How a business (any business) communicates and interacts with its customers is a key factor in its overall success. People are far more likely to complain about bad service than they are to praise good service.
That being said, when a company with notoriously poor customer service changes how it communicates with customers, it's to be expected that some people will say "Yay! About time!"; some will say "Hm. What does this mean?"; and some will say "Oh hell, they're about to make it much, much worse."
In the past 24 hours, all three of those have happened on a scale writ large when Linden Lab released a post about their "new communications guidelines" to the world.
Let's dive into what's actually happened here, and how all parties view this situation.
In This Corner...
We have Linden Lab, coming off of a bad year of seriously bumpy road, with a new CEO, and trying to figure out how to make the platform financially viable to investors (hi, remember that ROI?) whilst still keeping it alive for the community which inhabits it. They know they have a PR problem (actually, they have more than one PR problem, but let's not wander too far off the garden path here) as regards customer service, and to date, the current methods used to communicate with the user base haven't been very effective. So they are seeking to streamline the process and try to reduce the signal to noise ratio.
They're also trying to (depending on how you look at the situation -- again, this is from their perspective) cut down on the abusive and nonconstructive critical commentary they receive. To that end they're instituting new guidelines for what's going to be acceptable on their blogs and forums.
But most importantly to them, they seem to be interested in focusing on speaking to just a few key people. That's the idea behind their new proposal of "focus groups" which seeks to replace the previously existing Linden Office Hours, during which one might come, listen, and ask questions/raise issues.
In essence, the new focus groups are those which one can join about a specific topic of interest where one LL staffer is then the go-to person who interacts with the rest of the Lab. To them, this seems like a much more streamlined approach. They listen to one voice, who has distilled many voices, rather than trying to listen to everyone at once. Hey, more than one government is based on this principle.
On the other hand, let us note how many people tend to actually trust their government or even their own representatives to look out for their interests. Just sayin'.
But perhaps the biggest change in that blog post was the fact that the Lab is finally admitting what many of us already knew: that they are not paying any attention anymore (cough) to votes on issues presented in the JIRA, the place where one reports bugs, technical problems, service issues and requests new features, and in fact plan to shut down the voting system altogether.
On their end, crowdsourcing issues of technical triage without full access to information that's possessed on the back end is ineffective. But it was nice of them to tell everyone that the votes don't count:"It's also important to note that we are going to remove the "voting" feature in JIRA in one month. Today, we do not use voting to triage or to make product decisions and the last thing that we want to do is set false expectations. So, when you are interested in what action we will take on a particular JIRA, use the JIRA "Watch" feature so that you will be immediately updated in email when there are new comments on that particular JIRA issue. We will continue to use the number of Watchers as an indication of the level of interest." - Amanda Linden
All of these changes, from the Lab's perspective, are designed to clean up the current mess that communications with the user base has become over the years. It's simpler, more streamlined, cuts the signal to noise ratio by a great deal and allows them to focus on important issues at hand.
...and in This Corner....
You have a lot of really pissed off people.
First of all, there's the concern that these new "Community Guidelines" are really nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to stifle criticism on the Lab's own pages, and in fact it is true that many people are reporting that critical comments are being deleted, and bans are being given out like party favors -- not for being abusive, but for simply being really angry and critical about the Lab's policies and actions. The accusation has been made (and also in fairness not without merit) that removing the ability to dissent and the attempt to control the freedom of ideas (which yes, yes as a private business they have the right to do, this is not a First Amendment issue, people) is inherently evil, in and of itself.
As to the second issue, people are leery in the same way that they are with any sort of single voice representation -- that is that their interests will not be of concern, and since the Lab as a whole has decided that they won't speak with anyone else other than the group leaders and that the leaders themselves are Lab employees, the question is "who is watching the watchmen?"
Now, one may call this paranoid, especially for those who view Second Life as nothing more than a fancy video game. However, as I have pointed out ad nauseam by now, this is a false lens by which to view the platform of a virtual world.
For many people it's not just an emotional issue. There is real money at stake; money that is used to pay real life bills and expenses. Because of that, it is not surprising that many people are deeply concerned about this change in policy and what it will eventually mean.
Finally, there's the issue with the JIRA, which has many people absolutely livid -- not because of the change, as much as the change is viewed as a confirmation of what they've known all along -- no one at the Lab is listening or gives a damn about these issues. That the whole "well if you really care about this issue than vote on it!" was a farce all along, designed to distract people into garnering more and more votes and not really paying attention to the reality -- that no matter how many votes something got, it simply didn't make the slightest difference to the powers that be unless they felt like examining it.
Now, with the new rules, it's even easier for the Lab to ignore the issues reported in the JIRA, as there's no real accountability for any of it anymore.
Of course, it's a spectrum. People are going to fall somewhere along it between the two extremes.
It's plain to see that when you read the comments on the Lab's official forum page (at least those that were not deleted) vs. this thread about the same issue on SLU vs. other blog posts about this issue and their comments. There's a broad range of reaction to this post. What it means however is entirely up in the air and will unfold as events generally do, over time.
Someday We'll find it...the Facebook Connection...
Finally though there's one little tidbit in this whole mess that has me sitting in my chair alternately cackling and facepalming. It was this little bit stuck in near the end of that LL blog post:"Like Us on Facebook: Facebook is the best place to find out about cool things going on in Second Life, share ideas, and get the inside scoop on inworld events, contests, machinima releases, PR activities, fun discussions, and more. Come join over 111,000 people who have "Liked" our Second Life Facebook page."- Amanda Linden
Well, considering that Facebook's TOS has not changed on this issue, no it damned well isn't unless you're using your real name, because if they find out you're using an avatar name on their system they'll kill your account (enforcement of this has been inconsistent at best, but with over 500 million accounts, what are you gonna do?).
So if we're all meant to be good little muppets, this means you're supposed to be linking your RL information with your SL stuff. Aside from the "how's that workin' out for you?" aspect of it, the official (and frankly increasing) pushes in Facebook's direction just make me ever more confident in The Tinfoil Hat Theory, and how it ties into the concept of Display Names to get around Facebook's TOS.
Hey, what can I say? I'm easily amused. It's the little things.