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?

Linden Lab acquires experimental game studio LittleTextPeople

Spotted this little snippet on Gamasutra:

Second Life developer Linden Lab has acquired the experimental game studio LittleTextPeople, which specializes in exploring the emotional possibilities of interactive fiction.This marks the first acquisition for Linden Lab since former Sims developer Rod Humble took over as CEO in 2010, and falls in line with the comapny’s new strategy to experiment with game design and develop products beyond Second Life. LittleTextPeople, founded by writer Emily Short and Maxis veteran Richard Evans, has so far focused on the development of software that replicates complex social interaction. For instance, among its internal technology is a simulator that models social behavior and individual personalities.

The article goes on to talk about it’s great use in interactive novels. I can see a lot more usefulness beyond that – particularly in the education and simulation sphere. I doubt that’s the direction LL will take it however. You can also view the full press release here.

The pic on this post is from Botgirl Questi’s blog – check the brilliant pic out in full there.

Linden Lab announces new CEO: Rod Humble

Linden Lab have certainly had a year of senior executive changes, with Mark Kingdon, Philip Rosedale and now Rod Humble sitting in the CEO’s chair. The press release from Linden Lab can be viewed here.

Coming from work on The Sims 2 and 3 and his cited interest in developing ‘experimental games’, he could be considered an obvious choice for the role. There’ll be some concerns from long-term residents around Second Life taking a gaming focus, but I think that’s unlikely. There’s plenty of aspects of user experience that game companies get very right and it’s a key weakness of Second Life at present. The challenge will be making those improvements without turning Second Life into The Sims. Unless of course it’s been identified that that’s where the market is, in which case hold onto your seats.

There’s also the ongoing buyout rumours: they’re not likely to abate with the appointment of someone from Electronic Arts. 2011 was always going to be interesting for Second Life and Linden Lab, and this has appointment has made things more so.

Photo courtesy of

Second Life and gambling: reversal on the horizon?

A blast from the past..

Tateru Nino never fails to have her nose to the ground on Linden Lab developments. Her latest scoop is in relation to gambling, with her in-depth post alleging a return to gambling on the cards for 2011. Essentially a partnership with a gambling company is potentially under consideration by the Linden Lab board.

If this does come to pass, it’ll obviously engender some debate. For me such a decision would be a further clarion call from the Lab on its absolute commercial focus now. The improved ability to segregate adult content makes gambling more viable from a legal compliance perspective, but there’ll still be no shortage of challenges. It still seems a little sad to me that new educators are now going to be paying full price for space whilst there’s potentially going to be growth in gambling presences. Seems a little too much like the physical world to me. What are your thoughts?

Read Tateru’s full story.

Update: Pete Gray, Linden Lab’s PR Manager, has dropped me a line on the issue:

In 2007, we enacted a ban on gambling in Second Life to ensure our platform remained in compliance with applicable US laws. Those laws remain in place, and we will of course continue to follow all applicable state and federal laws.

Linden Lab remove CEO: Rosedale returns

As mentioned briefly last night, the rumours were flying about a change in CEO at Linden Lab. The reality has eventuated with Mark Kingdon departing and Philip Rosedale returning as interim CEO.

Some obvious questions arise from this:

1. Was Kingdon aware he was soon to depart when overseeing the recent layoffs?

2. Was Kingdon even really in the loop when the restructuring was undertaken?

3. How does one claim things will improve when the now interim CEO stepped down to allow Mark Kingdon to bring a more commercial focus to the organisation? No-one is claiming such improvement at this stage, but it’s a fair assumption that the aim is for things to go up. Unless it’s part of a scale-down for buyout of course.

All that said – the change could be a good thing. At the very least it’s a temporary thing until the Lab or other future controlling influence determines what the next step is. What remains certain is uncertainty – which can’t help Linden Lab in the short-term but with luck it will assist in the all-important longer term.

Does a cross-platform interface make Second Life a second-class application?

Is a cross platform application UI really all that good for users?If you’re a Mac user, you know you’ve got access to a whole slew of first-class applications. That is, apps that follow the user-interface style guidelines for the Mac. Painstakingly developed and tested over time, the guidelines ensure consistent layouts of menus, options and hotkeys, so that you don’t spend your time struggling to work out how to do the familiar, when you should be getting on with gaining expertise in the unfamiliar.

Windows also has it’s own user-interface conventions (though they are not so strongly adhered to), and Linux has its own body of user-interface conventions also (though mostly just a matter of custom).

The thing is, the applications that follow those local rules are quite simply easier on the user, and that gives them a popularity boost right there. You don’t have to think about the hotkeys for saving or quitting. You don’t have to search high and low to find preferences. Your first-class applications are all laid out in the same way, where they have anything in common.

Second Life, however, isn’t a native first-class application on any of the three supported platforms. It sports an interface that’s somewhat alien to all three. My contention here is that perhaps an attempt should be made to actually give the Second Life viewer an overhaul and actually give each platform a native-style first-class UI.

i.e: Have the Mac viewer follow the Mac UI conventions for menus, hot-keys, drag and drop. The whole nine-yards. Windows and Linux viewers should get their UI reworked to follow their local conventions, too.

Sure, there’s a downside to this. More limited opportunities for cross-platform tutorials and documentation, you’d need to triple-up in some cases. Plus extra work from developers and QA.

The question is, however, who are we supposed to be making the viewer UI easier for? Documenters, devs and QA staff, or the actual users? The unified cross-platform interface doesn’t do the user much in the way of favours, and frankly not many second-class applications ever really hit the heights of popularity on any platform. Without following native user-interface conventions, you’re ultimately deprecated somewhat by the very people you need to win over: the actual users.

Ultimately, though, this is something that needs to be proven out by experiment before you can say for certain that a first-class native-conformant UI will do a better job than the existing second-class UI.

With a variety of third-party Second Life viewers out there the question is, who will be the first to try the idea out? I don’t think it will be Linden Lab.

The growing secrecy

Browsing back over some previous stories we’ve run, it reinforced to me again just how more secretive Linden Lab have become in the past year or so.


There’s a growing list of communication mechanisms that have gone by the wayside:

1. The monthly population metrics are no longer supplied in anywhere near the detail they used to. We used to report monthly on the number of Australians actively using Second Life – that’s now not an option.

2. The Second Life forums are a shadow of what they were 18 months ago. There’s been more traffic recently (see point 3 below) but the community is still fairly small.

3. The official Linden blog has had a marked decrease in activity as far as communication from Linden Lab, with comments either closed or moved to the forums. Linden Lab have never argued that the blog wasn’t well read. I can vouch for the significant readership as everytime we report on a Linden blog post, we get significant traffic via the trackback – that’d be a tiny percentage of the overall traffic for each blog post published by Linden Lab.

4. The Second Life Jira is the mechanism by which issues with Second Life are reported and tracked. I’m yet to meet a person who believes it is both user-friendly and effective. Have a browse for yourself – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

5. I’ve been involved with Second Life for nearly two years, a new user in some people’s eyes. Even so, I remember when Linden Lab used to run Town Hall sessions.

6. There used to be regular updates in-world and via email from Linden Lab’s PR – I can’t remember the last time this occurred. There’s an excellent post on Linden Lab’s media management here.

The six examples above are the more obvious ones. Some communication channels like in-world Linden office hours still occur but I’d be fairly confident in saying they’re less frequent than in days of yore.

I’d be happy to admit to being a sentimental whinger if anyone can point me to where alternate communication channels have popped up in lieu of the ones above.

Ahhh… the sound of silence.

Second Life immaturity – bell curve bungling.

Second Life is going through a troubling phase. It has entered young adulthood, but is still acting like a teenager – occasionally like a teething two-year-old in a tantrum. Unfortunately, Linden Lab has a very different view about where the Second Life product stands with regards to its consumers: they believe that they are providing a frontier product to the disorganized nomads of the virtual worlds. I believe this is far from the case, and that in fact the frontiersfolk have long since passed into obscurity and myth, and that this rustic product is now being peddled to a bunch of sophisticated townsfolk.

Second Life‘s frontiersfolk, the early adopters of the adoption bell curve of Kapor’s speech, have been leaving Second Life to become the early adopters of other technologies since mid-2005. The townsfolk or pragmatists have long since taken over; and though there are still hopefully many more of them to come, the townsfolk now represent a majority. It’s possible that Kapor managed to alienate both the frontiersfolk and the townfolk when he said, in essence, from the town square, “See here, all you woodsy hicks, y’all have to move over and make way for the townsfolk who’ll be moving in.”

So here we all are, a bunch of townies, doing our best with hides and stone knives to build a comfortable living for ourselves. It’s not easy, but despite the tools we’ve been given, we’re making our way nicely, thank you. We’ve workarounds galore to overcome limitations in the product (insufficient personal profile and group tools, etc), although there are still many problems that we must simply endure – an ongoing lack of stability, a poor permissions system for functional collaboration, a set of tools that are feature-rich for individuals and feature-poor for groups, and many, many others that simply make life less easy (feet sinking through terrain, poor Search functionality, the list goes on).

Microsoft, for all their other failings, did a good job of matching their product maturity to the adoption curve. Linden Lab is failing to do this. Windows versions up to 3.0 were for the innovators and early adopters. Increased stability and an increased feature-set were designed to encourage the pragmatists to buy and use their 3.1 version, and so on down the line. Linden Lab is still throwing version 1.0 grade features at customers who are expecting 3.1 quality. They are ramping up to pave the way for their 3.1-quality product targeted to attract new customers, however many of these people are already using it or have already tried and failed.

The townies are crying out for quality and beauty in their town. We like our solid buildings and manicured gardens, and a sign saying “Welcome To Our Town”. How does this translate? Aside from addressing the problems from above, two things come to mind: more social networking tools and superior orientation. If Second Life is to be truly hailed as a social networking haven, it needs the tools to support that boast, instead of people finding that they can work around the restrictions of the system. For Second Life to be welcoming, the whole orientation system needs to be addressed. Right now, no orientation at all would be better than what is currently available.

If Kapor, Kingdon and the rest of the team up at Linden Lab still think that we’re just passing out of the early adoption phase, we need to be prepared for a continuing disconnect between the Linden Lab view of the product and the consumer’s view – that is, how the product is actually being used.

Beware the bling in Second Life

Linden Lab’s Pastrami Linden has flagged a new feature in the current Release Candidate viewer. The ‘Avatar Rendering Cost’ option will show a number that equates to the cumulative graphics generation impact of that avatar – the more non-standard avatar features you’ve added the higher the number.

It’s a useful tool to determine what may be behind some of the lag experienced in the busier locations but it also risks being a distraction from some of the more serious software and hardware bottlenecks (Australian SL servers anyone?). It cold also be used as a means of excluding people or the imposition of ‘base avatar’ rules in the more popular areas. What do you think – is bling the target here?

And they wonder why people leave Second Life

I understand that the logistics of running the Second Life grid must be one hell of a task. That said, the announcement by Linden Lab that in peak usage times they’ll be disabling some of the in-world services to cope seems farcical to me. It’s the equivalent of shutting off the lights on a passenger airliner to maximise power for take-off, except in this case the lights are off for around four hours.

The services affected are:

“* Avatar profile information will not be trasmitted to the viewer. This affects both floating and embedded profile windows.

* General group information (name, charter, etc.) will not display in floating or group embedded group info windows.

* Groups will not show their member lists.

* Group owners and officers will not be able to eject group members.

* Group proposals will open the UI, but will fail to create.

* About Land will show 0 for traffic.”

Some will argue these aren’t show-stopper services but I know some people heavily use the avatar profile and group services. Furthermore, it’s the principle of the issue – I’d go as far as to say I’d rather a couple of thousand people less be permitted on the grid with full functionality than the ‘solution’ proposed.

Linden Lab are claiming a fix is on the way – you’d want to hope so because a plane full of passengers sitting in the dark doesn’t make for an experience people want to pay for again.

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