This weekend, Linden Lab
announced a contingency measure
aimed at reducing virtual world service interruptions by locking out non-paying users of Second Life
during peak usage periods. I recently described my dissatisfaction with the plan
--one of the main reasons being that it precludes business-friendly "try before you buy" scenarios by barring new users and those who haven't yet decided to pay Linden Lab for services. Both at 3pointD.com
and The Second Life Herald
also expressed discontent. Today I've happened across a few alternate viewpoints worth responding to.
Metaverse content-creator Lordfly Digeridoo isn't happy
with those who've complained about Linden Lab's inability to solve congestion on Second Life
's grid, but who also aren't happy with the company's contingency measures. The way Digeridoo sees it, Linden Lab's limiting of freeloaders is long overdue: "If you ran a restaurant, and it suddenly became insanely popular because of it’s chili recipe, and you gave out free samples, but the free samplers just hung around in the dining area for hours on end while paying customers can’t sit down to eat, would you keep the freeloaders there? Or would you shoo them out to let people with actual money to come in, even if just temporarily?" In Digeridoo's example, there's really only one sensible choice. I feel that what he's missing is that the people lining up for free chili weren't aware that they were getting "samples" at all. They were invited by the restaurant to enjoy as much free chili as they could eat, as well as create their own delicious meals, under a banner that read "Your Restaurant. Your Imagination." Suddenly locking out invited guests with a sign reading "Access Restricted" isn't just an unfriendly move, it's an unexpected one.
Virtual monster-hunter Van Hemlock thinks the contingency plan makes sense
: "[W]hy let people who have paid nothing toward the world's existence use up all it's resources, at the expense of those who are funding it all?" He does note, however, that the policy represents an about-face from its previous everyone-in-the-pool attitude. In my view, Linden Lab has had persistent problems setting user expectations at a level that can reasonably be met or exceeded--see my restaurant example above. The company can't very well say that Second Life
is "Your World" if it's really "Our World: Access Limited to Paying Customers During Peak Times."
Over at the SLOG
, veteran Second Life
r Gwyneth Llewelyn says that while only about 60,000 of 3 million Second Life
accounts are Premium (paid), she's inclined to agree with "any sort of measure that benefits paying users--the ones that actually account for Linden Lab's present and future economic viability." Paying customers are important, I can't argue with that. But current paying customers are the ones that account for Linden Lab's present viability. It's the future customers I'm worried about. In the short term, the company's contingency plan blocks out those who may be ready to pay, but aren't able to log in or create an account. How many future customers would be lost this way? It's not just Linden Lab's viability that relies on patronage--user-created businesses, many of which cater to newcomers, need a steady flow of customers, too. None of this may not matter in the long term, though: I'm not sure Linden Lab's future customers will be comprised of end-users. If the company is proceeding with its plan to facilitate host-your-own virtual worlds, its future customers might be second-tier service-providers.
Meanwhile, Mark Wallace over at 3pointD has posted a follow-up
to his initial thoughts on Linden Lab's contingency measures, based on an informal email from the company's CTO Cory Ondrejka. I agree with Wallace when he writes "The decision to limit access for unverified users also raises questions, for me at least, of how open a platform SL is intended to be," and in another paragraph, "This is hardly the kind of Web 2.0-style openness the Lab professes to be about. In fact, it hews very closely to kind of gentle discrimination implied by the locking out of unverified users: the Lab continues to make judgment calls about who may use different parts of the service, at which times, and for what purposes."
I don't object to change, and I don't object to running a business like a business. But I do think that Linden Lab's transition from the virtual world of brotherly love to the virtual world at five bucks a head has been painful and awkward. I remain optimistic that a more open virtual world--one that balances public and private space similarly to the World Wide Web--will arise. Whether from Second Life
's evolution, its ashes, or from any of the numerous virtual worlds nipping at Second Life