Every one but me already wrote about this probably, but I still can't hold my 2 cents back.
A little more than a week ago, Philip Rosedale, founder ad CEO of Linden Lab announced his intention to step down from his post as CEO and look for an external manager to take over. As soon as this person has been found Philip Rosedale will take over the post as Chairman of the Board (currently held by Mitch Kapor).
This move came as quite a surprise to many observers. Others had expected another change in the top management of Linden Lab for quite a while - as the growth problems of the company were a little bit too apparent lately. A founder handing over the CEO position to an experienced manager after a startup has reached a certain size is nothing unusual, additionally.
These are certainly troubled times for Linden Lab and Second Life. All in all this feels like very good news to me, though. Philip Rosedale has been an excellent "visionary founder". Without him, Second Life would not exist. Without him, the platform never would have reached it current size. No one else would have accepted the risk to base a platform like this nearly 100% on the idea of user generated content. And that was certainly one of the driving factors for Second Life's (arguable) success.
But - while I certainly do not know enough about the inner workings of Linden Lab to judge this objectively - from the outside it looks as if he wasn't a very good "manager" once the company reached a certain size. Linden Lab never seemed to have clear priorities for the development of the platform and many publicly announced goals have not been met. Although the scaling and stability problems of Second Life have been apparent for more than 2 years, most of the projects to overhaul the basic architecture are still in the planning stages.
Linden Lab's support systems and processes are "barely adequate" on a good day, pathetic on a bad one. (The support team is great and full of enthusiastic people, but its badly understaffed and working without a balanced set of priorities "from the top".)
Second Life has probably the steepest learning curve of all virtual worlds known to me - and (coincidentally?) the worst retention rate when it comes to "trial accounts". This has been known for at least 3 years, and still, there has not been a single major overhaul of the software's user interface in all of these years; maybe because the company's boss is much too intelligent, to really believe that average people simply can not understand his product. ;)
We can only hope that this will improve with a more operations-oriented top manager responsible for day-to-day operations. This hope is not just optimism. Look at a company like Google. The founding geniuses are still on board. But the company's operations are lead by an experienced manager (who probably won't understand the math behind Google's ranking algorithms - but doesn't need that to be successful in his job).
Many in our industry are very skeptical about Second Life these days, And that skepticism isn't unfounded. Linden Lab's track record hasn't been perfect in the last three years, to phrase it politely. The platform's performance is erratic at best, software services important for residents and developers alike go down every weekend. And many of the improvements promised regularly by Philip and other officers have missed their deadlines - some of them for more than a year or indefinitely ...
OTOH Second Life is still the platform with the most flexible development capabilities, with a lot of good developers and the most representative demographics.
Additionally, the OpenSim project might (!) deliver an alternative, open source, second-life-compatible platform, which can easily be used to create closed and semi-open worlds utilizing the tools, developers and other resources which are available for Second Life today.
I wouldn't be too surprised, if Second Life would be considered as one of the leading platforms for the creation of the Metaverse in 2009/10 again - if they select the right CEO soon.