Times, they are a changing…

I had planned to play code warrior today. Alas, said plans were quickly derailed. And instead, I ended up installing WordPress and setting up what will probably be a mostly empty blog. Because…. interestingly (or perhaps, not so), a rather curious title appeared in my SL feeds: Linden Giving Away MOTD Space?

The aforementioned article, penned by Prokofy Neva, has unsurprisingly caused quite a stir. As it seems Linden Lab is now providing advertising service to selected residents via the “Message of the Day” (MotD) splash screen that briefly appears during login. They claim this is but “a test” of course. And though Linden Lab representatives say they are attempting to provide a richer, yet predictable, “user experience” to all residents, they have regularly engaged in repeated unpredictable and erratic behavior.

Whether its perma-banning people because they simply do not like them, or buying out two of the largest SL commerce sites on the web, only to put one out of business and break the other beyond recognition, or releasing a new viewer whose graphics are worse than they were in 2005, or penning inept blog posts about messaging… These together not only support the nay-sayer’s contentions but are beginning to erode the confidence of some of the more devout second lifers.

No one likes change, of course. That’s pretty much par for the course. We are after all creatures of habit. Even so, we are also very good at adjusting to this or that change that is tossed our way. What is striking about Linden Lab changes however, is that they not only seem to be coming fast and furious but one almost feels as if they are watching a company in its final death throes.

I have long held that perception is 9/10ths of the law. And this is no different where Linden Lab is concerned. So, I guess the question of the day (QotD) may be, just how accurate are these perceptions, anyway? And what do they mean in the long run? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

First and foremost, Linden Lab is not only a business but more importantly it still falls under the classification of a start-up. To get a better idea of what that means, one only need take a history walk to March of 2007, and the Linden Lab Fact Sheet posted on the Capitalism 2.0 site. And then, consider this. Being a start-up is indeed a fickle business. And while 30M total in start-up capital (the last, of which, by the way, occurred over three years ago) may seem like a real boon to any start-up company, I can assure you, it is really not much. And it runs out quite quickly.

Now, while Linden Lab is reporting revenue, they also brought in Mark Kingdon, who amazingly just now seems to recognize that the web e-commerce model is not viable for the virtual world. Now, some of you may proclaim, “but we are doing e-commerce.” Well, yes and no. What I am speaking of when I refer to e-commerce, is ad campaigns. You know, the beast behind the over-night millionaire dot bombs? Furthermore, Kingdon, also seems to just now realize the potential savings that can be had by having virtual meetings as opposed to jet setting employees all over the world. Er… what? But, I digress.

Other changes are occurring as well. For example, the major employee overhaul of their upper and middle management staff. And lest we forget, the in-world changes. The least of which is the announcement of the adult continent and the search features. Now, add to this, Mitch Kapor’s message during his SL5B key note address. Some of you may recall his allusion to a sort of “virtual turning point” or “ending” if you may, and his analogy of the “second life journey” as a sort of bell curve, wherein he identified “early adopters” as society’s “misfits” and “cast-aways.

I am surprised he didn’t characterize his predicted transition as “the new aeon” with the illuminated ones (ala the “pragmatists“) rising to power to restore order to the new frontier. Nonetheless, Kapor’s message indicated that the changes, we, as residents, would be experiencing over the next year, would be significant. And indeed, they have been. I might even argue that some of these changes were needed, though I would still give them an “F” where planning and execution are concerned.

So, per Kapor, we have changes and we have the coming of the “pragmatists.” And who are these “pragmatists?” Why, they’re your corps, educational institutions, and non-profits, of course. Which is why Linden Lab has spent the better part of last year ramping up its provider program, while at the same time trying to figure out just what to do with the “misfits.

Of course, even if they do manage to figure that one out, they have a minor image problem. And while they may think they have the answer in their adult continent and new search criteria, I am admittedly not as optimistic as they appear to be. As I highly doubt that society at large will have some sort of memory lapse and view second life as a legitimate platform for doing real world work as opposed to a game that is but one step up from the Red Light Center.

But anyway… let’s play-pretend that they have solved their image problem. Or rather, it will be solved once the adult continent is up and running. What about these other changes? You know the ones? The advertisements in the MotD, the new viewer changes that seem to be designed to obscure editing tools, that may very well be the beginning of the end of user generated content. What do all of these mean? In the bigger picture, that is?

As I recently told a friend. Linden Lab is either in their last throes as a viable company or they are preparing to IPO. After all, regardless of the tier fees that are being paid, they really do need some serious funding if they plan to stay around. From what I have been reading in the press, along with considering the trend as startups go, I would proffer that its the latter. We shall see.

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