On Wednesday, March 18th, Ebbe Altberg gave the keynote presentation at the 8th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education conference, which runs through until Saturday, March 21st inclusive, in both Second Life and OpenSimulator.
His key address lasted a little over an hour, in which he outlined the Lab’s approach to education and non-profits, provided some insight into what Lab’s future plans, and discussed further information on the Next Generation platform. Following this, he entered into a Q&A session, which ran beyond the main session time, switching from voice to text chat in the process.
The following is a transcript of his initial comments and review of the Lab’s relationship with the education sector, his overview of Second Life as it is today, a look to the future, and his concluding comments. I have produced a separate transcript dealing with his comments on the next generation platform.
As well as including the official video, embedded below, I’ve included audio playback of each part of Ebbe’s talk for those who prefer to listen while reading. Timestamps to both the audio segments and the video are provided.
Click the links below to go the relevant section.
- Initial comments
- Changes at the Lab
- The Lab’s Relationship with Users
- The Media, SL and VR
- The Lab and the Education Community
- Education Successes
- Collaborating with the Community and Prioritising Needs
- Platform Pricing and Discounts
- Content Creation and Creators
- New User Experience (1)
- Content Migration to the Next Generation Platform
- Education Liaison
- Underwriting / Saving Content from Loss
- Region Controls and Security
- Viewer Updates Impacting Lessons and Activities
- Second life:
- LL’s Future – Facing Competition
- Concluding Comments and Q&A Responses
[00:00 / 02:55] First off, I’m really, really happy to be back at the VWBPE. Last year, I was pretty much brand new at Linden Lab, and we’ve had a year since then, and a lot of good and interesting things have happened that we’ll talk about. Like you heard in the introduction, we’re going to leave plenty of time at the end for Q&A so that we can talk about all [the] things that are on your minds.
Changes at the Lab
[00:38 / 03:34] So, since last year there have been a lot of changes at the Lab, We have simplified the portfolio of products that we are working on. Since I was here last year, we’ve discontinued work on six products [actually five (that were known about): Creatorverse, dio, and versu, and Patterns and Desura].
[01:02 / 04:00] So we have a much more focused company now, and we’re focused on things that are all relevant to user generated content, either through Second Life, or blocksworld, or through this next generation platform you have yet to see but we’re working on very, very hard to bring to you all.
[01:21 / 04:30] So focus has greatly improved. The other thing I wanted to talk about is some of the improvements made in Second Life. Performance and quality has greatly improved over the course of the last year, with the CDN work and the HTTP pipelining work some of you may have heard of, which should make access to worlds snappier than it used to be. i still feel we still have a lot to do to make it even more performant, but we’ve made great strides in that area.
[02:04 / 05:01] We also brought you the ability to experience Second life with the Oculus, so you can get sort-of an introduction to virtual reality if you have a chance to get your hands on an Oculus device.
The Lab’s Relationship with Users
[02:19 / 05:18] And we’ve also, I think, made a lot of improvements in how we market ourselves, how we’re connecting with you and many other customers and different audiences. I would say that when I showed up here a year ago, the relationship between the Lab and customers and partner was not great; and I think that’s improved greatly. We’ve spent quite a bit of effort, particularly Pete and myself, but also many other Lindens, socialising with you all, talking to you about what we can do better, how we can do things differently, better understand what you’re trying to accomplish. and so I think today, the relationships between us and you are much improved.
The Media, SL and VR
[03:19 / 06:18] We’ve spent quite a bit [of time] talking to the press; Pete and I have spoken to many. I would say a year ago, that was a difficult thing to do; Second Life was seen as old and not particularly relevant. Since the, we’ve had a tremendous boom and boost in all things virtual reality. It sort-of kicked-off with the big acquisition Facebook did when they acquired Oculus for two billion, and when the world started to realise that virtual reality was something that could be achievable much sooner than people [who] had been working in this area had previously thought. So there has been a massive acceleration in people’s mind of what virtual reality can and will do.
[04:16 / 07:15] So now it’s pretty easy to find people who want to talk to us, whether partners or press, about what we’re doing, and people are realising that our experience running Second Life is actually extremely valuable now that virtual reality and virtual worlds are all a sort-of hot topic again. So it’s very exciting for all of us to have the rest of the world sort-of get re-introduced and re-energised by what’s possible in virtual reality.
The Lab and the Education Community
[04:50 / 07:50] We’ve also spent quite a bit of time focusing and understanding education specifically in the context of Second Life, and also understanding it so that we can do a better job with our next generation platform to meet your needs in even better ways. And it’s absolutely clear that the capabilities of 3D and virtual experiences such as visualisation and simulation, and the ability to interact within those environments is an extremely strong component of how we can improve learning and teaching.
[05:33 / 08:32] We see evidence over and over again of how it’s proven that people can more quickly understand subject matter, content and experiences much better and much faster with much better retention of information, if they can experience something in a virtual context where they can do things, not just read or watch.
300+ Organisations and Success Stories
[06:00 / 08:58] We have well over 300 organisations that are taking advantage of our discount programme for educators and non-profits. I think there used to be more than that in the past, and we’re looking forward to making that grow back as we do a better job of meeting your needs.
[06:26 / 09:24] And we continue to hear over and over again just great stories from the community of educators about what they’re doing in Second Life, the success they’re having in Second Life to teach and learn all kinds of subjects from languages to chemistry to economics to health. The stories just keep going and going, and that’s really motivating for us to hear these success stories.
[06:56 / 09:54] And we started a thread on our forum, and I know there’s quite a few stories elsewhere out there, especially on [the] VWBPE.org site. so please continue to share these stories and successes with us; it helps motivate people, it energises us, and also helps us learn what we can do to help you be even more successful.
Collaborating with the Community and Prioritising Needs
[07:25 / 10:24] Like I said, we’ve spent quite a bit of time collaborating and communicating with various groups in the educational community in Second Life, and that’s absolutely great. It’s a great group of people to interact with, and often times I’ve asked these groups to work together to come up with the things that they find [as] the most important things for us to work on.
[07:54 / 10:53] Sometimes it can be difficult for us to filter all of the ideas and wishes and needs from a community as large as yours, and when you take the time to collaborate among yourselves to further refine priorities and needs for us, it helps a lot. We have to do less guesswork to understand what really matters to you all.
[08:19 / 11:17] I’d particularly like to thank Serenek Timeless, Aldo Stern, JJ Drinkwater Lorelei Juno who, at the end of last year took that request to heart and talked to … more than 60 educators to come up with a sort-of prioritised list of issues and concerns and opportunities for us to think about and focus on to help you all. so I’ll speak to some of these, and what I don’t speak to, obviously feel free to ask questions about afterwards in the Q&A session.
Platform Pricing and Discounts
[08:57 / 11:56] One thing that comes up quite frequently, and probably because we’ve made mistakes in the past, is the question about pricing. I just want to make it very clear that we have absolutely no intention of repeating the mistake we did in the past of removing the discount or increasing the pricing.
[09:17 / 12:15] So we have absolutely no intention whatsoever to make it more costly for you.
[09:22 / 12:21] We spend no time thinking how to make it more costly for you. We spend actually quite a bit of time thinking about how we can make it less costly for you; and it might be difficult to do in the context of Second Life, but we will try. But as we think about the next generation platform, this is something that’s thought about from the beginning, about how we can make it more economically feasible for more people to participate.
Content Creation and Creators
[09:51 / 12:49] Another thing that comes up is the ability to easily create content. you know, simplified building and scripting capabilities so that all users can create something.
[10:07 /13:06] We do think of creators in sort-of three categories of users that we believe we have to meet the needs of. You have the sort-of artisan or professional people that can create some really high-end experiences. We have the hobbyist, which I would say is where there’s a lot of them in Second life, who don’t necessarily have a formal background in 3D or animation or CGI, but are able to use Second life to create incredible things.
[10:43 / 13:41] And then we have the vast majority of people, who we call “customisers”; they don’t necessarily create original content, but they take bits and pieces by shopping or finding or being given items that they can then place, whether it’s to get dressed or to make their space laid-out just as they like it. So they don’t necessarily make the chair, but they put the chair where they want it. It’s sort-of like real life; most of us don’t build the clothes and cars and homes that we live in and use every day. We’re customisers, most of us; we get dressed in clothes that others make, and that’s probably how it’s going to be in the virtual space as well.
[11:30 / 14:28] We do want to make it as easy as possible for people to create content and contribute content. and I don’t expect there to be huge changes in Second life in this area, although we are working to improve the ability to import content from the outside world.
[11:50 / 14:48] As we think about the next generation platform, which I will talk about more later on, we’ll make a number of difference I’ll speak about then. But the scripting language will change, support for third-party will be very important to us; but I’ll talk about that in a bit.
New User Experience (1)
[12:08 / 15:06] Another thing [is] an improved and customisable new user experience, including entry points. This is something I’ve spoken about before. We feel it’s important to make it very easy for the creators of an experience to be able to attract an audience to come directly to that experience without the need of having to go through some generic front door to get going.
[12:39 / 15:37] And so we will continue to think about that in the context of Second Life, of how can we bring back notions we’ve had in the past of community portals or some such, and also how SL URLs, or SLurls, can be optimised to be [a] more efficient way of bringing users directly into a particular place. I would say the SLurl today is kind-of a crooked path to come on-board from from the outside world.
Content Migration to the Next Generation Platform
[13:20 / 16:18] Migrating content to the next platform versus starting over. Again, I’ve said before, don’t expect 100% backwards compatibility where you can just airlift everything as it was [in SL] and suddenly have it running on the new platform. That won’t work. but again, if you do work in mesh, and all these textures and all that content, make sure you have it on-hand, because we are going to make it as easy as we can for you to import that content into the next generation platform.
[13:54 / 16:53] We’re going to focus on the ability a lot more on the ability to import from third-party tools in the next generation platform than we ever did for Second Life. There’s some incredible tools out there for creating content, and we want to support as many of them as possible.
[14:11 / 17:09] So it will be a lot of work to build new experiences, but again, we didn’t want to compromise on what should be possible in the next generation platform by being strict on backwards compatibility. And in the end, you know, it shouldn’t matter, because you can take your time; Second Life is not going anywhere. so you can take your time and play in both of these worlds and choose where to spend your energy on a go-forward basis.
[14:40 / 17:39] Another question [that] comes up a lot is us hiring an education liaison, someone who focuses on this segment of users, and we have mentioned that we’d be interested in doing that. And we probably will, in the not too distant future, start to think about how we organise ourselves to more effectively engage in conversations with various verticals. Education is one; we have health, we have gaming, we have all different kinds of use cases and communities, and education is a really important one. So I still feel confident we will hire-in someone in the not too distant future you can have a very continuous and on-going, high frequency relationship with, to make sure that we here you loud and clear.
Underwriting / Saving Content from Loss
[15:37 / 18:36] There’s also another area, which is partnering with educational groups, museums, etc., to underwrite high quality content. Some of that might come down to cost, some of it comes down to how second life was engineered. Every experiences has to sit and occupy a region at a cost on a continuous basis, whether someone is actually visiting that region or not.
[16:03 / 19:02] So there are things we can do, certainly, in the next generation platform. In the next generation platform, I would never expect content to have to disappear, ever, due to financial constraints. And it’s really sad to see in Second Life, some really wonderful content, experiencing, disappearing for all of us because of cost. So that’s something we hope to completely solve with the next generation platform. If something is not visited very often, for us to store that experience out to disk, and sort-of load it up rather quickly, if someone wants to go and visit it, should prevent us from ever having to see things disappear permanently in the future.
Region Controls and Security
[17:05 / 20:03] Another thing that came up was flexible, reliable and simpler region control and security tools. Second life has most of these controls. It is actually a bit complicated; I got confused myself just the other day, trying to invite a journalist to my own private island and got caught on some strange nuances in how one configures those things. and so a lot of that has to do with ease-of-use, and I’m sure we can simplify access control a lot from what we have in Second Life,
[17:45 / 20:44] We’ve also heard in the past, wishes to be able to connect your users to Second life, where you can manage user access from places where you already do manage this within your institutions today. And support for third-party authentication and access control is something that we’re building into the foundation of the next generation platform.
[18:12 / 21:11] Again, we’re talking about something that will take quite a while to get to the point where it can replace what you’re able to achieve in Second life today, but it’s something we’re thinking about from the ground-up in the future.
Viewer Updates Impacting IT Departments and Causing Disruption
[18:34 / 21:32] Another issue we hear quiet frequently is viewer updates, and how that can cause pain within the IT departments in institutions, where a lot of students walk into a lab to start a class and, “boom!” all the viewers want to upgrade and disturbs the flow of you teaching.
[19:01 / 22:00] And actually, Oz Linden, who heads-up engineering for Second life is holding a session this Friday [March 20th] at this conference to get more insights into what issues you have there, so we can figure out how we can solve these issues. I think some of those issues are solvable today, and hopefully it’s mostly about us better explaining how to manage this process; but there might also be things we have to fix in the product to solve this problem.
[19:36 / 22:35] That’s some of the questions that this group of people put in front of us. i think the list was longer than that, but those are some of the top questions that I figured I’d try to tackle up-front.
[00:00 / 22:50] Let’s talk a little bit about the future; so where’s it going, starting with Second Life? We’re obviously still continuing to improve Second Life. We have a very dedicated Second Life team, just like yourselves, the people who work on Second life here are extreme fans of their product and they love working on it.
Performance and Stability
[00:28 / 23:16] And the areas they will continue to work on is performance and stability. that’s a never-ending battle, and they will continue to fix bugs and improve performance and make things stable. for example, a lot of work has gone into making our [group] chat system more reliable, where messages used to get dropped, and stuff like that, and we’re getting very close to having that completely solved, but [there’s] more work happening.
More on the New User Experience
[00:53 / 23:50] As I mentioned earlier, another area that we want to continue to focus on is the on-boarding experience, whether it is generically for us on-boarding new users to the platform, or making it easier for you to on-board your users and students; it’s something that’s important to us, making it easier for new users to come on-board, understand how to to use the environment, in particular how to get directly dropped into the context that’s relevant to them, whether it’s your classroom or a particular experience.
[01:29 / 24:26] Experience Keys. Maybe not relevant for all of you, but if you’re a creator where you want to have more control over what avatars can or cannot do, or how they move through the flow of an experience, where there’s a guided lesson … Experience Keys allows you to take a lot more control over the user experience, so that’s going to continue to roll out. We’re already seeing some really interesting games being developed using Experience Keys, but I think a lot of that can also be leveraged in the context of education.
[02:09 / 25:06] We’ll continue to further improve avatars, make them look better, make them move better, make them move their mouths better, whatever we can to make avatar improvements, we’ll continue to work on that. We may even be able to think of some ways to extend the skeleton, to be able to do some interesting things in that area.
Media Changes and Improvements
[02:30 / 25:28] Another one I hear a lot from educators is the ability to play media. so media on a prim, the current web control we have today in Second Life is very old, and is not really up-to-date on using current web standards. So we are working on upgrading that control [through the implementation of the Chrome Embedded Framework, or CEF] to be HTML 5.0 compatible. So don’t think Flash, don’t think QuickTime and those proprietary formats; but HTML 5.0 want want to have great support for, so that you can do rich media on a prim that way. Some more to come on that.
[03:12 / 26:10] And then there’s the thing I mentioned earlier, making sure that we solve this problem that some of you have communicated to us where you want to have control over when the viewer gets upgraded in your lab environments [this is in reference to earlier comments in the presentation about educators having issues with the viewer auto-update mechanism forcing unplanned viewer updates when students are trying to access in-world activities, etc.]
Looking to LL’s Future – Facing Competition
[03:30 / 26:28] So moving on more generally about the future, and what we’re working on next. well, first of all, it’s just an incredible exciting time. The amount of investment that’s going into virtual reality across companies, across hardware and software and services is going absolutely crazy right now.
[03:54 / 26:52] What was almost no investment a year ago from our perspective, is now, now everybody is suddenly involved, and it’s almost crazy to try to keep track of all the new VR products that’s popping-up every day, left and right. And this is helping us tremendously. Because obviously, the better hardware we can have, whether it’s HMDs like the Oculus, or new input devices to interact with virtual experiences; these are all things that we’d love to see progressing forward. and it’s progressing faster now than it ever has; I think in the last 6-9 months, we’ve seen more activity in this space than we’ve had probably previously in the last tens of years, so it’s incredible.
[04:44 / 27:42] And you have companies like Facebook, Valve, Sony, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and many, many others putting a lot of money and effort into making virtual experiences go to the next level. And the number of start-ups I see; you can pick any word and throw the two letters “V” and “R” in there, and there’s some start-up everyday. Education VR, health VR, entertainment VR; VR this, or something, something VR … it’s happening fast and furious. Which means there’s more competition.
[05:26 / 28:24] But I think we don’t see that as big of an issue, although we realise we have to be working really hard to make sure we stay in the lead, and that we work on a platform that can take advantage of all these technologies on a go forward basis for many years to come. which is why we’re investing so much of our effort on building this next generation platform.
[05:53 / 28:49] We had a great visit last week by Jeremy Bailenson from Stanford [founder of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University]. I’m sure many of you have heard of his work … he’s done a tremendous amount of research in the context of how you can use virtual reality to improve learning and teaching. so we have a good relationship with him, and he has one of the best, if not the best, virtual reality lab over at Stanford, that I had the [good] fortune to visit last year, and I think we’re going to take take tours of the company through that in the coming weeks.
[06:41 / 29:49] And he had some fascinating insights into what’s possible in the context of VR with regards to teaching and learning, and some of those nuggets we’ll figure out how to take advantage of on a go forward basis as we think about the next platform…
[07:08 / 30:06] So it’s obvious to us that in the future, virtual reality and education is going to be a very important combination. You guys are the pioneers, we are together the pioneers for what it means to make education work better because of virtual reality and make virtual reality better because of education. And I’m so excited just to be on this journey together with you all, to figure out what we can do to take it to the next level.
[07:55 / 30:53] We’re going to make it happen; we feel that it’s our job to make sure that we’re the best solution possible for all of you to use our products and services to be able to do what you want to do, and so this is core to us.
At this point Ebbe discusses the next generation platform, and the transcript for that discussion, and the questions related to it can be found here.
Concluding Comments an Q&A Responses
[42:52 – video] So to conclude, before we open up to Q&A here, it’s great to be here; the world around us is much more interesting today than it was just even a year ago. We, you, educators, Second life users at large, we understand the value of these virtual experiences; we’ve been doing it for a long time, and we’ll continue to do it for much, much, longer. We’re investing heavily to be as relevant as possible in the future.
[43:30] And just like we we have unparalleled experience in providing the platform, you as the pioneers and early adopters, have a huge leg-up on understanding what education can and should be in the future. so I’m really looking forward to what we can accomplish in the future together, to change the way we can teach and learn.
Improving the Payment / Cash-out Process
[54:44] We have a lot of interesting work going on in Second life right now … I could have mentioned this earlier; I wasn’t sure f the education community was interested in getting paid as much as the rest of the community!
[54:59] We are starting to figure out all the rules that we have to have in place to understand which users we can trust to the degree that we can pay them; that we know who they are. We obviously have to a tremendous amount of work on compliance to make sure that money that goes out meets all the criteria to allow us to have comfortable relationships with banks. we don’t want money laundering or any of those shenanigans going on.
[55:32] So we now have done so much work in that area that we have started the process of auto-pay. Which means that once we know the profile of a user, we have the information we need [for] KYC, know your customer. Which is another important aspect, which is today, when you reach a certain amount of money you want to get paid-out, we had started to ask you for all kinds of information to identify you, to make sure you’re not on some terrorist watch list and we know that the activities that you are doing are within the bounds of the law, etc.
[56:24] Once we know that you’re in good standing, I’m hoping that we can pay you out in hours, rather than days. Today, it takes five working days for us to manually make sure that everybody who wants to get paid-out [can].
[56:40] And remember, last year we paid out over US $60 million, which means that people were asking we pay out more than a million dollars a week, and there’s quite a few of you!
[56:52] So it takes quite a bit of effort just to make sure that all of those pay-outs are ligit, and we’re just now getting to a phase where a large portion of those, especially with customers of long standing, and we have all the data we need, we can have an automatic pay-out process. So that’s something i hope will reveal itself over the next month or two.
Providing Data to Users on Region / Experience Usage, etc
[59:37] Because our focus is in ultimately helping creators to succeed, it must be in our thinking, of how we provide you with the data that empowers you to succeed. What we have to figure out is, where do we draw the line on what level of detail on that data you can get; because we obviously have a relationship with the customer, and so do you. But we can’t necessarily give you all the information; for example, it wouldn’t be wise for us to give you access to a customer’s credit card information.
[01:00:118] So where do we draw the line of individual data versus data in aggregate? But I would love for all of you to have something like Google analytics, if you will, for your experience, so that you can understand how your experience is performing: what is the retention rate, what is the conversion rate, how do you perform versus others; who is performing great, so you can go an look at their experiences and learn from them. so providing you with that kind of data and those insights, I think will make you smarter, which will make your creations better, which will drive the quality up of everything.
[01:00:59] So it’s definitely our intent to get you as much data as we possibly can, because that will just make you better and more successful and that’ ll make customers of your experiences that much more successful, and so it lifts all boats. So we’re in alignment on that one.
[01:05:27] Mentor programmes. You mean, basically, utilising residents as official helpers. We’ve had some issues with that in the past; it’s a very difficult thing for us to assess the quality of that service. And many time we’ve heard stories about how some of those helpers were quite biased in what they were trying to achieve, or how they wanted to portray the platform or what it’s for or what it’s not for or where to go or what to do or what not to do, that weren’t necessarily aligned with how we looked at things.
[01:06:10] So we don’t have a current plan to bring in a programme like that, and that’s it for now.
With thanks to Mal Burns for the video.