Ebbe Altberg discusses “Sansar” and Second Life with TNW

Second Life: "almost as diverse as the physical world we live in" - Ebbe Altberg
Second Life: “almost as diverse as the physical world we live in” – Ebbe Altberg

Martin Bryant, Editor-at-Large at The Next Web caught up with Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, in Dublin at the start of November, where they had both been attending the 2015 Web summit conference.

During a 10-minute audio interview, Mr. Bryant offers a series of questions which, while they may not reveal anything new to those engaged in Second Life or following the unfolding news about “Project Sansar”, nevertheless cover interesting ground and offer food for thought on a number of fronts.

Martin Bryant, Editor-at-large for The Next Web, discusses SL and "Project Sansar" with Ebbe Altberg
Martin Bryant, Editor-at-large for The Next Web

The recording is prefaced with a series of useful bullet points under the title Think Second Life died? It has a higher GDP than some countries, itself is an eye-catching title, which help put some perspective on just what Second Life has actually managed to achieve over 12 years, and sets the stage for the broader discussion.

The interview starts from the position that the media have tended to get Second Life wrong, noting that far from having failed or gone away, it is still operating, still engaged some 900,000 active users every month, just 200,000 a month down from when it hit a peak of around 1.1 million 7+ years ago. Not only do these figures tend to highlight Second Life’s (albeit very niche) ability to attract and hold an audience, they also put oft-repeated claims that people are somehow leaving Second Life en masse into perspective. The outward trickle of active users is there, but it’s hardly a the deluge all too often portrayed. And those who remain are still capable of powering an economy with a GDP of some US $500 million.

From here, the conversations travels by way of the kind of virtual goods on offer inside Second Life to arrive at a question about the “typical” Second Life user, which generates a well-rounded reply.

Well, it’s a huge variety … there’s no typical about it. It’s like asking, “what’s a typical person from Ireland?” There are educators, there are students, there are health professionals, there are patients, there are fashion fashionistas, there’s partiers, gamers, role-players. People just socialise around pretty much anything you can think of. It’s almost as diverse as the physical world we live in.

Further into the conversation, there is a re-emphasis that even with “Project Sansar” coming along, there are no plans on the part of the Lab to discontinue Second Life, with Ebbe again demonstrating a pragmatic view on the amount of investment users of Second Life have made in the platform.

Second Life will continue. We have no plans to shut down Second life or forcibly migrate users from one to the other. So users can ultimate choose where they want to spend their time. And there are probably so users that have spent so much time creating incredible communities around all kinds of interesting subject matter that might just fine it too much effort to do it all over again on a new platform. so they can stay in Second Life, that’s fine.

Obviously, if the vast majority of users in Second Life opt to make a full transition to “Project Sansar”, then it will call into question how long SL can remain a commercially viable platform – but is this likely to happen overnight? Probably not  (which is not to say it won’t, at some point happen) over time). The transition is liable to be gradual, simply because it is going to take “Project Sansar” to grow to a level of sophistication offered by SL: as the Lab has made clear throughout 2015, everything isn’t simply going to be in place when the open alpha commences in early 2016 – that’s why they’re calling it an “alpha”.

An image from the Project Sansar: looking to the future of VR
An image from the Project Sansar: looking to the future of VR

The more detailed discussion of  “Project Sansar” starts with a reiteration that it is being specifically – but not exclusively – developed to operate with coming plethora of VR HMDs and other devices, and that it will be “consumable” (i.e. accessed via) computers (initially PCs) and mobile devices. It is here that mention is made of something that may have been missed in broader discussions about the new platform: there will be no “one-size-fits all” client / viewer.

Instead, client functionality will be determined by client device capability. If you’re on a PC platform, you’ll have access to the full range of capabilities to both “consume” (that is, access, use and participate in) “Project Sansar” experiences and you’ll have access to the tools to enable the creation of those experiences. If you’re using a mobile device, you’ll be able to “consume” experiences, but not the tools to build them. Which makes sense.

Ebbe Altberg: talking Second Life, "Project Sansar" and virtual currency compliance with TNW's Martin Bryant
Ebbe Altberg: offering a good perspective on LL, SL and “Project Sansar” for TNW readers / listeners

In discussing the likely impact of VR, Ebbe takes the pragmatic view that things aren’t going to happen overnight, just because the first generation of high-end headsets are going to appear in a few months; it’s going to take time for the market to grow, and there is still much more to be sorted out.

This is a view I hold myself, so no argument from me. However, where I do perhaps hold a differing view on things is to just how important avatar based virtual experiences are actually going to be outside of some very niche environments.

Even if VR isn’t overhauled by AR in terms of practical ease-of-use, widespread practical applications, convenience, and appeal, I also cannot help but feel consumer-focused VR might offer such incredible opportunities for immersion, entertainment, training, etc., that it will see the use of avatar focused virtual environments remain somewhat marginalised in terms of acceptance with the greater VR community, just as Second Life has been marginalised with the greater on-line social community.

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Endless Summer in Second Life

Endless Summer; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Endless Summer (Flickr) – click any image for full size

Endless Summer, designed by Kiddo Oh, is the home to her Dead Dollz store and brand, offering mesh apparel for women. However, it is also much more than this; it is a region which has been beautifully crafted to offer visitors not only a store to browse,  but a beautiful place to be explored and discovered.

The main landing point is in the walled courtyard of Kiddo’s store, which presents the first hint that there is much to be enjoyed here. The store charmingly sits within a Tuscan villa complex built around the spacious courtyard, the walls of which are either whitewashed or stone (or a mix of both) depending on who last touched where. Between the villas and outbuildings, archways pass through the walls, enticing visitors to explore the land beyond.

Endless Summer; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Endless Summer (Flickr) – click any image for full size

Through the arch to the north side of the store courtyard. closest to the landing point, a dirt track winds its way down a gentle slope to follow the line of the island’s rocky edge as it faces the sea, leading you to a stone bridge arching its way across a narrow channel of water to a smaller rocky plateau.

Here, within the appropriately entitled Trompe Loeil Wedding Barn, can be found Kiddo’s range of bridal gowns, a little brick-built café nestled close by offers a place for unhurried contemplation of which to purchase for that special day. Sheltering under the outcrop is a sandbar where a little ice cream concessions resides, complete with parasoled seating. However, to reach it, you’ll need to return to the main island and descend the steps next to the bridge and wade through the shallow waters of the intervening channel.

Endless Summer; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Endless Summer (Flickr) – click any image for full size

These steps also provide access to the ribbon of beach which almost encircles the rocky cliffs and slopes of the main island. Follow this to the west, and more will be revealed, be it the events stage looking out over the sea, the wooden stairs climbing back up to the plateau and store above, Kiddo’s workshop house lying just off the coast, or places to just sit and watch the ebb and flow of the tide.

Around the villa complex, the fields give a hint of the time of year: grapes are heavy on the vine, apples sit ripening on the orchard trees, and corn cobs are almost ready for picking. A rippling lake of golden grass to the west of the store tells of a summer that has been rich in hot, dry days. A tall finger of a windmill rises from the midst of this grass offers a cuddle spot cradled between its feet, while the rear portion of an old pick-up positioned against the store wall nearby presents an alternative resting place for those returning from a walk around the island.

Endless Summer; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Endless Summer (Flickr) – click any image for full size

And this is just scratching the surface; there is more to be discovered as you explore, be it the little tram café  or the love seats or the offshore lighthouse and shack as they enduring a very local downpour, or inside Kiddo’s store itself. This is a place as beautifully crafted as the rest of the region; one which encourages slow browsing,  apparel displayed in such a way it’s as if one can reach out and touch items and feel the materials under fingertips.

All told, Endless Summer packs and incredible amount into it, and Kiddo deserves praise for creating an environment which is such a delight to the eye and camera, and fully deserving of the time taken in exploring it.

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The end of the valley and stepping away from Earth in Second Life

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, November 8th 13:30: Tea time at Baker Street

The Valley of Fear, The Strand Magazine, 1915. Illustration by Frank Wiles
The Valley of Fear, The Strand Magazine, 1915. Illustration by Frank Wiles

Caledonia Skytower, Kayden Oconnell and John Morland reach the conclusion of  the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear.

Set prior to the events of The Final Problem, in which Holmes apparently dispatched criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty and also meeting his own demise in the process, The Valley of Fear charts a prior encounter with Moriarty’s nefarious acts.

Called to look out for a man called Douglas by and informant in Moriarty’s employ, Holmes and Watson arrive too late: the man is apparently already dead. But things are far from as they appear, as Holmes quickly deduces. Thus unfolds a strange tale travelling back a number of years further, and involving events in the United States.

As the tale comes full circle, the final cards are played in a deadly game, and a promise to see Moriarty brought to justice is made…

The conclusion of The Valley of Fear also marks the conclusion of a special journey for Seanchai Library: the presentation in voice of the 68 canonical tale of Holmes and Watson as penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a remarkable achievement – although I doubt very mush it will be the last time Seanchai and their listeners prevail upon the good graces of the Great Detective, his companion and Mrs. Hudson at 221B Baker Street.

Monday November 9th, 19:00: One Step From Earth

one step from earthWhat would happen if, by setting up a screen in one place and another somewhere else – the same planet, another planet in the same star system or even halfway across the galaxy – you could step into one and instantly step out of the other? What happens if one of the screens is one-way, and once you’ve passed through, your cannot return?

What are the social and political ramifications of such a system, for individuals and humanity as a whole when the entire galaxy is potential one step away from Earth?

Join Gyro Muggins as he explores the ramifications of instant teleportation through One Step from Earth, a collection of short stories on the theme by Harry Harrison. This wek: Wife to the Lord

Tuesday November 10th 19:00: Mama Makes Up Her Mind

Mama makes up her mindWelcome to the unique world of Bailey White. Her aunt Belle may take you to see her bellowing pet alligator. Her uncle Jimbuddy may appal  you with his knack for losing pieces of himself. Most of all, you may succumb utterly to the charms of Baileys mama, who will take you to a joint so raunchy it scared Ernest Hemingway or tuck you into her antique guest bed that has the disconcerting habit of folding up on people while they sleep.

White’s indelible vignettes of Southern eccentricity have entranced millions who have heard her read them on NPR. Mama Makes Up Her Mind is as sweetly intoxicating as a mint julep and as invigorating as a walk in Whites own overgrown garden.

Join Trolley Trollop, Kayden Oconnell, and Caledonia Skytower as they commence a romp through this wonderful series of vignettes

Wednesday, November 11th 19:00 The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl

Join Faerie Maven-Pralou as she reads The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and more.

Thursday, November 12th

19:00: American Noir

With Shandon Loring

21:00 Seanchai Late Night

With Finn Zeddmore.

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Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for October – December is Reach Out and Read, one of the most highly rated literacy charities in the USA which reaches 4.4 million children annually and distributes 1.6 million books.

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