#SL’s New Linden Helpers

I am seeing blogs on Second Life’s Beta Helpers project. I am wondering what is going on. Second Life used to have volunteer mentors helping on the SL Welcome Islands. These were the people I went to for answers early in my SL experience. The mentors program was closed and now the Lab seems to be starting over with Helpers? So, what’s up?

Volunteers? - Image by mrsdkrebs at Flickr

The Blog View

Danial Voyager is always curious and blogging about interesting and new things in SL. His post gives about the most complete coverage of the new helpers I’ve seen. See: New Linden Helpers Beta Program.

The Problem

Once upon a time… volunteer mentors manned the Linden Welcome/Help Islands. The Lab ran the Volunteer’s group. It is hard to trace that history in the SL Wiki and the forum, as both have changed since the group was disbanded. However, Massively reported on the disbanding in an article by Tateru Nino in November of 2009. See: Linden Lab to disband moribund mentor group.

There are discussion threads on the closing in the forum archive. One such is here: SL Mentors.

If you are wondering why the Lab decided mentors was not such a good idea, there are a few reasons that made it out. One was Mark Kindom, then the Linden CEO, felt it did not scale well. I suppose one could read into that phrase the many problems that plagued the group from his viewpoint.

One problem was getting information to the mentors as things change. The Lab could and did post information on SL, viewer, and policy changes in/to the group, but many mentors apparently never bothered to read the information. I’ll boil all that huge debate into a few words, the Lab had problems communicating/working with the mentors’ group. This should come as no surprise to those planning on attending (or having attended by the time you are reading this) the Zindra Expo meeting Sunday 1PM or Saturday’s Zindra Alliance meeting. The SL Vampires are dealing with the same communication issues as seen in Thursday’s Community Tools meeting.

My point in the preceding paragraph is the communication problem that defeated the mentor idea is an ongoing one. Until the base cause is recognized and dealt with, it will continue.

Another problem was statistics revealed that new players working with island mentors did not stay in SL. In fact they left sooner and in larger numbers than those that had no contact with Welcome/Help Mentors. Statistics can be misleading and the opportunity for the stats information on mentors to mislead is certainly present.

A couple of people helped me when I first came in. I did not find out about Welcome/Help Island mentors until after I was in SL for almost a year. So, I can’t see where mentors is a bad thing.

But, as things are organized and people try to control them things get complex. An often like the consistent pattern of governments producing the opposite result of the intended result, so too do many organized groups produce more problems than they solve. Read the Alphaville Herald’s articles on drama in SL for examples of group problems. So, it may be more accurate to say organizing is more the problem than are the mentors.

The Change

Replacing the Volunteer Mentor program is a fall back to the Resident Help Network (RHN).  This appears to have formed about the time I came into Second Life, about June 2008. The RHN has been a Linden run umbrella listing of help and support groups in SL. Somewhat like the third party viewer list. It seems to have changed and moved to a more prominent role in late 2009.

There is a History Tab in the wiki. One can sort through the changes to a page over time. It is not easy reading but one can get a sense of the changes.

It seems the Lab decided it was better to get out of the support business. Many of us think that may be a good idea. After all some number of us feels we know more about using SL than the Lindens do. So, moving the mentors into smaller better managed groups seems a good idea. Supposedly that can work, even if whether it has or hasn’t in the past is debatable.

The Newer Change

Now instead of a Welcome or Help islands we have a Greeters island. If you’re from the Myst-Uru world, the name greeters will stir memories. Whether or not you are/were a Myst-Uru player, the name does have connotations and new users should easy recognize the purpose.

We also now have a group of people labeled Linden Helpers. It is unclear whether these will be Linden Lab employees or resident volunteers.

If the Lab was a sane, intelligent human with rational plans and a memory, we could make a guess based on past experience and have a good chance of predicting whether these will be employees or volunteers. But, the Lab is a company and when employees leave, for whatever reason, it is like having chunks of the brain removed. Whole sections of planning and learning disappear and the lost lessons have to be relearned (history repeats). So, predicting based on the Lab’s history is shaky.

Other Factors

We see the Lab reducing participation and interaction with user groups in several places. I see the places where those reductions occur as groups where the Lab seems to have the outlook users must be managed. It may be the Lab has learned/decided they cannot manage users. Managing volunteers is a very specialized branch of management. Few people are suited to it or bother to study it. So, it may be a positive that the Lab is moving out of those areas. …or a disaster.

The history to date suggests these Helpers may be paid employees.

The events in regard to the gateway Request for Proposal and following planned agreement to privatize the Zindra gateways suggest another possibility: privatization of support groups. I think paid Linden staff more likely because I don’t see the privatization patterns here that are in the Zindra changes. But, I may have them.

Summing It Up

There is lots of speculation here. But, the Lab may well be looking for ways to change the financial model for Second Life… more privatization for which the Lab gets paid. Or possibly just add more income-centers to the model. This could lead to some new model for using SL to handle commercial advertizing in-world.

In time we will see what happens.

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