Business in Virtual Worlds, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Metaplace and Second Life: Platforms, Community and Getting it Right

Second Life and Metaplace ran on parallel paths this week, each of them promising enhancements to the community communication tools – just wait for it, they say, all will be good.

I hadn’t paid attention to Metaplace in a while – the promise of an April Beta was pushed back as they readied the platform, tested, improved, built out the back-end and moved offices. I hadn’t paid much attention to the Lab either, their silence had that sort of strange, possibly intended effect of making me not care so much – silence could be good, silence could be comforting, and since M Linden came on board it was a welcome relief from an endless stream of mismanaged communication.

Now, Robin Linden is no Cuppycake over at Metaplace (and whether M or Pips are anywhere close to Raph remains to be seen, our Beta invites are in the queue I’m sure)…maybe it’s Katt who’s Cuppycake anyways, it doesn’t really matter, but whenever I see her name at the top of a blog posting I get a little shudder.

Having met Robin briefly I’ll just say that she seems like a nice person. She seems like she likes being in the thick of a challenge. She seems like she knows her business – I mean in the general, I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve taken this weary road before, I’m the wizened warrior of press flak and my Blackberry.

But she also seems like having tried to corral Philip’s random thoughts for far too long, having navigated a messy pool of bloggers and Residents and corporate interests, having the task of responding to bad press about brand abandonment or age play – well, I hate to say it but that sounds pretty exhausting and maybe Robin needs a very long sabbatical because yet again she’s jumped into the fray and left more questions than answers.

Was this damage control? It seems Robin trots out when there are fires to extinguish. Torley’s post that he had been silenced from the main blog, disaffection amongst the SL reporters and bloggers over sudden silences both in public and through back channels – well, something had to be done. And Robin responded with one of those posts that start out OK and then get pretzel-twisted in obscure rationalizations and a lack of clarity.

But surely something had to be done – there was this grass roots murmur, and we know where that takes you – before you know it your Second Life search in Google is turning up 100,000 hits on “Lindens Muzzled” instead of “Business Collaboration in SL” and when it comes to the Web, it ain’t true – bad press is not better than no press, bad press is the first page of Google and you just don’t want to be there.

Raph Promises Someone Is Home
Over on Metaplace the summer silence had started to rub the alpha community’s the wrong way, but a promised update was posted as the month winds down and we head into a long winter of tiling textures and building little mini-worlds. Among the highlights from the Metaplace crew was an update on the Flex toolsets and an update on the badge system they’re developing.

Photo: Metaplace Blog

They also highlight changes to their Web site and I wonder if this doesn’t sound like a more concise list compared to what the Lab is promoting:

- Integrated forums
- World profile pages
- User profiles with customizable CSS
- Stream of activity to stay on top of latest news and neat worlds to check out.
- Explore page that allows you to browse all the worlds on the website.
- Ability to friend and favorite users, make comments on profiles, message users.
- Alert system that lets you know about important messages
- Community page with blog, release notes, and announcements.

Notably missing from the update was a sense of when Metaplace might come out of alpha. Get it right, sure, but there’s a community of mini world builders behind the curtain, and they must be itching to let their friends play what they’ve created – commitment will only last so long. In some circles they call it the “enthusiasm gap” and if you wait too long, you’ll need to fill a Denver stadium to pump it up again.

Which leaves the question of how close they are, how hard they’re working – and if it was anyone but Raph at the helm I’d be starting to sputter a little about vaporware (having just made a mournful investment in vapor myself, so feeling alert to the possibility).

Photo: Metaplace Blog

Are We a World?
Look – it’s summer. Sort of. We’ll all wake up now and pay attention to getting the kids off to school, or that election thing in the US, or the next round of breathless pronouncements from the Virtual Worlds conference. And we’re all allowed to get a little more quiet in the summer – take a break, sit on the dock, that kind of thing.

Now on Metaplace the problem with the silence, perhaps, is that while we get little peeks of the worlds on their way, they kicked themselves out of stealth mode with bucket-loads of press and now they’ll need to kick it all back into gear again when they finally get to Beta. Of course, if the product is brilliant, it will feed on its own success and you only have one shot really to get it right.

(What was that Google-killer’s name again that came out a few weeks ago and flamed out in its crashing inability to return good results?)

But over at the Lab, the silence on its own isn’t bad (as you know, I think they’re prepping for bigger announcements around the SLim viewer amongst other things) but what’s troubling is that they’re trying to migrate to a services and connectivity company but lack the language and process for doing that in a clear way.

Because look – silencing the blog while they link it to oh-so-handy forums, shifting the tutorials and help around, bringing in “experts”, all that stuff – Robin is trying to make it sound like it’s all being done with the good of the Residents in mind. But I don’t buy it.

These shifts are happening because discussion at the Lab have changed. Conversations over there today have words like “what’s the use case”, “which service module does this belong in”, “is this a platform improvement or will this be in a profit-center”.

See, Second Life is not a world anymore. To the Lab, Second Life is a platform, around which a constellation of services and “modules” exist, each of which will become a profit center. Tutorials need to exist within a “user experience” profit stream: measurable, portable, and skinnable. The blog is not a communication tool for a community, it’s a place to promote the platform.

It has nothing to do with outdated software. Nothing to do with categorizing entries. It has to do with focusing the blog on platform announcements (positive ones, the grid status updates have long since been siphoned off to some obscure part of the Grid site), and shifting any sort of community/world stuff, well, OUT.

Both Metaplace and Linden Life this week obscured key questions: when is Metaplace coming out of Beta, and when will Linden Lab finally split Mainland off as its own “world” with its own tiny little community management team that exists within a larger, more profitable constellation of islands and services and firewalls and interoperability and acting more like a platform than a place.

Update: Links

For other posts on the Lab’s policy, see Tateru at Massively :

“On the whole, the announcement feels purely reactive, with little sign that a solution and its merits have been settled on at this stage (even though a timeline has apparently already been set). Until such time as the new system has come along quite a bit further, we do not expect the blog to show more than promotional announcements and media-releases.”

and Prok at Second Thoughts:

“Obviously, as we’ve been noting here and there in the blogosphere, the Lindens are circling the wagons again and calling it “better communication”. Now Robin gets on the Blog and tells us why Bitter World is Better World.”


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