Simplicity, Speed, Elegance aka Fast, Easy, Fun.

I’ve finally had a chance to listen to the audio and it was interesting to see what Philip didn’t talk about – like customer service, where the Q2 report is and timescales.  That aside, the talking points for me were:

Simplicity, Speed, Elegance aka Fast, Easy, Fun

I must say the first sent shivers down my spine..  That’s a promise I’d love to see made a reality.  The second is more achievable and I think it’s a noble aim.  Perhaps I might have used other words since it’s open to reinterpretation but as long as the aim is to make SL meet that goal rather than the company using it as a replacement for the Tao then I can live with the sniggers.

Changing their approach and providing users a choice of viewer.

It must have been a bit of a shock when Linden Lab looked at the figures and saw that 70% of users have moved away from the Linden Lab provided viewer to Emerald.  The remaining 30% is shared by Rainbow, Imprudence,  restrained life, all the other third-party viewers/plugins, the official v1.23 and v2.n.  I don’t think Linden Lab thought the policy of only providing a new user viewer through initially and I suspect they didn’t expect just how many people would move away from them.   That blind arrogance is at the heart of a lot of the issues we’ve seen here down the years.

For me the best news about this is reducing the dependence on Emerald.  There are many reasons I won’t be sorry to see the decline of Emerald viewer usage and this is despite having to use it because it provides the best functionality for the type of content creation I do.  1.23 forced me to use a tpv because 1.23 was so poor in so many areas, Linden Lab then came out and acknowledged this as a policy and left us at the mercy of a teenager who had been on the maingrid while underage and with Linden Lab’s knowledge and consent, who was harvesting user login data, who used their position to sell an item that not only didn’t do as claimed but also because of its poor quality negatively impacted on the lives of residents inworld and by the look of it breached European data collection rules.

That was win for Linden Lab huh?  I wouldn’t want those kinds of wins if I was a company that wanted to be credible but then LL has never seemed to care about that.  Even now I don’t think this is about protecting us from those who demonstrate a lack of integrity and more about how bad it looks that so many people fled the LL offering.  It’s hard to claim to be pushing the boundaries of virtual worlds when you’re out classed by a kid in a basement.

I think the approach is a very good one and I like the idea of viewer plugins/viewer type choices to enable sub groups to easily optimise it.  If they deliver I’ll be happy to ditch Emerald as my main viewer and stick to the official for most creation and Rainbow for when I need the features that Linden Lab will not provide.

Easier box unpacking

Making it easy for people to get at their purchases would be a boon.  For the first 6 months I didn’t know about the open function and used to create a folder in my inventory, edit the box and drag the items in that way.  It was a revelation when I discovered open  lol.  

The only way I can see this working is if either boxed items are automatically opened and dumped into a folder on delivery or if there is going to be the ability to unpack a box directly in the inventory. It will be interesting to see how they’re going to deploy it.  A lot of the blame for the difficulty newbies face with this is the direct fault of the shops selling the items.  There’s no reason apart from being cheap and lazy to have anything other than an unscripted one prim vendor.  Unfortunately people insist on using scripted and scripted/network vendors which require items to be boxed and also some people box up their products before putting them in the one prim vendors. Other retails don’t even have a basic understanding of how to turn a prim into a vendor – too many times I’ve seen vendors set to sell a copy rather than contents.  Usually because of ignorance.  

What I do want to see is guaranteed deliveries.  This was first mooted almost 12 months ago.  This would reduce the customer service load to a manageable proportion.  One of the things that grinds me down in here is having to deal with people telling me items weren’t delivered.  I have no control over the carrier (Linden Lab) and getting information of them is like getting blood out of a stone and leaves us open to all manner of scammers.

HTML on a prim

Sounds good but it looks like Linden Lab still has the policy in place of trying to make its users vulnerable to malevolent forces.  I really wish they’d get it through their thick skulls that the viewer isn’t like Firefox where you can install all manner of plugins to repel the data collectors, identify phishing and generally protect yourself from unpleasantness.  It doesn’t even have the basic protections of IE for identifying malevolent sites.  Why LL doesn’t understand that facilitating unauthorised data collection and worse really is not a good business look is beyond me, but then this is the company that for a long time couldn’t see why people were upset about copybot. 

SCRUM

This made me grimace.  Whilst it should generate some improvements, it isn’t going to deliver anything major.  Scrum is a development methodology, you still need to manage the delivery of products.  Those little things like being on time, to budget and to specification.  

I’ve yet to come across anyone in Linden Lab who seems to manage anything.  There’s supposedly a project management team but I doubt their effectiveness at doing more than collecting their pay at the end of the month.  It’s not really their fault though, if the corporate culture is about doing your own thing then imposing discipline is an anathema – as Linden Lab amply demonstrates.  Philip acknowledged that some projects are abandoned before being fully deployed.  SCRUM isn’t going to change that.

I’ve only come across two people who actually accepted responsibility for the delivery of anything.  They sacked one in the cull and the other is new it seems.  Obviously the second one hasn’t taken that lesson onboard yet.  I’m sure that once the newbie has settled in things will change.

I can remember attending an IBM webcast a few years ago on the results of their move to an agile methodology with self managing teams.  When the presenter was asked about what benefits had been gained, I expected him to talk about reducing delivery times, improving quality, reducing costs, improved customer satisfaction etc but instead all he said was that the developers were happier.  I don’t think I need to say any more.

Welcome Areas

I can’t wait to see how this is implemented.  I dislike welcome areas immensely as they have always attracted pond life bent on trolling, harassing and scamming newbies but newbies do need somewhere to hang out and meet other newbies and they need a home point.  TPing them directly to events and places is good but it’s human interaction that makes or breaks people in here.  A lot of old timers aren’t always happy to see a freshly rezzed newborn who doesn’t understand the basics of how to use the viewer and how to behave.  It’s a tough one.

So, here’s my score:

8/10 for “getting it”

5/10 for the chances of actually improving the inworld experience

2/10 for doing it in a timely, appropriate and cost effective manner.

As always, the proof is in the delivery.  I welcome the new focus but am not at the cautiously optimistic stage yet.  It certainly doesn’t make me want to go inworld and create.  From some of the messages I’ve had overnight it looks like I’m not alone there but then in the great scheme of things I suppose it doesn’t matter if it is too little, too late for us, as there’ll be others along to take our place.

Possibly.

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Can Philip save the day? Tune in on Friday for another gripping installment of “The Tao of Linden”

This Friday is the event of the season and not to be missed. Yes gentle readers, our Interim CEO and CFO/CTO are going to address the swine  (that’s us, don’tcha know).  

Now apart from the sheer horror of having a bean counter in charge of technology, this little love-in is going to be interesting for reasons other than for what is said.. and it will (as usual) be in voice but as a sop to those who refuse/can’t use voice, Virtual Ability will be providing a real time translation service. Although LL is proclaiming that it’s only being done for those who are hearing impaired..  like the rest of us don’t exist  lol.

Whatever the reasons,  I hope this isn’t a freebie and for once LL are actually paying for a service provided by one of its customers but being deeply cynical and knowing the good hearts in VA, I bet it’s being done gratis.

So, what is this going to demonstrate?  Well, from a purely functional perspective it should show just how useless SL is for holding live events and mass communication inworld.  

Out of the probably 60,000 people online, the 4 regions they’ll use (I’m assuming 4 to enable the biggest crowd to hear them), the max capacity will be something like 400 avatars and more likely half that.    From a business perspective that’s a pretty poor ROI, paying 1280USD per month for 4 regions to enable you to have a couple of hundred people concurrently at your site is seriously poor value for money.

To overcome this limitation they’ll be using external applications to manage the constraints imposed by the avatar limits.  There’s an inworld TV link that people can view or better still, go out onto the 2d web to watch as there’s better concurrency there and to overcome the lack of robust social media tools available inworld Twitter will be used to garner questions to ask those two who are steering this apparently rudderless ship.

So, after amply demonstrating the limits of the platform for business or social use, we come to the content of the meeting.  The blog post that was published to publicise this meeting says “The overall goal is to open up the conversation with the community about our upcoming plans around the development and future of Second Life.”  ignoring the fact that only a tiny fraction of the Second Life “community” know about this and of those an even tinier fraction of them will be able to attend, this implies they have a plan, which to these tired eyes is welcomed.  

My biggest problem with it is the plan itself.  A post on the SLCC website which is publicising another speech of Philips next month says:

In a recent post on the Second Life blogs, Philip talked frankly about addressing Resident’s concerns.  “We need to get back to being the first to invent and deliver the solutions that evolve virtual worlds,” said Rosedale, “We are still at the beginning of a huge market.”

In theory, both speeches will cover the same ground but what ground is that?  It sounds so altruistic that Philip wants to invent things to evolve all worlds but really, I’d rather he put his efforts into making this one better.  What I’m seeing (and have seen for years) is a tacit acknowledgement of failure on Linden Lab’s part.  They seem to have moved from being a virtual world provider to trying to be a 3d website with hefty hardware requirements.  Newsflash!  It won’t work.

A world, by most definitions, is pretty well self-contained.  Almost everything you need should be available through the world and the one thing you shouldn’t have to be doing is having to sign up to some 2d websites, that weren’t even around when SL first arrived on the scene, to use versions of tools which are available inworld but aren’t capable of doing the job they need to. Add the sub standard customer service provided and the focus of the next twelve months should be obvious to the most dimwitted in the Lab.

but let me spell it out.

A lot of the solutions that would improve and further the acceptance of VWs and make Second Life more useful to more people and organisations are already here – they just need refining and improving.

I suppose that’s too hard an ask though.

For those of you who think you’d like to be one of the lagging, milling crowds, you have until 5pm SLT today (28 July) to register your interest and participate in the ballot.  I know the announcement has been met with cynicism and a general weariness about the empty words they spout at us but it is important as it will define our future.  If Philip hasn’t understood what needs to change to retain and increase the customer base and his profitability, then we really will be watching the articulation of the policy for the possible not-so-gradual decline of the platform – and nobody wants that.

Where does it go from here?
Is it down to the lake I fear?

for some reason I have this snippet of a lyric passing through my head..  Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Where is the Linden Lab Second Life Q2 report?

People maligned M, and certainly I didn’t have a lot of time for some of his *ahem* enthusiasms, but one thing I did appreciate was the quarterly report.  Yes, they started out as a work of fiction (does anyone remember the first few where the major fun to be had was picking them apart and demonstrating the inconsistencies and fallacies they indulged in?) but as time went on they were a good indication of just where SL was heading and at least gave some confidence (under all that distracting flannel) that they were managing the decline.

Unfortunately Q2, which by any standards was crucial to understanding the current state of SL, and future quarters, will not be reported on.  It looks like those state of the nation reports have gone the way of M.  To add to this, Tyche Shepherd doesn’t have time to do her version, which I suppose allows LL to opt out and hope we won’t notice.

Anecdotal information indicates even the solution providers are giving up and a lot of content creators are giving up their land.  The decline is feeding the decline – on top of the issues around search, the Xstreet marketplace and all the other things that make people lose heart.  Make no mistake, creators are losing heart – I can name two of the larger creators who would usually be quick to take advantage of anything that would boost their exposure and sales are showing signs of despair and defeat and I never thought I’d see the day that either of them would ever behave like that.  

However, I wouldn’t read too much into the grid size decline.  Those 400+ regions that came online a few months ago distorted the land market and I would have expected the grid to subsequently contract as it’s apparent that the demand wasn’t there for that kind of influx.

The only thing I’m concerned about is who owns the regions going offline.  If the shrinkage is being caused by smaller operators reducing their holdings then the question to be considered is just how much impact that deal with the major land owners has had on the smaller estates.  The potential for that event to be the estate version of the impact of Zindra is real.  For those of you who don’t follow this closely, Zindra demonstrated just how weak SL is – the impact of the adult content landowners trying to sell around 200 regions worth of land (the real number isn’t known because some kept their land, some abandoned it and some sold it) depressed land prices to such an extent that even 12 months later it not only hasn’t recovered but has declined further.  0.05L/sq m is shocking..  I grant you this is for visually unpleasing rocky terrain, but I paid something like 12L/sq m for the same stuff in mid 2007.  Even flat and green can be picked up for around 1L/ sq m – I paid 4.2 for the same type of land in February of last year.

What I would pay attention to is the linden sinks.  When I looked last week at the numbers for July, there was an average decline of 15% of the sink income over June.  This is after factoring frequency of the sink income.  What was remarkable was the decline in those parcels set to show in search – that was around 19% compared to last month.  Now it could just be that not all parcels had their parcel fee collected or it could be that some businesses consolidated their parcels but on those basic numbers I would hope that there’s some kind of alarm bell ringing somewhere.

But then, Linden Lab has never been very good at the financial management side of the business.  You’d like to hope they finally get to grips with the idea that money won’t continue to rain down on them despite their best efforts to stop it but I’m not optimistic.

The decline of the “passionate and committed”

When Linden Lab use the term “passionate and committed residents” it always seems to come across as a mild insult.  In a way I don’t blame them, there’s a lot of hysteria whenever LL makes a change but a lot of it is of their own making, poorly thought out policies and limited communication that isn’t tailored to those they’re trying to reach is a recipe for triggering the internet dramas we see. LL communication skills have always been poor, they never seem to learn from their past mistakes and then some compound those mistakes by displaying a patronising rudeness to those users of their platform

I could be wrong, as appearances can be deceiving but I doubt it.

What I have noticed down the last couple of years is how those “passionate and committed” residents have scaled back their second lives and their participation on the various LL and non LL foras. The triggers seem to have been either the removal of the particular forum with the introduction of the blog or a particular action taken by LL.  Both inworld and on the web the diversity of approach and opinion is decreasing and the vibrancy is vanishing.

It must make LL relieved that they no longer have a wall of screaming people to deal with. I hope they understand the implications of that silence.

During the last week or so I’ve also seen posts from various content creators saying they are no longer making a living wage from SL and are scaling down their inworld presence as they have to go out into the world and get a “real life” job to put money in the bank account to pay the bills.  On top of that I’ve heard of some long-term inworld creators who have closed down completely.  Dollyrock, Greenies, Rustica come immediately to mind and each has a different trigger.  Greenies was a pure business decision as they no longer need what the SL platform offers, Dollyrock because of the lack of income (as I understand it, someone correct me if I’m wrong) and Rustica because of the rampant content theft. It amply demonstrates there are many different “final straws” and each of them reflects issues that the user base have been asking LL to deal with for years.

It’s tiring surviving Linden Lab and Second Life. Between the anti social behaviour of some of our fellow users, the strangling of inworld businesses by LL through their policy of monetising everything and cutting off most avenues of free advertising on LL web property, through to the poor quality of the platform and their releases and the lack of support from LL at all levels to allow us to flourish, it’s just one thing after another.  Just once I’d like a rolling restart to not give me grief for the next few days as I have to deal with customer issues or have the release be such poor quality that I have to spend more time than on I should having to work out just what is wrong and how I can work around it. The most glaring example of that is the search tool that was released on May 3 and is still adversely impacting businesses because it’s not fit for purpose.  Region owners are downsizing yet LL doesn’t seem to give remediating search any kind of priority.

Even the deceit that LL expects us to indulge in with them is soul sapping.  They blogged the arrival of the new marketplace despite it obviously not being fit for purpose and their excuse was that it was the only way to reach all content creators who have been migrated.  Pity that each merchant on Xstreet is linked to their SL account with an email address – obviously LL still haven’t heard of using technology effectively, as getting the list of creators who were migrated and then extracting their email address and sending them a missive was just too high tech for them or was it they truly did think the site was fit for purpose – despite it being supposedly beta and felt comfortable with drawing shoppers attention to it? I suspect the latter with the excuse they gave just drivel to appease those who don’t pay too much attention and assume that everything LL says must be true.

The replacement Xstreet site brought it all home to me just how many people just don’t care anymore and how many people have gone – the number of usual suspects in the forums reviewing the new site and commenting on it is a lot less than I would have expected.  There’s a lot of faces missing.  

Before the XSL migration started I made a decision not to put too much time into preparing for it, as past performance has indicated that it would be poorly thought out and badly implemented.  I wasn’t wrong.  I’ve had a look and seen what they seem to be moving towards and it will look good eventually but I’m not putting any time into it until the final main functional releases go in and that’s despite it looking like that will be well after Xstreet has been retired and the new market place is fully active.  After spending weeks taking out all my word links to related items from the listings and replacing them with images to help the search tool as they requested at the end of last year, they then removed image functionality in May without any replacement offered and I didn’t bother going in and fixing the mess it left.  My listings have ported over to the new site and are in desperate need of fixing but because of the way they’ve set up the feed from the old site to the new I can’t fix them so they look good on both sites and have them stay looking good for both.  I make 20-30% of my income from Xstreet and normally it would have commanded a lot more attention from me as I try to optimise my listings for visual appeal.  Now I don’t care.  

May generated the worst turnover for me since around February 2009 – it wiped out inworld sales from 2 brands and a 3rd brands satellite shop because of the search issues. June didn’t see a recovery of either of those brands but then how can they when the parcels don’t make it into the search returns and/or the classifieds vanish from the classifieds search? I’m hoping July won’t be a repeat of May but with real life financial constraints on people and search still so poor it’s hard to be optimistic and without a hope of return it’s hard to invest the time needed to manage a Second Life retail presence.

I know I’ve stopped buying in services for the content I create (scripting, sculpts, textures) as all I’m doing is reusing existing components to finish off my backlog of unfinished content and I know a lot of businesses that have closed down in the last 3 months who obviously aren’t buying in services or components any more and I’m seeing a marked drop in sales of my higher priced items (we won’t talk about the couple of brands that are almost dead now – grr) and I can’t believe I’m the only one who is seeing this.

LL have never considered our time and effort valuable when they’ve put in new policies or features.  The lack of respect is astounding until you realise that they seem to be working in the mindset that we’ll take whatever rubbish they dish out.  Back in 2006/7 and possibly 2008 that was probably true, certainly there were enough new users to hide the old leaving.  Now I think that assumption is somewhat problematical.  Each sub optimal policy or release seems to loosen the ties that bind us to this platform. Put the declining income into the mix that is a deliberate result of Linden Lab policies, standards and behaviours and it doesn’t look good.

At the moment I still go through the motions in here but when the day comes that my income no longer covers tier I won’t be doing anything more than shutting up shop.  I’m beyond trying to come up with ways to maintain my turnover or at least trying to manage the decline and I gave up the idea of ever increasing it again months ago.  In short, despite still being extremely profitable on turnover per prim it’s not longer worth any real effort as LL, their policies and platform make it a waste of substantial time and effort.

I am really looking forward to the Q2 2010 figures.  They should be out soon.