Nov 5, 2008

Openspaces and Land Barons: Who is Really to Blame?

I'm bucking the trend and not going after Linden Lab(R) with all guns blazing in relation to the current Openspace debacle. It's not that I don't believe LL haven't made some mistakes - and I outline them below - but I am seeing many, many posts from "landlords" and "renters," which shouldn't be happening. Why? Because the original terms for the use of Openspace clearly state the following:

“It is therefore important to understand what these regions are; they are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events.” http://blog.secondlife.com/2006/09/21/information-about-openspaces-void-regions/

This suggests that there should be NO Openspace landlords. It appears that many people took the opportunity to buy cheap land but then use it to rent out in order to make a profit, expressly against the conditions of purchase. I suggest there are three basic mistakes made here by Linden Lab(R):

1. They should have been more proactive in clamping down on the renting of OS land much much sooner. They let things slide too early and the problem just escalated.

2. They have penalized everyone who owns OS land at the expense of those who abused the system. I do not know how many people stuck to the rules and how many broke them, but the demonstrable reality is that everyone has been hit. it would have been political better to identify and sanction those who were clearly manipulating the OS concept and leave the others as-is.

3. There is no “grandfathering” allowed. Folks who bought in good faith have to face the increases as well as new buyers from January onwards.

Such errors are costly in PR terms and the OS landlords will exploit this. Many renters who are about to lose their homes are blaming Linden Lab and not their landlords. In fact, many of the protest in-world are, I suspect, organized by landlords. By pointing the finger at LL, they can not feel guilt or remorse for their customers. I also note that not one of them has yet suggested reimbursing their clients - they seem to be Ok with making a profit themselves while calling for a Linden Lab "bail out."

Openspace always seemed to be to be the Second Life(TM) equivalent of “Green Space” or “Green Belt” property - a way of slowing the urbanization of server space and maintaining some “natural” environmental features. Almost like a private version of the US National Parks system or the UK’s National Trust.

Sadly the Openspaces have now become fields of war rather than fields of green and only some flexibility on the part of Linden Lab is likely to make the outcome much more than bitter and acrimonious.

4 comments:

Ciaran Laval said...

The problem here is that you start from a false position. There was no terms of service agreement. Linden Lab did not forbid the use of voids as they were originally were and then openspaces for rentals. This simply isn't true and this is why people are up in arms about it.

They even tweaked the product and made it even more attractive to be used as a rental option when they upped the prim limit, removed the restriction that they had to be purchased four at a time and most importantly of all they removed the restriction to attach an openspace to an existing sim and allowed people to place them anywhere they liked. Who on earth is going to put an open waterway or a forest in the middle of nowhere? That makes no sense whatsoever.

These changes led to an explosion in growth of openspaces which are estimated to number around 13,000 of the 27,000 private sims.

So Linden Lab's actions caused more rentals.The buck really stops with Linden Lab on this one and they should do the honourable thing and take responsibility.

This thread I'm about to post clearly shows that Linden Lab did not forbid the use of Openspaces/voids for rental purposes. This really is an important point in all of this because it has been extremely disingeneous of M and more importantly, as you will see, Jack, to keep putting to that guideline.:

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?t=107206&page=2&pp=15

Post 28 is the one that is most relevant but read the whole thread, it is truly important to realise how this situation came about and this thread is one of the first pages in this story.

Siggy said...

Thanks for that link, Ciaran, as you're the first person to provide any sort of written evidence for approval of OS sims for rentals.

The posting was dated 5-17-2006 so it presumably stood as-is until the posting of 9-21-06 that I refer to, where the phrase "they are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events" appears to have made its first appearance.

This post was as a result of Linden Lab(R) having "had quite a number of requests for information about Openspaces" and doubtless to clear up (if that was possible) misunderstandings. Now, being charitable - and or course, not everyone will be - the previous statement by Jack Linden of "we're not saying that folk can't rent out these areas or live in them - we just don't recommend it because of the relative performance compared to normal regions" is voided (or superseded) by the September 06 clarification. This happens all the time in business as policies change and mistakes are corrected.

Behind the scenes, you can imagine that the senior management team - or even the board - spotted the Jack statement and decided it was wrong and needed to do something about it. So, several meetings later following an exchange of policy documents, the "clarification" pops up on the forum.

Mmmh, as I re-read what I have just written it seems a tad apologist so I should say that I'm not seeking to excuse LL nor play down any mistakes they made. What was missing from the 9-21-08 clarification was any comment on how Jack's original remark was a mistake - or at best a comment made in the absence of a policy, the results of which resulted in the actual creation of a policy!

However, as you point out, there does seems to be a clear four-month period between 5/17 and 9/21 when renting was fair game. And with the new policy of 9/21 effectively barring the use of OS for rentals, LL should have taken steps THEN to inform NEW purchasers of OS sims that renting was not allowed. This failure to act earlier is certainly a contributory factor.

All I want folks to consider is that since 9/21/06, renting was deemed not kosher and that people who bought cheap land then willingly - and knowingly - rented property out should take some responsibility. In general, LL appear to be more transparent in their operations than many other companies, and they encourage lots of interaction. I have to admit that my company would never be that transparent with our customers - and not because we don't value them but that too much information can be very destructive.

Thanks again for the pointer to the 5/17/06 comment. That one item certainly contributed to this whole debacle but the 9/2106 clarification does seem to be an attempt to rectify what was, as I said, either a mistake or a policy-less remark.

Ciaran Laval said...

No Siggy, again there's more to the story. The phrase "they are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events" first appeared earlier on the day of the other thread I posted, that was the day the product was launched properly:

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?t=107177

On the same day a few hours later Jack posted that they weren't saying they couldn't be used for rentals. They have never said they can't be used for rentals until now.

The issue has been raised at office hours with Jack, he has always stuck to the intended use but he has never said that they can't be rented. There has been no policy change.

In July of this year I was complaining about this discrepancy:

'On the blog Zee gushed about the increased size in land mass. He attributed this to new users buying new cheaper islands and Openspaces, and then went onto highlight the price of Openspaces. Shake your money maker.

What he didn't point out was that Openspaces are intended for light use. I have no problem with Linden Lab promoting their product, but promote them for their intended use or support them as normal type sims. They know damn well the boom in Openspaces isn't for "light use".'

http://www.your2ndplace.com/node/1256

This is what bugs me about this, they knew every step of the way how they were being used, they were told often enough. The honourable thing to have done would have been to post a warning first.

If they'd tried to work with residents instead of against them we wouldn't have all this fuss.

Responsibility on this issue goes two ways, but the way Linden Lab have acted has been to try and wash their hands of any blame and that's just not cricket.

Siggy said...

So here's the timeline then:

5-16-06: 7:57 pm Announcement labeled as Jack Linden of New Openspaces now available.
"...they are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events"
(http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?t=107177)

5-17-06: 5:04 pm Post labeled as Jack Linden saying "Just to clarify a little, we're not saying that folk can't rent out these areas or live in them - we just don't recommend it because of the relative performance compared to normal regions."
(http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?t=107206&page=2&pp=15)

9-21-06: 4:19 am Post labeled as Jack Linden Information about Openspaces (void regions) where there is a reiteration of the comment that "...they are provided for light use only, not for building, living in, renting as homes or use for events."
(http://blog.secondlife.com/2006/09/21/information-about-openspaces-void-regions/)

So are you saying that once Jack said in the second post that renting is OK that this is effectively a "go," whereas the third posting saying "no rental" should be ignored? Here's the possible scenario - and it's not uncommon in business:

(a) Linden Lab introduces Openspaces and Jack releases the information in the first posting.

(b) Jack, in his role monitoring and responding to customer comments, made the "we're not saying that folks can't rent" using the corporate we when he shouldn't.

(c) Folks begin using OS sims for rentals over the next few months and LL management team is alerted to that. As with any activity in a business, it takes time for "someone" to report "something" to "someone."

(d) Senior management have Jack post the "clarification" of 9-21-06 to stem the use of OS for rentals.

That takes us to September 2006. What we see is no conspiracy to defraud or plan to rip off customers; it's poor corporate monitoring of policy and procedure.

The next big mistake was to fail to act on abuses of OS sims and let things slide. This went on until earlier this year, probably at about the time changes were afoot and Mark Kingdon was on the way. I speculate (and this is based not on special connections with LL but just many years in business) that the abuse of OS sims is precisely the sort of thing that would hit the radar of a process/policy review. I don't see that Linden Lab is ISO Certified, which is a useful indicator of whether a company has objective, measurable standards based on a set of policies and procedures.

Phew! Too long maybe. Your perspective that "...they knew every step of the way how they were being used, they were told often enough. The honourable thing to have done would have been to post a warning first" assumes a level of planning that quite frankly I don't believe existed! I think that a series of mistakes have lead to this situation, mistakes that shouldn't be excused but that certainly don't indicate some conspiracy to commit fraud. I have no doubt that folks are angry, aggravated, and aggrieved but claims that the behavior of Linden Lab is proof of willful deceit can also be explained as indicative of poor management, poor monitoring, and lack of cohesion in relating to customers.

I think your comment that "If they'd tried to work with residents instead of against them we wouldn't have all this fuss" rings true. Yet in my experience, the openness of Linden Lab is above that of many companies. I don't know about you but I find the amount of postings, blogs, jiras, comments and all such things Second Life to be humungous! The mere fact we are discussing this using freely availabe data is fascinating.

Ciaran, again, I want to stress I'm not an apologist for LL. In fact, when I sell of my company and retire as a management consultant, this is exactly the sort of client I'd be pitching at: A small company going through expansion and struggling to handle the problems of growth. These sort of problems with customer interaction and pricing issues are typical of growth problems.

Thanks again for your comments and pointers. It's refreshing to engage in discussion that rises above the more typical level of "you're a dickhead" and "you suck, asshole." You may think I am an asshole but you are at least intelligent about it ;)