Published on May 8, 2009
METANOMICS: IN CONVERSATION WITH MARK KINGDON (M. LINDEN), CEO OF LINDEN LAB MAY 6, 2009 ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is brought to you by Remedy Communications and Dusan Writer’s Metaverse. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I’m Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Each week I have the honor of hosting a discussion with the most insightful and the most influential people who are taking Virtual Worlds seriously. We talk with the developers who are creating these fascinating new platforms, the executives, entrepreneurs, educators, artists, government officials who are putting these platforms to use. We talk with the researchers who are watching the whole process unfold, and we talk with the government officials and policymakers who are taking a very close look on how what happens in a Virtual World can affect our Real World society. Now naturally, we hold our discussions about Virtual Worlds in a Virtual World. How else could we find a very real place where a global community can convene, collaborate and connect with one another? So, our discussion is about to start. You can join us 1
in any of our live Virtual World studio audiences. You can join us live on the web. Welcome, because this is Metanomics. ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in Second Life. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. And welcome again to Metanomics. We have a great show to kick off our season. Mark Kingdon, CEO of Linden Lab, will be joining us to answer my questions and yours. We’ll start out the interview with a close look at Linden Lab’s strategic plans. I’m hoping to get some insight into the motivation behind the nearly 100 percent turnover of top management over the last year at Linden Lab and learn about Mark’s plans to provide enterprise solutions while simultaneously driving rapid growth in the active resident population. Then we’ll move on to matters directly affecting Second Life residents, from the economy, to the interface, to policies on user content and behavior. Thanks to all of you who are attending Metanomics today, including those who are viewing live on the web. Please do join in with your comments and questions. ANNOUNCER: We are pleased to broadcast weekly, to our event 2
partners, and, to welcome discussion, we use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and Immersive Workspaces. Welcome. This is Metanomics. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Before we get to our main guest, I’m delighted to welcome Tony O’Driscoll back to Metanomics and also introduce him as our new corporate learning correspondent, which we’re hoping to make a regular feature of the show. With degrees in both engineering and education, Tony has spent years at the intersection where traditional training and learning activities meet untraditional technologies. And he’s been studying Virtual Worlds for some time. He’s studied how playing World of Warcraft and similar games has affected the leadership skills of IBM employees. And, most recently, he organized last month’s 3D Training, Learning and Collaboration Conference in Washington, D.C. Today Tony is here to talk about two challenges in corporate learning: the expectations gap and the routinization trap. So join us now as we put Tony O’Driscoll in the spotlight. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, Tony, it’s great to have you back on Metanomics. 3
TONY O’DRISCOLL: Yeah. A pleasure to be here. I love the new digs. They look wonderful. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I apologize that my voice can’t be its usual welcoming sound, but these things happen, and I’m glad I’m not infecting anyone. One of the advantages of Virtual Worlds. So, Tony, let’s start with this idea of the expectations gap. You conducted interviews with a number of chief executives, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and you asked them what they wanted from their companies’ learning and training operations. And you asked the same of the CLOs, the chief learning officers who actually ran the programs. So how did their answers differ? TONY O’DRISCOLL: It was very interesting, Beyers. They different significantly in that we went out to the CXOs and then the CLOs and asked them, “Why do you write the check?” We asked the senior executives, “Why do you write the check?” they came up with nine reasons: to build leadership capability, to build skills and knowledge of the workforce, to enable their business units to succeed, to improve the performance of the organization, to manage talent. And then they started talking about bigger challenges, like transformation, strategy enablement, globalization and innovations. So those were the 4
nine core value propositions of learning. And the interesting thing, Beyers, in the expectation gap, was that the learning leaders were focused on leadership development and capability building, while the senior executives were expecting training, the function to help them with the larger strategic issues of transformation, strategy enablement, globalization and innovation. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So it’s like the learning officers think they’re being asked to teach employees to tie their shoes faster, and the CEOs want their employees to be taught how to invent Velcro? TONY O’DRISCOLL: Exactly. And therein lies the expectation gap. And the issue now is, there’s kind of this perfect storm in the learning arena coming out of 3D TLC and others. The financial crisis led to travel bans, but we still need to train people. And now with the arrival of the swine flu, I was just in a meeting this morning where we were discussing what is our backup plan for delivering training at a distance, should we not be able to bring people together. But I know many corporations are doing the same thing. And the problem with that, Beyers, is, we tend to then see virtual avatars and virtual classrooms looking 5
at virtual PowerPoints, where we are automating the classroom paradigm rather than really leveraging this platform to create truly meaningful contextual learning experiences of the likes we saw at 3D TLC. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now is that the routinization trap? TONY O’DRISCOLL: That’s right. So routinization, Peter Drucker I think popularized it at least where the printing press was used first to print Bibles, and then somebody had the bright idea to use it to print other books too. Or, the moving picture camera was used to film plays for about eight years before The Great Train Robbery movie came along. So we tend to take a new technology and use it to automate the past, bad assumptions and all. And my sincere hope is that, with this platform that we have here, we can really leverage it in new and different ways to enhance learning and training and collaboration. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a question from Ricken Flow, “With all of the universities coming into Second Life, do you see an increase in opportunities for virtual interns?” TONY O’DRISCOLL: In fact, I’ve had a couple of people request that of me. And more so than even virtual interns could be 6
virtualized work. One of the things that I’m studying at the moment is the notion of virtual organizations where these type of platforms can essentially virtualize the enterprise, but still have the high fidelity personal interaction that we know and crave from the office, so to speak. So I think that’s entirely legitimate. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you just got through this conference, 3D TLC, which I was at. It was great. No doubt that’s where I caught this bug. I should have just gone there virtually. But what would you say if you had one or two big takeaways from that? What were the surprises? TONY O’DRISCOLL: I think the surprises were the thoughtful application of these technologies. The two that kind of come to mind is the Holocaust Museum example. That was very experiential. There was no avatar talking to PowerPoints in there. You actually were taken through the Kristallnacht experience. And I think, even in David Klevan telling us the story in that room, the room got really quiet. It’s almost like we had that experience without even physically going through Second Life. And then following the Twitter stream, a lot of people did actually go and visit that particular place and found it to be very moving. 7
The second was actually something that I think is really cool, which was, we kind of cut Twitter loose in the conference, and I know you spent a lot of time on there. And the reason we did that, or the reason I chose to go for it was, number one, you couldn’t stop people anyway. But, number two, it’s an affordance that we’ve come to use in the Virtual World, and, for those of us in the Virtual World, it’s almost like our arm is chopped off in the physical world if we don’t have that back channel. So we did hash-tag 3D TLC, and I’m happy to report we had over a hundred pages. And we also trended at 3:00 P.M. on Tuesday afternoon, a small conference of 300 or so people. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I have to say, for me, that was a total surprise. I signed up for Twitter a year ago, did it for three days, and it didn’t seem to fit. I didn’t have a use for it. But I got to the conference, I saw, you know, you asked people to Twitter. And Christian Renaud is always asking this question, “Why make a virtual conference almost as good as a real conference when you can make it so much better?” And we’ve been working on Metanomics for, what, a year and a half now, and I have to say that it really felt like Metanomics with that very rich back channel of communication going on so that you had people sitting in the audience communicating with one another, as well as, of course, with the people who couldn’t be there. 8
And I just have to say it was a coincidence that basically the same week of the conference, a couple mainstream publications that I read a lot, The New Republic, The Atlantic, a bunch of these types of blogs were really hammering on Twitter as a total waste of time. So anyone who wants to, you can look at The New Republic. I’ve got a couple comments in there, talking about the 3D Training, Learning and Collaboration Conference, saying, “Look. Maybe no one wants to know what type of coffee you’re having at Starbucks, but it does have real enterprise uses, and I think we saw one at the conference.” TONY O’DRISCOLL: Yeah. I think the interesting thing, Beyers, you mentioned the research that we did looking at games, when I was at IBM. One of the things we found was that the affordances inside those environments could be very helpful for the enterprise, and I think that was just one proof point there, where the back channel really helped the physical-meet-space conference have more value. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I apologize. This opening spotlight segment is always very brief, and I’m sure there’s a lot more we could talk about, but I’m hoping we’ll have you back. Actually, I’ve been talking with a number of the people who presented at the conference. It was a great opportunity for me to identify 9
people who could be guests, and I hope I’ll have you on in the spotlight again, in advance of those guests. TONY O’DRISCOLL: Look forward to it, Beyers. Thanks so much for having me. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks for coming on, and I look forward to seeing you again. Our main guest today is Mark Kingdon, CEO of Linden Lab. Before coming to Linden Lab, Mark was CEO of Organic, an advertising and communications agency specializing in online interaction and web design. So, Mark, welcome to Metanomics. MARK KINGDON: Thank you very much, Robert. It’s a huge pleasure to be here. And the new facility is fantastic, and it’s great to see such a great audience turnout. Thanks for having me. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, Remedy has been fantastic to work with. They really pulled together not just, of course, the financial resources it takes, but amazing people like Keystone Bouchard, who made this build. And I guess now I can call him award winning architect twice over because he got a real life award and just recently a Linden Lab award. So a 10
shout-out to Keystone on that. MARK KINGDON: Absolutely beautiful work. I bumped into Keystone yesterday when I was taking a sneak peak at the venue. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s great stuff. Now you became CEO of Organic in 2001, just in time to rebuild after the dot-com crash. And now you come to Linden Lab, and there’s I would say even broader economic turmoil. How would you compare those two experiences? MARK KINGDON: Well, I guess the best point of comparison is the fact that, when I joined Organic, our revenue was dropping in an alarming rate, and so it was very much a turnaround situation. And, at Linden Lab, it’s quite the opposite. We’re growing as a company. Our revenue is growing, and it’s more about renovation of the platform and user experience than it is a business turnaround. So those are the two probably most marked differences. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Now this has been a real year of change for Linden Lab, especially among top management. We’ve just recently seen the departure of Gene Yoon, of Robin Harper and John Zdanowski. And then you’ve brought in a number of new 11
people over the last year: Judy Wade, Frank Ambrose, Tom Hale, Howard Look, Brian Michon. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that last one correctly. And then you’ve promoted a number of other people up into top management. And so I’m just wondering: How should observers be interpreting this fairly comprehensive overhaul in Linden Lab’s leadership? MARK KINGDON: Well, I think I characterized as a natural evolution. The company’s ten years old. Second Life will celebrate its sixth birthday very shortly, and we’ve had pretty extraordinary continuity in our staff, very low turnover, and, really for the history of the company, also the management team level. And as we’re growing, we’ve needed to add new skills to the management team. In each of the cases of folks that you mentioned, those were really all additions to the leadership team and are separate and apart from the three folks who left. And certainly for Robin and Gene, I think those were natural graduations for both of them. Gene’s role we’re not going to be filling, certainly in the short term. Tom Hale’s going to pick up some of that corporate business development work. Judy Wade will pick up the rest. But, by the end of the year, we will need to find a head of marketing because that’s an important vacancy that Robin left. 12
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And now I’m an accountant so I have to ask. You lost John Zdanowski, your CFO. That’s on the list too for replacement? MARK KINGDON: Most definitely. We’re in the midst of a search for that role now. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Actually, we have a question from Tizzy Teardrop, “The idea [AUDIO GLITCH] comes up anytime you see major management changes. Does Linden Lab have future plans for an IPO?” MARK KINGDON: Well, we don’t have an IPO planned, as I sit here. At some point in the future, because we have investors in the company, they’ll look for a return in their investment. But right now, in this year, our focus is very much on renovating the platform and the user experience. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And with all of these changes--and additions as you mentioned--how has that affected the culture of Linden Lab management and employees. I mean you had the Tao of Linden and the Love Machine and all of these things that have been described in Hamlet Au’s book is the one people know now. And actually Thomas Malaby is coming out with another book sort of 13
behind the scenes of Linden Lab. They give us a very good look at what it’s like to work there. Has the company become more traditional or more hierarchical? MARK KINGDON: One of the amazing gifts that Philip gave me, and believe me, he gave me many when I started at Linden Lab, one of the amazing gifts he gave me was the culture. The company has an extraordinarily strong culture and a highly devoted staff. When I started, it was very clear to me I was being hired because the company needed to go through its next stage of evolution, and that’s one that Philip didn’t want to, as CEO, take the company through. So I think everybody was very, very primed for a new CEO. And my approach has been very much to evolve the culture rather than to use an extraordinarily heavy hand to get change. So I think the changes that we’re going through, within the culture, are natural, they’re organic and their evolutionary. And the same is true with the Tao of Linden. Each year we look at the Tao--the company did before I joined--and think about how to re-express it. And we’ve been doing those same things since I joined. I would say most of the changes that we’re making as a company are to add probably more connective process than we had in the past. But we’ve added more than a hundred people in the last 12 months, and that’s all part 14
of growing the business. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And now, as you grow the business and you have all these--actually how many people does that give you total? MARK KINGDON: I think we have about 308 or 310 now, and we’re in the process of hiring another 25. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And that includes the satellite offices? MARK KINGDON: Yes. That’s all our offices, as well as our remote employees. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So now I understand that, with all these new people you have around, you are also engaging in some high-level strategic planning. And, before we get into the substance, I’m just interested in the planning process. We actually just went through one of these here at the Johnson School at Cornell, so I’m more interested than I normally am. How do you go about it, given your culture? MARK KINGDON: Well, the strategy planning process actually started before I joined. The company hired Judy Wade, who has 15
subsequently joined us full time, to lead the management team through a strategy exercise to think about business focus. I think that was a fairly traditional process, a lot of market data, talk to people inside of the company, talk to folks outside of the company, looked at each of our major markets, and asked us some hard questions about focus and capability. And that strategy exercise was ongoing through the end of last year, and it really produced the roadmap that we’re working on this year in 2009. Now we’ve just started another planning exercise, which is to develop a three-year plan for 2010, ’11 and ’12. And I have to tell you it sounds bizarre to be saying 2010 because, obviously, time has flown. But that’s the next stage of planning. That’s very much, again, about looking at our markets, looking at how they’re changing and looking at how the experience, the platform and our portfolio of businesses needs to change and also our orientation to our international markets. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I definitely want to explore all of those in sort of where you’re looking ahead with your strategic plan, but we’ve gotten a whole bunch of questions about where you are now and where you’ve been that I’d like to take. One of them is from Mitch Wagner, “Is Second Life profitable? Can you 16
quantify the revenue and the profits?” And then a follow-up from Ordinal Malaprop, which just refining that a little, “Which parts of the business are profitable, and which are not? And what might we expect to see close down?” MARK KINGDON: That’s an excellent question. We don’t release our revenue, and we don’t release our profitability because we’re a private company. But I will tell you this: Our revenue is growing, and we are comfortably profitable. And we have a very sound balance sheet. We don’t break out profits internally or different business lines because we’ve never really thought of them as different business lines. Meaning it would be hard to think of our land business as separate from the Second Life economy. So we don’t really look at it on the basis of profitability by business line. We may evolve toward something like that in the future, but today we look at the business more holistically. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you for not saying you take an organic view of the business. But, on that point actually, Grace McDunnough has a question for you. She notes that, “There was once an Organic build, your company, on a Millions of Us Island. Were you the sponsor? What happened to that build? Can you tell us what the intent was?” 17
MARK KINGDON: Sure. We started at my old company a couple of years ago in Second Life, and that was really my introduction to Second Life before I met Philip and well before I considered coming onboard. And it was in the midst of the cycle where a lot of marketers were looking at Second Life as a place to share their brands and as a place where companies might recruit new employees. And so we did a build with Millions of Us so that we could see firsthand what Second Life offered. We had a lot of fun with it. We did some recruiting events in Second Life, and it was a great kind of orientation to the Virtual World for our people. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Although it was in the early days, I mean that was really during the time that there was so much hype followed by disappointment, you feel that that was a success? MARK KINGDON: I do. It’s really interesting because a lot of the companies that went into Second Life, looking at it as a marketing channel, there were some that had great successes and there were some that didn’t. The amusing thing is that there’s been a huge amount of press about how there were abject failures. Well, I ran an interactive agency and a web development firm for seven years, and I can tell you the Second Life budgets, on the marketing budgets of large companies, were 18
a rounding error, and there were probably far more 30-second spots that failed, with huge production budgets that would dwarf whatever was done in Second Life. So Second Life didn’t put any marketers out of business and probably didn’t cause any to lose their jobs, unlike other more traditional marketing campaigns might. So just a bit of perspective from a marketer. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I suppose the difference is, you rarely see an article in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal saying, “This big Fortune 500 Company is going to have a 30-second spot.” Unless, of course, it’s in the Superbowl, when it’s no longer a rounding error. So yeah, the press certainly played a big part in that. MARK KINGDON: Well, I think also companies’ perspectives on the possibilities for Second Life have matured a lot, and we see a great deal of activity around collaboration and learning now, which is obviously very powerful. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Actually I wanted to talk with you about that because it’s kind of an irony that, you know, here Linden Lab brings in a CEO with experience in brand promotion and online environments, with your work with Organic, but then last month in an interview with the Guardian in the UK, you 19
said, and this is a quote, “What has changed in my perception between 2006 and ’07 and now is that I see Second Life more as a tool for collaboration and virtual meeting and less of a large-scale branding tool.” So coming from an expert in large-scale branding, that view carries quite a bit of weight. Are you just looking at the market and the demand, in concluding this, or is this something that you’re concluding from your own observations, having gone through it? MARK KINGDON: Well, I think it’s more the stage of development of the platform and the size of the audience. So a lot of big brands look at a social media property or a place where they can engage with their consumers through the lens of traditional media, where they’re looking for reach, enormous reach. And, today, Second Life is not really a reach medium. It’s much more of an engagement medium. And, as a company, and there are companies in Second Life that do a lot to engage with their customer base in a very powerful way. If you’re coming to engage in a much more intimate way with your customer, you’re going to be successful here. And there are plenty of companies that are doing that in Second Life, as well as what I talk about from a learning and collaboration perspective. As our user base grows, and we have great plans for growing our user base, then I think brands will take a second look when they’re looking to move 20
beyond engagement or broaden their definition of engagement and reach. So I think it’s more just a question of evolution and change, rather than kind of a “black and white” perspective, that it’s good for this and not good for that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess this goes to some of the key points in your strategic plan. You’ve mentioned before moving from 600,000 or so active users up to about 6,000,000. How do you do that? MARK KINGDON: Well, you do it by breaking the problem down. So rather than going from 600,000 to 6,000,000 overnight, our next stage is to go from 600,000 to 1,000,000. And I know you’re going to ask me in a moment for a date projection, which, of course, I’m not going to give you. But what we’re doing is first looking at the platform very, very closely and working on scalability of the platform. And I think one thing that our residents have seen in the last year is that we’ve substantially improved the reliability of the platform. It’s actually been quite remarkable. Our hours lost to downtime in the first quarter were lower than they were in any of the last five quarters. And the second half of last year was particularly fruitful for us. We reduced hours lost to downtime by 50 percent over the first half of the year. 21
The first thing we’re looking at is let’s make sure that the platform can scale with the growth that we’ve planned. And, if you look at the executives that I brought in, they’re very, very experienced with scaling platforms. We have a first-class technical leadership team, very capable of addressing that side. The other side is the user experience. Second Life will scale much further when we simplify the first-hour experience, starting from the first web-touch point and going through the full first hour in-world. And it’ll also grow faster when we add more social tools to the Second Life experience. So far I’ve only found one kind of viral component inside the viewer, really, and that is your ability to email a postcard to a friend. So as we amplify our efforts on the web and our redesign of the viewer, you’ll see a lot more social tools that can help us expand. The conversation opened with a dialogue about Twitter and look how quickly Twitter has managed to grow, as has Facebook, in very viral ways. All of our growth has been achieved through no marketing because we haven’t historically spent money on marketing, and it has been achieved without working the social graph in a way that other social media companies do. Interesting. 22
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: The other thing is just that, with Twitter or Facebook, the hurdle to entry is very low for a user. MARK KINGDON: Exactly. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Whereas, in Second Life, it’s quite high. And we’ve got a couple questions just regarding, I guess, let’s just talk about the client as opposed to the user. Mitch Wagner is asking, “Are we going to see this ever as a web plug-in or something like that?” And Valiant Westland asks, “Are we ever going to see this in Best Buy, like the Sims?” Do you see anything like that? MARK KINGDON: Well, I think you’re more likely to see it in Best Buy as a package piece of software maybe with a headset included in a really, really good how-to book, before you see it as a web plug-in because that’s much easier. We’ve had conversations, certainly, about packaging up and making it available. As for making it a web plug-in, our strategy is somewhat different. With respect to the viewer, we’re really trying to create a 2.0 experience that’s much more intuitive, much more natural and much more easy for the new user to adopt, and that 23
will be a downloadable client in the short term. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me ask. When you say 2.0, you just mean a complete overhaul. You’re not using a Web 2.0 buzzword. Is that right? MARK KINGDON: Yes. I’m talking about it in terms of an overhaul or renovation of the current viewer. But, there are a lot of Web 2.0 tools and approaches that we want to introduce to the Second Life experiences. Those will be very much web-based. Next month we’re going to launch kind of the first rev of our new website which starts to move in that direction or build a platform for further extensions, later in the year, out to the web. Social tools are really, really powerful, and we want to be able to extend the Second Life experience out to social media properties that people enjoy today. You can find a lot of photographs on Flickr. Plurk has a lot of activity. Second Lifers are definitely tweeting because I see them on TweetDeck every morning, but there’s a lot more opportunity for us there that we haven’t developed. So we have the viewer, but, in parallel, we’ve started quite a lot of work on the web side of the business. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So the web side, it sounds like the viewer, 24
you have to get them in with a simpler viewer, and then you have to keep them. And actually Prokofy Neva has a question first about the current stats, the retention rate of newbies, new users, since you changed the website and info hubs and the gateways. And I guess I’m also interested in hearing you expand on that and talk about how you see these changes affecting not just the draw to get people in, but the ability to keep them. MARK KINGDON: Yes. They go hand in hand. When we look at it, we don’t separate sort of customer acquisition from retention. And that’s why I talked about it as the first-hour experience, which is a euphemism really for probably the first three hours upwards over the first three months, but it spans--the first touchpoint on the web it goes through the viewer and orientation with the viewer. It goes through the first landing experience, and then it goes through people’s discovery process of communities, people and friends. We’ve done a lot of research, and we know why new users leave Second Life, and it’s because they can’t find the people, places and things that are relevant to them. And, believe me, a good number do. That’s why we’re able to grow our active user base. But there’s huge potential there because it’s very hard to find the content and the experiences, the groups, the people, that 25
you might want to participate in as a new user. Those things we’re hard at work on making much easier. The find-and-discovery process is a whole work effort in its own right and I think will be one of the biggest drivers to retention thus far. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I know many more people need to hear about Metanomics. MARK KINGDON: Exactly. And then we’re doing just some business basics. Interestingly, when you are a new user and you sign up for Second Life, you get one email for activation, and then you don’t hear from us again. That’s been kind of the historic practice. We just launched something very simple, which is a welcome email that follows the activation email, at a very high click-through rate. And the things that people click on showed us that they want tools and tutorials to guide them through their first experiences in Second Life. So as we build kind of that what I would call activation and retention infrastructure, I think that’ll be a further boost to our growth. We add the social tools that I talked a little bit about. We improve find and discover. We continue to make the platform more stable and more reliable. And I think you will see a big uptick in growth. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: When we talked, whenever it was, a week or 26
so ago, you mentioned that there were going to be some changes to support live music more effectively in Second Life. Can you talk a little about that? MARK KINGDON: Yeah. One of the things that we’re hard at work scoping out is--and you can see the beginning of it, the very beginning of it on the home page that we launched in December and that we’re refining in our next evolution. If you look at kind of the verbs on the home page, like learn and teach, might be listen to live music, those are use cases or experiences that are very compelling to users. We’re using those as a lens to look at our product features and the technology behind them, to make sure that they’re highly supportive of those really attractive use cases, those compelling use cases for people. Live music is an area that we think is really, really vibrant. We’re not going to be making any major changes in the remainder of this year, but live music is one of the first things that we’re going to pick up and develop as one of those use cases. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Now how about international growth? I understand you get about half of your revenue is already from outside the U.S. How do you see that proportion changing over the next year or three? 27
MARK KINGDON: Well, the international population is a really, really big part of the Second Life resident base, as you’ve said. And the remarkable thing is that many of those international users have come when our website client and our support materials are in English. So those are people who have had to work extra hard to be part of the Second Life community, and that’s incredibly impressive. But, around the time I joined, we started working really hard to internationalize the technology and also to localize the content. Through the hard work of hundreds of resident volunteers, we’ve been localizing our viewer in the major languages and also website and the support materials you find in Knowledge Base and on the Wiki. So we’ve been doing a lot to make it easier for our international residents. I want to point out one thing about international, which is really, really a wonderful thing. If you’re a big social media property, particularly one that’s reliant on advertising for its primary revenue stream, and that’s not Linden Lab or Second Life, but, if you’re one of those properties and you start rolling out servers to serve people in far-off markets, the only way you’re going to monetize those users in a traditional sense is by hiring an ad sales forces, which means it’s very hard for social media properties to monetize international users and to 28
make a business of it. The beauty of Second Life, and it was a stroke of genius, not a stroke of genius for me, but from Philip and the leadership team, was to make the Second Life economy an integral part of the user experience. And because of that, we’ve been able to grow our international revenues very, very substantially, without having to make an investment in staff. Now one thing that’s going to change next year is that the lion’s share of our hiring will be outside the United States, and we will begin to move our infrastructure so that it’s closer to our end user. The first place that’ll happen probably is Europe. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: When you say infrastructure, you’re talking about servers, satellite offices? Both? MARK KINGDON: That’s right. We already have an office in Brighton, England, with a really, really terrific team, but we see continued expansion internationally. We also have an office in Singapore, a really great group of folks. I was in-world with them night before last. They’re very smart, very passionate, high committed Second Life folks. So we’ll amplify our focus on our international markets next year, and the same is true for infrastructure. Right now our servers are in the United States, 29
yet 50 percent of our user base, or more, actually is outside the United States. The last thing I’ll say about international is, we’ve asked Judy Wade, who joined us permanently, to focus on international, work with the team that’s localizing content and experience, but also really work on international market development. I’m really excited about the things that that team has on their roadmap. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I have a question on another aspect of the international. You said it was the last thing you’d say, but I hope you’ll answer this from Dorette Steenkamp (Alanagh Recreant), who says, “Philip Rosedale has referred many times to the possibilities of using Second Life in developing countries for enterprise development. Does Linden Lab have any plans to include Africa specifically and other developing economies in their strategy?” MARK KINGDON: Well, the interesting thing about Second Life and our international expansion is that developing countries are adopting Second Life at an extraordinary clip. Just the other day, we saw a pickup in Thailand, in Second Life usage. And I saw a great website somebody had put up and asked our team. We didn’t do anything to promote Second Life there, but because of 30
the power of the brand and this incredibly vibrant and powerful community, people in Thailand were starting to take an interest. And that’s true in pretty much every country in the world, except for a small handful. I think we have users who are even in Antarctica. Although they’ve registered as though they’re in Antarctica, who knows whether they’re really there. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s our topic for next week, when we hear all about security and trust. Let’s see, I’d like to, if we could, I’m conscious that we only have about 15 minutes left, I would like to move on to some of the resident issues that are so important to, of course, the many people who I’m seeing chatting, in the audience. And let’s start with the economy. You recently provided a fairly detailed report on the first quarter in-world economy. What do you see as being the most important statistics from a strategic perspective for Linden Lab? MARK KINGDON: That’s a great question. We have incredibly rich data inside the company. As a matter of fact, we have a company-wide dashboard that’s accessible to everybody in the company, and it has 371 different metrics that are updated by the minute, by the week, by the month and by the quarter. There are a couple that I have my eye on literally all the time because there are screens about 20 feet away that I can see, 31
that Philip can see, that anyone in the Lab can see. And those screens have a couple of really important metrics. One is concurrency. Another is resident satisfaction because, as you know, for every endth customer, we pop up a simple survey and ask them whether their experience is better or worse. And we can immediately tell when something is amiss because we’ll see a change in the [satisfaction?] curve, and it’s absolutely astounding how quickly that happens, and it can be a leading indicator for us if there are other problems. So we watch those two carefully. They’re less about the economy, and they’re more about platform stability and resident satisfaction. But the ones that I regularly look at are monthly active users, returning active users. Both of those we’ve been sharing. New registrations. Monthly unique repeat logins, which I talked a lot about on Hamlet’s blog. It’s a really important statistic if you’re trying to look at our ongoing growth. We also look at Sim crash rate, and I want to come back to that in just a second. Viewer crash rate. User-user transactions. LindeX volume. Land sales. Average price per land in the secondary market. Those are some of the ones that I make sue that I look at on my dashboard all the time. When you look at the Second Life economy, it’s been wonderfully 32
resilient to some of the Real World economic challenges that we’re seeing around the world, which is why our revenue is growing and why we’ve been able to hire and invest our profits back in the business. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fleep Tuque has a question, which is, well, actually, it’s more of a comment, “How do I get a job in Second Life?” is still the top question she gets from newbies. So let me put that in the form of a question: Are there things that you think you could do and that you plan to do, to make it easier for people to come in to Second Life and actually find it an economically productive experience for them? MARK KINGDON: Well, that’s a great question. One of the things that we’re trying to do in the business, in a major way, we’ve started to introduce product management to the business. We’ve hired Tom Hale, who was a senior executive at Adobe and before that Macromedia, and he has been bringing in a team of people so that we have folks devoted to each aspect of the business, whether it’s the commerce part of our business, whether it’s land. And, in the future, it will be very much around content developers, scripters, coders, in-world businesses. It’s definitely on the roadmap. It’s probably something we’re going to develop more next year, but our intent is very much to put a 33
focus on each of those things. Just as we need to clear the path for new users, we also need to clear the path for new businesses to form in Second Life. In our next rev of our website, we’re starting, just starting, and what you’ll see is just a beginning of improvements to the land store, to make it easier for people who are first-time land buyers to buy land in Second Life and understand the product more easily. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s see. Let’s move on to adult content, another in-world issue. So you recently announced a policy of essentially sequestering adult content, and I’m wondering can you talk about how that fits in, again, to the overall Linden Lab strategy? MARK KINGDON: Sure. Well, we have 650,000 active users, and they’re all looking for different kinds of experiences in Second Life. We’re not prohibiting adult content in Second Life, by any stretch of the imagination. What we’re doing instead is, we’re trying to create a more predictable experience by improving and changing our search tools in a way that content is surfaced so that, if there are people who don’t want to access that content, they’re not required to access it because it’s fully visable to 34
them. At the same time, if there are people who want to access that content, we’re making it certainly possible for them to do so as well. The thing about Second Life that’s really, really important, because it’s been something I’ve spent a fair amount of time learning about this past year, and that is that it’s an incredibly diverse user base. That 650,000 active user count has very different needs and very different desires, and it’s evolving over time. All we’re trying to do is make the platform accessible to people who want to access it in a certain way, and we’re simply calibrating our tools and experience paths to fit that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Dusan Writer asked a question at the recent PR Conference on adult content, and the gist of his question was really that you can view Second Life as a World with a real geography, or you can view it as any other type of web application, use terms like “use-case, in-filtering” and so on. And so, just to paraphrase his question, when you make policies like this, do you view Second Life as a World and try to think like an urban planner, or do you view it as a web application and think like a programmer? 35
MARK KINGDON: That’s a really wonderful way to frame the issue, in the form of a question. That’s a wonderful way of thinking about it, and I’m going to use that when I talk about adult content in the future because I think it’s a combination of both. I mean we have some really powerful Real World metaphors in Second Life. Land is one. We have a sense of geography and presence here. The map is getting better as a tool to navigate Second Life, and you haven’t even seen what we have up our sleeve for maps. So geography is important. So I would say it’s very much kind of the set of concerns that an urban planner might have, but with tools that are web-based. It’s a combination of both. There’s no doubt though that we are participating more than we have in the past, in the experience, which is why we have a Department of Public Works that’s been working on making improvements to the mainland. We take those things seriously. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’re almost out of time. The last couple questions I’d like to ask are really to ask essentially for elevator pitches. I’m just wondering, if you look ahead to where you’ll be in a year or so when you’ve made these changes, and let’s just assume they all work out, what’s the elevator pitch? Let’s start for the residents. What is it you’re going to 36
say to get the residents to come in, as opposed to doing other things that they could do with their time, whether it’s watching TV or going outside? What’s the pitch? MARK KINGDON: Well, Second Life is really like no other experience. It’s rich. It’s immersive. It’s very social. It’s highly creative. It’s an enormous element of surprise because the content is user-generated. So I think the elevator pitch is really, really, simple. This is a phenomenal World, and it’s only limited by your imagination. The promise behind the scenes that we’ll be delivering on--it’s not part of the elevator pitch--it’s just going to be a heck of a lot easier, and it’s going to be enabled by tools, like social tools that people are accustomed to in other web properties. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And how about the pitch that you would give to enterprise adopters, who are looking to use something like in immersive workspaces or some other Second Life product for serious “behind the firewall” collaboration? MARK KINGDON: Sure. One thing I do is, I point them--and this isn’t said as a pitch--but I’d point them to the case studies that we’re starting to develop and put up on Secondlife.com, that very much speak to all of the use cases for enterprise. I’m 37
surprised and excited by enterprise interest in the Second Life platform as a place for collaboration and learning because there are a lot of budget cutbacks that companies are making in the enterprise software space and in technology spending, and we had no problem filling up our alpha release of our “behind the firewall” solution. The interest is staggering for both the Second Life grid, which is where we are today, and for a “behind the firewall” solution. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess the last question I’ve got is, actually I’m surprised we didn’t see in the audience chat anything about OpenSim. So you now have what seems to me to be a very close competitor with other people creating products that are very similar to Second Life, but they’re adding lots of different features, ability to have their own customizable physics engines. They’re doing all sorts of things. How do these sort of Open Source solutions play in your strategy for Linden Lab? MARK KINGDON: First on the point of competition, if that’s what you’re suggesting, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors for people’s time out there. Half a billion dollars in a short period of time poured into Virtual Worlds, partially because of Second Life’s success, but also things like Club 38
Penguin. So there are many, many alternatives out there, and we monitor those. With respect to Open Source, Open Source has been a part of the Second Life ecosystem for some time, and Philip Rosedale, our founder, recently took over responsibility for that initiative. I’m really, really excited to see how we’re going to further develop the great base of Open Source developers that are working on Second Life today. I think that’s going to be a really exciting new area of innovation or renewed area of innovation for us. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Well, thank you, Mark Kingdon, for joining us for this opening session of Metanomics for the season. It’s really been a fascinating conversation. We’ve had a lot of good audience backchat. I apologize for not having been able to keep up with all of that and get to all of your questions. I do hope that those of you who are out there listening will post your questions and comments on the brand new metanomics.net website, which also reflects a lot of the sensibilities you see in Keystone’s build. So, again, Mark, thanks for joining us, and I hope I’ll see you back on Metanomics sometime soon. MARK KINGDON: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a great pleasure. And thanks to everyone here who attended and 39
folks who followed along on the web. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, that’s all we have for this week. Join us next week when we take a look at some policy issues surrounding Virtual Worlds. We will be hearing from two representatives from National Defense University: Assistant dean Paulette Robinson and security expert Rocky Young. Paulette directs the Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds, which has been helping countless federal agencies explore this new technology, and she led a conference that took place at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. late last month. And Rocky has loads of fascinating and honestly frightening stories about the security challenges, not only of Virtual Worlds, but of the many other technologies that we all rely on. So thanks to all of our staff members and volunteers who help pull this off every week. And thanks to you our audience for joining us and participating in a very active chat session. This is Robert Bloomfield signing off. Take care. And I’ll see you next Wednesday. Document: cor1057.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer 40
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