Would you like fries with that?

April 23, 2009


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?



  1. Great perspective here! At the SLCC in Chicago (2007) Phillip confessed that LL often treated residents like lab rats and it was time to change. That was a wonderful insight, but it means exactly what you are saying … residents, not customers; co-creators of their world, not patrons nor squatters.

  2. It needs to be a balance between resident and customer, I think. But they are failing at both during this transition.

    “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.”

    I think the account-holders are discovering w2.0 and social networking on their own and will eventually grow louder over their frustrations with the lack of integration with the client.

  3. Signed!

  4. All really excellent ideas and comments. Much like the growth of a neighborhood or “village” (to coin an overused phrase), it would indeed need to address both the liveability aspects as well as financial sustainability aspects, in order to strike a viable balance. We can only hope they are listening.

  5. I’ll offer a faint glimmer of hope that the Lab has a clue. The CEO showed up on a Visitor List in February. It wasn’t a particularly hyped up “must see” location either.

    It’s nice to know he’s a grid crawler. And he’s got his Flickr page with snapshots of places he’s visited. I think he likes SL.

  6. Thanks for the fantastic comments, everyone!

    I wish I knew of a parallel example to point to where a company effectively balanced managing an independent community while promoting growth. The only example I could think of were company towns and we all know how well *those* turned out! So, in fairness to LL, I think they have had to do a bit of building the plane while flying it, but I believe they’ve overlooked the asset of Residents in solving those challenges.

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