ROBIN HARPER ON THE ISSUES - JANUARY 7, 2008
ONDER SKALL: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another session of Metanomics held in
conjunction with Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. I’d like to take a brief
moment to thank the sponsors of the Metanomics series. They are Generali Group, SAP,
Kelly Services, Cisco Systems, Saxo Bank and Sun Microsystems. And, of course, none of
this would be possible without SLCN, who are the best ones to talk to when it comes to
working with video in Virtual Worlds. Avatars across the grid at all event partner locations
can join the conversation by joining the Metanomics Group.
Today’s guest is Robin Harper, also known as Robin Linden, from Linden Lab. She is VP of
Community and Marketing and is here today to offer a special insight into the current state
of Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi, everybody. This is Rob Bloomfield from Cornell University,
and I am pleased to kick off another session, a new year of Metanomics, where we study
the business and policy of the Metaverse of Virtual Worlds. We’ve got a great year coming
up. We’re going to be in a variety of different Worlds this year. It’s not just a Second Life
event. Next week we’re going to be covering EVE Online. We will have Dr. Eyjólfur
Gudmundsson, the staff economist of the World, EVE Online. We will be having
Robert Gehorsam, the CEO of Forterra. Actually we have a commitment from Cory Bridges
in Multiverse. And I expect we’ll also be in a number of other worlds, including Twinity and,
let’s see, what else do we have: Kaneva. And there are more things coming up. We’ll see
how that works out.
But, for our kickoff session of the year, we have Robin Harper from Linden Lab, VP of
Marketing and Community Development. Robin, welcome to Metanomics.
ROBIN HARPER: Hi, Robert, and thank you very much for having me. It’s good to be here
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Well, we’re always delighted to have people like yourself
who have been dealing with Virtual Worlds for a while. What I’d like to do is actually start by
just talking about you a little bit.
ROBIN HARPER: Okay.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It seemed to me that you took a pretty traditional route. MBA in
marketing from Chicago. You, I guess, started out dealing with accounts for Novell,
Nintendo, PacificTel. So I mean that’s tech, but not exactly VP of Marketing and Community
in a Virtual World. So can you talk a little bit about how you ended up where you are now?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, it’s funny because I actually started out working with packaged
goods and spent a lot of years working with the Clorox Company, so it was a long way from
bleach to Virtual Worlds. But I think it started when I started working with the Nintendo
Company in the late ’80s launching Game Boy and Super Nintendo and things like that. And
I just fell in love with games. One thing led to another, and I ended up actually leaving
advertising and going to work for Maxis. I spent most of the ’90s then working on SimCity
and all of the various sim titles in building the Sim brand. During the time I was there, I really
never got too deeply into the idea of Virtual Worlds. The main experience that I had was a
text-based world and with Sork(?). So it wasn’t my goal, necessarily, to get into Virtual
But when I was looking for another opportunity and I saw Second Life--and this was in
March of 2002--and I thought, Oh, my god, it’s so much like SimCity. It shares so many of
the same characteristics. The ability to build something, to have ownership over something
that you have created, is a very, very powerful emotional benefit. And when we used to talk
to people who were using SimCity, they would never say, “Look at the city.” They don’t say,
“Look at my city.” And I saw that same possibility in Second Life, and that’s what got me
excited about Second Life. It was everything we had always wanted to do, but better. It was
the ability to get down to the ground level and walk around and talk to people that I found so
compelling. And so that’s what got me to Linden Lab and to Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now the job description, that’s one of the things I’ve puzzled over
a little bit. Your job description has actually changed. The title has changed from VP of
Marketing and Business Development to VP of Marketing and Community Development.
Can you talk a little bit about what the substance is underlying the change in name?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, I would say there’s not a whole lot of substance in that. When you
start at a company and there’s 12 or 13 people, I was the first business executive to join
Linden Lab, and so, for lack of anything better, we called me Marketing and Business
Development. We didn’t really know where it was going to go. Initially, my job was all about
brand development and communication. We were just getting Second Life into Alpha. We
had to give it a name. We had to come up with a logo. We had to start getting some interest
among the press. And so that’s what I did: naming, logo, PR.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you take responsibility for the “I” in the hand?
ROBIN HARPER: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that was me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Congratulations.
ROBIN HARPER: Thanks. Not that I’m a designer, but I’m the one who worked with the
design firm and said, “Yeah, that’s the direction I want to go.” Business development sort of
fell by the wayside because it was just not something that we needed to be focused on at
the time. For several years then, I managed marketing and PR and customer support. When
it became more obvious after a couple of years that we were actually building a platform for
development and not so much an entertainment service, that was when we split things up a
bit, and David Fleck joined us and spent about 18 or so months working with us to build the
solution providers programs, to look at how we could help companies, like Electric Sheep,
be successful in working with us and supporting different groups within Second Life. And so
whatever business development work we needed to have done, he took on, and I focused
more, during that time, on our existing customer base. And that’s where the whole notion of
community development came into play.
So now--where are we? Let’s see. We spun support off. I managed it through the end of
2007, and Cyn Skyberg has taken that. The business programs are now back in my group,
being managed by Glen Linden. Business development has moved over to Ginsu Yoon. So
when you’re in a company that’s growing as fast as Linden Lab, things change constantly,
so titles aren’t really all that important, I think. What’s really important is how we continue to
try to manage the way we work with our customers and make sure that they have what they
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So the term “customer,” whether customer service, when you say
the word “customer,” it seems like it is missing one of the key elements that makes a Virtual
World like Second Life so unique, which is that, really, you have a bunch of people who
believe they are in a community together. So how does that change? Actually let me say, so
Ginsu Linden, Ginsu Yoon was on our show back in, I guess it was, October, and he
actually was very up front saying he really didn’t see the Virtual World business being all
that different from other businesses. He was being very prosaic about it. We’ve got a
product. All these things that we think of as like an economy, he sees as just different
features of the product. So I’m wondering, is your take that really what you’re doing is pretty
much like any other customer service in any other business, or do you see features that
really are unique?
ROBIN HARPER: Let me think about how to come at that. I’m going to start with the notion
of residents. There has been a lot of question over the last year or so about the word
“resident” and why do we use that word. We talked a lot when I first started about whether
or not we thought people were going to be members because, at the time, it was a
subscription. Or “citizens” because, at the time, we were thinking about things in terms of
building Worlds. And we also looked at “users.” And we dismissed “members” because we
didn’t want to focus on the business model. We dismissed “citizens” because we thought it
was too political. We dismissed “users” because we thought it was too technical. And we
ended up with “residents.” But, again, what I think that that word reflects is that there is a
high degree of involvement in Second Life among people who participate that goes beyond
certainly things that I’ve worked with. I mean clearly it’s a different level of involvement than
you see with Bleach. And so I think it is different. I think that’s why we have community and
community initiatives, community development, as a job function at Linden Lab because we
recognize the high degree of involvement and the importance that Second Life plays,
particularly for those people who have taken advantage of the economic growth and have
That said, to Gene’s point, it is a business. It’s why we make some of the choices we make
about what we do or don’t allow. That’s why there’s not a representational government, just
as one example, because if everybody voted that we weren’t going to let anybody else
come in to Second Life anymore, we’d have to say, “Well, you know what? No. That’s not
going to happen because it’s a business.” So it’s a balancing act, I think. We have to
approach what we’re doing as a business. It’s a for-profit company. We have investors that
we’re responsible to, but it’s a different kind of business, in my view, because we’ve made
promises to people, and we’ve given them opportunities that I think are somewhat unique,
not only in the world of business but among Virtual Worlds.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So probably the way in which you are known most by residents in
Second Life is that you’re actually talking to them. You hold weekly office hours. You are
interacting with people in a number of public forums. I am told people are in awe of your
ability to respond to personal emails and IMs with very rapid turnaround. So one of the
questions I have for you is: How much of your job, how much of your time is actually spent
dealing with the residents on these types of issues you were describing? And how much of it
is stuff that we just don’t see at all?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, again, I think that’s in a state of flux. As Cyn takes on more
responsibility for customer relations, I think you’ll probably see that more and more when
people contact me I have to say, “Gosh, you know what? I can’t really help you with that. I’m
going to point you in the right direction.”
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So are you relying there a lot on sort of the Linden mentors and
people like that for help?
ROBIN HARPER: You mean the resident volunteers?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I’m sorry. Yes, the resident volunteers.
ROBIN HARPER: Well, actually that group is still part of my team in community. But what
I’m talking about is, you’re asking about me being responsive. I believe that it’s very
important that we be as responsive as we can be, for all the reasons I’ve just been giving
Personally, as the World grows, it’s increasingly difficult for me to answer every question
that we get. At the same time, we’ve significantly built up our customer relations team. Cyn
and her team have gotten the response rate on phones down to something like 20 seconds.
It’s pretty impressive.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That is impressive.
ROBIN HARPER: Yeah, it’s definitely under two minutes, whereas, it used to be quite a bit
higher than that. So I think we’ll continue to see some changes. I think we’ll see that the
need for people to feel like they have to contact me when they have a problem will decline
because they’ll get the level of support that they need. But I always think that part of my job
and my responsibility is to be available and to be responsive to what people in Second Life
are asking for and for what they need. I don’t see that changing. I see it continuing to
change in the sense of what I get involved in, not so much that I am involved.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Much more delegation presumably.
ROBIN HARPER: Well, delegation on the support questions and, hopefully, more
involvement on the bigger questions of policy and direction for future development for
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s move on to some of those issues. What I’d like to
start with, in this part of the show, is just going through a list of some of the big challenges
that residents face in their Second Life experience and that they’re likely to come to you or
Linden Lab more generally for some help then. And some of the biggies here are
resident-to-resident business disputes: zoning and then privacy and trying to figure out how
to develop software for a platform that is constantly changing. That’s sort of the big list, but
let’s start out with a resident-to-resident business disputes. So I think most of the people
who have been to prior Metanomics shows have heard a lot about the various issues that
can arise, anything from, you know, you buy a television, and it doesn’t work, to someone is
copying something that you’ve made, to you bought stock in a company or put money into a
bank that has gone under. So I guess for starters can you talk a little bit about your
perspective on what Linden Lab’s policy is regarding resident-to-resident disputes?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, I think, as you know, we’ve taken the stance that residents should
try to resolve disputes themselves. The reason for that is that we’re generally not party to
the transactions that occur or to agreements that are made between people, and so it’s
difficult for us to fairly adjudicate a dispute. You have to think about in terms of the number
of disputes, it’s also just, again looking at it from a business perspective, a very difficult area
to scale. So what we’ve done is, we’ve tried to focus our efforts on those disputes that
interfere with someone actually being able to use Second Life. We focus more on abuse
and griefing kinds of issues than we do on transactional or resident business disputes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So now if someone were involved in a systematic process
of allegedly stealing in some way or engaging in fraudulent transactions with a lot of people
over a long time, is that something you would view as then moving into abuse or griefing?
ROBIN HARPER: Absolutely. And certainly, when we get abuse reports that say that
somebody is behaving fraudulently and we see a pattern of events along those lines that are
associated to one person or group, we spend a good deal of time investigating them.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. There are some resident groups that have arisen that are
trying to get themselves in a position of dealing with these disputes. Some of the more
well-known are, I guess, the Virtual World Business Bureau, which used to be called the
Second Life Business Bureau. In the stock markets, we have the Second Life Exchange
Commission. And then there are people like Gwyneth Llewellyn, who are working on
mediation of disputes and arbitration of disputes. And I’m wondering, first of all, what is your
perspective on these as they currently are being run?
ROBIN HARPER: We’re actually very happy to see residents create groups that attempt to
address disputes. I think what we’ve seen though is that they have a big challenge in
building trust, which is very difficult. One person will say, “Well, why should I abide by what
you say?” And so what I think would be very beneficial would be if there was some sort of
rating system in place similar to the one that’s used by eBay. And something like that then is
a combination of resident-to-resident commenting and rating and then escalation either to
us or to a group maybe such as the one that Gwyneth is putting together.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Are you thinking of something that would take input from
residents, but use a structure that Linden has created? So for example, eBay, it’s eBay’s
structure for rating, but then everyone gets to recommend they did or didn’t like someone?
ROBIN HARPER: Certainly that’s one possibility. We’ve talked about different ways to go,
whether we were to build it or somebody else was to build it. There have been several
efforts made by residents to build that kind of a rating system, and we would just as soon
see it come from the community, if possible.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Another thing that some people have looked forward to and other
people have been concerned about is the possibility that Linden Lab would sort of put their
stamp of approval on one of these resident groups and say, “We recommend you go to X in
such a group to resolve your disputes,” and, in fact, that Linden Lab would take their
evaluation, their conclusion with more weight than just, say, a typical abuse report. Do you
see anything like that on the horizon?
ROBIN HARPER: Not at the moment. No. I don’t know why we would do that at this stage.
Keep in mind that so much of these disputes can be associated to specific land holdings.
And I think it’s more appropriate for the owners of the land to decide how to manage that
land than it is for us.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So yeah, this is something that a number of people have
talked about giving the estate holders, the land holders, more power, more granular power
over specific--for example, I know I’ve seen on the JIRA, the issue reporter, people
requesting that someone who owns land be able to prohibit or allow different people to do
different things in a way that’s much more precise and sensitive than sort of the all or
nothing, which we have now. I guess before we talk about that too much, I mean is that
something that is still in your jurisdiction, or is that much more now on the technical support
ROBIN HARPER: Oh, that’s something that we’re working with them on. We tested the
option of giving estate owners the ability to receive and review abuse reports through email.
And what we found was that there are some estate owners who are interested in doing
something like that, but, as with most things, there are others who aren’t. So to my
knowledge, we haven’t made a final decision yet about what direction to go with that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. But that is still part of the bailiwick of the VP of Marketing
and Community. Is that right?
ROBIN HARPER: The governance team is part of customer relations, so it’s no longer a
part of my team.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about zoning. So right now Second Life
has fairly limited zoning regulations there. A sim can be PG or Mature, and certainly the
person who owns the land can ban people. But there are a couple things that I’ve seen quite
heated discussions about. One of them is abandoned land and ad farmers and extortion
when someone will allegedly buy a very small amount of land, put up a hideous sign, and
the story goes they’re selling the land for an excessively high price, and it’s basically
extortion. To let people see a nice view, they have to pay someone off. What is your take on
this issue, and where do you see Linden going in addressing them?
ROBIN HARPER: Okay. Well, that’s actually, I think, three questions. So let me--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Yeah, sorry about that.
ROBIN HARPER: Let me start with zoning. The only zoning that really exists right now is
PG versus M ratings or Safe versus Unsafe areas. And we know that zoning has been very
popular with some residents. We tried several different experiments over the years, and
there are some zoned regions. There’s only four, I think, but there are some zoned regions
in Second Life. And, judging from the land prices, the fact that there’s some level of control
there is recognized in the value associated with the land. However, what we have found is
that managing the zoned land is very, very time intensive and difficult. And, again, in making
choices about where to allocate our resources, we’ve had to decide that that’s not
something that we can continue to do. So we’ve looked at other ideas. We’re certainly open
to other ideas for zoning. One simple step that we could do would be to create some
noncommercial regions where we don’t allow selling or advertising. But, again, that requires
policing, and we’ve focused our governance and policing efforts in the directions of griefing
and safety. But, as I say, we’re open to other ideas. We would love to hear what other
people think might be possible.
With respect to the extortion, which kind of goes along with that whole idea, we know it
happens. It doesn’t just happen on 16-meter plots. And we’ve looked at various ways that
we could give people the ability to deal with it. Content muting, for example. But I’m not
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you elaborate on what content muting would be?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, so if there’s something ugly that you don’t want to look at, content
muting would allow you to basically make it invisible so you wouldn’t have to see it.
However, because of the way that we’d have to do that, it’s something that’s pretty easily
circumvented, so we’re not convinced that that’s really very useful, that it becomes more of
an arms race. You know, we figure out one way, and somebody builds a different script, and
then we have to start over. We’ve also looked at various ways that we could use pricing,
price caps, for example, to discourage behavior like that. But, again, that’s playing with the
in-world land economy, and we’re very reluctant to do that. We’re much more oriented
toward maintaining as free a market as possible. So what typically happens if somebody is
consistently abusive of these policies and enough abuse reports are filed, it allows us to
have our governance team go into action and use the terms of service as a way to address
the problem. It’s very difficult for us to allow people to have a free market economy, to
maintain the right to put on their land what they choose and to still address these things in
any sort of reasonable way. So again, we’re open to ideas. We’d love to hear them.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, maybe those political words like “citizen” weren’t too far off
the mark because the way you describe it doesn’t seem so different from some of the things
I heard in Iowa and New Hampshire over the last few days. Let’s see. Oh, go ahead.
ROBIN HARPER: Well, you’d also asked about abandoned land. Quickly, what I can tell
you is that is an area where we have been able to make an impact. There’s two kinds of
abandoned land, and it’s all on the mainland. One is when somebody just lacks the tier to
hold the land, for example. We are in the process of reclaiming that land. At the beginning of
December, we had about 16 regions’ worth, and now we’re down to about ten, and you’ll
continue to see us clean it up and put it back up for resale. Similarly, land has been
abandoned because the accounts are defunct. We had a substantial number of regions’
worth of that kind of land. We have reduced that one as well. Again, it takes a while because
we have to clear the content. We have to make sure that it is, in fact, abandoned. And, if
there are tenants on the land, we have to alert them before we do anything. But we expect
that we’ll be down for both of these types of abandoned land to fewer than ten regions by
the end of Q-1. So that’s our goal.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I mean it sounds like, for a lot of these, it’s really an issue of the
allocation of your time. I mean not your personal time, but the time of Linden staff to be able
to deal with this.
ROBIN HARPER: Absolutely. Whether it’s new feature development or fixing bugs or
chasing after abandoned land, it’s always for us a question of resource allocation.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And one possibility, I guess this goes back to relying more heavily
on people in-world and giving some of them some power and possibly some pay to make
decisions and deal with some of the sort of more cookie cutter boilerplate issues of notifying
people and so on. But I assume that’s something you would only do with a fair bit of
ROBIN HARPER: Not necessarily. Well, trepidation would definitely exist around
implementing and advocating some sort of representational government. That aside, we are
eager to see entrepreneurial activity geared toward building these kinds of systems. We are
certainly willing to support the ones that are successful. And there have been places, like in
terms of when we bring new land online for the mainland, where we’ve looked at hiring
residents to help us get the land ready, to make it a more appealing kind of place to be.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. Okay, but that’s less of what might be viewed as a
political decision, but--
ROBIN HARPER: Not a political decision, no.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --but more landscaping, decorating, things like that? Yeah.
ROBIN HARPER: Roads, hills, whatever.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. Let’s move on and talk a bit about privacy. Virtual
Worlds, just by their nature, provide incredible amounts of data which residents can collect
through software attachments on their avatars, through bots. I know there are people who
have bots that travel the entire realm of Second Life, I think, making the circuit in a matter of
hours and recording land prices and land use and so on. And, of course, Linden Lab itself
has much more data that they could look at. First of all, let’s talk about what data Linden Lab
takes in and what you analyze. Do you spend a lot of time analyzing data? Are you finding
useful ways of improving people’s experience?
ROBIN HARPER: We have so much data. Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming. But we
try to look at the data that will help us make better decisions about the experience, whether
it’s how much time people are spending in Second Life or how much time is being spent
creating things as opposed to in social contacts. And we evaluate that through things like
how many events and of what sort. But there are lots of different ways that we can look at
stuff. I should stress though that that kind of information is only evaluated in the aggregate.
And it’s evaluated in much the same way that you see it on our website. The kind of
information that we collect is, for the most part, published on our website so that anybody
can do the same kind of analysis that we’re doing.
The other thing, with respect to privacy, we have gone to great lengths to protect the
information that we do have and the logs that we do have, not only with internal policies in
terms of who can look at the information, but also in terms of what we actually save and how
long we save it. For example, we don’t store credit card information. It’s not available for
anybody at Linden Lab to see. So I think both for the Real Life information, it’s also Second
Life information, we try very hard to make sure that we live up to the policies that we state in
our terms of service. Separate from that, the information that’s being collected by Second
Life residents, we know that there are people collecting data, and it’s kind of happening in
two ways. The bots that you’re talking about that track land pricing or the scripts that people
have at their store so they can both understand who’s shopping at their stores and also
better serve those customers, all of that data is done for Second Life businesses. To my
knowledge, there’s no way to tie that information to Real Life information. And, certainly, it’s
not done by Linden Lab. We have encouraged people who are collecting data both through
bots as well as through surveys to make sure that they let people know when they’re
collecting the information. And, certainly, those who have not let people know and then who
have been discovered have had some very negative responses to deal with.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, you used a couple words there I just wanted to ask you to
clarify. One is that you encourage people who are collecting data. So I mean how would I
know if I were to create a bot that would go around and look, say for example, try to figure
out who is coming to Metanomics events, something that sounds like you would view that as
fairly innocuous, but would you somehow know I was doing this and be able to contact me
and say, “By the way, you should make sure you’re letting people know”?
ROBIN HARPER: I wouldn’t necessarily know that you were doing that. No. When I’ve
been asked, and I’ve actually had meetings with groups of people about this issue, we have
stressed the importance of alerting people to the fact that you’re collecting information.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But there’s no way you have to directly enforce it, I assume. I
mean it seems like there would be ways to modify the software so that someone might be
able to know when certain types of data are being collected or detected. But that’s not in the
ROBIN HARPER: That is not in the plan right now. I don’t think that we’re in a position to be
able to enforce the privacy policies of other companies. So we deal with the information that
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. Okay, that’s fair enough. Let’s move on. Let’s see. I
think we’ve hit sort of the biggies that I had as far as challenges that residents have been
facing. I’d like to move on to a few challenges that I believe you have been on the record as
having--I’m sorry--a few projects that you’ve been on the record as having supported at one
point or another and just give you a chance to let us know sort of where these projects are
and where you think they’re headed. And the first one I’d like to talk about is actually one
I’ve already gotten two questions on through various channels during our talk on managing
groups and, in particular, the 25-group limit has been fairly unpopular. Can you just talk a
little bit about how you see groups, the status right now of the group tools and what you’d
like to see happen in the coming months?
ROBIN HARPER: When we originally built the group tools and we designed them in 2002,
we had this idea that the kind of groups that people were going to be making were clubs,
that it was almost exclusively going to be social. And, obviously, then as Second Life grew
and people started buying land and groups became associated with land ownership and
then subsequently with businesses, the group tools became wholly inadequate for the
purpose that they were being used. So the first thing that we did, and a project that I spent a
lot of time on last year and the year before, was to expand the way that groups could
account for different roles within the group. So what you see today, the ability to not only
have more roles, but to become fairly granular with what people in those roles were allowed
to do, was the first effort at recognizing that particular tools were being used for many more
than just social purposes. Wealso expanded at that point the number of groups that you
could have, from 15 to 25. So we have already made that expansion once.
There is now, I think, a whole new layer of work that we would like to do around groups, and
it runs the gamut from improving communication tools, IM communication as well as group
chat. We’ve already added voice capabilities for groups and such. But then, beyond that,
there’s tools that I would love to see us build that would give people better accounting
capabilities because so many people are using the group tools to run their businesses. We
need to give them the ability to pay employees, to track revenue, to do market research if
they want. And by that I mean just better analytical tools for looking at transactional
histories. There are different ways that we might be able to do that. We could do that
through a web service and an API so that people could build the tools on the web. Or maybe
we’d want to build them into the Second Life code. Right now we’ve been talking a lot about
the design of those tools, but we don’t have an implementation schedule. Hopefully, we’ll
get to that in 2008, but, at this point, we can’t promise that because we have a lot of things
that we’re working on.
We have been talking about expanding the number of groups beyond 25. There’s some
worry at the developer level that that might have a negative impact on some of our
performance metrics, which is something we really do not want to see happen. So we’re
looking right now and trying to estimate how much use there actually would be for--expand
the number of groups and what the impact would be on the various systems in Second Life.
When we have a better evaluation, we’ll be able to come back and say, “Sure, we’ll increase
it,” or, “No, we can’t, and here’s why.” So that’s where that stands.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. How about BanLink? This I know has been a fairly
controversial proposal that would allow people to essentially subscribe to Linden Lab’s and
other residents’ lists of residents who have banned from land or from groups, and they could
simply mimic and say, “Well, I trust so-and-so. So-and-so has banned someone, then I
guess I want to as well.” So is that something that you have supported, I believe. What’s
your take on that now?
ROBIN HARPER: I did not support that in isolation. What we were talking about when that
idea first came out was how do we, on the mainland--it’s less of an issue on the estate--but,
on the mainland, how do we find a way to enable people to come together and create
associations, for lack of a better term, where there are, let’s say, standard codes of
behavior, as you might have in an estate. And so what we were talking about at the time
was how we enable people to either more easily create large contiguous spaces or, in the
absence of doing that or along with doing that, come together and create covenants that
say, “We have this common notion that we want behaviors to look like this,” whatever it
might be. And then one of the ways that they might enforce those covenants would be
through shared trust lists. Now we haven’t been able to implement the notion of covenants.
Again, it’s just an issue of priorities and resources. And so what has been implemented and
not by us, but by a resident group, is the idea of BanLink. It’s the tool, but it doesn’t have the
covenant that goes along with it. And so I think there is a risk there that somebody who’s
unpopular, for example, could find themselves closed out of a significant part of the
mainland, and, obviously, that was never the intent.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You mentioned mainland, and I have a question here from one of
our participants, Dnali Anabuki, who’s asking: Is Linden Lab committed to maintaining
mainland in the long term?
ROBIN HARPER: Yes, we are.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I guess this gets to one of the issues that I think--actually I
see a number of issues coming up in the future. And, actually I see we only have about ten
minutes left, so maybe this is a nice time to move on to these. There certainly has been a
huge expansion in the private estates and islands, which impose a very different set of
challenges I guess more to you than necessarily to the Second Life community. There’s also
been a big influx of businesses and educational institutions, and that would seem to confront
you with a couple very different types of communities that you’re trying to deal with. So can
you talk a little bit about how you see those trends, the growth of private land and the growth
of educational and business institutions in Second Life affecting the issues that you deal
ROBIN HARPER: I think the biggest challenge we have is that we have increasingly groups
of Second Life residents or groups of customers with different agendas. And I think that’s
the nature of the evolution that we’re in toward becoming more of a platform. That platform’s
going to be used in different ways, and so where it becomes challenging for us, and just in
terms of marketing, is in making sure that the promises that get made are delivered to
people with very disparate ideas about what they need. Where it becomes a challenge for
us, in terms of development, is in setting priorities. Again, for those features. So it’s not like
there haven’t been platforms out there before that have catered to consumers, to
universities and to corporations. It’s just for us it’s an evolution, and we are looking at it to try
and decide how do we best serve these different groups that are all interested in using the
platform. The mainland as a community, I think, is going to look more and more like the
place for what some people might call the consumer business to be located.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. That makes sense. Sort of the food court of the mall.
ROBIN HARPER: That sounds awful.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Sorry. I was never in marketing and promotion. I guess you could
ROBIN HARPER: Oh, it’s more about if you are interested in exploring a Virtual World for
entrepreneurial or social reasons, then the mainland is a logical place for you to start. You
may decide, after some time, that you want to join a community that’s located on an island
or that you want to start your own business and buy an island. But the mainland is an area
where I think smaller communities or individuals who are more casual users will find their
beginning. So it’s very important to us that that be a positive and a valuable experience for
them. And right now I think we have some work to do there.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let me ask you about a couple of changes that have
happened recently and how you see them affecting the community. The first one is voice.
That was fairly controversial when it came in. What’s your take on whether that has been a
success [AUDIO GLITCH] you’re happy?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, yeah, we’re happy. We’re not using voicemail though, which I think
it suggests that we still have some ways to go. But it has been adopted and very happily
adopted by a variety of Second Life users and Second Life residents. Certainly, it’s been
very valuable for the educational communities, and there are many businesses who are
using it. It’s used less in some of the social contexts. Although I was over on the teen grid
recently, and the kids are all using it. So I think it’s being adopted more slowly. I think, over
time, as new people come into Second Life, and it’s less of an oddity or less of a habit to
use chat, that we may find that the adoption grows. But we want it for people to have a
choice. Like everything in Second Life, it’s use what’s here to your best advantage and for
whatever suits you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now another change has been the JIRA, the introduction of the
JIRA Issue Tracker. I think I’m pronouncing that correctly, but I’ve only seen it typed. My
understanding is that the goal here is a little bit of crowd sourcing and letting the residents
let Linden know what they would like to see addressed and maybe even a sense of
priorities. My concern, just in what I’ve seen the discussions on it and about it is, I wonder
whether Linden might worry that this is creating a false sense of entitlement among
residents who feel like they put an issue up there, and then it’s not resolved, and they feel
like then they’re being ignored. How do you see JIRA working out so far?
ROBIN HARPER: Well, I don’t know if you were around when we had the Feature Voting
Tool, but the original intent with the Feature Voting Tool was to allow residents to make
proposals for various features that they were interested in, to vote on them, and then those
that received more votes would be evaluated for feasibility. There were some problems with
that, and I don’t want to get into all the details because what you were unhappy with
depended on who you were, to some degree. But it wasn’t really working that well for us.
We wanted to implement JIRA as a way for the Open Source community to communicate
about what they were working on with bugs. And so we thought, “Well, let’s give this a shot
and see if this wouldn’t be a better tool for us than the Feature Voting Tool has been to
surface ideas and proposals as well as bugs.” I think what we’ve discovered is that, as a
tool, it’s too difficult to use, and things are getting lost in there.
So I’ve actually been looking at kind of another compromise option, which would be to take
the original Feature Voting Tool code and Open-Sourcing that and see if there’s anybody
interested in taking that code and fixing it, making it something that could be web based,
more accessible, easier to use in all that PJIRA isn’t, and we can leave PJIRA to the Open
Source community for the work that they’re doing. So if anybody’s listening to this and has
interest in that, just let me know.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, well, there you go. A fair number of people listen to this, who
might well be willing to weigh in so I wish you luck. We’re just about out of time. I’d like to
give you the last word and would also just love to hear about what you see as any big
priorities that you have, or that Linden Lab more generally has, in the coming year,
particularly something we haven’t touched on yet.
ROBIN HARPER: Wow! There is so much going on. I think one of the biggest challenges
that we all face here at Linden Lab, as well as for the people in Second Life, is dealing with
the fact that we’re in a situation of constant evolution. And what I would love to see is that
we continue to keep those channels of communication open as we go through all of these
changes. The down side to so much growth is individual voices are harder to hear. We’ve
attracted the attention of governments, and so it’s often unpredictable what the effect is
going to be of having more attention paid by those governments. And we’re all in this
together. We all want this to be successful. So what I’m hoping is that we’ll just continue to
work together to make this what I think it can be, which is something truly special and
unique in technology and in the world.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, it certainly is different, and it’s been a learning experience
for me. Just simply running this show with sort of every week the technology is slightly
different. We try to add something new. And we try to have guests like you. So thank you so
much, Robin Harper, for coming on to Metanomics to kick off 2008.
ROBIN HARPER: And thank you. And to all of the Second Life residents out there, I think
you all know my email, but it’s firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s do keep those channels open.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Will do. I guess I’d also like to pass on a very quick thanks
to Gwyneth Llewellyn and Prokofy Neva and Fleep Tuque for providing me with some
questions and topics to cover. So this is Rob Bloomfield signing off. We’ll have another
Metanomics session next week, with Eyjólfur Gudmundsson, of EVE Online. So thank you
all very much.
[END OF AUDIO]
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer