Second Life CTO Leaves Amid Reports Of Falling Out With CEO - InformationWeek

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IoT
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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
12/12/2007
04:26 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Second Life CTO Leaves Amid Reports Of Falling Out With CEO

Cory Ondrejka, who was employee #4 at Linden Lab, the company that develops Second Life, either quit Tuesday, or was fired.. As with most high-level corporate departures, his going out the door was marked by a terse, vague statement by his -- former -- employers, and a great deal of discussion on blogs. The big question for the Second Life community: Will the change mean faster fixes for the stability and usability problems that plague the grid, or will Ondrejka's departure make things worse?

Cory Ondrejka, who was employee #4 at Linden Lab, the company that develops Second Life, either quit Tuesday, or was fired.. As with most high-level corporate departures, his going out the door was marked by a terse, vague statement by his -- former -- employers, and a great deal of discussion on blogs. The big question for the Second Life community: Will the change mean faster fixes for the stability and usability problems that plague the grid, or will Ondrejka's departure make things worse?

You'll find more details in our report on the departure. Warning: There aren't actually a lot of details known.

Blogger Wagner James Au, a former Linden Lab contractor who worked with Ondrejka several years ago at Linden Lab, remembered Ondrejka as a playful figure. His avatar -- pictured on Au's blog -- was the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a satirical symbol against Creationism and intelligent design.

Ondrejka was one of the two most indispensable employees of Linden Lab, writes a well-known Second Life resident who goes by the SL name Tateru Nino (like many in the SL community, she keeps her RL identity secret). The other, says Nino, is Robin Harper, vice-president, marketing & community development for Linden Lab.

"That's not to say neither of them can be replaced, but those two individuals form the fundamental direction of Linden Lab," Nino wrote. "I'm not going to tell you that Ondrejka's departure is necessarily a bad one or a good one. Two highly creative and motivated people may produce brilliant work, but simply be unable to do so together. So it seems, with Ondrejka and [Linden Lab founder and CEO Philip] Rosedale."

She added: "What we can say is that it signals a major change in direction for Linden Lab as we go into 2008. Ondrejka's next career move could mean a profound change of direction for another company as well."

What does the change mean to the Second Life community? The biggest complaint that residents have is with stability. Second Life crashes frequently and often suffers performance problems (known in in-world jargon as "lag.") Will Cory's replacement speed up fixing those problems, or was Cory providing leadership that will prove irreplaceable?

A Second Life resident who goes by the name "Moo Money" appears to have found a copy of the farewell e-mail Rosedale sent out to Linden Lab staff, to let them know Ondrejka was leaving. Nino (who writes on the same blog as Money, Massively), appears to have obtained Ondrejka's farewell e-mail.. Both messages claim that Ondrejka and Rosedale have different visions for the future of Linden Lab, and that's why Ondrejka left.

But what are those differing visions? I don't know what Ondrejka's vision was, but I know how Rosedale viewed Second Life. He has a religious conviction about the power of virtual worlds as a way of improving life for people the world over -- he sees Second Life as a place where you can re-invent yourself, be who you want to be and create the world you want. That vision is woven into the fabric of Second Life: When you sign in, you choose a new name for yourself. The terms of service strictly prohibit "outing" another resident's real-life identity against their will. Other than that, Linden Lab mostly keeps a hands-off policy on activity in-world, it doesn't make many rules and it doesn't get involved in resident disputes.

Not all residents share that vision. I, for example, am pretty open about who I am in real life (my avatar name is Ziggy Figaro), even to the point of having my real-life name, phone number, and e-mail address in my Second Life profile.

Most residents keep at least a veil of anonymity between their real-life and Second Life activities. A virtual world doesn't have to be that way, though. It could be modeled on Facebook. Your avatar would have your real-life name (or a nickname of your choosing), and the world would include tools designed to make it easy to share your real-life biography, interests, e-mail, and other contact information, integrating your blog, Flickr, and other personal information on the Web.

Another clue as to Ondrejka's possible reason for departure comes in a mission statement posted by Rosedale to Linden Lab's official Second Life blog last month. In it, he describes how the company's focus until then had been adding new features and capabilities, but now they needed to focus on stability and usability. He said downtime was down in September and October, and client and server crashes will be reduced through the first quarter.

"It may sometimes seem like we are not listening, but I can tell you that we are," Rosedale wrote. "We are changing, for the better, and I think, for a company of almost 250 people, we are doing it faster than expected." Client and server crashing, he said, is the "weakest link" for Linden Lab, and those will be substantially reduced over the next two quarters.

Rosedale also said the company needs to make it easier to browse the Web from in-world in the short term. Further out, the company needs to redesign the Second Life user interface to make it easier to advocate -- even Second Life enthusiasts acknowledge that the user interface is very difficult to learn. Linden Lab needs to keep working on opening up server and client source code, and to communicate better with its community, Rosedale said.

Are those the reasons for Ondrejka's departure? Did he think the company needed to put more emphasis on adding new features in the short term? Did he agree that stability and usability should be the short-term goal for Linden Lab, but think that Rosedale was going about the process wrong?

And another open question: What will Ondrejka do next?

What do you think is in the future of Second Life? For Ondrejka? What difference will Ondrejka's departure make? Leave a message below and let us know.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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