Sunday, June 13, 2010

Second Life and the layoffs: is that a Rubenesque soprano I hear singing?

My oh my. Some interesting stuff going on. The Linden prize is given to an operation that treats the grid as a simple tool for museum exhibit prototyping. And the Lab lays off almost a third of its staff and closes overseas offices as it consolidates its functions.

Do I think this is the beginning of the end for SL; does it portend terrible events to come?! IS SL CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT ABOUT TO FINALLY DIE THE PATHETIC DEMISE THAT VIRTUAL "JOURNALISTS" HAVE BEEN PREDICTING FOR SO LONG?!!

Do you really want to know what I think?

Well, bucko, if you actually do want to know my opinion, what I think is this:

I don't think any of these things really mean all that much one way or the other.

Yes, I as I stated--I think these two developments are "interesting," but are they reflections of anything going on that will actually change things for us very much?

I'm guessing no.

As usual, as far as I can tell, what is going on with the Lindens really doesn't have much meaning or impact for the vast majority of us on the grid. As I have said before--and as many others have opined of late--the bulk of what the Lindens do, think , feel or say is pretty much irrelevant for most of us who actually use their flagship product.

Mind you, I do feel bad for all the folks who are getting laid off. Getting laid off is no fun--even when you find something to go over to relatively quickly, the process still chips away at your self esteem a bit. But ultimately, in this case it seems like this really isn't about whether or not people have been doing a good, bad, or indifferent job--the Lab is simply letting go of almost everyone who is in the business development side of things. And maybe it just comes down to the fact that those aspects of the operation have been too large and expensive compared to the amount of business they were bringing in. That's possible--I'm not really sure--but again, it doesn't really matter.

What the Linden Gods do on their tin-plated Mt. Olympus by the Bay simply doesn't touch me and most of the people I associate with in SL, unless it affects the functionality and reliability of the grid.

That of course, is a rather significant qualification. But at present, my personal reality is that SL does tend to run pretty well in the areas that I frequent. Yeah, there are still a lot of things broken or goofed up--but not so badly that I can't do what I want or need to do with the platform.

And that's the thing about all this--when I do occasionally get mildly curious about the direction LL is taking and I bother to speculate about what will be the outcome, I start to suspect that they are focusing on treating the grid as nothing more than a tool. It's not a world, it's not something that is going to actually change the human condition, or rewrite history, or make us all live better lives.

Nope. It's just a product that people can use--something that we can choose to play with, be creative and make stuff with, and have a great deal of fun with--or use in practical ways: for meetings and communicating, and even prototyping. That's why I think it's interesting that they gave the Linden prize not to some spectacularly warm and fuzzy charitable thingy or high minded NGO or anything like that. They gave it to a dull, rather pedestrian operation that uses the grid as a tool to generate and test mediocre exhibit concepts that may or not get translated into something in meatspace. Yeah, the outcomes may be unremarkable, but at least thanks to the prototyping capabilities of the platform, a whole lot of time and real-life resources won't have been pissed away in the effort to produce those unremarkable real life outcomes.

It's as if they are saying, "hey, we finally realized it's just a big lump of software on some servers--it's up to you guys to do with it what you want. We'll try to keep it running for you as long as its profitable and you give us money in return for using it to do whatever it is that you weirdos are doing with our product." And so they have gone ahead and got rid of the expensive and often temperamental staff people who were trying to help make it into something more than that.

Yes, I know I am being selfish and narrow minded here in my outlook. I know there are many people who try to use SL for activities that don't work so well with the platform in its current moderately frakked-up state. There are undoubtedly people who are hoping for fixes to happen on the grid that now will never happen, thanks to the departure of some coder guys who were supposed to do the fixing. And my heart goes out to those people, just as it does to the labsters who got dumped.

But do I really see this as the final rumblings of the chorus as the tomb is sealed, along with the fate of the hapless lovers within? Nah. I think there's still a couple more acts and at least one intermission to go.