UPDATED! Editorial: Linden Lab’s New Community Events Team—What’s With All the Secrecy?

I am, once again, breaking my self-imposed Christmas holidays with news of a secretive program which Linden Lab wants to launch in Sansar early in the new year. And the company is going about setting this program up in the most curious and divisive way possible.

Image by Tayeb MEZAHDIA from Pixabay

Two different longtime members of the Sansar community (who shall remain anonymous) approached me at separate times today, to inform me about what appears to be a new, secretive initiative to recruit selected Sansar users into a program called COMET (short for Community Events Team). All recruited users must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Both of my sources were not personally selected by Linden Lab for the COMET project, but each heard about it through others.

Here’s all the information that I have, which has been corroborated by both sources. There is mention of a separate, private Discord channel for communication between Linden Lab and their Comets:

Program Mission Statement

The Event Program (known as COMET – Community Events Team) work as a team to create a regular community-driven events in Sansar. Throughout the pilot program, Comets will be given Missions that they have to accomplish in order to earn points. If they succeed in their Missions they will be given various rewards as a group, and also work to earn rewards for the user base at large.

Rules and Guidelines:
-Comets are expected to sign a Linden Lab general NDA to participate
-Comets are expected to be exemplary community members by behaving like a leader/role model and avoiding unnecessary or malicious confrontation in the Community.
-Comets are program volunteers that represent Sansar
-They should never request personal information and they should never imply that they are Linden Lab Employees
-Comets operate as a team to earn points and complete missions
-Comets may be removed from the program at Sansar staff’s will
-Events may not overlap
-Missions must be completed by midnight PST of the due date
-Inactive Comets will be given one warning via private Discord message before being removed from the program,

Comets will have the opportunity to take “Time off”
-Time off should be reported to Sansar staff via private Discord message
-Comets on Time off will not earn Comets rewards during their Time off
-Comets may be subject to removal per the discretion of the Lab for extended periods of absence Timeline

The Comets program will kick off officially on January 3rd, 2020 Other important notes This is a pilot program that is experimental, so things may change as we figure out what does and doesn’t work. No changes will come as a surprise to Comets — this channel is meant as an open discourse between Staff and Comets

It’s not yet clear why participants collect “points” and complete “missions”. Will they be getting paid? Are they getting some other special incentives to participate?

One of my sources, a longtime and well-regarded Sansar member, told me that they hadn’t been invited, and they were afraid that it might start dividing the small community. And I must confess that I am somewhat puzzled at the secretive way that Linden Lab has decided to go about setting up this program.

Why would the people selected have to sign NDAs? Perhaps Linden Lab is bringing in some big-name artists for live events that require such a high level of secrecy and subterfuge?

I am, quite obviously, NOT one of the people selected for this potentially delicate mission (and frankly, after breaking the news of the recent Sansar layoffs, I rather doubt that I am, quote, “behaving like a leader/role model and avoiding unnecessary or malicious confrontation in the Community“). In the eyes of Linden Lab, I am most certainly not “the right stuff” to handle such a endeavour, since I speak my mind on this blog, quite regularly. And it would appear that some others don’t meet the requirements, either. If you were or are at all critical of Linden Lab or Sansar, it would appear that you were not chosen.

And, like the others who have heard about it through the grapevine, the secrets and rumours have taken on a life of their own in the community (of course they would). The Sansar community has already been deeply shaken by the changes that have taken place on the platform in the past few months. The Sansar website has now been utterly redesigned to focus exclusively on Sansar as a platform for live eventsPERIOD. It’s as if anything else (for example, the content creation and world building that once were a key part of Sansar), is now completely secondary.

Linden Lab has very clearly changed the way that they run Sansar now, and I for one do not like some of the changes I am seeing. I myself have noticed that the formerly easy flow of communication that used to exist between Linden Lab staff and its users is no longer the way it used to be, since the layoffs. (The new manager of Sansar, Sheri Bryant, still does not see fit to spend any time at all in the official Sansar Discord, to actually listen to the users, something I find increasingly dismaying.)

There is a very clear sense of “us” versus “them”, both developing between Linden Lab and Sansar users, and even developing between various groups of Sansar users themselves. The Comet program is a perfect example of a new project where, from the very start, there is zero basis of the trust in users that used to be a fact of life in the old days of Sansar. Why else would LL cherry-pick who they want, and swear them to secrecy?

Why, for God’s sake, didn’t Linden Lab just make a general announcement that they were looking for volunteers? The only reason I can think of, is that that LL is being extremely particular about who they want to work on the Comets program. They want to select people they feel they can trust, people who can follow orders and not talk back, which leaves the rest of us feeling puzzled, suspicious, and bemused.

Not a great way to start off a new year, Linden Lab.

If Linden Lab continues to divide its users and content creators into groups of people who can and cannot be trusted, they in turn will be distrustful of the motives of the company—and Linden Lab, by trying to sugar-coat the significant layoff of staff working on Sansar earlier this year, has already been seen as not being completely honest with its userbase. (At least Philip Rosedale has had the courage and the integrity to be up-front and honest about the two staff layoffs which happened to High Fidelity this year, reporting on both of them on his official blog. Linden Lab could learn a lesson in transparency from their founding CEO.)

I’m already working on a predictions blogpost for the various social VR platforms and virtual worlds in 2020. Among my predictions is the following: if Linden Lab cannot find a way to increase the overall number of users in Sansar within the next 12 months, even with a pivot to (and an exclusive focus on) live events, then the company will do one of three things:

  • convert the existing Sansar code to open source and let the community take it over (which I think is the least likely option);
  • sell Sansar to another company and keep Second Life running (or perhaps sell off Linden Lab and all its assets entirely to another company); or
  • shut down the Sansar project completely (which I think is the most likely option).

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the honeymoon period for Sansar is OVER.

2020 is a new year, and it would appear that Sansar is playing by new rules.

Fasten your seatbelts; 2020 is shaping up to be a bumpy ride.

UPDATE Dec. 27th, 2019: All right, it would seem that this “secretive” program had been mentioned a few times at previous Product Meetups, according to Lacie Linden. And Galileo Linden said:

The mistake was not officially announcing it before we chatted with the folks selected. Like Lacie said, we were just trying to get work done before the break.We limited the folks because Lacie and I weren’t sure what the workload would be like for two of us… Well, we’ve been encouraging people to hold more events and some have. And we realized it wouldn’t be fair to continue to ask without trying to find some sort of reward system in place. The Comets will he earning rewards because we are asking them to do work. Actual work with goals and expectations. They will also be earning rewards for the entire user base. That way everyone feels involved.

Anyway, we’ll be opening a larger sign-up program later once Lacie and I figure out how we can manage that workload with only two of us.This is our test. Sorry to have not communicated that better before we left – definitely our mistake.

We’ll open up signups for the open program once we figure out if this is something that is useful. Lacie and I aren’t even sure if we can handle a program of a few people yet let alone an open sign up… So that’s all – no conspiracies – we chose the current members based on events they’ve thrown… We chose folks that we knew were throwing events and enjoy doing that. One way to get involved now is to offer up your worlds as event locations.

We’ll be discussing the entire program during our first product meetup in the new year – sorry again for not discussing it openly before we left. We finalized the program literally an hour before the office closed, so we weren’t even sure it was going to be ready before we came back.

So we can likely expect a more formal call for volunteers later on. And, as Galileo himself said, I could easily have pinged him to ask for his side of the story, but I didn’t (because I assumed he was on break), and I ran with the story.

In retrospect, that was an overly-hasty decision, and I offer both Galileo and Lacie my apologies for not checking in with them first to get both sides of the story. I have, once again, fallen into the trap of assuming ill intent on the part of Linden Lab in the absence of full information.

This grumpy old bear is going back into holiday hibernation mode and I will not be blogging again until the new year. (You can start placing bets as to when I break that promise, again.)