Friday, March 12, 2010

Comings and Goings at the Lab -- Claudia takes over from Pathfinder

In light of the recent elimination of Pathfinder’s position with Linden Lab, a great many residents with an interest in education have expressed the fear that LL is moving away from promotion of the platform as a tool for educational purposes.

To some extent, this is understandable--but to be honest, as far as I can tell, the departure really means nothing more than a particular person who seemed to be an advocate of education in SL just won’t be around any more. People come and go. It's just time for Pathfinder to continue his life's journey elsewhere, and I hope he does well in his next gig.

That said, I should also point out that I never had any contact with Pathfinder (John Lester irl), because like many Lindens, he was simply irrelevant in the course of my activities on SL.

To be honest, I was never entirely clear on what Pathfinder’s real role was--at various points in his time at the Lab, I was led to understand that his title was something like “Evangelist, Market Development.” Although education was clearly one of his concerns, there were always indications that his role was to promote the general idea of Second Life (the evangelism bit) and to develop a marketing strategy that would seek to attract not just educational institutions to the platform, but also other types of potential corporate and institutional customers. Even as he was leaving LL, Pathfinder stated that he had been involved with healthcare as well as education customers.

So did he really make a big difference to education on the grid? Maybe he did. I have been told that he was responsible for bringing in some very large institutions of higher learning to SL. But again, being totally honest, I can’t really say for sure what his impact was. All I know is that I have talked with some educators who actually did have contact with him, and they did not find him to be particularly helpful or pleasant to work with. I am sure there are others who did in fact find dealing with Mr. Lester to be a useful and positive experience--but I just haven’t come across any of them yet.

But as they say at Swamp castle, "let's not quibble about 'oo killed 'oo."

The larger question, of course, is what comes next.

Many people seem to be assuming that the Lab won’t do anything to fill Pathfinder's role--that they eliminated his job, and therefore have eliminated the idea of having anyone addressing the interests of educational customers. I was wondering about this myself, as the Lab made no announcement about it that I could find. I decided to take advantage of the fact that T Linden (Tom Hale, LL’s Chief Product Officer) had recently added a comment to an older post on Miss Emilly Orr’s blog, in which he offered to answer other questions “off-thread.” Being the presumptuous old harpy that I am, I decided he obviously addressed this not only to Emilly, but to the rest of us who had commented on the thread, and I sent him a message asking if I could run some questions past him.

Mr. Hale graciously agreed to do so, and some of the things I asked him to comment about were questions related the departure of Pathfinder. He replied that while “we can't really discuss the departure of employees,” he was able to tell me the following:

“Claudia Linden is taking on Pathfinder's responsibilities, and she's been a strong and capable advocate for Education and Educational institutions in Second Life.”

Of course, as "head of educational support" (I apologize that I am unsure of what her exact title is, but I have seen her described thusly), Claudia was already substantially engaged with educators on the grid. So whatever it was that Pathfinder did is being added to what she already does. And clearly it's an ongoing process--today Claudia launched the first iteration of a directory of educational institutions in Second Life, which can be found here.

So I was gratified to see that she's as busy as ever. Now mind you, I’m going to be watching this particular project, because this directory thing was a pretty straightforward and focused single step: it seems to be structured as a simple directory of institutions of higher learning on the grid. I will be very curious to see what gets done in the future to promote and support the activities of individual educators and theorists, as well as non-traditional educational groups that are developing the most innovative and interesting learning opportunities on the platform.

Still, I was really freakin’ happy to hear from T that somebody had in fact been given the job of looking after whatever aspects of education that Pathfinder was looking after. I think it was a really important step to hear this from the proverbial horse's mouth.

I know I can be awful hard on the labsters sometimes. But like I have said before, I really try to be as fair as I can--I try to give credit where it is due. Hell, I was tickled just to see a Linden commenting on Emilly’s blog, which which must feel a bit like hostile territory for them. I have to admit, boys and girls, sometimes I feel like I’m a foam-at-the-mouth fanboy compared to Miss Orr. She's brilliant and hard and passionate, and so I thought it was brave--and damned smart--of T to not just be reading her stuff, but also to comment and to offer to chat further.

I keep hammering at this, but I think it is true more than ever that as the platform continues to evolve, the Lindens need to come out of the ivory tower to see and be seen in more venues and more discussions. Office hours are fine, but they have to visit more of the odd crevasses and backwaters of the grid and have more informal conversations with those of their current customers who have the perception that the Lab is not interested in them. In times of uncertainty and change, a company has to step up its efforts to communicate with their customers--and not just the highly vocal minority they usually interact with. It has to be demonstrated that they are going the extra mile to make a sincere effort to understand what we want and what we need. Things like T commenting on Emilly's blog certainly qualify as just that.

In sum, this is another of those occasions when--being the wild-eyed, spit-dribbling optimist that I am--I am seeing some things to be encouraged about.

And I wish Claudia well with her continuing efforts to support and encourage Education on the grid.


  1. "Hostile territory"? Shoot, those Lindens are traveling through a rip in the space-time continuum and passing through Hell itself when they read Miss Orr's blog. (And that's why I read her religiously. Agree or disagree with her, Miss Orr is unflinchingly honest and direct.)

    I might, however, quibble about 'oo killed 'oo, especially if I were one of the affected parties. :)

  2. Hey Rhia,

    I'm with you on that 100%: I always make a point of reading Emilly's stuff. She's in a class with people like Dusan and Prok--bloggers who are such unique and complex thinkers that sometimes I don't really entirely understand what they are talking about, and sometimes I seriously disagree with them, but they are almost always interesting and thought-provoking.

    As for the 'oo killed 'oo details I like to think that I am trying to keep a more or less open mind. But of course, I'm not really. I got my opinions, but for a change I am try to keep them at least slightly masked.

  3. Thanks for bringing your readers up to date on the LL transition in education management. My only problem with what's going on is that Claudia Linden lists just 17 "education providers" on the site to which your blog linked. I can name at least twice that many, and NONE of the ones I know are on her list at all. For example, St. Leo's University, whose SL learning outcomes success LL is fond of publicizing for its own purposes is nowhere to be found on the list.

    I guess I'd feel a lot better about this management transition if I had better evidence that the new girl on the block actually knew what was going on out here.

  4. I know what you mean Sere--though to be fair, it could just be all in how they are inputting the information. I'm not 100% sure about this --not having seen any official announcements about the launch of this idea--but there is an "add new entries" button on the page, which takes you to a form for an "education listing submission."

    So evidently the groups are supposed to apply to be listed--that this is not a directory being assembled by the Lindens themselves: instead it is reliant upon the educators to send in the information.

    I believe that Terrance Linden said the other day that there are actually over 600 educational institutions on the grid -- so this may take a while for the directory to reflect the larger reality.

    The other thing I think is important to keep in mind is that Claudia isn't actually the new kid on the block, she's been involved with education in SL for some time, it's just now she is taking on whatever role pathfinder was actually fulfilling. So her role is expanding and it may take a while for her to sort out handling what is possibly a much more complex role (going on the assumption that Pathfinder actually did anything).