Dear Diary: Goin’ all Pharrell on ya

Dear Diary,

Forgive me, but I’ve been logged inworld for a bit, dancing along to Pharrell’s Happy  (and wishing I had my own personal Minion, but hey, there are plenty of YouTube videos for that) and it kind of sums up how I feel about Second Life right now: happy and optimistic.

Earlier this evening (after waking from an over-long nap; seriously, my workload IRL is kicking my arse at the moment and it’s turning me into an old man re: my need for sleep) I read some articles about Ebbe Altberg’s first week at Linden Lab. I gotta tell ya, my sartorial darlings, I have such  high hopes for this guy at the helm of our little pixel paradise. He really seems to get it.

Yeah yeah, I know. Rodvik really seemed to get it, too, and I had high hopes of him as well. I have no idea what happened there. We can be a demanding bunch sometimes, so whether the signal-to-noise ratio got too much for him too early on, I don’t know. But, so far, Ebbe (if he’ll forgive the familiarity) has proved himself to be eminently approachable – moreso than Rodvik was in his early tenure – and with good reason: the new CEO is a man who’s perfectly at home with social media.

I’d pondered writing an open letter (if I can get past the ‘Dear Ebbe’ greeting that’ll make me feel like I’m writing to an agony aunt) and I may still do so. There’s already been a series of great forum threads and blog posts by bigger fish than me, letting Ebbe know what needs fixing, and reminding him that – in the SL userbase – he has his greatest asset and publicity machine. I’ve been making notes for that open letter, so expect to see it sometime soon.

This transcript and partial audio over at Inara Pey’s blog from the meeting that Ebbe had with several well-known and respected SL residents gave me a lot of confidence in the future of SL. A couple of standout points for me:

It would be silly to imagine that four or five of us sitting here in the office and just thinking about it will have all the answers … I don’t know how much has been tried here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s been a very normal process to do usability testing, user testing, so that’s something i have to look into as well and see how people react to things that we create. I’ve grown-up with that. Even at Microsoft you couldn’t do a single feature for Word without sitting in a lab watching people struggle with using your feature.

Usability testing of new features – be it actually bringing people into Battery St or asking experienced and new residents inworld (depending on the feature being introduced) for their feedback and/or observing their interaction with the feature – is something that’s long been a request from the community at large.

This boils down to a far simpler point, and a longstanding pet peeve of mine with regard to the Lab: getting feedback from a wide range of users before  a feature is implemented, listening to that feedback, and acting on it. Check whether a feature will improve residents’ SLives, or cause problems such as breaking existing content. In the past, the Lab has requested feedback and then appeared to ignore it completely, or a new feature has been rolled out that causes uproar which falls on seemingly-deaf ears. (They’re probably not deaf; just overwhelmed by the volume, but still…)

Following on from that, this statement gives me great hope for a sea change at the Lab with regard to feedback and acting on that feedback:

[… ] these days you have to be able to do things very quickly and react very quickly and try things very quickly. I’m all fine with lots of little failures, but you have to constantly be trying and looking at data and users and feedback and understand whether you’re on the right track and be able to quickly adjust if you’re not.

Then there’s the outside world’s viewpoint of SL, as demonstrated here:

I think the market ended-up dictating what they thought about it, and we lost our ability to tell the story, and the story was being told to us…

One simple thing that can be done to begin combatting this is to put together a press kit that’s a portfolio of resident creativity. (I know that may provoke howls re: the new ToS, but hear me out). Take, for example, the ‘Second Life Picture of the Day’ that’s tweeted most days on the official Twitter account. Why is it that, on the average press story about Second Life, I see the same old images from 2007 being trotted out instead of the beautiful present day images that are being created?

Ask those amazing photographers for permission to use specific examples of their work (let them pick their best pieces for you to showcase) and put together a new presskit. Send it out to every major (and minor) media organisation you can think of; just a reminder that, “Hey, yes we’re still here, and we don’t look like that anymore; this is what we have now.”

The main reason why interaction with SL’s residents can seem overwhelming to a new CEO is purely because an interactive CEO (indeed, even an interactive Lab) is such a rare thing. Contact has been so infrequent in the past, and even when it started out well it was later withdrawn, and residents are quite literally starved  of communication. Keep the lines open and the initial desperation of the starved multitudes to have their voices heard will fade to a more manageable (and productive) hum. Just keep those communication lines open. That’s the most important thing of all.

See? Already I’m halfway through writing that open letter. I think I’d better stop now, and save it for the letter itself.

Further reading

Jo Yardley summarises the meeting with Ebbe (I loved the Photoshop analogy; it sums up the new user experience of today perfectly, as well as the openness of SL which is both its greatest asset and probably one of its biggest downfalls. So many people these days don’t want  to think or create their own entertainment; they’re so accustomed to having entertainment given to them in easy, bite-sized chunks of 140 characters and ‘Like’ buttons. Working with that as well as the desire for complexity that many people also want is going to be a challenge.)

Ebbe replies on the official forums (encouraging point in the ongoing discussion there that may have taken many of us by surprise: people at the Lab appear to have been as unhappy as the users were at the closure of the JIRA and the lack of communication from the Lab, which suggests that the ‘shutdown’ was an edict from On High)

– He’s also been RTing a lot of SL residents and interacting a great deal on Twitter @EbbeAltberg

In other news, I’ve created a Tumblr account for the blog. Not sure what I’ll do with it yet, but keep an eye on it, follow it if it takes your fancy. I’m sure I’ll make more use of it than the single post currently on there ;-)

Over and out (and into bed with me; GAH! I’m so fucking tired!)