The Gold Solution Providers Programme

A few of us who are in Second Life® mostly for business have long ago complained to Linden Lab, in the years of 2005 and 2006 mostly, how little they cared about businesses in SL, and how little effort they put in expanding and opening the virtual world to healthy business from the real world.

In those days, SL was viewed by LL as a “cool place” for designers, talented creators, and programmers, to build their own virtual world. They were expecting youngsters to flock to SL and start being creative immediately. That utterly failed to happen — in real life, only about 1 in 100 people are really talented and innovative, the remaining are passive consumers of entertainment, but not producers. And SL couldn’t grow just with the happy creative crowd, even if that crowd is staggering in its huge size.

The alternative was to start to pitch Second Life for serious business use (as well as for research and academic teaching). This took Linden Lab years to realise, and they were very reluctant to do so. The first step was creating the Developers’ Directory, but, of course, this has little impact, since none of those developers were “certified” or “acknowledged” or even “endorsed” by LL. It was just a listing, one of many others, which just happened to be hosted on a LL server.

Later, Linden Lab introduced the whole business-oriented site, Second Life Grid, and added a staff of Lindens to start forging connections with the business and academic world. There have been many hurdles. LL is always fearful of being biased and showing “favouritism” towards others. So businesses — businesses as large as IBM, Xerox, Microsoft, Sun, Dell, and others — have been treated pretty much like the average Jane Avatar. For instance, businesses had a hard time to get invoices, and had still to pay for their sims using a credit card or PayPal — an impossibility inside most corporate structures — and there was still this stupid need of having to create a “special” avatar just for the purpose of owning estates (while the ToS forbade password sharing). And although some Lindens were open to hear a bit more about businesses and educators, they were reluctant to get influenced by them.

Thanks to that, many examples that popped up in 2006/7 have shook their heads at Linden Lab and went away, the most well-known being MTV (who went to again) and the Electric Sheep Company (who developed their own, Flash-based virtual world instead). But they were not the only ones, there have been horror stories about the relationship with Linden Lab by many dozens or hundreds of organisations.

This is now 2009, and M Linden definitely is pushing ahead the message that “SL is also for corporations and academic research too” (perhaps even putting too much emphasis on those!). Now things have really started to roll. LL pushes clippings about the use of SL in business almost every day. They sponsor case studies. They have created the possibility of licensing their software to run on your own servers behind a corporate (or campus) firewall. They sponsor business conferences and get in touch with educational groups regularly — now as part of their daily routine, not as something that they do “sometimes” when they’re in the “mood”. Their staff to address business users has increased and is professional and knows what businesses are after — and yes, the same is also true for the academic world. They started something called a General Solution Provider programme last year, getting SL developers together, and gathering their input.

The latest iteration of this effort has been going towards an accreditation/certification process for business-oriented developers in SL. While the programme is not perfect, Linden Lab, out of the hundred thousand or so content creators, the thousands upon thousands RL-based freelancers, the hundreds of companies listed on the Developers List, reviewed a bit over 40 applications for the Gold Solution Provider Programme, and 30 were selected.

I’m proud to announce that my own company, Beta Technologies, is part of that list.

Now a lot has been discussed elsewhere about the merit of this programme. It’s akin to, say, the Microsoft Gold Partner programme, or programmes from similar corporations. To apply for it (the list is not closed), you need to demonstrate a relatively high level of skills and competences — validated by experience, not by taking certification tests, but by actually having RL customers hiring your services. You have to demonstrate that your company is doing regular business with SL as a platform — i.e. not just created one virtual presence in, say, 2006, and going away. You have to show that you have different kinds of customers (again, not just one, or just one type) and are able to deploy any kind of project that heads your way. You have to demonstrate your ability to pull in customers from megacorps, governments, or renowned universities. You have to show press coverage, for you and your clients. It’s an extensive list of requirements, and, most importantly, Linden Lab will validate your claims and check your references, interview your clients, and examine your ongoing work. Some people in the past have mentioned that these can be easily “gamed”, and I guess that if you’re a one-person-shop with a handful of friends that have hired you out to glue some prims together, you might be right. But the Gold Solution Provider programme is a bit more demanding than that 🙂

Still, no matter the criticism, I believe that LL is aware that no solution is “perfect” and that this is just one step in the right direction: not shunning away businesses and academic institutions, but draw them under their protective fold. If this means coming up with more clever ideas — full certification is a long-due project that has been on hold for over a year now — that’s all good. The important thing for LL is to remain open-minded towards the concept that developers are good for SL since they directly bring new customers to embrace the virtual world, and indirectly more visitors — all of them, sooner or later, paying tier 🙂 which is the core business of Linden Lab.

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