Walls Within, Walls Without

It’s no secret that Linden Lab understands exactly ZIP when it comes to communicating with their customers. I don’t have enough fingers to count the communication faux pas they’ve committed in the last 3 years alone. But even though I’ve said many times that their lack of communication skills would eventually come back to bite them in the butt, we don’t have to wait that long to see more concrete evidence that the habits of keeping mum and not sharing ultimately mission-critical information are doing pretty massive damage to the Lab and to Second Life.

Walls Within Walls Within ...

Failure to Communicate about Parcel Traffic

In my previous post on Parcel Traffic (“The Issue With Traffic“) I talked a lot about Parcel Traffic as a crucial number that affects In-World commerce. I also pointed out how it is used in the In-World Search Rank calculation. The fact that it was added back into the rank calculation is something that has been pretty well known since earlier this year. It wasn’t known though because of a specific mention or disclosure by the In-World Search Dev team, it was known because there is a very dedicated subculture within the Resident Community that spends a lot of time watching and understanding how In-World Search works. (I’m one of them BTW.)

The fact that we have to expend time figuring out something that the Lab should tell us right up front is clear demonstration of the Communication Wall that surrounds Linden Lab and segregates it from its customers. That wall is not only thick and tall, but at time completely impenetrable. Even when you’re one of those people with precious hooks into someone “on the inside”, what you wind up hearing from the Lab is often too little, too late … and most times too wrong. (Can you say “NWN”? I knew that you could.)

The Two-Way Nature of Walls

Of course that wall serves to block vital information seeping out of Linden Lab, but it also serves to prevent vital information seeping in. (Blasting in?) It’s more than plainly evident that getting the right info in front of the Lab’s thinkers and managers is ridiculously impossible. Even though the man occupying the driver’s seat does a fairly credible job of acting like his ears are open and that he is doing all he can to keep his company responsive to the needs of his customers, one only need look at such evidence as the JIRA Issue on Resident Last Names to see that it’s all just a sham designed to keep us placated while they go on about “Business As Usual” … running headlong toward their own internally set goals without the inconvenience of doing the “Right Stuff”.

When Rod Humble (AKA Rodvik Linden) first took over the wheel, I believe he did make a stab at tearing down that wall, but as often happens when a new leader takes over (or as we see a lot here in the USA, when they are simply vying for the position of leader) their best of intentions don’t begin to hold up in the face of a deeply entrenched pattern of behavior and a highly energized commitment toward keeping the Status Quo.

Walls Beget Walls

One of the other truths about communication walls such as the one isolating Linden Lab from its paying customers is that they cannot exist in isolation; they need and often create out of necessity the support of other similar walls. In other words, you don’t just get to build a nice sturdy rampart protecting you from the evils of the outside world, you also wind up having to build and reinforce a myriad of internal walls that also isolate each operations unit within. The net effect is that not only does each unit fail to communicate with the outside (that’s us, the paycheck providers) but they also fail to communicate inside the company. The issue of Parcel Traffic and how it has been wreaking havoc (not “Havok” 😉 ) on In-World Commerce and its critical role in In-World Search is yet another example of this truth in action.

In-World Search and Parcel Traffic

Even though these two issues are intimately interrelated (and rightfully so BTW) this knowledge is not well known to the employees of Linden Lab. Specifically the team responsible for managing and providing the In-World Search feature have not exchanged details with their counterparts responsible for providing the Simulator code that calculates Parcel Traffic as well as runs the In-World Experience of SL. While I’ve long suspected this was the case (simply because of how totally clueless their actions sometimes appear), I was recently given absolute corroboration of this … from a source I would consider “highly reliable”.

In a recent meeting of the “Server/Scripting User Group”, this interchange was recorded:

[16:07] Andrew Linden: Meanwhile, there is a mysterious drop in parcel traffic calculations that doesn’t look real but we haven’t figured out why they aren’t showing up right.
[16:07] Andrew Linden: It is a systematic drop that is not reflected in any of the other data.
[16:08] Motor Loon: traffic is overrated anyway °?°
[16:08] Andrew Linden: In any case, parcel traffic is not used for search ranking anymore, from what I hear.
[16:08] Ardy Lay: Blame the middleware. 😉
[16:08] Andrew Linden: Yeah, it is overrated so no need to pay attention or worry about it.
[16:08] Motor Loon: well, lots of whining about it
[16:08] Andrew Linden: I’m currently pulling a bunch of logs so I can try to calculate the amount of traffic at the data “source”
[16:08] Kallista Destiny: Well some people are quite upset about it
[16:09] Motor Loon: and ofcourse it should work, but hardly a showstopper
[16:09] Andrew Linden: to either duplicate the traffic reductions across multiple days, or not…
[16:09] Andrew Linden: whatever the outcome it will give me a clue as to where the problem lies.
[16:10] Tiberious Neruda: …don’t mind the silence. It’s just us listening :3
[16:10] Andrew Linden: Yeah, traffic calculations ideally should be a good metric for personal consumption… tracking for your own purposes.
[16:10] Andrew Linden: So we’d like to get it right.j
[16:10] Motor Loon: we like when you get it right too °?°
[16:10] Tiberious Neruda: yeah
[16:11] Kallista Destiny: Well people uset traffic to decide whither to put a story into a market.
[16:11] Kallista Destiny: Store
[16:11] Andrew Linden: That’s all the news I’ve got.
[16:11] Motor Loon: so the SEC stuff from yesterday was relating to these crashmodes?
[16:11] Emma Krokus: apologies for being late – hi everybody:)
[16:11] Baker Linden: I’m almost ready
[16:11] Andrew Linden: Good point Kallista. The data is still useful.

(emphasis is mine)

Inner Walls Are Deadly

The above snippet of the User Group chat log shows that Andrew Linden, generally a very knowledgeable and “In-Touch” member of the Linden Crew, is completely out of the loop on the factor that Parcel Traffic plays in Search Rank. Who is at fault? Frankly I don’t care. What I DO care about is that Andrew has been kept in the dark about the very important changes to In-World Search. That’s indicative of a failure in their internal communications that can cripple a company. When you’ve got a distributed internal architecture like Linden Lab does, it’s absolutely unforgivable.

This isn’t the only case either. Many are the times we see one representative saying something … and then another Linden saying something completely opposite. This issue alone has had multiple voices saying completely contradictory things. (For example, Whitney Linden stating that the problem had been fully investigated and found to be “operating as expected.”) They can’t even get their support people saying the same things, and those people run off prepared scripts.

Yet Another Problem To Fix

This is just another example of the many problems facing Linden Lab. Each of these issues alone could sink a less well established company. Combined they are proving to be more to overcome than even Linden Lab can survive, even with their rather sizable monthly income from Land Tier. The net effect is to drive off the well-established and sophisticated Second Life Resident who has grown too annoyed and frustrated to continue wasting their time. Once the number of dedicated customers has thinned to a specific percentage of the users, the ability to survive will also vanish because there will not be sufficient “Old Blood” to nurture and teach the “New Blood”. (And Linden Lab has very amply proven they can not figure out how to capture new Residents once they arrive in-world.)

Final Thoughts

Someone at Linden Lab, more than likely someone in their core management staff, has for a long time now been pulling strings and crippling the effectiveness of the person that should be in charge, Rod Humble. Whoever it is, they have been “In Control” for quite a while now. I’d bet it’s the same person that originally floated Mark Kingdon as the right choice when he was hired for the president’s position. It might even be the same person that approved Rod Humble, but my “Spidey Sense” tells me that on this go-round they hung back and merely nodded approval, knowing full well they could pull the wool over Rod once he got on board.

Whoever it is, and whatever it is they think they are doing to “improve” operations at Linden Lab, they are in reality having the exact opposite effect. If they are also an investor and are expecting that their actions will somehow facilitate the repayment of their money … they got another think coming. Because if this continues on, and from all evidence there is no interest in changing the long-entrenched destructive behaviors inside LL, the final outcome doesn’t take a genius to figure out.

(insert MP3 of “Taps” here)


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4 Comments on Walls Within, Walls Without

  1. Essex on Sun, 12th Aug 2012 5:34 PM
  2. Andrew Linden is on the simulator team, I believe, which is, or at least was, completely disconnected from the web side of things (including search).

    Search consumes data from the simulators, but the sim team doesn’t interact much with anyone in search, so it’s entirely possible that Andrew was passing on second-hand information.

    But I don’t want to speak for Andrew. Things change.

    However, it’s irresponsible to say things like “so and so was kept in the dark”. There are a thousand pieces of information that flow around the lab in any given month. Not everyone is informed of every change in every system. And even if they were, would you blame someone for not committing something to memory if it didn’t relate to their daily work?

  3. Darrius Gothly on Mon, 13th Aug 2012 1:06 AM
  4. @Essex – Believe it or not, I’ve done a lot of work in dispersed-resource companies such as LL. Yes, as I mentioned Andrew is not “directly” connected to the Search Dev team, but they are intimately related to one another. The reason Andrew didn’t have current and correct info is precisely because there is no habit of sharing within the Lab … and that’s the essential gripe of my post. Absolutely critical functions, such as Sim Development and In-World Search, need to communicate about such crucial changes and events as the current Parcel Traffic issue. Even if the Sim Team didn’t know about Traffic’s impact on Search, the sheer number of comments in the JIRA to that effect should clue someone in to contact the Search Team to find out … is this true or not. Did anyone make that contact? Owing to Andrew’s inaccurate comment it’s clear no one did. And THAT is the essential failure caused by the habit of non-communication within the Lab’s various departments.

  5. realityisit on Sat, 18th Aug 2012 9:15 PM
  6. Not sure where to start on this one. Andrew is competent in his area it is ridiculous to think that every developer knows all of the interconnections in this complex system. How much time do you think it would take to document, communicate, have individuals read and process the hundreds of things being changed each day by the entire dev team at LL or elsewhere and all the downstream and upstream impacts? Not at all realistic and not a unique issue for LL. It is not some sort of designed in structural problem based on organization approach.

    What is a problem of their creation is that they have so many people with specialized, narrow expertise communicating outside to anyone who wants to show up with their special issue. Oh the whining about the lack of communication among the bloggers and resis and what a terrible job LL does! The solution is what those groups don’t want to hear. To have fewer people communicating and doing so only with audiences where they are deeply familiar with the needs and wants.

    Instead, here is a well intentioned engineer like Andrew, who really only has a view into the simulator and optimizing that piece of the puzzle because it is complex and his specialization, trying to be available and open and he gets pounded by someone asking him a question outside his area of expertise. BUT HE SHOULD KNOW how it all fits and his actions affect me! Bullshit. Your problems and needs are critical to you but are just one of a thousand issues LL is sorting through for all its users. I hope he says its not worth it and stops being available.

    Worse, is the final (total absence of) thoughts section. Rod runs the place and is CEO. There is no one in “core management staff” that could tell him what to do or control him and if they could he would be a whimp and should be bounced out of the place. All of the management team who were there when Kingdon ran it are long gone. So could it be the Board that Rod actually reports to who are themselves investors and are elected to represent all the investors hiring him with the intention of crippling him so he can be ineffective and drive their investment value into the ground? Yeah, that must be it.

  7. Darrius Gothly on Sat, 25th Aug 2012 9:54 AM
  8. Since you didn’t seem to understand what I wrote, I’ll restate the part you read and misunderstood .. again. My complaint about the lack of communication within the Lab wasn’t taking Andrew to task, it was taking the Search Dev Team to task. It was their responsibility to notify the Sim Devs (Andrew included) that the current Search Algorithm depends heavily on Parcel Traffic. The Search Devs made a change that depended on a feature of the Simulator and thus should have communicated that fact to those responsible for providing that data. What would happen if the Sim Devs, unaware that Search was dependent on Parcel Traffic, changed the format, location or even presence of Parcel Traffic in their data structures? Chaos for starters, especially when everyone’s Search Rank (a highly critical resource for a large number of in-world businesses) suddenly went haywire. And the Sim Devs would not have been at fault then either as they were never informed of the need to keep that datum inviolate.

    I do find it oddly gratifying though that you created this pseudonym (realityisit) simply for the purpose of taking me to task. Even went so far as to create a new Twitter account just to slam people you disagree with. I suggest that instead of aiming attacks at people you believe are wrong, you instead invest your time and effort into creating your own blog (one can be had for free at WordPress.com) and put your own opinions out there for others to read and agree or disagree with. Spewing negativity is never as effective as putting to words your own opinions and the reasons you hold those opinions.

    At any rate, thank you for contributing to my blog. Despite the fact that we apparently disagree (although as I pointed out, you seem to be disagreeing with something I didn’t actually say), you are still welcome to contribute and comment.