Marketing, Lying … and Fraud

As a young lad, one of the strongest insults a peer could level against someone was to call them a “liar”. At that tender age we didn’t realize the full range possible of deceitful utterances. As I’ve matured, I have come to understand in greater depth how people must at times say something we know to be a lie. However I’ve also learned when the line between a needful lie and a convenient lie is crossed. Linden Lab apparently erased that line some time ago and is now in a state of full denial, believing that they are immune to fallout from their own misdeeds.

The Tender Mercy Lie

The most common lie told is the Tender Mercy Lie. If you’ve ever watched a TV Commercial then you’ve no doubt witnessed one and didn’t give it a second thought. Gently stretching the truth in the name of Marketing and Advertising is a common practice. One of the first lessons my father taught me about TV was that commercials exaggerate the attributes of their product, but often do so in an obvious manner such that any viewer sees immediately through the untruth. Even though today’s commercials push that boundary in ever more blatant and excessive manner, anyone with a decent knowledge about how things really works will spot the “bumps” and mentally smooth them out to better match reality. No harm, no foul.

The Spin Lie

Here in the USA we are currently engaged in the Presidential Reelection Season. Begun sometime last year, it’s really quite the sport among both regular citizens as well as the talking heads on the News to spot, refute and discredit the various candidates of all stripe. Since most of the candidates are also human beings, their routine disavowal of any past indiscretions is equally hilarious … and obvious. One of the most famous lines ever uttered in this vein was the famous “I didn’t inhale” exclamation some years back. We all knew he’d inhaled, we all forgave him for it too. But his coaches rolled out the Spin Machine and shoved those words into his pre-written speech anyway. I’ve always had this belief that he had to rehearse that line for hours before he could utter it on public TV without dissolving into fits of uncontrollable hysteria. I mean serious, didn’t his friends explain HOW to smoke weed before they passed him the doob? (And if they didn’t then damn, he had crappy friends.)

The Fraudulent Lie

The most damaging form of Lie is the one offered with the hopes that the listener will believe that it is the full and complete truth. The Fraudulent Lie need not even be uttered or communicated in order to be a Lie, it simply has to be inferred or insinuated in order to carry the same weight … and potential damage. However, when a statement is made and is clearly intended to deceive or mislead the listener, it has even more impact. It’s one thing to make an assumption about what “they meant to say” … and quite another to have them say it cold and hard to your face only to find out it was an out-and-out Fraudulent Lie.

The Habitual Fraud

Many years back I worked for a company that had allowed itself to develop the habit of issuing Fraudulent Lies. The most famous of those was the day the company president came to our local offices and spent the morning explaining to us in no uncertain terms that in no case whatsoever would we be able to ship one of our most popular products any sooner than two months hence … and that was on the optimistic side. More than likely the delay would extend to 3-4 months.

After the morning meeting, we traveled to a nearby customer as a means of placating them somewhat. They been promised delivery of the (now hopelessly delayed) products and it was our belief that he would explain the situation to them in the same manner as had been explained to us. Little did we know how ingrained was the Fraudulent Lie in his business behavior. As we gathered at the table and the discussions got down to the nitty-gritty issue ahead of us, he dealt us all a blow that literally took our breath away:

“We have made several improvements in the product and obtained some new vendors to allow us to make the promise to you today that we will ship the entire back-order in no more than two weeks. More than likely you will have them in your hands even sooner.”

I am quite sure my mouth dropped wide open, and though I didn’t look, I’m quite sure my boss’ mouth did the same. Both he and I were the best of friends for one important reason … personal integrity. And here we were, sitting at the table with one of our larger and more important customers, listening as the company president lied bald-faced without so much as a hitch in his voice.

He was so practiced and so familiar with uttering outright Fraudulent Lies, that it didn’t faze him in the least to have just dropped a giant one right at our feet. And I do mean at “our feet”, because we all realized that while he would be boarding an airplane to head back overseas the next day, we would be left holding the proverbial bag. It was left to us to invent ever more creative and inventive excuses as to why we were not delivering on the company president’s promise. At dinner that night, the primary topic of conversation was exactly why we continued on in our jobs … and what we could possibly do to either insulate us from legal charges or at least duck the radioactive fallout. (I personally wrote my letter of resignation at least 10 times that night, but in the end chose to stay on … in hopes we could somehow manage to pull this one out in some as-yet-unknown way.)

We later learned that the company president had also lied to us. (Surprised?) It finally came to light that the sole reason we wouldn’t have the products for 2-4 months was that the company BOD had chosen not to pay its bills and thus the company was cut off by all the vendors that sold and assembled the parts in our product.

The Habits of Linden Lab

During the ending days of 2010, back when In-World Search was a very serious issue, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand one of Linden Lab’s most blatant Fraudulent Lies. Jack Linden, at one of the various product focus meetings, stated as if it were fact that LL had done nothing to alter or tilt the results of Search. As soon as those words left his mouth, I called him on his deceit … and promptly left the area. I could not, would not take it again. In my mind, Jack Linden had just demonstrated once again the one corporate habit I most abhor: The Habitual Fraudulent Lie.

In the Second Life Forums, I took Jack to task for his obvious untruth … and even called for his dismissal post-haste. I doubt seriously I had anything to do with it, but it wasn’t long after that that Jack left the employ of Linden Lab. I was relieved that at least one of the habitual liars of Linden Lab was gone. Perhaps now we might get something approximating honesty from them.

Oh man, was I wrong!

Bad Habits are Hard to Break

In the intervening months, it has become ever more apparent to me that Linden Lab is well aware of their internal bad habit of lying in massive ways. To help curtail this bad habit, for a time they simply chose not to say anything to anyone. While this may “feel” like you’re not lying, even the deliberate silence is in itself a lie. By remaining silent, a company is able to trick itself into at least being able to lie to itself that is has to some extent resolved the problem. But lying to yourself internal to the company is just as destructive as lying to your customers.

One of the biggest Non-spoken Fraudulent Lies is about the categorization of products on the Second Life Marketplace. Josh Susanto is famous (infamous?) for pointing out that one of their faux pas was in delisting products for being in the wrong category, when in fact the products were in the right category after all. And even if the product was in the wrong category, they really had no idea which category it fit into properly. It was a twisted bit of logic, but quite honestly he had poor Dakota Linden so twisted up that she finally just shut up and let the silence do the lying for her. Another of the great lies was that every product delisted was done so by a human LL employee or contractor after investigating the complaint and rendering a judgement. Eventually it worked out that yes indeed a human was pushing the button to delist products, but that button was not pushed after any really meaningful investigation; they simply read the complaint and removed the product. (Apparently the depth of investigation needed was the ability to read all the way to the end of the complaint.)

But Then You Opened Your Mouth …

My previous blog post on the “Slow Spiral Into Demise” detailed in gruesome complexity how LL’s failure to repair the overnight slowdown of deliveries from the SL Marketplace was killing off any sense of integrity and honesty they may have had. Whether my post had anything to do with it or not, shortly after I made that post, the “Mouthpiece” for the Commerce Team at Linden Lab (aka CommerceTeam Linden) took the time to comment on the JIRA. That comment stated as follows:

“A performance fix that will improve this is currently on Aditi. Once this has been deployed to production, we will keep an eye on the fix to determine if additional work needs to be done.”

I updated my post to add the tidbit of “Hot News” … ever hopeful that the above statement was earnest, honest and above all else, correct. However right after the above comment, Sassy Romano commented and started my brain a whirling. Her comment stated:

“A fix on the beta grid? Sounds curious when all evidence points to it being a back end systems thing, a competing process. I wouldn’t have thought that you’d find much on the beta grid since Marketplace doesn’t run at full load on there.

Care to share some details about what was found and what the details of the fix is?”

At the heart of my previous post was the theory that the problem was one of either system overload or hogging of resources. Neither of these issues can be replicated on the Aditi (Test) Grid. Yet I held out hope that I was wrong in some fundamental way and that they’d found something in their code that they’d put right and were testing on Aditi. Alas, my hopes have been dashed.

A Lie Is A Knife In The Back

Linden Lab cannot seem to break their habit of Lying … and Lying in demonstrably and blatantly fraudulent ways. After they released their “Performance Fix“, I was heartened to test it out. I even sunk so low as to offer up a tiny little prayer that it would indeed be true. But as you can see from the follow-on comments after CTL’s announcement comment, the fix … isn’t. The situation is exactly as it was before.

In short, and though this seems harsh, it’s an earned harshness … Linden Lab did nothing to actually address this issue. It’s as if they have so little respect for us that they would have not the least compunction against lying to us, stating they had made fixes to address the issue and in fact they did nothing. NOTHING!

It’s another straw Linden Lab. It’s yet another measly, inconsequential and nearly weightless straw. But the Camel’s back is straining. When that camel’s back breaks, you will all be wringing your hands bemoaning how the “ignorant and unfeeling buttholes we took such good care of … turned on us.”

But that’s just another lie LL … another in the long line of lies that has kept your company falling backwards from the heydays of the mid-2Ks. Another little lie that’s done nothing but hurt and demean the beauty of the world we created with your tools. And now resent, in the most physical and hurtful ways, for having been defrauded into believing you really could and would tell us the truth.


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Comments

2 Comments on Marketing, Lying … and Fraud

  1. Dartagan Shepherd on Tue, 31st Jan 2012 10:50 PM
  2. A good example. There have been a lot of straws lately for me along these lines. The lack of integrity and responsibility coming from LL has been the main one. If you’d allow me to paste something I quoted on someone elses blog explaining the revenue from Marketplace sinks …

    “Marketplace commission, like other sinks can be equated to real money, they’re just not thought of as revenue because they’re not a direct income. However, ask an accountant how this works and they’ll tell you that it is income and on what side of the balance sheet it falls in real world accounting.

    Money comes in from whatever source (tier, buying $L, premium accounts, etc.). LL puts some of this money into a global pool of L$ we call the economy. The more they take out of that global pool (which was purchased originally with real money), that’s the ammount they get to keep in real dollars.

    Take the last published quarterly report, where gross Marketplace sales were published.

    Quarterly gross Marketplace sales: $1,183,000,000

    5% quarterly commission in L$: L$59,150,000

    Converted to real dollars at a rate of 260 (just because), it’s roughly $227,500 USD for the quarter.

    Roughly $76,000/month USD gross earnings from the Marketplace commission.

    This isn’t complete because it doesn’t include advertising sales or purchases in real dollars (PayPal purchases on thr marketplace, which are inflated substantially from items purchased with L$).

    Gross marketplace sales keep increasing as LL guides more and more of sales from in-world to the marketplace.

    In real life accounting terms, this is money that just never has to go back out of the system, which is the amount LL gets to keep out of their gross income.

    Only in terms of the virtual economy does this money bounce around from user to user and act as some sort of balancing equation or “sink”.

    So yes, marketplace commission and sinks are real money for LL, just not in the sense of revenue. The money has already been made before the commission and sinks kick in. Nevertheless sinks count as income that doesn’t have to go back out.”

    End quote. So that $76,000/month USD (still an arbitrary although conservative number due to lack of more info) the marketplace takes in is one of those straws. This is real money, real commerce and yet there’s no real life recourse, nowhere in the real world to report a service that doesn’t work as advertised, etc.

    LL needs to clean up its act on the honesty/integrity front, I wholeheartedly agree. They’ve proven they can handle commerce in their own products and all the points where we customers are charged money and yet years can go by with little to no communication, false promises where there is communication, overpricing the product, etc.

    The worst for me are the types of lies you speak of and something worse … LL wants sympathy, wants the fans to do their damage control (used to do this), expects people to buy into ideals, etc. Social engineering at its finest.

    It’s a product, it’s expensive, it doesn’t work properly after 10 years. LL is the one that decided to tackle this technology, it’s their job, that’s what customers pay them for. They don’t get sympathy because it’s hard to do. They get millions in profit for that.

    I didn’t buy woodworking equipment to “unleash my creativity” although that’s what I can do with the tools. What I bought were good tools so that I could bring my imagination and creativity to bear.

    LL is a tool and service, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t make me any more creative than my woodworking tools, the creativity comes from me, not my tools, and not LL. They don’t get to claim that.

    Time to grow up and clean up their act in a big way though. Leave the social engineering and hype and manipulative bits at the door, LL.

    Sorry for the long, long post, but you know 🙂

  3. Darrius Gothly on Tue, 31st Jan 2012 11:24 PM
  4. No need to apologize to me about “long posts” 😀 I’m the last one that could complain about that! LOL You are right on though, from a direction that had not occurred to me. Left- vs. Right-handed maybe? All in all, well said and thank you Dart. I appreciate your contributions to Our World. ^5’s