moo Money over at massively.com has the scoop of the year in the SLogosphere: Cory Linden quits or is fired from Linden Lab.
Your faithful correspondent predicted exactly a year ago that "one senior Linden of some sort, not like a David Fleck but more basic to the tribe, will flame out and maybe even Tell All in a magazine article or forthcoming book. They will be hired away by some huge competitor". I contacted moo for details about how she got the story, and she said it wasn't really an investigation but the selection of her by a Linden. "The sources for the story are keeping themselves anonymous and have opted to use multiple bloggers from Massively to tell the full story". I'll bet! The Herald is asleep, and it's been 3 lonely years since Cory and Uri gulped gold-fish together and downed shots.
Later, Tateru blogged Philip's confirmation, putting paid to the idea that any outlet but the Blingslider is the state news agency
Although originally I, like many, perceived Philip and Cory as the Cosmos and Damien of Second Life, going about and doing great things with their Science, I came to see them as competing characters at times, perhaps more like Marconi and Tesla or as Fleep Tuque put it, "et tu, Brute?".
My very uneducated but instinctive guess is that this split is ultimately about the Googlization and open-sourcing of Second Life -- that on one or both issues, Cory Ondrejka was more aggressive and wanted a faster and more open time-table than Philip did.
Ziggy Figaro pertinently asked: is Cory's departure a good thing or bad thing for the Lab? It seems a stark question, as if the revolution has to eat its children and such sacrifices have to be made. I would conclude that it was a good thing if what it means is that geek coder extremism is not prevailing. However, perhaps it's really a bad thing because Cory Linden is likely the only person who knows where the ends of the Spaghetti Monster's many strands are actually hidden, such as to disentangle them -- the Spaghetti Monster, of course, being a metaphor for the code of Second Life -- "almost organic," as one of the programmers put it.
Just as it is said about arguing parents that divorce is better than continuing the angst in front of the kids, so it may be that removing profound differences like this might be good for a company's direction. We can't know until we see, until we are told.
My sense is that if the issue is the extremism, then it is a good thing. Philip may be an extremist geek at heart, too, but he apparently has learned how to charm funders and customers more than Cory, and he also seems to know strategically the right moments to take off the rocker dudes with the blingy crotch and don American Apparel slacks and pick up his golf club.
Cory had his way in blessing the reverse-engineering of Second Life, which had tacitly been going on for months before his public annointing, and he gave his sanction to libsecondlife, which I critiqued as unethical and for which I was booted permanently from posting on the blog. In what was apparently his last town hall, of a year ago, he applauded libsecondlife.
No doubt, there will likely be a very geeky amen-corner that will go up now and tell us that Linden Lab is collapsing, that the good people are leaving, that see, even the main coder is quitting, that he wanted to do it X way and the rest of the hippies couldn't get it, etc. etc. Tateru at the Blingsider is spinning his departure as professional and quoting his own e-mail to staff about it as a kind of "creative differences" sort of thing.
But what's more likely is that Philip, who has probably had to learn the hard way to curb his own extremism as a geek-turned-entrepreneur, is making the hard decisions that precede mainstreaming and "normalizing" Second Life. Philip himself will have to go some day to make that process complete. Far from indicating that Second Life is sinking or a failure, I think what this means is that the extreme Spaghetti Monster coder ethic is not prevailing in the counsels of the Lab -- for now anyway -- and that perhaps they are heeding the advice of the IBM blogger who said back in August they shouldn't open source yet.
Funny, how they talk about collectivism and the Tao, and distributive decision-making and the Love Machine (Cory's invention!), but when it gets crunch time, Philip has to make an executive decision about someone who has Gone Against the Company's Interests, which is the cardinal sin of the Tao of Linden as we know.
Most likely on some cosmic enneagram, the personalities or essences of these two men are very different, although they seemed similar in outlook at culture. Cory has a Ph.D; Philip doesn't. Cory publicly made a female avatar and went to events in this avatar; Philip has never down that to my knowledge. Cory was in the Navy; Philip never was in the armed services. Perhaps there are greater differences than meet the eye.
My own experience of Cory Linden in person was pretty stark. At the first SLCC, I went up to Philip and introduced myself. I expected him to glad-hand me, like any busy, famous person, and was surprised when he seemed genuinely pleased and gave me a big hug and then enthusiastically turned and introduced me to Cory -- he looked right through me and didn't shake my hand. He turned away and I saw his earring. Later, when he gave a very proficient and brisk Q&A on technical matters, and seemed to be managing everybody competently, I pitched him a question that was more philosophical, about governance and democracy that was implicit in the tools he was making and deploying so casually. Suddenly, he seemed to stop and become almost helpless and child-like, and said, "Oh, you'll have to ask Robin about that," as if referring someone to a parent. Like, "Robin does that more complicated (or more stupid, depending on how you look at it) social and governance stuff.) He seemed genuinely surprised that his technical work would be conceived in such a political light.
Later, however, he surprised me by blogging about my debate with Raph Koster and seemed to respect my blogging more than indicated at first. Later I heard he had cited my pizza guy article at the Linden lunch table in favour of the reform of the group tools. Sorry to be so self-referential, but this is how you understand great historic cataclysms, through the prism of your own experience.
Cory hasn't been heard from in a long, long time. I don't even know what he was working on, as the last time -- months ago -- I saw him in world he was on some semi-secret island making some kind of HTML-on-a-prim sort of experiment. We were told that he was "kept away from the code".
If it is largely a good thing if coders' extremism is not allowed to prevail in SL (Cory was barely persuaded to put the use of Copybot in the TOS, it seems), it's not a good thing if there is no big counterweight to Philip and his will and ego. A project this awesome definitely needs critical voices from within, and balance of that kind of leadership. Where will it come from now? After all, this is an organization where a staff person can gush to Philip on the Love Machine, "You have too much integrity for one person!".
Last Friday, another well-known Linden and former long-term resident, Chadrick Linden, also left Linden Lab, under unknown circumstances that are likely unrelated to Cory's departure.
Previously, Chadrick, formerly Adam Linden and the resident Crowcatcher Valen, had had his desk moved closer to the door when he was removed from Governance and put on some sort of "user experience" team. Chadrick "Judge Dread" Linden had been involved in drafting the new abuse-report and governance systems and had supported some kind of Ban-Link like control of SL parcels. He is the only Linden to ever have muted me and refused my inventory for a long period, before my complaints finally got a reversal.
Contemplating this news and its ramifications, I almost expect to look up and see a giant boulder splitting in Second Life, or something cracking, breaking, falling, so much did I associate Cory with the formation of the world. I'm going to put out the dominoes he made from the Library in memory.