Celebrating historical communities in Second Life

The DECADES event region
The Decades event region

Commencing at 12:01 AM on Saturday, June 27th is a special 24-hour event celebrating historical role-play and educational communities in all their forms throughout Second Life.

Decades is a collaborative event involving a core team of 12 people who have come together to develop and build an incredible region of event areas, builds, exhibits and landscaping in  which no fewer than 19 live and / or interactive events will be held over the 24 hours (see the schedule below) amidst a total of 11 exhibition and activity spaces.

describing the event when inviting me to a special preview of the region, Sister (SisterButta), one of the organisers (and the co-conspirator in the original idea from which Decades grew, along with Freda Frostbite), said, “Most of us can think of at least one historical and/or educational region or RP community in SL that has been lost forever due to difficulties of financing these very precious and specialized builds and communities. We hope Decades can play a part in stemming the tide, increasing awareness and build bridges between people from all around the metaverse who celebrate history of whatever era.”

The Decades Pavilion
The Decades Pavilion

Throughout the event, people will be able to join-in with activities, tour exhibits, enjoy live performances, and more. There will be balloon rides and pony rides, even a zip line.  There is an historical ship to explore and an aerospace museum which – I can honestly say – is perhaps the best of its kind I’ve seen in Second Life; put together in less than 3 weeks and incorporating the guiding hand of a genuine NASA engineer.

Donations and funds raised through the kiosks scattered across the region will go directly to Historical Communities and Royal Courts,  which is designed to be an umbrella website for historical communities in virtual worlds, with the intent for it to become a clearing house for information on communities, events and activities. A place where people throughout the metaverse with an interest in historical RP and education can brain-storm and which can provide resources to for educators and historians in the use of immersive virtual environments.

Decades actually started quite modestly just a few weeks ago. “Originally, Freda and I thought, ‘oh, let’s have a dance to raise money for Royal Courts,” Sister told me as we wandered through the gardens of the region. “Then I said, ‘I’ll do an art exhibit of paintings from different time periods…’, and then…and then…voilà. it grew! Fast!”

Decades offers plenty to see and explore
In Memoriam, one of several places to visit at Decades

As it grew, so Decades attracted more and more support, with  Jacon Cortes de Bexar, Cloee Heslop, LadyFandango, Merrytricks,  Robijn, Claire-Sophie de Rocoulle, Aldo Stern, Heximander Thane,  Serenek Timeless and  Lucerius Zeffirelli all playing key roles in establishing the region and its associated activities, together with Freda and Sister.

Touring the region, I couldn’t help but be taken by the care with which everything has been put together and presented. As already noted, the Regional Air and Space Museum in the north-east corner of the region is simply mind-boggling in the exhibits it offers, drawing on content creators from across Second Life – and it is something I’d love to see preserved well into the future.

Towards the centre of the region there’s the main pavilion, with a display of historical horse-drawn and road vehicles, again from creators across SL, to one side, as well a a small display of vehicles of war from Da Vinci and the two World Wars; and an art display on the other. And that’s just the start – there really is a lot to see; I’m only going to make passing mention of Merrytricks’ delightful House of Cards maze, the fashion pavilion, the observatory, and the arts and period exhibitions going on throughout the event – so if you want to know more about them, make sure you set aside time on Saturday to visit Decades!

Decades: the Observatory on the hill
Decades: the Observatory on the hill

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No more improvements planned for my.secondlife.com

During the Meet the Lindens conversation held at SL12B on Thursday, June 25th which featured Danger Linden, Senior Director, Product, Virtual Worlds and Troy Linden, Senior Producer, a question was asked about the SL feeds – also referred to as my.secondlife.com – and whether they would continue to be developed or enhanced.

Danger Linden was direct and honest in his reply:

That’s a though one, because I don’t think anyone’s going to like the answer … The short answer is no.

It’s kind-of a mess, and it’s very difficult to maintain; it’s usage rate is on the low side compared to other feature. So, it may not be a popular answer, but no more improvements are planned on that.

My.secondlife.com has had something of a chequered history. Web Profiles first appeared in 2011, growing out of the Lab’s attempt to provide a social media style capability to users with the acquisition of Avatars United in late 2009 / early 2010, and which was shut-down at the end of September 2010. The feed capabilities followed in mid-2011, and the capabilities grew from there.

My original web profile on my.secondlife.com
A part of my original web profile on my.secondlife.com

From the start things were a tad awkward; people’s rezdays lacked the year in which they were born (see WEB-3486  – thank you, Whirly!); profiles were very slow to load when viewed from within the viewer; once loaded, they initially required a fair proportion of screen real estate.

When the feeds were introduced, people weren’t too happy that posting anything to them from within the viewer automatically appended your location, whether you wanted it to or not, promoting concerns about the potential for stalking and similar.

The Lab, however, took the concerns and critiques on-board, and listened to suggestions. Years of birth reappeared; the profile panel was resized; better controls were added for who could see your feed / interact with it; a Twitter-like Follow button was added, as was a direct messaging capability (subsequently removed at the end of 2013 due to abuse). All of which made the feeds far more comfortable for people to use, and people did start using them more frequently as a result.

And even when things did persist in going sideways at times – such as the 2012 issues of the wrong names, posts and images turning up on the wrong feeds, or the feed gremlins dining on snapshots during upload, people still continued to use the feeds, and suggestions for improvements continued to be made.

I've tended to use the feeds for blog post notifications, the odd snapshot upload and the occasional chit-chat
I’ve tended to use the feeds for blog post notifications and snapshot uploads. It’s fun being ability to highlight the things we encounter in SL and sometimes have a little fun with them

Hopefully, “no plans to improve” will be shown to mean just that: no new shiny added to the feeds, and not that general problem solving when thing do hiccup will cease, or that the feeds themselves are liable to suddenly poof in the near future. While it may be a relatively small number of people who regularly use the feeds, they do so with gusto,  finding them a handy means of keeping in contact with friends and contacts.

The snapshots capability is a great means of pointing people to places and events in-world, and in sharing moments. Similarly, the comments capability is extremely handy for having informal discussions in an easy-to-follow format that’s a lot more immediate and convenient than using things like forums or shuffling through Plurk events. Also, and unlike Twitter, feed comments are not limited to 140 characters, something which can make the conversational flow a little diffic …

Sansar: news and updates from the media and from the Lab

Danger Linden (centre left) and Troy Linden (centre right) discuss Second Life and Project Sansar with Draxtor Despres and Saffia Widdershins at SL12B
Danger Linden (centre left) and Troy Linden (centre right) discuss Second Life and Project Sansar with Draxtor Despres and Saffia Widdershins at SL12B

Linden Lab’s next generation virtual worlds platform, code-named Project Sansar made the news in Second Life and in the media on Thursday, June 25th.

In the media, Bernadette Tansley, writing in Xconomy covers how Second Life Creator Linden Lab Prepares To Test Parallel VR Universe, delving into the forthcoming closed alpha testing for the new platform, which we know to be code-named Sansar.

In terms of Sansar news, the article specifies:

  • It can already run at 75 frames per second
  • The Lab plans to accelerate the platform to 90 frames per second to sync with specifications expected for the Oculus Rift and other headsets
  • The initial closed alpha, involving a limited number of creators experienced in the use of Maya, will commence in July 2015
  • If all goes according to plan, the programme will gradually be expanded to a more public beta testing phase around the first half of 2016
  • A “version 1.0” of the platform might be ready by the end of 2016.

Outside of LL and Sansar, the article is interesting in that it suggests Cloud Party, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2014, is still in the running to develop a virtual world that can be operated with the upcoming new range of VR headsets, etc.,  alongside the Lab, Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity and new start-up AltspaceVR.

You can read the entire piece by following the Xconomy link given above.

Drax, Danger Linden, Troy Linden and Saffia at the Meet the Lindens at SL12B
Drax, Danger Linden, Troy Linden and Saffia at the Meet the Lindens at SL12B

During an interview with Danger Linden, Sr. Director, Product, Virtual Worlds and Troy Linden, Senior Producer, held as a part of the SL12B Meet the Lindens series of conversations, the subject matter inevitably came around to Project Sansar, and the following tidbits of information were given.

Further confirmations of Known Basics

  • SL users will be able to use there SL identities with Project Sansar if they wish
  • Linden dollars will be the transaction currency / tokens on Project Sansar
  • Both voice and text will be supported in Sansar for chatting / communications.

However, neither of the above mean you’ll be able to teleport directly from SL to Sansar or vice-versa; both are separate entities.

“Master” Accounts

Users will be able to have a “master account”, under which they can then have multiple avatar accounts they can use.

  • The “master account” will be known only to the user and Linden Lab, and will use an e-mail address as the main form of authentication
  • Users can create multiple avatar accounts (or “persona names” as Danger Linden referred to them) under this “master” account, which they can use to access Sansar, and will be known to other users only by the avatar account they are using
  • Inventory and account balances will apparently be associated with the “master account”, allowing them to be shared between the avatar accounts under the master account
  • It is not clear what format avatar / persona names will take, and whether it will be a first name, last name format.

(The idea of having a “master account” with this kind of flexibility has long been on users’ wish lists for Second Life for a long time – see JIRA SVC-6212 and my own article from 2011 on the subject. As such, this is liable to be a popular move among those SL users interested in trying Second Life.)

Anonymity and Trust

Sansar users will be able to have as much anonymity as they wish. However, the more information that users provide to Linden Lab – be it wallet identity, a verified e-mail address or payment information – the more capabilities they’ll have in-world.

The idea here is to try to address the issue of griefing while still maintaining a relatively low barrier to entry – obviously, the easier it is to access the platform, the easier it is for muppets to run amok. So, the idea is that as more information is provided, the greater the level of trust established between user and Lab, allowing people to “do more” in-world and participate more. However, the exact relationship between platform capabilities awarded, and the information users will be asked to provide in order to access them, is still being determined.

Obviously, the content of the information you provide to the Lab remains private and confidential (i.e. if you supply a verified e-mail address, that e-mail address is not revealed to any other users). However, if a verified e-mail is required to, say, publish a Sansar “world”, then the fact that you have published that world will tell other users you have a verified e-mail with the Lab.

Mesh, Terrain and Building Tools

  • Sansar content will obviously be focused on mesh – but not necessarily exclusively mesh
  • The terrain will be voxels
  • Subject to further confirmation, it should be possible to also build in-world objects using voxels
  • Maya is the tool that is being used purely to assist with testing when the closed alpha commences. It will not be the only tool, and it will not be the sole tool for content creation (see Ebbe Altberg’s comments on alpha access and tools from the Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education, March 2015)
  • A goal for Project Sansar is for people to be able to build in-world and to share in collaborative building
  • Sansar will include a full “professional” (in terms of its capabilities not in the need for people to have to be professional animators in order to use it) animation system, which will be based on Havoc animations (Havoc being the SL physical system),  overlaid with additional capabilities  / code directly from the Lab
  • All objects in Sansar will be fully scriptable and animated; it is not clear whether on-the-fly modifications to mesh items in-world will be possible
  • It is acknowledged that content creation tools can be a barrier to adoption / use; it is therefore a goal with Sansar to “make it easier to make things in Sansar than it is in Second Life”

Continue reading “Sansar: news and updates from the media and from the Lab”