Monday, December 30, 2019

Nine Questions For Xiola Linden

By Bixyl Shuftan

1. What were you doing before time with Linden Lab?

I worked on social games, heading up the community and support teams for a popular Facebook game - but creator communities were always something I wanted to have the chance to get to be a part of as my job. Second Life was a perfect fit.

2. How did you first find out about Second Life? 

I had a friend from Live Journal who introduced me to Second Life, and I was so intrigued. I loved hanging out with these people I'd met online in Live Journal, MySpace, and other text-based social platforms. Suddenly we could run around in cool avatars, dance together, explore together, talk and have fun. We'd all chatted via Yahoo! Messenger, but suddenly it was just a more authentic and 'real' experience. More immersive, before immersive was cool kind of thing.

3. How was your time here as a resident?

As a Resident, it has been amazing. I talk a lot about wanting to find a sense of tribe. Second Life was that for me. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, Second Life was an opportunity for me to socialize more comfortably then I could do in the atomic world, at the time. The chance to build friendships that have lasted 13-plus years, with people who would let me crash at their place anytime, even though we might not have ever been in the same town, country, physical space - that's something you can not get in a lot of places. I will be very honest - the world can be a very scary place sometimes. It's also beautiful, but to be able to construct a world to my liking within Second Life is a way for me to imagine doing the same in the physical world. Moving through the chaos and focusing on something so specific as putting together 'a look' or taking a picture, or texturing and building or making something, or flying around visiting and exploring so many exciting and unknown places - that is therapeutic and magical. I look forward to continuing to enjoy all the things that Second Life has come to mean to me, even though I will not be doing so as a Linden. For me, that part -just being a Resident and loving what that is like - that has never changed. And it won't.

4. How did you end up joining Linden Lab?

After my friend had introduced me to Second Life, I was obsessed - so, I started watching the career page. It took about 5 years for the perfect job to come up. I applied and joined the Lab in November of 2011. I will never forget - when I came to interview, I'd been told by the recruiter that the office was a short walk from the train station. It's not. While it's just under a mile, I thought it was more like a few blocks - so I was actually five minutes late! I thought, for sure, that would cost me the job. Luckily it didn't!  

5. What has been your biggest surprise working at Linden Lab?

I like to crack jokes that after working on Second Life, that my surprise/shock radar is broken. But really, it's that something that has over 16 years of history is still so magical. The community is unparalleled. I understand why it means so much to so many people; that part isn't surprising at all. But that it exists in the first place, how much hard work has gone into it and continues to go into it both from the product side and from the community, that is surprising in the best possible way.  

6. What do you have to say to those who think the Lab cares nothing about the residents, aside from how to get their money?

I've always tried to find the middle ground in situations. Even before I worked at the Lab, I was always playing the part of the mediator, bringing people to common ground, searching for the compromise. I have this overwhelming desire for everyone to get along and for everyone to be taken care of. Customers, or in our case Residents, may not have access to the conversations and planning sessions, and development process that take place internally. Let's be honest, companies have to make a profit to continue to develop their product. No one is bathing in champagne or buying new cars every month (maybe inworld!) What they are doing is working very hard to make a product that is profitable and that continues to be profitable for a long time to come. They can not always get into the specifics about why many of the decisions are made (which I find frustrating too, but understand), but it really is about continuing to provide this incredible platform to people for as long as possible.

One thing I have come to learn (and not just in this community but others) is that when people feel so connected to something, even the smallest changes can seem impossibly major. I, on a personal level, am a creature of habit, and it is tough for me to adjust to changes sometimes. I think this community has such a strong connection to Second Life, that it can make smaller changes seem and feel much more drastic than they are. Conversely, I think there is always room to grow internally, to not just get better at communicating these changes, or admitting when a change needs to be revisited and fixed, but to also be more cautious about how those changes might emotionally impact the community. My personal philosophy has always been that I am here for you, not that you are here for me. The Linden 'SLebrity' thing has always been strange to me. What is special about Second Life and should be celebrated is the community. I've spent some of my time here trying to continue that message, and I hope that idea remains. I hope, in return, that the community might better understand that changes come from a desire to keep Second Life vibrant and vivacious for a long time to come. Keeping it that way is good for all of us!

Additionally, I think it is unfair to say the Lab does not care about Residents. It's simply not true. Caring for someone or something does not mean that you can always give them everything they want, or keep them happy 100% of the time. That's not caring, that isn't love. Caring is providing. It also does not always feel like it - I can think of all the times I told my parents that they didn't care about me when I was growing up. I was wrong, but at the time it felt like the case. I hope that anyone who feels that they are not cared for comes to understand the incredible amount of care that goes into developing this platform. Does it mean that mistakes aren't made? Absolutely not - but there is so much care and love that goes into this platform. That's part of how it continues to be amazing after 16.5 years. 

7. What would you say your biggest accomplishment in Second Life has been?

Coming into the Lab, at the time that I did, there was a lot of conflict because, frankly, the Lab had stopped communicating. It had moved from one extreme to another. I spent a good part of my early days trying to change that, to find a good middle ground. I made a lot of progress, but there was still some resistance. Fortunately, when Ebbe came to join, he really helped unblock some of the legacy ideas about being able to interact with our Residents more. It is an ongoing process. Like any relationship, it takes work to continue to move forward. I hope that I've contributed to this strive towards ongoing engagement with the community. To be told your first week on the job that you can't log in to talk to the community  - when you're the community manager? I wasn't going to be having any of that.

Also, I am really proud of some of the events I've brought into the mix. And I hope they continue. Music Fest, the Shop and Hops, Lab Gab, Creepy Crawl.  I hope to see those continue after I depart.

8. Can you say why you're leaving Linden Lab?

As I mentioned on Lab Gab, this has been my dream job. Because I am a creature of habit, it is very easy for me to settle into something familiar and I'd honestly have stayed here forever if I could. But, I needed a chance to grow and challenge myself in new ways. As I said, I needed to dream a new dream. It has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. I want the community to know that I spent sleepless nights thinking about this. I am very protective of you (the community). You were the one part of this decision that made it the most difficult to make. You are the reason that I still stay up and wonder if I've made the right decision. I need to explore what's next for me in my career path. I will still be working with a creative community, and I will still be able to enjoy the Second Life community from a Residents perspective. Believe me, though, I will still have a lot of thoughts to share with my friends on the inside of the Lab.

9. What do you think you'll be doing as a resident, or is it too soon to say? 

Nothing about that will change. As a Resident, I will continue to do what I've been doing all along on my non-Linden account. Maybe even more of it too since I will not be having it as both my job and my hobby. One thing my alt and Xiola share is a love of shopping. So of course, I'll be doing that. Hanging out, making stuff. I'd still love to learn how to mesh. I made one mesh thing with a TON of help from a friend and never made anything again after that. It is so hard! I have so much respect for those who not only take the time to learn it, but continue to better their skills and put out such great stuff. I would love to be able to visualize a look that I wanted in SL, and then have the skills to make it a reality. So maybe I will have time to try again at that. But really, just returning to enjoying SL as a Resident full time, all of the time - that is the part of this that makes my decision to move on a little less painful. Everything I love about Second Life is still there and I will still be able to enjoy all of it.



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