June 10, 2010
Linden Lab had a very bad day yesterday. A lot of people, some of them my friends, had a very bad day yesterday. Second Life certainly didn’t have a good day. Trimming 1/4 of the staff, shutting offices, and disrupting plans isn’t a good thing. The sense of sudden change, and confusion which came with it reinforces that perception.
My concerns and best wishes to everyone who got swept up in the downsizing. Losing a job is rarely fun. Given Linden Lab’s size and history, this hits some people even harder. A lot of bright, creative and hard working people are suddenly dealing with looking for new jobs and dealing with a loss of connection to a special community. Whump, a friend, drops a hint of that with the creation of an “emergency replacement avatar.” Another ex-linden remarked, while looking at the mass graveyard one resident setup, “This is the part about identifying with your avatar that isn’t so hot.”
Where does all this leave Second Life? I don’t think anyone can answer that question. As an outside observer, that’s even harder of course. Mark Kingdon and the board, and the investors in Linden Lab no doubt think they understand where they are going. The rather vague and very polished press release and blog postings don’t give any details or roadmap which would lead one to go “aha!” There is neither what they no longer think will work, nor in any deep way ‘This is what we are going to do next, and why.” to be found in there.
I carefully separated the kind of day “Second Life” had from the company and the people. Why? Because Second Life, at this point, is not just a service that Linden Lab runs, but a community and an ecosystem centered around that service. Second Life took a hit, as a service, and no doubt as a community. Until the dust settles, and its possible to discern where that leaves Linden Lab its hard to understand the nature of that hit. Is this the beginning of a slow fade into obscurity? Is it a move on the road to an acquisition or IPO? Possibly. Is it related to the sagging concurrency and resident numbers? its hard to imagine it isn’t. Exactly how all these parts relate, and how Linden’s road map for the service is going to change, is impossible to divine at the moment. Too much noise, too much dust, too much disruption. Not nearly enough information about what projects are dead, and which ones will never be tackled.
The Second Life community is full of loud voices, many speaking with bold statements about what Wednesday’s events mean … This WILL happen. This is because of XX. This is a plan to do Y…. Second Life attracts passionate engagement, and the blogs, tweets, and discussions reflect that passion. I don’t think anyone can say what the full impact is, because nobody knows. Not the wisest blogger, not the shrillest commentator, the not most puzzled newb. Many of the newly ex-Lindens can (and probably will in time) tell bits of the story, as they were visible from where they sat. I see no way to spin such a massive change as good. It’s bad, its disruptive, and it clearly, in spite of spin and pretty words, is a sign of serious strategy and execution issues at the lab.
What next? I certainly don’t know. I think anyone who tries to make definite firm statements about what it means if jumping the gun rather badly. I hope there is some serious thought about how Linden Lab got where it is. I think there needs to be thought about the unique value of a Virtual World. I don’t think simply pushing more social media, more Facebook, more FarmVille makes sense. There is a world of difference between an immersive place one visists and shares with friends, and a game one plays in one’s spare minutes on facebook.
Logins still work, The sims are still running and sometimes lagging, people are still bending prims and painting cool textures onto them While lots of people are hurt and confused, I don’t think the “game is over.” I think there is a lot to worry about, and still a huge amount of potential. Whether Linden Lab, or some other company mines what Linden has created, I don’t know. Too soon to tell. Too Soon. Wait a little, and see, before running off to proclaim what it all means.