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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  • Once again Gwyn you have written a “must read” about SL 5th. You put it so well “the moment a company autistically refuses its own customer base, and wishes to have a different one — by excluding the ones they’ve got, instead of working with them — something starts to break.” Thank you.

  • Prokofy Neva

    Gwyn, you’re speaking in such a cloaked fashion here, you’re not making sense.

    Your will was crushed? Well, perhaps this was a good thing? We’d have to hear what your will was, how it was crushed, and what the issues were. Maybe you are wrong here.

    The SL Kids aspect of the birthday was never the fronted thing people are now imagining in the retelling — and it was creepy then, too.

    Crowdsourced? Well, hardly. It’s the same little bunch of fanboyz and fangirlz who step up for everything, and imagine they represent “thecommunity”. Well, they don’t even represent that, but certainly not me.

  • Zeph

    good article, you can tell because it provoked Prok to post his usual scratch response.

  • JC

    Aww, ‘cmon Prok. Still going on about the FIC after all this time? How about some new material, k?

    Gwyn: Though I’ve obviously not given the idea nearly as much brain time as you have, I must admit having the idea that LL has been almost duplicitous in its dealings with its customers recently. I’m quite disappointed to see evidence for it.

  • Actually, Prok, you should be happy: “the same old people” (the FIC) are being dumped by Linden Lab, trampled over, and pushed outside Second Life, or at least outside Second Life’s promotion…

    Thus rejoice! The land of mindless zombies has no place for the FIC any more — Linden Lab dixit.

  • Qie

    In a series of bad decisions and worse communications, LL managed to turn a fairly simple problem of “social scalability” into a crisis of confidence, with residents and media scrambling to divine the facts of the changing situation.

    The simple problem that LL failed to recognize is that, to scale by letting residents make the calls, they must step aside from sponsorship of the results of the residents’ decisions.

    They can offer help with promoting and coordinating events like SL5B and can even offer sims or other resources at a great discount, but they cannot put themselves in a position of responsibility for the whole thing. Instead, future events may reasonably contain Linden sims with all-Linden content, as launching points for other, resident-managed content.

    Kids5B is the model of future resident-contributed event content, and is largely mirrored in the proposed “fringe festival” to coincide with SL6B.

    The fantastically f’d-up part of all this is that, in the course of realizing this (if they have, still), LL alienated many of its most enthusiastic customers and then repeatedly made untrue and half-true statements to their entire user-base.

    That this has become standard operating procedure doesn’t excuse it, nor make it any less damaging to the company’s prospects.

  • Marianne McCann

    Excellent writeup. I fel like I was in this mess from the get go this year, mostly ‘cuz I was. What a mess. You nailed a lot of it, no question.

  • Qie, you’re so very right: SL5B was just “another example” of communication going all wrong, and of LL putting themselves in a limelight they should never bother to put. We can extrapolate to everything else, and not restrict it to this single example: it was just the most recent in a series.

    Stand by for the trademark issue (the expiry date for the “grace period” is nearing!) and the age validation (looming over our heads and we don’t know when it’ll hit us with full force). Oh, and there are a few other nasty surprises up LL’s sleeves which unfortunately I can’t reveal… and there was no date for their official, public announcement. I’m sure, however, that it will coincide in a week where a lot of new features (Mono and Shadows at least) will be released to minimise the bad publicity…

  • Elfod Nemeth

    An excellent article.

    I find the Lindens customer support baffling – I can get a ticket for a sim restart answered and the issue resolved with an hour, but when I had an issue with the payment method for my premium account borked (the card was fine) they didn’t respond after 2 weeks! This was me trying to give them money but no response? It eventually resolved itself automagically and I closed the ticket myself.

    The interesting point is, as you said, is going to be when we start running our own sim servers. However, to be part of the grid we will have to, presumably, pay LL a gateway access fee and adhere to the their disneyfied grid policy, whatever future form that takes.

    So, once we have alternate grids all using, say OpenID, LL will be in trouble. Why would any content creators use SL(tm) anymore? It’s just a question of momentum – people will follow the content.

  • Don’t even leave, we need you comrad.

  • hope

    Grrr, I hate this ‘I know something you dont but I cant tell’ stuff; put it doesnt surprise me LL has more going on behind the scenes. Just a hint if it is going to be more restrictions against certain communities would be nice, so I can sell my land before its even more worthless.

  • I worry when someone continues to obsess, derisively, over and over, in blog comment after blog comment and forum post after forum post, about “the children” and how “creepy” they are.

    I really do.

  • Well, I wonder why I anybody should be doing something _for_ LL like celebrating SL anyway. They made very clear with that TM policy change that this is their world, not ours, so why bother?

    Besides I was wondering anyway why the whole SLB is not a decentralized event anyway, it would make things IMHO much easier. All you need might be some central repository of events (which should not be run by LL to prevent censoring).

    But as said, I don’t care anymore anyway.. I am looking forward to a free and open grid where the LL managed part is a very small one which you can then ignore if you want to.

  • Eladrienne

    I say we just all let out a collective sigh in advance of whatever the big “special announcement” is…

  • Gwyneth, great extended summary on the whole matter!

  • Elfod, the best way for LL not to be in trouble is simply to interconnect with all those OpenSim-enabled grids. It’s as simple as that!… that way, they can run Disneyland in a PG grid on their “own”, make all puritans and companies happy, and leave the rest of the residents to roam across the multiple grids and have fun.

    Brands will still be offering products, services, events, etc. in SL on a “children-safe” area, under the control of LL… but we will log in with our avatar anywhere and go to wherever we please…

  • mr wampole

    I would like LL to go further and shut down the Gor sims.

  • Phedre Dumouriez

    It’s clear from this and many other serious topics of discussion how SL truly has moved on from being ‘a virtual game’, often compared to WoW, to something far more significant.

    Even when declared to be ‘not a game’ but an extension of life as we know it, the amount of intellectual growth and immersion of thought processes shows that – no matter how badly LL screws up – they definitively started something big.

    I came to SL originally in 2006 with a mind to lose myself in the fantasy of a virtual world; where ‘my imagination’ could run wild; and where I could escape from the humdrum of my first life for a few hours per day.

    Imagine my surprise when – not only do I get sucked in to spending more time in-world then I do in my RL job (due to projects and creative efforts and relationships) – but I also find myself drawn into philosophical debates, personal drama and social protests.

    Now, two years later, I’m almost afraid to log in – worried what new crisis will try and demand my attention this time. As a non-profit consultant IRL, it’s not my way to simply block my eyes and ears and continue along as if all was well, but at the same time… I do sadly miss the days of innocent exploring as an avatar of choice and leaving First Life resolutions behind.

    Perhaps I should go back to The Sims…

    Then again, perhaps I should simply ‘grow up’, leave off of my ‘toys’ altogether and admit that for some, there is no escape from life in all forms.

  • Being that SL is actually NC-17 (not for 17 and under) instead of PG, and being that movies and games rated NC-17 are refused in the US in some theatres and shops, and companies are reluctant to be publicly associated with them, LL may well be moving to make the whole world a PG wonderland and merge TSL with it.

    We do need a countermovement here. Nipplegate was already a shameful thing. And we’re going downhill from there it seems, although that hardly is possible.

  • Toy LaFollette

    Wonderful read, Gwyn. I always liked your thoughts!!

    from onea da kid avs 🙂

  • Gwyn,

    Just to clarify something … both Marv and Pryii stepped down from their positions in SL5B, but both of them continue to support it by staying in the group answering questions, and giving other support. Will and I are both active in SL5B as committee members.

    Also, there will be Fringe Festival information kiosks around the SL5B sims and (soon) elsewhere on the grid. Using these kiosks, you can get information, volunteer, or make donations.

    The intent of the Fringe Festival is to be INCLUSIVE of the various subcultures within Second Life.

  • sirhc desantis

    Good article, great summary. But spill the beans G on what you have heard, don’t leave us hanging. As for the Disneyfication of SL (tm etc) – well I got myself an asland on one of the new (albeit small) grids to play with. When (if) it takes off I will move there full time. Ive only been inworld since December 2006 but even I have seen the changes. Shame really

  • hope

    What do you have against Gor, mr wampole? Its no more dangerous than scientology which is a religion based on a self-help book. No one forces you to go to any of their sims or to have anything to do with them. Does the fact you dont like it give us any less right to exist?

  • Gwyn, an absolutely astounding history of LL and the community, so far.

    Like you, I disagree with the way the Lab’s attitude and policy towards the more enthusiastic and less mainstream adopters of SL has been evolving ;
    I am less sure, however, that the new management considers corporate compatibility the only way to go (as it was in the mind of people assuming they have created the 3D internet) — after all, this has led nowhere yet but to IBM having rented their own servers in LL’s office.

    As I said in my comment on Dusan’s blog you so kindly quoted, mass adoption would be another possible way. The fact the Lindens seem to conduct a quite sweeping survey of their user base currently and M. Lindens’ track record would point more in that direction if you ask me — and as I said before, SL as a 3D Facebook does in fact make sense, even if it would turn it into a place I’d run away from screaming… but then, I surmise that I qualify for membership of that part of the user base that is to be shed with a minimum of fuss now it has outlived its usefulness.

    I’m not sure prospects are as bleak as they sound — maybe SL was just the breeding ground for the first generation of metaverse citizens, and maybe, just maybe the best thing that will ever happen to us will be to have to leave our beloved home. I must admit to looking forward to this with some dread, but also a measure of expectation.

  • Can I just say that I wrote the policies onto the Wiki originally and have Updated the policy since you posted it here. There’s not a No Nipple rule in place just a general PG Policy which includes nudity.

    SLB Coordinator

  • Elfod Nemeth

    Gwyneth – I fully appreciate that but it’s not so simple – how will identity across multiple grids be managed? LL as gatekeeper, or federated authentication via Open ID or something similar (maybe just good old LDAP lol), and more importantly, mobile inventory…

    Who knows, maybe LL will become like the central DNS authority of the 3D web controlling authentication/identity, inventory and grid directory. I absolutely guarantee this is what IBM and LL and working on.

    They need something like this to survive economically.

    Rheta – I see SL as more like a 3D myspace, or at least the mainland 🙂

    Seriously though, I see us right now in the web of the 80s – everybody is finding their feet and LL is a bit like AOL….where are AOL now? I sincerely hope this isn’t the case and I can fully appreciate the pressures they are under – trying to be all inclusive while at the same fending off idiots in politics using SL to score political points, people like Jack Thompson and tabloids/TV news running sensationalist stories – an absolute PR nightmare.

    I personally don’t believe there is any sinister plot to shed or push out an undesirable proportion of the SL community, they’re just walking a very thin wobbly public relations tightrope that’s been greased with a lion pit below.

    I suspect (and this is pure conjecture) the announcement will be that the grid is going to be opened up and run by anyone who wants to, just like web servers are now, and LL will tie it together as I mentioned above – then we will have absolutely true freedom, just like we have on the 2D web (ie. subject to applicable RL laws).

  • Having LL as gatekeeper is not going to work, the whole thing needs to be decentralized (like the web is) to work.

    What is envisioned in the Architecture Working Group (actually founded by LL) is that it’s more a bilateral contract between those grids which want to cooperate.

    There might of course be directories of grids somewhere and there also might evolve some sort of DNS like service but I think for now we should concentrate on make the first step in getting the grid itself to be decentralized.

    As for identity you can then choose your home server for your identity like you do with OpenID. Of course there are many issues to be worked out but nobody said it’s easy 😉

    As for the reasons for all of this miscommunications I also don’t think there is necessarily some evil plot but simply some investors or old school marketing people or lawyers at work. They have their own view of how a company needs to be run but this view might not be compatible anymore with the internet.

    I remember Guy Kawasaki (former apple evangelist) saying that Apple once was very scared that all those designers were using their computers and not those using spreadsheets etc. He said “Don’t fight it, take the money”. And indeed, it’s the user who define what a product is in the end, not the company. Even more so when the product is title “your world” (which of course is not true anymore due to the TM policy change).

  • More evidence of the persistent and sometimes oppressive unprofessionalism of the Lab.

  • It isn’t easy living in The Handmaid’s Tale.

  • Gwynneth, the article is really well written and helped me peruse a history of SLBs that only provides some consolation after completing my first, and probably only, experience as a volunteer in SL5B.

    I have never seen such a major example of lack of organization, conflicting information and even absence thereof, and my own contribution to the event (international signage) is very likely to be unused. Too bad I had created a team of linguists to provide this and more services, and my only satisfaction that at least the wiki was kept updated in five major languages in real time (although it is always suggested the English language wiki is the most updated — so much for the internationalization of SL, huh?)

    I have taken part in this year’s event as a volunteer because when I attended SL4B (I was only one month old in SL), I was mesmerized by its beauty and great history lessons provided by the builds, it was like travelling back in time. I had no idea of all the blood, sweat and tears that had been poured on it and I am wondering how we are even opening June 23, when the greeters organizer, an otherwise capable person, was appointed June 22!

    I am glad to remain an exhibitor in SL and I am afraid I will file the whole experience under AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

    What a disappointment.

  • Anonymous

    The following is from my experience in life in general and I have no special connection to LL or FIC or whatever else. I just am speculating:

    So what is the big announcement? That the venture capitalist CEO has stepped down and the new CEO stepped in, the disneyfication of SL is really to help in the sale of SL or movement towards a private ownership? Anyone can see that with Philip stepping down we are moving towards either IPO or private sale.

    Big woop- fix the grid and stop alienating your residents. Happy 5th Birthday SL.

    Gwen I always admire your opinion on matters and this is a good read. Sad to see such long time icons getting burned out.

  • Engolida

    I agree in all ur words gwyn, even with just 1 year of SL i were searchin all over the internet, blogs, news, etc etc. and I assume that LL only care with big companies and course (behind, the money would explain better their no-sense actions). I did not enter or even care to visit the SLB5 and will not be on the 6.

  • Prokofy Neva

    I hardly think it’s “obsessive” to state the obvious, normal response normal people have: child avatars *are* creepy, and their genesis in SL is what makes them particularly creepy.

    So, Gwyn, these football teams, these universities, they all show their nipples during their office meetings and protypes? They all go around in child avatars? You make it sound like they are the cutting edge cultural avante-garde and Linden Lab is “Disney,” but they all sound like pretty bland stuff. I mean, really, get a grip!

    I have a better understand, BTW, about what you mean by “breaking your will now” because the Lindens are exasperating, still, in all this tidal wave of words, you should have explained the concrete facts.

  • Dell Wilberg

    Wow Gwyn, interesting article and comments. I heard about some of the drama involved in this event, but fortunately I have never volunteered to “help” with this event. If I had done so it sounds like I might have been very upset at the outcome.

    It seems to me that at this date there is no real alternative to SL. I remember pre-internet that many competing online communities arose, AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, The Well…

    At this point AOL is the biggest of that group having been acquired by Time Warner. All the rest were absorbed or have very small numbers. They were all surpassed by the Internet which is open and free to all to publish content as the user deems fit.

    Is it not safe to assume that this same scenario will play out in the near future for Second Life as a platform? Whether it is OpenSim or some other tech we have not seen yet, as soon as there are real options the better for all the virtual communities.

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