Second Life: The beginning of the end?

I haven’t posted much this year because for a lot of it all I have seen is failure and there’s enough people out there who have been pointing this out without me adding to it.  The announcement of the redundancy of 30% of the staff at Linden Lab started me reviewing the last 4 years of watching Linden Lab as they’ve thrashed around.  How did a platform that really did have the potential to be a web changer end up like this?  This restructure is the last opportunity for Linden Lab to get Second Life at a stage where it is sustainable for the longer term and at the moment I see the chance of success as problematic.    

All I’ve seen down the years is opportunities wasted and poorly thought out and executed policies. Looking at it objectively they took the mantra of low quality is good enough for the web down to new levels. This, combined with their take it or leave it approach to their customers, has done more harm than good. Linden Lab has never really made an effort to stop treating its customers with disdain – from the April fools MotDs telling us to get a life back in 2007 to M telling us to move aside in 2009 and the general ignoring of customer concerns it’s all added to reducing the goodwill of the customer base.  M wanted us to move aside and for Linden Lab the problem is we have moved aside – so far aside in fact that a lot of us are gone and now Linden Lab is suffering.

So, off the top of my head and just in case Linden Lab ever want to do a Lessons Learnt exercise, here’s a list of some of the more obvious failures. They’re in no particular order as when I looked at them it was apparent the inefficiencies are spread throughout the entire organisation.  It’s not just policy but development, customer relations, customer service, financial controls, quality control – it’s a systemic organisational failure we’re looking at here.

So, here’s my list:

  • new user experience.  In 2006, user retention was an issue.  It took until 2010 for action to be taken.  There was no real information for new users, no support during the learning curve and no protection from the troublemakers who took great delight in ruining the initial experience.
  • Opensourcing of the viewer. The open sourcing of the viewer was successful as it’s removed some of the pressure on Linden Lab to deliver a viewer that suits all user requirements. (note: this has been changed from the original – see comments below)
  • Script Load:  In 2008 script numbers were beginning to become a problem, March 2009 the first monitoring tool released on platform,  June 2010 – still nothing concrete done.  
  • Viewer v2:  Years too late to catch the wave of new users and obviously unsatisfactory to all but those currently inworld who do more than use it as a social platform. Had Linden Lab actually told people that this viewer was solely aimed at new users they wouldn’t have had so many howls of outrage at the lack of usability.  
  • GSA Search: Deployed in prototype without any apparent understanding of the limitations of the current Second Life infrastructure it was going to be run against nor any great understanding of the data used by GSA. Two months after the last major release of the new search it still has quite serious defects that have not been addressed.  As usual Linden Lab continues to take money from businesses inworld without providing the service paid for and without any acknowledgement or compensation.
  • Removal of images on Xstreet SL and the blog:  They were just unilaterally removed.  Better option would have been to allow images from certain sites while barring the rest.  It effected my Xstreet listing layouts and it’s quite apparent that something is missing from the ads but considering I spent weeks updating them all last September when they first requested we clean up the listings and insert images, I had no intention of doing it again for what was supposed to be a short time frame between the image removal functionality and the deployment of the new site..  Except now we don’t even have a deployment date for that.
  • Despite the malware that was embedded in some websites when the web tab was first released they never took any action to resolve that and with viewer 2.0 web-on-a-prim the same issues can occur and again Linden Lab has not put in any warnings about this and has left the default switched to on. 
  • Viewer memory leak: Fixed early 2009, something like 2 years after it became an issue. I saw a reduction of 60% on usage, which is a huge number, particularly for those countries that have to pay by usage,
  • Traffic bots: Another policy change that took more campaigning efforts by customers than it should have and when implemented was not enforced. They are still being reported and Linden Lab doesn’t take action.
  • Linden Homes: why increase the cost of servicing a premium account for current users?  There were better ways of deploying this idea that would have been more cost effective.
  • Windlight: initial deployment only and feature list never fully deployed. 
  • Mono: initial deployment and no fix for the issues it generated. They’re still working on it by all accounts.
  • Opensims: pricing model incorrect and no load management put in place. 
  • Adult content: A good idea but not really implemented past a policy posting and moving a few businesses to the lands.  Transgressors still being reported and ignored, Adult content providers being charged the same as other landowners but with less features.  Which the land owners were never made aware of during the migration.  All it really did was disadvantage those who supported and complied with the policy, while rewarding those who didn’t.
  • Ad farming: Another policy change that took more campaigning efforts by customers than it should have and when implemented was not enforced.
  • SL blog: released as beta but more of a prototype and no real changes were made in response to user feedback.
  • Xstreet SL login page:  has instructions to web dev still on it!! By the look of it no one ever bothered to check it prior to release and no one has looked at it since.  The quality assurance is indicative of the rest of the LL deployments.
  • Enterprise platforms: Linden Lab have never demonstrated value to business of using Second Life. It would have worked in 2006-7 when there was still apparent potential but by 2009 it was far too late.
  • Event listing issues:  never fixed nor cleaned up to remove the worst transgressors which made it difficult to easily extract information.
  • They have no demonstrable financial controls, not even a customer billing application.
  • Architecture was showing flaws in 2006 – it needed a redesign then.  It’s not going to happen now as it’s too late to justify the cost.
  • Disregard of their own policies when it suits their short term goals (and we’ve seen how successful that hasn’t been in the past) allowing  people who they know are under 18 on the main grid, allowing people who have had accounts previously banned for antisocial behaviour, allowing certain accounts to flagrantly flout policy when Linden Lab have been made aware of it.
  • Taking action against accounts and not providing reasons why.  Doesn’t give the account holder a chance to modify the behaviour as they have no idea what they have done wrong.  So they just come back under another account and carry on.
  • Avatars United.  A great idea which would allow Linden Lab to own the virtual user identity version of Facebook.  Has languished for lack of corporate support and marketing. This is probably the only asset that Linden Lab has left that might be attractive to a buyer – apart from the customer data held.
  • Deliberately alienating the education sector.  That one beggars belief.
  • Lack of action on user to user exploitation: content theft, scams and now unauthorised data collection by third parties – some who shouldn’t even be on the grid anyway because they’ve previously been account banned.

and the list goes on..  

The consistent themes for failure are pretty apparent.  A lack of management control on timeframes for deliverables, a lack of understanding of key objectives, lack of financial controls, lack of acknowledgement of responsibility to customers to deliver something useable and an all round lack of attention to detail and an understanding of their product.  The organisational inefficiencies are pretty breathtaking, the sheer amateurism of Linden Lab as a business is astounding and despite the “restructure” I don’t see that changing any time soon.  There’s no indication of any financial or development discipline being implemented as part of this change so it’s business as usual.

Here are a  few best practice tips:

  • Developing and testing in production is a recipe for disaster,
  • Taking years to deliver something that affects your core business is unacceptable,
  • Ignoring/despising your current cash flow generators is also not a sensible business move, particularly in the current financial climate,
  • Allowing your staff to work on anything they feel like without a business case and a cost/benefit analysis is asking for trouble. In fact allowing any activity to go ahead without them and a RAID is undesirable,
  • You might like to also try some risk/impact analysis sometimes too.  

3 Responses to Second Life: The beginning of the end?

  1. Pingback: Second Life, o princípio do fim? |

  2. mariakorolov says:

    Nice overview, but with one correction: the work on the OpenSim open source virtual world server platform began before Second Life open sourced the viewer.

    In fact, OpenSim programmers have never looked at the viewer code — they’re prohibited, because the two project are under incompatible open source licenses.

    Instead, the OpenSim guys looked at the messages going between the viewer and the server. This set of messages, now known as LibOpenMetaverse, is the 3D equivalent of HTML — they tell the viewer how to display the world.

    Since OpenSim sends and receives the same messages as the Second Life servers, OpenSim worlds look identical to all Second Life-compatible viewers. However, under the hood, OpenSim is completely different. It is written in a different language, using a different software architecture, and is extensible in ways that Second Life is not.

    OpenSim also offers a great deal of control to its users — you can run it behind the firewall, set your own age, content or access restrictions, create and delete user accounts, make backups, and integrate with your corporate applications.

    The downside is the loss of access to Second Life’s huge user community, which is a problem for people looking to socialize, to hold public events, or to run retail operations.

    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business

    • disgruntled says:

      As you rightly say, LL never open sourced the platform and open sim just reverse engineered using the messages. Which of course explains why OpenSim has a lot less features of the SL platform.

      I’ll make the correction. Keep coming back, it’s refreshing to see someone actually taking the time to provide constructive feedback.


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