Much of this falls under the “who the hell cares” category, but there’s one aspect of it that I would find disturbing if I still cared about decisions by Linden Lab.

The PR Move: Residents Get to Welcome Philip Back With A Contest
Back in the middle of August, Melissa Linden announced a contest: Philip Linden needed a makeover.

This is indeed an excellent public relations move; it can distract the residents from some of the problems of the last two years and remind them that Philip is back (2.0) and that it is a time of change for SL and LL.

“Keep in mind, we want some essence of the old Philip (he wants to remain a male avatar), but we want your imagination and creativity to shine through. If you want to participate, we ask that you create a full  look for Philip’s new avatar — hair, skin, clothes, etc. He’ll choose his top favorites from the images you submit, then we’ll open up the voting for the community to decide a winner.

The rules on the entry form were pretty simple — here are the first three (the fourth was a style card listing where each item came from):

  • Submissions are limited to one avatar per Resident
  • Upload the avatar image to Flickr.com
  • Tag the Flickr image: PhilipLindenMakeover2010

Searching Flickr for that tag reveals all the entries.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we hear nothing for two months.  There are no updates at all, no follow-up announcement of his choices for the “top favorites”.  No announcement of when the voting would open.

Then, suddenly, there is a “winner”.  It’s an entry from Mars Absent.   o..O

And actually it’s not… there is no entry by Mars Absent.   O..o

Philip 1.0
Okay, since this whole contest organization thing is frustrating, let’s distract ourselves with the makeover for a moment.  I must say the original “cartoon” Philip was incredibly bad.  If I saw someone in SL for years who had an avatar like that, I would think:

  • a rarely-used alt account,
  • a griefer I better keep an eye on with my finger on eject & ban, or
  • a lazy non-contributor who does not take the time to move past freebies and use SL the fuller way it was intended.

And for that last one, we are talking about Philip Linden here, so clearly that is not the kind of avatar that should be representing SL.

Philip 2.0
At least the 2.0 look is not a total embarrassment, although it does embellish his feminine side a bit.  I have never heard anything about Mr. Linden’s sexual orientation, but between a fluorescent crotch, eye liner and chaps (that reveal a glittering ass), he’s not exactly the spokesperson for “macho”.  Although maybe for “Macho Man“.  But an avatar can be used to represent the person behind the mask, so in the end it has to feel right only to Philip, or it will be used once or twice and then abandoned for something else.  So at least it’s an improvement.  But I’m not posting this article to review Philip 2.0.  One more paragraph, then I’ll get back to my point.

There has been some negative feedback on Philip 2.0, and mostly I think this is centered around the idea of opportunity lost.  As the face of Linden Lab, it was a chance to show the world what SL could do.  In fact, if I was running the contest, I would not have picked one winner, but rather all “top” entries, and alternated between them depending on the setting.  Everything from Halloween avatars to robots to tinies to a Linden-in-a-suit would have been a great chance to show what kind of variety and personalization there is in SL.  In the end, it’s really just Philip 1.0 with more pixels.  More pixels!  But unfortunately not more cowbell.  But that is what the contest entries were, pretty “boring” but improved Philips.  This may be the result of saying “we want some essence of the old Philip (he wants to remain a male avatar)”, which is fine — it’s Philip’s avatar; so of course he gets to define the constraints here.

Another Positive PR Opportunity Ruined
What bothers me about this whole thing is two things: the minor aspect of the lost opportunity to use Philip’s avatar as a showcase for SL, and more importantly, the total disregard for the contest rules and plan that they themselves chose:

  1. The final “top entrants” was never announced, preventing other entrants from being promoted as “finalists”.
  2. The winner was not chosen by the SL residents, as promised in the original posting.
  3. The winner was not even chosen from the contest entrants!

Instead of showing some community spirit, this whole contest just raises more questions about how decisions and process works at Linden Lab, and whether Melissa Linden was actually authorized to say the things she said in the first posting, and was acting as a spokesperson for Philip here.  Why did they announce that the residents would vote on his avatar — quite a positive thing — and then yank that vote back out of their hands?  Why did they decide on a process and announce it, then use an entirely different process?  Why did they eventually select a winner that did not even submit an entry with the other entrants?  Were there other entrants that the residents also did not get to even see?

So what happened here is that Linden Lab announce something, apparently without enough thought, then changed their minds.  And now that has pissed off some of the residents.  No surprise there.

I don’t think this is anything new for Linden Lab, but it’s in fact a good example of a PR blunder, something I’ve pretty much now come to expect from Linden Lab.

So much for showcasing how things are changing now that Philip is back.  It’s more like showcasing how Philip (or LL) has changed since Philip was last at the helm.

Based on the “fuck off” article posted by one blogger, and the comments there, some people just don’t get it.  They say it’s up to Philip to have whatever avatar he wants, and it’s none of our business.

Normally I’d agree, but this case is different.  I think these people have forgotten already (or are simply ignorant of the facts of) what the plan was here.  This was specifically a gift from Philip to the residents.  Philip’s decision to let the residents choose was made in August.  “He’ll choose his top favorites from the images you submit, then we’ll open up the voting for the community to decide a winner.”  Now that gift has been stolen back, unilaterally awarded to someone who did not even file a proper entry, without announcing any other top finalists, and without a vote by the residents.

And while I don’t really care about his avatar, I do care about what happened here, as it represents the people in charge.  It shows the poor character involved, the leadership and organizational failures, and the failure to choose wisely and stick with decisions; even the ones that don’t really matter much.

It also shows that even a simple positive PR move (and quite an intelligent move) can be turned into a PR mess by the people at Linden Lab.