Category Archives: News

Community Gateways set for a return to Second Life

secondlifeDuring the SL12B “Meet the Lindens” presentations, mention was made a number of times about the new user on-boarding process, and steps the Lab are and would be taking to try to improve the overall experience for those signing-up to Second Life.

There were two aspects mentioned during the talks which piqued my interest. One of them was the Lab’s use of new web landing pages – something I’ll be discussing with Peter Gray, the Lab’s director of global Communications, in an upcoming article.  The other was the potential return of the Community Gateway Programme.

For those unfamiliar with the latter, at one time the Lab ran a programme which allowed communities to connect to the Second Life registration pathway, enabling them to steer incoming users directly to their own orientation / support environment, and thus provide them with assistance and hands-on support in getting started in SL. The programme was discontinued in August 2010, with the Lab citing several reasons for doing so, including issues around scalability and management oversight, together with question marks around the overall effectiveness of the programme.

However, there have been repeated calls from within the community for the Lab to bring the programme back, and this now appears to be what is happening, initially as a test to see how things go.

The community Gateway Programme, discontinued in August 2010, allowed communities to connect to the registration path and bring users directly to their own orientation / support areas - such as Help People Island (which itself discontinued in 2011)

The Community Gateway Programme, discontinued in August 2010, allowed communities to connect to the registration path and bring users directly to their own orientation / support areas – such as Help People Island (which itself discontinued in 2011)

I caught up with Patch Linden on the matter at the end of July, to find out some more. “We are bringing back Community Gateways as a test, based on the positive feedback and indicators of success they had in the past,” he confirmed with me. “We have 20 Gateways with whom we’re currently in discussions, but we’ve not decided on all of the programme details yet and plan to take an organic approach to re-establishing things.”

Did this mean those involved in the new programme would be able to bring new users directly into their experience, I asked, or would they have to go via the current sign-up page, and have new users connect to them via the existing Learning Island / Social Island portal system?

“We’d like to allow gateway creators to help bring in users,” Patch replied.The idea is that the new registrant would begin their time in SL in the experience that matches their interest, instead of Learning Island.” He paused and then added, “However, adding Gateways to the end of Learning Island and/or Social Island are still being considered.”

Communities and organisations within SL have attempted to offer guidance to new users, including the UWA, with their education-focus guidance for students and teachers arriving in SL - find out more about it here

Communities and organisations within SL have continued to offer guidance to new users. The UWA, for example, offer the SL Educate orientation, designed by Carmsie Melodie and focused specifically at students and teachers arriving in Second Life. You can read more about it here

One of the groups involved in the new Gateway Programme is the Firestorm team. Together with a number of other groups offering new user orientation facilities, they participated in a 6-week experiment run by the Lab to monitor how new sign-ups faired as a result of passing through their orientation process, and gather comparative retention data. Following this, Firestorm were one of the groups invited into the upcoming new Gateway Programme.

“The Gateway idea is mostly based on a single region,” Jessica Lyon, Firestorm’s Project Manager said as she and Ed Merryman gave me a tour of their new user experience shortly after I’d talked to Patch Linden. “But you know me :). I wasn’t satisfied with one region – if we were going to do this, we wanted to do it right!”

The result is that the Firestorm Gateway comprises six regions in total, including the original Firestorm Support region, which has been re-purposed to fit with the Gateway approach. “One of the new regions is going to be a Firestorm Orientation for new sign ups only,” Jessica continued as we explored, “it’ll be a similar to our current orientation island.”

Firestorm are participating in the new Gateway Programme, offering an experience focused around their self-help orientation island

Firestorm are participating in the new Gateway Programme, offering an experience focused around their orientation island

The rest of the regions offer an assortment of facilities and activities intended to help new users get better acquainted with Second Life, using the viewer, and participating in some of the activities they can find during their in-world travels. A staffed support area provides practical help and support, for example, while users can also enjoy activities such as jet skis, sailing, boating, and flying within the regions, or try their hand at a scuba diving adventure.

There’s also an amphitheatre (under construction at the time of my visit) which will be used for events focused on new users, viewer Q&A sessions, and so on, while social areas around the island will offer new users the opportunity to relax and meet with established SL users as well.

Firestorm also aim to help people discover popular activities such as flying, boating, and boating in Second Life

Firestorm also aim to help people discover popular activities such as flying, boating, and scuba diving in Second Life

To help draw users to the experience, Firestorm will also be remodelling their website, allowing it to be linked to the Lab’s user registration process. Thus, people visiting the website will be able to sign-up to Second Life, select their avatar, download the Firestorm viewer and log-in directly to the Firestorm new user experience, reflecting Patch’s view that new users should be able to directly reach the experience which interests them. Other participants in the Gateway Programme will be able to offer similar sign-up / log-in capabilities for people to reach their experiences as well.

As noted earlier in this article, the new Gateway Programme isn’t quite ready for launch at present – but it will be soon. When it does so, the Lab will be publishing more information on it, including participation guidelines, and I’ll be offering a follow-up to this article at that time.

Similarly, the Firestorm regions are ready for opening just yet; when they do, I’ll be bringing you a in-depth review of the facilities and Firestorm’s approach to the new user experience.

My thanks to Pete Linden, Patch Linden, Jessica Lyon and Ed Merryman for their time and assistance in writing this article.

Bright Canopy: positive response forces change of direction

BC logoSaturday, August 29th saw Bright Canopy, the new cloud streaming service delivering Second life (and the viewer) directly to your web browser, officially launch.

Already extensively previewed by SL bloggers – you can catch my overview of the service here –  the launch was given a further boost when the Lab also blogged about it. announcement of the formal launch led to a huge amount of interest being shown in the service.

While there were the inevitable hiccups which tend to accompany such launches, it was the overall demand which perhaps caused the fledgling company the most problems. So much so, that Bright Canopy have been forced to revise their subscription model, and suspend the service while they do so.

The news of the change to the subscription model came via an e-mail to existing subscribers which was also posted to the Bright Canopy blog. Currently the plan is that:

  • From Sunday, September 6th, those signing-up to the service will be charged $17.00 a month for up to 20 hours of use. Additional time will be charged at $0.013 per minute
  • From now until 12:00 am on Sunday, September 6th, those who signed up for the service will be charged $7.00 for 20 hours, then at the $0.013 per minute
  • All existing subscriptions have been cancelled, and all existing users will need to subscribe to the new plan once the door is open to subscriptions once more.

Bright Canopy are the first to admit this is hardly an ideal situation, and the hope is that it will be an interim measure, until more favourable terms can be introduced in the future, once a few more things have been put in place.

Discussing the situation with me, Bill Glover, Bright Canopy’s founder said, “It’s been a whiplash weekend. We had more than 1000 sign-ups in just a few hours and that actually worked really well.”

However, there were some niggling issues as the launch progressed into the weekend. Transitioning those users who had been on the beta / pre-launch service raised a few problems, as did the migration for those users best served by it to Bright Canopy’s US East coast POP, which also came on-stream as a part of the launch. It was while working on these issues the alarms started ringing around unconstrained cost risks due to the volume of use, forcing  Bright Canopy to take action.

Bill Glover: remarkable response to Bright Canopy forced a re-think in approach

Bill Glover: remarkable response to Bright Canopy forced a re-think in approach

“The alarms required us to throttle down use,” Bill told me. “When the experience suffered long wait times, I pulled the plug [on accepting subscribers]. We’re not going to charge people unless we can be sure this is going to be there for them and they will get value for the money.”

The throttling also meant that over the launch weekend, users were limited to one hour’s in-world time before they were disconnected and had to re-log. To compensate people for this, Bright Canopy have indicated they’ll not be charging anyone for their time over the weekend of 29th / 30th of August.

To understand why the pricing structure change was required despite the good response, it is necessary to understand how Bright Canopy is provisioned. Currently, when logging-in to the service, users are hosted on individual servers, supplied by Amazon’s Spot Instance bidding system. The problems here are twofold.

On the one hand, using an entire server to host just one user isn’t terribly efficient; Frame, as Bright Canopy’s infrastructure partner, are already working to offer more efficient means of hosting without impacting individual user’s experiences with Bright Canopy. On the other, and as I’ve previously reported, Amazon’s Spot Instance mechanism, so long the most cost-effective means of obtaining server space, has become subject of bidding wars which have caused sudden and unpredictable spikes in service pricing.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon is making it difficult for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly subscription price – click for full size

Volatility with Amazon’s Spot Instance pricing has caused huge fluctuations in pricing, making it had to predict how realistic fees charged by small start-ups like Bright Canopy are in meeting costs – click for full size

While Bright Canopy were aware of this, and developed contingencies they hoped would be sufficient to handle pricing fluctuations, etc., until such time as better hosting options were ready to roll, the sheer volume of demand for the service meant that these contingencies were burnt through in the course of the first weekend, thus prompting the current situation.

As noted earlier in this article, Bright Canopy hope the new plan will be an interim measure.  The problem here of course is that 20 hours + $0.013 a minute isn’t going to be that attractive an offering to users – something Bright Canopy is all too aware of. With many users spending tens of hours a week in-world, the additional costs could easily mount up, and so people are understandably going to be more focused on the potential for additional costs than on the potential for improved pricing down the road.

As a result of the overall situation, Bright Canopy have opted to keep the service suspended while discussions on the situation continue.

The announcement that Bright Canopy will remain down as they continue to try to work through the price / cost issues, as Tweeted and delivered via in-world message

The announcement that Bright Canopy will remain down as they continue to try to work through the price / cost issues, as Tweeted and delivered via in-world message

“We are verifying and double verifying so that when we come up, we stay up,” Bill said to me as the announcement was sent out.

I’ll have more updates on this as further information becomes available / announcements are made.

Bigger and bolder: Second Life Stands Up 2 Cancer 2015

logo-2Across four days between Thursday September 4th and Sunday September 7th in 2014, musicians and DJs from across Second Life and around the world came together under the banner SL Music Races for a Cure in order to raise money for Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C).

The brainchild of key organiser Still Braveheart, SL Music Races for a Cure was an outstanding success: L$ 1.5 million raised over the course of the four days of the event, with donations continuing after core activities had finished. All of the money was donated to SU2C’s work in accelerating the pace of cancer research and the development of effective treatments.

This year, Second Life Stands Up to Cancer is back, with an even bigger, bolder vision, and with Still once again helming the organising efforts.

2015 will see more than 150 performers, DJs and tribute bands performing at over 40 venues across Second Life between Saturday, September 12th and Sunday, September 27th, 2015, all with the aim of raising funds for Stan Up to Cancer’s international activities.

Obviously, with so many performers and venues participating, listing them in a blog like this is impossible – so do please keep a track of the SU2C in SL event schedule on Google, and via Stills’ own blog, which will have daily events, times and LMs to venues as things get under-way, as well as all the very latest news.

Stills' own Bring and Friend will be one of the venues headlining 2015's SL SU2C events

Still’ own Bring a Friend & Stay Awhile will be one of 40+ venues supporting 2015’s SL SU2C events

Founded in the United States in 2008 as a non-profit organisation run under the auspices of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Stand Up to Cancer was specifically established to raise funds to accelerate the pace of ground-breaking translational cancer research that can get new cancer therapies to patients quickly.

The organisation takes an innovative  approach to ending cancer by focusing on forming “dream teams” of doctors and researchers who are directly involved in leading-edge cancer research and treatment, and then undertaking aggressive research programmes (see the video at the end of this article for more on this). 100% of all donations made through SU2C goes directly into funding cancer research and treatment and paying for these teams; none is lost to “administrative costs” or put aside for CEO or executive salaries, etc.

Such is the success of this approach that as of 2014, and in the USA alone, SU2C has raised over $261 million in seven years. This money has all be used in directly supporting 141 clinical trials of possible cancer treatments, involving 750 scientists and 5,000 cancer patients, and which have spanned 112 US institutions.

It is this remarkable capability which led to an article in the Huffington Post’s Impact section to refer to SU2C as one of  3 Cancer Research Accelerators Worth Watching.

Lemmonrock Cafe, another of the 40+ venues supporting 2015's SL SU2C events

Lemmonrock Cafe, another of the 40+ venues supporting 2015’s SL SU2C events

Since its inception, SU2C has gained international support as well, with other countries establishing their own SU2C movements. Both Canada and the United Kingdom, for example, are fully engaged in SU2C’s work, with other countries also offering support and promotion.

In recognition of SU2C’s international scale and the direct involvement of Canada, the UK and the USA in spearheading efforts, all monies raised during the Second Life Stands Up to Cancer events will be evenly split between SU2C’s work in these three countries.

Also, in what is quite possibly a first for Second Life, all of the SU2C venues will have special kiosks available which will allow Canadian, UK and US SL residents to make donations directly to the SU2C work in their own country, via links to the SL SU2C Team web pages (UK and US) and the main SU2C Canada website.

What’s more, because the direct donations to SU2C UK and SU2C USA are going through the SL SU2C Team pages, the amounts donated this way can be added to the total amount raised through in-world donations, presenting a clearer picture of how much was raised for SU2C through the activities and generosity of Second Life residents.

Second Life Stands Up to Cancer is shaping-up to be another extraordinary event, one that I hope to be bringing further news and updates about as the dates approach, as well as looking forward to catching at least some of the performers and shows.  So, mark September 12th through 27th in your diary and calendar, and get ready to Stand Up to Cancer, because this is where the end of cancer begins.

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SS Galaxy lowers her gangways to visitors once more

 SS Galaxy - getting ready to make steam, and once again open to visits

SS Galaxy – getting ready to make steam, and once again open to visits, a tour balloon floating over her

Frost Mole dropped me a line on Friday, August 28th to let me know The SS Galaxy, the 3-region-long cruise ship that has so long been a part of Second Life, and threatened with the breaker’s yard earlier in the year, is once again open to the public.

“It’s still very much a work in progress, I’ll be decorating the staterooms and adding details to the ship over the next few months. But there’s a lot to see and do right now,” Frost told me, prompting me to hop over and take a look.

The revised upper deck pool, with new slide and the new dance floor beyond

The revised upper deck pool, with new slide and the new dance floor beyond

In April 2015, I wrote about what at that time appeared to be the final cruise for the SS Galaxy, a series of events causing her owners to decide to call time and close her down. A stunning pirm build, she had been venue, events location, destination and – for those renting her many cabins and staterooms – a home. Given her unique looks and status, her loss would have been a blow to Second Life.

Fortunately, and subsequent to that report, I received the news that an agreement had been reached which would see the Lab take over the running and care of the ship, allowing her to remain a part of Second Life. Under this arrangement, the ship would no longer offer rental accommodation, but would be refitted and equipped ready to once again become a destination and a venue for special events.

The wedding chapel has been revised somewhat, but remains in place

The wedding chapel has been revised somewhat, but remains in place

Since then, work has been progressing gradually – a ship of this size represents a lot of space that needs to be looked at and decisions made on how to use the various facilities and rooms, etc. Frost has been busy with the ship (and doubtless projects like the Lab’s PaleoQuest as well), working through getting the ship ready for her new role – although as noted, there is still a way to go yet; so if you do hop over, don’t be surprised it looks as if parts have yet to be finished.

“I tried to add lots of interactive things to do – hot air balloon tour, swan boats, tables and food in the dining areas,” Frost told me as I arrived aboard. “Pretty things in the wedding chapel, a working cinema with public domain movies I’ll swap out once a month or so, kids areas, a water slide…”

New art in the gallery

New art in the gallery

“And 10-pin bowling?” I asked, spotting the alley,

“Ha-ha yes!” Frost replied. “Although that area needs lots of work. I’d like to add a food court with booths, more games, and giving the bowling alley a better home!”

Elsewhere, the ship retains her upper deck swimming pool, albeit it slightly reduced in size and with a new dance floor installed close by; ice-skating rink and familiar doomed ballroom, after of which sits the balloon tour launch point, occupying two of the old helipads, Similarly, the forward helipads are now the launch-point for hang gliders, offering visitors another way to see the ship from the air.

The forward spa also remains, for those seeking a little pampering!

The forward spa also remains, for those seeking a little pampering!

Curiously, the world map currently shows two SS Galaxys – one occupying her “old” position kitty-corner to Temasek, and the “new” Galaxy, sitting just off the Honah Lee estate (and connected to it by a OpenSpace water sim). I assume the former, which appears to sit on unnamed regions, will be vanishing soon (or already has, as is some kind of map ghost).

Again, just as a final reminder, if you do visit at the moment, keep in mind the ship is still a work-in-progress, so some things will still look a little empty right now – but that will be changing. As it is, it is really great to see her back with us.

I wonder if there will be an official event when she’s finished and ready for a re-launch?

Firework displays take place every hour, on the hour

Firework displays take place every hour, on the hour

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