I don't know what it is. It isn't the Forbes article hating on SL, or the Digitas guy at Cannes saying SL is full of pervs, a story showing up in the Google news ticker. All that's to be expected, and my funny feeling came even before all this.
The funny feeling isn't even about the LindEx, which is the source of funny feelings for many people. Yes, it's dropped at least a point -- that is, for practical purposes, looked at from the perspective of the cash-out. For the longest time, months and months, you could cash out by parking a packet at the 265 mark and waiting no more than a few days, especially over a weekend. You put it at the 266 mark only if you were in a hurry; but now you have to put it there if you are willing to wait reasonably, with all the millions piled up at 265; and really, 267 is more prudent. So it's dropping, and the Supply Linden account is printing and selling less Lindens, which is was doing to "keep it stable" (and devaluing the cost of labour).
Or could the feeling come from seeing traffic cut in half on even some top venue places, or falling precipitously? I suppose that's good "therapy" for when the Lindens take out traffic for ideological reasons, but many ascribe that drop in traffic -- and sales -- to a summer slump. It isn't really properly summer yet until after July 4th, in my mind, but may be it is for some people. I think when I go to a Frogg Marlowe and JayCatt Nino concert and I can get on the sim in the middle of the concert which is usually "You cannot enter because the server is full" that I start asking: where are the people? That's always the question to ask in SL: now is no different.
No, I got a funny feeling from something else, and it was a while ago.
First, there was an article by Mitch Wagner called "Linden Lab Needs to Bring in Professional Management", who is a pretty astute and curious guy on the grid from Information Weekly. He actually comes in world and holds meetings and also does things like buy land and try to build and decorate himself, which is far more than any other RL media or corporations do -- so that gives him a kind of grounds-eye view. He spends a fair amount of time interviewing residents and talking to them, maybe even more than the marketers and corporate-sponsored media do.
Still, Mitch is a relative noob, though a fast learner, and when he wrote this piece, I think he innocently thought that all he had to do was state the obvious. He hadn't heard yet about the Tao of Linden. He figured they are enthusiastic relatively young starter-uppers in Silicon Valley, and *of course* they realize that the object of the game is to start up, go through beta, get some VC, get some subscriptions, then get bought out, or go public. Right? And change management. Right?
Here's what he says:
"Linden Lab is a wonderful company that's working miracles every day. But it doesn't have experience managing a booming business, and that shows. It needs to bring in people who know how to take a company from emerging startup to billion-dollar giant."
Back when I was a really rank noob, I first encountered Philip in the Welcome Area, it was in early 2005 I believe. I went up to him and asked him really bluntly why he felt he was qualified for the job. He said he had a degree in physics, so I persisted. But this is a world, a big economy, a business. He then conceded that he had learned his entrepreneurial skills and business management on the job. He was very confident. I pestered him with these hard questions because I had just bought some sims, and it just seemed like a lot of money -- thousands of US dollars -- to plunk into a pet rock in the sky when the guy at the helm was wearing a rocker's tee and jeans with a scripted flashing crotch, topped by spikey hair. I didn't know what to make of this guy who seemed and felt so different than Will Wright. Something about the whole project, however, caught my imagination and still does.
I wonder how "lack of professional management" shows for Mitch -- probably as someone reporting on tech stuff, it must involve poor performance, mixed messages to the public, etc. But interestingly, Mitch, who stays in touch with the whole drama-filled SL blogsophere, credits his epiphany to being made aware of the problem more by Akela Talamasca of the Blingsider.
Talamasca questions Rosedale's devotion to expanding Second Life at all costs. Rosedale told InformationWeek: "Our mission is to get this technology to everyone in the world as fast as we can, and we'll make sacrifices in marginal revenue to maximize that goal. We don't want to limit anyone's access to Second Life."
"Talamasca responds that Linden Lab needs to balance the drive for growth with the need to provide a stable system for its users," summarizes Mitch. Of course, Akela is like any fanboy of any generation of a game -- he always wants the game gods to rest on their laurels and just keep doting on him and his generation, and not let in any of that riff-raff that is always associated with lag, gold-farming, scamming, and TOS offenses. That's an old, old story in MMORPEGs and a very chronic one in SL, that works like this: "have it grow so I can have new customers but then when I'm full, cut it off so I don't experience lag".
These awarenesses are all valid, but they might have gone below the fold and been forgotten if it weren't for
Reuters then sort of immortalized this story and giving it an even more psychiatric spin, "Linden Lab Needs Professional Help," by putting it prominently placed as a link under it's "blog" references. That's often how a company can say something -- just link to some other thing someone else said more bluntly.
In his blog, Adam Reuters makes the point that Mitch isn't just spouting off, but is fresh from a one-on-one interview with Philip Rosedale -- so he makes the candid point that Mitch had as full a drink at the Kool-Aid well and as long a tutorial at the School of Hair Architecture as you can possible get.
And Adam pushes it further, beyond Mitch and Akela:
"Second Life residents’ reaction to Wagner’s call to arms will probably range from “Amen, brother” to “good luck with that,” but the real audience for his column is Linden Lab’s venture capital investors, who have the biggest financial stake and influence in determining what happens next.
What do Mitch Kapor and Pierre Omidyar, who both have first-hand experience with the transition from start-up to professional managed technology firm, have to say about all of this?"
Yes, all the gripey stories in the Herald are proof of the "amen, bro" stuff -- but what *do* the VCs think? That Reuters, a big company that I think is merging into something even bigger, could signal to other big guys in the big guys' club that they feel "help" is needed may be how the genteel world of mergers and aquisitions works, I dunno. Perhaps that's how the sharks signal to each other.
I put together other things -- Philip hasn't done any inworld meetings in ages, no town halls -- although there was that sort of RL piped-in thing from the Level Playing Field Foundation and there's another philanthropic talk coming up this Friday with MacArthur which is apparently one of those watch-people-in-RL-and-type-comments deals.
Philip's been interviewed for things in May like the Washington Post, where he dropped into the Metaversal pond the idea that SL's servers will answer to the jurisdiction where they are located (and that's why they want to open-source eventually). When something like fora.tv finally gets the video of his seminal Long Now Foundation talk of November 2006 up and linked around on blogs and twitter, it feels like a necropost from being in the dark dog-days of SL when it only had "one million sign-ups". (Come for the big ideas, even if fake, like the one about satiated cybersexers turning to Zen (huh?), then stay with it through the expressions on his face telling the story about the gal he interviewed to become a Linden with an 80-year-old mom in SL in slutwear at a dance club.)
The PR department and firm hired by LL to spin all the child porn stories has specialized in doing piece after piece on "religion in Second Life," in the California belief that "the rest of the country" is "religious" and that if they do a piece, on say, Zen, that will be good enough to keep the Moral Majority at bay. No major newspaper or magazine has yet done the child porn story the way Germany has. If anything, The Christian Science Monitor, a highly respected newspaper with a religious origin in the Christian Scientists, a Protestant denomination, have enabled an op-ed writer to declare that crime is only fictional in virtual worlds, like a story, and therefore the real-life police have no role to play. We'll see about that; they ducked on the child pornography problem and Germany.
Running an SL business is a very gut-driven and instinctual thing. I always run mine by that sense, in order to try to keep one step ahead of the Lindens, who, more often than not, sling really harsh and destructive world-changing actions at you with just about every patch, and now most log-ons. I constantly eye all my own indicators for sales being down and have all kinds of things I do to boost them, whether more advertising, better advertising, cutting prices, or adding newer land and selling old land -- whatever. It's a kind of instinctual thing that I log-on and trim and cut and re-do constantly.
Lately, I feel even given the summer slump, I've had to do a lot more of such things to stay ahead -- and to me, the first thing I see when I read the latest LL metrics that appear to support the conclusion that U.S. women are spending way more hours than ever in SL, despite more men and Europeans joining, I draw one very obvious conclusion:
The women who started a lot of the entrepreneurial businesses, clubs, rentals, shops, etc. in SL are having to spend more time doing more work to keep making the same amount to get their tier paid.
Of course Tao Takashi, when I expressed this thought to Meta Linden, naturally snottily knocked it down with a comment that "Maybe they just have more friends" and a smiley. That was his lame way of suggesting that they were hoing around town more or having more um "relationships" I guess. And...what of it? Sex work is still work -- harder work than doing laundry at times, I'll bet.
Women made up only 26 percent of the almost 1.2 million logins to Second Life in May, according to data released by Linden Lab, but the average female resident spends twice as much time in-world per month.
Almost 21 million hours were spent in Second Life in May, an increase of 15 percent over the previous month and almost double the time spent in January.
None of those hours apparently were spent by Philip Linden, though he does log on and off now and then, such as during that script-copy emergency this weekend. And for him to do walkabouts inworld right now might not be the best plan.
So maybe Philip isn't MIA, and maybe the VCs aren't rumbling and listing to Mitch Wagner or Adam Reuters, maybe they are fat and happy and just letting Philip sort of quietly become the Queen of England, going around on the interview and conference circuit, especially the more esoteric circuit like Renaissance Weekend with Bill Clinton or the Long Now with Stewart Brand. It's obviously more important to influence people at a higher, macro level than wait for some git to stab you in the back in the WA with a giant knife while you swing your golf club helplessly. Ouch.
But..It was when I finally got to watch the CNN Virtual Summits that Terra Nova was celebrating that I became actively on alert from my funny feeling, however. Nick Yee, who I always try to argue with at every opportunity, brags about his part in the summit (make sure not to press on "a recent illness" if you don't want to be grossed out).
Philip's hair has fallen. The Architectural Wonder of the Metaverse has collapsed. His locks have this unwaxed, flat, even wispy quality that they never had before. In fact, they're almost what you might call plastered on his head like he just came out of a playground sprinkler. Watch the CNN Youtube at about the 3:00 mark.
The former tour de force was of course fuel for many a blog comment and Herald headline.
There are several courses of action, I suppose. One, Philip could spike his hair back up, come in world with an avatar with even more spikey hair, and that is sure to drive the course of the Linden up at least one or two points in value, i.e. down in amount versus the U.S. dollar.
That's only a boost for inworld business, and probably can't help THAT much.
What other course is there?
Like Will Wright before him, or like various child stars that grew up too fast, Philip has to make sure that he has a new game to become preoccupied with before he leaves his old game invention.
Perhaps Philip could join the posthumous circulation of elites on the conference/policy circuit quite effectively. Neither he nor Linden Lab needs money -- or least not that much, that can't be found by rolling out new land or finding perhaps some European VCs, the one missing ingredient (that would help them deal with things like the German kiddie porn stuff). Maybe it's time to start that Virtual World Foundation sponsored by Second Life that becomes the think-tank of virtuality and the Metaverse at large.
Business is likely to fall off more this summer -- inworld and outworld -- as things like Starwood or American Apparel peel off. Others will come on board -- there's always another guy to buy the island, as Kenny Linden inimitably put it.
At the Virtual Worlds conference back in April, I asked Philip whether he had expected all these big businesses to come in as fast and furiously as they did. (I knew that he expected some change, because on the eve of American Apparel coming in, he had spoken to us in the WA at last year's birthday in June 2006 and said, "I hope we can remember these times" as if an era was passing.)
"Yes, because I wanted to make it for everybody," he said.
Soon we'll see who everybody is.