Thursday, June 24, 2010

Another One Bites The Dust

Barely two weeks after announcing Linden Lab was cutting 30 percent of its workforce and launching a new effort to create a Web browser-based entryway into Second Life, there's been another reduction in headcount: Linden Labs' CEO Mark Kingdon has stepped down, the Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale coming back on board as "interim" CEO.

Perhaps this has something to do with the "emergency" that prevented Kingdon from making his scheduled address at the SL7B events yesterday, apparently forcing Rosedale to step in on short notice.

During Kingdon's tenure, Linden Lab launched a number of initiatives designed to bring Second Life to a wider audience and solidify the company's financial situation. Among these was a long effort to revamp the Second Life client software to make it more browser-like and friendlier to new residents: the result was Viewer 2.0, which—in addition to some serious faults and major privacy issues—seems to have rubbed most existing residents the wrong way. Linden Lab also corralled explicitly adult content off into its own continent in an effort to make the main grid more palatable to new residents and corporations, and reached out to enterprises with a costly and apparently ill-fated "behind the firewall" project designed to let corporations set up their own little virtual worlds for in-house purposes. Under Kingdon's direction Linden Lab also worked on improving the "first hour" experience to better retain people trying Second Life for the first time (it seems most people who try out SL never come back), and bought out an almost completely inscrutable Web-based virtual goods store, which it only now is getting around to integrating with Second Life proper.

Philip Rosedale originally stepped down as CEO in favor of Mark Kingdon back in April 2008, so my entire existence in Second Life has been under Kingdon's oversight. (I started back in August 2008.) I can't say what made him stand aside: maybe burnout played a role (as Philip noted this week, Second Life has effectively consumed over a decade of his life), maybe just a desire to do other thinks (like Love Machine?), maybe a sense from Second Life's investors that the virtual world had to grow up and move from being a world of glamazon barbies and virtual dildos to a place where people could Conduct Important Business. Kingdon came to Linden Lab as the CEO of digital advertising agency; before that, he spent over a decade with global auditing giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Many long-time residents of Second Life seem to be welcoming Rosedale's return as a leader who fundamentally understands Second Life and will be able to steer it in the "right" direction…although there doesn't seem to be a ton of agreement on what "right" might be.

From my perspective, Rosedale's return to day-to-day management might be a technical boon for Second Life. Unlike a lot of CEOs, Rosedale has a coding background: way-back-when he developed the video compression technology that was originally at the heart of RealNetworks' RealVideo—Rosedale was Real's CTO before launching Linden Lab in 1999—and after stepping aside as CEO he was actively involved in Linden Lab's own open source Second Life viewer, SnowGlobe, focusing on the world map and (I think) HTTP texture loading. He's a geek. Second Life might be celebrating its seventh anniversary but the service and the platform still require heaps of technical know-how and tweaking once you get beyond the level of casual visits, and having a technically-savvy person in the top seat can't hurt.

I think it's important to note that while Mark Kingdon will likely now be pilloried and made a scapegoat for all that is wrong, awkward, and annoying about Second Life, the man cannot have worked in a vacuum. Rosedale may not have been CEO, but he remained chairman of Linden Lab's board and, until comparatively recently, was a regular in the Linden Lab offices. Linden Lab is privately held: although Kingdon did not have to answer to stockholder, he certainly had to answer to its investors…and Rosedale will have to do the same. I guess it's an open question whether those investors are content to continue to support, essentially, a giant virtual world inspired by Burning Man, or whether their desire to see Second Life finally go mainstream and become "the next big thing" will override other considerations.

Linden Lab has carefully not yet defined how long Rosedale's "interim" stint as CEO might last, or what steps the board is taking to find a permanent chief.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. You can use some HTML tags, such as <b>, <i>, <a>. If you'd like to contact me privately, use a blog comment and say you don't want it published.