Archive for March 6th, 2012

There is a scene in Love Actually where the Prime Minister, searching for his lost love Natalie, and finding out which (long) street she lives on, starts knocking on every door in turn. When an old lady recognises him and asks him what he’s doing, he replies rather desperately that he’s trying to wish everyone in the country Happy Christmas. Individually – and he has to get on because he’s got a long, long way to go.

I was reminded of that scene yesterday by Rodvik Linden’s decision to abandon a round table discussion in favour of one-one-one communications:

Hey folks, as I mentioned to some of you over the weekend I am going to do the next roundtable stuff in private one on one’s rather than as a free for all. That makes it more low key and doesnt turn it into something which is contentious. Thanks for all the feedback.

That … feels so wrong on so many levels.

First of all, let’s look at the Jira about this. 2,455 people have felt strongly enough about this to have voted on the issue.  734 people feel strongly enough about this to be watching it – which means that their inboxes are being filled day after day. Is Rod going down the Prime Minister’s route and proposing to hold one on one talks with everyone there? And that’s not counting the people who aren’t on the Jira, but who have responded on his profile, or on his Twitter stream, or in the SLU forums …

If Rod exchanges only three messages with each of these people, he’s not going to be getting an awful lot of other work done over the next few weeks.

Secondly, there’s a lack of transparency.  The words “as I mentioned to some of you over the weekend” immediately prompt the question – who? where?  The famous Feted Inner Core? A few land barons on speed dial at the Lab? People who were passing Battery Street?  Those are bad words. They suggest different levels of communication – the privileged inner circle in the castle, and the huddled masses outside the gates.

When he first came, Rod seemed to take a refreshingly open attitude to communication.  He had a meeting with people in the SL Media Group. He popped up on Twitter and in the SLU forums.  What was more, he responded to tweets – he responded to people who raised problems in tweets and Got Something Done about this – as in the case of the Elves with billing problems (I feel there should be some sort of crack here about how you shouldn’t expect elves to understand human money but let’s move swiftly on).  The problems were caused by the Lab – and thanks to Rodvik’s intervention, they were solved.

But even then, I was a little concerned about what that said about communication between the Lab and the denizens.  Linden Lab is a multi-million dollar operation, with – even after lay-offs – a large number of people working for it, either in-house or on a contractual basis.  Communication (and problem solving) should not depend on attracting the CEO’s attention in a 140 word tweet.

As I said in my earlier post, this has been a bad couple of weeks for the Lab, with a lot of news emerging that is upsetting denizens, with the issue of second names being only one of these.  But this is one that is raising issues of communication and provides an example of how denizens have lost trust.

Firstly, we wait a long time for the announcement about Second Names.  Rod announced it was being looked into back last year, with the solution expected for January.  That was delayed, and the announcement – that nothing was going to be done – came at the beginning of March. Was that extra time really needed to come back with a negative?

Secondly, at that point, no comments on the forum post were enabled, but Rodvik indicated that people could comment on his profile stream.  They did. After four hours that was closed – which hardly works for an international company with users all round the world. It might be 6pm in San Francisco, but India is just waking up (and Europe is mostly asleep).

Thirdly,when the profile stream was closed, we were promised – starting the following Monday, round table discussions on various issues – including some elements on second names (the six months idea, for instance).  You would expect by now that denizens would react to the concept of communication jam tomorrow with at best petulance and in many cases a tantrum.  Well, that happened.  But there were also people – and I was one – who started talking about ideas emerging from the planned round table.

And now that’s gone too, replaced with the one-on-one consultations. But when? How? With whom?  Hopefully not the people he’s been talking to so far, because they don’t seem to be giving awfully good advice.

How do we go forward from here? Well, I sent a message to Rodvik saying I was happy to have a one on one. I imagine he may take a little time to get to that – it must have joined about five hundred others in his inbox.  Although maybe I should have tweeted, used a forum, or Facebook instead. The trouble is with a lack of transpareny is … we just don’t know – and that is just as frustrating as finding your inbox or your profile stream filled with messages from Outraged of Tunbridge Wells (is there an American equivalent of that perennial newspaper letter column writer?).

In the wider sense of how we move forward … we need clear channels of communication. En masse, we may become a mob and be too intimidating to communicate with.  But to create representation acceptable to residents and to the Lab would not be easy. I’ve been thinking about this and starting to discuss it with people, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on that over the next few days.

In the mean-time … Rodvik has a problem.  Those huddled masses at the gates … yes, I’m sorry, but those are pitchforks and torches.  And the longer they’re kept out in the dark, the more likely some bright spark is going to light a fire.

Or, possibly, sell them tickets to another continent.  Because those huddled masses … well, they have a yearning that has to be addressed.  If not here, then elsewhere.

In my bleaker moments, I wonder if Linden Lab sometimes wish they could just give us all assisted passages.

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