The Drax Files Radio Hour 18: more from Santa Cruz and a CEO’s son

radio-hourEpisode 18 of The Drax Files Radio Hour features the third part of Draxtor’s chats with Linden staffers. Alongside of this is an interview with one with Aleks Altberg (son of LL CEO Ebbe) and another with Karl Krantz, organiser of the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference taking place on May 19th-20th.

As well as being available on the show’s website and on Stitcher, the show is also on YouTube, and it is to that recording (embedded at the end of this article) any timestamps given in the text refer.

Brendan Iribe’s “fireside chat” with TechCrunch co-editor Matthew Panzarino at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt New York event (May 5th-7th), pops-up in the early part of the show. During the chat (which I muse upon here), Iribe outlines a potential future for VR is a (very loosely defined, in terms of purpose and use) MMO / metaverse of virtual environments. This is not a vision that he sees coming about in the next year or two – Iribe couches his frame of reference around a decade hence, at a time when he sees VR / VWs having wider acceptance and the technology itself has had time to further mature (particularly some of the associated hardware) and become more broadly accepted in daily life.

Brendan Iribe, Oculus VR CEO, talks to Matthew Panzarino at Techcrunch Disrupt NY (image via Techcrunch)
Brendan Iribe, Oculus VR CEO, talks to Matthew Panzarino at Techcrunch Disrupt NY (image via Techcrunch)

Surprise is expressed in the show that SL seems to be “unknown” or “ignored” by Iribe and others. I don’t think this is a valid assumption. Cory Ondrejka not only works at Facebook, but he was involved in the Oculus VR acquisition and he’s hardly blind to Second Life, having co-founded it.

Rather I’d suggest the reason SL isn’t mentioned comes down to something that appears to be missed in the discussion: the fact that Iribe is talking in terms of something a decade hence, and possibly something likely not built entirely by any single organisation, although FB is obviously well-placed to help build things. Perhaps more to the point, FB could position itself to provide core elements of the backbone – such as transaction services, identity services, and so on, thus becoming a gatekeeper to this new environment, much as Philip Rosedale wants to position High Fidelity in his vision of things.

As such, by the time the brave new digital world painted in Iribe’s broad brushstrokes actually arrives, it will likely be something that is so beyond comparison with SL that the latter is not seen as having relevance in discussions. In this, it’s not so much down to Iribe and others to point to SL and say, “look, this is the idea!” It is for SL to find wider relevance in the scheme of things.

The interview with Aleks Altberg commences at 16:18 into the show. A lot has been documented by Ebbe himself about Alek’s involvement in SL (perhaps first in this very blog in a comment he left just after starting at LL, then later during his VWBPE address), so it’s good to hear from him first-hand about his experiences with the platform and his thoughts about it.

Aleks Altberg, courtsey of 425 motorsport
Aleks Altberg, courtesy of 425 motorsport

Aleks reveals it was his father who indirectly go him interested in SL after he found his Dad using it. From here, his tale is probably familiar to many SL users – passing the time flying around, exploring, meeting people and only gradually unlocking the deeper secrets of SL – object creation, building, and so on, over time, which in turn led him into scripting and thus into SL commerce.

In discussing getting more people engaged in SL, Aleks offers-up an interesting “five-step” plan, which includes basic control orientation and some initial content building. It’s not a bad approach – but in some respects, it has been tried, albeit it not in quite the way he suggests, and hasn’t always worked.

He’s also less-than-convinced that trying to help people connect to things in SL which (might) interest them will work. He actually has a point – not everyone who comes to SL really knows what they’re looking for. Equally, there is no guarantee that anything which may have enticed someone into SL becomes the reason for them to remain engaged in SL.

However, I’d still suggest that many who come to SL do so because they have heard of something or seen something which has piqued their interest, and so attempting to find the means to connect them to that interest / point of curiosity (and others similarly engaged), then letting them discover everything else over time, is potentially more beneficial than appearing to say, “here’s all that SL can do – now go forth and do it!”, and shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

Karl Krantz, founder of the SVVR Meet-up (image courtesy of Road to VR)

Karl Krantz is interviewed at 26:12, where he discusses the SVVR conference and expo, which he admits to being an attempt to get the more affordable aspects of VR “away” from the gaming environment and open them out to more widespread interest / opportunities. The conference will take place at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California on May 19th / 20th.

Those in a position to attend can get $100 off the price of admission (reducing it to as little as $250) by using the code “drax2014″ (or indeed, “nwn2014″ if you are an NWN reader) when registering. They can then get to hear the likes of Palmer Luckey (Oculus VR), Philip Rosedale, Ebbe Altberg, David Holtz (Leap Motion), Ben Lang (Road to VR) and others.

Krantz is also no stranger to SL, and offers some interesting commentary on the platform – including the need for the Terms of Service to be redressed (which is being worked upon internally by the Lab). He’s also very positive towards LL being able to position themselves to capitalise on any VR wave which may emerge, although his comments on the ToS and on issues of performance caveat this particular view somewhat.

More particularly, he suggests Linden Lab might be better served in moving away from being solely a platform provider and focusing on providing the core services – the transaction system and Linden Dollars, the identity management service, the marketplace, etc. and then opening the rest of the platform out for development and operation by others and folding-in OpenSim. Again, this is pretty similar to the High Fidelity approach, and it could have some merit to it; the problem being how the Lab pivots away from its current operating / revenue model to this kind of approach without actually hurting itself financially in the process or causing mass disruption to SL as it is operated today.

Enkidu Linden is an Engineer Manager for Platforms at the Lab, and Drax had the opportunity of interviewing him during the Santa Cruz meet-up, as we hear starting at the 34:38 mark. Aside from his work with the transactional elements of the platform, Enkidu reveals an interesting approach to how we relate to our avatars and express ourselves through our avatars.

Where many of us seek to build our avatar as  – for want of a better term – a singular focal point of our identity in terms of looks, appearance, etc., and through while we can express ourselves, Enkidu comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, using many different avatar forms to express facets of his personality and interests. He’s certainly not alone in doing this; I have a couple of friends who routinely shift their avatar form as a means of self-expression. Even so, it’s and interesting reflection of the diverse ways in which we can define a means of identity and connection with others.

In terms of Lindens and their time in-world, Enkidu points-out that staff at the Lab, being geographically diverse in their locations (east and west coast, north and south), do spend time in-world attending various meetings in non-public regions and also spend time elsewhere (presumably using their Alts prior to Ebbe lifting the ban on staff using their “official” accounts for in-world roaming). In this, he notes, “Our job is to make sure the people in Second Life can have the experiences they want to have. If we never have those experiences ourselves, how can we understand what they are?”

This is a wide-ranging discussion which tackles, or at least touches upon, a fair few areas. Those who have ever wanted to understand more about Linden Dollar transactions, the LindeX and exchange rates (and how the latter in particular keep the SL economy stable) would do well to listen to Enkidu’s description – in totally none-technical terms – of how things flow together and the wheels turn.

As a former government employee, Enkidu offers some observations on our relationship with government and our relationship with the Lab, some of which indirectly echoed Ebbe’s own Forum-made observation of the Dunning-Kruger effect which can shape some reactions to the Lab’s stewardship of SL. it’s an observations which is, at least sometimes and in certain ways, hard to dispute.

All told, another fascinating discussion with a Lab staffer, albeit one somewhat different to those in the last two shows.

Not much to say in summary this time around, other than the interviews are once again excellent.

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2 thoughts on “The Drax Files Radio Hour 18: more from Santa Cruz and a CEO’s son

  1. I should have rephrased it, I am not surprised they don’t know SL, I am sure they do, I am just surprised that they seem to be excited about things happening now while not appearing to realise that it can already be done in SL and even if SL won’t be important in 10 years time, at the moment it still is an important player that at least should be mentioned now and then.

    I agree that not everyone knows what they are coming to SL for, but I also think that we should help them figure that out by offering them a bunch of options and we can always add one “door” that just says ‘Surprise me’, or random or just explore.
    Offer new users both help finding something they are looking for or help them start an adventure to an unknown destination.

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    1. Re: SL and Iribe’s vision – I’d still suggest he’s looking so far down the road that it’s really down to SL (i.e. LL and us) to demonstrate relevance to the kind of discussions that are going on.

      As to new users, I think it has to be a mix of both; a solution for those who don’t which also caters for those who do – even if their desire is simply to meet a friend (in which case it could be as simple as “OK you want to contact X and join them where they are, here’s what you need to do…”).

      For those who have a more general idea of initial direction they want to take but don’t necessarily have someone waiting to help them once they’re in-world, then perhaps a refinement on the current methodology whereby they get the “5-step programme” but are dilivered to a destination that meets their interest / curiosity & has a good chance of bringing them into contact with people, (not just other newbies) rather than leaving them on a corner somewhere (as with the current approach). This is where closer engagement between the community and the Lab is needed, and sins of the past forgiven.

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