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For a long time, I have felt Linden Lab does not take advantage of the huge pool of free expertise available within the resident population. Time and again, I have read brilliant posts by a wide variety of residents who weep with frustration at LL's seeming disinterest in their contributions. Two years ago, in an article called The Way it Should Have Been, I said, "The forum would be 50% shorter and 100% more productive if the company had the wisdom to treat its residents as an intellectual goldmine rather than a herd of cattle."

Having been in the fora since the vBulletin days of 2007, I would estimate no less than a dozen regular posters are at McKinsey level. In total, I'd say Linden Lab has at its disposal about 500 highly skilled, professional consultants within the resident population. The billing rate for a such a pool of talent would range between US$300 and US$2,000 per day, averaging about US$500 per day. Presume 10 of those 500 consultants are posting on the forum at any given time, Linden Lab has free advice to the tune of about US$5,000 per day. On major issues such as gambling, banking, VAT, Openspace sim pricing, 'adult' content, viewer development, mesh or script limits, that figure can rise to US$10,000 per day of consulting services. Any sane business would kill to have such a pool of talent at its fingertips for free!

How, then, can Linden Lab best utilize this priceless resource? Well, there is the Knowledge Base for one, which LL has indeed converted into an asset. Now, there is this integrated communication system (Lithium), which, in my opinion, has been very successful at facilitating resident-company communication. Recently, inworld Office Hours were scrapped as being unproductive. They were replaced by inworld usergroups, which, in my opinion, are equally unproductive.

So, this new forum software (improvement) coincides with an attempt to revitalize Office Hours in the form of usergroups (basically, a name change for something that never really worked). Put all the pieces together and one cannot help but come to the conclusion that fora-based usergroups could be a major improvement in resident-company communication. With that in mind, let me repost from another thread:

The purpose of usergroups (inworld or fora-based) is to:

  • facilitate communication between resident experts and Linden Lab employees
  • enable realtime communication

There are two media suitable for usergroups:

  • inworld meetings
  • special sub-fora with regular, 'live attendance' timeslots

How would fora-based usergroups be set up?

  • create a new forum called User Groups (Second Life, Content Creation, Technology, Commerce, Buy and Sell Land, International, User Groups)
  • create 11 sub-fora within the User Group forum (Scripting, Mesh, my.secondlife.com, Simulator, V2, Viewer Evolution, Marketplace, Community Translation, Community Tools, Events, Server Beta)
  • only LL employees can create threads in the User Group sub-fora
  • each User Group sub-forum has a top-level thread called Agenda
  • Linden employees would create threads for agenda items (which would persist)

How would these sub-fora usergroups work?

  • members and employees could post in the usergroup threads at any time, 24/7
  • employees would have a 'live attendance' schedule when they would participate in realtime

Advantages of fora-based meetings:

  • the location of the User Group forum is fixed and obvious to everyone
  • members could contribute at any time (bypassing RL constraints)
  • members and employees could read posts, think and prepare for 'live attendance' slots
  • realtime communication (text, image, video)
  • contributions persist and can be added to even if a 'live attendance' slot is canceled
  • business is conducted in non-competitive posts
  • employees can post on an ad-hoc basis if they wish (outside of 'live attendance' times)
  • no need for transcription
  • no need to log inworld

Disadvantages of fora-based meetings:

  • no visible avatar
  • less fun
  • wider and possibly more frivolous participation
  • more work for Linden Lab employees

Advantages of inworld meetings:

  • avatar-to-avatar visual symbol exchange
  • realtime communication (open chat, IM, notecard)
  • more fun

Disadvantages of inworld meetings:

  • participants must search for date, time and location of meetings
  • participants must be available at time of meetings (RL schedule, timezone differences)
  • meetings are very limited in terms of time
  • no business can be accomplished outside of allotted time
  • meetings may be canceled, resulting in zero productivity
  • business is conducted mainly in competitive, open chat
  • time wasted in non-business banter
  • chat history must be transcribed (including non-business banter)
  • lag and crashes

Regarding inworld meetings and conferences in general, I think Second Life has much to offer, but not all meetings and conferences are the same. If the goal of a meeting is to facilitate metaphorical transactions (nightclubs, fashion shows, sensual liaisons) where symbol content is important, inworld is the obvious choice. I would also say that unidirectional presentations (lectures, slideshows) work well in SL, but if one wishes to solicit knowledge and experience in the form of a dialog for the purpose of decision-making, I believe clearly-written arguments in a forum work best.

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Deltango Vale wrote: Recently, inworld Office Hours were scrapped as being unproductive. They were replaced by inworld usergroups, which, in my opinion, are equally unproductive.

 I would have to agree with you on this. It appears only certain people are heard and the rest fall on deaf ears.

 

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Speaking just of the Community User Group, doesn`t the Community Feedback forum serve the same purpose as your proposed forum and we currently have that plus an hour inworld once a week "live". So it would seem we are getting the best of both worlds.

The meeting is the same time and place every week so I`m not sure about your claim that "participants must search for date, time and location of meetings" &  also anyone can add stuff to the agenda and see the transcript posted after the event if they are unable to attend personally.

If the other user groups do not have the benefit of their own feedback forums too, then I agree that would be a good thing to add.

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Deltango .. first off thank you for starting this in its own Topic. There is a lot of very good content in your post that deserved its own showcase. (And if you were billing out at an "Industry Standard Rate" .. well, you'd be buying breakfast for the regulars around here easily. *smile*)

Overall I agree with the need to have two types of discussion. As I've posted elsewhere, I think both the leisurely discussion and the fast-paced meeting formats are valuable for their own reasons. The relaxed dynamic of the basic Forums ... posts, replies, stir frequently ... is an excellent incubator for the presentation and general discussion of both new and old topics. As it stands now, most of the Topics are created by Residents, but I'm hopeful that very soon we will see more transparency from inside the Lab as they begin communicating TO us via their own Topics as well.

However I find just as much value in the deadline driven format that now exists in the form of User Group meetings. The comments are shorter, more "to the point" and less filled with grandiose long-winded prose. (And I'm one to know about those kinda posts. LOL) That urgency that infuses meetings acts as an effective filter for most people, subconsciously forcing them to abandon topics that already have been debated to death, and shaping the few comments that are contributed into specific targeted statements loaded with the best of the best in opinions and positions.

On reading your bullet points, I get the feeling that you also feel that the "live" nature of meetings is valuable, however you find the in-world meeting format to be problemmatic. If I am understanding you correctly, I have to say ... I sort of agree. I have a fairly powerful machine, but even so I have found myself lagged, stuck waiting for my comment to appear in chat, or worse crashed out because of all the problems attendant with large groups of Avatars in one location. I find the format, in the sense of the time-constrained rapid-fire nature, valuable, but when it is hampered by the technical issues that serve only to annoy and distract, the meeting format loses a lot of its value.

Your proposal seeks to do away with the in-world meetings and replace them with a "Live Forum" style. I think you're on the right track, but unfortunately the Forums are technically incapable of providing anything resembling "live". They are designed from the ground up to be nearly static text respositories, and only display new content when you hit the "Refesh" (or similar) function to retrieve a full set of the current content. However there IS a communication tool that meets your needs, does away with the technical encumbrances of in-world meetings .. AND has the advantage of being extremely easy to implement as well as possessing a very long and well-known reputation for reliability.

An IRC Chat Server.

/me quickly steps aside of the inbound rotten tomatoes ....

IRC Chat is a very "old" and stable technology. A basic IRC Chat Client is built into the Phoenix viewer, but there are also many good solid standalone and web-based IRC Clients as well. IRC Chat has the advantage of capturing a complete log of the conversation, capable of handling 100's if not 1000's of users at one time (although that gets noisy as all get out) and can be easily "joined" without the issues of teleporting, landmarks, rez times and lag. In fact, IRC is so well known that the little text-widget I used just above (the "/me" action) had its start in the IRC chat world .. and most people know exactly what it means.

One mechanism of the in-world meeting that would need to be preserved though is the "Official Times and Places" requirement. IRC Channels set up specifically for each segment of Second Life (Community Tools, Commerce, Servers, Viewers, Mesh, etc.) would only be opened and accessible at specific times and closed at all others. IRC not only makes this management task easy, it even provides a method to "voice" specific people so that the actual contributors can be kept to a selected group of people should the "noise" get to be too chaotic.

Above all else though, what is really needed is a formalization of the communication process. As it stands now, there is no uniform consensus among the Residents or the Lindens as to how communication occurs or what stages should or can exist. That formalization needs to be accepted by both sides of the table, and then used by every department and division within the Lab and the Community.

So with that concept in mind, I'd like to propose the following:

1. The Lithium-based Forums are used (more or less as they are now) to discuss topics of interest. These topics will be created by both Residents and Lindens. Everyone is allowed (encouraged) to contribute and debate as desired.

2. Any of the topics may be added to the "Agenda Suggestion List" (which is now kept on a Wiki page for some of the departments). As the date and time of the next "IRC Meeting" approaches, the Department Manager will review the list of suggested topics and select those which appear to have the highest demand and interest then communicate those selections to the rest of the Community .. somehow. (This step could really benefit by something akin to the JIRA Issue and Vote system, but no matter how it's done, it needs to make it easy for the Department Manager to see what topics really matter to the Residents and communicate clearly which topics are actually to be discussed.)

3. At the announced date and time, the appropriate IRC Channel is opened by the Department Manager and the accepted Agenda Topics are discussed and then either finalized and marked off or continued on to other future meetings and discussion. The intended goal of the meeting is to "Resolve" as many open Topics as is possible .. even if that resolution is "not gonna happen".

It is my opinion that some form of well understood and formalized pathway is essential to maintaining communication in both directions. At present the gulf between the two sides .. Residents on one, Lindens on the other .. is at the root of most of the conflict and friction that keeps us all frustrated and deadlocked.

I agree with you, the Resident talent pool begging to contribute and be heard is massive .. and going to waste. I don't think I'm stretching things by saying that the longer that valuable resource goes unused, the thinner and weaker it gets as more of the most precious sources pull up stakes and head for other lands (and Virtual Worlds). I also feel that many of the great ideas that Linden Lab has never get the proper play, the right focus and eventually turn into sources of conflict because their details are kept secret until the day of release .. and then dropped into our midst like bombs. (If it looks like a bomb, ticks like a bomb, and when it goes off there's nothing but gibs left .. then it's a bomb!) With better communication about their ideas when they are first hatched, not only can we help them winnow out the real dogs, but also help them refine and support the gems and winners too.

Bottom line? We want more and better communication .. period. The recent increase in posts authored by Lindens is a massive improvement. Now that we've got the ball rolling, I think it's time to make sure that ball is aimed in the right direction.

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In my opinion, the general Community Feedback forum and the several topical fora remain too broad to be an efficient method of consultation on specific issues. While I hate the comparison with government, specialist knowledge and expertise is best coordinated within senate and congressional subcommittees.

Which brings me to another point. I have noticed than many people hide their light under a bushel when it comes to the fora. Part of the problem was the argy-bargy of the previous Jive fora - a bit like trying to have a conversation in a really loud nightclub - and part of it was a reluctance of RL professionals (fPhD chemists, self-made business owners, highly experienced military and law-enforcement officers, daycare managers, nurses, electrical engineers, single moms running internet businesses from home) to stick their necks out in general discussion. For example, a person from a dysfunctional family may have compensated for the trauma by gaining remarkable skill in nutrition and health. Perhaps she would only feel comfortable expressing her opinions in a fora-based usergroup on teen education. Alternatively, one of the oldest and most experienced land dealers in SL is a member of Hell's Angels (and a really nice guy). Perhaps he would feel it's worth his time to post in a usergroup on specific land issues instead of the mainland forum in general.

BTW, before anyone thinks I'm on a crusade with this fora-based usergroup idea, I'm not. It all started from a quick post in another thread. I kinda felt I was not getting my idea across, so I followed up with a longer post then an even longer one, which then ended up as this thread. Yet, I feel that with this new Lithium software and Linden Lab's need (and desire) to reconnect with its customers, there are some opportunities now to revitalize Second Life after four long, dark years. I strongly feel Second Life's best years are in the future. Having been humbled by 30% staff cuts, the failure of several major initiatives and a merry-go-round of CEOs, the company might, at last, tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience of its customers. If this thread stimulates new ideas, so much the better.

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Deltango Vale wrote:

In my opinion, the general Community Feedback forum and the several topical fora remain too broad to be an efficient method of consultation on specific issues. While I hate the comparison with government, specialist knowledge and expertise is best coordinated within senate and congressional subcommittees.

Which brings me to another point. I have noticed than many people hide their light under a bushel when it comes to the fora.

 

 

I do agree that the Community Feedback is sort of messy and asked Amanda about activating the "Ideas" feature as an alternative, but as it turns out there are no plans to enable that feature, so the feedback is better than nothing. I guess its ok for it to be messy & full of stuff that should be in other places (maybe its just badly named), so long as it doesn`t prevent relevant feedback from getting noticed & there is still the option to add things to the agenda to get them highlighted.

I totally agree with your 2nd point about people not feeling confident to speak their mind and must say I have been pleasantly surprised at how the relaxed vibe of the meetings has given people that confidence, with one even saying last week that she was had no idea she was going to be so vocal when she went there lol...Which I think is a great thing. :)

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Deltango Vale wrote:

BTW, before anyone thinks I'm on a crusade with this fora-based usergroup idea, I'm not. It all started from a quick post in another thread. I kinda felt I was not getting my idea across, so I followed up with a longer post then an even longer one, which then ended up as this thread. Yet, I feel that with this new Lithium software and Linden Lab's need (and desire) to reconnect with its customers, there are some opportunities now to revitalize Second Life after four long, dark years.
I strongly feel Second Life's best years are in the future. Having been humbled by 30% staff cuts, the failure of several major initiatives and a merry-go-round of CEOs, the company might, at last, tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience of its customers. If this thread stimulates new ideas, so much the better.

 

Crusade or not .. I feel the same way (with the bolded section especially). I have long argued that we need more communication from Linden Lab and their employees.

And just to prove my point .. I've been married going on 32 years now. I can state with NO hesitation that in our early years when my wife's only method of communicating her displeasure was to give me "the silent treatment" .. we had BIG problems. But after we went through some pretty rough times and finally sought help from a certified marriage counselor ... we BOTH learned that talking things out was the best route. The result? (Did you not read the "going on 32 years" part? LOL)

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Peewee Musytari wrote:

I do agree that the Community Feedback is sort of messy and asked Amanda about activating the "Ideas" feature as an alternative, but as it turns out there are no plans to enable that feature, so the feedback is better than nothing. I guess its ok for it to be messy & full of stuff that should be in other places (maybe its just badly named), so long as it doesn`t prevent relevant feedback from getting noticed & there is still the option to add things to the agenda to get them highlighted.

I totally agree with your 2nd point about people not feeling confident to speak their mind and must say I have been pleasantly surprised at how the relaxed vibe of the meetings has given people that confidence, with one even saying last week that she was had no idea she was going to be so vocal when she went there lol...Which I think is a great thing.
:)

 

I have also asked them to activate the "Ideas" feature of Lithium. It works beautifully for Lithium's own "Community" and I do not understand why LL refuses to activate it here. Perhaps we need to mount a real crusade?

i also agree, hearing that someone was MORE vocal than they expected is a great thing. A silenced voice is a lost opportunity. And I hate losing opportunities.

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I'm going to strongly speak out AGAINST the use of IRC for any secondlife official dealings....

why? because it's just one more level of separation from SL, and is frankly not a technology that most SL residents are familiar and comfortable with compared to the forums and inworld...

similarly I'd recommend against e-mail lists for information dissemination because it's too passive, is yet more separation for most residents, and is easily lost to noise (and I said as much when I discovered those channels years back).

 

company website, and company product.... those are the areas that make sense and don't detract or obfuscate the purpose or goals of such interest groups.

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Void Singer wrote:

I'm going to strongly speak out AGAINST the use of IRC for any secondlife official dealings....

why? because it's just one more level of separation from SL, and is frankly not a technology that most SL residents are familiar and comfortable with compared to the forums and inworld...

similarly I'd recommend against e-mail lists for information dissemination because it's too passive, is yet more separation for most residents, and is easily lost to noise (and I said as much when I discovered those channels years back).

company website, and company product.... those are the areas that make sense and don't detract or obfuscate the purpose or goals of such interest groups.

 

See? I knew them tomaters wassa comin' at me. LOL

I do agree with your sentiment though .. company products for company functions. There are web-based live chat systems available too, so maybe one of those would be just as functional. The main detractors I was trying to eliminate were the issues with maximum Avatar counts, chat lag and rez time issues that come with in-world meetings. There are some user groups that people just avoid because they know the meeting will be so crowded as to be virtually useless to attend.

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don't get me wrong... it does address some of the problems of concurrency and immediacy, but  I think it raises a bar for people who might participate, and would definitely necessitate a change in format and a need for control on the part of the lindens (you can't have a whole colosseum shouting questions and comments, the empress cannot address them all, nor even be heard in such a racket)

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Void Singer wrote:

don't get me wrong... it does address some of the problems of concurrency and immediacy, but  I think it raises a bar for people who might participate, and would definitely necessitate a change in format and a need for control on the part of the lindens (you can't have a whole colosseum shouting questions and comments, the empress cannot address them all, nor even be heard in such a racket)

 

No worries. I tossed out the IRC Chat model because it provides those features we "need" (IMO) and is fairly universal. But you are right, any solution they implement should be located "here" (on a secondlife.com subdomain or similar web property) and should be accessible with a standard (ha!) web browser.

I especially like the ability to "Moderate" a channel and then grant "Voice" (the ability to chat) to specific people. IMs are of course still permitted, so people wishing to be heard could IM someone in charge of granting "Mic Time" but the general audience would be in listen-only mode ... IF desired.

It also has a really handy "Mute" feature that lets you shut someone up without actually removing them from the channel. To my way of thinking, that's a very effective way of cooling down a hot temper without going to the extreme of removing them from the discussion.

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Darrius Gothly wrote:

 I especially like the ability to "Moderate" a channel and then grant "Voice" (the ability to chat) to specific people. IMs are of course still permitted, so people wishing to be heard could IM someone in charge of granting "Mic Time" but the general audience would be in listen-only mode ... IF desired.

It also has a really handy "Mute" feature that lets you shut someone up without actually removing them from the channel. To my way of thinking, that's a very effective way of cooling down a hot temper without going to the extreme of removing them from the discussion.

I do not know anything about IRC, mostly because for the greater part of my career my main point of contention with computers was getting a lot of I/O, motor control, etc. working. I couldn't care less about chat. So even though I am plenty old enough to have used IRC, I haven't.

When the topic of the OP was first mentioned, I commented that one of the really big problems I had with reading the transcripts was signal to noise. I thought forum posting would be better (and still do, but as has been pointed out in this thread there can be lots of noise in posts). It would seem to me that a method such as you describe would go a long way to improve a live SL meeting. A very long way, even. I'd think maybe that should be on the Agenda. If somehow that could be implemented it would be a huge improvement in the User Group meetings and it might even be somewhat marketable. I assume any corporate meetings here have restricted access, but things are always easier when there is a default solution.

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I've seen mentioned a few times the problem of "signal to noise" for in-world meetings ... meaning how much of the conversation pertains to the actual topics of interest vs. how much is side conversation, useless bickering and general good-natured goofing off. For a lot of people, these "extra" comments from people just pollute the meeting and distract them from being able to follow what is actually being discussed. I can sympathize.

But I cannot agree.

Prior to coming to SL, I "lived" on a chat site that had several hundred IRC-based chat rooms. I say "lived" because I was there for many hours every day. I even ran several rooms over the years of my residency there. ("Ran" meaning opened and administered.) I also moderated my own rooms as well as lent a hand to mod friends' rooms and site-owned rooms. I had good "chat eyes."

When I first went to that site, the first room I entered had maybe 10 people in it and the conversation was fairly slow, but even so I felt absolutely overwhelmed trying to sort out who was who and what they were discussing. But I stuck with it and in a few days began to get up to speed. Within a month, I could jump into rooms with 100+ people and keep up without trouble. But it took time, practice and daily involvement.

With in-world meetings, they are weekly (and sometimes only monthly) affairs, they usually last no more than an hour, and few of us go to more than one or two User Group meetings per week. Even when compared with the wild chaos that is Group Chat, in-world meetings can be much more messy and confusing as people socialize, smart-off, and generally participate in the entire range of conversations taking place.

Because the meetings occur so seldom, and because the attendees are not accustomed to the "noise" that goes on in those meetings, it can be very overwhelming. But that noise is also an integral part of the relationships between ourselves (resident to resident as well as Linden to resident). Without that socialization, a lot of the "glue" that makes each of us more familiar to others will be lost as well. From my perspective, this is a very important aspect of the meetings.

Some of you may have noticed that during those meetings I'm just as likely to joke with or pick on the Lindens as I am with fellow Residents. This is because, IN those meetings they are just the same as "us". No .. even better ... they ARE us. The artificial division between the Lindens and the "rest of us" is mostly gone .. and what is left can be easily (but respectfully) disregarded. This is integral to helping them understand our perspectives .. and for us to understand theirs.

I do agree that we need a better method of holding "live" meetings that is more controllable and less prone to disruption .. thus my suggestion for an IRC-like chat facility. (Because honestly there are NO tools to easily deal with trouble makers and chat-griefers while in-world.) But we cannot let ourselves believe the "noise" of those meetings is useless or we will rob ourselves of the precious opportunity to be peers and "rub elbows" with the Lindens. The benefits we gain from those experiences are well worth the extra effort it takes.

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Darrius Gothly wrote:

Some of you may have noticed that during those meetings I'm just as likely to joke with or pick on the Lindens as I am with fellow Residents. This is because, IN those meetings they are just the same as "us". No .. even better ... they ARE us. The artificial division between the Lindens and the "rest of us" is mostly gone .. and what is left can be easily (but respectfully) disregarded. This is integral to helping them understand our perspectives .. and for us to understand theirs.

I do agree that we need a better method of holding "live" meetings that is more controllable and less prone to disruption .. thus my suggestion for an IRC-like chat facility. (Because honestly there are NO tools to easily deal with trouble makers and chat-griefers while in-world.) But we cannot let ourselves believe the "noise" of those meetings is useless or we will rob ourselves of the precious opportunity to be peers and "rub elbows" with the Lindens. The benefits we gain from those experiences are well worth the extra effort it takes.

 

I would describe them as organised chaos. The Lindens that attend do a good job of getting through the agenda within the time & while it may seem at times like it is chaotic, if you sit back and look at what it is going on in chat, often different Lindens are dealing with different issues at the same time with different people to make sure that everything gets responded to and discussed. I have not seen anyone ask a question or make a comment that does not get picked up by at least one of the Lindens.

The alternative would be to run the meetings like some other Linden run meetings I have attended in the past where the Lindens (aloof and on a stage) speak uninterupted on a megaphone, the audience IM questions to one of them and they are read back and answered at the end of the update/agenda. I find such meetings to be more like attending a lecture & have none of the relaxed & spontaneous peer to peer discussion that the Lindens are currently achieving at the User-Group meetings & I really hope they do not turn into that sort of meeting.

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Darrius Gothly wrote:

I've seen mentioned a few times the problem of "signal to noise" for in-world meetings ... meaning how much of the conversation pertains to the actual topics of interest vs. how much is side conversation, useless bickering and general good-natured goofing off. For a lot of people, these "extra" comments from people just pollute the meeting and distract them from being able to follow what is actually being discussed. I can sympathize.

But I cannot agree.

Because the meetings occur so seldom, and because the attendees are not accustomed to the "noise" that goes on in those meetings, it can be very overwhelming. But that noise is also an integral part of the relationships between ourselves (resident to resident as well as Linden to resident). Without that socialization, a lot of the "glue" that makes each of us more familiar to others will be lost as well. From my perspective, this is a very important aspect of the meetings.

Some of you may have noticed that during those meetings I'm just as likely to joke with or pick on the Lindens as I am with fellow Residents. This is because, IN those meetings they are just the same as "us". No .. even better ... they ARE us. The artificial division between the Lindens and the "rest of us" is mostly gone .. and what is left can be easily (but respectfully) disregarded. This is integral to helping them understand our perspectives .. and for us to understand theirs.

I fully understand the benefit of of chat. I live on it. Ask anyone; I never shut up. I could also see from the transcripts that the Lindens were part of the general joshing around, and I can surely understand why that would be an important part of forming relationships. That being said:

I do not agree that something like a problem-solving meeting is an appropriate place for the typical SL chat free-for-all. What would happen if all of us with an interest could actually get inworld to a meeting? The chat window is only so big.

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