taking the “interim CEO” role.
I felt the confidence I’d lost on June 9th coming back to me — with Philip sailing the ship, maybe we’d have somewhere to go.
It’s July 26th. What now?
Philip has not said a whole lot since those speeches. A bit on the blog about his return, as well as a call for an inworld meeting this month and a notice about the Burning Life event. To be honest, given the depth of the layoffs, I have to assume that not everything is happen at Battery Street, and I’m sure they’re doing all they can to streamline efforts and remain profitable.
But I hope one more thing is going on, and maybe I’d too hopeful. I hope that Linden Lab will not continue down the “Residents versus Settlers” construct from SL5B . During the M years there was a long focus on people who were *not* in Second Life. A continent’s worth of people was moved to make way for these imaginary people, and additional lands opened up to give those people a place to set up a home. A viewer was created in order to bring those people in — but they’ve not materialized.
They may be out there, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like a very important part of the equation was missing. While the focus was put on people “out there,” a lot of those already in Second Life grew disenchanted with the world. Long time residents grew frustrated with any number of issues. Search got worse. the “mono bug” continued to confound. “Copybotting” and other IP infringements became epidemic. Proposed plans to up the charges on XStreet and elsewhere caused people to simply shutter their stores. More and more was put in the way of the users of the world, all the while that Linden Lab was courting those “settlers.”
The Residents who are here are Second Life’s best evangelists. They know that if Second Life is successful, we all benefit. They found something to love in this world, and enjoy their time here. But all of the above has hurt their enjoyment. Many long time names have scaled back or left altogether. Many who might have once been the first to tell their friends to come to Second Life might now pause.
By no means are witnessing the death of Second Life — but at this point, the interim CEO needs to tread cautiously. If the goals are only to build on what works *in spite* of existing users, then we’re in trouble. But if — as Philip has promised — the goal is for all of us, Resident and Linden, to work together to build this world, then there is hope left.
Philip, if you are out there, please have a listen. Your sibling Residents want to be heard. Please help make a company that will listen to its Residents, who will talk with us, not at us, and who are worth Linden Lab’s time. Please consider the losses of June 9th — as necessary as they may have been to keep the company afloat — and know that OnTyne support can never fill the gap of real, honest-to-goodness community managers. Develop a true social media strategy that involves more than simply a one way street, and bring tools inworld that help to energize your established and new Residents.
Like many others, your return has come with a lot of good will. On June 9th, I know I was considering what I would do in a post-Second Life world — and on June 23rd, I began to feel like there was still life to be had. Please, together, let’s keep that going and make things better.