Sunday, October 24, 2010

Evolve or die

Just the other day, I received a message from my friend Betty Doyle who runs an in-world business called Ingenue. She is a merchant/content creator, specializing in hair, clothing and shoes that are inspired by (but not necessarily direct copies of) vintage fashion from the 1930s-60s. She wanted to inform me that she had a clearance sale going on.

That's no big newsflash these days: lots of merchant/content creators seem to be looking to blow stuff out to get attention, to make some quick jack to pay the rent, that sort of thing. On a purely apocryphal level, I think we are all aware that many merchants are not doing well. It has even become a sad reality that every one of has a friend or knows someone that given up and pulled the plug on their business, or is pretty much ready to.

Getting the news about a clearance sale, I would have thought this was the case with Betty as well, except that her message also informed me that she had just re-done her main store, and had taken on a space in an additional space in a major shopping mall. that many of them are even at the point of pulling the plug and giving up.

You don't do stuff like that when you're on the verge of going tits up.

In fact, it turned out that the clearance sale was of older items--including some of Betty's great retro hair--for crazy low prices, because she is making room for newer items that she considers better made and better looking than her earlier efforts. Betty is one of those people who keeps continually extending her own reach, learning and working with the content creation tools as they evolve, getting new software, always trying to improve her products. So she is giving people a chance to get some of her older items at a deep discount before she retires them.

Having an epiphany while shopping back in Ingenue's clearance shed

And she also tries very hard to keep introducing new items--despite having to deal with the challenge of having a rl toddler in her house, who I understand has mastered the art of rearranging her furniture and playing Edmund Hillary on the dining room table.

So she keeps adopting improved technology, she invests in regularly fixing up and remodeling her retail spaces to keep them fresh, she tries new ideas on how to sell and where to sell, and she works very hard to keep developing new and better content, which continually amazes me because her earlier stuff was nothing to sneeze at. I think her work has always been exquisite and fun (and so I highly recommend you go check out her clearance sale stuff--it's in a little shed behind her main store building at ). Nonetheless, she keeps trying to evolve as a content creator and look to the future.

And it has results. When I talked to Betty about it, she says yes, things aren't as wild-ass profitable as they were back in the wacky-hypey days of 2006-7, but she is doing alright--pretty darn good in fact.

Of course there are other factors that enter into the reasons that she is doing better than many other merchant/content creators. One is that she has found a niche product that is not being cranked out by everyone and his brother. Making a line like hers requires knowledge of vintage fashion, hard work and a good bit of skill to produce. I know Betty also fights the temptation to participate in every hunt, freebie deal, discount day, and special fashion event that comes down the pike. A lot of people seem to be catching on to this reality--that it pays to choose carefully which give-aways and dog-and-pony shows you'll take part in, which is evidenced in a blog post by Grazia Horwitz and the ensuing discussion. As folks point out in that discussion, there is so much of that kind of stuff going on that it becomes a huge distraction for the content creators, as well as diluting the perceived value of their work.

But I digress.

My point is that there are certainly a number of factors that enable a merchant/content creator like Betty to keep on going, but that ultimately it comes down to churning out good new stuff, adopting the new technology as it comes along, and trying to keep thing fresh.

And that has me wondering if there is a valuable lesson in this for the rest of us who have tried to contribute to life on the platform. For those of us who don't create content like buildings and clothing and hair and machine guns--but who try to foster a sense of community, to encourage social and intellectual interaction, to promote the participatory improv theater that is role playing in SL, to facilitate the sharing of stories and ideas--how can we move forward and not end up getting thinned from the herd?

Obviously we have to evolve in the same ways that the successful merchant /content creators are: we need to keep trying new things; we need to find new ways of using the platform, and we need to find a field that isn't is over-grazed. Just because something didn't work in the past, doesn't mean a different approach wouldn't work now. But this is also true with regards to things that DID work...just because they used to work doesn't mean we can keep the old machine running. We need to be willing to look at the experiments that succeeded as a foundation to build on--or sometimes even as something that we need to throw out completely and move on.

Now what does that mean in practical terms for educators, musicians, storytellers, roleplayers, non-profit message makers, etc. etc?

I'm not really sure, as the answer is different for each category of social and intellectual content creation...

....but as long as LL isn't yet ready to pull the plug on the platform, I think it behooves us to keep seeing how our uses of it can evolve.


  1. Thumbs up! SL has so much potential, we may just have scratched the surface. Working beyond the LL expectations is the challenge.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Hon, thanks for commenting.

    Yeah, LL really doesn't seem to expect much from us except chit-chat, pixel sex, and shopping, and that's ok, so long as they keep working on making the platform reliable and functional. Yeah, those things are a big part of what is going on and they are fine and fun and all, but we are taking other experiments with SL far beyond all that, and certainly there are some of us who will keep doing so until the day they turn out the lights.

    Still, it's slightly disappointing that they apparently no longer see grand potential in the platform, and still seem to think that we the customers are odd, embarrassing and slightly scary.

    I would love to have a Linden come along and tell me otherwise. But I'm guessing that's not going to happen.

  3. I think your reply to mdme says a lot. The Lab seems to assume loyalty from different segment of its customer base even as it alienates others. And don't forget what Mitch Kapor said about SLers not so long ago.

    If SL loses the RPers, it's over.

    I wish I could share the secret sauce for education in SL. Beyond "build community" I don't know. The technical challenges of rebuilding our House of Usher simulation at Jokaydia Grid will be steep, but at the same time, the place has community. It's not an empty grid. I talked today with two other SLers moving over to Jokaydiagrid, as we all just hung out in the WA.

    Felt like SL from 3 years ago.

    I wish creators like Betty good luck, and we'll miss them in the grids where many things must be made by hand.

  4. Hey Iggy, thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, I think education is one of those areas where it is an absolute necessity that everyone keep trying new ideas and trying out new experiments--even if it weren't for the price change and LL otherwise dissing the education folks, it would still be imperative for the the people who are interested in virtual learning to keep pushing the envelope.

    For some folks that means going to new grids--for others of us, it means stirring things up on the current grid we live on. Either way, I think changing things up--even when the experiments don't work or turn out the way we hoped they would--keeps us from falling into irrelevance...or worse yet boredom.