Volunteers?

“It is evident that LL is only interested in providing services that are inexpensively scalable – witness the ResMods, Greeters, Mentors, etc. Nothing is cheaper than free. But what are their long term goals?”

I recently saw this statement on the forums and as an advocate of volunteerism I think it deserves some discussion.

In my thinking the answer to this question lies in one’s view of responsibility. For me, with responsibilities toward helping Linden Lab become a viable and profitable company, scalability is in fact an on-going challenge. Whether it’s moderating the forums or helping new residents get acclimated I have to strike a balance between providing a useful service and getting trapped in an ever-growing cost for that service.

Let’s look at the forums, as an example.

I want to provide community services such as forums, but the cost to hire staff to moderate those forums as they grow is prohibitive in the long term. So I have a few options — I can hand the forums off to another organization to manage, I can close them, or I can see if the people who are part of the community are interested in helping to support them.

To me, handing the forums off to a 3rd party for moderating means losing a connection that I think is an important one. We have disagreements about how things should be handled, but those disagreements are a dialog between the residents and Linden Lab, not between people with no stake in the game and Linden Lab, leaving the community members out entirely.

Closing the forums or scaling them back to be purely informational is an equally unattractive choice. The discussion forums provide us with good feedback and insights into problems that would be difficult to achieve in other ways. And the regular participants have also become a unique force within the larger Second Life community which I would hate to lose.

So why not ask the people who are part of the community to help support it?

I see volunteer groups as an opportunity for all of us to to take responsibility for leadership within Second Life, helping to shape the direction the world and the community take. It’s not about taking advantage of people or trying to get something for nothing, but an issue of shared responsibility.

My long term goal? To continue to find ways for Second Life residents to participate in defining the direction and values of their community. I’m open to any ideas for how to do that, but I think volunteerism is a great place to start.

About Robin Linden

Be the Change. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. ---Mahatma Gandhi
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4 Responses to Volunteers?

  1. Prokofy Neva says:

    I’m all for volunteer work — in fact I spend a good chunk of my time in SL running various groups, maintaining a land preserve, and helping newbies who are many of my customers adapt to this difficult world with a steep learning curve.

    I, like many, many other volunteers, do this without being part of the official LL phalanx of Mentors, Greeters, Instructors and others who are viewed by a significant number of people in varying degrees of shock, cynicism, and despair. There are a consistent few among these people who misuse their position to gain immunity from TOS enforcement — that discredits the entire institution. Worse, they are largely seen as given a special inside track to peddle their own wares, for free or with landmarks linking to their stores, through the help/greeting system. Indeed, there is widespread belief that this is officially tolerated as a kind of “payment” for the “arduous” work of greeting newbies…and then guiding them to their commerce circles of stores, clubs, attractions.

    As for the forums, many of us are perplexed why even a part-time, fully dedicated, salaried, benefited, insured *office Linden* cannot be devoted to the forums. This would be a well spent $20,000 US out of the $11 m in venture capital. Indeed, spend $60,000 US for a full-time professional staff person and rethink the job in your mind not as “forums moderator” but “web editor” or “web community manager”.

    This is a web service that transacts as much as $250,000 USD per day, with business people on it who even claim RL incomes. They need a place to discuss this business that is fairly, liberally, and evenly moderated with a professional editorial voice and acumen at the helm. They need a normal system of being able to post ads for products, services, and land, and *be able to discuss those services, products, and land* as you would in any normal free society with consumer advocacy as a value. They need a normal system to post shopper-type ads and not be hounded to death for having a yardsale.

    The ResMod system on the forums is a horror, and it’s better to admit it and close it and the forums down and start over. Close the discussion parts of the forums, especially GENERAL, upgrade the TOS, and announce that applications are being accepted for forums participants *one account only, no alts need apply*. Those inevitable squawkers who claim that they are mom and pop on one credit card are welcome to submit their request for exceptions; they will be few in number.

    The single greatest source of poison on the forums is the presence of alts, including alts even talking to themselves in different voices to stir scandal.

    But worst of all is the blatant, obvious, outrageous uneven and biased enforcement that apparently comes from the sheer, simple fact that one young harried Linden staffer whose attention is divided with a dozen other equally or more important tasks is allowed to run this, with evidently no adult supervision, since evidently this person picked “forums” as the “fun thing to do” on the BLOTTD and works under a management concept of “distributive functions”.

    ResMods intrude far too much with editorial comments; they move far too many threads and actually make more work for staff Lindens, not less; they also outrageously give their friends a pass, especially some notoriously foul-mouthed and abusive friends. The fact that ResMods can comment on posts and rate the stars on them is an outrage — it removes even the fig leaf of impartiality.

    LL would also have many more volunteers if they restored the previous criteria: no discipline *within 30 (or 60) days*. By redoing this to say “relatively clean” rap sheet they opened the door for Lindens to give their pets and pals a pass, but kept out those who may have only had an informal warning whom they don’t like. Criteria should not be discretionary; it should be obvious so that anyone can apply unless disqualified under readily-identifiable criteria.

    In order to prevent the volunteers system from growing into a nest of vipers who use internal channels of communications and perks to lord it over others, there should be mandatory retirement or rotation of all volunteers. All. The Mentors simply do not add stock to this world such as to justify their eternal privileged status ranking. These rankings are hold-overs of game MMORPG “wizard” culture — they have no place in a normal, RL-like free market economy.

    The Lindens need to create a Works Progress Administration. If they are going to go on handing out packets of $500 every week, put all these loafers to work. Why have unpaid volunteers, and also print money? Go ahead and print the money, but put people to work paying them for these volunteer jobs like greeting newbies; most of these tasks are tough, thankless work.

    To jump start this program, announce that volunteers who have no disciplinary record for 60 days can sign up for the job of greeting newbies for $250 a week. Make them punch a clock.

    When the land tools are fixed, even Governor Linden could hire help to return garbage prims off land and lay down roads and plant trees.

  2. Prokofy Neva says:

    Here’s a sterling example of what’s wrong with the ResMod system:

    http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?p=973089#post973089

    1. A ResMod using the position of visibility to make sure that as many ads for their products and services are crammed into their profile to get more sales. While that may be an innocent thing, since such a profile may have existed before being a ResMod, the “ResMod” should be a neutral, generic account that people borrow or use temporarily that they do not use as a platform to advance their individual careers and businesses or comment within threads.

    2. A ResMod and a Linden discussing another customer openly, and disparagingly. On the one hand, this fascinating window into the ResMod system that we’re getting in this special ResMod forums section is highly instructive — it’s what has revealed most of the deep flaws and conflicts of interests in this system — but that doesn’t take away from the obvious problem of what it means to be openly airing what is merely *perceived* as a disciplinary problem in a customer.

    3. The chummy sense of entitlement to do this that both ResMod and Linden feel, without any awareness of how it makes them appear to the rest of us — unentitled, unauthorized, illegitimate.

    4. The fatal flaw in the administration of justice that most fair and democratic systems of RL system (and even game justice) avoid: looking at a person’s character and their real or perceived other offenses to just the offense at hand.

    Example: if a person is an illegal immigrant, and his community believes him to be of bad moral character, a judge looking at an allegation of theft against him must not review his immigration status or allow that to factor into his judgement, nor look at hearsay — these are not admissible in a court of law.

    5. The concept of “trolling”. Many more crimes are committed in the name of removing “trolls” or “stopping trolling” than are ever pervented by identifying the phenomenon itself. One man’s troll in a closed society is another man’s persistent, logical, and legitimate dissent in a just and open society.

    Trolling is in the eye of the beholder. Some people might find trolling a form of legitimate parody in a system where people feel injustice, bias, and censorship are so overwhelming that normal discourse is not possible. Clearly, that’s what we’ve got with the SL forums.

    6. There are many other things I think are illustrated by this little exchange, but I’ll stop now in case the TOS is enforced here on this Linden blog like on the SL forums itself.

  3. Robin, I’ll underline your words: “an opportunity for all of us to to take responsibility for leadership within Second Life”.

    Sadly not many are up to that responsability πŸ˜‰

    Ah well, there is nothing wrong with trying. I respect both Prokofy’s and your views on the “importance” of the forums, but I don’t share it. They can be “useful” β€” as in the technical support forums β€” as references; lacking any other mechanism, I can even agree that things like posting events and job opportunities are important.

    Beyond that, well… I don’t see their “importance”. My bias comes from something which is called “forum culture” and which is alien to my personal experience. “Forum culture” is what makes people write forum posts in order to become either “celebrities” or “trolls”. These are philosophical concepts, emerging from years of studies, and archetypes that people tend to follow. In a sense, they’re more worried about meeting the ‘requirements’ of the rules that will make them ‘forum celebrities/trolls’ than to provide content (in the sense that content is more than simply ‘words posted according to a set of rules’).

    So, forum posting is “just a game”. It doesn’t matter what’s being discussed; sometimes the order of the forum articles are irrelevant; what matters is how good you are at playing the “game of forum posting”. This is tiring for people a) wishing to extract information from content; b) simply wish to discuss a certain topic, without any need to “play the forum game”.

    Rezmods are viewed with distrust because they are artificially “breaking the rules of forum play”. They don’t need to ‘become celebrities’ by very successfully writing according to a set of rules; they ‘come from the top’, being ‘invested’ with “Linden authority”. For the ones “playing the forum game” for months or years, this is cause of envy or jealousy: rezmods are “outside” the rules. And outsiders are so often shunned.

    Let me try to give you a counter-example. It’s a virtual world platform called Second Life πŸ™‚ People tend to meet there and discuss things together. The person “calling” the meeting usually sets up a few rules: from free discussions (not unlike the forums) to moderated ones, with more or less degrees of moderation, to the level you have perhaps 10-20 minutes to do a presentation and then it’s up to the next ‘speaker’.

    Inside Second Life, you have all these self-moderated discussion groups. A few (like your own Community Team Roundtable) are Linden-moderated; almost all are resident-moderated. They work well; and people participate in them according to the themes and the moderator’s style. There is always a choice.

    Also, forums can have (limited) search abilities, but that’s impossible with in-world conversations (although one can always ask permission to post the chat log to a website for reference β€” and for getting ‘googled’ to allow for searching πŸ™‚ ).

    Now I’m fully aware that posts on a forum are of a different nature: first, they can extend for years (and not hours); they allow for much larger ‘presentation’ and discussion; also, they’re easier to follow. The disadvantage is that it’s almost impossible to successfully ‘moderate’ them β€” since they have grown hugely. This problem is not new; it has at least some 20 years πŸ™‚ While you can define social rules of behaviour, tracking down those that misbehave is *never* an easy task.

    It’s not surprising that people have slowly moved from the rampant chaos of forums towards something else: blogs. Again, I’m personally not too much into blogging (one would suspect otherwise… πŸ™‚ ), but I recognize it can successfully replace things like forums. For one, they have all the advantages of forums: longer lifetime (ie. again, years of discussion, not hours); longer presentation; (possibly) searchable. And there is a clear-defined moderator, one that not only sets the topic/theme for discussion, but which is able to set the atmosphere, and deal successfully with the ones that do not comply with a certain ‘style’ of commenting. In a sense, it’s much more tyrannical and autocratic: you do whatever you wish with *your* blog. But on the other hand, the issue of moderation is fully addressed β€” you know where you stand, when you comment at someone else’s blog.

    So in a sense, blogs have more to do with in-world discussions: they have a “self-appointed moderator” (a blog owner), a theme (a blog entry), rules of conduct (set by the blogger), and a limited audience (except for some RL political mega-blogs out there). They also have the advantage of persistence and a way to expound longer arguments than in an in-world discussion.

    What I’m trying to say is that I wouldn’t miss the Linden forums if they went away tomorrow. Second Life is so much more transcendant for ‘needing’ forums to ‘complement’ it. I would probably miss things like the annoucements, the job opportunities, and similar non-technical threads; but surely someone would pick them and develop a ‘classifieds for SL’ system (there are a few around). The technical forums would go to a website β€” wiki, knowledge base, whatever fits the model best. And well, if people would REALLY wish to rant at forums, they can set them up for free these days β€” it’s not that it’s a *valuable* service any more, like it used to be…

    At the end of the day, I’m still confident in ‘resident moderation’; what we will see is a decline of the usual posters that don’t like the style of moderation, and a ‘trimming’ of the rezmods that simpy are unfit for moderation. As said, “responsibility for leadership within Second Life” is something which is not for the faint of heart. At the very least, what you’re providing is a test-bed for wannabe leaders. They might find out for themselves that they lack the certain something that makes them ‘leaders’ instead of ‘bosses’. Being a ‘boss’ is easy; you just need authority delegated upon you. A leader is a completely different personality.

    The good news is that a *few* leaders are emerging… and assuming full responsability for what they’re doing πŸ˜‰

  4. Prokofy Neva says:

    RE: >at the end of the day, I’m still confident in ‘resident moderation’; what we will see is a decline of the usual posters that don’t like the style of moderation, and a ‘trimming’ of the rezmods that simpy are unfit for moderation. As said, “responsibility for leadership within Second Life” is something which is not for the faint of heart

    Such trimming and such pushing away of any controversial speaker is death — it’s more “walled garden” type of censorship and it deprives the world of much-needed feedback and correctives. This is an awful development, and not the refinement that Gwyn imagines, but a funneling of information and viewpoints.

    Many people are nauseated by the lack of fairplay and built-in biases and filtration that goes on with the Orwellian-sounding “ResMod” system. If people depart for other blogs or are silenced, that’s no progress, to leave the smug elites congratulating each other on empty threads — that means further atomization and fracturing of a world that needs at least some kind of loose coherence to have a legitimate rule of law.

    I don’t need these “few leaders to emerge”. I need to *elect them* through *legitimate process*. Why would only THOSE leaders emerge and not *others* that might be more fit? I need to have accountable, transparent, procedures for how they take a stand, make a platform, identify issues, even parties — or at least NGOs and civic movements. I don’t want them just to “emerge” off Jeska’s friendship calling card list.

    Thinking that you just pour off ranters and screen out undesirables and elevate a few cherry-picked leaders and you have a viable governance that scales — that’s just stuff they tried in all kinds of empires from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire to China and the Soviet Union — and look where they end up?! This sort of tyranny doesn’t last, even if it scales! It’s not the way for the future, and we shouldn’t be replicating it in new cyber clothing.

    When someone has a blog that gets noticed by Philip Linden himself (!), they may feel that filtered/elitist/high-end blogs by analysts that reach a few critical leaders/decision-makers are “enough”. But what about the rest of us? The forums must remain as the world’s bulletin board and official state mass media, for lack of anything better for now. Like democracy, the forums are “the worst form of government…except for all the others.” The Lindens should convert their thinking about them to that of a concept of “web magazine editor” and apply paid full-time benefited staff to the function of providing an editorial voice, placing interesting content, and managing commentary and notices. Outsourcing the governance of the world to fans for free keeps Second Life mired in fanboy MMRPG culture.

    Countries don’t have legions of volunteers running them — at least only volunteers. They have elected people and paid staff.

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