Sunday, August 16, 2009

Second Life, Meet The Social Web

This weekend I moderated a panel session with Colossus Linden entitled "Looking to the Future of Live Performance in Second Life" at the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC). Although this panel was part of the Music Track, live performance in Second Life is far more broad and diverse than live music alone. It includes mixed genre performances like Musimmersion, theatre productions such as those by the SL Shakespeare Company, story-telling like that at West of Ireland, live poetry open mics and workshops like that at the Blue Angel, spoken word productions like "In The Pink", standup comedy and even Ballet Pixelle. In fact, the wealth of live performance in Second Life is almost overwhelming and it seems almost obvious that this topic deserves rich discussion and some serious consideration.

The motivation for this session was not just a bunch of live music enthusiasts wanting to talk about live music but a heightened awareness and interest resulting from much heralded "live music is a killer app" comments from Mark Kingdon, CEO of Linden Lab, Chairman of the Board Philip Rosedale, and former CTO Cory Ondrejka. Mark sums it up here in commentary from Metanomics:
“We absolutely have to make it easier for musicians and other performers to perform meaningfully in Second Life. We’ve looked at the challenges extensively and have a good idea of what we need to do but we won’t be able to get to it in 2009.
We see live performance as a “killer app” in Second Life.”
- Mark Kingdon, M Linden 2009
In fact it was this comment as well as several other mentions of "killer app" by current and former Linden Lab executives that motivated my last blog post, "Second Life Killer Apps and Weak Ties". I was pleasantly surprised when Mark Kingdon commented on that post. I was even more pleased that he - perhaps unknowingly - stimulated a call to action for the live performance community by including this:
@Crap please do send along the list of to-dos you are collecting. It will be 2010 before you see progress on them but feeding them in now would be most useful. I am sure I will be saucer-eyed. Would you expect anything less?
It is but one of our failings as humans to hear what we want to hear, but I've read this comment as well as all the other "live performance is the killer app" commentary over and again and I still draw the same conclusion: the Lab has a vision and wants us to help them actualize that vision. Many other residents of Second Life - and by that I mean paying customers - read the same things, drew the same conclusions and took it upon themselves to find time and work hard to make it possible to share ideas, insights and concerns - all toward having a constructive dialog, and open, transparent and patently honest discussion about the things that are working well, the hurdles we face and what needs to be in place to move us forward. All with a goal to actualize Linden Lab's vision.

You could almost hear heels click, turbines whir and engines start to roar - powering the great "freeconomy".

This mysterious working for free thing has been called many things. If it's organized toward a productive end, Jeff Howe would call it crowdsourcing. In business, it's a controversial practice but nonetheless there are countless examples of crowdsourcing projects that have led to the development of products, services and insights that would have otherwise been unachievable. Crowdsourcing - when done openly, transparently and toward a collective end - is a affirmation that it truly takes a village. Just don't make me the village idiot.

The often overlooked part of crowdsourcing in business is that it's actually a two-party play. There's the crowd, and there's the business. Each party has a role to play and there are shared expectations and responsibilities. Crowdsourcing is not a "meet me half way" business contract, it's a "let's go all the way together" social contract. There are no half measures, you don't get to eat at the potluck if you don't bring something, even if it's just Aunt Ellie's J-ello salad. You have to make an equal part effort to practice, show up, put on the uniform and get in the game. You may not "phone it in".

No one stood up and yelled "Hey! We are crowdsourcing this live performance as a killer app thing, yo!" but the residents, I mean paying customers, of Second Life are both resilient and passionate group and if you ask us for something, more often than not we are going to engage. While this often pushes us as a collective whole right the the edge of chaos, only a few ever jump off and for those that remain, I believe strongly that it keeps us thinking, innovating and evolving. As a resident, creator, live performer and an admittedly passionate person, I have been teetering on this chaotic edge for over three and a half years in Second Life. That's a long time to not look down, but it's also long enough to know that things come in waves and pulling from my past surf experience, the killer wave is all about timing.

So that's why I agreed to help moderate this panel. I knew Linden wasn't going to do anything in 2009, Mark said so clearly and it's already mid-August. But I did think that there was genuine concern, interest and an implicit understanding that if you ask for something from a group as large and as engaged as the live performance community - even if it's merely insights and discussion - you would be ready to have a constructive dialog about how to move ahead. I can't say I found that at this SLCC panel.

I waited a day before I wrote this post because I wanted to listen again to the discussion and absorb what happened and see if I was still as frustrated as I was yesterday and the fact is, I'm even more so. I felt like we'd been just a little duped by Linden Lab into thinking they wanted to engage but instead sent a foot soldier to an air-to-air battle. When presented with the mix of ideas, concerns and suggestions toward improving live performance, Colossus was able to provide a consistent answer "I don't have anything that's on a specific roadmap" and his expressed regret "I wish I could have come in here with a roadmap".

I want to be clear about one thing before I continue: Colossus Linden is a bright, friendly and articulate individual, but his primary focus is XStreet SL which has almost no overlap with the live performance community in part due to the new XStreet SL guidelines but I am happy to have met him and I think he will become a good advocate for the community overall. You may not know much about him, so here's his biography.
As the Business Lead for Virtual Goods, Christopher Colosi manages Linden Lab's web based commerce platform, Xstreet SL. Since negotiating the acquisition of the Xstreet SL and Onrez e-commerce platforms, his focus has been on the integration and improvement of the web commerce experience as a key part of Second Life with an eye toward overall improvement of resident-to-resident transactions.
Before joining Linden Lab as Colossus Linden, Colosi co-founded Windward Mark Interactive, a video game design studio and cutting edge graphics software development house. He served in many roles from software engineer to VP of Finance where he negotiated the sale of Windward Mark Interactive to Linden Lab. Colosi has designed solutions for enterprise software as well as medical engineering companies and has a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science from Harvard University.
I went into this discussion thinking that Colossus has a working knowledge of the most fundamental issues but without past exposure to the live music community other than being an enthusiast. Had I done my homework more thoroughly (or had a tip from the community) I would have known that Colossus Linden also spoke at SLCC in 2007, on a panel about - you guessed it - live music. The panel entitled "The Economic Viability of Music in SL" included panelists: Circe Broom, Jesse Linden, Keltish, and Colossus Linden. SLCC 2007 feels like forever ago, and it was at the outset of Colossus' time at the lab so it's likely a blur to him. I may have opened the discussion with a question such as: "You talked about the viability of Music at SLCC in 2007. Now that two years have passed, other than a mailing list what do you see are the major changes and what do you see as the remaining hurdles?" I didn't know to ask that question of Colossus, but let me try to shed some light based on my own experience.

In 2007 and still in 2009 the primary concerns were related to connecting with people and communicating. In SL-specific terms, our then and current hurdles are precisely the same. From this year's survey data, the top three issues: group communications, the limit of 25 groups per account, and the event system itself are the self-same issues that were raised and discussed fervently in 2007 and hence.

Most interesting, those things that might actually increase income and profitability for performers and venue owners - increased agent limit and XStreet sales - were ranked forth and fifth by a 20% margin. (ref see slides 11-13) It's probably a good thing that XStreet sales are the lowest priority because on the sale of real world goods such as CDs or even branded t-shirts and the like, Colossus replied: "I can't say that's on the roadmap at the moment." For the immediate future, there will be no sale of real world goods.

The crux of the conversation we wanted to have with Linden Lab was to highlight that the "killer app" of Second Life is connecting people - to other people, ideas, events, experiences - all that makes Second Life what is has become. These issues are not unique to live performance, they are the very essence of the world itself. We live parts of our lives online, we have relationships that cross the artificial boundaries of physical space and time.

Live performance is a gateway drug to more, richer, deeper relationships.

These are the strong ties I mentioned in my last post, and this is not some niche sociology neologism - look around at the fastest growing, most highly scaled and utilized systems in place today. They all do one thing - CONNECT PEOPLE. This, as I said at the time, is the money shot. I just hope someone is listening.


If it was a valid assumption on the part of the community that Linden wanted to proactively engage, then perhaps SLCC was not the right time, place, or vehicle to execute on that assumption. It sort of felt like Aunt Ellie brought the J-ello salad to the potluck, but the table was otherwise bare. And if you are only eating J-ello, you are probably in the hospital or teetering on your own personal edge of chaos, or maybe both.

You can watch the entire conversation here, thanks to the great work of Malburns Writer and Tara Yeats of MetaWorld2.
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