Fast, Easy and Fun is the new direction of Linden Lab for their product, Second Life. It’s a reaction to the troubles they’ve gotten themselves into in the past year or so. Here’s how I see the sequence of events:
- A company discovers and builds a service around an amazing concept
- The concept, while breathtaking, is so new it’s not fully understood by anyone yet, even its makers
- The service is implemented in the only way possible, given everyone's limited experience with the concept: it’s difficult to use
- Reasonably large numbers of early adopter users, who are tolerant of difficulties, begin using the new service
- Beyond the early adopters, few people use the service because its difficult interfaces are forever past their capabilities and tolerance
- Company notices growth stalling as the pool of early adopters is exhausted
- Company seeks ways to break into the mainstream market by simplifying the system
- The simplification attempt fails because the system is still not fully understood
- A few early adopters begin to leave for alternative services
- Management panics and makes big changes. New approach: Fast, Easy & Fun.
When I say “not fully understood”, I mean that while we may fully understand the use of the existing tools and interface, we really don’t understand the *right* way to do the interface. For example, the permissions system is simply unable to deal with many day-to-day situations. How should someone be introduced to the service such that they don’t immediately give up? No one really knows the true answers to these any many other key questions yet. This is a system still figuring itself out. It’s still an experiment.
Experiments are for early adopters.
I’ve written of this before, but it is a phase all companies must endure: the transition from initial “early adopter” mode to a more mainstream “easy to use” mode. Some tech companies don’t survive, others are utterly transformed and some are overtaken by alternatives that have a better approach.
But that doesn’t answer the question of the panic. Why panic so much? Why layoff huge numbers of people? I suspect it has to do with what I call “the Spiral of Death”.
Consider the situation myself and many SL shopkeepers find themselves in: we spend huge amounts of time setting up a shop in SL, making products, doing promotions, etc. and just barely make a living. Suddenly, some users panic and move away to other grids. They say “it’s wonderful, please join us over here!” It may be wonderful if you are, for example, an educator or business person who simply needs to build some type of installation. But if you’re a seller, it’s quite a different situation.
A seller needs a market, and right now SL is still by far the biggest grid with the largest number of potential buyers on it. Yes, there are OpenSim grids all over, but all of them are tiny compared to SL. It’s hard enough to make a living in SL even with its giant user base, let alone grids one one-thousandth the size. It’s even worse because in order to gain any significant amount of OpenSim market, you’d have to set up separate shops in multiple grids (thus spending time building multiple shops and paying multiple tiers. OpenSim grids may be cheaper per square meter compared to SL, but when you need several parcels on several grids, it probably costs more). It just doesn’t make economic sense to move virtual businesses to other grids.
But it would make sense if large numbers of users begin to bail from SL and move to a single popular alternative grid. If that happened, then SL would lose something very critical: its size. When the market moves, so will the sellers. And with them will go even more buyers. And so on, developing into “The Spiral of Death”. Once the user base starts shrinking, it will inevitably go down, faster and faster.
I suspect this is what Linden Lab fears the most. And it’s certainly worth a panic, because they risk their entire business. It could happen: more and more OpenSim grids are appearing, each with some type of innovation or another, but none with massive market share. Yet. Eventually, one of these grids will accidentally or on purpose hit on the right combination of services and interface and they’ll begin to win users over. Linden Lab, if they are to survive, must prevent the Spiral of Death at all costs.
That’s why there’s an “all hands on deck” mode and a focus on the basics. Fast, Easy and Fun are indeed the basic keys to success. If these are achievable, then existing early adopters will stay and newcomers will not abandon the service nearly as much as now. That should result in a growing service once again.
But only if it works. I’m terribly interested to hear how “Fast, Easy and Fun” will be achieved. Perhaps Philip will enlighten us at SLCC 2010?