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A good year

I’ve been reflecting back on how 2011 has been for Second Life. I didn’t make any predictions for the year, but on reflection, I believe it was a good year for Second Life. Perhaps the best year for Second Life that I can recall for quite some time.

Things aren’t perfect, certainly, and depending on who you are, you might think that some of the steps forward have been accompanied by a step or two back in other areas, but I do believe that, while Linden Lab hasn’t yet turned a corner, it is in the process of turning one.

A new CEO often runs into heavy resistance, with many staff digging in their heels and becoming recalcitrant and resistant to change. Now, I don’t know if that was the case when Rod Humble stepped in – it would be strange to think that it might not have, it being such a predictable sort of pattern – but things certainly changed rapidly. Far faster than I would have expected.

Within just weeks of Humble’s commencement at the Lab, the Lab seemed to kick up into high gear, producing large amounts of fixes and improvements – at a rate we’ve never seen before. Yes, some pretty major issues lay around far longer than they should have, and the Lab still seems to have problems with polish, attention-to-detail and follow-through, but I largely blame that on how the Lab’s culture of agile development has entrenched (rather than necessarily on agile development itself).

Customer service kicked up a notch in Humble’s wake, along with billing support, both areas that were in dire need of improvement. They’ve still got a ways to go, but they’re much better than they were.

Humble also tasked someone to revamp the signup process, and that has clearly been a success, judging by the sudden jump in completed signups after the rework. New user retention still seems to be rubbish, but that’s a separate issue. You don’t even have a chance to retain a user who never finishes the signup process. So, that’s a step in the right direction – it doubles the pool of users to potentially retain. Keeping them will probably not be a simple fix.

Second Life’s economy didn’t exactly boom, but it didn’t crumble either. There’s not really much wrong with being relatively stable, and the Lab did wind up with some record profits, so something is going right somewhere on the business side, as well as the in-world economy.

Mesh finally hit the grid and wasn’t a disaster. Actually, it really wasn’t much of anything as a number of factors mostly kept people away from mesh viewers, keeping the audience for mesh products fairly minor.

Somewhere in the background the Lab hired some people to work on some non Second Life projects. It’s nice that no resources are being drawn away from Second Life in the process, and it has been a matter of concern to me (from a business perspective) that the Lab has had all of its eggs in the one basket. As to what those projects are, I have no idea, but they do not seem to be the primary focus for Linden Lab, which is – as far as I can tell – directed firmly at Second Life.

The Lab also started working on giving us some tools that we’d long asked for, tools to improve automation, game-building, scripting and interactive content. What’s even better about that is that they actually did it in the way we had always asked them to do it – by eating their own dog-food – that is, developing the tools by actually attempting to use them to build something.

That ‘something’ was Linden Realms. I do not begrudge the Lab making Linden Realms widely available (as some people apparently do). Having done the work, it would have seemed like a demoralising waste to have simply shelved it somewhere or tossed away. At least there’s some use being gotten out of it quite aside from its primary purpose for developing and testing tools for content-creators.

It was a poor year for communication from the Lab. The worst I can recall in fact, but perhaps that will change in the coming year.

There’s still a ways to go, but I continue to be cautiously optimistic. I believe we have another good year in front of us, even though we can expect some inevitable missteps.


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