Communication through the Keyhole

Seond Life names get a no!
Seond Life names get a no!

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.


  1. IDK… in the case of the new TPV rules, that all viewers have to be as bad as the LL viewer, that just seems like some madness where Microsoft gets to dictate that Firefox & Chrome have to be as bad as IE (in which case literally my entire FL would be different)

    In the past I’ve argued for self-governance but been surprised to get shouted down that I’m a total idiot and that that would never work. Why it does work for Wikipedia or LInux or WordPress, but couldn’t work for a Virtual World I’m not certain. And I do realize that the things I listed are not really democracies but some sort of meritocracies.

    Web2.0 is pretty much a series of little, or huge, authoritarian regimes where we give up our freedom. We already gave up our free speech when we moved from the public park to the private shopping mall, and the truth is, most people could care less. If the mall has a drastically reduced set of allowed behaviors, that’s just fine, most people really love shopping and eating and can complain about politics or whatever elsewhere.

    So for all our pain over the nymwars, and that was a pretty large issue, still, the majority don’t really care. This gives the Facebook’s and Linden Lab’s of the world the room to more-or-less do whatever they want.

    I’m a total open source outsider, but it strikes me that there’s more than one flavor of open source. There’s the projects that hit critical mass, like Linux or WordPress or Apache Web Server, etc, those really do seem to be better because of so much bug fixing, etc. But lots of open source software gets little attention and isn’t nearly so robust in reliability or feature set.

    In terms of “freedom” Apple is a nightmare. Yet as the #3 market cap corporation on the face of the earth, clearly the larger “we” just don’t care. We love their amazingly sexy products, done.

    Meanwhile Second Life has a deeply passionate user base, but it’s definitely not WoW, to say nothing of Facebook. Apparently there just isn’t enough demand for Creative, Non-gaming, virtual worlds. If you take out all the SL clones, there’s not so much besides Blue Mars in the recent horizon. Whether you count IMVU, The Sims, etc, IDK.

    One thing that should be different about Second LIfe and Google+ is that with G+ the users are not the customers, they’re the product. The customers are the corporate marketers who want to buy access to the product. So G+ is in the position of whipping the product (users) into the shape it believes is the most saleable.

    But with SL, we actually do pay for the thing. I suppose someone who rents many regions has an entirely different presence than someone who buys a few clothing items or has a tiny apartment, but we actually do pay.

    Wow, can I ramble or what? I think this was my long way of saying that LL can and apparently will do whatever it feels like, often with neither choice nor explanation to the users. I think we should have self-governance, but whether I’m right or wring, insightful or naive, I don’t think we ever will. And who knows, it’s an incredibly diverse user base out there. Maybe I’d hate their policies even more than Linden Lab’s.

  2. The real goal here is to avoid having to be open about it all.

    Over on Daniel Voyager’s blog, I commented:

    “Ya’ll done smacked back a bit hard there – and we’d rather not have this exposed in public anymore, so we’re going private to put a lid on it.”

    Rather than have an open and ongoing discussion, thereby avoiding bad policy…

    They’re choosing to go behind closed doors, where they can make all the bad policy they want – because by being selective in who they invite in, they can avoid hearing the voices that might warn them in time of bad choices.

    In other words: Better to be surrounded by yes men on a sinking ship, so you don’t have to notice you’re drowning – than to be surrounded by hecklers who might point out the iceberg in your way in time to steer to the side, causing you to have a stressful day.

    Communication is absolutely vital in a business like this…

    It can server to either:

    A) Allow your community to realize there are valid reasons they can’t have what they want – in a rational discussed out manner.


    B) Allow you to realize your community has a better idea, and the solutions to making it real.

    And my closing though over on Daniel’s blog that also fits here:

    Its all about the communication though – if you take any part of it private, people lose sight of each other… and nasty surprises ensue.

    This is just another wrong headed choice – to take it private.

    Amazingly wrong. Its piling even more ‘fail’ onto that epic.

    When you don’t like the heat – it is often better to jump in the fire, than to shut the door and pretend your house isn’t burning down… tougher, but wiser.

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