We’ve had about a day to mull over the news that Mark Kingdon has been given the axe as CEO of Linden Lab, and that Philip Rosedale has resumed the direct control of his brainchild, at least for the interim. (New World Notes article; Rosedale statement) As of publishing time, a New World Notes open poll suggests strongly that Residents are in favor of this move — even if we will have to put up with Philip’s spiky hair, Rocky Horror T-shirt and codpiece again:
I’m one of the more optimistic, for the record. I’m uncertain how much acceptance Mark has had from the Resident community over his tenure; and many of the Lab’s moves during that time have been controversial, to say the least. Of course, for all we know, things could have smoothed out at the Lab with his continued presence. Only the future knows this, and the future has just been rewritten.
The thing that Rosedale has going for him, besides a (presumably) intimate nuts-and-bolts knowledge of how Second Life works, is that his is the vision that created this real incarnation of a concept only in books for the most part, until his company was formed. Anyone who was brought in from outside to take over would not be part of the Linden Lab culture — an admittedly kooky one at times, but they would not have the same “heart” for it that Philip has. Many of us felt that way when Kingdon was named CEO in May 2008. Philip was the creator; Mark was a businessman first and foremost, and I wonder if he tended to see Second Life mainly in that model, as a place for facilitating business. There were speculations, of course, that Kingdon was brought in to help pave the way for an initial public offering of stock in Linden Lab; a more business-0riented CEO would be considered essential for such a move, and Mark’s tenure as CEO of Organic, a digital-advertising agency.
But a virtual-world business is a hairier operation to run. You not only have the business aspect to manage; you must also deal with the client base that is the raison d’être for the business’s existence. Second Life had business presences before, though more of an attempt to advertise their Real Life products in world. Many of these left during the Great Hype Meltdown of 2008-09, and Kingdon attempted to bring in more business for meeting-type situations with his Second Life Enterprise initiative over the past six months. Many feel that focus was given to this move, at the expense of Grid stability and Resident satisfaction, as well as other decisions that, according to Gwyneth Llewelyn, intended to pave the way for increased business activity. (Read her thorough analysis of the situation from June 10.) The failure of many of these business moves are what led to Kingdon’s dismissal.
The thing is that Mark was right in his broad vision, if not necessarily in his execution. Second Life — and Linden Lab — cannot survive forever on Residential accounts alone, and definitely not on free accounts. While some may disagree with the Linden Homes move (Gwyneth believes that this put the Guvnah in direct competition with existing landowners), Linden Lab should encourage conversion of free to Premium accounts. Additionally, business needs wooing, focusing on the core advantages that Second Life has already offered to huge corporations such as IBM — the hosting and abetment of meetings without the expense and waste of travel for substantial numbers of people. As much as many of us may not like it, Big Business must be courted in, and must become part of the Grid.
The key will be to find a new CEO that can balance both sides, and deliver continued and improved performance of the virtual platforms. Rosedale possesses the vision, but he doesn’t seem to possess the business chops, which is why he handed off to Kingdon two years ago. Philip’s return (dare we call it a resurrection? [grin]) will help restore the balance. Now we need someone to push the dream forward — on all fronts. Second Life cannot survive, let alone thrive, without both the yin and yang of the equation.