The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Well, they’ve finally poured concrete on Direct Delivery and given it a firm release date. In their recent Forum Post about DD, CommerceTeam Linden has finally put a pushpin into the calendar and announced when it will roll out onto the Marketplace … and it’s users.

First in the Line-up comes The Good

Maybe I’m just overly sensitive or maybe I just read too much into the written word, but there was a decidedly icy edge to the announcement. Reading it over, I got this intense feeling of anger barely¬†camouflaged¬†with “Proper Corporate Demeanor”. If I am reading it right, I can understand why that anger is present too.

In the past few days, the Grand Plans of the Commerce Dev Team and a few other development groups within Linden Lab have been pushed back by intense and adamant feedback from the SL Community. While that may put a bee in their bonnet, honestly it’s a good thing for all involved. No one likes having their plans blocked or derailed. So if the various Dev Teams are feeling a bit hot under the collar, it’s totally understandable.

However, while this may not make them feel any better, it was absolutely the right decision to make. Unfortunately their Grand Plans would have resulted in a software release that would have overnight dealt a possibly fatal blow to the already shaky Virtual Goods market in Second Life. It would have broken scads of existing content, added untold hours of headache and extra work for everyone, and it would have demonstrated a callous disregard for the customers of Second Life. As originally announced, it would have been one of those things that Internet pundits would have placed large in their postmortem reviews of the virtual world’s demise. (Albeit many years hence, but then again folks still talk about IBM’s big blunder in the PC market that led to them losing what could have been the leading position for many years more.)

So I have to say that giving in, shelving their plans and doing what their customer wanted was a Good thing … a very good thing.

Oh, and another good thing. I absolutely have to give big kudos to the Marketplace Dev Team for one addition revealed in the announcement that heretofore had not even been considered. According to the announcement, the destination folder of the items purchased from Marketplace will be clearly stated in the Order Summary shown on the SL Marketplace site and in all emails regarding the purchase. That’s a major good thing, and something of such goodness that I think they ought to put a big “Employee of the Week” award on the cubicle wall of the Linden that thought it up. Seriously, it’s that good.

Lest We Forget, The Bad

However in that terse bit of text, a lot of important detail was left out. I know that we often accuse the Lab of not understanding how we users actually use SL, but the stuff they left out are things that anyone that is paying attention would have realized needed to be included.

For example, the announcement states:

“The Received Items folder will NOT be used for other inventory transfers at this time. Magic Box purchases will continue to go to the Objects folder.”

That brings the Received Items folder back to its original definition and purpose. But it leaves out any information about what is intended for the future regarding the enhanced abilities and uses for the Received Items folder; specifically its use to catch inventory items delivered while the user was offline.

As many have stated around the various SL web properties, fixing the offline inventory delivery issues was a very good goal. It’s a feature that Second Life seriously needs … and needs soon. It’s been way too long that delivery was “iffy” for any item when the intended recipient was offline. Whether the source of the delivered inventory was another user or a scripted object, if the recipient wasn’t online when the transfer happened, the item may or may not have been received. With non-copyable items this is a very big problem. When the user was in Busy (or Unavailable) mode, delivery was equally undependable. The Received Items folder as a catcher for those inventory items would have been an excellent solution.

But in the announcement, no mention is given as to when or even if that feature might be deployed. The fact that Marketplace purchases that originate from a Magic Box will go to the Objects folder just as they do now, is a very big incentive for Merchants to switch to Direct Delivery ASAP; I gotta give the Dev Team kudos for that little Catch-22 as well. But we really do need for them to implement the offline delivery features of the Received Items definition.

Perhaps what they should do is create yet another new System Folder (oh quitcher bitchin) called “Offline Items” that implements that much needed feature. That way when an item is transferred to a user while that user is offline, the IM they receive (if they have IM to Email enabled … as they should!) would state something along the lines of “So-n-so offered you inventory while you were offline. At your next login you will find this item in your Offline Items folder.” That would be a major improvement and would go a long way toward increasing user confidence in the SL Platform.

Drum Roll Please … The Ugly

As Tateru Nino points out in her recent post “Direct Delivery: Received Items a feedback success (sort of) but a communications failure“, the Commerce Dev Team retreated to their past behavior of not saying enough, leaving out important details, and generally dealing short shrift to what is a very important aspect of the whole dust-up from the past few days. That’s a shame.

In my previous post “Here Comes The Sun“, I gave kudos to the LL Dev Teams because they seemed to be shedding those bad habits of saying very little and keeping mostly mum. But for whatever reason they seem to have once again given in to those habits and left the user base somewhat in the lurch. I don’t want to take back those kudos, but it appears I may have to. And that’s a shame.

Maybe they were just angry or frustrated as I pointed out at the start of this post, and maybe they were just subconsciously taking a tiny bit of personal revenge because of that anger. But dangit, that’s not how a professional organization behaves. When you’re the Corporate Face of an entity the size of Linden Lab, you’re not allowed to let emotions dictate your behavior. And even if it was anger-inspired, that anger is way misplaced as well because the act of backing down and “giving in” to the demands of their customers was the right thing to do. They should be feeling good that they’ve succeeded in calming their user base, providing a much needed feature (Direct Delivery) and overall moving Second Life one step closer toward a promising future. So Dev Folks? If you’re listening, drop the emotion and open the doors on the questions we need answered.

Even more disappointing was the last sentence of the announcement:

“At launch, we will be sharing additional details as well as updated Knowledge Base articles in all four languages supported on the Marketplace. We will also provide more details on migration.”

This just doesn’t make sense … not at all. Direct Delivery is going to be one of the biggest changes to hit Second Life since the debut of the Marketplace itself. The fact that they are holding out on releasing the documentation, updating the Knowledge Base, and whatever other instructions and info they intend to provide until the day of release?!? That’s very much not a good thing!

It’s good that they’ll be providing it in all four languages supported on the Marketplace, but if their excuse for not publishing that info until the 21st is that it takes time to translate into those four languages … well that’s just not an acceptable excuse.

I’m quite sure we users would happily suspend our demands for Direct Delivery for an extra two weeks or so, but that’s because we’ll need that time to digest everything that needs to be known about how Direct Delivery works and how it will affect us in our use of the feature. If CommerceTeam Linden were to say “The Knowledge Base and other assorted documentation on Direct Delivery will be posted on March 21st, but the roll out of DD will be delayed until April 4th”, I am VERY sure we would not complain in the least. (Well, other than those that complain about everything of course. I’m just talking about the people that actually think before they speak.)

We users and customers of Second Life (and especially we Merchants selling our wares through the SL Marketplace) need every bit of lead time possible to pore over the documentation and prepare our migration strategy the best we can. We need the time to post questions to each other, compare strategies, and shine flashlights into the new and unexplored corners of the Direct Delivery creature so when it knocks on our door, we are prepared to tame it and make it our own instantly.

Final Thoughts

I am very disappointed that CommerceTeam Linden has decided to retreat into their safe haven of silence. But on the other hand I am greatly pleased that they reacted with all due speed in altering the Received Items folder specification to prevent the impending debacle. Unlike the many months the previous incarnation of the Marketplace Dev Team took before they decided not to roll out the Freebie surcharge, this version of CTL did good, they listened and they provided a solution (well almost a solution) in record time. That’s a major plus for the folks at Linden Lab and I absolutely have to give them credit for that.

But please CTL, give us the docs and time to digest them before you roll out Direct Delivery. If for no other reason than to save your Marketplace support staff the massive flood of basic questions from the angry mobs that don’t understand how it works. (And by support staff I mean the much abused Dakota Linden .. /me waves at Dakota). If we can have that time, those of us in the Merchant Community that daily help out each other will be prepared to do just that … take a majority of the load off Dakota and answer those questions ourselves. I promise.

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