Interview: Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab

These last two weeks, Linden Lab has opened the doors for some of us to have limited interviews with Rod Humble, the freshly-minted CEO of Linden Lab, and the new face at the helm of Second Life, and I was among those given the opportunity to ask some questions. I took the opportunity to ask a number of you just what questions you’d like answered, and managed to squeeze a number of them in on your behalf.

Humble was quite circumspect and reticent in his responses, but to be fair, he’s only been involved with Linden Lab for about three weeks so far, and is far less acquainted with what Linden Lab has done to-date than most of the rest of us.

TMJ: How would you describe Second Life in your own words?

I wouldn’t. Partly because I feel I would be a little silly by naming something that others (such as yourself) have experienced far more than me, but more importantly, I would let our customers do that over time as we figure it out together. I think it has something to do with creativity and how we evolve identity as we interact with others, but I like its undefined nature. I like its ambiguity. That to me feels like it is the beginning of something.

TMJ: Linden Lab has received quite a bit of criticism for its removal of discounts for educators. Given the subsequent increase in educators starting to look elsewhere, how does Linden Lab see the non-profit / education sector fitting into its strategy?

I wasn’t really here for that, so it’s hard for me to comment on past policy, but we certainly value these communities and don’t want to hamper their contributions to Second Life or prevent them from getting the value from it that they currently do.

TMJ: Going back a couple of years, Linden Lab was driving the interoperability agenda to a large extent, with that now being driven primarily by the OpenSim community. Does Linden Lab have any plans to get more substantively into that space and if not, is it just a case of keeping Second Life’s feature set ahead of OpenSim in order to maintain the lead?

Sorry it’s too soon to talk about this. Gotta play the new guy card.

TMJ: To get parochial for a second, back in mid-2007 we were told there would be Australian-based Second Life servers “real soon now”. Can you outline your strategy for managing bandwidth and response times for Second Life outside of the USA?

Yeah that’s a bit too detailed for me right now, but we definitely intend to fully support customers worldwide. How we can do that, we are looking at, but it varies by territory.

TMJ: What do you think Linden Lab’s strengths are?

Customers – we are blessed by customers who talk to us a lot and are not shy. This is a tremendous asset. While obviously we make mistakes and do not please everyone, the level of feedback helps us enormously. Our harshest critics are also our staunchest defenders when others put out misinformation about Second Life. If anything, getting customers’ voices heard coherently is our biggest task. There are way too many places where customers send feedback (or a “tower of babble” as one customer put it). As part of serving folks better the team here is trying to focus that more.  The new user groups are a step along that path. Finally, of course, our customers literally make the whole world.

TMJ: Given that you’re approaching things from a different background, what do you think Linden Lab’s biggest mistake has been?

Given the incredible technical and social challenges that Second Life solved, I am not sure I would label much to be a massive mistake. Second Life is technically really impressive – Linden Lab solved some astoundingly difficult technical problems in order to create it – but it’s still much too hard for new users by an exponential factor rather than a small one. There’s a big gap between how experienced customers can enjoy Second Life and the experience of a new user, and that’s a huge opportunity for us. What’s interesting is that in the entertainment space, most companies face these challenges in the reverse order – first you figure out ease of use and accessibility, how to make interacting with it an enjoyable experience, and then you tackle the technical stuff to make it work.

TMJ: What particular thing do you feel you’re bringing to Linden Lab, given your skills and background?

I hope my experience in growing large communities will prove useful to our customers. I care about art and creativity, I express myself through technology. I hope those traits will prove helpful.

TMJ: Linden Lab has spent much of the last decade juggling one or another balance of “fast, easy, fun”, seemingly without really finding a balance point that lasts for more than a few months. Is the problem – do you think – with finding the right balance, with the thrust of the strategy itself, or is there some third angle we’re overlooking?

I wasn’t here, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on past strategies, but I will say Second Life is a vibrant world that exists today and is enjoyed by millions of people, so it succeeded in many ways. It seems to me that a blended strategy can often be effective. I am used to operating a strategy where you have a general strategy setting the overall direction then initiatives on a 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 month timeline, which evolve as you work through them. That technique is not particularly revolutionary but it works.

TMJ: Linden Lab has always seemed to most focused on the retention of new users at the apparent expense of existing users. I know this comes across as quite a leading sort of question, and I cannot really see quite how to avoid that I’m afraid, but do you think that situation should continue, be reversed or should some other sort of balance be struck?

I think you can see from my comments above that I strongly believe you need both. Our existing customers should expect us to do a bunch of unsexy backend work to address your valid issues. I would also say that intelligent internet savvy new users are utterly lost with the current experience and discoverability. That for sure will also be addressed in the short term.

TMJ: Have you tried any third-party viewers? If so, do you have any preferences?

I have tried them all they all have positives and negatives. I do have various features I like from each that I think we should learn from.

TMJ: What do you feel is the greatest threat to Second Life?

If we put barriers in the way of creativity and exploration. There are temptations to do this every day. They need to be avoided.

TMJ: What actually are Linden Lab’s goals or direction for Second Life? Nobody’s ever really said, and everyone’s awfully curious.

As I mentioned before, my goal is to enable our customers’ expression and creativity, beyond that, let us see where the journey takes us all. The residents of Second Life are smart, communicative and creative. They are going to take this in all sorts of directions. Our job at Linden Lab is to set solid foundations, create the tools, and then get out of the way as much as we can.

TMJ: Should we expect a change of direction from the Lab and/or for Second Life? If so, how?

Expect to see a focus on customer service, experience, creativity and usability. Second Life should become the natural home for intelligent, creative, and social people online. Whether that is a change or not I don’t really know, but those are my priorities right now.

TMJ: Under Philip Rosedale’s tenure as CEO, Second Life’s motto was “Your world, your imagination”. During Mark Kingdon’s era it was “Your world, your way”. What motto do you feel will be the hallmark of your own tenure at the Lab?

Those both sound good and appropriate to me. I don’t think 3 weeks in it would be appropriate for me to succinctly summarise or change a mission statement or motto.

TMJ: What are your initial impressions about the culture and communications inside the Lab?

It’s great! People are very friendly and committed to wanting to make something important. I am really taken aback by just how much people here care. It is good to see.

TMJ: What are your personal goals while you’re the CEO of Linden Lab?

I would like to meet someone in five years who said “Yeah I joined Second Life just after you joined, and it really meant a lot to me. The people I met, the things I saw. That was important.” If I can achieve that, if a decision I take changes some human beings for the better, then I will be pleased …………Oh and I want to script a fully operational miniature wargames table in Second Life :)

TMJ: We don’t want this to be entirely one-sided. What are we – as users and customers – not asking you about that you’d nevertheless like us to hear?

I will read the comments to this interview, what I would most like to know is this: In 2 years time what would you most like to be doing in Second Life, and how would you like to be doing it? The answers to that question would be very helpful indeed.

So, who is willing to speak up in response to Humble’s question: In 2 years time what would you most like to be doing in Second Life, and how would you like to be doing it?

  • Dana Morgan

    good website.

  • Armin

    Reading this interview I get the hope that looking at the viewer code in 2 years I will have the feeling it’s done with love – just the 10 minutes or one hour more of time that make the difference from “it works” to “it’s good”.

  • Liv Leigh

    In 2 years time I would Secondlife’s mainlands to perform much better as contiguous landscapes, in which we can drive, fly and sail from one place to another without disturbance. As a virtual sailor in this world I would like to have the key stability of the grid improve, meaning issues like region crossing failures, time dilation in regions and others that disable Secondlife as a credible sailing simulator are taken care of.

  • Zoeg

    I would like to be making my 3rd really good film in SL that satisfies me as to quality and content.

  • Zoeg

    What I need to do this is:
    -better looking avatar mesh with facial expressions..especially blink, sleep
    -animations that last longer than 30 frames, ability to upload from Kinect (possible now with hacks but tricky)
    -ability to have several local chat windows open at a time set to different channels so I can turn on various scripted effects on the fly while filming
    -group chat works so I can communicate with crew while filming with no lag
    -ability to buy extra capacity for shoot to lessen lag (super sims) or to have my film sims not paired with super laggy club
    -ability to control camera, I used a scripted cam now but it would be nice to set an angle and return to it also to set film paths
    -increased particle count when filming (I believe this is client based)
    -better lip sync
    -ability to buy stock in LL (just threw that in so you know I’m willing to throw even more money at this crazy dream :D )

    I’m actually pretty confident this is all coming at some point..for one thing there are folks who really want to create full scale war games in SL and this sort of thing will bring new residents in droves..immerse games could be a big draw

  • Paisley Beebe

    Wow some great ideas there! I’ll second so many of them Paisley B

  • Paisley Beebe

    Wow some great ideas there! I’ll second so many of them Paisley B

  • Chris

    I like how SL customers can be ‘free’ logins, or paid logins and get a small house. I think a third level – a VIP level that gives customers a choice of Larger Linden homes with double the prim count would be excellent – and allow a path for paying customers to move up to a larger Linden Home, and of course – fill it with the decorations and furniture they like to buy. In two years I would hope to be enjoying more concerts and social gatherings, and chatting and ‘hanging out’ with my on-line friends in SL.
    Linden Labs should work toward sponsoring some things in SL (like a virtual Lady GaGa concert, or inviting trade shows into SL.) The SL meet-up expos every year is a great way for customers to enjoy meeting other SL people, vendors, and Linden Labs employees. The SL annual birthday party is also great – where people from all over Earth can meet and celebrate and play. Of course, advancements in graphics and increasing the number of people who can share one server would both go to enhancing virtual get togethers and be more fun.

  • Lydia Cremorne

    I’m afraid I’ve left SL in favour of Inworldz now but I remain extremley fond if it, it released my creativity and gave me a lease of life I could never otherwise have as a disabled person. To answer your question:

    I would like SL to become a socially respected media and for projects completed in SL to have some measure of value in the real world.

    I would like all the wonderful designers, programmers and other content creators in SL to receive some tangible acclaim for what they have done.

    I would like to be able to send an email link to a non-SLer for them to be able to enter my world and navigate it successfully with a minimum of hassle or technical difficulty and no download.

    I would like to be part of a collaborative project operated by a real life organisation to work on issues faced in the real world.

    Most of all I would like to visit YOUR sim and come away feeling inspired and glad that you are still ‘one of us’.

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  • Sean

    Forgive me if I sound negative, but wasn’t nearly every question answered with “I just got here let me get back to you”? Maybe I’m missing something as many people said “great Interview”.

    Personally I don’t see any solid direction, nor commitment to address/rectify any specific problems that LL have introduded to the detriment of their loyal user-base to date.
    With the CEO seat resembling more of a revolving door at LL would it not be better to just choose one issue of which there are so many and do something positive about it that shows LL is actually listening before the next CEO comes in. You would be one of the first Mr Humble…

    Flattery is an old and tired veil used by LL many times right before they tightened the rope around our necks, sorry I’m just not convinced.

  • Rodvik

    Hey everyone, I just wanted to drop by and thank everyone for their responses. I have read them and I very much appreciate you taking the time to write. This is very useful as we move towards our longer term strategy.

    Thank you again!


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  • Beingagain

    if you like the creativity and effort people have placed into SL often for the benefit and further glory of SL, the least you can do when someone runs out of money to pay for a sim, is to provide a way for them to back up an entire sim so at some point it can be ressurected, the cruelest thing is how many sims and how much content has dissappeared because people have left and with no possibility of returning at any point and recreating their sims with ease, a huge and vast mistake on SL’s part as your losing content by this idiocy classic examples for example would be rezzables sims and nemos, this is sacrilige, imagine somebody just burnt a picasso because they had no place to store it ? and this in a digital environment in which storing a backup of sim for a user or allowing a user to downlaod a backup of a sim would take very little space indeed ? The idea that the ceo is someone who has no SL experience is madness. sometimes lindenlabs actions have looked like their deliberately commiting hari-kiri ?
    trying to stamp out and segregate adult and mature PG content etc is nuts and a waste of energy, you use to need a credit card to play second life in theory ? therefore you need to be over 18 to have a credit card, so whats the problem with adult content ? you fell to lobbying pressure from religious idiots who seem not to realise that an individual has no necessity to view anything that offends them ? my prediction is that SL will continue to get worse, because every company has a coherent lifespan, and when the investors take over and kick out the original spark stuff tends to run dry, 90′s apple without steve jobs par example. I clicked on an old SL landmark to go to liberty island and the haunted house > I end up on Tikva the jewish island ? this is one of the problems with sim disposal and replacement on the grid and there are allot of my landmarks like this ? i think its indicative of SL’s decline.

  • Beingagain

    Also get rid of ban lines theyve always sucked and ruined the fluidity of the game when flying along, and since you can place your camera anywhere and sit tricks still sort of work, ban lines are therefore just a pointless annoyance setup by idiots.

    If SL needs money then just tell people on free accounts with multiple alts with no land that after so many years the first created char must pay a token amount per annum in order to remain active and keep its associated alts, ive always paid the subscription for the 512 land area for the last 6 years. and having completely free access forever creates a culture of a zillion alts, makes everyone pay after x years of free use for at least the main char so that they can retain their parade of alts. almost all other mmo’s charge ? this might eliminate soe griefing as well, and gte more realistic user number because active accounts is what counts not the number of alts that have been generated.

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