Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sentimental Attachments

Grace McDunnough Mill Pond Poetry
My Sentimental Attachment: Signboard for Mill Pond Weekly Poetry Readings, c. 2006

I stopped blogging about Second Life and virtual worlds a little over a year ago - I know, you hardly noticed. My last real post compared similarities of the tumblr and Second Life business issues - about the tension between building a pure platform for creativity and business realities, the very real challenges of nurturing communities, and the demons of scale and effective communication.

Since then, tumblr CEO David Karp has changed his tune on advertising (I mean, telling stories), and we haven't heard much more from Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble about his penchant for creativity minus what may be an intriguing foray into interactive storytelling with Emily Short.

But while Second Life is hanging on as a Top 10 PC game title, both the Linden Lab communications and Second Life community involvement have certainly flat-lined, as in "She's dead, Jim." Some Second Life residents, customers, folks are feeling a little edgy about the nature of their relationship with the company called Linden Lab in an Are We Human or are We Dancer? kind of way. I can understand that. Sans consistent communication it's hard to know where you stand in a relationship, no matter how long it's been going on. As for the Lab's point of view, I can almost hear a faint refrain: "It's not you, it's me." - or worse yet - "Maybe we should just be friends. Please like us on Facebook."

It's very possible that the institution known as Linden Lab has lost the ability to endure and embrace what most companies are just now coming to terms with: customer relationships matter. In a network society, they matter in significantly new and profound ways; those companies that learn to adapt will have a competitive advantage beyond even scale and superior products. Those that don't will find themselves in an endless cycle of chasing features and shiny objects whilst the community, like the WELL, goes up for sale. These days it should be clear that a significant portion of the value of a company - especially a social one - is in its community.

Of course, those of us who have held passionately to the platform known as Second Life know in our heart of hearts that this customer relationship and community thing matters. Year in and year out we have endured ill-satisfying technical and customer service experiences in exchange for some shred of hope born out by things like Second Life Birthday celebrations and Second Life Community Conventions that we, as humans, not dancers - matter.  No, these events don't adequately serve the masses or wholly represent all the various communities. But they do serve as a mark of relationship - like family reunions - where everyone can endure at least one day to catch up and remember that while we may not like each other all that much, we are "in this thing" together. That "in this together" thing is just not there anymore. Some of us miss it, but so far Linden Lab appears happy to let it go.

Personally, I've mostly let go of struggling with the ideal of a different type of relationship with Linden Lab. Resident, tourist, customer, community - these are just words. The customer service team quickly and efficiently cancelled my two private estates as requested. They were courteous and responsive. I know they won't call me in the morning, and that's okay.

What I do find myself holding fast to are the little things that make the world meaningful. Certainly, the most important are the people I've met, but also I noticed a growing number of "objects" in my inventory that I just can't seem to delete because I have a sentimental attachment to them. They represent a tangible part of my world experience that only the asset server can away.

The asset server giveth and the asset server taketh away thought recently struck me as a bad thing, so I have started a flickr group to capture images of those things that make the world what it is - the people, the places, the experiences, the random gadgets, your first flexi-hair, those rocking sculpted cliffs - any of the sentimental attachments we have to this place in which we reside, not just visit.

The group is called Second Life : Sentimental Attachments. It is open to anyone to join and share. And if you feel like it, please tell us the secrets, the stories, the people, and the memories behind that inventory item #45,237.


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