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 present 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.
Thursday, June 23rd saw Xiola and Pete Linden sit down with Kess Crystal and Saffia Widdershins, and this article hopefully presents some “selected highlights” of the chat, complete with audio extracts from the event. The video of the discussion is embedded at the end of this article.
About Xiola and Pete
Xiola Linden is the Lead Community Manager at Linden Lab. she originally came to Second Life in 2006, and joined the Lab in 2011. Her role is broad-ranging, including elements of customer supporter, through blogging and social media output for the Lab, to organising events such as the in-world get-togethers and the likes of the SL13B music fest. She leads a team “100% focused” on supporting and serving the communities of Second Life, and who may be travelling in-world as Linden or equally, using her alt for that ground-level “resident eye” look at things.
During her time in Second Life, Xiola has enjoyed many roles: DJ, designer, shopaholic, music event lover – and outside of her official account still finds time for many of these activities.
Pete Linden is the Lab’s Senior Director of Global Communications, a role which sees him leading the company’s PR work and managing the Marketing team, covering all of the Lab’s activities and products – Second Life, Blocksworld and Project Sansar.
He joined Linden Lab in 2009 from a PR firm which representing the company, and became a PR specialist and then PR Manager, before moving to manage the PR and communications team and thence to his current role, which includes overall management of all of the Lab’s communications activities – PR, marketing, communications and community management.
What were your first impressions on joining the Lab? Was it what you were expecting?
Pete: For me it was, but part of that was because I’d had the good fortune of working with a number of people quite closely at Linden Lab for about three years before I made the move. I was working pretty closely with Catherine Linden Melissa Linden and some others at that time. So, I had a pretty good sense of what the company was like, how things worked here.
And obviously, that’s changed over the past number of years; Linden, like Second Life has been through quite an evolution. But it’s still the most exciting and most fun job that I’ve ever had. It’s a great place to be.
Xiola: It’s interesting because I had actually been watching the careers page at Linden Lab for quite a while, waiting for the right opportunity to arise. The timing ended up being perfect and it worked-out really well.
So that aside, I think – it’s a tough question, because like Pete mentioned, the people here are some of like the coolest, smartest people you’ll ever meet. So every day there’s something surprising. It’s kind of how I feel about the Second Life community, which sort-of makes sense, that the people working here, working on Second Life, have similarities with our community as well, because they are the community as well.
But there’s always some things that surprises me about people, and it’s almost, I would say, 99.9% of the time delightful. And so in that regard, I really didn’t know what to expect coming here, and I enjoyed that, actually. I was excited about something new and different, even though I had been a resident and understood the product from a resident’s perspective. My background had been more in straight Internet, web and e-commerce sites, and that sort of thing.
So I came here, and it was almost like, “These are my people! This is my tribe!” And it’s continued to be that way over the years, it’s very cool. But the people I have as friends before and after Linden Lab have that similarity. I really appreciate when people surprise me; and I definitely get that every day here.
I think Oz was talking about not going a week without the residents surprising him with something; that really is a common theme, I think, internally as well as externally. It’s really cool. You definitely have to be on your toes, but it’s fun!
Do you still use your other avatar?
Xiola: Every day, actually. Well, lately because of all the Second Life 13th Birthday coordination stuff, I’ve definitely been spending more time on Xiola, even “after hours”, even though no such thing really exists. So, my alt has been a little bit neglected. But I still actually log her in every day, if only to check notices and note cards, as my alt is a creator and I want to make sure I stay on top of that stuff as well. I would hate to go a few days and come back to note cards from customers or something like that, wondering, “what the heck?”
So I spend time on my alt every day. and between her and Xiola, spend a lot of Lindens updating our avatars all the time!
I guess from a marketing and community point of view though, having the alt allows you to do a certain amount of mystery shopping and see how people are engaged in the community. Do you get a lot of feedback on the alt?
Xiola: I do. So, I mean obviously it not like I go around interviewing people or asking when I’m on my alt, that would be a little obvious. But I hang out in places, and people will be having conversations about things, and you definitely get a different perspective when folks don’t know there’s a Linden present. And I try to treat it that way; I mean when I’m doing alt things, I respect the alt code, I’m a resident right now, not a Linden! So there’s definitely some interesting things.
And even some of the outside Second Life stuff, some of the communities that exist on Plurk and Facebook; they definitely have a different perspective. But funnily enough, it’s sort-of like they say, two different parties can have the same goal, but they’re just using different words for it; at the end of the day, I think at the end of the day, a lot of it aligns. And maybe it’s just coming from a different perspective, the feedback I hear externally and the feedback I hear in here, I think a lot of it actually lines up really well. So that’s kind of kismet and kind of cool.
Before we go any further I wanted to bring up something that has been slightly misinterpreted on various blogs and things, that Ebbe said about Sansar and real life names. And I wondered if you could kind-of clarify that for us?
Pete: Sure, sure. So first … I think I can do it with a single link in chat, which is nice, thanks to Inara Pey.
So Ebbe was asked how we are thinking about identity in Project Sansar. and I think as Inara and others have noted, Ebbe didn’t announce a decision that had been made, but he did openly share some of his thinking on this complex topic.
And what he said around real names was that it may be preferable for us to require people to share their identity with Linden Lab in creating an account, for a number of reasons, including minimising and thwarting griefing, and that we know there are many use cases for virtual experiences of the find Project Sansar will enable, where some people may prefer to share their identity with the people they encounter.
But, and again I would refer you to the link I threw into chat there to the transcript that Inara has posted, he also specifically brought up the idea that currently we’re thinking that you probably shouldn’t need to reveal your name, whether it be a pseudonym or your real name, to everyone you encounter in VR, any more than you do in the physical world.
So, short answer is, it wasn’t an announcement of policy or decision, it was sharing some current thinking on it. And as you can see by checking it out again, he was not announcing that everybody will be forced to reveal their identity to other users of our new platform, but it may be a requirement in terms of creating an account with Linden Lab.
[As a purely personal note, during this session I was moving to and from the computer whilst recording the discussion, and AFK for extended periods. While I heard some of Pete’s comments on this issue, and was seated long enough to re-post into local chat the link to the section of the Ebbe transcript to which he was referring, I was not seated long enough to hear the subsequent thanks he Kess, Xiola and Saffia offered at the end of this particular part of the discussion, and so did not acknowledge it through chat. I’d therefore like to do so here, and also apologise to them for not having done so at the time.]
What sort of challenges do you face in building a marketing strategy for something as diverse as a world in virtual reality, especially as Sansar is so new?
Pete: There are many challenges, but the same thing that makes it challenging also makes it so fascinating and exciting and interesting. We were talking about this yesterday, it’s a bit like trying to market the Internet as a whole, or really the entire world, because the breadth of what people can and will be doing is so broad.
But, we at Linden are in a very unique position with 13 years of experience with Second Life, we’ve seen the number of ways that people use virtual environments, the types of things that people create when they’re given the opportunity to. So that perspective is really helpful in coming to bear. But it is a difficult challenge to create a strategy around, particularly the sequence of things: what will be possible when, what will be supported when, and how best to position it in light of that.
And a number of these things, particularly VR, is hard to describe to somebody, unless they’ve actually experienced it first-hand. And so I’ve certainly seen some commentary on the space written by people who it’s pretty clear haven’t spent much of any time actually in VR. That’s an interesting challenge to face; we used to have some of that with Second Life back in 2006/2007, where you’d have journalists writing about virtual worlds who have never bothered to set foot in it.
So there are interesting challenges, but ones we have experience with. Again, it’s really just part of what makes it so exciting. The limits are really just at the edges of one’s imagination about what’s possible.
Do you think the need to promote Sansar could have a detrimental effect on promoting Second Life? That needing to promote Sansar as the best thing for virtual reality might limit what can be done in Second Life?
Pete: Thankfully, at least so far, I don’t think that’s the case. I think that the two are certainly connected through Linden, and as I mentioned, one of the incredible opportunities we have as a company, is we have this unique experience with Second Life that’s really unparalleled. But it also means every time we promote and talk about Sansar with the outside world, we do end up speaking about Second Life and all the things people are doing here.
But the other thing I would say in terms of promoting the new platform having a detrimental affect on Second Life is [that] one of the things we keep trying to explain is in fact Project Sansar is a completely separate platform.
It’s not a sequel to Second Life, it’s not meant to “replace” Second Life or supplant it. There will be many use-cases, much of the audience overlapping, but also it will likely serve a means and appeal to an audience that’s different to Second Life. Second Life will likely continue to serve an audience that may not be interested in Sansar.
So ultimately, they are two different platforms. So far, at least, I haven’t seen any indication that telling the world about what we’re starting to work on with Project Sansar is having any detrimental impact on Second Life. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite.
I think back a couple of years when I’d speak to the press; many press hadn’t been following virtual spaces closely at all for many years. It was sort-of all of you and all of us, and that was about it. And then Oculus came around, and Facebook’s acquisition brought a lot more attention to all things virtual, not just HMDs and VR, and I think that’s been very beneficial for Second Life.
When we speak to people now, I hear a lot less of the misguided perspective of, “Oh, that has gone away”, but more the understanding that Second Life is really the place to look for people doing pioneering work and [with] deep experience in user-created virtual experiences and the power of them. So I think if anything, if you look, it’s maybe not the best metric, but if you look at press mentions, the number of articles positively mentioning Second Life over the past couple of years, since we’ve started telling the world about Project Sansar, it’s greatly increased over a number of years ago.
How can the large user base within Second Life help get the message across about Second Life? How would you like large communities to help you?
Pete: Well, that’s a wonderful thing to ask and very nice to be thinking about. First I would say really, what we would ask of them is continue doing and creating wonderful things. Continuing to be a part of this platform is probably the single most important thing that you could be doing that helps us.
The other thing is that the more folks are proud of using Second Life, and the more they share with their friends, families, networks, communities, about the cool things they are doing, the exciting people they are meeting, the interesting things they’ve discovered and done and made in the virtual world. The more that people are open with sharing that, the more stories that they share, the more images, content they share – all of that helps us. Not only because it makes it easier for we at Linden Lab to have more examples and more things to point to, but also because it starts help get the word out in a more grass-roots way that Second Life is not just still around, it’s still around and thriving, with lots of exciting things going on.
Xiola: The flip side of that from a community perspective for me is let us know about these cool things, through Destination Guide submissions, shooting me an off-line message or note card with information about all that stuff. There’s so much that all of the different communities do within Second Life, that no amount of digging on our end helps to uncover even probably a fraction of it.
So we really rely on your help on letting us know about the cool stuff that you’re doing so that we can make sure that more people hear about to from our end, and that sort of thing. So yes, on the flip side of that, definitely continue sharing more of that with us.
Can we look forward to more meets & greets with the Lindens?
Xiola: Yeah, I think that there have been more Linden spottings in-world just in the more casual environment. Like I said, I’ve been spending a lot more time in-world coordinating SL13B stuff on my Linden account, and dragging Lindens to events as well. No! They’re definitely not being dragged kicking and screaming or anything like that! I think they’re excited to come in.
So on the casual side, I think that will continue. Linden spottings will become less rare maybe, although I think we’re here all the time, it’s just maybe, I dunno, maybe we blend in to well.
Not with that blue text!
Yes… the blue text that I never see. You know, somebody sent me a screen shot of it the other day and I went, “Oh yeah! That is a pretty shade of blue!”
But yeah, I think we’d love to participate in some of these things … Just let us know, it may not always work out scheduling-wise for everybody to be everywhere, but we certainly like the opportunity to hang out and chat.
Are there messages about Second Life that you don’t seem to be able to get out there?
Pete: To be honest with you, I think this was a bigger issue years ago, as I mentioned. These day, folks seem pretty open to what we’re telling them. One of the things that really strikes me, and maybe not enough people who aren’t super familiar with Second Life get, is just how many of the ideas we see today, how people want to use VR, have already been done in Second Life and have already been pioneered – without HMDs, obviously, so I’m not saying it’s exactly the same thing. But I see a lot of headlines about, “The first ever X, Y, Z…” and I imagine many of you have the same response to that as I do, which is, “Well, not really the first…” And so it’s interesting to see, and it’s great that a number of folks who are pretty prominent in the somewhat small VR community are very familiar with Second Life, and have the appropriate perspective that so much work has been done in the virtual world over the years; if you can think of it, it’s been done in Second Life.
As many other Lindens have said, lots of things will continue surprise you, but the one thing that I think doesn’t surprise me is surprise: “Of course it’s been done!” If you can imagine it, it’s probably happened here.
So it’s not so much a message that I think people aren’t necessarily getting or all of that; I think the perspective of about how tremendously relevant and important Second Life is for anybody interested in the virtual space. Regardless, again, of HMDs and VR, just thinking in the broader umbrella. But again, it’s not necessarily that that’s not getting out there; it more an issue of where.
There’s an old South Park episode where they’re trying to come up with some fresh ideas for something, and somebody keeps interrupting and pointing out The Simpsons did it, because The Simpsons has done everything. That’s sometimes how I feel about some of these announcements. It’s like, “Nope, Second Life did it, Second Life did it!” And by Second Life there, I mean all of you, and the Second Life community at large, not Linden Lab.
But I think that’s it again. Not that that’s not getting across; it’s just that I think it not yet maybe reached quite everybody.
How Long do you plan to keep Second Life running?
Pete: There’s no end in sight. I was going to make a joke about another 13 years, but that then sounds like there’s a deadline at the end of that! So, there’s no end in sight. And I see the question also mentions Project Sansar.
We’ve answered this a few times, but just to be clear. Sansar is a parallel platform, separate, even once it opens up to everybody, you’ll be able to enjoy, check out, either platform. We have no plans for any sort-of forced migration or shut down of Second Life.
When will those who have applied for the Sansar Creator Preview find Out if they have been accepted?
Pete: I don’t have a specific date and actually …. it ‘ll likely be a different answer for different people, I think that even once invitations start for go out to accepted creators. That will probably be a rolling process, based on a number of things, including what the platform can support at what time; the vision that the creator shared when they applied and the skills that they have.
We want to be sure that the creators invited to Project Sansar in these early steps can help us with their feedback, but also that their project is a good fit; that they’re not going to be super frustrated being unable to realise what they want to creates, because we don’t yet have capability X, Y, Z quite yet.
So, it’ll be a bit of a rolling process, but our plan of record is to begin sending some invitations out later this summer.
Following this, there were a series of questions which have been previously answered (Sansar will have spatial audio and live music events will most likely be possible; customisation of the Sansar avatar will grow over time.) Or were technical questions outside of Pete and Xiola’s expertise.