Linden Lab CEO departs

Rod Humble leaves Linden Lab

Isle of Mousai, Ancient Alexandria

It’s all a bit unofficial yet, but as Daniel Voyager has posted (via Jo Yardley), Rod Humble appears to have finished up at Linden Lab. It’s hard to be surprised when any CEO calls it quits after a tenure of three years or so, but it’s interesting Linden Lab themselves have had nothing to say as yet.

I had the opportunity to share a radio spot with Rod 2 years back, and on that and in other interactions he’s always been more than polite, and I hope he picks up something fulfilling down the track. It’s also well worth having a look back at Tateru Nino’s interview with Rod Humble from February 2011.

Anyone want to guess a replacement?

Rod Humble (and I) talk SL on Australian radio about Second Life

An interesting morning, with Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble and myself being invited to appear on the Kyle and Jackie O show.

For Australian readers, you’ve probably heard about Kyle Sandilands in particular, so I went into the interview with eyes wide open on how balanced the interview would be.

As expected it was a predictable angle, paraphrased as “Hey, look at those freaky people who give up their life to go into Second Life”. That said, Kyle Sandilands was the comparative voice of reason out of the two hosts, at least keeping an open mind.

It’s worth a listen to hear how Linden Lab’s CEO deals with a tabloid approach to Second Life. Not surprisingly the piece opens with Sissy, a self-proclaimed SL addict. Have a listen for yourself and here’s a link to 2Day FM’s podcast of 17th January. It did make the cut – as predicted, sex pose balls make for good listening in the tabloid world.

Linden Lab’s take on 2011… and 2012

Whilst catching up on news around the place, I noticed this post from Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble:

As we head into the new year, I’d like to share some highlights from 2011, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come in 2012.

First, if you haven’t already, I hope you will explore our recently launched Linden Realms, the Lab’s first-ever game prototype. For newbies, it is a very simple way to earn L$, so hop on over and start collecting gems.

One of the key goals of Linden Realms was to learn more about what tools Residents could use to develop richer experiences in Second Life — and boy, did we learn a lot! In Q1 2012 , we will be releasing new tools used to develop Linden Realms, which will allow Residents to create even richer original experiences in Second Life. To prevent abuse of these tools, we will introduce a “creators” program in which verified members will be given access to these very powerful capabilities.

In 2011, we also made strides to improve usability in Second Life. We launched a new version of the Viewer, which allows you to customize the user interface for a more flexible workspace with drag-and-drop buttons, among other key new features. The new Viewer also makes it easier for new Residents to discover essential, basic functions — so, with the simple click of a button, you can change your appearance, go to a new location, find inworld merchants or head on over to the Second Life Marketplace.

Speaking of customization, since we deployed Mesh earlier this year, we’ve seen more than a 16 percent adoption rate. I expect this to continue to grow at a strong pace as more and more Residents take advantage of all the features available to allow you explore Second Life and create even more engaging, exciting experiences.

This past year, we also improved the customer experience with expanded Premium subscription benefits that include virtual gifts, as well as exclusive areas where you can go and create. One of the other benefits of being a Premium member is ownership of a Linden Home, which I’m pleased to report has reached an historic high. For those of you who have enjoyed owning a Linden Home and are looking for a little more real estate, you can check out what is available on the Second Life Land Store and through private-estate purchases and rentals found through Second Life Search. In 2012, you can expect to see more value added to Premium in the form of additional features and content. If you are not yet a Premium member, you can sign up here!

In 2012, the primary engineering focus of Q1 will be server side performance and fixing bugs. In fact, you may have noticed one upgrade deployed this week which should reduce the number of restarts and increase performance for all regions. This kind of work makes for a poor headline, but has enormous payoff for the customer experience. We will also continue to invest in and focus on our customer support, reducing response times and increasing satisfaction.

For landowners, existing land tier pricing will not go up in 2012. In addition, our service and quality focus in 2012 also means that we will be delivering features and policies that we believe will significantly assist merchants and landowners in running a business more profitably.

For creators our first new feature for 2012 will be pathfinding. Because worlds feel most vibrant when they are full of life, one of our next focuses for Second Life is the ability to make high-quality “life” within it. So in 2012, we will be rolling out more advanced features that will allow the creation of artificial life and artificial people to be much smoother. For starters, in Q1, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world while avoiding obstacles. Combined with the tools from Linden Realms this will make the polished creation of full MMORPG’s or people/animal simulators within Second Life easier and of high quality.

In addition to delivering new features and increasing our support for Second Life, we will be launching some completely different products next year not related to Second Life. Some of them will be very experimental, but all will fit within our company’s proud history of enabling creativity, which I hope may interest some of you.

Thank you again for being a customer have a great holiday and a Happy New Year!

So overall, some interesting stuff on the horizon including some non-Second Life products from Linden Lab. I’d be pretty happy if even half of the Second Life changes above were implemented, so here’s hoping.

Linden Lab CEO: enter the bot armies!

Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble has posted an update to Second Life residents on progress and future plans. Have a read for yourself in full here, but the most interesting part for me was this:

Over the next few months (with testing most likely starting in December), we will be rolling out a series of more advanced features. These will make the creation of artificial life and artificial people much smoother. For starters, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world avoiding obstacles. Imagine being able to create advanced pets, creatures or even a living town where non-player characters are walking about. Combined with the experience tools I mentioned above, it should soon be possible to create more advanced MMORPG’s or interactive experiences which use AI right within Second Life.

It’s a good enhancement in so many ways, and its timing is good with the unveiling of improved AI world navigation capabilities for Unity 3.5. It certainly keeps Linden Lab in the game and provides some interesting content creation opportunities currently not available.

Of course, this story’s title is tongue in cheek but it fits this announcement as no doubt someone will use the new features for nefarious purposes…

Linden Lab CEO: we’re growing but we’re not sure why

Another year, another Second Life Community Convention. Last year it was Philip Rosedale addressing the convention. This year it’s Rod Humble and today he spent 45 minutes talking about his initial time at Linden Lab and his thoughts on the success and future of Second Life and answering questions. He starts off by emphasising that right now, there are still 16-thousand new signups per day (although no confirmation on how many have stuck with it a month later) and the challenge of battling the stereotypes around Second Life’s ‘decline’. There’s also a bunch of announcements (definitely evolutionary rather than revolutionary ones), so have a look/listen for yourself. The first 18 minutes are the speech, the rest is Q&A:

Video streaming by Ustream

Overall it seemed a solid speech, albeit a little scattered at times. Without sounding too negative, I did feel a strong sense of deja vu to Philip Rosedale’s speech a year ago: a commitment to improve things with first user experience, customer service and lag. With the relative lack of transparency around metrics compared to the ‘good old days’, it’s always difficult to measure success. That means that all we can hope for is that the 16K signups a day manage to convert to more long-term users.

On the title of this story: I think the fact that Linden Lab still don’t have a grasp on why Second Life continues to succeed is actually a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and hopefully avoids too much groupthink at Linden Lab. I think if Second Life ever becomes a truly known quantity, its days will definitely be numbered.

Other perspectives on Rod Humble’s speech

1. Bay Sweetwater – Live blogging Rod Humble vs what I’d love to hear

2. Honour McMillan – Attending SLCC 2011 Virtually in Second Life

3. Sylvie Dale – Usability, customer service will be key for Linden Lab in 2011
4. Post your own perspectives in comments!

Rod Humble: unfortunately we’re in The Promised Land

As Linden Lab CEO, Rod Humble has made an impression in his first few months. He very much needed to given the challenges faced, but I’m actually encouraged by the wider view he seems to be taking on the impact virtual environments can have on all of us. Speaking at what I’m assuming is a recent event , Humble covered a fairly wide gamut on games, games as art-forms and the concept of eventual computer-generated art via games. A specific point made fell around the huge progress the games industry has made, effectively entering ‘The Promised Land’, but that perhaps this was holding progress and/or serious questioning of games outcomes back.

Have a read through for yourself and then have your say in comments. His perspective on free will is enough to start a gargantuan discussion thread, let alone the other issues addressed.

Overall, Humble’s thoughts are a deeper perspective than one traditionally expects from a CEO and it’s a welcome change. That said, applying that broad mindset to the specific challenges Linden Lab faces is the real test of mettle to come. Initial indications are favourable but there’s a long way to go yet.

Interview: Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab

These last two weeks, Linden Lab has opened the doors for some of us to have limited interviews with Rod Humble, the freshly-minted CEO of Linden Lab, and the new face at the helm of Second Life, and I was among those given the opportunity to ask some questions. I took the opportunity to ask a number of you just what questions you’d like answered, and managed to squeeze a number of them in on your behalf.

Humble was quite circumspect and reticent in his responses, but to be fair, he’s only been involved with Linden Lab for about three weeks so far, and is far less acquainted with what Linden Lab has done to-date than most of the rest of us.

TMJ: How would you describe Second Life in your own words?

I wouldn’t. Partly because I feel I would be a little silly by naming something that others (such as yourself) have experienced far more than me, but more importantly, I would let our customers do that over time as we figure it out together. I think it has something to do with creativity and how we evolve identity as we interact with others, but I like its undefined nature. I like its ambiguity. That to me feels like it is the beginning of something.

TMJ: Linden Lab has received quite a bit of criticism for its removal of discounts for educators. Given the subsequent increase in educators starting to look elsewhere, how does Linden Lab see the non-profit / education sector fitting into its strategy?

I wasn’t really here for that, so it’s hard for me to comment on past policy, but we certainly value these communities and don’t want to hamper their contributions to Second Life or prevent them from getting the value from it that they currently do.

TMJ: Going back a couple of years, Linden Lab was driving the interoperability agenda to a large extent, with that now being driven primarily by the OpenSim community. Does Linden Lab have any plans to get more substantively into that space and if not, is it just a case of keeping Second Life’s feature set ahead of OpenSim in order to maintain the lead?

Sorry it’s too soon to talk about this. Gotta play the new guy card.

TMJ: To get parochial for a second, back in mid-2007 we were told there would be Australian-based Second Life servers “real soon now”. Can you outline your strategy for managing bandwidth and response times for Second Life outside of the USA?

Yeah that’s a bit too detailed for me right now, but we definitely intend to fully support customers worldwide. How we can do that, we are looking at, but it varies by territory.

TMJ: What do you think Linden Lab’s strengths are?

Customers – we are blessed by customers who talk to us a lot and are not shy. This is a tremendous asset. While obviously we make mistakes and do not please everyone, the level of feedback helps us enormously. Our harshest critics are also our staunchest defenders when others put out misinformation about Second Life. If anything, getting customers’ voices heard coherently is our biggest task. There are way too many places where customers send feedback (or a “tower of babble” as one customer put it). As part of serving folks better the team here is trying to focus that more.  The new user groups are a step along that path. Finally, of course, our customers literally make the whole world.

TMJ: Given that you’re approaching things from a different background, what do you think Linden Lab’s biggest mistake has been?

Given the incredible technical and social challenges that Second Life solved, I am not sure I would label much to be a massive mistake. Second Life is technically really impressive – Linden Lab solved some astoundingly difficult technical problems in order to create it – but it’s still much too hard for new users by an exponential factor rather than a small one. There’s a big gap between how experienced customers can enjoy Second Life and the experience of a new user, and that’s a huge opportunity for us. What’s interesting is that in the entertainment space, most companies face these challenges in the reverse order – first you figure out ease of use and accessibility, how to make interacting with it an enjoyable experience, and then you tackle the technical stuff to make it work.

TMJ: What particular thing do you feel you’re bringing to Linden Lab, given your skills and background?

I hope my experience in growing large communities will prove useful to our customers. I care about art and creativity, I express myself through technology. I hope those traits will prove helpful.

TMJ: Linden Lab has spent much of the last decade juggling one or another balance of “fast, easy, fun”, seemingly without really finding a balance point that lasts for more than a few months. Is the problem – do you think – with finding the right balance, with the thrust of the strategy itself, or is there some third angle we’re overlooking?

I wasn’t here, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on past strategies, but I will say Second Life is a vibrant world that exists today and is enjoyed by millions of people, so it succeeded in many ways. It seems to me that a blended strategy can often be effective. I am used to operating a strategy where you have a general strategy setting the overall direction then initiatives on a 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 month timeline, which evolve as you work through them. That technique is not particularly revolutionary but it works.

TMJ: Linden Lab has always seemed to most focused on the retention of new users at the apparent expense of existing users. I know this comes across as quite a leading sort of question, and I cannot really see quite how to avoid that I’m afraid, but do you think that situation should continue, be reversed or should some other sort of balance be struck?

I think you can see from my comments above that I strongly believe you need both. Our existing customers should expect us to do a bunch of unsexy backend work to address your valid issues. I would also say that intelligent internet savvy new users are utterly lost with the current experience and discoverability. That for sure will also be addressed in the short term.

TMJ: Have you tried any third-party viewers? If so, do you have any preferences?

I have tried them all they all have positives and negatives. I do have various features I like from each that I think we should learn from.

TMJ: What do you feel is the greatest threat to Second Life?

If we put barriers in the way of creativity and exploration. There are temptations to do this every day. They need to be avoided.

TMJ: What actually are Linden Lab’s goals or direction for Second Life? Nobody’s ever really said, and everyone’s awfully curious.

As I mentioned before, my goal is to enable our customers’ expression and creativity, beyond that, let us see where the journey takes us all. The residents of Second Life are smart, communicative and creative. They are going to take this in all sorts of directions. Our job at Linden Lab is to set solid foundations, create the tools, and then get out of the way as much as we can.

TMJ: Should we expect a change of direction from the Lab and/or for Second Life? If so, how?

Expect to see a focus on customer service, experience, creativity and usability. Second Life should become the natural home for intelligent, creative, and social people online. Whether that is a change or not I don’t really know, but those are my priorities right now.

TMJ: Under Philip Rosedale’s tenure as CEO, Second Life’s motto was “Your world, your imagination”. During Mark Kingdon’s era it was “Your world, your way”. What motto do you feel will be the hallmark of your own tenure at the Lab?

Those both sound good and appropriate to me. I don’t think 3 weeks in it would be appropriate for me to succinctly summarise or change a mission statement or motto.

TMJ: What are your initial impressions about the culture and communications inside the Lab?

It’s great! People are very friendly and committed to wanting to make something important. I am really taken aback by just how much people here care. It is good to see.

TMJ: What are your personal goals while you’re the CEO of Linden Lab?

I would like to meet someone in five years who said “Yeah I joined Second Life just after you joined, and it really meant a lot to me. The people I met, the things I saw. That was important.” If I can achieve that, if a decision I take changes some human beings for the better, then I will be pleased …………Oh and I want to script a fully operational miniature wargames table in Second Life 🙂

TMJ: We don’t want this to be entirely one-sided. What are we – as users and customers – not asking you about that you’d nevertheless like us to hear?

I will read the comments to this interview, what I would most like to know is this: In 2 years time what would you most like to be doing in Second Life, and how would you like to be doing it? The answers to that question would be very helpful indeed.

So, who is willing to speak up in response to Humble’s question: In 2 years time what would you most like to be doing in Second Life, and how would you like to be doing it?

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