Well, there was a much bigger gap between posts than I intended, but my first life got particularly busy. More to come soon, I promise!!!
I can’t shake the belief that Linden Lab is starting to see the people who use Second Life as customers rather than Residents. Why do I think this? We all know the changes that Linden Lab has undergone in the past months; sweeping changes in management, new sets of standards for communication, zoning changes and consistent comments about growth targets. Change can be good. So can growth. And being seen as customers may not be a bad thing, but I find myself wondering if there is an understanding of the “world” aspect to this virtual world and the community that comes with it.
From the outset, Second Life users have been called Residents. Being a Resident implies having rights and responsibilities while being a customer implies responsive, reliable service. Being a Resident AND a customer is not mutually exclusive and I truly hope that Linden Lab agrees, but I’m just not sure. This shift is potentially a challenging one and, if Linden Lab isn’t careful, strips the implicit social contract of a world where user-created content is highly valued to a world that attracts a greater volume of people who come along for the ride.
Let’s be clear here, Linden Lab is a business that is trying to grow and be profitable. They’ve invested in developing the product, making capital purchases, and marketing; in other words, they can do what they please. I really do hope they grow and continue to be successful, yet I have a sinking feeling that they’ve engaged in a complex calculus of changes that they know will result in the loss of some Residents but would be offset by the increased revenue from more customers. As Second Life grows, will Residents really have a role in shaping the world through rich content and creation of communities?
I would love to see Linden Lab start to make moves that show they understand the culture of Second Life while having an eye toward growth. Toward this end, Linden Lab could benefit from public policy type approaches to problem solving in Second Life. Some possibilities include holding a series of moderated community conversations where key topics could be discussed. There could also be open working groups developed to create solutions to some of the more significant problems. There may even be ways to capitalize on the tremendous amount of social networking on web 2.0 platforms that takes place among Second Life residents. What is most important is that these processes are transparent and open with opportunities to foster real dialogue. The more we can find ways to bridge our gaps and frustrations, the more likely it will be that we’ll preserve a feeling of shared ownership among Residents and see the idea of Second Life being “our world” that is build on “our imagination” come to fruition.
The possibilities of Second Life are just beginning to be realized and there is so much more to see from here. I hope we find ways as Residents to remind Linden Lab of what people have chosen to invest in Second Life before we find ourselves having someone like Mayor McCheese requiring us to super-size our accounts. What do you think?