The Second Life community today got its first good news in what seems like forever -- Linden Lab, the creator and operator of the virtual world, announced its pick for new CEO. At first glance, his resumé looks like the right combination of business acumen and creativity needed to restart the engines on the foundering ship.Mark Kingdon worked as CEO of Organic Inc., a digital communications agency, since 2001. Before Organic, Kingdon worked with Idealab, a technology incubator. Before that, he was a partner with the consulting division of PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he worked for 12 years. He has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and a BA in economics from UCLA, according to a statement from Linden Lab.
Philip Rosedale, the founder and chairman of Linden Lab, writes on the company blog:
As you might imagine in a new leader of Linden Lab, there are lots of great things I could say about [Kingdon], but let me just pick a few and then encourage you to meet him in-world. He is a person with the rare and unusual combination of business leadership, creativity, and passion for Second Life that we were looking for. In terms of history, he has a background in art, economics, and business. He has been in successful and highly regarded leadership roles at two companies that are bigger than Linden Lab: PricewaterhouseCoopers and Organic. He is a well-loved people leader who is fearless and can weather challenges and change.
He is going to start on May 15th. Like I said when we started looking, I am not going anywhere, and will be working with Mark to help lead Linden and Second Life onward. I am really looking forward to working with him, as he has so many skills and capabilities that will help us and that I can also learn from -- here are a few: He will have an intense focus on improving the in-world experience and stability and reliability of Second Life. He has extensive hands-on experience with user experience design, which will be critical in making Second Life an easier and better experience for more people. Finally, he has a ton of experience leading companies and products with global reach, which is now essential given that the great majority of Second Life usage is international and Linden Lab will continue to grow as an international company with offices in many locations.
Rosedale announced last month that he's stepping aside as CEO of Linden Lab. He said he will continue as full-time chairman and focus his attentions on overall strategy and technology, leaving the running of the company to the incoming CEO.
Second Life was wildly successful in 2006 and the first half of 2007. The total number of Second Life accounts went from 2 million in December 2006 to 13.35 million today. Server usage -- which Linden Lab calls "land sales" -- and the internal economy of virtual goods and services bought and sold with Linden Dollars are booming. The number of people logged in at any given time routinely tops 60,000 and is growing fast.
But one very important metric is flat: The number of people who log in regularly, spending more than an hour or two a month in-world, has remained nearly constant, at less than 600,000, since December.
The combination of statistics is puzzling, suggesting that either (1) the statistics are, quite simply, wrong, or (2) the size of the Second Life community is static, but members of the community are spending more and more time in-world and becoming more and more committed.
Second Life has a lot of problems. It's difficult to learn, it's difficult to communicate to outsiders why they might want to join ("What do you do in there?" has no easy answer). Worst of all, perhaps, the platform is as buggy as a mattress in a $10 motel, prone to frequent crashes, lockups, and idiosyncratic incompatibilities with specific hardware configurations. I know when I log in, most of the time I either can't get in or my session ends with the client crashing or freezing.
When Second Life works, though, it's terrific. You have the experience of being immersed in a magical world where you can talk to humanoid cat-people, vampires, angels, and demons. You can fly, and you can build machines and buildings that defy the laws of physics. It's that experience that keeps me, and hundreds of thousands of other regular users, coming back.
Kingdon, the new CEO of Linden Lab, faces the big job of preserving the magic of Second Life while also starting to run Linden Lab like a mature technology business. I'm cautiously optimistic he'll prove up to the job.