Education in SL: A Q&A session with Ebbe Altberg and Peter Gray

secondlifeOn Monday July 7th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, Peter Gray, met with members of the education community to answer questions on the future of education in Second Life.

The meeting was organised by Lori Bell of the The San José State University School of Library and Information Science, moderated by Aldo Stern and recorded by Marie Vans.

The video is embedded below, and the transcript is time stamped against it for reference. When reading / listening, please remember:

  • This is not a word-for-word transcript of the entire meeting. While all quotes given are as they are spoken in the recording and the audio files, to assist in readability and maintain the flow of conversation, not all asides, jokes, interruptions, etc., have been included in the text presented here
  • If there are any sizeable gaps in comments from a speaker which resulted from asides, repetition, or where a speaker started to make a comment and then re-phrased what they were saying, etc, these are indicated by the use of “…”
  • The transcript picks-up with the first question asked.

0:04:42 Aldo Stern (AS): Will the educational discount be stable over time, so that education organisations can take [it] into account for their budget cycles? So I think that reflects right off of the top one of the things that people will have a concern about.

0:05:00 Ebbe Altberg (EA). Yes. Well, it’s very unfortunate that back in the day … that the discount was taken away. I thought it was very fortunate that it was re-instituted before I showed-up here, and I can tell you we have absolutely no intent whatsoever to make the pricing worse for you guys. none whatsoever.

And over time, as some of you have heard about, we’re starting work on a next generation platform, I think that ultimately an extremely large and vibrant and successful virtual world, prices have to come down all the time.

Today, we’re constrained by a number of factors: technology, business models, what have you, and user experience, that sort-of limits the size of the market for a product like this. for example, if we were to cut prices in half, we would have to get at least twice the number of users – or more, actually – to end up with the same revenue. Right now, I’m not convinced we have a product that could attract two extra users at half the price.

But I’d be happy to lower prices to get more users and make it up in volume, once we know we have a product that can achieve that. I think it’ll be an interesting conversation at that time, especially with the educational sector. would an even lower price … let’s say we take the current discount that you have, which I think is about a hundred and fifty bucks for a region; if we cut that in half again and say it’s seventy-five bucks, would we have twice as many of you buying simulators? If that’s the case, then it might be worthwhile for us to do; but if it only increases by 5% the number, then it’s just hurting us and our ability to invest in the future.

But I feel very confident in stating that we’re not going to mess with the current pricing you have in a negative way for you.

0:07:55 AS: I think that’s very encouraging to us, and I wanted to ask if anybody had any further comment before the next question?

0:08:08 Comment: Well, it is encouraging to hear that; but I think there are a number of related issues that make the current platform problematical for educators, and a number of questions we’ve identified I think will get at that, if you want to move down the list.

Ebbe Linden (Ebbe altberg) and Pete Linden (Peter Gray) at the meeting with representatives from the education community
Ebbe Linden (Ebbe Altberg) and Pete Linden (Peter Gray) at the meeting with representatives from the education and non-profits community

0:08:26 Comment: I did want to say something about the pricing real quick. If you did lower the price for educators you might not see the number of buyers go up right away, because I’m not sure if you understand how the education funding cycle works, and probably everyone in the room here can explain that much better than I can. But that is the issue: getting into the funding cycle ahead of time to make sure that you have funds available for your projects. So if you implemented that today, cutting it in half again, you have to give the education community time to get that in their budget and make that happen.

0:09:27 EA: Absolutely, and there’s way to solve that. I could say, it’s a hundred and fifty bucks now and it’s 75 bucks starting next quarter, so you can put it in your plans. how much advanced notice do you need to be able to get it into your budget cycle?

0:09:48: About a year.

0:09:49 EA: My lord! (Chuckles).

0:09:53: And that’s why, when the funding was cut, it was so devastating, when the discount was cut, because no-one had enough notice to get their funding back up to what they needed, and so it was very frustrating for a lot of educational folks.

0:10:14 EA: I understand. I can’t even begin to understanding the reasoning behind why that whole thing happened. I’m just very glad it was reversed before I came here, otherwise I would have done that myself. So you can at least be confident that we’re not going to make that mistake again.

0:10:44 Moderator: Let’s go to the next one here. Is Linden Lab willing to include educators, librarians and the non-profit community generally – you mentioned the new SL – in the planning discussions for the design, or alpha testing or just talking about what would be helpful to us to help you to be able to have really good content in the new SL?

0:11:23 EA: Absolutely. Let me state up-front. I think the education market should be a great fit. It’s not a great fit today, it’s an interesting fit today. But it should be a great fit for what you’re trying to do. So I think that the right implementation of a virtual world should be a phenomenal tool for you guys. That’s first and foremost.

And then therefore having you a part of the conversations obviously makes a tonne of sense. We have to talk to a lot of different users for a lot of different reasons, and we will definitely include the education market in that conversation.

We already know about quite a few things that Second Life could do better, and there’s already conversations we’re obviously having about how a next generation product could be a leap forward. But it’s quite a ways in the future.

And note we don’t refer to it as “SL” explicitly call it something more nebulous, like “next generation virtual world” because it’s still to be determined how different or similar it is. As if we use something like “SL 2.0” or as someone suggested, “SL 3.0”, then you already right already make a lot of assumptions of what it should be or should not be, and we don’t necessarily want to constrain ourselves to Second Life as a model for what a next generation virtual world should be.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a tremendous amount of good things in Second Life, so when we discuss the next generation, we describe it as being in the spirit of Second Life, which is a bit vague and definitely people interpret it in a lot of different ways, but it could be many, many, many years before what really works for people in Second Life is something they could replicate and achieve in this next generation product.

Ultimately, I hope to make the next generation product so good that people would prefer to use it over Second Life, but we’re not necessarily going to constrain what the next product could be or force it to be something that is necessarily too similar to Second Life. And how similar or different it will be, I think will reveal itself over time. But for sure, we will include the educational sector in the conversation of what it should be.

0:14:28 Comment: I think there are two parts to including educators in the discussion. One has to do with what our needs might be in terms of what the product eventually looks like. The other is, we actually have expertise you might find valuable in designing a next generation platform.

0:14:50 EA: Yeah. And that will reveal itself as you participate in the conversation of what it should be, because people will be able to come in and start experience it potentially in some sort of a closed alpha, closed beta, towards an open beta, towards a released product. And there will be many, many quarters to debate the pros and cons of all kinds of different implementations of things, that you will be able to put your thoughts and preferences and ideas forward.

And clearly, we’re going to have a group of people here that know how to do this as well. I’ve been doing it my whole life; my whole professional career has been doing products for hundreds of millions of people. So we know quite a bit about this, but we will definitely be listening to you guys for anything that can help us make a better product.

0:16:00 AS: I would just like to second what was said. In the group right here, I think you have some interesting and unique people. — Was talking about accessibility and the folks that we know who use the platform to enable them to interact and create and do things that are harder for them to do in the physical world … and the classes they do at SJSU [San José State University], which are wonderful; one of the things that works for educators, and the user-friendly issue for students in particular that we’ve all encountered.

Pete Linden (l) and members of the education and non-profit community
Pete Linden (l) and members of the education and non-profit community

0:16:59 AS: But let’s go on to the next one here. Will educators and other cultural goods groups be able to have full ownership of their content?

0:17:23 Elaboration from questioner: The question really applies to SL as it goes forward or the “new thing”, whatever it turns out to be. The big difference between the cultural goods community and most other creators in SL is that we don’t want money. We don’t want our product protected in terms of people not being able to have it if they want it. What we want is attribution, and that means intellectual property rights, but ones that play out in a very different way then, “you ripped me off by copybotting my houses” or whatever.

0:18:24 EA: I’m trying to figure out exactly what the question is. Copybotting is a tough problem to solve; you probably know there is no perfect DRM solution that just works, that someone doesn’t figure out how to crack. And that’s a problem whether it’s the music industry or the gaming industry. No-one’s figured out a way to foolproof this in a way that’s completely super-friendly.

0:18:52 Questioner: This is where cultural goods organisations are different. We want it to be copied, we want it to be maximally out there. If we want anything, we want attribution; and some cultural goods organisations don’t even care about that. So it’s a very different set of concerns, but the concern that remains is, will we have full ownership of our content?

0:19:21 EA: Well, what does “full ownership” mean? For example, what full ownership do you not have today?

0:19:34 Questioner: So if I create an exhibit in my library, I want to know that I can put that exhibit out on the web, I can print-up copies of the pictures and distribute them wherever. I want to be able to distribute whatever version of that content as I see fit, as widely as I see fit.

0:20:05 EA: We don’t prevent you from doing that.

0:20:24 Comment: I think one of our concerns is that the current ToS seems to give ownership of everything we create in Second Life to linden Lab, and that’s a significant problem to our home universities, as they think of our work in education as being curriculum development, and our university own the curriculum, not Linden Lab. so somewhere, we’ve got to figure out who owns what, or what the fair use is going to be, in order to be able to work and do good work in Second Life.

Ebbe Linden (LL CEO Ebbe Altberg) met with members of the SL education and non-profit communities on Monday July 7th
Ebbe Linden (LL CEO Ebbe Altberg) met with members of the SL education and non-profit communities on Monday July 7th

0:20:57 EA: So I’ve stated this before, it’s clearly not our intent … we’re a user-generated platform. All of the content in Second Life is created by you guys, not by us. We don’t really create much content at all. It is your content.

Now, technically, we need the rights to do almost anything with that [content] in order to be able to operate the service. But it never has been, and I don’t think we could successfully do something where we would take your content and profit from that in some way, independent of you guys allowing us to do so …

I’ve also said before that I’m going back and forth with my General Counsel to try to figure out how to put the language in such a way to make our intentions clear and at the same time making sure we have full rights to do what we need to do to operate the service.

So we’re going to continue to go back and forth on this … I know we can’t create language [in the ToS] that’s satisfactory to everybody, and I don’t know what has to happen to it in order for it to be sufficiently satisfactory to you guys. But there is absolutely no intent on our part to take your content and sell it independently in some way.

I understand what you’re saying, but we have never taken any of your content and do something to it or with it that you would object to, I’m pretty sure. And we have no intent of doing that. And again, I’ll work on the language to see if we can make that intent more clear, but at the same time we have to have rights so that we can move it around, we can delete it. we can modify it; whatever needs to be done to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with, or causes issues with, operating the service. But if you guys create an experience or some content, then that’s yours to profit from and not ours to take a profit from.

And most of this content, I wouldn’t even know what to do with it without the creators. Most of this content needs someone behind it to make sure it operates and functions and behaves. If I were trying to take it and run it myself, I would have to hire people to replace the content creators, it makes no sense.

[Note: while transcribing this meeting, the Lab issued an update to the Terms of Service which modified Section 2.3, and a blog post supporting the update.]

0:24:57 AS: I think that we’ve expressed the concern here and hope that we’ve conveyed that it’s not that we don’t trust you guys, but that the consensus is that the lawyers, the administrators, that this is something that can be worked on, but it’s important for you all at the Lab to know that there is a concern there, and that perhaps that is one of the things that could be addressed over time.

0:25:50 EA: And on the ToS thing … if you have an administrator or bureaucrat on your end who says, “No, you cannot do Second Life for this, this and that or X, Y and Z”, the more verbatim we can get on that feedback, the easier it may be. Because a lot of these conversations tend to quickly devolve into sort-of “religious” conversations, rather than specifics.

0:26:28 AS: I think that we understand that for the most part it can get into issues like that, but most people understand that it’s a microcosm of the Internet and sex, shopping and cat pictures, but it’s also good content. And what you have here are some of the people who provide the other content, even though we also have cats and shopping.

0:27:00 Moderator: SL is limited for real-life extension education purposes by a technology barrier, not all distant students have computers that can handle SL. Will future SL upgrades keep access in people’s reach, or will that be addressed only via the new platform?

This also relates to a number of the other questions that we had people submitting, which were: is this going in a direction where it’s going to get simpler or you’re going to need a degree … in computer science, or are things going to get simpler, which I think goes back to …. accessibility and user-friendliness, and is that the direction we can hope to see things going?

0:28:03 EA: So I think there are two things there. One was, call it the hardware requirements, and then the other one was ease-of-use or usability.

Second Life today, I think, requires less hardware than it did five years ago. We keep adding functionality, but we also keep [improving the] performance, and we’re going to keep making it perform better so that the number of users who can successfully use the product with the hardware they have will increase. And for the next generation, we’ve even started to tackle it so that you can have access on a ‘phone, on a pad, on a PC; obviously something like an Oculus, something like that; something we couldn’t necessarily retro-fit Second Life to be able to do, so that’s something we’re doing with the next generation platform from the ground up.

The next generation platform will also be built in such a way to be much more performant; lower latency, faster in all kinds of aspects, while at the same time providing much more functionality. so we’re certainly not having plans where suddenly you have to buy new hardware to use the next generation platform when that product comes around over the next couple of years.

As far as ease-of-use, this is my pet peeve myself. I think Second Life is an incredibly complex product, some of it is due to the fact that it’s basically a microcosm of almost everything we use on the Internet built-in to one product.

I mean, [in it] you have communications products, and there are entire companies being bought for seventeen billion, doing nothing but communications, like WhatsApp. You have a social networking product with groups and social networking capabilities, and Facebook is a company that focuses exclusively on that. You have building tools, and you have companies like Adobe and the guys up in San Rafael doing all these incredible 3D and 2D building tools and stuff. And you have the whole monetisation layer, with virtual currency and running a stable Linden currency and all these transactions.

And you add all that up, and it’s a tremendous amount of stuff that all needs to be packed into one product to make a fully functional market and ecosystem and communities to be able to function. And it’s hard to be great at every single one of those, but I think we’ve definitely made it way more complicated than it should be. I think we can make the user interface easier for people to consume and understand; we probably have too many what I would call edge case features that are only necessary for a select few users.

But it’s a tricky balance of how do you provide all the power for all of these different types of users? Creators, community leaders, consumers, entrepreneurs, all these different constituents have very different needs or requirements. And as soon as you start to pack all of that into one product, there’s just too much.

So this is something we’re going to have to get much stronger at, to create a user interface and a user experience that is a lot easier to use without dumbing it down to the point where the incredible power and flexibility you have for creativity and engagement with each other somehow gets lost.

So I would say that’s a tremendous challenge, and to solve it across multiple different types of devices that each require completely different user interfaces – the things you want to do on the ‘phone is going to be very different to the things you want to do on a pad is going to be very different from what you want to do on a PC, is going to be very different to something you’re going to want to do on an Oculus. so it’s a big challenge, we’re going to have to hire some people who are experts in the field of user interface design and beef our skill set up in that area, and that’s something that I’m very passionate about.

0:32:58 AS: You’re struggling to catch this balance between people being able to use the product, but also the thing that your predecessor said, calling it a shared creativity tool, which I think is one of the best descriptions of the platform ever. That all of these people who are coming together … not just the real geniuses in this room, but ordinary cyber-luddites like me are able to make things. And that’s part of the beauty and wonder of this, and part of what makes it such a great educational, collaborative experience.

0:33:48 EA: That’s part of why it’s sort-of become a niche product. There are other products on the market that are complicated like a Second Life, if you’ve tried to use Visual Studio to build some applications? Or if you’ve tried to use Maya to do some work, or even Adobe Photoshop or some of these power tools that have not hundreds of millions of users, but millions of users, because there’s only so many who have the patience or the capability or the interest to figure that kind of stuff out.

And how you can make something that’s appealing to an extremely broad audience and at the same time not lose its appeal with the hardcore users is, yeah, a tricky balance, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

0:34:48 Comment: I think one message that we want you to come away with today is that educators have the potential for bringing-in lots and lots of new users, all of whom have to have a very positive entry experience, which is difficult to create for them under the present circumstances.

The positive experience comes from being able to run the application on one’s own computer and to be able to understand how to use the interface. And just as Microsoft and Google have learned that catering to an educational market brings in young people and gets them inculcated with the product early in their lives, they continue to use the product and continue to demand it be used by future employers, and so on. And so I think it’s really important that you understand the potential of the educational market for bringing-in and training-up and creating a large pool of new users for you.

0:35:48 EA: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. And the fifty percent discount is just the tip of the iceberg there.

0:36:04 Comment: It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of enabling conditions, but then being able to sustain a community of students and a community of faculty who are frankly, much less technologically adept than their students are. The be able to get faculty interested in using this platform with students in creative ways is a really important potential growth market for Linden Lab.

0:36:33 EA: Yep. Definitely.

0:36:38 AS: And I wanted to call attention to the comment [in chat] about the immersive approach seems to be the answer to bringing people together, but one of the things that keeps coming up here is the very practical issue of getting a number of people together, whether it’s thirty distance learners or fifty or a hundred people for a cultural performance or the thing where people put the stage in one sim and the audience in the other sim, that hopefully we’ll be able to move on beyond those types of solutions.

0:37:47 AS: A couple of things we’ve already touched on. There’s a question about will the new platform have simple building tools that students can master? Will Linden Lab take into consideration that there’s a community that creates things to give away and wants attribution instead of money, which I think we’ve already addressed that. Will SL retain the concept of the average person being able to build what they want, to use or sell in free competition with everyone else, or will building be more geared to professionals who use high-end 3D design tools, and I think you’ve already kind-of addressed that in what you’re shooting for in the balance.

0:38:50 EA: Creation doesn’t have to be the creation of an object. It could be the creation of an experience for a community; which could be the collaboration of a number of different types of creators to create some kind of experience, which could be a classroom or a game or all kinds of different things.

But empowering people to create incredible things which can then in of themselves can attracting meaningful audiences and happy users is what we’re all about. And those types of creators have lots of different flavours. You have people who want to create a business; you have people who want to create a 3D model of something; you have people who want to create 3D animations; you have people who want to create solutions, like a classroom or teaching chemistry or what have you.

And so we see them as kind-of casual creators, someone who just wants to come in and hang out and socialise and make sure that their avatar looks really cool, so they just want to do some customisation and tweaking.

You have people who want to do a little bit more than that; they want to own a house or re-arrange their furniture and make not just themselves look different but maybe some personal space they have to look different, but they don’t necessarily go and build the chairs, they just want to go buy them and maybe change the colour of them and put them around their dining room table just the way they want it.

And then you have people who create incredible games and have a large staff of coders and scripters and sculptors and animators and all kind of people to create super high-end experiences. and they’re probably going to work mostly outside the platform and use high-end tools to create an experience they then import and put together in Second Life.

So we’re trying to get what sequence we need to go in, and which of those types of audiences we want to satisfy with what kinds of tools; and then also, what kinds of tools should you have available on different types of platforms. You’re not likely to re-arrange much in 3D space on a ‘phone, but you might want to do some of it on a pad, and you probably want to do most of your high-end creation on a PC, but then still want to be able to re-arrange on an iPad.

So we’re trying to think all that through. But ideally, you can have everybody participating in some way to customising the environment or experience in a way that they participate. But it’s going to take a while to sort it all out. Our intent is not just to be the high-end creating experiences for the masses, but to allow the masses to participate to some degree in the creation process.

Trying to design a platform which is accessible from computers, tablets and smartphones brings with it significant challenges – not the least of which is which capabilities should be made available on what platform

0:42:08 AS: I think we find that really encouraging when you say about the idea that we are content creators too. Because it’s interesting, when we did a list, we were pulling together some information which I had sent to Pete as well, about what we hoped you all would be getting out of this, one of the things we wanted to reinforce was that we, the kind of folks that you have in this room right here, are not just users but are folks who can collaboratively and collectively work to help make both the current SL and the new platform when it comes into being, into better products and better places, and that we are content creators and providers. but it’s a different kind of content to what builders and clothing makers contribute.

We’re not just content providers in the traditional sense; we’re also organisers of information and ideas and interaction between people. One of the things that we have discovered that we are able to create is something that we’ve started calling collaborative, self-directed learning, and that there are processes that are part of the content that we can provide to help make what you would ultimately have as a product that more people and diverse kinds of people will be interested in. so that was very encouraging to hear you say that, because we’ll take that as an indication that you get this.

0:44:15 AS: But there is one other question that had been on the list that I wanted to add: the biggest problem I have in using SL for my classes is the hostility of the Ed-Tech people at my institution. They won’t support me. What could the Lab do to inform CTOs and other academic tech people about the possibilities of SL for education?

0:44:46 EA: Well, what objections do they have?

0:45:00 Comment: They say it’s old-fashioned, they won’t take my students in and help them if they have a problem with their soundcards and things, they won’t do that, it’s too complicated for them. Basically, Adobe can come in and sell them something, and they’re willing to pay yards and yards of money, but they’re very fashion conscious, that’s what it boils down to. Second Life is not fashionable right now with these guys. What can you do to make it fashionable,. that’s all it is.

In fact I’d take that one step further and say I also teach seminars to graduate students. I want to get them in here, teaching students as well. But they think, well, it’s a video game, it’s not fashionable. There’s got to be some kind of buzz for these people. If there was a buzz out that it was the next thing, they’d be in here like a flipped window shade.

0:46:05 AS: Like there was in ’07?

0:46:09 EA: When it was probably over-hyped, when the experience people got was not in line with the expectation from that hype. So we have to be careful that just the right level of hype … Peter and I are talking to the press, we have been for the last week or so, you might have seen some articles start to pop out. and we’re trying to be careful and we’re not trying to go out there again and saying this is the end-all, be-all, best thing since sliced bread. We’re saying, “here’s a fact, if you’re interested in virtual worlds and virtual reality, this is in fact the best virtual world that has ever been created; it’s the best virtual world that exists today; it’s the most successful virtual world that has ever existed, and that includes today.

“You have a cool fashionable company maybe those techies are talking about would probably think is cool, like Oculus and Facebook, saying they’re going to build a virtual world for a billion people? Well if you want to start getting clued-in to what a virtual world is or could be should be, if you’re not in Second Life, then you’re completely clueless about what a virtual world can and should be, and they you’re just waiting for something in the future to maybe satisfy whatever those two words might mean to you.”

So there’s a lot of weird reasons for why the stigma or aura around Second Life took a hit. Some of the, call it the anarchy of behaviour inside the product. Some of the griefer attacks generated some negative press; the fact that there’s some adult content in some designated area; the fact that it’s been around for eleven years; the fact that it was hyped at some point to solve everything and be greater than or replace the Internet as we know it, and that didn’t happen, so it’s therefore deemed a failure, or something like that.

Meanwhile, it’s been a very successful product, it’s been very successful for us and for a lot of users. And virtual worlds will be a business that just going to grow and grow. There’s going to be a lot of competitors in the market. I think Oculus and Facebook and that whole thing has just completely made words like virtual reality and virtual worlds interesting and cool again. so that’s partly why Pete and I are talking to [the] press, and saying, “well, now that you want to talk about virtual worlds and how cool that is going to be, you have to consider Second Life as the number one player that exists today.”

Will there be something better in the future? Of course, and we’re going to be part of making sure that we’re the ones that deliver that, and continue to make Second Life better, continue to maintain our lead while we invest heavily in a next generation product we think can have broader appeal and create more interesting content at lower cost. but that’s what you have to try to tell people. I don’t know what else you think I can do to get people excited about it today.

0:49:48 AS: Well, I’m glad you asked that question. Because I think that one of the things you can do, again looking around the room, you’ve got folks here who are part of projects that have quietly kept going and have lived past the era of hype, and are doing interesting and sometimes extraordinary things. SJSU are consistently doing very well with their classes … And we have stuck with the platform and have managed to figure out what we couldn’t figure out in 2007, which was how to actually use it in a way that isn’t just building a virtual copy of your bricks-and-mortar classroom …

0:50:58 EA: It’s a new medium. It’s new medium for us, it’s a new medium for you, and it’s going to take us and you, all together, quite a while to figure out how to master. Look at any medium, how long it takes for it to get to where it is. And if you look back ten years and look at what TV was doing ten years ago or movies were doing ten years ago, or written content and how you consumed it. It’s all changed very, very fast.

I think for many people, this medium just went above their head; they couldn’t even comprehend what it is and what it’s for. It takes quite a bit of time for most of us to get some value out of a medium like this.

0:51:52 AS: And the idea that we’re still learning and trying to understand how people share and assimilate and acquire information and create communities within a platform like this. We’re still really just experimenting and learning as we go; but there are wonderful things that you can point to.

0:52:40 AS: One of the questions … people are really curious about how Oculus can and will potentially work into things, and where that technology will be going.

0:53:39 EA: So there’s a couple of things. Obviously, there’s hardware. I would expect the Oculus to probably be about three hundred bucks or something; I’m not sure, I haven’t heard them say exactly how much it’s going to be. So you’re probably not going to dole out one per student or anything like that, where everybody can participate in one single virtual space, thirty students all at once. If you’re not giving them laptops today, then I’m not sure about Oculus devices.

But … it works today, you can use the Oculus with Second Life today … it’s in the project viewer, as we call it here. We’ve done it so we can get feedback from our users about what’s it’s like and for use to learn about the technology. One thing you learn pretty quick when you strap that thing on your face is that your keyboard and mouse and no longer exactly totally relevant unless you’re a very good touch-typist. Then you have to think about completely new paradigms about interacting with the environment you’re in. And if you’re not doing it with a keyboard and mouse, you’re looking at companies like Sixense with their STEM system, or Leap Motion, or all kinds of weird hardware to be able to control the environment with your hands, or some system like Kinect, which can read your movements and translate those into actions you want to happen in the world.

Low-cost VR offers temendous opportunities within VW environments. However with headsets liable to cost $300, control system like Sixense STEM (pictured) a further minimum of $300, hardware costs are unlikely to initially endear VR to the education market without some assistance
Low-cost VR offers tremendous opportunities within VW environments. However with headsets liable to cost $300, control system like Sixense STEM (pictured) a further minimum of $300, hardware costs are unlikely to initially endear VR to the education market without some assistance

That’s going to take quite a while to figure out how to make it so that most users can just wander into an environment like that and successfully navigate, communicate and do things with the environment with just waving your hands around. But it is something we will have to explore; things will go in that direction, where the keyboard and mouse are no longer primary input devices.

And the other thing we have to do is make the technology better so that the latency and the performance gets much, much, better. Because if you have just enough … resolution or lag or performance problems, then the Oculus experience can be quite bothersome. [What] Most people have tried today is a combination of the products it’s being tested with as well as the hardware itself, is that it’s just not at the point yet where it just feels natural. You get a lot of people today who get motion sickness. I get motion sickness very easily; I can’t sit and read on my ‘phone in the back seat of a car without getting motion sickness in seconds.

So there are certain activities with an Oculus in Second Life where I get motion sickness quite quickly. And those are technological problems that can be solved, but it’s both hardware and software that have to move in that direction. So with the next generation platform, we’re going to try to make sure we get all of those performance characteristics to a point where it will be an ideal companion with the Oculus, so that’s one piece.

We’re going to continue to integrate Oculus into the main SL viewer. Creators are starting to use it, and they’re realising that, “OMG! in this context of an Oculus, I would actually create content differently; I would not make these fake trees that you can obviously see are fake so easily in an Oculus, and I wouldn’t put up these signs if I knew I had an Oculus, and I would do it is a different way.” So it’s starting to also educate the creators in how to make content that is optimised for an Oculus experience.

So it’s us learning, it’s you learning, and it will take quite a while, I think, before enough users have an Oculus and there are enough Oculus experiences that it is going to become something that’s extremely widespread; it will take a while, but I’m super excited to see that it’s happening. Just … a couple of years back, you would have expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars for something like the Oculus, and that it’s now coming down into the hundreds, and that’s just an incredible step forward. So I’m super excited, but it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of work on both our part and your part to make experiences that are ultimately great with the Oculus.

0:58:44 AS: Are you all considering hiring an educational contact person, Like Pathfinder [Linden], but perhaps a little less theory and more practical, to work with the educational community, bring us together, help us to grow, be the liaison between all these creative folks like you have right here, and the creative folks that you have in your office?

0:59:16 EA: Yes, I’ve heard Pathfinder mentioned a few times and heard a lot of good things with the way he engaged with, in particular, you guys, with the education segment. Right now, I’m not sure in the short-term that we’ll do it, but we’re going to have to soon; probably in the first half of next year where our next generation platform starts to get to the point where we’re starting to engage with all different kinds of user segments, different use cases – of which, of course, education is one very important segment.

So thinking about what types of user bases we need to have what types of conversations with, how do we scale those conversations well , and makes sure that helps us and helps you and that we arrive at the right end-point is something that I feel we’re definitely going to need to do. Right now, I’m just worried about hiring a lot of engineers and product designers to build the next generation platform. [While] I would be able to learn a lot from you guys in the next couple of weeks, I wouldn’t be able to do a lot with it for a while, unfortunately.

we’re still going to continue to invest in Second Life and make it better, so please don’t stop providing us with all types of insight and feedback on what we can do to make it better. But I’m not sure it’s at a point where I need to hire a full-time person to have that engagement; so I would expect that people who take an active role towards that to be towards the first half of next year.

1:01:09 AS: I think that’s really good to know, and correct me if I’m wrong, folks, but I know a concern is are we being taken seriously as a market? We know we add value and depth to the platform and the experience on it, but does Linden Lab – what I’ve heard from quite a few people is, “gee, having a Pathfinder Junior would be a physical manifestation or representation of their commitment and perspective”.

1:02:09 Questioner: That was my question. It wasn’t just Pathfinder, it was the idea of what Linden Lab is going to do to keep tabs on what’s going on with us, to keep the conversation going, keep the connections alive. because that’s the most important thing, that we get out of this meeting.

1:02:36 EA: Well, I’m obviously here for a reason. I want to be part of the conversation, and I want to make sure these kinds of conversation take place. Ultimately, I won’t scale personally to have these conversations with everybody all the time, so we’re going to have to find people within the organisation, or even hire Pathfinder Junior, to be able to scale having these kinds of conversations.

But right now there’s just enough product cycle, there’s a tonne of conversations we’re having among ourselves that we don’t right now require a tonne of external input. We already know so much that needs to be done, just sort-of the basic building blocks of doing this next generation platform, and we will get to the point where your feedback will be more directly relevant to what the shape of that thing should be, so I think it’s just a sequencing thing.

You know, Microsoft, where I worked at back in the ’90s, we had a specific discipline that evolved. It used to be just engineers building products and then product management people selling the product or doing the marketing of the product. Then they introduced the notion of programme management … that would basically take all the requirements from the world and create the specifics, or package them in a way the engineers would know what to do. And then you ended up creating another organisation in front of the project management called product planning, that actually spent most of its time outward facing, in the market, working with customers, users, understanding their needs, their requirements, their pain points, their opportunities and packaging that up so that product management could package the specifications of what should be done so that the engineers could go build it.

So you kept adding these layers to interface with the world around you in the right way. So I’ve seen all of those models, and right now we’re at the engineering stage of the evolution of our portfolio, and we’ll expand as we go along, fairly quickly. So the first half of next year, like I said, you’ll see us much more pro-active in having conversations with you guys and giving you guys early access to prototypes of our products and getting specific feedback on what it should be to solve the problems you’re trying to solve. So it’ll come; but right now, it’s just a lot of engineers we need.

1:05:24 Comment: One thing I want you to tell your engineers is that you’ll get a whole lot more participation from educators next January, if we know that all the work we’ve put into building our curricula and doing our educational products and projects in Second Life can be ported to the next generation platforms, so that we don’t have to start at square one all over again.

1:05:50 EA: That’s where I potentially have some sobering news, is that in order for the next generation product to be as great as we believe it can be, it would be almost impossible for us to solve that problem if 100-percent backwards compatibility, where everything that exists in Second Life would just carry on in that product as if nothing happened. If that was our approach, I would not even call it a next generation product, i would actually call it “SL 2.0” and give the impression that it’s really just an upgrade.

We’re talking about something more severe than that. a lot of ways that content is created in Second Life is not how it should be done. Whether it’s our avatars or prims, or scripting language, there’s so much stuff that’s just not done the way it should be. and if we’re going to do in this next generation product that it should be, and at the same time try to support the way it used to be, then the product will become even more complex …

So right now, what we’ve said is we’re not going to take backwards compatibility as a requirement, because it would constrain us too much in how we would think about where it needs to go. But at the same time, we’re saying that Second Life is not going away. We have no plans to shut it down, and all of the learning you do, not just the specific things you’ve built, but all of the learning about how to build and environment and a solution and an experience that’s relevant to an audience who are certainly hoping that you can create something that are actually going to fulfil what your dreams are in creating those experiences much better in the next generation product.

So there will be new work, but hopefully it will be less painful to create that work in the new product than it is in Second Life. I mean not hopefully, that obviously has to happen, otherwise it’s not going to be a huge step forward. but it’ll come at the cost of not necessarily being able to leverage everything you’ve created in Second Life “for free”, so to speak. Does that make sense?

1:08:17 Comment: Makes sense form a technical point-of-view. We’ll have to see what you come up with.

1:08:22 EA: And there will be plenty of time, as we continue to invest in Second Life and make it better and better over the years, this thing will start to come up next to it in some other shape or form, and you will be able to go over there and you will be able to chose when you think the right time and place is to spend your energy there versus here.

We have absolutely no deliberate migration scheme for moving all users from Second Life to this new thing. It’s way too far into the future to even begin thinking like that. So this place will be around for a long time, and you can choose over time. At some point, if everybody but two of you say that this new thing is better, that you’re going to spend all your time there, and for some reason two of you don’t think that’s right, then that’s going to be a bummer for a couple of you. But hopefully, it’s going to be the right answer for most people; but it’ll take a while.

1:09:32 Comment: I’m with virtual ability, and we do disability support in the community, and i think one area we’ve kind-of overlooked is the way that Virtual Ability works. We don’t ask our members for funds, we work on research funding with universities and government entities. so we’re partnered in over $2.5 million worth of research with five different institutions. So that’s how we fund our work in Second Life. we started out as a Second Life community, and we created a non-profit to support that community, and as far as we know, we’re the first ones to have done that, back in 2007.

So I think the research funding aspect is a huge aspect that Linden Lab is overlooking, because there’s a lot of research dollars out there, and virtual Ability is actually compiling a list of all the virtual world research done on disability issues, and we’ll be publishing that on-line, so that other people that are wanting to do research in Second Life will be able to quickly find reference that they need when they’re trying to justify why they want to come in here and do research as well.

1:11:24 EA: that sounds fantastic! So how can we better help each other?

1:11:31 Comment: Well, I think you’d probably want to sit down with our organisation and have a conversation about that. But I definitely think that is a path more people could take to get funding. And … I’m always shocked that Linden Lab never took that path themselves, to be a partner in the research, to get part of that funding … We were going to buy the Enterprise system (Second Life Enterprise, later cancelled) from Linden Lab for one project, and then that fell through. but other than buying just regular land to build the research projects, Linden Lab was just never interested in working with us.

1:12:40 EA: And what could we have done differently if we did work with you? Is it about making more people aware that there are additional ways to get funding to do things in Second Life? Is that the issue, that people don’t know that option is on the table? Or is it that we don’t somehow provide a system that people are willing to do research in?

1:13:13 comment: I think there are probably several ways you could probably help out. One would be working with us to make sure that we have what we need on our side … We work with university IT people, and like they were saying earlier … it’s hard to pin-point, but unfortunately my boss is on vacation, Gentle Heron, if you haven’t met here, you really should … she would have a lot more ideas about how you could assist us when we’re doing these research projects.

1:14:13 AS: I think where this is going relates to what I think may be our last couple of questions, one of which was: Ebbe’s been talking about all this great research they’ve done, all the information they have. Are the Lindens aware of the research done on SL, and would you all be interested in a list and links and copies of documents on research on retention and distance learning? … About how people learn differently, and share information and ideas differently in virtual worlds spaces? Would you guys have an interest in having this provided to you, and some help in sorting out the wheat from the chaff?

1:15:20 EA: Sure. Of course.

1:15:32 AS: The next question is, and this goes with what might be our last question. so what’s the conduit for continuing conversations with you all? … Even if you don’t have a dedicated person on staff, the educational liaison or the cultural non-profit liaison, is there some way we can provide a little bit of structure to what we’ve started here, with a group that could continue to communicate with you all and have a specific person or a way or a conduit for communicating and sharing information and ideas that might help you be that much readier down the road?

1:16:50 EA: I’ve met with quite a few groups now within Second Life, some with similar agendas and some with different agendas – not agendas, but perspectives – and what would be helpful to us, I think, is the more that you guys can to work together, to come together, as common of you as possible as to what you think are the most important things. for now that’s fine if it’s in the context of Second Life, but feel free to think outside of the box of what you think is even possible in Second life, because we’re going to do a next generation platform that will take us to another level.

Because we obviously hear from a lot of individuals about a lot of individual needs, and then we have to spend a lot of time thinking about how relevant is that … what are the priorities of these things. Because we get a lot of one-offs, I want this, I want this, I want this … it’s like thousands of these one-offs requested things. And then we have to spend the time thinking how relevant are these things, how important are they to what types of users, how does it prioritize with everything else we have on our roadmap.

So the more packaged your thinking … are the things that would make a big difference. and as you start to really think about all the things you can do to make it a better experience, a better product that has more traction and could help you achieve what you want to achieve.

The more of a common view you can start to have on that, and do some of that packaging for us, and come up with a prioritized list of what you guys more-or-less – I’m sure you’ll have different opinions, but that’s the tricky part, to consolidate it and prioritize it and have descriptions that someone other than yourselves could actually absorb it and understand it; that makes it a lot easier for us if it’s [a] collective perspective on priorities and requirements.

Otherwise that takes a lot of effort for us; for everything that people bring up, we have that to stick it in a list of a thousand things and figure out where in that list it belongs.

Virtual Worlds Education wiki
Virtual worlds education wiki

1:19:29 Comment: Could I just butt in here and remind everyone about a new project, the virtual worlds education wiki, which might be useful to with what we’re talking about here. It was established for research, for grant writing, for people connecting with other people, it’s cross-platform. That might be a useful tool to do what we’re talking about.

1:19:58 EA: I don’t know that we provide a great solution for it; I don’t know that our forums or the solutions we offer for interacting with customers are suited for this. But I would love for it to become that over time, where it’s much easier for us to collaborate on what matters and what doesn’t.

but the more you guys can talk among yourselves and try to come up with a prioritised roadmap, if you will, for the work that we’ll have to do that will make the biggest difference, whether it’s product related or not. and then maybe we could meet-up in a couple of months, where if you guys can put something like that together, and I could bring more product people into the room here, and we could sit down and discuss your priorities. some of them will overlap with what we’re already planning to do, some of them might not. That’ll help move things along; otherwise it’s all just one-off stuff.

1:21:21 AS: Something some of us may want to kick around is, do we have the foundation for a functional education and information sciences and cultural interest group here? Having a collective, rational voice that is expressing in a collaborative way, our perspectives in an active and positive way, rather than our own diverse agendas. [That’s] something to talk about.

At this point the meeting winds down with general comments and thanks to those who organised and attended the meeting, to Ebbe and Peter for their time (and vice-versa), and a request from Ebbe that the group contact the Lab when they are ready to continue the conversation in the manner he suggested, when there are specifics to be discussed and a broader number of Lab staff can be involved.


9 thoughts on “Education in SL: A Q&A session with Ebbe Altberg and Peter Gray

  1. Most important point: Second Life and everything inside of it is not made correct from a technical point of view. Nothing is made as it should be, it is essential a pile of crap so we will not bother to transfer the content or make it compatible with the new platform. So all your stuff is worthless and it is just a matter of waiting until the remaining residents are such a tiny group their screams will not be heard when we remove them and shut down Second Life for good. Until then please keep paying as we need you to fund or new projects.


    1. I don’t think they have stopped to consider that the number of people who do/ will enjoy ” living” in a VM are not unlimited. And SL has/had many of them blow through here already. So while they take this my way or highway approach and run people off — who will be building for the next Linden grid. I don’t think having a handful of giant corporate creators will make people stay-rent land- live.

      Would be like walking around inside candy crush .

      It is the small creators who make and sell things where the time spent is never going to be recouped in money.

      Ebbe needs to think HARD about Day 1 on the new grid– who will build it— where is the magic coming from.

      Running us off by demanding too high prices now– he is killing the golden goose.

      He needs us for the new grid. Unless the new grid will be some plastic fantastic soulless techno savvy place. Where no one feels like a person living…

      He said he wants engineers now and customers LATER to advise him. So they are building it for whom……


  2. Oh this makes me sad to read Ebbe said this about SL:

    “Right now, I’m not convinced we have a product that could attract two extra users at half the price.”

    I know I would be in a homestead so fast at 65 usd ( 125 now) – or split a whole sim for 40 usd for a qtr. sim. ( 295 now for a full).

    And if they could allow terrain choices in a qtr sim- amazing.


    1. Sadly, sustainability of demand for regions over time follwoing a tier cut is a major concern.


  3. “if you have an administrator or bureaucrat on your end who says, “No, you cannot do Second Life for this, this and that or X, Y and Z”, the more verbatim we can get on that feedback, the easier it may be.”

    The “for any purpose whatsoever in all media” is unworkable because it destroys all ability to work with 3rd party materials. You’re asking us to sign away rights which are not ours to give.
    How much more verbatim do they need it?
    Frankly, when Ebbe refuses to even *comment* on that aspect, he’s just lying to our faces now.


    1. “If I use your book in my classroom, my janitor can publish it in the future. Oh, don’t worry. You just have to tell your current publisher that he probably won’t do it.”


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