When It Comes to Policy (Both In SL and RL), Poor Communication Leads to More Conspiracy Theory
I usually devote a Monday post to highlighting a great reader comment from the previous week, but after the controversy over Linden Lab's new Terms of Service policy (read here and also here), someone named "Jay" came by and posted a dubious comment that requires some attention, but probably not for reasons Jay intended. Why did Linden Lab change its Terms of Service policy to assert ownership of anything uploaded to Second Life? Simple, claims Jay:
The reason behind this broad rights grab is Linden Lab's plan of monetizing the content created by SL users once they shut down SL, either by using it in new Linden Lab products or by selling it to other virtual world providers and games developers. The Lab doesn't plan on spending money on marketing and it doesn't care about CGTextures new policy. They are in the process of getting every last dollar out of Second Life, which includes monetizing the vast amount of valuable user created content. It's as simple as that. I love Second Life, but for the Lab it's nothing more than a business, and burying one's head in the sand isn't going to change anything.
I asked Jay for any evidence to these assertions, but received no reply. However, to be fair to Jay, variations of this conspiracy theory are pretty widespread throughout the SL user community, all of them circling around the basic theme that Linden Lab is a nefarious organization with dark, dangerous plans against its own users. (In fact, the belief is so common, former Linden CEO Mark Kingdon once addressed it directly.)
Why so many conspiracy theories -- is this just part of the whackadoodle phenomenon? Maybe, but not entirely:
An online service with an anonymous user base is going to be prone to wild claims, so a certain level of conspiracy theory is bound to be inevitable. At the same time, anonymity is how the system was architected by a corporation that's making quite a lot of profit from that anonymous userbase, so the onus is on the company to be more communicative, and more proactive, open, and transparent about its communication. The draconian new Terms of Service agreement was introduced quietly, with little or no word from the company about why these change were necessary. (As I said, the wording is almost certainly to protect itself from lawsuits filed by its own users, and won't really threaten user rights in any real way.) It doesn't help that few people at Linden Lab are presented as the face of the company. (An occasional announcement or appearance by the CEO will not quiet cut it here.) I just looked through the company blog, and none of the posts are attributed to an actual person. Wild assertions thrive when people are able to make them anonymously; they grow even worse when the organization they're directed at also seems anonymous. And silent.
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