Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

The Dixie Chicks Principle

After the Linden announcement that sim purchase prices were being increased by 34%, which was quickly followed by Philip’s admission that a few select landowners were privy to the information ahead of time, there’s been a quick backpedal at the Lab.  The price increase alone stirred up the kind of ire we haven’t seen since the unverified registration change, but the hint that some people got the chance to indulge in a little insider trading has fueled the flames even more.

It’s nice that Philip admitted the mistake.  I appreciate that.  But I found his comment a bit disingenious:

“There is a benefit to the commons of having people stay in the same space — a cool place on the mainland is a public good for the overall society,” Rosedale added. “It’s fine to have an island … but from a rational perspective you should probably pay a little more, because the community loses a little bit when you do that.”

(Loose translation: If Philip ran China, he’d try to squeeze everyone into one boat for the benefit of the community.  On second thought, maybe he’s just referring to the Welcome Area and sandboxes.  We should squeeze all 16,000 of us into those.  Yes, that’s the ticket.)

I’m very sorry, Philip, but when I hear you talk about the “community” in light of all the policy changes that have been made in this last year, it’s very hard to swallow.   It makes for good press, it sounds very caring and concerned for those of us who are actually participating in the Second Life community.  But it rings hollow in view of your actions.

If you cared about the community, you would not have made the arbitrary decision to open registration up to anyone who wanted to join without any requirement to verify who they are, their age or the fact that most of them had main accounts and this was an easy way to create mischief.  That was a decision you made with absolutely no preparation or forethought – where were the improved land tools before the change was made?  Do you know that, right now, even the increased 300-name ban list is insufficient for the more heavily trafficked sims?  Has anyone even given a nod to the fact that we can ban bombers from a parcel but those bombers can still hover outside of the land and launch their bombs into our land? We have to go through the redtape and 3 to 4-week wait for resolution by the abuse team, meanwhile the griefers have their fun.    I’ve been personally told in IMs, “Fine, ban me.  It’ll take me 10 minutes to come back with a new character.”  The corporate vision and the market value to other big corporations were the goal, not customer service.

Should it surprise you to realize that those who are tired of the griefing and the flood of newbies want their own space in which to pursue their artistic and community ambitions?  How does that conflict with the “good of the community”?

Have you not felt the degradation of grid performance since concurrent usage has grown so much?  Normal grid population in the evening (U.S. states, that is) runs between 12,000 and 16,000 residents.  That’s a 100 to 300% increase over a year ago.  Where was the preparation for that kind of increased traffic?  Have you actually tried to build anything when the lag is so bad your prims bounce around and unlink themselves?  New server hardware is nice, but apparently it’s only going to be installed on those new, higher-priced sims.

I appreciate the fact that Second Life must grow to stay in business.  I even appreciate the fact that Linden Lab must turn a profit.  But I’m beyond the point now of believing that LL knows how to deliver customer service or cares about the community.  I don’t think it’s any longer reasonable for SL residents to believe that PR spin.  Second Life has gone from being a small family to an ambitious, profit-driven corporate entity. 

Let’s drop the pretense that customer service really matters any more, or that raising the prices of new sims would have some kind of abstract benefit to the community of residents.   It won’t.  What will happen is that rent prices will go up to cover sim costs, meaning small scale merchants will see their own income decline, meaning fewer small merchants will want to stay in business.   Over time that will mean fewer small merchants will grow to be major content creators, abandoning the field to the corporations you’re luring into Second Life.  You’ll have your 3D Virtual Corporate world eventually, but it will be at the cost of the very community you claim to cherish today. 

I’m not trying to predict doom and gloom.  I think for the majority of residents, the whole sim price issue is only of indirect concern (as in higher rent payments).   It’s not enough to kill Second Life.  Not even close.  Second Life’s soul – its critical essence – remains the real community that exists when users come together and form social bonds.  We can do that in IRC.  We can do that in AIM or AOL or WoW or the many third party web forums that have sprung up since the official boards closed.  That is the real community of Second Life, and it doesn’t involve Philip at all.  It has its own life which will one day move on from SL to whatever new grid springs up on the web some day.

And until that Next Big Thing comes along, Second Life is safe — as safe as you can ever be from karma, that is.  Karma is being stored up right now with every new corporate policy change.  It will not be forgotten, it’s just saved up for later.  At that point, a phenomenon will occur that I call “The Dixie Chicks Principle“. 

If you recall, the Dixie Chicks were a very popular American Country band of three girls.  During a tour in Europe, singer Natalie Manes made some disparaging comments about President Bush.   Granted, she’s certainly not the only celebrity to do so, and also granted that it was within her rights to speak her mind.  But why were the Chicks so surprised when their fan base – an overwhelmingly conservative demographic – was so offended they stopped buying the Chicks’ CDs?  It was Natalie’s right to say what she did, but it was also their fans’ right to stop buying their music.  Karma is, indeed, a bitch.

Dear Philip:  It’s your right to pursue big corporation ambitions.  There’s not a thing wrong with that, ethically or professionally.  But be prepared for the day when your user base has a viable choice between Second Life and the Next Big Thing, and most of us cash in our $L and just stop buying into your “community”.   WE are the community, and we will simply just go somewhere else.    Maybe you can get Will Wright to commiserate with you when that happens.

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November 2, 2006 - Posted by | Second Life

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