King of Spades Out, Ace of Hearts In

SL7B

Wow, what a ride! The Second Life Birthday events are usually full of drama (mostly regarding of what constitutes “art”, and bickering among the organisation managers, usually a mix of residents and Lindens… and where the Lindens, close to the end, sometimes have to kick the residents out and do whatever they need to do to get it rolling). This time, however, it was a box full of surprises.

When I heard about the huge layoffs two weeks ago, I though to myself, what a pity this is happening so close to SL7B — there will be little left to celebrate. As the rumours and the fear started growing, and people were losing faith in Linden Lab (and subsequently in Second Life itself), I felt that not even the impeding announcement of meshes would give us enough reasons to celebrate. And we didn’t get even that. We got voice morphing instead, which is sort of fun I guess, but not really “celebration-grade” material.

The Whys

It’s not unusual for LL to kick employees out once they finish their work, and, as said on my previous post, if LL was going to dump their Enterprise division, it would make sense giving up everybody who was assigned to a project in that area. It did not explain why people like Babbage (Mono, script changes), Pastrami (meshes), or even Blue (community) were dumped; Tateru also explained that most of the Enterprise developers had been kicked out before the Big Layoffs. And, of course, people like Pathfinder (or even Robin before him) had left LL well before all that. So the layoffs have been a long process for the past two years, they were just dramatically increased two weeks ago.

Since most ex-Lindens are not talking about the reasons why they were laid off, we can only do some conjectures. One aspect is just the usual Linden policy of dropping developers when their projects are finished. The other aspect is that some employees might not have been “aligned” with LL’s corporate policies and were encouraged to leave of their own will; when some refused to go (which would be more than understandable, given the circumstances of the job market these days), they had to be pushed aside. And the third, of course, is to make sure that the company remains highly profitable for years to come, keeping Second Life as a virtual world alive and well for plenty of years to come.

This is not really about M Linden being a “ruthless, evil” CEO. He just had a task in front of him. If he was planning to leave anyway, it wouldn’t make any sense to kick everybody out, in an access of anger or frustration — M Linden is too professional for that, and such a hypothesis was never advanced by anyone. It means mostly that there is something we’re not being told about, as Prad and others point out: so if LL was profitable — they have consistently shown more real profits than Facebook! — why the sudden downsizing of the company?

There are two popular explanations for that. The most popular one is that the shareholders want more profit, and want it faster. It would make sense if Linden Lab was a “normal” company backed up by venture capitalists and business angels. But it isn’t. Unlike the majority of popular techy Californian companies out there, Linden Lab has long, long ago generated enough revenues to pay back all investment (which was not much anyway) and even before M Linden became CEO it had plenty of free cash to invest (which they did — by hiring new people, by buying Avatars United, and so forth). They don’t need to be publicly exchanged to raise money. And their major investors (specially the ones in the past, like Jeff Bezos or Pierre Omidyar) are so well off that “a few million dollars” is just pocket money for them; the same applies, of course, to Mitch Kapor. These people are not after the money, they are — and always were — about the vision.

The second popular explanation is that M Linden is just “playing by the book”. A lot was mentioned that “this is how a typical Californian company is run, and what we have seen is what a typical CEO does”. I accept that explanation — but I happen to totally disagree with it. “Playing by the book” is the mark of a professional CEO, but not an innovative one. Visionaries have always made their own rules and pretty much ignored the way “the rest of the world” run their companies. Bill Gates was fond of running Microsoft as a “small company” — meaning that at each level of decision, there were not more than 35 people overseen by a “boss”, which has been shown to be the best “unit” to keep a group closely-knit and working together effectively; Steve Jobs, by contrast, is rumoured to use whips and bad temper to create a reign of utter terror inside Apple to get things done 🙂

Philip Rosedale never played by the book. He had two innovations in terms of management: the Tao of Linden (employees are allowed to work on pretty much they want, so long as they do reports on what they’re doing) and the Love Machine (do something right and get other employees to rate you positively for that). We can all question if any of those things are actually good corporate procedures (I would say “no”); but at least we can say, Philip didn’t qualm at management innovation according to his vision. He was aware that SL is a quite different product than the usual kind that technology companies sell (one where customers pretty much do all the hard work to make the product compelling); so I’m assuming that he thought that the company overseeing that kind of special product has to be special as well. Again, we can argue if he did a good job or not; but certainly he was aware that non-conventional solutions are required to maintain SL’s ongoing success.

Mark Kingdon is a classical CEO, who plays by the book. That’s why some of his decisions seem so strange to SL residents — although they make perfect sense to outsiders who just look at Linden Lab and see “a technology company with a product”. It saddens me to read fellow bloggers writing things like “nothing that M did surprised us; it was all predictable; LL is a textbook case, and he employed the usual methods for dealing with the issues”. I can definitely understand the why, but I still feel sad that LL has been managed reading a textbook case on corporate management. We are special and deserve a special treatment 🙂

Is that just being naive? No, not really. I’m no stranger to “unique” management solutions for “unique” companies; my own professional experience in the past also includes a very successfully run company using completely un-traditional methods. We used to have customers running part of the service; sometimes they even handled tech support for other users; and sometimes they sent emails (or text messages) to the employees warning them that a server was down, even before the automated network management systems detected it. Customers and employees discussed aspects of technical implementations on IRC and USENET forums. It was nowhere close to what Linden Lab actually does all the time with the residents, but nevertheless it wasn’t a “traditional” management method either. Employee loyalty was very high (one CEO got “stepped down” because the employees didn’t like him) and customer satisfaction was considerably above average (even when there were faults with the service, custoemrs were, in general, understanding and didn’t leave in a rush — they believed in the vision and bonded with the brand). At some point in time, the management was changed and got a CEO who also played by the book; after six months of caring little about customer’s needs (but only shareholders’ demands), most customers went away in disgust, and a huge chunk of the workforce submitted their resignation papers (including myself) — it was simply not the same company any longer. It even changed name to reflect its new “traditionally corporate” status (read: screw the customers, please the shareholders) and became an unknown player in the market. Ironically, a few years ago, after the “traditional CEO” was finally fired, the company picked up the old brand name and started offering some services under that brand again. I personally was surprised to see how many clients flocked back to it, after a decade or so, because they still remembered the brand and what it stood for!

Are these extraordinary cases? Very likely so — I can only speak from my own experience, those “unique” models of management, specially when there are incredibly close ties between employees and customers, are very, very hard to reproduce. Even more so when the company grows and becomes an established brand. But I can certainly learn from experience and observe similar innovative, visionary management techniques being employed to make a certain brand stand out from the rest — it’s easy to identify them when you have past experience working on a similar organisation! — and see how it starts failing when the core vision is abandoned for a traditionally corporate one.

I believe this has been the case under Kingdon’s reign at Linden Lab. His reputation as a professional CEO is peerless; he knows the book, and knows how to follow it. From what we hear — from Philip himself, but also from a lot of Lindens and ex-Lindens — Kingdon “got” SL and understood quite well what it could be used for. But he had a goal: to turn the clumsily, amateurishly managed LL into a professionally-run Bay Area-type company. And he set some strategic objectives (we started getting timelines again! And… LL started keeping to deadlines!): enter the Enterprise market (instead of shunning it as in the past); develop a better first-hour experience; improve stability by redesigning the infrastructure; expand the ties with the likes of IBM and Intel to ensure a long-term survival strategy where LL wouldn’t be the only company bearing the burden of building the Metaverse.

But did it work?

Gwyn at Colonia Nova

None of these goals are “idealistic” or “utopian”. They are good objectives, solid goals to implement and please the shareholders. Indirectly, those goals also trickle down to the media, and the media finally got the message that “Second Life is about serious business”, boosting PR to a degree. Education, for instance, flocked to SL in masses when they understood that the proven technology developed by LL was not going to be dropped soon, but would be around for decades — this is the kind of technology that academics love, since the cost of switching all the time to new technology is expensive (that’s why they love Moodle for e-learning, when there are so many better solutions — but Moodle has resisted the “test of time”, while other technologies come and go). Well, at least until Pathfinder was kicked out of the Lab — that made academics suddenly rush to OpenSim instead, which is pretty much the same thing (so all investment wouldn’t be lost), but where you can successfully trade off running costs (sim tier) by cheap labour (which universities have).

However, something went wrong.

And it’s not easy to see what. There were some hints. As a SL Developer myself, I was quite eager to see the development of a much closer relationship between Linden Lab and their developers. We finally got some notion of what kind of features would be implemented in the future, so that we could properly inform our prospective clients. We got documentation. We got training seminars (which were excellent!). We got products specifically designed for enterprises with supporting materials. But… we didn’t get many clients. Why? The way my own company analysed things was that LL’s target was way above our own level of usual prospects: multi-billion companies with millions of US$ to invest in SL. Almost all our customers are way below that level; even the multi-billion companies just wish to invest a handful of US$, not millions. So effectively LL didn’t have “useful products” for the developers to sell — or at least, not for the small-sized developers. Their sales pitch was very sound and backed up by a lot of researched data, but… it was for a class of customers that we couldn’t reach. Now I’m aware that my competition is definitely able to work the kind of clients that LL had in mind — most of them have, indeed, clients in the “millions of dollars” range — but apparently these clients were not enough to bring LL enough revenue from the Enterprise division.

Here is the problem with this model: while a SL Developer might get a few million US$ from a client entering SL, LL wouldn’t get much: perhaps a few sims’ tier. With luck, one SL Enterprise box. But that is little return from all the investment they made on their Enterprise division. I guess that they were expecting to sell hundreds of SL Enterprise boxes, but more likely they just sold dozens — even if the SL Developers, in the mean time, might have indeed attracted clients worth dozens of millions of US$. (No wonder, thus, that LL tried to implement the SL Work Marketplace where they expected to get up to a 30% cut from content sold through that!)

There was also something in the enterprise pitch which captured my attention. During the 2006/7 hype days, companies were criticised that they weren’t “engaging the community”, and this was pointed out as the major reason for failure. Looking back, it seems that the analysts were right: almost all so-called failed projects did not engage the community at all, they were just “media hype” and hardly attracted anyone beyond the launch date. A few, like Orange Island, IBM, or Cisco, who actively engaged the community year after year, were much more longer-lived.

LL, for the SL Enterprise division, came up with a different pitch. Forget the community: just use the technology. Reduce training and meeting costs. Do simulations. Be separate from the whole of SL, which is full of sex-crazed addicts, gamblers, and deviants anyway — keep to the sterile environment of your own private island, or, better still, your own “private grid” using SL Enterprise boxes, well behind your corporate firewall.

Now I think it’s obvious to me that this is a very limited and specialised market. It’s certainly one market worth tens of millions of US$ annually, but it’s not all the market. When all the enterprise efforts focused on this market failed to provide LL a huge return, it meant rethinking the strategy. But don’t forget that companies did come to SL for this market (and they still do!), and they did pay SL developers millions of US$ (and, again, still do). We just don’t see them because they’re behind their fenced gardens — but they are around, and they’re not isolated exceptions good for case studies and little besides.

The big difference from 2006/7 and 2010 is that the non-residential market is invisible to the residential market, i.e., SL-at-large. Thus the “feeling” that universities and companies are “leaving SL”. They’re not. They’re just not intermingled. In a sense, they lead a separate existence, one that has little to do with SL-as-the-community, but with SL-as-the-platform. And their projects are successful, we just can’t visit them, or even read anything about what they’re doing.

Nevertheless… it’s not a market where LL gathers massive revenues.

Thus, the 180º turn announced by Mark Kingdon as his last official corporate orientation for Linden Lab: “let’s forget the corporate market, where we are not going to make huge profits, but have to invest a lot and gather little revenue from occasional sim tiers. We can do much better on the residential market, where people buy sims anyway, no matter how much LL “invests” (and I’m assuming in this case promotion — LL’s “investment” in the residential market is made on ongoing development), and where we have other sources of revenue anyway (LindeX, fees from the XStreet SL Marketplace, and even from Premium accounts).” We don’t if this change of overall strategy came from the Board, from Kingdom himself, his marketing department, or from simply analysing what worked well and what didn’t in the past two years.

But I might imagine that Mark Kingdon is not very familiar with the residential market and thus preferred to drop out of LL; while his former work at Organic definitely made him deal with targeting marketing campaigns to consumers, his clients were companies, not individuals at home. So if he leaves LL because of that, he deserves my respect twice: first,because it’s no shame to admit publicly that one doesn’t know everything. It’s far better to leave and let others do a better job. But secondly because Kingdon might have realised that Second Life, as a community-plus-technology, is way too weird for a “normal”, traditional CEO to deal with. Mainly because just calling SL residents “a residential market” and expecting to apply traditional methods of dealing with the residential market (for instance, developing content to be consumed…) do not apply to SL either.

So is Philip the Right Person for the Job?

Enter Philip Rosedale. The most important aspect of his Second Coming is, naturally, excellent PR. The SLogosphere was insanely happy about his return — he is seen as the “return to normality”, to a Second Life where the resident is the focus, and having a visionary leading LL once more. So, after these dark two weeks, we were given a message of hope: Philip is back, and he’s going to put SL back in order!

But… is he? Make no mistake, I always loved and admired Philip, and will always regard him very highly for what he has done; he is part of the gallery of visionaries that challenged the ongoing computer science paradigm and brought an innovative vision to the IT market. I’m not going to discuss how SL builds on previously existing technologies — nothing exists in a vacuum! — even though there are certainly some technological elements that are unique to SL.

However, the real originality of SL is, as we know, in the very special relationship between its residents and the virtual world. It goes a step further than any other environment in allowing residents not only to “build nice-looking things”, but to create their own virtual environment. There is a subtle difference here, and one that gets often overlooked: “creating content” is not just gluing prims together or designing nice fashion clothes. It’s the immersive experience that we create and participate in.

Now, I’m prepared to believe that Philip is not too bad in designing tools for creating content in the more concrete sense of the word. He did, after all, lead Linden Lab to create most of the tools we have today. However, there is a huge leap from “providing tools” to engaging the immersive environment in order to make the residents happy. There have been indeed few people at Linden Lab with that ability — I’m sure we can all name a few — but it’s not exactly a skill shared by all Lindens, even the ones that were residents long before they were employees.

The big question is, of course, if Philip can do it as well. Like many have pointed out, he wasn’t so great with community engagement. He definitely has empathy with the creators and programmers. He has a strong vision, even though he was not always excellent in explaining how to accomplish it. He is very enthusiastic about SL — but I have this strong feeling that he asks himself all the time, “what now?”

The question is hard to answer. What is LL’s future as a company? SL won’t grow exponentially any more — not without dramatic changes — because it’s not a mainstream product and will hardly ever be, unless it gets dumbed down to the level of Habbo Hotel, and there are no guarantees that a “dumbed down” version of SL will be a successful product for LL. In fact, as the leadership of Kingdon showed, changing SL too much to become something more appealing to a different audience seems to lead to failure. People resist change all the time — they don’t even want to change the viewer experience.

SL is really a tricky environment. Surprisingly, the nearest analogy I can come up with is… World of Warcraft! WoW is pretty much the “same game” for years and years. Sure, there are expansions, and some minor tweaks, but it’s the same experience. Gamers pay for WoW because it stays pretty much the same. Change it too much… and people will leave, and Blizzard will lose their billions of US$. Of course, they can design new games… but why should they? WoW is a cash cow. It doesn’t need to grow more to make Blizzard (and their parent company) happy. It doesn’t require much additional investment, either — mostly maintenance costs and the odd flurry of new content every other year or so.

Second Life is similar in terms of ongoing experience, although it’s a much more dynamic environment in terms of overall content (and I’m not talking merely about prims and clothes! Live music is content too). It’s not “static” in the sense that no innovation can be introduced to SL: rather the contrary. The experience has to improve over time, or people will leave. New features — like flexies or sculpties or Windlight — allowed SL to be expanded even further to become more immersive, attracting more creativity and more talent to develop new kinds of content, and engaging a wider audience. Not, however, an exponentially-growing audience. So innovation has to continue — Havok 7 right now, meshes “soon”, and viewer-side plugins next, for example — or there is innovative stagnation. Nevertheless, these innovative features will just address the current user base, not attract a flurry of millions of new users (for them, everything is new!). This ought to give LL a hint that addressing the current user base is far more important than attracting new users; current residents are already “sold” to the environment and thrive in it, in spite of its faults, bugs, and limitations.

Thus the issue with the new users. Yes, it’s the hard learning curve that keeps them off, but also something much more subtle. SL is designed to be entertaining for intelligent people. I know that this sounds very elitist from me, but the more time passes, the more I believe that the kind of residents that stay in SL for years and years are simply different from the mainstream consumers. The most important difference is that they are, to a degree, producers as well — it means that these people have an unique talent: the ability to entertain themselves (and others). The form of entertainment can be isolated — a lot of builders and programmers have no desire to interact with fellow residents — or quite collaborative, like during a live music event — but, in a way, all residents, to a degree not present in other environments, are both consumers and producers of entertainment. Even if it’s something as simple as chatting! (Not everybody in the world likes to chat online; most find it very boring in fact — unless it’s to get girls undressed on webcams, most don’t even bother to chat at all)

In a sense, this uniqueness of the SL residents is, again, not unlike, say, World of Warcraft. It’s a quite known fact that just because someone has a computer and an Internet connection, they’re not necessarily gamers. Gamers are a special population among all Internet users, and not everybody is a gamer. There is a limit of the number of gamers available in the market. Sure, as the Internet grows — and people buy more computers, even on far-away lands which were recently too poor to afford them — the market for games also grows, since potential gamers who had no access to computers or the Internet suddenly find themselves with the required equipment and connectivity to actually become games — but this number of “newly discovered gamers” doesn’t grow exponentially either. It’s a slow, linear growth. The difference to SL is that gamers usually get bored with games after 6 months, so there is always a market for new games. But this market is not infinitely elastic, although it’s huge — 70 million Facebook users play FarmVille, after all, and that’s just a small fraction of all gamers world-wide.

Immersion in virtual worlds like Second Life, where each and every user is supposed to learn how to entertain themselves, have far, far less potential users. I personally blame TV 🙂 It created a new paradigm for entertainment which doesn’t demand anyone’s brain to be turned on — TV is completely passive and has unlimited choices for all tastes. Of course we also had passive forms of entertainment before TV, but they were nowhere as universal as TV, which is really the lowest denominator on all possible forms of entertainment, and thus its success…

So the TV generation looks upon other forms of entertainment comparing it to TV. They mostly look for different types of content, but the same form of passive entertainment that TV provides. SL, however, requires active entertainment: you have first to learn the interface (very hard). Then you have to figure out where to go to see things you like (quite hard too). Next, you need to interact with others that will tell you where to look for further entertainment (also hard, specially if you’re so dumbed-down from TV that the mere notion of talking to people becomes obnoxious — or even causes anxiety!). And in some cases, that entertainment also requires active participation (even going to a live music show, you’re expected to chat, to touch on dance balls, to dress up, to join groups… and to tip the entertainers on stage).

This is really not for everybody, rather the contrary. It is too demanding for a vast majority of people, who cannot be bothered with more “activity” beyond pressing a button on the TV remote controller. SL gives users too much choice; it demands them to learn too many things.

I really believe that any improvements to SL’s user interface and first-hour-experience will only give marginal growth, and definitely not exponential. It’s true that embedding the SL viewer on a browser will allow some users to try it out, because they were scared to download an application (or simply couldn’t) — so, in a way, the market of potential SL users will expand as new users become more comfortable with the first use (but, again, not exponentially; just marginally so). A more streamlined interface will also allow some people to learn the UI faster, thus enabling them to overcome the first barrier. But that’s not the only one to be overcome. I feel tempted to claim that it’s the less important one, but I know this is not true: or way more than just 10% of all residents would have switched from SL 1.X to 2.X. So, yes, the UI matters, but it shouldn’t — it should be just a matter of taste (e.g. Windows and Mac OS X can do pretty much the same thing, they just have different interfaces; nevertheless, only 10% are interested in having a better interface, the rest prefers to remain stuck with Windows. Microsoft also learned the lesson when it became increasingly more difficult to push users out of Windows XP into Vista and now Win 7. It’s hard. People prefer old interfaces that they’re familiar with).

But even the most streamlined, dumbed-down, easy-to-use interface won’t do miracles. You have to “get” SL in order to remain around. I can imagine that much more people will register, if it’s made much more simpler — but will they remain around? Not really. It takes a few hours to tackle the interface — and this could be reduced to, say, 15 minutes — but it takes weeks or months to “get” SL. Not SL, the viewer, but SL, the environment, the virtual world, the society, the economy… and that is really not for everybody.

This is really the huge challenge for Philip. I know he knows that SL-the-environment is unique and quite unlike anything else. But he might not be aware why it’s unique. The answer, in fact, differs from person to person. For some, SL is just a Lego game for adults. For others, it’s a game of dressing up your avatar. For many it’s just about music. For a lot of them it’s about creative expression in an artistic environment. For a huge chunk, it’s an advanced dating system, where you can remain anonymous and play out your fantasies safely. But the majority is not even in those groups. In fact, the majority is in the vaguest group of all — the group of the ones who know how to entertain themselves, and that can take so many different forms that it’s impossible to list them.

How can a CEO — any CEO — tackle so many conflicting desires and put the company’s energy behind them all simultaneously? I’m sure it’s quite challenging. Years ago I used to say that SL was as hard to market as Web pages; at least that’s what it felt to me, when I did my first public presentations. What was the Web good for? Honestly, in 1994, the answer was “everything and nothing”. It really was one of those viral things that needed a lot of trial & error until an application was found that would make the Web really attractive to everybody. Some like to point at eBay and Amazon.com as good examples of what really kick-started the “Web revolution”. Still, the Web is being used in billions of different ways by billions of different people everywhere; although there is not a company behind the Web, there is the W3C consortium, but it only deals with the technology behind the Web, not its use. There is nobody out there saying what the Web is good for.

Second Life is uncannily similar, but, at the same time, it’s completely different as well. For instance, the Web is good for selling digital content, but most of the transactions on the Web are for atom-based content (although, ironically, e-commerce on the Web started with selling software — and today, thanks to the iPhone, selling applications over the Internet became again a focus, with a new exponential growth). Second Life is all about digital content, but it’s very specific digital content, because it can only be used inside SL. But it’s not a tiny market. It’s worth US$700 million/annually and growing steadily (but not exponentially!). It’s surprisingly stable, depending far less from the influence of the media, even though all hints should point to the opposite (and yes, I’m aware that Supply Linden keeps the L$/USD ratio artificially as stable as possible).

The question is then how to tackle all of this. A virtual environment for self-entertainment with an incredibly stable economy, but with little growth. An almost infinite number of particular tastes, all requiring improvements. And a company that has to prioritise things, it cannot tackle all at the same time.

Philip himself identifies a few areas:

It also really inspired me in thinking about how live music as an example, is something that can get better if we refocus our efforts and do the things we’re trying to do right now at the Lab, to just kind of back up and make Second Life just work. Work better for everybody. I think live music is just a super example of that, we’re so close, there’s a a few things that work — I should say there’s many things that work in Second Life, and then there’s a few things that still don’t work quite right. And if you look at something like live music, you can just imagine how if we could just take away a couple of the barriers — for example, broadcasting a stream is pretty difficult with live music, and of course, having a bunch of people — having there be 20 people sitting at your event and have to tell their friends, and try to bring another 50 people into the event is something that today in Second Life, just doesn’t work very well, that max crowd of people that shows up and shuts off the servers. […]

Make these big changes to the fundamental experience that simply makes it easier, simpler, faster, smoother — for everybody. And I think that if there’s a change in strategy that makes sense, it’s that one. To regroup, to simplify, and to focus on the things that affect everybody. I just saw the word “basic accessibility” there in text, I think that’s a great way of capturing it. The basic accessibility of the world simply needs to be fantastic. And we’re not there yet. And it’s a huge mission, it’s okay that we’re not there […]

So… apparently this shows where LL is going to focus next: increasing the number of avatars in the same region, and, overall, making the experience better for everybody. This sounds a bit like 2007, when Philip announced the end of new features and a focus on stability. I remember that I was a bit frustrated at the time, because, after all, SL didn’t get much more stable in 2007 (although it certainly picked up stability in 2008 and later), and we got few new features to play with. Definitely much less than what we got in 2004/5.

It seems, however, that these are really just very vague areas — not the kind of fixed goals and objectives that Mark Kingdon used to give us. There are no solid suggestions on how to change the underlying technology so that it really supports, say, a thousand avatars in the same region. Philip talks about barriers, and we have a lot of those: the avatar limits, the group limits, the prim limits (megaprims are still not built in the viewer, even though Havok 7 should have no problems — after all, ODE, the open source physics engine for OpenSimulator, has absolutely no problems, and it’s a far less polished product than Havok), the script limits, the built-in delays on scripts, and so forth. Some are purely arbitrary; most are trade-offs (like the delays, which make griefing harder); others are tied to cost (if you take up more CPU, bandwidth and disk space — e. g. more prims and more scripts running inside them — you ought to pay more for what you use); and some are technological assumptions (e.g. the grid being split up in 256×256 tiles, each running from a single CPU inside a virtual machine).

The list is probably too long for a short speech. But it would be helpful if Philip had said something a bit less vague, like: “we are going to get rid of the avatar limit first; this will take us a year”. Then we would at least know what direction he’s going to take.

On the other hand, we should not forget that Philip is just acting as “interim CEO” and thus probably doesn’t expect himself to be the one to set the definitive goals. Being an “interim CEO”, however, doesn’t mean much; Steve Jobs also returned to Apple as “interim CEO” and never left after that. But I’m not sure that Philip really wants to stay around; he’ll probably looking for a good CEO to replace him, he already gave a decade of his life to SL…

But this time the search will be much harder. When Mark Kingdon was hired, the Lab knew at least that they had to deal with the emerging interests of business and education. Kingdon was more than qualified to deal with that; the remaining aspects — like the first-hour experience — would be tackled as part of the overall effort to make Second Life more appealing for enterprise use. Now, however, no CEO will want to tackle the corporate market again. The new CEO will require a deep knowledge of engaging the residential market. This means also knowing how to deal with online communities. And it will be hard to find someone that is aware of the uniqueness of Second Life’s communities.

So is this a change for the best? I think it’s a much more challenging change (sorry about the alliteration!) than ever before, but for quite different reasons. “Going back to residential customers” is something that really requires to understand what residents need. Linden Lab was never very successful with that. I can imagine that merely having the aspiration of dealing with the residents again — as opposed to the focus on “too many things” (which presumably includes targeting SL for the enterprise market) — is a good start. But I believe, like others do, that a lot more has to be done than just having “good intentions”.

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