Category Archives: Opinion

Project Sansar: in the news and marketplace thoughts

“Project Sansar” has been getting noticed again. In Dublin, at the 2015 Web Summit, Ebbe Altberg, the Lab’s CEO gave a presentation about  the new platform, the end of which included short video of the platform, which was captured by attendee Janne Juntunen. Following this, at least a couple of articles have appeared in on-line media outlets, with my colleague Ben Lang offering a brief write-up in Road to VR, while Fortune On-line, to which I was directed by Ciaran Laval, also carried a piece.

The Fortune article offers an enticing headline, How ‘Second Life’ Developer Hopes To Deliver The ‘YouTube For VR’, drawing on the Lab’s YouTube / WordPress analogy they’ve used in talking to the media over the last few months, but neither – beyond offering an image captured from “Project Sansar” and which can be seen on the Lab’s redesigned corporate website, has much that is new to those of us following “project Sansar” as closely we can.

An image from the Lab's redesigned corporate web site showing the Golden Gate Bridge model from "Project Sansar", complete with glying vehicles moving around it - a moving versions of which was show at the Dublin Web Summit 2015

An image from the Lab’s redesigned corporate website showing the Golden Gate Bridge model from “Project Sansar”, complete with flying vehicles moving around it – a moving versions of which was show at the Dublin Web Summit 2015

The YouTube  / WordPress analogy is fitting, given that “Project Sansar” is designed to be pretty much a white label environment where clients and customers can come into the platform, develop their virtual spaces and then market them to their users under a brand of their own choosing, complete with dedicated access from the web.

Given most of the statements made in both articles will be familiar to those following Sansar, I was drawn to one statement in particular made by Ebbe Altberg:

We want to make it less expensive and less difficult for creators to get started with Project Sansar, while at the same time enabling them to create higher quality, larger, and more immersive experiences, reach larger audiences,and create much larger business opportunities—whether selling virtual items or monetizing entire experiences. In addition to supporting our community of creators we’ll give them tools to create and support their own communities and serve their customers and audiences. [Emphasis mine.]

The first part of this comment again doesn’t really reveal anything new; however, I’ve highlighted the last past of it because it presents another opportunity for some speculation.

A further image from the home page showing a scene which formed a part of the Lab's Dublin Web Summit video

A further image from the home page showing a scene which formed a part of the Lab’s Dublin Web Summit video

Yesterday, and thanks to a huge amount of legwork by Vick Forcella, I wrote about the Lab’s subsidiary Tilia Inc, and the filing of a trademark for Tilia, a payment processing system.  Seeing Altberg’s comments about providing “project Sansar” customers / clients tools to … serve their customer and audiences”, I find myself wondering if “Tilia” might be intended to provide “Project Sansar” customers with a further white label environment in which they can build and brand their own marketplace presence and control the goods and services presented to their customers.

Thus, rather than sending their users to a generic “Project Sansar” marketplace where they might be confronted with a plethora of goods, including those from competitors or which might otherwise be unsuitable to their target audience, customers using Sansar could present their users with exactly the virtual good they wish them to see and use, a level of control which could be extremely attractive to the core vertical markets towards which “Project Sansar” seems to be being steered (e.g. education, training, simulation, architecture and business).

Ebbe Altberg presents a short video featuring footage shot from inside "Project Sansar" at the Dublin Web Summit 2015 (image via )

Ebbe Altberg presents a short video featuring footage shot from inside “Project Sansar” at the Dublin Web Summit 2015 (image via Janne Juntunen on Twitter)

In his Road to VR piece, Ben Lang focuses more on the technical aspects of the new platform, pointing-out that style and looks can be an integral part of a game or platform’s longevity, and that in his estimation  of these initial screen shots, “Project Sansar” is hitting the nail pretty much on the head.

It is in the Road to VR piece that we do get an interesting insight. It has been previously indicated that “Project Sansar” will offer ways and means to optimise content to improve performance, rather than just shoving everything down the pipe and little the viewer try to handle it all. In discussing things with Ben Lang, Ebbe Altberg gives some indicators as to how this will be achieved.

We’ll do a lot of things to help users understand how to create performant content. There’s a lot of work yet to do, but we have plans for things like automatic optimization of content, polygon reduction of content that preserves quality at the same time, including showing users that create content some sort of visual indication of how performant their content is going to be across various platforms [i.e. clients].

Both articles offer good light reading on “Project Sansar”, even if they don’t offer anything especially new, with the Fortune articles also underlining a few facts, good and bad, about Second Life.

I remain intrigued by the direction the Lab is taking with their new platform. While it is early days, and given the fact I  still tend to feel “Project Sansar” will end up  niche product  – albeit it a much larger niche than filled by the likes of Second Life and OpenSim today – I also tend to think that the Lab is far more one the right track in their thinking than those behind some of the other platforms currently in development out there.

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P.S. Ben, if you do read this, please check the e-mails, still awaiting a reply vis our discussions!)

Linden Lab and Tilia Inc. – speculations on the Lab’s new subsidiary

Linden TreeFriend and fellow blogger, Vick Forcella contacted me at the end of October concerning some interesting items related to Linden Lab he’d uncovered in digging around a few places.

The first comes in the form of documents relating to a relatively new Linden Lab subsidiary company, and the second in a partially filed trademark.

The subsidiary company is called Tilia Inc., and at first glance it seems to be completely unrelated to the Lab, being referred to as being involved with ” Packaging Machinery”. However, an examination of the company’s papers will reveal it is registered at 945 Battery Street – the Lab’s headquarters, as a check on Buzzfile confirmed to me.

Tilia Inc appears to be a defunct corporate entity, first registered in 2002, which has been acquired by the Lab. This, and the further registrations of the name across several US states  as a “foreign” entity (meaning the filing is by an existing corporate entity registered in another US state), tended to suggest the Lab might be using the company to leverage certain tax advantages – a common practice among corporations around the world. Further support for this appeared to come from the names of the directors: the Lab’s CFO, Malcolm Dunne, their Legal Counsel, Kelly Conway and, from outside of the Lab, Benjamin Duranske, founder of PayCom Consulting, and LeAnne Hoang, the Lab’s former Chief Compliance and AML Officer (remember that name).

Companies registered at 945 Battery Street, the Lab's HQ, via Buzzfile. Note Philip Rosedale's "Coffee and Power" sitting in the middle - and its associated industry description!

Companies registered at 945 Battery Street, the Lab’s HQ, via Buzzfile. Note Philip Rosedale’s “Coffee and Power” sitting in the middle – and its associated industry description!

Obviously one way to get more of a clue was to ask the Lab directly. So I did.

“Tilia is a subsidiary of Linden Lab, focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies,” Peter Gray, the Lab’s director of Global Communications said in answer to my initial questions, “and it will provide services for both Second Life and Project Sansar.”

Following my initial enquiry (which is not to say it is related to it), the list of senior personal at Tilia Inc., dramatically increased. The additional appointees  comprise: Bjorn Laurin (Bjorn Linden), Vice President of Product (Blocksworld, Second Life and Sansar), Landon McDowell (Brandon Linden), Vice President of Operations and Platform Engineering, Jeff Peterson (Bagman Linden), Vice President of Engineering, Pam Beyazit, Senior Director of HR, and Peter Gray.

"Tailia" and Tilia Inc appear to be geared to providing virtual currency and related services to both "Project Sansar" and Second Life

Tilia Inc is said by the Lab to be focused on the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies, and will provide services to “Project Sansar” and Second Life

The trademark, USTPO document 86374264, originally filed on August 22nd 2014, relates to the name of “Tilia”, which is described as, “Computer software, namely, electronic financial platform that accommodates multiple types of payment and debit transactions and the transfer of funds to and from others, in an integrated mobile phone, PDA, and web-based environment.” A further document located by Vick pertaining to the trademark application reveals even more information, and makes for interesting reading on its own.

What this all adds up to is still hard to determine. “Tilia” and Tilia Inc., might be totally coincidental. What follows is pure speculation, which should not be taken to mean it’s what I believe to be the case; rather it is a collection of thoughts which have been bouncing around. complaince quote

As indicated in June 2012 by Ebbe Altberg, the Lab has been focused on four areas of activity, one of which has been that of compliance (see the quote on the right).

This work appears to have been overseen by LeAnne Hoang, prior to her departure from the Lab in July 2015. More recently, the Lab has also transitioned to a new payment processor for credit and debit card payments, which may be related to this work.

Again the two – the compliance work and the new payment processor – could be entirely unrelated. However, given that “Project Sansar” and SL will both operate virtual economies based on the same virtual currency, it would make sense for the Lab to develop a central transaction and payment system capable of supporting both. Doing so could reduce the complexities of managing two payment / transaction systems and have to update each of them with evolving compliance and anti-fraud regulations and requirements. If so, could “Tilia” be the proposed name for this new service? But why run it under a separate entity? Why not simply run it under the “Linden Lab” umbrella? Is it a matter of compliance, as stated be Peter Gray in his response to my initial questions? Perhaps so.

Another option might be that the Lab be considering making the Linden Dollar and all its attendant services a pre-packaged solution / service they can offer to other companies wishing to operate a virtual currency, with Tilia Inc., as the nominal operating company for the service. After all, they have made much of their leadership in matters of virtual economies and compliance, so spinning it out and offering it to others might be a means of generating additional revenue, although admittedly, given the complexities potentially involved, this might be seen as a bit of a stretch.

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Con-Fusion about education in Second Life

Incorrect thinking: just because a campus region is empty of other avatars doesn't necessarily mean it is "abandoned" (image: UWA campus, Second Life)

Incorrect thinking: just because a campus region in Second Life is empty of other avatars doesn’t necessarily mean it is “abandoned” (image: part of the UWA campus, Second Life)

Second Life (with a nod to the Lab’s Project Sansar) has enjoyed some reasonably good press of late. We’ve seen articles in the likes of Variety Online, Re/code, Gamasutra – good golly, Miss Molly, even Moviepilot is getting in on the act.

However, there will still be pieces out there which reflect poorly on matters. Not so much where Second Life is concerned, but on their authors. Such is the case with

We took a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life.

Patrick Hogan: writing to underline a preconception

Patrick Hogan: writing to underline a preconception?

As one might expect from such a title, this isn’t a reasoned discussion of the whys and wherefores, both good and bad, on the use of Second Life for educational purposes. There is no mention of the work of universities such as Texas A&M, as featured in episode #19 of The Drax Files World Makers, or that of the University of Western Australia. There is no highlighting of the struggle schools, colleges and universities faced as a result of the axing of the education discount or the resurgence of interest following its re-introduction; indeed Mr. Hogan demonstrates he’s not even aware there is an educational discount.

Similarly, no insights are given into how the platform has been used to assist with medical training among nurses and surgeons alike.  There is no pointer to the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) run by the  Universidad de San Martín de Porres (USMP) in Perú, now in its third year, which helps Spanish-speaking educators get started with Second Life simply because it is in demand as a platform for education, and so on.

Nor, frankly should we expect there to be any such discussion, because Mr. Hogan doesn’t appear to be so much interested in Second Life as he does about underlining his own misconceptions about the platform which, like his opening comments, seem to be firmly rooted in 2007.

So does this mean we should ignore what he has to say? No, not at all. Looking through his other articles, Mr. Hogan seems to prefer to skim his subjects with the aim of offering something of a lighter look. As such, he may well be open to gaining a little more educated about this particular topic.

Certainly, and with a view to addressing the readership of the piece, its subjective nature and the misconceptions evident within it should be corrected, starting the with false premise of the piece itself (an “empty” region is in no way indicative of it having been “abandoned”).

These arre not the educational uses of virtual worlds Mr. hogan was looking for...

These are not the educational uses of virtual worlds Mr. Hogan was looking for…

Of course,had he really been interested in his subject, Mr. Hogan could have contacted the Lab, asked a few questions, received some pointers towards various education-related organisations and communities, and been on his way and filling his little corner of Fusion with relevant observations, positive or negative.

But he didn’t. He preferred the lazy route, walking the same, tired furrow that’s all too familiar and boring. His article even manages the obligatory reference to porn that is considered de rigueur for such pieces (check the title byline).

That he does opt to walk this line is really to his detriment, rather than it being any reflection on those who use Second Life or the platform itself.

A look at Dr. Phil’s show “featuring” Second Life

Dr. Phil McGraw is a psychologist turned television talk show host who first rose to prominence in The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 1990s prior to migrating to his own show in 2002, simply entitled Dr Phil. In it, he deals with a wide range of topics, offering advice in the form of “life strategies” based on his professional experiences as a psychologist.

Dr. Phil McGraw (courtesy CBS Television)

Dr. Phil McGraw (courtesy CBS Television)

The show is a staple in the diet of US weekday television, and in the run-up to the July 14th show, Won’t Work, Won’t Go to School: “My Son Just Wants to Game All Day”, there was much brouhaha about the announcement that Second Life would be featured in the segment.

“Featured” tends to suggest a major role; as such, there were many efforts to promote the platform’s inclusion in the show through social media. There were also a number of blog posts expressing some concern as to how SL would be represented in the show.

Such reactions are understandable. This is our platform after all, so promoting it when the mainstream media shows an interest is a natural reaction. At the same time, given the focus of this segment was advertised ahead of time to be about computer game addiction, it was not really surprising that a certain nervousness as to how the platform might be portrayed was evidenced.

In the event, any concerns regarding just how Second Life might be portrayed proved to be without cause. not so much because it is shown fairly positively within the programme, but rather because, quite frankly, the role it played was actually very minor; the overall focus for the programme was  squarely on the stated subject of computer game addiction.

Yes, Dr Phil is shown in-world at places like Creations Park and Mont Saint-Michel, but really, SL is completely secondary to the show's focus

Yes, Dr Phil is shown in-world at places like Creations Park and Mont Saint-Michel, but really, SL is completely secondary to the show’s focus

We often joke about being “addicted” to this or that – including computer games; but the truth is that in extreme cases, “addiction” is precisely the correct term. Those suffering from it demonstrate the same responses and reasoning as those caught in more “traditional” forms of addiction such as drugs or alcohol; so much so that it is now beginning to be treated as a clinical condition by healthcare specialists.

Such is the case with the focus of the show: 23-year-old Justin, who is in every sense of the word, an addict. He is almost completely dependent upon playing computer games to the exclusion of all else (other than marijuana), including caring for his own body.

To be honest, in reading about the show on the Lab’s blog and elsewhere, I was somewhat concerned about what might be presented – but not because of the manner in which Second Life might or might not be presented.

Justin - the young man at the centre of the show

Justin – the young man at the centre of the show

Addiction of any sort can be a traumatic situation for all parties caught within it; be it the person with the addiction or their family or loved ones. As such, I couldn’t help but wonder just how Dr Phil  –  a programme I’ve admittedly never seen before, but which have been accused in the past of taking a “simplistic” approach to the topics covered – would handle the issue. Would it, if not sensationalize the issue and Justin’s situation, opt to reduce it to platitudes and sound bites for the sake of daytime television?

My concerns were somewhat unfounded; what we actually get is a reasonable study of Justin’s life and the factors which have contributed to his situation. These include long-standing family history (suicides, mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse); his mother’s own reticence to constructively deal with his childhood obsession with video games; his own personal trauma of being hit by a car at age 15, with a possible undiagnosed closed head injury that brought about a subsequent change in his nature; all of these are covered in a manner which is not accusatory or gratuitous. In addition, Dr. Kenneth Woog of the Computer Addiction Treatment Program, discusses the similarities between computer gaming addiction and more recognised forms of addiction, such as drug abuse.

There are the inevitable elements of drama in the show – notably around Justin’s examination by Dr. Rachael Ross and the clips of his home lifestyle, but on the whole what is presented here is a balanced look at a young man’s addiction. Also, it has to be said that given the segment is just 38 minutes in length, some matters are only lightly touched upon; at several points I found myself wanting Phil McGraw to follow-up more closely on comments passed by both Justin and his mother.

However, for a show that does get critiqued at times for its manner in addressing some issues, as noted above, this one did seem to offer a solid means by which Justin could obtain further help, both through the Lawlis Peavey PNP Center (often used as a referral centre in the show) to further evaluate Justin’s condition, and the offer of a stay at a dual diagnosis treatment centre to help Justin deal with his addiction, depression and anxiety. I’d also hope that some measure of support was also extended to his mother and step-father, both of whom could perhaps use some counselling in how to more positively support Justin in handling his addiction.

I’m still not overly convinced as to the amount of clinical good that comes out of programmes like this, and there is certainly a good deal that could be debated about their merits or otherwise. As it is, and strictly in terms of this particular segment, it would be interesting to see a follow-up, say a year or so hence, so that we might learn how Justin has managed with his addiction and the results of the assistance offered to him.

As far as Second Life is concerned, the show references it twice. The first time is just after the opening titles, when there is around 90 second of footage showing McGraw’s avatar in-world (and McGraw initially manipulating it). Then, around two-thirds of the way through the show, Ebbe Altberg gets to talk about the more positive influences of virtual environments, overlaid with further clips from in-world, for about 60 seconds. In both instances, the platform is used to underline the fact that engaging in computer games and virtual environments is not in itself necessarily toxic, and to counterpoint any generalisations that might be drawn that this is the case.