Is Linden Lab like Apple?
Have you ever thought about how the stereotypes distort our perception of people, organizations and phenomena with which we encounter in our lifetime? Consider two cases that appear on opposite ends, Apple with its Macs, iPods, iPads and iPhones and Linden Lab with Second Life. If you remain trapped by cliches you might think of them as a brilliant company that has revolutionized the world in the first case and the losers who are deceived in the second. While, like two twins separated at birth, both cases are similar (though not identical): let's try to understand this better debunking stereotypes and doing some proper comparison.
First cliche: successful companies create products / services that have a massive success all over the world. This is not, as the case of Apple (but I could give you literally hundreds of brands in almost every industry sector, if you prefer) demonstrates. As well as Linden Lab. In the case of the apple company, the Mac has never been a "mass" product and still, even though is the single model of personal computers with the highest rate of growth of sales, has a global market share of less than 5%. But it is highly profitable, as highly profitable is the iPad (of which Apple have sold 28 million pieces, ie 93% of the total) and how it was and largely still is the iPod (which holds 65% world market share) and iPhone (undisputed market leader, despite more than 100 models available now from its competitors).
Apple has thus become a successful company even though it remained a niche (which seemed characteristic of having to lead to failure less than twenty years ago), however, able to invent new products for success. Linden Lab itself has invented a new market, just like the company of Steve Jobs, i.e. those of virtual worlds. And, dispelling the second common cliche (that in niche markets a company can gain only a little), as in the case of Apple, although now compare with many competitors, some apparently healthier than Second Life, Linden Lab is known as the most profitable company and basically still the most innovative, at least if we restrict the analysis to the platforms that allow users to create, edit and share content. But Linden Lab seems, like Apple a few decades ago, chasing the myth of being able to transform its product into a mainstream product, as explains very well Gwyneth Llewelyn in a long article of which I recommend a careful reading.
And, just like Apple a few decades ago, Linden Lab seems to neglect the care of its existing customers to chase the dream of millions of new customers who probably will never come: growth wasn't interrupted and the economic growht in Second Life appears to be stable, thus disproving the third cliche around Second Life, but the memory of the hype is destined to disappear with the natural exit of more senior users. Linden Lab is therefore doomed to failure? Absolutely not, as Apple has not failed, as long as the apple company knows how to get back to listening to its users (and the speech of Linden Lab's Ceo, Rod Humle, at SLCC11 about the need to encourage the most interesting projects of the user community, as Relay for Life in SL, seems a confirmation of this awareness) and therefore give them what they really want and need to consider.
For what? To agree to pay the service offered by Linden Lab, which many perceive to be expensive both because of the global economic crisis and because Linden Lab is too slow to respond to the demands put forth by its users. Even in this case a cliche that does not take into account the cost of maintaining about 31,000 sims (of which 24,000 leased to private users, stable since about 3 years as you can see here), the costs of development staff (to be very similar to Apple, Linden Lab should be able to reinvent its products / services every 3-4 years), of customers service, administrative costs and so on, but also, for Linden Lab, a small strategic error when SL was a novelty and Linden Lab had an undeniable advantage in terms of technology, but that it can not afford now that fashion has passed and there are numerous alternatives, from OpenSim grids to Blue Mars, from Twinity to Imvu untill Red Light Center just to name a few.
Humble has already added some new features: the "socialization" of the profiles (which gives a nod to Facebook and Google Plus, differing from them to ensure the privacy and the use of pseudonyms) to the improvement of the physics engine and the rendering of grid (which has enabled a dramatic improvement of machinima feasible in this environment), until the recent introduction of meshes (that could revolutionize the ecosystem of Second Life as much as they did in their timeo flexies and sculpts). What is missing? Two things: the determination of management to exploit the characteristics of (a rich) "niche" of Second Life (then try to improve the "user experience" of the new basic users, surely, but also give reason to the highest possible number of loyal users to become premium users, providing them with unique features and attractive) and a "killer app".
Retrieve the proposition “your world, your immagination” is a necessary but not sufficient condition if it is not the way to direct the creative content to the users themselves "expendable" even outside of the platform (not necessarily in the art, as seen recently). To be true, a possible candidate as the killer app already exist and are the same machinima (think of uses for commercials, tutorials, services remotely or even children's cartoons and movies) and also some indication in this case came from SLCC11 seems to indicate that Linden Lab is beginning to understand that. Maybe even old media are realizing it, since it is a few days ago news that Life 2.0, Jason Spingarn-Koff's documentary, has landed on American cable television and not a generic one, but the Oprah Winfrey cable channel.ShareThis