Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Scapegoats and Magic Beans

For every complex problem, there is a simple solution. And it's always wrong. (Paraphrased from quotes from H. L. Mencken and Albert Einstein)
The space between the departure of M. Linden and the upcoming community meeting with BK and Philip has left a vacuum many of us have filled with analysis and speculation about the future of Second Life. I do believe that an unexamined virtual life is not worth living. But when we move from evaluating our own thoughts, feelings, actions and motivations to judging the inner-workings of the world around us we must be especially careful not to fall into the realm of fairy tale. Because in the absence of complete information, our mind tends to fill our mental models with the archetypal magic of the subconscious. We can become blind to the gaping chasms we jump over in our leaps of logic.

I was reminded of this process while contemplating the conversation over the weekend in the blogosphere about the reason for Second Life's land and population woes. Here are a couple of the many magical story elements that tend to run through  our discussions:

  • Scapegoats. Whether it's the FIC elites or the high cost of land, we tend to put a microscope on some real or imagined culprit as the root of all (or at least most) evil. The fairy tale is that if we would just kill the scapegoat everything would be fine and we could live happily ever after. This tendency is exaggerated by the polarizing nature of net-based conversation and communication. I'm doing it right now.
  • Magic Beans:  The other side of the coin is the idea that if Linden Lab management would just plant this one magic bean, Second Life would be lifted from its fallen state and claim its lofty potential at the summit of the virtual world pantheon. Examples of magic beans include first hour experience and the elimination of lag.

My point is not that we should stop thinking about how we can help solve problems and create solutions within our virtual existence. What I'm suggesting is that we check in with ourselves from time to time and examine our own stories for fictional elements that we treat like facts, especially any scapegoats and magic beans that are in the picture.

7 comments:

Hiro Pendragon said...

Nice observations, Botgirl.

RE: Scapegoats - indeed, it's not just the users. Obviously, the biggest scapegoating has been of M Linden as the fall guy for the board of Linden Lab. Will the board have to answer for how they led the company during Philip's absense? Only if people demand it.

RE: magic beans - (aka "silver bullet") certainly first hour experience would go a long way at helping to retain new users, but agreed, it's just one part of the equation.

Personally, the magic bean I happily promote is the one where, regardless of what one uses Second Life to do, the user experience needs to be improved. And it needs to be done so in a process that isn't:
1. Go hire one outside company.
2. Place on them a set of ideas thought up by committee within the Lab.
3. Release a product that doesn't justify the time spent on it.

Though honestly, this method might work if done *iteratively* and *transparently* - if with each change, it was passed by the community, and more importantly - that Linden Lab actually budgeted money to account for changes. Linden Lab has a history of asking the public what they think, getting bad reviews, and then releasing the product without any substantial changes.

...

In any event ... what do you think we can prioritize as the #1 goal to communicate to Philip / the VW community before Friday's speech?

Adric said...

I feel we need to encourage more ideas, not discourage them using some formula of self examination perhaps not everyone is capable of having not reached the clarity in life you have.

I've no problem with over-thinkers, but while they sit around thinking, the dreamers get it done.

If Papa Phil did as you ask, there would be no Second Life.

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

Oh yes, this is always the case, but we keep forgetting the basics... thanks for reminding me, Botgirl :)

Hiro, for me, the #1 priority would be to have a Reverse Town Hall, held by residents, and attended by Linden Lab...

ELQ said...

I think in general most people have their peeves about what the 'real' problems are and how to fix them. I look at the ideas being presented all over as a world-wide brainstorming session. As you know, in brainstorming the idea is to throw out every idea regardless of its feasibility. The other side of brainstorming is that as each idea is thrown out there, everyone else has to listen and consider it - Linden Lab isn't doing that, in fact they aren't even in the room with the rest of us. Therefore, brainstorming is useless in this case.

Botgirl Questi said...

Hiro: I agree that improving the user experience is really important. Unfortunately, that is a such a broad goal that it may not be very useful. Lag, UI, Search, E-Commerce, etc. all have UX impact.

As far as a priority to communicate, I think most Second Life users would agree that fixing what is broken (search for instance) should be a priority.

Adric: I'm not sure what you think I am proposing that would limit ideas or would have prevented Philip from creating Second Life.

Gwyneth:I like your idea of a reverse town hall. One challenge would be figuring out who would represent the "community". Maybe a lottery? ;)

ELQ: I think there is an inherent tension between the idea on the one hand of Second Life as a community of residents, and on other hand as an asset wholly owned and controlled by a venture-backed corporation. I've written a number of times is that the only power that is completely in our hands is the power to stop being a paying customer.

Botgirl Questi said...

Hiro: I agree that improving the user experience is really important. Unfortunately, that is a such a broad goal that it may not be very useful. Lag, UI, Search, E-Commerce, etc. all have UX impact.

As far as a priority to communicate, I think most Second Life users would agree that fixing what is broken (search for instance) should be a priority.

Adric: I'm not sure what you think I am proposing that would limit ideas or would have prevented Philip from creating Second Life.

Gwyneth:I like your idea of a reverse town hall. One challenge would be figuring out who would represent the "community". Maybe a lottery? ;)

ELQ: I think there is an inherent tension between the idea on the one hand of Second Life as a community of residents, and on other hand as an asset wholly owned and controlled by a venture-backed corporation. I've written a number of times is that the only power that is completely in our hands is the power to stop being a paying customer.

ELQ said...

Oh, I certainly agree there, which is why I've stopped being a paying customer. However, that venture-backed company has a habit of asking for feedback and ideas, and then leaving. This is why I stopped brainstorming and why, as I said, brainstorming is useless.