Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Linden Lab Nixes Second Life Clubs

Linden Lab is now very clear about the use of their Second Life trademark. As with so many tech startups, this hasn't always been the case, however, one would think any company starting up after 1999 would know that setting up trademark policies and enforcing them are paramount to establishing and protecting one's company assets.

As a resident and entrepreneur in Second Life (I am using the SL trademark here as a blogger/reporter and acknowledge that Second Life is a registered trademark owned by Linden Lab), I am feeling the sting of the company's latest fumbled efforts to get their company assets in order.

Despite my own extensive experience in the new media industry with trademark issues, laws and enforcement dating back to the mid-90s with my company Cybergrrl, Inc. and organization I founded Webgrrls International, I also flubbed.

In the flush of newfound love of Second Life last year, I started several "affinity groups" or clubs to meet like-minded people and to provide forums for authors and other experts to come into Second Life - most for the first time - and reach a savvy, engaged audience. I thought I was clever to name my clubs:

Second Life Women's Club
Moms in Second Life
Second Life Entrepreneurs Club
Second Life Marketers Club
Second Life Writers Club & the Ning group

Somehow, my brain failed to tap into my wealth of knowledge - and pain - surrounding trademark disputes and instead I focused on "Linden Lab will be so pleased that I'm driving traffic to their service." (I duly smack myself on the forehead. What was I thinking?!?)

Now I have no other choice but to change the names of these clubs. I don't have the means - and my Second Life revenues currently do not cover - the costs of licensing the Second Life name from Linden Lab. The challenge to me now isn't branding a new name. It is getting the current members of these clubs to switch over to a new club.

So far, my experience with changing group names means creating an entirely new group and urging members of the old one to join the new. This has not worked well in the past. Even when the old group is totally dead, people tend to stick around until they decide to weed out a group to make room for something new. Laziness? Too much of a hassle to switch? I simply do not know the answer to this SL mystery.

Because I'm in the process of buying a sim and calling it Athena Isle (yes, doing the right thing here with trademarking), it makes sense to change my club names as follows:

Groups Ready for Transition:

Second Life Women's Club -
Athena Isle Women
Moms in Second Life -
Athena Isle Moms
Second Life Writers Club -
Athena Isle Writers

Right now, I'm going to focus on Athena Isle Women, Moms and Writers. In my enthusiasm to create and build in Second Life, I think I overextended myself. I've been coming inworld 5 days a week, 3-4 of which are to host live events with special guests that I have booked, trained, created avatars for, and marketed. I remain committed to my Second Life ventures, however, I really need to pare them down and focus more on my main mission: empowering women through technology.

(Special thanks to my good SL friends who have given me honest feedback about my SL work. You know who you are!)

I'm also changing the names for these clubs just to have them on hand:

Second Life Entrepreneurs Club - Athena Isle Entrepreneurs

Second Life Marketers Club - Athena Isle Marketers

As Linden Lab struggles to get their act together, I am painfully reminded of the blog post by venture capitalist and entrepreneur Charlie O'Donnell, "
10 Reasons to Go Short on Second Life."
Second Life is a business. Linden Labs has taken venture capital investment and those firms are going to look for an "exit" at some point over the next four years or so. Maybe Linden Labs will be profitable enough to go public. In that case, the founders could remain at the helm, but they'd still have the pressure to grow revenues which may be at odds with the authenticity of the service. Contrast that with Craigslist, which makes its team enough money to be comfortable and not feel pressure to do anything that it's users might not like... no quarterly numbers to meet and no pressure to grow the business.
While it would be interesting to revisit Charlie's 10 points (written November 26, 2006) because, for example, he said Second Life would never go mobile, the point he made about Second Life being a business - owned and run by Linden Lab - is critical in all of our own business decisions about what we are doing in this particular virtual world. Including mine. (I did respond in Nov of 2007 here.)

Whoever said being on the cutting edge was easy? We all should pat ourselves and each other on the back for sticking it out this long and riding the tumultuous waves of innovation. I may be a bit battered and bruised, but I'm in it for the long haul. It remains to be seen if Linden Lab is as well.

More Second Life trademark links for your reading pleasure:

More on the Trademark Policy « Official Second Life Blog

The Trademark Blog: NY Times On Second Life

New World Notes: Second Life(tm) Trademark Turmoil Continues-- And ...

Clickable Culture - ‘Second LifeTrademark Infringement Quantified

Trademark Issues in Second Life » Propeller

Rampant Trademark Infringement in Second Life Costs Millions ...

Second Life -- A Whole New World of Trademark Infringement ...

Reuters/Second Life » Protecting real brand names in a virtual world

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