Timing couldn’t be better. Today it’s Second Life’s 5th birthday and also it’s the first day when the grace period of trademark use has expired. If you follow this blog you might know that Linden Lab changed their trademark policy to the worst they can do and disallowed their fans to use the name of „their world“ (as it says on the Second Life homepage) in their domain names. This includes helpful community sites, many blogs and other publications.
But also the birthday celebration itself are flawed thanks to Linden Lab’s bad community management. As Gwyneth and Tateru report Linden Lab took over the celebrations in the last minute although a team of hard working residents has been working on the event for one year, starting directly after last year’s celebration. What followed was a set of strict rules of what was allowed and wasn’t during the events at the event site leaving out many of the communities of which Second Life consists.
So today Linden Lab broke two times the trust residents put into them, once by asking residents to eventually change their domain names after they even were encouraged to use such names and secondly by moving a hard working team aside after Linden Lab was giving them the opportunity to organize this.
Both incidents could have been handled better by Linden Lab by not working against the community but with the community.
Both incidents also show that Linden Lab is on a very dangerous path if they don’t want to alienate the vocal part of their community. It might be a minority but this minority was the group which endlessly promoted and evangelized Second Life (something Linden Lab themselves never seemed really be doing). And while the community is already the most important part of every Web2.0 startup it is even more so in a virtual world which claims to be „your world, your imagination“.
And indeed it was that community which built the two biggest assets for Linden Lab: The name and the content.
Every other virtual world will have difficulties in either getting that popular and creating that much content.
But does that mean they can now do what they want after the creative and evangelizing community served their role? I doubt it. It’s still a minority of course but it’s the vocal one. It’s the group which defines what will end up in blog, what will end up in forums, what will end up in Google and what will be found if somebody searches for Second Life.
Linden Lab now wants to control their message but soon their message might be „Linden Lab sues their fans“.
Today you cannot control your message anymore, it’s your (hopefully loyal) community which defines the message, it’s what they feel about a brand not what they might know in their brains.
The other question I have is if Linden Lab and especially Philip actually lost their vision. I just listened to the just released audio of the opening speeches for the birthday by both Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon (old and new CEO) I must say that it sounded rather boring and more like something they had to do instead of something they were excited to do. It really sounded more like quickly handling the residents and then get back to work. I heard more enthuiastic speeched by Philip I must say.
Can this be solved?
I doubt that Linden Lab will change their minds, there seem to be too many old school marketing people and lawyers at work right now and the CEO change and Cory’s departure might be signs of this as well.
But the hope is in competition. And this comes from… Second Life itself because there are already efforts underway to create a world based on Second Life ideas independant of Linden Lab. One is OpenSim, an open source implementation of the Second Life server which makes big steps forward and the work of the Architecture Working Group (interestingly founded by Linden Lab themselves, maybe a rest of their initial spirit and vision is left) which tries to define a standardized and open protocol based on the existing (and so far undocumented) Second Life protocol.
Of course there won’t be alternative grids as big as Linden Lab’s anytime soon (I mentioned name and content above) but even if it’s smaller you at least have the choice then. There might be even one corner which decides to found a foundation which controls the name and all related assets on behalf of the users. And it might depend on a) how much Linden Lab even more fights their community and tries to shape it as they want it to be and b) how stable Second Life is in the end on how many people will try out other grids. And also remember that only 848,156 residents logged in during the last month so we are indeed at the beginning of this whole thing and a lot can happen.
So I cannot stress this enough: The more Linden Lab works with their community and not against it the more successful they will be and the bigger their part in the future of the internet will be. Especially now that competition finally arises IMHO they need concentrate on their strength and it’s: their community.
But they see this different so I guess what’s left to say then is: Happy Birthday :-(