Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Avatar uprising (and it's not even October)

Water cooler discussions * topics revisited * latest crisis * out-of-hand dismissal * communist parallel * obscured blessings * ah, but-

If you are ever in any doubt that Second Life users (or, at least, the vocal ones) are a community, check out the topics of conversation. There are minor topics, discussed by individual posters and commenters; and then there are the big topics - the ones where you find yourself discussing them in-world, on blogs and in blog comments. A common perception of reality is, of course, one of the characteristics of a community. But even more fascinating is the persistence and pervasiveness of topics and conversations; it's not unusual to start a conversation with an avatar in-world, continue it over several blog posts and comments and end it on twitter - all the while interacting and including others in conversation.

The topics of late have ranged from banking in virtual worlds to meaning and methods of using virtual worlds. I don't know why "The end is nigh!" debates are always followed by the more philosophical ones, but it's nice in an "After every rain comes the sun" kinda way.

So, after the extremely philosophical "what is the meaning of IS" debates of late have subsided, I was waiting for the bombshell to drop - and it has. Linden Lab has decided to tighten the TM reigns on the old SL mare and prod us in a new direction, and the SLogosphere exploded.

First, quickly on the topic of trademarks: Can LL tighten TM control? Yes. Will it in fact have any impact on most bloggers? No. Is it a sign of an upcoming IPO? Don't be silly - LL would be crazy to IPO with stagnating growth, in a recession-bound market, and with a missing/unproved CEO. Is it yet another perhaps needed, but extremely stupidly implemented decision which seemingly affects the whole Second Life community? Absolutely - but I have come to expect nothing less of Linden Lab. Should we panic? Well, if you insist.

But back to the community. I grew up in a communist country and once heard this anecdote by one of the commie leaders: he was meeting with some Italian representatives who commented that our delegation (and, indeed, the constituent nations) bickered all the time. "Ah, yes, that is very true," answered our leader, "but just try attacking us - we'll close like a fist and repel you!". "But," wondered the Italian delegate, "what will you do if nobody attacks you?"

As the former country is now fragmented into seven new countries (I believe, and at last count; but it's so hard to keep track), the Italian guy was right. And - doesn't the same hold for the Second Life community? When there are no perceived external dangers, we're at each other's throat over silly things like who is more "immersed" in the environment and whose prim hair looks better. But, when a threat appears, we form tight ranks and start waving the pitchforks.

With that in mind, Linden Lab's heavy handed policy changes might be seen as a blessing in disguise. A chance blessing, to be sure - I have yet to be impressed with Linden Lab's community handling and no one can pretend that well - but a blessing none the less.

But, as our example proved, this can only work for so long. Sooner or later, you have to move to better community strategies - and I hope Linden Lab find them soon. If only to stop the drama..


chestnut rau said...

excellent, thoughtful post. thank you.

Digado said...

There are 2 different things:

1) The community responding to a decision that seems to go against their perception of the 'common property' of Second Life.

As prok described, there is nothing like a company telling you the what and how to make you feel like an experiment rather then a resident) - and as Ian Betteridge pointed out, is largely unjust and just becomes the talk of the day by a few 'sneezers'.

2) The reason for Linden Research Inc. to take this decision now.

It's obviously a move to secure one of the assets of Second Life - the Brand. Now in light of other developments in defining the brand of Second Life (such as seeking a new CEO) they are establishing their value - and more importantly, make sure this becomes a reliable value.

Also, the reasons you mention not to IPO would be exactly the reason to IPO from inside the investors of Second Life (led by Kapor, who never hides the fact he wouldn't object to this). Again, the community management of Second Life is staggeringly bad for a firm claiming to be 'on the cutting edge of 2.0' but as you've said, what else is new there :) NWN posts we will an official response today or tomorrow - I can't wait to see what they've come up with...

IYan Writer said...

Hi Digado,

of course the LL owners would be ecstatic if they could do a successful IPO tomorrow, but I really doubt that it is possible - based on the factors I mentioned. It's not really their decision, but the market's.

And thank you, chestnut rau, for the kind words :)

Digado said...

"LL would be crazy to IPO with stagnating growth"

Thats different from 'who'd be interested in buying LL at this point, which is exactly what they are working on, one step at a time :)

IYan Writer said...

But IPO implies mass market. And, at the moment, mass market is down on virtual worlds and Second Life, so I really don't see it happening. Perhaps in a year.

Buyout by some big corporation is another thing.

Digado said...

I don't think prepping Linden Labs from the stage where they are at, to the stage where they have proven consistent value (which is a requirement for any IPO obviously) is a matter of weeks either, but you have to start somewhere. The process of being able to establish the value of Second Life as a platform.

IYan Writer said...

An update: Mitch Kapor stated that an IPO is not under active consideration currently, so I got at least that part of the blog post right :)

Digado said...

No you didn't - what he clearly indicated is the process of preparing a company for an IPO is a process of 12 to 18 months, and goes one step at a time. (as stated above)

At this moment they are not considering any offers, thats all he said, which makes perfect sense. (Never said they where, how could they with their company still being a mess - which is exactly why they are doing this)

He also stated in the case there will be no future offering, 'running the books' is a good thing to do anyhow - implicating they ARE doing this to prepare for a possible IPO (which was exactly as I put it the first time around) :)

IYan Writer said...


12 to 18 months is a lifetime in a tech startup. Philip's decision is therefore due not to an IPO preparation, but to his being fed up with the managerial details of LL.

And, every startup is "preparing for an IPO" - the investors demand that, so nothing new there, as well :)