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.


  1. Oridinal reports that a lot of the layoffs were people working on fixing stuff that made the grid fall over or jerk about. She's pretty down on JIRA stuff being fixed at all now which can only be bad news for stability :(

    If I were a roleplay sim owner, I'd be looking at plans to set up in the OpenSims right now. Yeah the transition would be rough, but as long as you weren't looking to make a living from it the lower costs would make it far less of a stress than renting from LL.

  2. Hey HB,

    Yeah, the loss of fixer guys is a real concern here and is certainly the caveat that is built into my contention that this doesn't really affect most of us. At the same time, I could ask the question about why--if there were a bunch of fixer guys on hand, and through the JIRA they knew of what was wrong--why in the name of Hecate's knickers weren't things getting fixed? So is it going to make that big of a difference whether they are there or not, if for some reason they weren't being assigned to do the fixing?

    That issue of why things were never getting fixed, regardless of how many people were available to make repairs, is something I don't even pretend to have any understanding of. Maybe Miz Ordinal can do a better job of explaining it, but I can only conclude that either:

    A. LL just couldn't figure out HOW to fix these things, or
    B. they had all their Mr. Fixits busy, busy, busy doing other shit (and probably shit that was meaningless or irrelevant for most of us--which brings me back to my original point).

    As for the OpenSims option, I understand that they still don't run as well as SL, plus there are issues of how you attract population, other than by invitation to folks you already have as part of a sub-community. SL may be creaking along like the one-hoss shay, but it does periodically inject new blood into various sims, especially if they can get some visibility. For example, Deadwood recently got on that highlights list and there has been a steady flow of new people, including folks who are brand new to SL. So there is life the old Edsel yet.

  3. Hmm, Edsel and one-hoss shay may be mixing metaphors just a tad, even if they're both within the transportation realm. :) (Showing that quantitative geeks can also appreciate Literature, my graduate Microeconomics professor read us the poem...fortunately, it wasn't on the exam.)

    I'm in general agreement with your assessment of things. Yeah, it could portend bad stuff for the future, and yeah, maybe it's just more evidence that the Lab is just screwed up, but I'm not sure there's likely to be an immediate effect. However, if it's true that the people let go constitute all of the technical fixers, it doesn't bode well for the long-term survival of the platform. In addition to exterminating bugs, competition is going to require the Lab to improve the features of the grid - or perish. Still, there's time.

    P.S. I saw at least one of the new people in Deadwood. I didn't realize there was that much bling in 1876, but what do I know? *grin*

  4. Hey Rhia,

    As always, I appreciate you dropping by to look at this piffle and comment. And yes, I am egregiously mixing metaphors, just because...what the hell, it's fun.

    I've really gotten away from writing lately due to the demands of the new job, so I have just decided to force myself to sit down and have fun writing, whether I like it or not, goddammit.

    As for what's going on with the lab, it's interesting, Headburro clued us in on twitter to a more positive perspective from Holocluck:

    And I have to admit that yeah, I can see the point there--this actually could be a GOOD thing. Sometimes restructuring is a necessary evil when you are trying to get your operations focused and your costs under control. And once you get there, things can actually work better than they have been.

    That said, I just think the key parts in making this a positive development are the following:
    A. they are going to to make this browser-based approach to SL simply an option, and they will not mess too much with the primary manifestation of the downloaded software version that facilitates creation as well as socialization; and
    B. they are going to keep the grid running properly and maybe even fix some of what's busted.

    I know those are big "ifs," but this could work.

  5. Although I've written from time to time about the potential impact of various Linden Lab decisions, I agree with you that the quality of our virtual life is mostly in our own hands. That said, some decisions had a real financial impact (Open Space pricing, negative trend of virtual land market, etc.) and hassle factor (relocating to Zindra.)

  6. Hi Botgirl,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    And yes, I agree with you 100% regarding the idea that the labsters have made certain tactical and strategic decisions that have just completely and utterly buggered up the lives and businesses of various groups and classes of residents, and I freely admit that I am looking at this within a very narrow--and ultimately, selfish--context. And I do have great sympathy for the folks ho's activities on the gird have been scuppered by the fecklessness of various LL decision makers.

    In acknowledging that various LL tactics and strategies HAVE complicated many people's lives--and could certainly continue to do so in the future--I think you can argue that for all of us, there is a certain potential benefit in the current reduction in force.

    Until now, the Lab had a lot of people in a variety of positions that shaped their decision-making process. Many of them were perfectly nice, decent folks, but when you have lots of people sitting at desks, all full of opinions and viewpoints and theories, they have a tendency to try to do stuff.

    In fact, they will try to do stuff even when the best course is to do nothing. It is often very hard for us to accept the curious truth that NOTHING is precisely what you should do on a remarkably frequent basis.

    So...the fewer people they have, the less they will try to do stuff, and that reduces the likelihood that they will come up with new destructive silliness such as the financial oopses and hassle-fests that you mention (among numerous others).

    Again, I would point out that there is a qualification to this laissez faire ideal for Linden activity: There is one thing that they do have to actually do for their product to continue to be viable: they have to work on keeping the grid running, improving its reliability and fixing the shit that they've busted.

    This has always been my mantra for them--don't keep fiddling with a product that works and that people are happily using. Put your resources into making it work well and to keep it working well. If you keep monkeying around with something, you eventually break it.

    Ergo, the fewer monkeys at work, the less breakage.

  7. "This has always been my mantra for them--don't keep fiddling with a product that works and that people are happily using. Put your resources into making it work well and to keep it working well. If you keep monkeying around with something, you eventually break it."

    And they do it again. With XstreetSL. It was a great platform when they bought it some months ago. And now they have to make it "better".. means, "Lets destroy it" *sighs deeply*

    Cant someone force them to read the blogs and understand the meaning of certain topics?

    (I'm writing this in a frustrated and disappointed moment.. so, don't mind me)