The SL5B Drama: Crowdsourcing Fiasco Or Devious Plan?

SL5B logoBy now, it’s impossible that you haven’t heard the news from so many sources, including Linden Lab®’s own blog post on the subject. I would like to apologise in advance for not quoting all sources; so many people wrote from so many different viewpoints, and they all have thoroughly argued and discussed of what possibly might have been Linden Lab’s fiasco in dealing with their volunteer crowdsourcing effort on SL5B.

Let’s go back in history a bit. When the Second Life® world was young — with less than 15,000 active users — Linden Lab thought it would be nice to commemorate their first birthday (mostly to pat themselves on their collective backs and say: “hooray, after a year, we’re still around!” which, for a startup with an insane idea, was definitely an achievement). In those days, Linden Lab viewed themselves as the “community managers” — mostly spreading around good ideas, having their employees coordinate community efforts, spending some of their money in resources and (minor) promotion. The idea was “Lindens and Residents working together for the common good”. When you have a few thousand similarly-aligned people, this is easy. Also, when you’re not paranoid about the increased Puritanism in your society — LL was open-minded, true to their Californian spirit — that was also easy to promote. And promote it they did.


Linden Lab runs at least three major “festivals” in Second Life. One is the Anniversary in June; the other is Burning Life, usually in September; and finally the Winter Festivals. There might be a few others, but these were the ones attracting most of the attention — both in-world, but also from the media. And for those, at least in 2004/5, Linden Lab followed the model of what their so-called alleged competitors are still doing: the company behind Second Life is the company managing the Big Events™. Badly or not, they were LL-promoted.

In 2005 things started to change. Ultra-successful events like Relay for Life (for the American Cancer Society) or even the Dreams Fair (from the sadly departed The Sojourner) were huge organisational efforts, all done by volunteers, and with incredible amounts of success. LL sometimes still advertises for Relay for Life, but mostly ignores other, similar, resident-run events. And for the Second Birthday, they thought about how residents are so much more successful in running these big events than Linden Lab itself. They decided to let a group of volunteers run it instead. In fact, by late 2005, Linden Lab started to make clear that they would leave SL more and more for residents to run.

SL Residents are not sheep in military uniform, conforming to a single mindset and profile, prone to obey orders coming from above. In fact, LL promoted SL often by showing how diverse the cultures and mindsets of their residents are. You can try to profile them, but you’ll see many, many profiles… in fact, perhaps as many as there are active residents! There is definitely a group of 10 or 15 thousand which are still closely aligned to LL’s own ideas in 2004. But the remaining millions are completely, totally, and utterly different. LL embraced the diversity and claimed it was a Good Thing™.

Shortly before the 2nd anniversary festival started, however, it was clear that it was going to be quite different from what LL had in mind. And they “took over” at the last possible moment. It had been brilliantly organised so far, but rumours were starting to grow that the organisation was doing everything in a hurry and not handling things well. SL was still small at that time, so the impact of “LL taking over” was not so felt as, well, today.

On the third anniversary, we basically had the same old story repeating. Things went rather well until at the last possible moment all hell broke through. Volunteers became immensely disappointed and vowed never to help out LL again. And the same, of course, happened last year. All those volunteers who spent weeks after weeksorganising, planning, and networking with other residents were completely burned out, stigmatised by both LL and their fellow residents, and had to suffer the humiliation of having LL, at the last possible moment, push them out and take over. That’s quite a way to make people happy. As usual — LL is very consistent sometimes! — they hurt most the ones that are working harder (for free!) to promote their world, when LL disagrees in the way it gets promoted.

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