Meet the Lindens is a series of conversations / Q&A session with staff from Linden Lab, held as a part of the SL Birthday celebrations in-world. These are opportunities for Second Life users to get to know something about the staff at the Lab: who they are, what they do, what drew them to Second Life and the company, what they do, what they find interesting / inspirational about the platform, and so on.
Monday, June 20th saw Torley and Brett Linden sit down with Jessica Lyon and Saffia Widdershins, this article hopefully presents some “selected highlights” of the chat, complete with audio extracts from my own recording of the event. To hear the conversation in its entirety, please refer to the video at the end of this article.
About Brett and Torley
Brett Linden is the Digital Content Manager at Linden Lab, as is most likely best known for his work overseeing the Second Life Destination Guide. However, he is involved with multiple marketing initiatives for the company, and while his primary focus is on Second Life, these also involve the Lab’s other two products: Project Sansar and Blocksworld.
A website editor, web content strategist, Brett also teaches digital content creation and promotion at a major university. He is a former print and on-line journalist, who has been published in Billboard, Rolling Stones, Vibe, and Hollywood Reporter, among other publications. He’s also held managing editor positions at Amazon.com and Real Networks.
Torley Linden really needs no introduction for most people engaged in Second Life. Known for his love of watermelons and their bright, happy colours, he’s been involved with the platform since 2004, initially as a resident before joining the Lab directly, where he has been Amplifiying the Awesome in Second Life through his famous TuTORial and QuickTip videos, promoting new Second Life features and providing quick bites on how to use the video and do things in-world, his photography, by word of mouth and his very genuine, very infectious enthusiasm.
How did you come to work at Linden Lab?
Torley: I was in a really hard place in my first life, and I discovered Second Life through various sources, and I was reading a lot of cyberpunk and transhumanist literature at the time, thinking about a brighter future for my whole life. And I soon found myself – well, there’s no nicer way to put it than I was utterly obsessed with being here every day, and my Mum would be like, “What are you doing?” “I’m in Second Life!”
So, after several months of this, I had a dream, and I basically sent this crazy, rambling note card to Char linden at the time, And she, Robin, Philip and Daniel Linden – those are some OG names, if you remember those! – at the time they gave me the opportunity to apply. So I went through that – guess it turned out OK; so yeah, leading up to the present, I’m so very grateful and also very thankful to be here.
Brett: Well, since I had a background in journalism, I first heard about Second Life during the so-called “hype era”. And you might remember a lot of corporations jumped in, and Reuters, which is a journalistic outlet, had a bureau in Second Life. And I thought that was really crazy, just so random and strange that a legitimate organisation would be in a virtual world . I’d actually played around with other virtual spaces prior, like worlds.net or worlds.com back in the day, and others, so I’d been an enthusiast for a long, long time.
So when Reuters jumped in, I had to check it out. That was my very, very first taste of Second Life. When I was there, I met a lot a people and had a lot of deep and interesting conversations about world events; it was just a whole different type of experience to what I’d expected, at much deeper level.
The thing that sort-of locked it down for me was at the end of that conversation, about a two or three-hour text chat, because it was even pre-voice, somebody gave me a hug, which was such a strange thing to get hugged in a virtual world; it was just a nice parting, basically. And that just clinched it for me emotionally; I just thought, “Oh my gosh, this is really something else. You can connect with people and actually form really deep relationships. And that’s what did it for me; and I’ve never looked back since.
So when you first came in, Brett you had that really positive experience, Torley, you were very committed to it right from the word go. Have you become full residents, do you have homes and places you see as special to you in Second Life?
Brett: As you can imagine, I do spend – and not just with the Destination Guide, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, but outside of my Linden “identity” – I have several alts, many of which are long-time residents and established. And yeah, I do have a place, and I love, for example, the music community and going to live performances. And I love the museums and the arts. I love what is happening with the LEA, the Linden Endowment for the Arts. Not only professionally as a Linden and putting that in the DG, but also just checking them out and being blown away by what is constantly being refreshed in those sims and even outside those sims, across all of the grid.
Torley: The first day I was ever in Second Life, it was sort-of like arriving at the most amazing of airports, you know? Where people are all over, and [there’s] this diversity of avatars. And I’ve mostly been a nomad explorer; I have had homes, and full regions – I still do in fact. But I think the prime thing that really drives me is the force of discovery, and to share those discoveries, and I really get curious, and I love asking people “where did you get your avatar?” or “did you make these parts of your avatar?” or comment on a cool build they’re making – and finding connections. I love introducing wonderful creative minds in Second Life to each other, and we’ve had so many over time.
So I would say that keeps me going, and it’s really a positive feedback loop. Because when I hear from one resident, that I’m reminded of another resident and I want to introduce them to each other. And as some of you may know, I’m frequently on some of the social media channels. Well, mainly Plurk, but I really, really like to ask, “what’s hot in Second Life right now, what do you enjoy exploring?”
And like Brett touched on, some of the most creative people here, they are very shy and very modest about their work. They don’t see all the awesomeness in it, and sometimes their friends have to kind-of drag them closer to the spotlight even though they don’t want that attention, necessarily. But, we still like to shine a light and say, “Wow!” And once they have that admiration and recognition, they can see their creative work makes a very real and very vibrant [contribution]. It affects other residents when they come and explore, or they take pictures and they post it on their blog and more word gets out.
So, I’m always looking for those sorts of under-mined, under-rated gems that are out-of-the-way of Second Life. I randomly teleport – I got this recent cool backpack to that, this neat device …. but its sort-of this interplay, this dynamic between the chaos and the order, and that’s the stuff I really love; the serendipity – the things that you don’t expect to find, but when you look back, and they sort-of relate to s sort-of grouping. For example, a collection of futuristic, cyberpunk-looking – there’s that word again, but I’m not locked to any single genre.
And I’m always driven to listen to people’s stories. Just like in an airport, someone catches your attention and you start a conversation as a stranger and they may end up telling you the most fascinating, fascinating tales. so for me, yeah, it’s that relentless urge to discover and explore.
The Destination Guide
How many entries for the Destination Guide do you get in an average week?
Brett: It’s a combination of user-submitted stuff and then curated stuff. Obviously, monitoring the blogs and the various feeds that are out there as well. but from a user submission point-of-view, we probably get about three dozen a week, and most of those go live. And then we supplement those with others.
One interesting little tidbit I find curious is that sometimes some of the most amazing things that are happening in Second Life that are so worthy of self-promotion; for whatever reason, the creators don’t think to promote them or put them in the DG. So, without a doubt, please let us know. I try my best to monitor things by monitoring what’s going on in the various social media feeds and so on and so forth, but I definitely have to dig beyond what the users submit to find some of the entries. But, yeah, there’s lot’s of great stuff.
Can you make it a little easier for people to know they can submit to the Destination Guide? A link in it, for example?
Brett: Yeah, I think we can do a better job of surfacing it. But editor-@-lindenlab.com is the e-mail, and also there is a web-based form – that’s on the web-based implementation of the Destination Guide, you wouldn’t see the link if you were in the viewer. If you go to secondlife.com/destinations, on the left-hand category navigation, there’s actually a Suggest link, right there; takes you right to a form. But anyone can just e-mail us at editor-@, and we’ll take a look at it.
Has a destination ever come up, not that you’ve seen yet, but you read the review of it, and it’s just so compelling you have to drop everything and jump in right away?
Brett: Well, I will tell you – this goes back a few years and I really miss it – but there’s one, well, there’s been a lot of locations, but there’s one that really stands out for me that I thought was really fantastic. Maybe some of the long-timers here will maybe remember this, but you guys remember Sexton Shepherd did the Nemo trilogy? So amazing, and that was a few years into our Destination Guide, so we’d seen lots of amazing spots. And that’s been gone four or five years, maybe, but for its time and for its era that just blew me away.
In fact Torley and I talked about it, and we did something unusual. We collaborated, because we were just so blown away by it, on sort-of a pilot test of a video version of the Destination Guide, even before the Drax Files and all that, which are still fantastic of course. But we did an interview with Sexton, and I think we did one with Kiana [Writer] of MadPea as a follow-up as well; they’ve done some amazing builds over the years, and on and on.
We did a few of those over the years, but as mentioned earlier [actually below!], videos take a lot of time; there’s only so much time and resources we have. That was something we had a good time doing. but I will tell you that that’s an example of one, and I’ve got a lot of favourites, as I’m sure everybody does, as there were just so many amazing builds.
And you know, the thing that’s so special about them? One way of thinking about it is sometimes these spots, they come and they go so quick – some of them by design; I mean they are meant to be sort-term, like all the LEA exhibits. But it makes you really appreciate them while they’re there; you have this sense of urgency to see them while they are there.
Torley: You had to be there.
Brett: Yeah, to document them in whatever way, through photos or machinima or just through your experiences. so yeah, that one stands out if I had to pick one, but obviously there’s tonnes.
Of Torleys and Videos
Torley, you’ve produced a lot of videos,and some of the most popular were your Quicktips series, but we haven’t seen many of these from you recently. Are we at an end of an era for Quicktips, or are there more coming in the future?
One of Torley’s Quicktips videos from 2008
Torley: So, what the focus has shifted to in more recent times has been, instead of these Easter eggs – and I still do love them – and the undocumented debug features and the weird little things; I love those … It’s mainly though, what I’ve primarily been assigned to, is more about new viewer features that we’ve been promoting. And it’s difficult, because I do like to that the time to share even bite-sized bits of stuff. And of course, when you or other residents make these quick tips, and I really, really love sharing those sorts of thing; that when you know it saves you a lot of cumulative time in the long run.
So, it’s mainly been, I think, a factor of my work responsibility and where I’ve been most needed at Linden Lab, and in recent times that includes not just Second Life, but Blocksworld and Project Sansar as well. so my time is more limited on just focusing on those sorts of things. So when I’m working on Second Life, it’s sort-of, “well, what are the most important things I can contribute?” So on a broader level, we really, really do want to get the word out about new features, like Project Bento recently. That’s a huge one, I could go on and on [about that], and you may have seen my recent video on that, and there were a couple more others.
So yeah, I still like to make videos, it’s just been that sort-of change in focus. and I’ve just done, and many some of you have seen … not so much feature explanations as trailers for Blocksworld and well. So, I wish I could clone myself – doesn’t everyone?! And it’s just been sort-of a gradual thing, and I think the cool thing is that after sharing a lot of that, some residents have really done great with their blogs in terms of sharing stuff … so I know how many residents turn to those and enjoy those as well.
A Blocksworld promotional video
And Brett, for those of you who don’t know, he, with the videos, gives me so much help. With the structure, with the script, he’ll lay things out – because I can be just such a wild dog or cat, if you will, just going off in all these directions. And he will help me get the help internally, and write the script and figure things out such that – and of course I massage it into my more natural voice and how I colloquially speak and Torleyisms and whatnot. But it’s such a great energy that we have, going back and forth about that and developing it.
So, sometimes we come across thing like, it’s “oh my gosh, we have a deadline!”, or do we have to adjust this because there’s a priority with another project shipping, so Brett helps me keep all that focused, so that if you’re wondering how I get stuff done, I owe a lot of it to Brett, basically. or I would be so totally distracted, total ADD, going in every direction here. But it’s like one thing at a time, do it really well, really obsess and learn it with the residents. Spend time on that, get that done and move on to the next thing. So again, that interplay between the order and the chaos that I’m so used to but I enjoy so much.
Torley, are your Windlight settings available for the default viewer?
Torley: They are not bundled with the official Linden Lab viewer; no particular reason why. Although I will say I would like the opportunity to re-do the entire day cycle. I think ever since, what is it, 2007? I’ve received a lot of complaints about that, rightfully so.
Anyway though, I have continued to make a lot of new windlights, and a lot of them are drawn from a lot of the inspirational settings that residents put on their full regions, or even parcel windlight, that’s very clever. I like parcel windlight as well. And so sometimes I just tweak it a bit.
… Up to now I have several hundred more that I haven’t released to public … I haven’t had the chance to curate them. But the thing is, I think that … if you see one of my Flickr photos and you really like the windlight on that one, let me know and I’ll send it over. I know installation is not the easiest; you’ve got to find that nested folder and drag it in. But aside from that, yeah, I continue to do that because … the whole diversity of things, from more realistic looking ones to some of these surreal places. I went to this place called Whole Wheat not long ago, and I adore their very purple looking one. It’s really, really cool.
Whole Wheat by Torley Linden
And there’s this other real cool place I went to recently by Lundy De Luca [Londinia Leistone] called Hive. It has one of my favourite, favourite realistic [looks]. It’s sort-of that crispy, burnt senna of dusk setting there, and it’s really, really, great.
…. But it’s the sort of thing where I love seeing what the residents have done with them, and it’s certainly something I still wish was exposed better in the user interface, because it gets very easy to basically paint with windlights; to wiggle the sliders around. And since windlight, which some of you if you’re not familiar, affects everything you see just about, except for Full Bright objects, because it tints it with the lighting conditions. So, knowing that, changing sky and water is so important to the aesthetic beauty or suitability of an experience. And I continue to love that.
So I don’t know if I’m going to package these latest ones I have, But it sounds like if you are interested, I’ll have to name them more sensible things! Because a bunch of them are a bunch of internal gobbledegook or things that are used for projects, like specific marketing projects we did. I’ll name it something like, “TOR-114 something”, but it makes sense to me with this internal naming system. But yeah, some of them I document based on the resident creation that I may have modified off of.
And I do wish that, this is something coming from the world of electronic music, there are some virtual synthesizers that you can see who created the sound, you can see the description of what it’s meant to be used like; and I wish we had that sort-of credit system built into windlight. That was the plan at one time, but it didn’t pan out to be. So, a lot of things are legacy, but I’m so glad it continues to be something that’s relevant today.
So, this is the backstory behind that first batch of windlights that got included in Firestorm and that you can find as a download of the Second Life wiki. I would often just set at a very scenic place … and at that time in Second Life, the sky was a lot less diverse; windlight hadn’t even made it out, really, beyond beta testing. And so I would sit and I would tweak things, and sometimes I would have a movie going on in the background., and so there were a bunch of them, including some of the fog ones, but there are some of them that I prefixed with the word “Horror”, because I was watching horror movies at the time, or I would have them playing.
So you would have this really violent and gory stuff going on in the background, but I would be feeling really relaxed just having it on and thinking about, what kind of environment is thing, in this Nightmare on Elm Street, or something else going on, and I would try to make that into a similar windlight … I can’t remember the stories of all of them, but some of them, they are references to pop culture and to other things.
And a number of the fog ones, of course, I wanted to think about some places where you cannot see so much ahead of you, and some of you are familiar with the Silent Hills games. that’s where that sort-of inspiration came from; just thinking about how we could have that in Second Life.
…Some of it was inspired by John Carpenter movies. And I’m a huge John Carpenter fan, of his direction, of his music, and so yeah, a bunch of them are because I watch John Carpenter. Just so you know!
Community Gateway Programme
Many residents still aren’t aware of the new pilot programme for Community Gateways (see here and here for background). Could Torley produce a video just on the active community gateways to help spread the word and have Linden Lab do more to promote what is going on?
Torley: Yeah, because Gateways here are such great nexuses to relevant interests and things like that. I certainly follow-up on that with the Lindens in Product who are responsible for that.
The Videos that I do are a reflection, like I said, of the relative priorities of how important we feel it is to invest my time to get the word out about something. Some of these things, of course as you know, is ongoing education, like the knowledge is so relevant and ongoing, and not just a one-off announcement. So we’d certainly want to do that more constantly, I think and consistently.
And some of the things – it’s like when someone is totally new, they have a very different perspective than someone who is a veteran. So it’s always useful for me to think of what it was like to be lost the first time, and these resources we can use to educate. And it really is a question of education, but making it memorable as well – fun. It’s so important to make this stuff fun and to not bore people … so I always think about what’s the most effective way to get that in people’s heads and to get them talking about it to their friends such that it really means something.
Working With Sansar
Are you also working on Project Sansar?
Oh, you know Project Sansar and Blocksworld and Second Life, those are the three main products now at Linden Lab. So I think almost everybody in the marketing side, where Torley and I are both in that division, almost everybody has some duties in every project. I can speak for myself and say that SL’s definitely my primary responsibility, and I’m happy for that. I love SL, love the community.
Working With Second Life Users
Linden Lab has really engaged with the community in developing Second Life over the last few years – the Marketplace updates, Materials, Experience Keys / Tools, Project Bento.
Yes, and because we are a user content created world, it’s so fundamentally important. To quote the A-Team: I love it when a plan comes together! Seeing on the resident’s side, and building the bridge with Lindens and of course having been privy to background meetings and things like that; seeing the progress and iterations that happens each week.
Like with Bento, it started like sort-of a pie in the sky proposal that Vir Linden made and developed over time and getting more Lindens to buy into and be a part of this and contribute and to reach out to residents. And from my vantage point, doing this [Bento] video was so, so exciting.
The Project Bento introductory video
…And that energy with the residents – the Bento meetings, even, I only attended a couple of them, but it was just so wonderful seeing that towards the end of the process, and having creators trust us. That’s a huge part of it; they trust us with their early creations. and even if they don’t necessarily agree on all the ways we go about solving a problem or implementing something; you know, sometimes there’s a later stage, too, for follow-up. But nonetheless, they trust us enough to say, “OK, I want to make something cool with this, and here it is, and I give you my consent to show this off in a video on behalf of what you’re presenting officially with Linden Lab.”
We get so excited about a feature release like that, but behind that announcement, there are so many people who put in just so many different contributions, interlocking pieces of the puzzle, both Linden and resident, and all those kind-of, sometimes late-night conversations about what we’re going to do next. And for that one in particular, I was shooting round the clock with that just because of international time zones, and I was tired, but I love the energy with that, and it refreshed me and got me to thinking about, “OK so this part’s in, we want to feature this example,” and I think it ended up being five or six main creators that we showed in that video.
The final part of the video discusses some of the “good old days” – paying for prim rezzing, paying for teleports, the arrival of teleport hubs, user ratings and rating parties – and more. So be sure to watch it below.