Here Comes The Sun

The news all around the Blogosphere regarding Second Life and Linden Lab over the past couple of weeks has been extremely disappointing. My most recent posts called out the Lab on several of their more obvious blunders, and I was just one voice in a deafening cacophony of anger heaped on the Lab for taking actions that seemed purposely aimed at destroying (or at least severely diminishing) the pleasure and usability of Second Life by its long-term hard-core customers. Well, in what has hopefully been the first steps in a new direction for the Lab, there have also been a number of actions of late that might just signal a whole new dawn for the embattled virtual playground.

Direct Delivery and Received Items

Last year when Direct Delivery was first announced, there was a massive uprising among the more vocal “Doom-n-Gloomers” (myself included) predicting massive chaos and the destruction of Second Life as we knew it. Our reasoning was that the Lab has so often totally screwed up every bit of code and technology they’d released that something as massive as Direct Delivery would surely be turned into the fiasco that sank the ship. (Well, I wasn’t exactly predicting the end of SL, but a lot did. I was more concerned that it would turn into a drawn out series of blunders and faux pas that would result in unrecoverable damage to an already weakened platform.)

One of the key ingredients of Direct Delivery was the fact that it would include a guaranteed method for purchases to be delivered to the purchaser; guaranteed so that even if they were offline at the time they made their purchase, it would still be in their inventory the next time they logged on. As mentioned in my previous post “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” the specification and intended usage of that folder had grown over the interceding months into something scary and ultimately unwelcome. Upon seeing the communal response (meaning “Flame War”) that erupted from its release on the Aditi test grid, Linden Lab scaled it back and took a more reasonable approach. (That was Defense Exhibit #1 in today’s case.)

Snap, Crackle, Oh CRAP!

Over this past weekend a new and very unwelcome side-effect of the Received Items proposal came to light. The redefined behavior of the Received Items folder broke a very important and very heavily used feature of the RLV (Restrained Love API) called “Shared Folders”, the ability to send a folder of items directly into the special #RLV folder. Because Received Items would catch all incoming inventory, the special name given to the incoming folder would not trigger the RLV code to perform the necessary special handling. This broke a lot of existing content. In fact, the sheer numbers were staggering just based on rough but educated guesstimates. Even more to the point, it ruined a critical core feature of RLV and likely would have resulted in an outcry and crapstorm bigger than any recent ones. When you toss in the loss of income to Linden Lab … this was not looking to be a good thing for Second Life.

Early this past Sunday, a new JIRA titled “Accepting task inventory ignores the supplied destination folder” was opened … and immediately exploded. In less than 24 hours, the Issue had drawn over 300 comments and was roiling with anger, frustration and (unfortunately) a good bit of misinformation. As always seems to be the case, the JIRA Issue was opened over the weekend and of course Linden Lab doesn’t have a development staff that works weekends, so the Issue sat there gaining more and more layers of bad karma and zero attention from LL.

Defense Exhibit #2

By Monday morning, a lot of folks were getting very worried that the latest incarnation of Received Items was going to get stuffed down our throats. Further exacerbating this fear was the fact that the spec had been released in two of the three RC (Release Candidate) versions of the Sim software BlueSteel and LeTigre. People started getting very antsy that Linden Lab was about to cripple their primary reason for using SL. It was not pretty.

But then in a delightful display of good humor and dry wit, Oz Linden did something that honestly had me giggling for several minutes. One of the people commenting on the JIRA Issue posted this:

“You know, someone from LL could take 5 minutes out their day and write on here, “We hear you, we’re checking on it, thanks.” Communication is such a wonderful thing. Too bad LL has no idea how to do it.”

To which Oz promptly posted this:

“We hear you, we’re checking on it, thanks”

You gotta admit, that’s funny. More important then just being in good humor though, it indicates that Linden Lab is actually taking it seriously. And they are communicating.

A Truckload of Water on the Bonfire

Myself and many others have often maintained that with very little effort on LL’s part, with a few simple posts indicating they are listening and taking things seriously, a whole lot of customer discontent can be snuffed out and replaced with heaps and gobs of gratitude. Well, today’s events proved that to be true.

Shortly after Oz posted, Brooke Linden (head of the LL Commerce Dev Team) posted this follow-up comment:

“Thanks to everyone for the feedback. We will be rolling back LeTigre and BlueSteel on Wednesday, and will not re-deploy until this has been fixed.”

There ya go, crisis averted, Bonfire snuffed out. Brooke’s short missive answered all the questions that had been fermenting over the last 24 hours. Not only would Linden Lab back the Received Items change out of the BlueSteel and LeTigre RC regions, but would make sure it was fixed before taking another step forward. Hallelujah and pass the lemonade!

And The Choir Sang …

Nearly instantaneously the demeanor of the contributors to the JIRA Issue switched from anger, fear and general frustration into post after post of sincere thanks to Oz and Brooke and the Linden Lab developers too. In fact, the thank you notes got so thick that Oz had to weigh in again and ask folks to please limit comments to those of a technical nature or things that illustrated problems with the Received Items operation. I gotta say, it was heartening to see so many people posting those thank you notes, because of one thing.

Theory Proven By Observed Behavior

As I mentioned above, many of the Forumites and Blog Writers have long stated that if Linden Lab would just engage and remark more often then these types of crises would be drastically reduced in intensity and duration. I’ve always believed that silence on the Lab’s part was one of the most influential components of why these things turn into full-scale revolts. The events of the past 48 hours took that theory out of the realm of “sounds plausible but…” and put it squarely into the “proven because we’ve seen it work.”

The specific JIRA Issue has gone from a pot of boiling lava into a quiescent bay on a lazy tropical afternoon. The RLV Community, Merchants, Creators and Customers alike, have calmed down tremendously. More importantly, overall the dark pall of dread and fear that so often accompanies these issues is gone. Oz and Brooke created a long-lasting calm with not much work and not many words.

Closing Arguments

Received Items in specific and Direct Delivery in general have been the source of a lot of fear and dread among the SL Community. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we don’t hear a lot from inside the Lab about how things are coming along. The silence is a fertile ground for imaginative (and sometimes paranoid) members of the community to stoke up the fires of discontent and turn what could be a very beneficial feature into a crapstorm of anger.

These past two days have proven that Linden Lab can affect a lot of positive change by taking the simple step of engaging the community, opening the drapes a bit more than they have, and above all else investing time in writing out descriptions, Blog posts and Wiki pages that are fully descriptive and cognizant of every aspect of the issue. Yes, it can be difficult and sometimes time consuming to write out a 5,000 word essay on something that seems (to LL at least) to be a very simple and easily understood feature or change. But that investment gains returns that go a long way toward bringing the Second Life Customers onto their team as willing participants and partners.

Please Linden Lab. Take away from this the proof that it is a worthwhile use of your time to talk with us, write your announcement in great depth and detail, and don’t be afraid to respond fully when questions arise. We ALL want to work together with the Lab. We just need a sturdy step to stand on as we ride off into the sunrise.

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8 Comments on Here Comes The Sun

  1. Pamela Galli on Tue, 13th Mar 2012 3:04 AM
  2. Amen. Time and time again we have seen that TWO WAY communication is the oil on the waters.

  3. Tateru Nino on Tue, 13th Mar 2012 6:35 AM
  4. Although, I am still waiting for comment from Linden Lab since the day before yesterday.

  5. Darrius Gothly on Tue, 13th Mar 2012 6:55 AM
  6. *bemused sigh* One step forward, two steps back? I’m also acutely aware that while Brooke did say they wouldn’t release Received Items until it was “fixed”, the definition of “fixed” has yet to be supplied. There are a lot of different ways they could go. Apparently friction has overcome momentum in their forward progress toward communicating fully with the customers of Second Life.

    […] DG sees some bright spots in the madness of the Labbies (Good. It's about time.) […]

  7. Nalates Urriah on Tue, 13th Mar 2012 11:52 AM
  8. Darrius, another good article and you are right about the effect a few words from the Lindens can have.

    However, no matter what the Lindens do, communications from and with the Lab will remain a problem. Part of the problem is in the community. The Lindens are learning to handle their customers. I can’t see that the community is learning to handle the Lindens.

    It may be that this set of Lindens will find better ways to respond and communicate with the community. But, how long will it be before the community burns them out? The flames and abuse spewed into the JIRA SVC-7748 will turn off any one and over time take its toll. Only exceptional people are immune.

    I think a few in the community talking directly with Lindens Monday morning got their attention. Oz, who must have a sense of humor considering his comment in the JIRA, probably had something to do with Brooke making a comment. I don’t know that, but the timeline is right.

    Waiting for OTHERS to solve or fix the problem means they will control the solution. It may not be what we want or like. Only when we are involved in the solution do we get a say. While people cry that the Lindens don’t include them, they are often the same people that flame and abuse others. It’s no surprise to me that others and the Lindens don’t want to be around them or deal with them.

    Many just want what they want and give every appearance that they are a 10 year old trying to force things to go their way, as if they could control the world with their words. Some have yet to learn how to influence others and are effectively their own worst enemies. It’s actually rather sad.

    The problem is the rest of us have to suffer for their inability to learn or rationally understand their behavior or even perceive it in a realistic way. The challenge those of have that recognize the problem is in doing something about it, without engaging in the behavior that violates another’s freedom or abuses them or shows we have the same lack of awareness and understanding the problem people exhibit.

  9. Darrius Gothly on Tue, 13th Mar 2012 12:46 PM
  10. You make very good points Nalates, that the loudly vocal whiners make it hard to get to the real nutritional meat of the topic at hand, whatever that may be. But here is where my perspective departs from the norm. As we have seen, just a few words from the Lindens involved (or most any reasonable voice in the Linden Lab staff) automatically rises above the din. It would be a very simple exercise for the Linden replying to quickly filter through the messages, comments and questions and pick out those voices in the crowd that have kept their temper, have maintained their decorum and are asking valid questions. Granted, I am on “this” side of the ramparts, but I think it would be just as easy for the Lindens to pick out those hallmark voices as it is for me and many others in our community. Once identified, take the time to address the issues and questions raised by those voices .. and reply in an equally dignified and cogent fashion.

    My experience in relationships like this, that focusing on and singling out the “good” among the crowd quickly causes most of the “bad” to drop away. Not only do they drop away in a figurative sense, they drop away in a literal sense too. I believe that in most cases, those “bad” people aren’t really wanting to flame or stir up trouble, they are just not capable or not skilled at communicating in any other way. Thus when they see that the “other” side is actually providing valuable information, they are happy to go quiet and allow the conversation to proceed between the “good” members of their community and the “other” side. Just so long as the real important questions are being answered, they are content to stop flaming and just listen.

    This is why I continue to maintain that the Lindens need to increase their level of communication, and why I am hopeful they begin by singling out specific voices that have posed (and posted) from a mature, inquisitive and respectful stance. Not to toot my own horn, but earlier today I posted in the Merchants Forum asking CommerceTeam Linden a direct and respectful question. My purpose was to give them a hook to hang a reasonable and informative reply upon. We do really just want them to keep us informed, and to have that information contain real meat with real solid info as much as possible. And if the answers that must be supplied today are “we don’t know”, to post that as well … with the implied promise being that as soon as they do know, they will follow up with more and more details.

    In short, I’m looking at this as half-full, and rather than bemoan those among us that cannot or will not communicate in gentle respectful ways, I would rather champion and listen to those among us who can and have approached the Lindens with honesty and genuine desire to know as much as is possible so we can all benefit. I hope the Lindens will not withdraw because of the din of angry voices, but instead single out the real leaders and adults among us, converse with them with full disclosure, and thus establish and reinforce a habit of calm, decent, two-way communication. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really; staying silent only gives the loud and angry a pulpit from which they can scream, but conversing with the thoughtful and respectful among us will elevate the conversations in so many positive ways.

  11. Pussycat Catnap on Wed, 14th Mar 2012 2:33 PM
  12. Word.

    Its the silence that creates the most noise around here.

    But have a conversation with certain types of techies sometimes… and you’ll see that they really genuinely do not understand the importance of just ‘babbling about like silly chickens’.

  13. Pussycat Catnap on Wed, 14th Mar 2012 2:37 PM
  14. “However, no matter what the Lindens do, communications from and with the Lab will remain a problem. Part of the problem is in the community. The Lindens are learning to handle their customers. I can’t see that the community is learning to handle the Lindens.”

    It really isn’t the responsibility of customers of a video game to learn how to handle the people paid to provide them the service. Sure people should learn to be civil – but that’s a general life lesson anyway.

    The burden for any company, and especially an entertainment company, in relating to its customers lies with that company, 100%. They need to learn how to manage what will, at the end of the day; always be a random assortment of the general public. Other companies do it every day – with often far less rational customer bases.