Musings on The Philipocalypse
Sometimes it’s hard to write things like this here, when I know I am likely to have to write an article on the same topic at Search Engine Watch(because there’s a clause in my contract about content, etc. blah.) But I think I can swing this one. In fact, I think I have to. Because *there*, I have to explain to a potentially non-SL savvy audience the outline of a situation, providing links and explanations and show how the dots are connected between point a and point b. I don’t have to do that here- if you’re here and reading this chances are you already are fully familiar with SL. Thank goodness, because this is SO much faster.
Good people make bad politicians.
I say this as someone who was raised around politics(my father is in government). I think that idealism might get you into office, but it’s pragmatism that keeps you there and able to function. At some point you have to go with what works. If that’s against your core nature, you’re going to struggle.
I am a stone pragmatist. But Philip Rosedale? He’s an idealist. A big one. He’s also a terrible politician, and it’s called corporate politics for a reason.
I don’t say this as an indictment of Philip(I don’t think he’d mind if I called him by his first name- he seems to be a pretty mellow guy that way.). In fact, it’s just the opposite. I think he’s a good person. A decent person. Clearly, a very smart and creative person. An extraordinarily idealistic person.
That, by the way, is why he’s no longer the person who is CEO at Linden Lab.
The Philipocalypse story broke as I was just getting into bed, having been awake almost 24 hours, the previous 10 or so doing RL work type stuff out in Brooklyn. I got an IM from William Burns (aka Aeonix Aeon, aka @darianknight) handing me the story. At that point it hadn’t even been confirmed. It was still a rumor at Techeye. I was so tired, he actually had to make sense of some of it for me as my eyes refused to stay focused on the screen. But by the time I went to bed(sweet merciful sleep), I was already in full gear trying to sort this out.
Since then I’ve of course seen the various posts around the blogosphere, had several conversations with Will and more with Dare about this event. I’ve even found that this is one of those occasions that I agree with Prokofy Neva(this happens from time to time.), and that the metaphorical crucifixion of Philip by the masses is misplaced. Further, I’ve seen the comments to his blog from what very well may be former LL employees. It’s too much. I’ll sum up, probably inelegantly, and in short form.:
I believe that Philip was, and is, in his own way, trying to save us all.
Now you don’t have to believe that, and if you deeply believe that Philip is evil and horrible, nothing I or anyone else is going to say will sway you. But I really believe the above sentence is true. However, what is absolutely true, unquestionably true, undeniably true is that Linden Lab is at the end of an investment cycle, and the venture capitalists that funded Second Life want their Return on Investment (ROI).
What’s also true is that nothing the Lab has done to date has increased new signups and retention of those accounts or really converted free accounts into paid ones enough to make back that ROI. While we all might believe that SL is awesome, and contains unlimited potential for(insert concept here), and bursting at the seams with unbridled idealism…
The fact is that most people don’t get it and never will, because they cannot conceive of making their own reality. They require external rules, order, goals and structures and are completely turned off by the notion of having to decide all of that for yourself- and certainly not as entertainment.
While the virtual will continue to intersect with the real (hello, futurism how are ya?), SL, conceptually, is a niche product. Frankly? I’m down with that, because I think most people are not particularly interesting, so for them to have no interest in SL works just fine for me. Conceptually, it might work just fine for you too. You know who it doesn’t work just fine for? The venture capitalists that funded the Lab. They want their money back- and they are going to get it by hook or by crook. Even if they have to rip SL down to the servers and sell them off.
I think Philip came back to buy us all time.
He knew that the Lab was coming to the end of an investment cycle. He knew M wasn’t able to give the VCs what they wanted. He also knows that though other VWs are growing, none of them are able to fully do what SL does, and they won’t- for (my guess) about two years. Philip knows that if SL goes under that there’s large sections of the community that have nowhere else to go(most especially the content creators/merchants/etc.). He came back to buy time. As much time as he possibly could, to either pull SL out of the slump, or to let everyone else catch up. The community, while not being of particular interest to many at the Lab, and certainly not those who are funding it, is of PRIMARY importance to Philip.
Community is at the core of his being.
Now, if you’ve been following my articles on the Tinfoil Hat Theory (which btw, I have to say is looking DAMNED likely from my chair these days), you can see that I believe the Lab is poised on the brink of something that could make them a LOT of money. Something that could easily get back that ROI. But there’s a cost. The cost comes, potentially anyway, to the thing most important to Philip.
I don’t know what the last straw was. I have no idea what the argument was in that boardroom that led to this decision. I DO think that **THIS** event (whatever it was) was why Philip’s avatar contest was suddenly stopped. Because he knew, at that point, he was leaving. There was no longer any point. Again, I *truly* do not know (I have never in my life exchanged a single word with Philip- at all.) what the actual event was. But I can see clearly that he wound up on one side, and the board(representing those venture capitalists) was on the other. Whatever this issue was- what they demanded of him? He would not do. He *COULD* not do. And I believe with all my heart that he decided that he would rather leave than be the agent of our, and SL’s potential destruction. He would not play the role of Judas. So he walked.
So what now?
Fasten your seatbelts, we are about to experience turbulence. That ROI MUST be met. I believe in the Tinfoil Hat Theory which could do it and then some, but SL will change. It may change in ways that those of us who love what it IS will be heartbroken to see. But at this point it MUST change- we are out of time…for the moment.
I do, for the sake of being myself, need to point out though that the *MERCHANTS* who are decrying the end of the world as we know it need to be reminded that if you are in SL to make money(and frankly I am- unabashedly. No apologies for that at all.), that we have far more in common with those selfsame venture capitalists than we do (necessarily) with Philip, and that the changes coming towards, shall we say… a more monetized future are not inherently a bad thing.
As to Philip – I think there’s something going on here. The clues are there for those who can play the long game and can see five moves ahead. But that story isn’t mine to tell, and I think that one has to come later. It’s not ready yet.
The clock is ticking, Philip. Some of us believe in you- still.
PS: I want to deeply thank both Dare and Will for talking to me about this topic for FAR more time than anyone sane probably should have. Go go INTJ, gang.