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Here and there I am finding interesting bits of the layoff story. One article that I think touches on relevant background motivating Linden Lab (LL) is found in Grace’s writing on a blog named Phasing Grace | Social Architecture and Virtual Worlds. Back in March 2010 she wrote Linden Lab Leaping the Chasm?

Everett Rogers' Technology Curve

Her article explains some of the LL challenges in moving Second Life (SL) toward mainstream adoption, which I see as a prime mover in LL management circles. A Harvard case study provides the background framework for her article. Both the study and Grace’s article refer back to Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 paper Crossing the Chasm, which is about technology adoption.

Grace points out the basic steps Moore itemized for those working to move technology into mainstream adoption.

  1. Target a specific niche market
  2. Meet all that niche markets needs – provide a whole product/market solution
  3. Market like crazy to the niche market’s likely early adopters.

Moore and Harvard apparently predicate much of their thinking on Everett Rogers’ Technology Adoption Cycle (image above).

I see LL attempting to take the Harvard steps and move SL into the mainstream. Unfortunately LL has not really understood what makes SL popular to such a wide audience and I think has missed the boat on what businesses need to use SL for their marketing efforts. The SL Enterprise effort was a move to target a niche market… well niche of SL. I think targeting businesses is smart and should produce results, but there is a catch-22 and LL failed to understand they have not created a ‘whole product solution’. Now we see the layoff of the team targeting enterprise solutions because it did not work. I expect LL to come back to enterprise solutions once other parts of the solution are in place.

Consider that businesses have to be able to generate a positive return on investment. Not all businesses can do that with SL for now. Much like television advertising certain businesses get great return on their commercials and others don’t. The cost of TV advertising prohibits some companies from advertising on TV. Also look at the difference in costly prime time commercials (think Super Bowl or World Cup ads) and cheap late night commercials (Sham-Wow?). For now it seems SL is relegated to late night advertisers but at prime time prices.

At the time of Grace’s writing (March) the SL 2.0 Viewer was seen as the way to provide a new face for a targeted market. Harvard saw SL as having a shot at enterprise customers, entertainment, adult customers and teens. Grace wondered which market LL would/was targeting. She steps through her thinking on that. Her thinking seems reasonable to me.

I wonder why the Harvard folks chose the niches they did, I don’t see it. I get teens are curious and one could market to them on the teen grid. But, I’m not sure how an adult, a business, would do that, which has me wondering how much the Harvard folks knew about SL or may I just don’t understand how the teen grid works.

The adult sex market is a significant market in SL, but sex sells everywhere and most businesses are not in that market. Advertising or selling non-sexual items to adults is possible everywhere and pushing a washing machine in SL has no significant advantage to make a good cost to benefit ratio. Enterprise customers… I’m not going to pay the $7 to read the Harvard paper, but I wonder if the Harvard folks mean the big enterprises like GM, GE, and other large corporations or were they meaning all businesses? I doubt it matters. SL does not draw enough residents for the advertising in SL to be worth the cost… which is the problem for most businesses looking at SL. I think the growth in OpenSim shows businesses are experimenting there.

Grace covers the problem of the SL viewer download. For a business trying to get visitors from a web site to their SL display area, the viewer download is an insurmountable problem. It may well be that LL has now realized that problem and thus the focus on a way into SL without a download. Splitting the viewer into a lite weight but visually high quality viewer, via a Unity3D type thing, and a separate comprehensive full featured viewer that is downladed may well be the answer. So, the layoff of the Viewer 2.0 team. The excellent third party viewers being supplied for free has got to make it hard to justify LL viewer development dollars.

One big step in making SL usable for businesses is the Media On A Prim (MOAP). It gives businesses a way to tie their in SL presence to their RL web sites. While we have had links and still images for connecting to RL web sites we now have a very dynamic and attractive way to do that. With a browser based viewer to bring customers into SL and MOAP to provide the way back things are much more complete. A combined web and SL marketing application can more easily be built now.

Grace eliminates niche market groups group by niche market group using good reasoning and available evidence… what she boils it down to is the adult demographic, not the adult-adult or sex market, just adults. Adults in general are a wide market… niche as a description of that group doesn’t really work for me… can ‘everyone’ be a niche? In many ways audience targeting is difficult in SL. Much like television it is hard to target a specific demographic.

On the Internet it is easy to target specific demographic groups. Facebook has all the members’ information so they can provide an ad to just 18-25 year olds. Search engines bring anyone searching for a product or service to a web site. SL lacks both of those abilities.

SL search gives me the feel it was designed to be a way for LL to sell advertising. It is like they have the philosophy wrong. Google built a search engine that is very useful to the masses. They hang advertising around that central product. There are different problems in SL search but not so much. An excellent search engine in SL would do much to improve SL for businesses and residents. Having a Google like search will likely mean we need better descriptions of products. May be any object set to sell could have an additional description field used for search.

I think this information gives more credence to the idea the layoffs are not just for financial reasons. Also, it could be argued it is not so much a change in LL direction, as in destination, as it is a realization they made a wrong turn and are correcting course.

Like television, SL needs a large audience of residents to attract businesses. No one builds a big box store out in the middle of no where. If LL can provide the things residents like and find a way to hold more of those new signups, they are well on their way to mass adoption.

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