Tuesday, June 22, 2010

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In Wake of Linden Lab Layoffs, Founder Acknowledges Company Overreach, Asks Second Life Users' "Forgiveness"

Philip Rosedale SL7B

Second Life founder Philip Rosedale asked "to sort of beg everyone's forgiveness" for how Linden Lab has over-extended development of Second Life in the past, and for not adequately prioritizing work to improve it. That's how I read the crux of his speech at Second Life's 7th anniversary yesterday, speaking through his Philip Linden avatar, he of spiky hair and rainbow codpiece. Last October, Philip announced his role as Linden Lab's Chairman of the Board would be restricted to "outbound and media type things... talking about Second Life". Now, however, as he told Honour McMillan, he's "lately focusing on how I can help with product direction."

I believe this was Philip Rosedale's first public speech related to Second Life and Linden Lab since the June 9 game-changing news that the company was laying off 30% of its staff, and I think it's fair to say it contained many of the words that most Residents have been hoping to hear from a Linden Lab executive since then. In addition to acknowledging company overreach, Philip characterized the layoffs as an effort to keep SL's internal economy thriving, and the effort to serve enterprise and education users as "peripheral" to the more important task of fixing Second Life's essential shortcomings. These takeaways and more after the break:

Linden Lab has over-extended itself with excessive feature development:

"[O]verall, I would say that our fault as Lindens has been to be overly enthusiastic... we have tried to fix it all at once. We've tried to make everything better at the same time... But I think the challenge we've had is that over and over again, we've been this small, smallish company trying to work on something that is just unbelievably complicated and figuring out how to restrict and serialize and sequence and prioritize all of these different pieces has been a huge problem and frankly, one that we've done our best — [but] we haven't done as well, I think, as we could..."

The layoffs were important to keep Second Life's internal economy thriving:

"We're never going to — as a company — risk the world and the businesses and the livelihoods of the thousands of people [i.e. SL developers] who make money working here by growing too quickly ahead of profits. By doing the difficult process of restructuring the company and making layoffs, we'll return ourselves to solid, very solid levels of profitability."

Linden Lab needs to better serve the existing, dedicated user base:

"We need to focus on the things that matter most to the people who are here, to ourselves as users of this system. We need to make the basic features and capabilities of Second Life work really well... Whether we're talking about how many people can stand together in a meeting like this, or how to put clothes on, or manage your inventory, or build basic objects inworld, or how voice works, how parcel media works, live music — all of these basic features are things that are amazing experiences when you can have them, but they're not easy enough yet.... [I]t's so easy to get ahead of ourselves as a company and forget that."

Linden Lab devoted too many resources serving "peripheral" markets like enterprise and education:

"[W]e sought to get different types of people across that moat and over those walls [of Second Life's barrier to entry], whether we're talking about international Residents, or the community welcome areas, or enterprise or education users — we've been sort of building these little, thin bridges that try and quickly get everybody kind of over that wall and into Second Life. And of course, you can understand why we'd do that, because it's just so fantastic an experience once we can get people there. But I think what we have to do... is ask whether instead we can stop doing those many, many peripheral, highly usage-specific things to get people in here — and instead just take a step back, look at the basic problems that we are all [facing], and by fixing them, fill the moat."

Is Second Life being developed to be more like Facebook?

"SL and Facebook are very different. But we certainly do need to make it easier as an experience, in manner similar to how easy Facebook is."

Image credit: Changing Worlds Building Dreams, which also has a good summary of key Rosedale takeaways.

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Matthew Perreault

*grabs popcorn, waits for commenters to flood in*

IntLibber Brautigan

The problem hasn't been feature overreach, it has been piss poor performance on the limited stuff they've accomplished. Gee, I guess thats inevitable when you hire people based on whether they seem cool to hang out with rather than whether they know wtf they are doing. The group system has only been broken for what now? 3 years? What happened to Groups 2.0 that work was started on back in 2008?

Jura Shepherd

The thing is, if they'll concentrate on giving us the tools and a reliable backbone to work with, we'll get those "peripheral" markets. It will take some patience on LL's part, but we'll get them organically and in a way that doesn't rub everyone in SL the wrong way.

Fogwoman Gray

Interesting times, to be sure!

brinda allen

OK did anyone who's in world last name is Linden hear him?
I still have hope...
Dammit, if you want to know what's broken...come spend time here.

Jeffrey Reymont

Nice words, but having trouble reconciling that with the fact that they let Babbage and his whole team go. Scripting is one of the core things they need to get right, both to minimize lagging servers and make it more feasible to develop interactive or web-integrated stuff. Can't see how they are going to do that without Babbage and his team...

unemployed

Has he apologized to the laid of Lindens?

CronoCloud Creeggan

There's an axiom among coders...adding features is fun and people like to do it, but consider bug fixing drudge work. I think SL proves that. LL's coders have been focusing on "fun stuff" rather than doing the drudge work. How long has that "Ctrl+~" persepective bug been around? Why isn't there a 64-bit SL build for Linux? Wouldn't working on the infrastructure to support more group slots make more people happy than adding 750 a month voice morphing which was a requested feature years ago, but that people just use third party solutions.

Former SL Business Owner

Nothing but more empty chatter. Rosedale still doesn't get it. Kingdon and Komin continue to destroy the company.

"But we're gonna..." Yeah, right.

Hitomi Tiponi

I liked what he said - gave me a feeling he understands the mistakes. I suspect that in a few weeks time a certain CEO will be moving on to 'new opportunities' as well.

Hitomi Tiponi

I liked what he said - gave me a feeling he understands the mistakes. I suspect that in a few weeks time a certain CEO will be moving on to 'new opportunities' as well.

Lili

Is he going to do a "Steve Jobs" and ride back in on a white horse to save us? Or at least smite the facebook/v2 crowd. We can hope at least, but I kind of doubt it.

It may be too late, but I do feel maybe the high mucky-mucks are feeling the current of the veteran users discouragement.

Max Ennui

Over-extended themselves?

For the last year they've spent all their efforts turning the blue viewer gray.

Philip's full of crap. Bring back Cory. It's quite obvious now he was the real genius behind LL.

Trinity Dejavu

@Max Ennui Yes. Very much so. Can someone prep Cory's white horse and black turtle neck please.

Ziki Questi

@Hitomi - I agree, I felt better after hearing Philip's comments, and I was feeling pretty pessimistic on LL's communications prior to hearing him. He seemed honest and genuinely contrite, and for me at least his comments resonated well. While it's not generally the role of corporate board members to have a "hands on" role, it was encouraging to hear him suggest (if I heard him correctly) that he plans to be a more active participant in LL.

@Lili - I don't think he can be a Steve Jobs. Jobs not only had creative brilliance, but is also a business wizard (which maybe Philip isn't), and I'd say Philip did the right thing -- in terms of corporate evolution, at least -- to step down at a certain point and to ask someone else with more nuts-and-bolts business savvy to take the helm. That was actually a smart move, to avoid "founder's syndrome," but perhaps they haven't found the right person.

All that said, LL has clearly gone down the wrong road for a while, and they're going to have to back up, reconfigure, and adopt a new business plan -- not easy tasks. Let's hope they call pull it off.

Ann Otoole

I don't have any delusions that LL has any plans to correct the ongoing loss of content creators that began the day LL put their GSAv6 online. And if anything will be the demise of Second Life it is exactly that.

Let's see Rosedale fix the problem that caused that debacle. Restore our faith Phillip. Deal with the search and the damages your company is causing by putting GSAv6 in production in a system that is not a document warehouse without testing or understanding what it would do to the Second Life economy and residents.

Delinda Dyrssen

ok take a deep breath...calm.. feel your self breathing...

Think Positive Thoughts People.. Negativity never helps a situation..People and Companies can Learn from their mistakes. Admitting they made mistakes is the first step.

I believe Linden labs will continue to evolve..continue to change in ways that some of us may not like.. and continue to make mistakes and hopefully.. continue to learn and grow stronger because of them.

(Hey Matthew if that's Orville Redenbacher popcorn you have up there.. toss some down here will ya?)

Sandor Balczo

When one of my best RL friends and SL partner read the transcript of Philip's speech, he said: "The guy knows how to talk the talk. We still have to see if he can walk the walk".

Me, I think otherwise.

In the light of SL7B volunteers' behavior in the face of my reporting technical problems crossing sims, which was met with the usual "There is nothing wrong, it must be you, but we will look into that" and "if you hate this place, just leave" attitude, the only future of SL is bound to be the simultaneous connection of 500 friends in the San Francisco bay area (as they did in their alpha days, currently we are in a 7-year-long beta test) unless LL learns how to deal with angry customers, by apologizing and fixing problems, like any sensible corporation would do. Unfortunately, I don't see much sensibility in LL and it is a hard item to find these days, to be honest.

I strongly believe the customer base will be reduced to 500 for the following reasons:

1. LL still considers itself US focused (so much so it has never converted its time to UTC) but most of the customers that are leaving SL are in Europe. And I am one of them de facto, since I reduced my time in SL from eight hours a day to half an hour a day (with about five minutes of crashes per day) in less than six months. And among Americans, there are a lot who are sick and tired of spending money on a crappy product. Only the few die-hard geeks remain, roughly 500, based on my 7-year experience with this product.

2. I can get a lot of crap, but there comes a time when I have run out of places to put it. And I am not alone.

3. Downsizing the customer base to 500 is perfectly in line with what Philip said about refocusing the company's actions on the basics. More layoffs, fewer customers, peace of mind for the geeks who run this test lab with no consideration for its residents. Since all of the customers will be geeks who can either debug or live with bugs, problem solved.

Bye bye, Linden Lab!

Adric Antfarm

As the years past and I see thousands of people conform to just a few basic templates of view in Second Life, I find there are those of you who after the sky opened and a god came down to speak to you, handing you Spot, your beloved childhood dog that he gave life again as a gesture of goodwill in your Second Life faith - you would run to your keyboard and with Spot sitting on your lap tell the readers of NWN what a stupid lying fraud that god dude was because you know Second Life is about to go under. Or be sold. Or go public. Not sure cause Spot chewed your notes.

There was another group of people who would rise in opposition to you even if their speaker showed up drunk, forget his pants, and slurred his speech. Like you it was less about the words and more about what you feel. The problem dude is you get wood off never having a kind word for the thing you can't see to sever your association with. There are some - just a few left who believe in people and ideas which by the declining numbers on that side and rising on your side shows you which is harder.

In the end this was a speech that could of been written by anyone (or a team), but Phil reached me. I can't say if a drunken minus pants Phil would have had the same luck, but I will always be in awe of the man which is why I blew the only shot at meeting him in years last night thinking of what to say which went long past him being there. If he had just given me another two hours...

I did however get some great snapshots of the only avatar I've ever seen with a 2002 rez day and what we'll say is the vintage look. Sort of like an old white suit. I'm that studly yet speechless guy with an A jacket that is (in retrospect) looking just a little creepy. Perhaps something Phil noticed before me wisely fleeing.

http://www.adric.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Adriclost


Adric Antfarm

Hamlet, trim me all you want, but there is a .jpg on the end of Phil's link.

http://www.adric.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Adriclost.jpg

Edit that adding .jpg and delete this making you the hero and me less the dolt?

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Philip's words echo what Soft Linden was saying yesterday: there is too much to do, and not all LL developers are able to work on all those areas. So it's not as if all system engineers and core UI or rendering programmers are all being pushed to develop Facebook integration instead of fixing bugs; they are not. The difference is that releasing some major upgrade to the underlying infrastructure or the SL client (like including meshes!) are tasks that require very specialised programming skills and take years to develop by expect teams; while something like showing a Facebook profile inside SL is relatively easy to do by a less senior developer with plenty of integration expertise. So this is the major reason why "fixing bugs" sometimes seem to take a lower priority than "adding useless features". It's not a question of "wrong" priorities or allocating developers to the "wrong" projects. It's simply a question of know-how. Not all LL developers have infinite know-how and experience to work on all projects; they're a pretty mixed crowd of talent and skills.

Sadly, the perception that most SL residents have is that all LL developers are equally skilled in all areas and should be working on bug fixes... and this perception is very hard to shake loose, so, naturally, we set too high expectations on LL's ability to develop what we most desperately want and need now and feel that anything else is "wasting time". But... it's just a question of available developers.

Pappy Enoch

"There was another group of people who would rise in opposition to you even if their speaker showed up drunk, forget his pants, and slurred his speech."

Adric, I reckon you done visited Enoch Holler durin' campain seasun. I won't cornsider votin' for no feller who don't forgit his pants at least one time.

You only forgot "and fall off'n the stage" which am also a rite common facktor in polerticks where I comes from.

Sandor Balczo

Gwynneth, with all due respect for your sensible insights and your excellent delivery of the same, I think that LL has been adding new unnecessary features without fixing the underlying bugs first. When you cover up a corpse, it does not stop stinking.

Arcadia Codesmith

There ARE resource conflicts between bug fixes and new features. If you hire those specialists to make mesh import possible, you're not spending that money on quality control/debugging.

The community clamor will usually be loudest for new features, and despite cynical views to the contrary, developers LIKE delivering what the players want.

But sometimes you've got to shift resorces into fixing what you've got and away from adding more. It's not that you ever halt new development; it's just a matter of shifting the balance towards bug-hunting.

And I'll tell you one thing -- no matter how specialized you are, and no matter how strictly the shop enforces commenting standards, it is almost always easier to debug your own code than somebody else's.

Metacam Oh

Hard for me to believe Linden doesn't have the funds or that there aren't capable developers out there of fixing Second Life. You could theoretically build a whole new Second Life platform, and a data converter to move sims avatars inventory over to the new platform, in the time it takes them to expand the groups or fix sim crossings or whatever other age old problems the platform has. Any major marketing campaign or major event is capped off at 100 people or 400 if there are 4 sims together, and don't get me started about SL performs under those conditions. They are not conditions for mass market. Not to mention the money they suck out of the economy by overpricing land tier, which is fine if we were getting the polished product we should be getting.

Henri Beauchamp

Solutions to SL's current problem (decreasing active users base):

1.- Get rid of the Adult segregation on the grid: SL is an ADULT game, this is not a virtual Disney Land, so DEAL with it ! If LL wants to provide a "vanilla" zone for business and education (which they finally admit is only a PERIPHERAL and SECONDARY user base), then create a PG continent and call it "business", or "mundane" or whatnot, but GIVE US BACK THE WHOLE MAINLAND FOR ADULT ACTIVITIES !

2.- Get rid of viewer 2 CATASTROPHIC UI !... Give us back the v1.23 UI, only keeping the new features of viewer 2.

3.- STOP BEING GREEDY !... Help merchants, and especially SMALL ones to get into or to maintain their business in SL by CUTTING DOWN their costs.

4.- DEBUG AND FIX the grid: irrelevant search results, degraded Classifieds visibility, malfunctioning IMs and group notices, slow TPs, but do NOT screw up existing contents (my fear is that the future scripts limits will basically break 50% of the existing scripted contents or make it impossible for everyone to wear more than a couple of scripted attachments at the same time !).

4.- LISTEN to the residents, and NEVER force things down their throat (such as viewer 2): they now better than you, LL !

Sandor Balczo

This just in: M Linden will speak to celebrate the official birthday of SL in a little over half an hour and all the scripts at an estate level have been disabled, thus causing almost all installations which rely on scripts to work.

It is apparent that LL's reaction to an evident technical problem at their end is putting the blame on residents. I can imagine all the irate exhibitors who will think that the whole SL7B estate has to come to a halt because a CEO who failed on the job has no time to waste on lag!

Too bad I am still at work: I would not miss this for the world!

See? Another proof that LL does not care a frigging iota about the customer base.

Sandor Balczo

Correction (haste is never a good proofreader):

"thus causing almost all installations which rely on scripts to STOP".

Apologies.

FlipperPA Peregrine

I think Cory, Robin and Philip had a balance between them that just worked. Bring back the A Team!

Oh, and new drinking game... drink every time Ann talks about Google Search Appliances! Twice if an acronym like GSAv6!

Daniel Smith

I spent a few months in Summer 2006 working at Linden Labs. My sense at the time was 'no adult supervision'.

The key problem with Philip's "Tao of Linden" is the idea of "pick your own work". Think of all of the stability problems we have seen since 2006 -- I submit that LL needed strong adult managers way back then, who would not have been afraid to DICTATE the priority of stability. "pick your own work" results in features we dont want (anyone recall "Dazzle"?).

There also seem to be a couple of comments calling for the return of Cory. He was not a strong leader internally, and one can go back to his later Town Halls and see that. His unfinished scripting language, LSL has been a thorn in the side of developers for years (but one does the best they can despite that...)

One of the best things that comes out of LL's continual mismanagement is that it provides a lot of motivation for the OpenSim folks to get it right. They are the ones that are starting to take on the technical leadership, and an ecosystem of grids, third parties, etc. is clearly developing there.

Alberik Rotaru

I really don't see that this speech goes anywhere. I do not think the average resident wants dramatic mea culpas. They want some basic improvements to the platform. This statement really has no different content from the stuff that was was posted after the Openspace disaster about how much LL feels our pain. But does nothing to relieve it.

7 years is too long for a beta test and LL has too often relied on feelgood statements to keep the troops happy while ignoring what the troops actually want.

Stroker Serpentine

Grid_Architecture_Antiquated_Will_Not_Scale_Massively. Full stop.

Earth Primbee

This talk by Phillip reminds me of a similar problem in my own sl life. I was so determined to make sl my business I said YES to every project that came my way and preached the praises of sl to everyone who'd listen. I forgot why I enjoyed SL, why I came to it in the first place, and lost sight of it's real potential in an obsessive drive to succeed.

I took a step back, focused on the areas of success that had almost organiclly happened and strengthened those fronts. I'm in a much better place now and the work I am doing in sl is of real benefit to the world. You can't sail a ship without wind but you'll never reach that other shore if you lose your rudder.

Daniel Smith

Wow, M out, Phillip Back!

Phillip, for the good of LL, Drop The Tao! "pick your own work" is a luxury that you cant afford until SL is truly stable.

Bring in experienced project managers that can dictate priorities.

LL needs a blend of utopian dreams, basic business 101 sense, and a real willingness to listen to and engage with the community.

Michael T.

I wouldn't be surprised if the layoffs were a prelude to a company IPO

In RL, I've been in a hugely profitable company that laid off nearly a quarter of the staff just to have a mean-and-lean balance sheet for the stock underwriters at valuation time

JoJo

Its amazing how quickly people lose sight of what they are actually dealing with. Innovation is no walk in the park, and if you feel like something is all wrong here, then suggest a fix or stfu.

I for one want to take this opportunity to thank Linden Labs for an amazing experience, a genuine 21st century adventure and for creating something that has spawned mountains of fascinating sociological and psychological research.

I would rather do that, and encourage them to think big for the future, than throw my faeces at their faces just because they cant single-handedly entertain me for 8 hours a day. So LL, if you´re listening, keep pushing the envelope; I´ll be around to see what you crazy kids come up with next, and i really dont care if a bug or two pops up. Good on´ya.

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