LL: reaching out creatively

Back in the mists of time, I wrote several pieces centred on Linden Lab, one of which in particular, Business, Collaboration and Creative Growth, focused on the Lab’s relationship with the pool of talent it has at its fingertips: the user base.

In that piece, I bullet-pointed a number of ways in which engagement with the community could directly help market and promote Second Life as a whole, noting in closing:

“In short, Linden Lab needs to start collaborating with the user community once more and thinking more holistically about their product. Doing so isn’t going to solve all of SL’s woes (would it were that easy); but it will represent a major step in the right direction.”

Well, it appears that at least some of the holistic thinking is taking hold at the Lab, as the SL website log-in / splash page has been quietly undergoing an overhaul of late.

For a good while, the screen comprised a series of images that fell somewhat short of enticing – if not outright ugly. Perhaps the most famous of these was the “vampire in a snowstorm” image.

Camp-ire: the vampire-in-a-snowstorm log-in page image

Several commentators took LL to task over the images selection – which could at the time best be described as “vapid” – and earlier this year things started improving, with crisper images of avatars appearing, together with picture credits.

Now LL have gone the extra mile and not only engaged with some of best photographers and artists in SL to produce some really outstanding images for the log-in screen, they would appear to have started working on a theme-based approach to advertising SL through the splash page – the current theme being music. I caught sight of the new pages while browsing Strawberry Singh’s blog, but got sidetracked away from the new art by things like Havok sub-licencing and Marketplace updates, which became the focus of recent blog posts.

Strawberry is one of a number of SL artists who were asked by LL to produce music-themed images a few weeks ago, the other being Harlow Heslop, Miaa Rebane, siXX Yangtz and Harper Beresford, and Ivoni Miles. The results are simply spectacular.

Strawberry Singh’s SL log-in page artwork, featuring herself and Prad Prathivi

All of the images capture the heart of music entertainment in SL in all its diverse forms, with Strawberry’s in particular hinting at more – friendship and relationships. This is a fresh move from Linden Lab in combining user-generated images on a thematic basis to help promote SL and it is one to be applauded – and one I hope we’ll see more of – for how better to capture the rich diversity of Second Life other than by working with those intimately involved with it?

With efforts like this, it would be nice to see some kind of Destination Guide tie-in as well: perhaps with a special sub-category of “What’s Hot” appearing on the log-in screen carrying information on locations directly related to the image theme: in this case, a list of the currently hot live music venues in SL.

Harlow Heslop’s evocative image

After all, if music is being used to promote SL – then it makes sense for LL to provide the follow-through and help those drawn to SL as a result of the theme to actually  connect with the in-world music scene – or whatever the chosen promotional theme is.

Of course, this isn’t the first time LL have sought to work with members of the community, and it would be unfair to cast it as such. But given the way in which LL has been perceived to be retreating from direct engagement with the community over the last few years – a perception they have contributed in no small part themselves – this move is to be commended. Hopefully, it’ll be the first step along the way to the Lab working more directly with members of the user community to better promote SL and reach out to potential users. Certainly, there are many powerful tools that can be used in this regard – such as machinima, something I’ve again discussed elsewhere – and the talent to leverage those tools is rich within SL itself. I’ve little doubt that were this talent to be harnessed, the results would be beyond anything LL have themselves been able to produce using this incredible medium.

In the meantime, credit and thanks must go to Strawberry, Harlow and the other contributors to the artwork for their time and effort. So why not take a look at their work for yourself? (Remember you’ll have to log-out of the SL website in order to display the log-in / splash page and see the images.)

With thanks to Strawberry Singh.

Marketplace: LL updates further, but communications hardly “regular”

Linden Lab has issued a further brief update about the on-going Marketplace issues, to whit:

Today we updated Marketplace to address two of the top three outstanding issues:

  • WEB-4580: purchases are now delivered to recipients with the inventory name (which does not allow unicode characters). This will prevent future orders from getting stuck in the Being Delivered state due to this issue. In addition, all orders affected by this problem have been pushed through.
  • WEB-4587:  updates have been made to support updating store search results, which we will process over the next week; we continue to work on the issue related to mismatched data on listings. We do know that this issue has existed since September 2010 (during the migration from Xstreet to the Second Life Marketplace).

We continue to work on the other Marketplace JIRAs and will provide additional updates as soon as possible.

Menwhile, Rodvik has stepped in to defend how matters have been handled in terms of communications, stating on Twitter:

While it is true that the Commerce Team clearly engaged with individuals experiencing problems through the medium of e-mail exchanged, it is nevertheless also true that feedback on this matter in the broader sense has been severely lacking from the Lab, with little or nothing being posted to either the main forum thread on the WEB-4587 issues or the JIRA itself. This left many merchants both frustrated and feeling as if they’d been abandoned, while those who had received some feedback from the Lab via e-mail tried to pass on the information to a wider audience in lieu of LL doing so.

It is good that progress is being made – but equally, it would be nice if LL would do more to keep users openly informed. As those responding to Rodvik’s tweets note:

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Linden Lab obtains right to sub-licence Havok engine

Linden Lab has recently acquired the right to sub-licence the Havok physics engine technology used within their Viewer. This has resulted in the Lab issuing new guidelines to third-party Viewer developers wishing to incorporate advanced Viewer capabilities developed using the Havok technology within their offerings.

The guidelines read in part:

The technology is provided in the form of an autobuild package ‘llphysicsextensions’ containing header files and the required library. This does not directly expose the Havok APIs, but a set of higher level interfaces specific to the viewer. Sources for the wrapper itself will not be open source. The llphysicsextensions package includes all features that use Havok (currently convex decomposition and features related to navigation mesh for pathfinding).

This move is already a subject of debate among TPV developers and the OpenSim community, because the sub-licence associated with the guidelines appears to place clear restrictions on TPV developers, notably in clause (b) of the Conditions to Grant, which reads:

(b) Sublicensee must require the Third Party Viewer to connect only to servers owned or operated by the Company; [i.e. Linden Lab]

So if a TPV developer wishes to work on both Second Life and OpenSim, they’ll have to look at options very carefully, as Maria Korolov points out in Hypergrid Business.

Within Second Life, there is concern as to what this may mean for some TPVs – specifically those utilising GPL rather than LGPL. Such Viewers appear to be effectively excluded from applying for a sub-licence. While this will not prevent such Viewers from accessing Second Life, it does mean that they’ll be excluded from using code that implements the Havok capabilities. The requirement for TPVs wishing to obtain a sub-licence being required to be publicly listed on the Third-Party Viewer Directory may also have a negative impact in some quarters.

The flip side to this, however, is that it means Havok physics will effectively be in the Viewer itself, which could pave the way to many new enhancements and capabilities within Second Life. As such, it is far to say that the move to sub-licence the Havok engine is less about LL attempting to restrict Viewer development per se (the apparent attempt to push out V1-based Viewers not withstanding), but rather to provide a means by which they can integrated what is effectively a closed-source, licenced product (Havok) into what is essentially an open-source project (the Viewer) without breaking the terms of their agreement with Havok.

The program itself is not available as yet, and discussions within the community are ongoing, with TPV developers aiming to seek further clarification from Linden Lab on possible impacts on their work – again, specifically where OpenSim support is concerned.

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