Meet the Lindens is a series of conversations / Q&A sessions with staff from Linden Lab, held as a part of the SL Birthday celebrations in-world. They provide 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 find interesting / inspirational about the platform, and so on.
Monday, June 19th saw Dee and Patch Linden sit down with Saffia Widdershins, and this article hopefully presents some “selected highlights” of the chat, complete with audio extracts from my recording of the event. The official video of the event is available at the end of this article.
About Dee and Patch
Dee Linden is the Land Operation Supervisor for the Lab, and her introductions often includes the phrase, “older than the terrain itself”, reflecting her experience from the physical world realty market. She discovered Second Life in 2003, and quickly decided she wanted to be a part of the Lab’s and of Second Life’s growth, taking to dropping note cards on various Lindens, including Char and Philip, encouraging them to consider hiring her.
This happened in around 2005, when she was recruited as a liaison, prior to joining the concierge team, where she was responsible for training Patch. When he moved to set-up the land team, she lobbied him to join the team, where she has a particular interest in supporting non-profits and groups seeking land for events.
Patch Linden started as a Second Life resident, first joining the platform in 2004, and has been a male fashion designer, mentor, and community lead. His efforts with the latter brought him to the attention of the Lab, and in 2007, it was suggested he consider applying to work for the company.
Initially working as a support agent, he worked his way up through the concierge team, eventually becoming the team’s manager. He later moved to the role of Operations Support Manager for a year prior to pivoting away from support entirely and joining the Product group at the Lab, the group responsible for defining the features, etc., found within Second Life. Here he developed the land operations team, which includes the Land Department of Public Works (LDPW) and the Moles. He’s now the Senior Director of Product Operations, a role in which he is also responsible for the Lab’s support organisation.
Recalling the Early Days
The first part of the interview focuses on Patch and Dee’s time before Linden Lab, on-boarding with the Lab: Patch through his men’s fashion business mentoring new starters, Dee through working with hosting events, mentoring new starters, etc. In discussing their backgrounds and joining the Lab, Dee brought up the very early days of Second Life, mentioning two things in particular those of us with long memories are likely recall.
The first of these was the avatar rating system. Back then, the old-style profile floater (still used by some TPVs) had a tab in it called Ratings, which had five categories in it: appearance, behaviour, building skills, and two others I now cannot remember (age does that…).
These rating categories were open to others to vote on – so as Dee said, became a kind of “popularity contest” among users (and one that tended to be gamed – “you rate me and I’ll rate you!”). Ratings could only be awarded once per avatar per category, and cost L$25 to award, the money going to Linden Lab.
Also recalled was the original means for the Lab to raise revenue – the “prim tax“. This started when Second Life entered its “closed” Beta phase in late 2002 and ran through the “open” beta which started in April 2003. Initially, this saw a fee of L$10 charge for rezzing a prim, with a flat weekly fee of L$3 (I think) to keep an object in-world. Over time, this system evolved to calculating taxes based on each prim’s volume and also its altitude, and with a sliding scale of fees for objects using prim lighting (starting at L$5).
These changes gave rise to the infamous tax revolt during the latter half of 2003, when users who were working to build infrastructure in SL for other to enjoy – communities, roads, event centres felt they were being unfairly penalised against. This revolt in turn brought about the shift in the economic model of Second Life from the “prim tax” to land tax (tier), with the release of version 1.2 of the service, in December 2003 – although this also wasn’t without its own controversy.
Patch also discusses the teleport hubs (“telehubs”) and their impact on community and immersion in Second Life. Again, for those who don’t remember, in the early days of SL there was no direct teleporting. Everything was mainland-based, and teleporting was via teleport hubs, with a free payable to LL. These hubs naturally became the focal points for people to build around, so they’d get traffic / an audience. Thus, the hubs in turn encouraged people to hop around the mainland and then go and explore what lay around each hub and get involved in activities they discovered.
He went on to say the Lab may be looking at the surviving telehubs and doing something with them. Whether this means re-establishing the network in some manner than encourages people to use it, or whether it is a case of “restoring” them as museum pieces is something he and Dee refused to offers further hints about, other than in the most general terms.
Selected Q&A Items
Most Interesting / Challenging Projects To Work On
Patch: There’s PaleoQuest, learning island and social island, I think rank right up there with it; you know, coming from the whole mentor, “I like to help people, I walk in the residents’ shoes every day” perspective that I put on all of our projects, I’d have to say that one’s very important to me.
Probably the Portal Park would be my third favourite … as far as most challenging, I would say Linden Realms. You know, it’s the grandfather of the Experience Keys system [aka “Experiences” today] … it’s basically what experience tools were built upon / along side of or in parallel with, were developed for. We basically set out to say, if we were to try to give people a way to create games or put a gaming engine creation tool within Second Life, what would we do? And out of that was born both experience tools, the tool set and Linden Realms at the same time as demonstrator for it.
The interesting thing about that is, that over all of the years it’s been running it is still one of the most popular experiences, with a very high number of unique visitors daily. And it keeps us on our toes! Again, with ageing content and such, more maintenance tends to go into it to keep it running over time; so we want to make sure it doesn’t break down, and with that, we also have to have the agility to be able to respond to any changes to the tool set that it runs on, as that may occur. So keeping up with all of that over the years has probably been the primary challenge, because just short of rewriting the whole thing or just scrapping the whole thing, we’ve found some pretty interesting ways to keep it going.
Dee: Linden Realms will always hold a very special place in my heart. It was one of the first really big one that I worked on; Linden Homes as well, the originals. PaleoQuest is still my favourite to play, and Horizons, I think, was probably the most challenging of the more recent ones … Unlike Linden Homes, with Horizons parcels you can deed your parcel into your group, and we had to make the mailbox [configuration controllers] and the houses work for the group, where we didn’t have to worry about that with Linden Homes … there are now a few businesses in Horizons, but it is predominantly residential.
Future Plans / Projects
Patch: Well, there’s a big experience we’re working on, another game. It’s really big, probably the biggest one to date … did you see the gift? The one we’re releasing for SL14B? It could be something related to that …
We’ve also talked about another one, and that’s kind-of the hubs and such out on the Mainland, and that’s got some tie-ins to that project … We’re doing some new things, coming up with Learning Island and Social Island, probably more social island than anything. We have a few updates we want to make … we built it to be very modular, very up-datable, easy to change for us.
It’s now been running for a little while, we’ve gotten really good data out of it – and as we’ve gotten that data, we have made tweaks and changes all along, we’re constantly keeping an eye on it. But there’s always the longer data set, that you tend to go after, after its been out there six plus months to a year. So there’s a couple of other little things that we’re starting to see in that long data tail that we think could maybe use a little bit of adjusting, and some new additions to it, stuff we’ve never done before and some other things we’d like to address with it, so that’s some other stuff we’ve kind-of got in the works.
The big project that’s taking up the bulk of our time, that’ll probably come out late summer, early autumn.
Will the Mentor Programme Ever Return?
Patch: I never like to say “no” or “never” to anything like that. People didn’t think the Community Gateway programme would be coming back and, well, here it is.
The notion of bringing the [mentor] programme back has some interesting things to consider, and a lot of it is around the skill or ability of interacting with the volunteer core in a worthy manner, along with just keeping everybody together on a larger scale like that.
So like I said, I don’t like to be the one that says “never, it won’t happen”; [but] it’s something that I haven’t thought about recently, and if people were to show interest or really have some sort of desire there, I would always be open to considering things; I’ve never wanted to put something out there and say, “no, we wouldn’t even think about it”. I always like to take the merits of something and consider it, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent …
Of course, I remember logging-in to Second Life for that very first time and coming across a mentor, and them helping me out in an invaluable way, and that stuck with me forever, and still to this day, and look at where it put me! So I think I can turn my clock back in my mind all the way back to that very first moment and remember that person and credit a lot of my being here to that.
Will Last Names Ever Return?
Patch: Sometime we hear the argument both ways, and I just going to react to the “surnames are like nobility” comment, insomuch as I understand it. If you have a surname … people recognise that, they know you’ve been around for a long time, etc. But how do you think it makes people feel who don’t have them, or didn’t have access to them, for us to then bring the out? And how would that make people feel who did have them, by doing so? Would that lessen the feeling for them?
Interestingly, from a Second Life perspective, the ability to change a name is actually very difficult, and to give people a way to change their name would be a super deep project as far as engineering efforts are concerned. Faster and easier would be to just give you the ability to choose the last name on registration again, right?
But then, of course, that is then unattractive, because many of us have very well built-out inventories with our avatars, with many non-transferable goods in many cases [and] you can’t move your inventory around between your accounts, right? So it then becomes unattractive to create a new account just to secure the coveted last name or surname account, versus being able to change it.
So the request I sometimes get to hear is, can we change our last names, or can you give us the ability to change our last names from “resident” to an actual last name? And the answer we typically hit is, with extreme difficulty … Engaging the level of interest on driving something like that is sometimes a challenge …
I can change names, [but that] doesn’t mean I’m not going to break everything else that your name touches in Second Life. I’ll just be clear about that. That’s where the engineering challenge comes in.
Why Were Last Names Dropped?
Patch: It was an earnest attempt by Product to give people the ability that you just spoke of with Display Names; to give people the ability to … basically have whatever named identity that you could conceivably want. As I wasn’t involved at that particular time, I can’t really speak a whole lot to it, and what drove the particular decisions that were made at the time to go away from the surname type account naming system to a more unified account log-in.
I do seem to recall that there was some of the intent, to almost go with like a single sign-on type of system. And to do that, introducing the uniformity was going to be one of the steps to take us there. But outside of that, most of the people who were involved with that aren’t here any more. So what history I rely on is actually from me looking it from where I was at the Lab at that particular time, so I don’t have all of the information, I’m sure.
Will Linden Lab Provide Direct Support for Non-profits (e.g. along the lines of the LEA)?
Dee: If someone wants to take on the responsibility of running them would simply need to contact me, and let’s have a discussion about it.
What Really Happens With Abuse Reports?
Note: those who are interested in the Abuse Report process, how to fill-out the Abuse Report form with meaningful information, and what the Governance Team does, might want to look through Raising Abuse Reports in Second Life.
Patch: Every report is looked at and investigated. Everything gets touched, despite people’s beliefs. There’s a big volume of reports, and more times than not, what we tend to see or find is that reports come in with vagaries that are really difficult for us to handle. You know, “so-and-so said I am a meanie face” – OK, what would you like us to do about that? Unfortunately there’s a really big volume of that. But we look at them – that’s how I know they exist …
… When there are actionable items, when there are things that are clearly in violation of the Community Standards and the Terms of Service, and there is substance behind the report that we can actually follow and pursue, action is taken. And we have an escalating action pipeline. First offence, second offence, third offence and so on. We go up the escalation matrix that we have in-house, and sometimes even that isn’t fast enough for people. But the fact of the matter is, everything is looked at, everything is touched, and we consider all reports that come in. so that’s honestly what we do with it, and with constantly abusive players – karma. It will catch up to them.
… And the Governance Team does get out and talks to people. They have been doing these in-world meet-and-greets and how to file a report that is useful to us, and things like that … They’ve been doing their own version of in-world “Meet the Governance Team” meetings, and they’re more than happy to do them. So if people feel that they would want more of that and would want to experience that, I can certainly talk to them and ask them to do more.
The end of the discussion focuses on premium accounts – with Patch indicating that the Lab is considering further means of easing the pain when accounts become delinquent (missing a renewal payment) – there is already a fairly lengthy period following a failed payment in which users can correct things before putting their account at risk, but the Lab is looking at ways of easing this further, possibly by limiting some of the more recent benefits (group slots, off-line e-mails, etc), until such time as the payment is made, but this is still in the air.