Social VR, Linden Lab, Sansar and Second Life

"Project Sansar" promotional image via linden Lab
“Project Sansar” promotional image via linden Lab

I caught a Tweet on December 22nd (my apologies to the sender, I forgot to bookmark it and so can’t state form whom it came It was Rocky Constantine, as he correctly reminds me in the comments) which pointed those reading it to an article on the PSFK website with the enticing title, A Look Into a More Social Virtual Reality With the Makers of Second Life, by Ido Lechner. It makes for an interesting read.

The banner image is that of Second Life – and for once, it’s actually post circa 2010, and is quite reasonable in looks, and gets kudos points for being there, rather than the more usual 2007/8 images which tend to get used. Although that said, an image of the old v1 UI, circa 2007/8, plonked in the middle of the article doesn’t do SL any favours.

After a slightly blusterful introduction lauding Virtual Reality for already being a major disruptive force in our lives (and then admitting it has yet to go mainstream), the article settles down to discuss – and the title suggests – the more social aspects of VR in a chat with Lab’s own Ebbe Altberg and Director of Global Communication, Peter Gray.

This is a terse, and to-the-point piece, managing to both cover familiar ground (LL’s “head start” in running SL for 12+ years,  the ability for users to generate content – and income – with the service, etc), and to give more insight into what “Project Sansar” may offer in terms of accessibility, and some of the reasoning behind the Lab moving in that direction. In particular, and where accessibility is concerned, Lechner notes:

PC games have traditionally had a heightened learning curve for older audiences who have a hard time navigating worlds with mouse and keyboard, but Project Sansar looks to be an all-inclusive medium thanks to a more instinctual set of controls. Gesture-based movements, advanced expressive avatars (the kind that’s rigged to your real life expressions), voice chat, haptic feedback and other progressive modes of interaction will all be welcome additions to the game.

That the Lab is looking at the plethora of new hardware that being developed around the first wave of VR headsets isn’t exactly news – Ebbe Altberg has pointed to this very fact a number of times of late. However, it does again point to the fact that while very distinct and separate entities, “Sansar” and Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity are in some ways travelling the same road in terms of aspirations with their ability to adopt emerging technology. But there is something else in this statement which draws my attention.

When it comes to all these new and wonderful ways of interacting with the digital, people are very quick to blame the keyboard and mouse. In 2014, for example, Philip Rosedale when addressing the VWBPE conference that year, directly pointed to the poor old keyboard and mouse as being one of “the” technological barriers to entry into virtual environments.

Yet the fact is, the keyboard and mouse have been our primary means of interaction with computer systems for so long that using them is sort-of “intuitive”; we can all grasp their use pretty easily. Who is to say all these wonderful now methodologies for interaction won’t also bring their own issues with them, thus presenting those “older audiences” Lechner mentions with precisely the same kind of “heightened learning curve” as is perceived to be the case when it comes to using the keyboard and mouse within certain environments?

Professor Jeremy Bailenson (image: Stanford University)
Professor Jeremy Bailenson – a strong influence on the Lab’s thinking (image: Stanford University)

Another common thread between High Fidelity and “Project Sansar” (which again should not be taken to mean the two are in any way linked) comes in the persona of Jeremy Bailenson of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford.

Bailenson serves as an advisor to High Fidelity, alongside of Tony Parisi and Ken Perlin in particular, and as I’ve previously covered in these pages and Peter Gray states to Lechner, Bailenson’s work is greatly influencing the Lab’s approach to Sansar, which is no bad thing.

Certainly, Bailenson has offered some incisive views on the potential and pitfalls in VR, and his views and outlook are very relevant when considering the social / psychological impact of VR. Hence the Lab would seem to be availing itself of the right spheres of influence as it develops “Sansar”.

The focus on the social aspect of Second Life (and potentially of “Project Sansar”) is an interesting new direction to take when comparing this with earlier media discussions the Lab has had. In those, the focus has tended more towards emphasising the potential for “Sansar” among a defined set use cases with those vertical markets where VR can be seen has having great potential: education, training, design, healthcare, architecture, etc (again, it is no accident that the first public demonstration of “Sansar” came during San Francisco’s month-long Architecture and the City Festival in September 2015). Although all of these do get a mention at the end of the piece.

Certainly, there can be no doubting the social power that Second Life has, and both Altberg and Gray are entirely correct in pointing towards the added depth the environment has given developing relationships. So really, there is no reason to doubt that, as / if / when “Sansar” can be accessed by more-and-more people, the same cannot be repeated there.

Nevertheless, I confess to remaining sceptical of “Sansar” really ever reaching the kind of audience numbers the Lab has tended to boldly predict. Second Life has had a hard time reaching beyond a certain level in terms of user traction. Like it or not, the central reason for that isn’t really to do with the difficulty in entering SL or the UI, or “understanding” what SL is “about” once people are inside it (although all have a role to play, for sure).

It simply comes down to people not seeing Second Life as having relevance in their daily lives. Given that VR is supposed to bring us a whole new world of immersive opportunities, distractions, capabilities and so forth, all designed to keep us informed, entertained, involved and immersed – who is to say “Sansar” and environments like it also won’t face a similar uphill batter when it comes to people seeing them as relevant to their already involved physical and virtual lives?

Which doesn’t mean the I don’t think “Sansar” will “fail” or isn’t worth the effort. The Lab does need to move with the times, and there is certainly no reason that while Sansar may remain niche is a similar manner to SL having always been niche, there is no reason why it cannot settle into a much larger niche. Or, as seems more likely to be the case, take up residence in multiple niches and ride along comfortably within them.

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24 thoughts on “Social VR, Linden Lab, Sansar and Second Life

  1. “……older audiences who have a hard time navigating worlds with mouse and keyboard” are going to invest in what seems to them fancy and expensive new technology? Sounds to me like adding a technological and financial complication to the already challenging learning curve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Precisely! Although Sansar won’t (so far as I’m aware) exclusively require haptic gloves, gesture devices, etc., they could very well be off-putting to some wishing to “look into” VR, and thus incline them away from “Sansar”, High fidelity et al, out of a general belief such devices are “required”.

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  2. I truly believe that the best path for LL is to leave the VR-centric development to High Fidelity and it’s kin. Not that Sansar should not be VR compatible, but basic entry should be possible with a basic laptop or even possibly a tablet.
    There is a long list of projects that would break backward compatibility if done in SL which would be well addressed in a new world “in the spirit of SL”. If LL does not take that challenge on someone else will.
    Off the top of my head:
    * Meld the current avatar experiments taking place in SL into an entirely new avatar.
    * Update physics to real “cloth” so we can have clothing, hair, etc. that does not penetrate our avatars.
    * Clothing that we can wear as simply as old system cloths but which looks like or better than the best of SL mesh.
    * In-world building tools as simple to use as prims but with an end product as efficient and versatile as mesh.
    The new toys; Headsets, Motion detection, etc. are Pied Piper illusions leading the geeks down a blind path.

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  3. Mouse and keyboard may be sort-of “intuitive”, as you wrote, but think about how you manipulate objects. In SL you have to learn that in order to do so, you have to right click the object, then you choose “Edit”, then you have to click this, hit that, drag there to rotate or move etc. Now think how you would do that with a VR glove device: you move your hand in direction of the object, close your fingers etc, as you do in real life. Perhaps this is what they meant. There could be different issues though. For example, someone may be not so comfortable in wearing an headset and not being aware of what other people around him/her are doing.

    I agree that it isn’t just a matter of reducing the learning curve (although it helps). The problem is: why “Second Life has had a hard time reaching beyond a certain level”? You offer an explanation, but I think there must be something more. When you look at the historical graphs, you could see that in the first years, even if SL was primitive and user hardware and network was less good than what we have today, SL, in term of total users and regions, wasn’t just growing, it was skyrocketing up to about 2008. Then it hit something. What was that? That was about the moment newspapers and other media ditched SL to turn their attention to Facebook. Media was an important key. Another key is that Facebook and Twitter are easily accessible with any device and they need less effort and they are efficient. In the beginning Facebook had a different scope but they started to connect million and million of people. SL was also too limited. You still suffer with few people around. Maybe in Sansar or other virtual worlds you could really have a conference with hundreds of listeners, or (with gloves and similar devices) to hug someone far a way with your real arms, small MMORPGs or War Thunder like games (yay no sim crossing) with little effort and even more. Or you could link it directly from your webpage to show something more to your costumers, and it will become like Youtube, but VR. I can see some potential.
    However, socially, people tend to stay where people is. It doesn’t matter if Google promoted their own social network with some better features (think what happened with Chrome instead). But VR adds some extra deep to people interaction, so here you have a chance. And guess what? Facebook acquired Oculus VR the past year. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.” said Mark Zuckerberg.

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    1. “That was about the moment newspapers and other media ditched SL to turn their attention to Facebook. Media was an important key. Another key is that Facebook and Twitter are easily accessible with any device and they need less effort and they are efficient.”

      Yup. agree totally. That’s what I mean when I say people don’t see SL as being “relevant” to their daily lives. They have other, more efficient means to achieve what they want.

      “However, socially, people tend to stay where people is. ”

      Again, yup. That’s my point… it’s still relevance to the individual / group. if you can’t convince them the move is worth the effort, they ain’t going to move.

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  4. I beg to difffer here with some of these obervations about “older” people using computers and leanring their way aorund SecondLife Folks. I will be 73 yewars young June of 2016. And I fell in love with the whole concept of Virtual
    worlds when I first logged in there back in January 2007!

    Yes. It took me a few weeks to learn my way around. A few months to learn to build. I learned to make my own sculpt maps in June that same year and was soon teaching others to do the same!

    For me and for the hundreds of others I’ve met there who reside on my side of the 50 year mark, we generally have the time to spend, a decent computer (with a mouse and keyboard I might add!), and the patience to not only learm our way around SL but to teach others the same! And frankly the idea of a piece of hardware sitting on my head and coverin around my eyes is NOT something I want to do. I much prefer to also be well aware of my actual physical surroundings while I create all the dreams of the things “dancing in my head” in SL.

    So will I visit Sansar? Maybe. Maybe not. But I can tell you now without a single doubt, as long as Second Life is still functioning, and I am physicaly able to log on to my computer, I’ll still be there! And I am NOT alone with these feelings. =)

    .

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    1. I wanted to send a BRAVO tinged with sadness! I started SL in my late fifties now over ten years later in my late sixties I’m still in SL. SL wasn’t simple to learn back in 2005 but it was worth getting over the learning curve back then.

      I’m still around but with all these experiences coming out and the emphasis on having to meet someone’s definition of a “creator” to count for anything it is becoming less and less enjoyable. The main attraction for me is the freedom to do what I want when I want and not be locked into what someone else thinks I should want.

      During the last few months I’ve gotten rid of my major land holding. Now I just rent a small place to change clothes, play around some interior decorating, and have an easy place to sail from. My in world usage dropped from a few hours a day to a couple hours a week. Sadly SL is just not the enjoyable place to visit it used to be.

      As far as Project Sansar goes from what I read and hear about it I doubt I will even try it.

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    2. In terms of learning, I’ve never actually been totally convinced by all the arguments about SL’s “steep” learning curve (and fact, I was having an interesting in-world discussion on just this subject this past week with a very good friend). I think part of the problem is that those of is who have been in SL a long time tend to look back over all we’ve learnt throughout that time, and perhaps compress all of that learning into a curve that is foreshortened in the “time” axis, and thus ends up being a lot steeper than is actually the case.

      I look back to my first (and second!) exposures to SL in 2006, and what was offered back then by way of users orientation (and taking into account I was a complete “non-gamer” outside of things like Backgammon, Tetris and Minefield), and I didn’t really find anything that particularly difficult in terms of following the old lessons (chatting the to parrot, moving the beach ball around, etc)., and certainly not any thing that put me completely offer SL as a whole.

      By the same measure, I didn’t learn about building until some time later – but I did so when I’d reached a point where I wanted to learn to build, and then I simply asked a friend who taught me the basics and pointed me to resources. It was the same with many other aspects of SL; I picked them up as I went along. Yet today it seems as if there is a very that all this needs to come up / be introduced “up front”, in order for people to be able to “get” SL.

      Of course the flip side to this is the viewer is a little bit more bewildering UI-wise now when compared to then – at least we had the core options in the viewer set-out before us in the old v1 U1; the minimalist approach of v3 doesn’t necessarily help, which is why I’ve never understood why, after investing time an money building a How To guide into the viewer, the Lab has never gone that extra step and coding it to be open when a new user logs-in-to SL, so then can actually see it.

      One thing I would just state again is that we should also remember that “Sansar” isn’t exclusively about bricks-on-foreheads and fancy gloves, gesture devices, etc; it will work for those of us who still love our mice and keyboards 🙂 .

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      1. Inara, in 2005 when I started SL it was learning something very different from traditional “games”. Like you say not that complicated if you didn’t jump right into building. I was lucky because I made an SL friend you helped me over the occasional rough spots. Within a few weeks he and I were actually teaching help sessions for new residents. He would do the technical things like how to move, inventory management, and even a little very elementary building like how to create a prim. I would do the fun part of SL by having a pool party. I would teach things like how to turn your sound on and how to dance. So how steep is the learning curve when I could teach others after less than a month in world.

        Something that I always gives me a kick when he logs on is that technically he is older that SL. Since he was part of SL’s beta test he has an April 2003 rez date and SL didn’t go fully public until June 2003.

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        1. That’s precisely it. Learning SL is as much a part of the the overall social elements as anything else. It’s a controversial view, but I actually think established users are not the most impartial assessors when it comes to looking at the “new user experience” for the reason’s I’ve touched upon and on which you’ve expanded; thus the whole idea of the “new user experience” becomes heavy with over-thinking.

          This is one of the reasons I’m actually reserved in my thinking around the upon trail of the new gateway programme. Many look back at the old gateway programme and feel it was a saving grace for SL – but again, I cannot help but feel if that’s not a view tinted by the passage of time. Leaving aside perhaps one or two notable exceptions, there is little direct evidence that the old gateways were any the more successful than the Lab’s own approach to retaining new users; and I’ve been informed by both the Lab and some of those directly involved in trials earlier this year, resident-run help areas didn’t achieve any better results in direct A/B testing than the Lab’s approach to bringing people into SL.

          Which also shouldn’t be taken to mean I think the upcoming trial is wasted; far from it. The more gateways there are into SL, then the grater the chance more people will find them, and more might stick, simply because of the law of averages. However, where I do feel strongly is that Firestorm have perhaps struck a right note: they’re trying to make the experience far more social for incoming new users, rather than focusing purely on the learning and technical elements. As you say, get people together, get them socialising, interacting and the learning becomes part of the natural flow, rather than some hurdle that must be leapt over in order to proceed.

          Hopefully, in Sansar, it’ll be more of the latter as well, with or without all the fancy gadgets with which the industry is so enamoured right now.

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          1. Inara, you’re right we, experience residents, are not good judges of the new user experience. For a while I would create an alt every few months just to see what had changed for new users. But I’ve stopped doing that! I just know too much of the basics to judge fairly.

            I find it much more useful to take one of the courses that are offered through out SL if I notice something has changed significantly. I took a three year vacation from SL during which mesh really changed things. I had to learn how to get dressed again. This attempt to simplify the way something is done actually has complicate things for me. I want to do things the old way I’m used to. It took me a long time learn to “paste as link”.

            Personally I doubt I’ll even try Sansar. From what I read here and elsewhere I don’t like the way it’s said all your avatars be tied together with personal information. Sometimes it’s useful to have an avatar that is not tied to your main information. I also really dislike experiences. To me SL is about the freedom to do something I want to do how and when I want to. Not being tied into some programmed steps that someone else has planned. But apparently experience are the dominant experience in Sansar so I won’t wast my time with Sansar.

            What concerns me is this. Even though the lab now says it won’t happen is that Sansar will cannibalize SL to such a degree SL users will be forced into Sansar. Of course then there is in my opinion the very real possibility that Sansar will fail and drag SL down with it.

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            1. “To me SL is about the freedom to do something I want to do how and when I want to. Not being tied into some programmed steps that someone else has planned. ”

              That is how I feel too Willow! _I_ want to do what _I_ want to do! Make my own choices and NOT be forced into doing or seeing what another chooses for me. =)

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            2. “From what I read here and elsewhere I don’t like the way it’s said all your avatars be tied together with personal information.”

              This is true – but I don’t think it’s been expressly stated an individual can only create the *one* “master” account. As such, and allowing for the idea that engagement in the platform in terms of buying goods, etc., will be built on trust, it might still be that an individual can have more than the one “master” account and thus have the option of not associating person info with some of them. hopefully, we’ll know more about this as the Lab reveal more. If nothing else, this is a question which perhaps could be asked at the next lab Chat forum.

              “Even though the lab now says it won’t happen is that Sansar will cannibalize SL to such a degree SL users will be forced into Sansar.”

              That’s a very real risk (and why I’ve tended to say the future of SL now well and truly lies within the hands of its users). If Sansar proves attractive to a sufficient number of SL users, the rest may not have any choice. But the flip side, is, it’s true whether or not the lab makes a success of Sansar; there has always been a risk that at some point something might come along that could prove sufficiently attractive, SL users are willing to migrate en masse and not look back, and just because it hasn’t happened so far, doesn’t mean it won’t happen, particularly given Landmark Entertainment Group, CONVRGE, Sinewave Entertainment and High Fidelity are all looking to offer substantial and attractive alternatives.

              Will Sansar survive? No idea. Right now it is simply to early to tell, given we’ve actually yet to really see what it can offer, and how it will develop. That said, I sway towards it being “successful” while it lasts, but as indicated in the article, I have strong reservations about the size of the market it will garner for itself. I have other concerns as well, but they’re actually much broader – and i will at some point get around to publishing them 🙂 .

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              1. Inara, I haven’t seen a specific statement either. But I have heard rumors that the that it will be a strict following of the Facebook model where users will only have one and only one central account. That worries me a lot.

                While personally that is not a sufficient reason by itself for me to reject Sansar I think it could very well be for some people. But combining that with Sansar’s emphasis on experiences, which I think is a big mistake, I sway toward the view of Sansar not succeeding and dragging SL down with it.

                SL users have saved SL from the lab’s bad management many times over the years but my opinion is we can’t this this time.

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                1. “But I have heard rumors that the that it will be a strict following of the Facebook model”

                  I dunno. There are a lot of rumours, speculations, assumptions and misconceptions floating around about “Sansar” right now, that I’d be leery of taking anything not directly from the Lab themselves at face value. And while it is purely a personal choice, I’m also more inclined to keep an open mind towards Sansar at least until I’ve had the opportunity to try it out, see where it is heading and what is there and is likely to be added over time. Writing it off without actually getting time inside and seeing how things develop (particularly after having gone through a similar experience with High Fidelity) seems to me to perhaps be a tad bit premature.

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                2. Inara, You may be right or I may, It is too early to make firm choices. You do have more trust in the lab than I do. From over ten years of observing the lab’s statements I put the truth of what they say only slightly more believable than something one of the lab’s vocal and usually obscene critics says. And the longer the time frame involved the less truth there will be.

                  What is different about this time is there will be more virtual world choices. Before today SL was really the only game in town. Which raises the possibility of a mass exodus from lab products. It might go either way so I’ve been familiarizing myself with what alternatives are out there.

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        2. Inara & Willow

          You both make very valid points in my not so humble opinion (grin) .Especially about the time-line memories possibly being a bit distorted by the simple passage of time. I still recall vividly spending an entire Sunday afternoon rotating my camera around a “lattice gate/arbor” I saw in a garden setting on one of the sims in the old area of the elves. This was early spring during my first year. I was trying to understand how it was done and found myself totally puzzled. Try as I might to duplicate it, I just couldn’t figure how to do it, though I had spent many hours in sand boxes watching others create things using “prims”, it was all “magic” to me at the time. But I wanted badly to learn to do this “magic” myself! So learn I did. I learned by attending “classes” held by several of the building help groups. I learned by practicing for hours on end. And I learned by asking questions to anyone I could find to ask and keeping notes that I could refer back to later. My monitor was covered with little yellow “sticky notes”! I’m still learning! I have yet to master “building by the grid”!

          It’s also very true that today’s viewers for many of us are way more complex to learn how to use than the old viewers (again “my” opinion) thus my love of the Singularity viewer. The old one was very “Windows 95 ” and upward like just as were all the software I had been using since I got my very first computer back in 1996. Functions, like Copy, paste, save, open, etc., were located right where I expected them to be right on the top toolbar. My hand and arm were already “trained” to find these functions by using my mouse and clicking my mouse on the words in those menus. The buttons on the lower toolbar were pretty self explanatory for me at least. Then along came “Viewer 2” and I found myself totally mystified and lost! Viewer 3 has now undone some of that but it’s still a far cry from what I feel was the ease of use with the original. And for almost everything I do, I still continue to use
          Singularity.

          I am not now and have never been one who could be described as a “gamer” other than the love I have for Tetris, and maybe word search puzzles , Second Life is my only “game” experience. But then I don’t think of SL as being a game. For me it’s a “place” I go each day to talk with friends, to see the “magic of creating things, to go “sight seeing” trips around the grid, to help and teach others. That’s the part –the “magic”– that I think is missing from most, if not all, the “New User” experiences.= no matter who created them , How do we impart that feeling of SL being a magical place to others? Danged if I know and the folks at the lab have yet to figure that one out! But I talk with people almost every day who understand it. Who have been part of it for many years now.

          So long live Second Life and we’ll be there for the lab to boot out when they come to the time (which WILL come someday) for turning out the lights and locking the doors. =)

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  5. PS: Second Life keeps me mentally challenged and I’m always learning new skills or visiting with people I’ve met from all over the world. This is very important to most folks at my stage of life.

    Gramma now climbs down from her soapbox. =)

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  6. I like all this new VR devices, but i seriously doubt that this can be a tool for bigger audience in short terms because a simple problem: the cost. All cost a lot! Long life to mouse and keyboard 🙂

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