MuniGov Moves to GovGrid

Given all the craziness going on these days at Linden Labs, the MuniGov group has decided to move our new virtual home base over to ReactionGrid, specifically to an area dubbed GovGrid.

Fortunately, one of our founding members, Pam Broviak, saw the writing on the wall a while back with Linden Labs and snatched up some land that we can now use as our primary homebase.

More details are available in the great article done by Maria Korolov over at Hypergrid Business.

Stay tuned for more details on how your organization can become a part of the new MuniGov!

Microsoft to Buy Linden Labs?

Wow.  Talk about the two ends of the techno-food chain coming together!

Earlier this week, several tech/MMO news outlets including ITProPortal, TechEye, and Massively reported on a rumor that Linden Labs, creators of the virtual world of Second Life, were quietly considering purchase offers, and that they had an offer on the table from Microsoft.

At this point, I am calling it a rumor only, because as far as I can tell, both sides are staying mum about it (which of course seems to give the rumor that much more validity). However, what we do know as fact is that Linden Labs has been on shaky ground lately, both the virtual kind and the financial kind.  The past year has not been kind to SecondLife, which for a long time was regarded as THE virtual world for choice for both business and entertainment.

While trying to fend off lower-cost competitors like ReactionGrid, which has a similar user interface, the company has also gone through some corporate shake-ups recently. A massive layoff in June was followed closely by the departure of CEO Mark Kingdon.  In August LL announced a planned shut-down of their teens-only grid and less than two weeks ago they closed up shop on their Avatars United, an virtual-worlds version of Facebook.  News of the Microsoft offer also came with info that LL quietly closed down their UK offices several months ago, making them more agile (and primed for an acquisition?)

Technical issues have also plagued the company as of late.  Their latest sponsored viewer has been out for several months yet still only has a lukewarm reception in the user community.  And on top of that, the most popular third-party viewer, Emerald, has been completely neutralized as a sanctioned-viewer option with Linden Labs shutting it down due to concerns over hackability.

And finally, Linden Labs has suffered from a market that has grown cold to the allure first promised by virtual worlds several years ago.  At the beginning, many thought that they were going to be “the next big thing”, and for many, they were…at least for a few minutes.  But the steep learning curve, objectionable content and a general lack of understanding in the overall computing population has relegated it to an area of business reserved for technophiles, dreamers and geeks (I happily count myself in each of these groups).  It still remains popular as an entertainment outlet for those seeking fun and conversation, but it stands among many competitors now in that regard.

I still strongly believe in the power of virtual worlds.  They can bridge gaps of time and distance.  They can provide safe and cost-effective opportunities for idea sharing, training and dialog.  But now LL faces financial issues, technical issues and marketability issues.  They need to be more stable in every sense of the word.  They need to have cash-flow.  And they need to have a global reach.  Microsoft could provide all of that for them.  But it would come at a price.  Creativity might be stifled, deployment of solid revisions could be slow, etc.

But overall, if it was to happen, I think it ultimately could be the life-preserver LL needs to survive in this economy.  I consider myself cautiously optimistic that overall, it would be a positive move for bringing the value of virtual worlds to the general population.  I’ll definitely be staying tuned for more info!

10/5/10 UPDATE – Wow, and now as of October 4, Linden Labs announced that they will no longer be offering discounts to education and non-profit entities: “All  education and non-profit private regions of any type, purchased after Dec. 31, 2010, will be invoiced at standard (i.e. non-discounted) pricing.  All currently discounted renewals which occur after Dec. 31, 2010, will be  adjusted to the new price at that time.” Nice job guys – as if it wasn’t hard enough already for us in the public sector to get traction for virtual worlds, you’ve gone and doubled the pricing with three month’s notice. Time to fire up the OpenSim account!

This Week’s 2.0 Company Happenings: The Good, The Bad and The What?

I don’t normally spend much time focusing on the corporate structure behind the tentpole companies of today’s social media movement.  But the recent announcements from Linden Labs and Twitter both seemed to be worth a little review, particularly from the Government perspective.

First – The What?

This week Twitter announced that they are “looking for an experienced, entrepreneurial person to make Twitter better for policymakers, political organizations, and government officials and agencies.”  The position is intended to be housed in Washington, DC  and apparently is supposed to focus on being a liaison between all areas of Twitter as a company…and all areas of government.  According to the announcement, “responsibilities will include:

  • Provide excellent support of government and political use of Twitter.
  • Advocate for government and political users within Twitter.
  • Increase political use of Twitter.
  • Develop best practices and other educational material.
  • Do outreach to better understand government needs.”

Wow – good luck with that!  That’s a pretty tall order.  In my observation, there are dozens of PR and communication firms inside and outside the beltway who focus on each of those bullets individually already. And what about the rest of us who don’t operate in DC?  Local governments and state governments have proven that Twitter use can be an integral part of our communications and outreach strategy, but our support needs are very different than those on the federal level.  And the politicians too?  Very, very different needs.  Truth be told, this probably would’ve been more effective if it had been in place a couple years ago when tweeting first started.  I know it would’ve saved a lot of us govies the trouble of trying to figure it out ourselves.  But now it seems a little late since so many govts are already doing it, and doing it well I might add.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Twitter for looking at us in government with enough interest to appoint somebody to liaison with us. But that job described above, in today’s 2.0 environment, is going to be hard to do as a one-person show in my opinion.  So far, from one what I’ve review online, most of the people who’ve thrown their hat in the ring are not actually in government.  Even so,  some of the nominations are certainly worth reviewing. I hope that whomever they select doesn’t stay inside the beltway all the time.  Don’t forget the 50 states and the hundreds of counties and cities out here who are also being innovative and would welcome an opportunity for a little face time as well!

We shall see what happens…

Second – The Bad?

This week also brought what most are considering to be bad news to the 2.0 realm. Linden Labs announced “a strategic restructuring to increase focus on the company’s consumer business including investments intended to enhance ease of use and participation in its virtual goods marketplace through browser-based and mobile applications.”  Unfortunately, that also translates to a cut of about 30% of their workforce, including our government liaison. This comes on the heels of the recent release of their drastically redesigned client interface, which has had consistently mixed reviews from the user community.  Additionally, the prices for Linden land are steep, which makes it difficult for governments to participate in SecondLife, particularly when they are much less expensive alternatives available. Is this a downward spiral for Linden Labs when it comes to government? IMHO, this is still TBD.

On a positive note, the news release also promises a stronger focus on the company’s primary long-term goal: “to create a browser-based virtual world experience, eliminating the need to download software.” This could potential be a huge step forward in the government sector.  Information security concerns and the steep learning curve have made it difficult for many organizations to get in-world long enough to see the infinite possibilities available.  Technologically speaking, this is becoming much closer to a reality and if LL truly does focus on this goal, it could mean a second (larger) wave of acceptance and popularity as tool, both in general and specifically in government. So, as with the Head Gov Twit appointment above, I am conflicted and will have to wait and see…

Third – The Good!

And finally, the last job related note from me this week.  This one, although it has received much less fanfare and notoriety than the first two above, is nonetheless to me the most positive. AmericaSpeaks.org has posted a help wanted ad for a newly-created position called Director of Online Engagement & Participation. According to Susanna Haas Lyons from America Speaks, “the position is unique in the way that it draws on three distinct skill sets – digital tools, business development, and citizen participation – and correspondingly offers a leading opportunity to advance the voice of citizens in governance while changing the way agencies at all levels of government use technology to achieve their mandate.” Social media as a platform and citizen participation as a focus? Now that is truly an innovative opportunity. The person in this spot is going to have all kinds of fun with the tools and the practice of engagement!

Also this week, the Big Apple posted a new job – Chief Digital Officer. The new position is designed to “develop forward-thinking policies on social media, digital communications, Web 2.0 initiatives and other tools to better serve the public.” Very similar to the America Speaks position in some ways, albeit more focused on the NYC’s well-publicized digital channels.

If you’ve got the tech chops and the communications experience, I’d suggest you toss your hat in the ring early ’cause my guess is that both of these are going to be very busy!  Meanwhile, I will be over here festering in jealously, waiting to hear more about the lucky souls who gets to fill those spots.