This began three days ago, after New World Notes published an interview they conducted with Rod (@Rodvik/Rodvik Linden) Humble, the new CEO of Linden Lab. I was alerted to the publication through Twitter – specifically by a tweet from my friend Gnome Bhodi, who used to be Ghosty Kips in SL:
“… It’s foremost a tool where you can make and do whatever you want.” OMG ROD HUMBLE GETS IT! http://goo.gl/5xoEX
So I clicked the link and read the interview, and agreed:
@gbodhi Yes, @rodvik gets it, more so than the man who founded #SL. Now, let’s see him lead the Lab in that direction
Didn’t take G long to reply:
@Lalo_T @rodvik I disagree. I think Phil had the vision for SL at the beginning. But that was almost a decade ago and the grid changed
Twitter comes naturally to me — I often think in aphorisms — and I sent this in response:
@gbodhi @rodvik re: @philiplinden – Pie feeds no one if it stays in the sky.
The last entry in this brief exchange was from G:
@Lalo_T @rodvik The sky was the right place for SL in its early days. If Ro[d] focuses on content creation and new users now, it’ll be good.
Well, almost the last one… after that, I warned Gnome that he’d inspired my next blog post (this one), to which he said “Oh, noes!” What he’d done, actually, is remind me of an idea that’s been percolating in the proverbial back of my head for more than a year, and give me a hook to hang it on:
Second Life and related virtualities (InWorldz, OSGrid, et alii) do not resemble the imagined Metaverse of Gibson and Stephenson and their fellow cyberpunk writers. It’s possible that they cannot do so. Instead, they most resemble colonization stories which have been a standard of science fiction for decades.
Have you ever read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy? I have, three times — twice before ever hearing of Second Life (the third book is 15 years old, after all), and once again last summer after seeing a resemblance between the earliest years of Second Life and Robinson’s Mars. There’s no need for me to recap the plot of the books (that Wikipedia entry in the link above will suffice, and there’s much more here)… the point I’m getting to is this:
Colonies eventually go their own way, in spite of every effort to control them from their place of origin. It is a fact of human nature: given freedom, people will take it.
Here’s another example: Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein. A key element of its plot is omitted from the Wikipedia summary: cut off (permanently, as far as they can tell) from societal controls, the teens follow natural human instinct, pair off, have sex, and even have babies! For 1955, and especially for a “juvenile” (what we call Young Adult lit now), that was a pretty radical notion — “good children” just didn’t do that! — and it was even more radical to include it in a story meant for them to read.
“Phil had the vision for SL at the beginning. But that was almost a decade ago and the grid changed,” said Gnome Bodhi… and he’s right. All colonies begin with a vision, and all colonies change because the colonists are free to change. Rosedale and the other “First Lindens” gave us, not a darkly futuristic, Gibsonian/Stephensonian cyberpunk Metaverse, or anything remotely resembling Tron, but an empty world to fill — the analog of an entire planet, with land and seas, mountains and rivers, sky and clouds — and the tools to fill it with, and to change it to our liking. And we did… and when we did so in ways that didn’t jibe with the early Lab’s “vision”, they tried and failed at various ways to regain control.
[Students of 18th Century American and British history will be nodding their heads and smiling in recognition at this point…]
“The sky was the right place for SL in its early days.” Maybe… but promises of improvements that remain unfulfilled for years on end get to be wearing… even more so when, with the other hand, the Lab tries to squeeze more nickels and dimes from the people who log in.
And yes, I’m fully aware that Linden Lab is a business, and (especially since the utter failure of “SL Enterprise”) Second Life is its sole product. Money must be earned to keep the servers running and the monkeys coding and the rent paid on Battery Street… but Philip Rosedale, as the saying goes, has the attention span of a flea. When faced with an increasingly frustrated populace tired of empty promises, he retreated to a different flavor of pie in a different sky, and he (and/or the Board) hired a few goons (M. Kingdon, T. Hale, ad nauseum) to whip the place into shape. When that didn’t work — damn those pesky colonists! — Rosedale returned, with the same old wheeze.
Poor guy… didn’t realize there were enough of us still around to recognize it as the same old wheeze. So now he’s off trying yet again to make a buck on other people’s content creation… what you perhaps might call a “tunnel visionary”, with one Great Idea he won’t ever let go of in order to have another.
There’s a great deal of difference between “visionary” and “clarity of vision”. If you have your eyes fixed on the horizon, you’ll trip over the rocks right in front of you. So much for Philip Rosedale… enter Rod Humble, who, between accepting the CEO position and reporting for work, did exactly what he should have done (and that I hoped he’d do): he logged in and started to learn what it’s like to be in Second Life.
And, by god, he learned!
“Our current customers need to be sure they have the customer service they deserve…
If I was to tell you there’s this product [where] you can be whoever you want to be…
…over time, the perception of Second Life has changed and it’s kinda been yanked around by us.
It’s foremost a tool where you can make and do whatever you want.
I think people in a year’s time will want to come to Second Life because they know they can be who they want to be… and when they join, they’ll be able to meet interesting people, and they can have a home… that’s more than enough.
Colonies — whether real on Earth or fictional on other planets — evolve, thrive, and succeed precisely because the colonists gain the freedom to reinvent themselves, or emphasize different facets of themselves, or explore and discover things about themselves they never knew. And colonies cannot be governed from a distant throne, let alone an ivory tower of “visionary” mumbo-jumbo.
Rod Humble gets it… and if you need more, Dusan Writer published an interview with Mr. Humble this morning while I was writing this. Here, in my opinion, is the most important thing he said:
“Well, first, I hope we’d be sitting down and talking about all the new kinds of content and creations and categories of creation. I mean, that’s what it’s all about – creating new ways to create. I want to be able to sit down and say “Wow, it’s amazing, look how far we’ve come in having ways to make stuff.
But I have a bit of an internal milestone as well. Because what I’d like is that next holiday season, by Christmas say….that anyone in Second Life will be able to give an invitation out to an intelligent person [to] come into Second Life and that person will then thank you that you made the invitation.”
And there, perhaps, may also be the germ of a business plan: Instead of forcing Second Life into ill-fitting packages while stomping on the inhabitants when their culture got in the way — or denying the culture existed at all! — sell the culture itself. It’s why so many of us stay, in spite of everything… and I do believe Mr. Humble gets that, too.