I had a little fun poking at someone else’s mistake about Second Life, so it’s only fair that I make this crystal clear, just in case it wasn’t obvious already: Linden Lab has made more mistakes about Second Life than anyone else ever has.
That shouldn’t be a startling admission: When you are the one developing a product or service, you have more opportunities to make both right and wrong decisions about what you’re making. This is probably true about any complex product offering – the maker makes more mistakes than anyone else because no one else has so many chances to screw things up!
What’s different about Linden Lab is that this place is more transparent about its operations than any other private company that I’ve ever seen. For example, there’s the constant stream of information about our service status, straightforward talk about our grid problems, detailed explanations about governmental tax charges, extensive data about our growth statistics, even open discussion about our future grid architecture. The amount of information we expose about the operation of Second Life is appalling, in the view of some. For many others, it’s not anywhere near enough.
One of the great things about this flow of information is that transparency exposes mistakes while simultaneously motivating both correction and prevention. We don’t mind being called out on our mistakes if it helps us improve our service and develop a product that more people will love.
Of course, it would be ideal to never make any mistakes in the first place, but anyone who tells you they can do that has never done anything great.
The tricky part is finding the level of transparency that achieves the right balance between beneficial correction and burdensome maintenance. At a certain point, exposing a mountain of information becomes as opaque as hiding all of it. We’ve tended to err on the side of exposing more rather than less information, and in making these decisions one of our main guides is comparison to other companies offering similar services.
Not that this is a competition or anything . . . but we love to hear about others who are handling the same challenges better – because there’s always someone out there doing it better, and our job is to learn from that example. Here I’m not really talking about the features of Second Life – I’m pretty sure if there was a virtual world with the same features but with, say, rock-solid stability and faultless customer service, we’d hear about it every day until we came up to par or we went out of business trying!
For this post, I’m mostly interested in how other companies handle the transparency of their operations. What are your favorite examples of corporate transparency, who runs your favorite company blog, who finds the best balance between saying too much and too little? I’m sure good examples are out there, and I’d love to hear enough specifics to be able to learn from them.
UPDATE (original 8 Oct, 19:15, update 11 Oct, 17:14):
Thanks, everyone, for your comments – I’ve read through the first 149. Please note Robin responded in a comment. Here’s the messages I heard, and their frequency in the 148 comments (excluding Robin’s):
9% Here’s an example for you to study. [more on these below]
31% Thanks! You Lindens are doing ok . . . or at least I’ve seen worse!
32% Linden Lab sucks! You’re full of lying, hypocritical corporate bull, and you’ll never do anything right!
26% Give us more information, give it to us faster, and give it to us at the right time.
22% We’ve told you a million times: Focus on stability and bug fixing, no new features!
11% Communication is a two-way street, and you Lindens don’t listen.
12% Hey, fix this one issue [issue varies], willya?
Here are the suggested examples:
Nintendo – cited for respect for customers, at least in Japan.
Smash Bros. – cited for timeliness, technical information.
American Express – cited for customer service reps’ politeness, professionalism and preparedness.
Walmart – cited for employee teamwork.
Lush Cosmetics – cited for humility in the face of restart after failure.
Thanks everyone for the great examples – many of these provide real opportunities to learn from, and I hope we can find our own way to meet those high standards.