Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Heard That One Before 5: So You Want an Oompa Loompa

This is the latest in a series of posts about common (and not so common) comments that members of the Phoenix Firestorm Support team hear from people who seem to think that such statements will help them in fixing problems. Start here if you'd like to read from the beginning. This one addresses:

5) "I would pay to have this work for me."

Fortunately, I don't actually hear this one a lot, and most of the times I've heard it, it was meant merely as a compliment, as in, "I can't believe this is free!" which of course is totally fine and totally inoffensive. Only occasionally have I heard someone say this in a context that caused me to believe they meant they actually thought that paying for the viewer would bring them better support, and that's where it becomes sticky and not a bit useful.

So let's talk about what the team's volunteer status means and doesn't mean.

It means that when someone is helping you, they're doing it because they want to and not because they're required to for a paycheck. It means they're hopefully not doing it at a time when they'd rather be doing something else. It means we all help in the style we're most comfortable with, and we don't have any arbitrary goals, like having to close X number of tickets or suffer through a nasty day and subject others to our tired, cranky mood for three more hours.

It means the person helping you has their own set of strengths and weaknesses and isn't expected to know everything, but what they know, they know from inworld experience or from helping in support, rather than from working off of an IT checklist that you don't get to see (though they may go through the very same suggestions that are listed in our publicly available wiki).

It also means, however, that you're not going to get your ass kissed. Like, ever. We expect to handle some degree of frustration, aggravation, and even anger. But if you're being abusive, then you can just talk to the autoresponse. Yeah, buh-bye.

It's not just about out-and-out abuse, though. It's about that theme I brought up in the previous point: entitlement. In a consumerist culture, it's taken for granted that if you're the customer, then you're entitled not only to the product you're paying for but to some level of acquiescence on the part of those who represent the company. When people don't receive what they want from a free service like ours, they occasionally seem to conclude that if they were paying for it, they'd suddenly get the response they're used to as paying customers… or in any event feel more justified to complain if they don't.

And so on at least one occasion, the person who said to me, "I would pay for this to work," seemed to be implying that if she were paying our devs, they'd be able to work faster, and if she were paying me, I'd give her answers that presumably I was holding back or that were above my salary (being nil as it is).

Something tells me, as well, she was thinking on a Second Life monetary scale (a few thousand L$ here or there) and not on the scale of offering competitive real life salaries that would entice busy developers to leave stable jobs with benefits. And so, no, paying support or devs or the organization on the whole would not make timeframe miracles happen. It would not entitle you to special treatment or prioritization. And it would not result in the creation of a better product.

The only thing it would do at the users' end is allow a handful of people to feel like they'd deserve to have their asses kissed.

Let's note also how the company we are all subject to -- Linden Lab -- does stratify its users via basic and premium accounts, each with its own allowances and privileges. That's reasonable for a company. But a lot of what the Phoenix Firestorm team does is clean up after the shortcomings of that system. If we were to follow suit, we would merely be replicating that stratification.

As soon as money enters the equation, certain things are likely to become formalized: what that money buys you and what it doesn't, what is expected of those receiving a slice and how much that slice is going to be. Everything that makes our team internally effective -- its flexibility, its ability to retain team members' attention by allowing them to work if and when and on what they want to, its place as a labor of love for most of those involved -- would be compromised by the introduction of a formal financial structure.

Second Life has a thriving freebie culture in conjunction with its culture of entitlement. But offering to pay for something that you know most people will expect for free, far from being a gesture of generosity, can sometimes be just the opposite. It has the potential to feed into the same "I want an oompa loompa and I want it now!" mentality. And so I'm very happy volunteering for an organization that doesn't accept donations, thankyouverymuch.

Enjoy the fact that the viewer and the support for it come totally free of charge to you, but please understand as well that it means we work differently from what you're used to as a customer. Some of those differences may not benefit you, but we hope the majority of them do.

1 comment:

  1. I have, on occasion, said this, but with the intent of "if it would motivate a dev to fix my bug or add my feature, I would be willing to put up money for this." I contributed to the mesh deformer fundraiser in this spirit.

    – Jack Abraham