SL16B Meet Ebbe Altberg- a summary with audio and video

Courtesy of Linden Lab
On Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 at the SL16B celebrations, the third of five Meet the Lindens sessions was held at the SL16B Auditorium. It featured the Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, aka Ebbe Linden.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised, with  audio extracts where relevant.

Table of Contents

Note that there are three videos of this event that I’m aware of:

When reading this summary, please note:

  • It is not a full transcript:
    • Discussion points have been grouped by topic, and not necessarily in the order raised during the session.
    • I have focused on those topics liable to be of the most interest to readers / generated the most informative answers, so this is not a summary of all comments. etc..
    • Topics are give as bullet-point highlights for ease of reference.
  • Audio extracts are provided.
    • These have been cleaned-up in places to remove repetition or pauses, etc.
    • Audio extracts may concatenate comments on specific subjects that may have been made at different points in the discussion, and so do not always match the chronology of the video.
  • Timestamps to the SL4Live – TV video are provided for those who would prefer to listen to Ebbe’s comments “in the raw”. This video is also embedded at the end of this article.

About Ebbe

[Video: 2:40-11:55]

Note: the following is taken from both Ebbe’s comments and my own research into his background, carried out when he joined Linden Lab in 2014, and which also included input from Ebbe.

Swedish by birth and still by nationality – he is still working in the US on a green card -, Ebbe graduated from Tärnaby Skidhem in 1983. His time there was focused on skiing, as he wanted to be a ski racer, with his eyes on the Swedish national team and the world cup. Unfortunately, a back injury stopped him pursuing that particular career option, and so he crossed the Atlantic to study Middlebury College, Vermont, USA.

Ebbe Linden, aka Ebbe Altberg. Credit: Strawberry Linden

Founded in 1800, Middlebury is regarded as one of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the United States. While there, he “spent a lot of time in the art studio and the computer lab in an extreme left brain / right brain type of education”, before graduating with a degree in Fine Arts and a concentration in Computer Applications.

From Middlebury, and with the clock ticking down on his visa, Ebbe “slipped into Microsoft on a random banana peel”, where he spent twelve years. Joining in the pre-Windows era, he was particularly involved with the Office products (Word, Mac Office, etc) and multimedia products.

In March 2000, he moved on to Ingenio, a company that created marketplaces for people to buy and sell information over the phone. While there he was responsible for managing the engineering, program management, operations, and quality teams, and served as the company’s interim CEO before taking on the mantle of  the Chief Product Officer. And while he doesn’t often mention it due to not being a huge fan of the patent system, he “racked up quite a few patents there.”

After Ingenio, Ebbe joined Yahoo! n February 2008, filling out a number of senior roles, including Vice President, Head of Audience for the company’s EMEA division, being based in Rolle, Switzerland, managing some 180 people and multiple products across six countries. During this period he also served on the board of Yahoo! SARL (Société à responsabilité limitée) – think the equivalent of a Pvt Ltd company in the UK or a limited liability partnership in the USA, before returning to the United States to become the Senior Vice President for Media Engineering at Yahoo!  with global responsibly for Media Engineering, a position that involved managing an organisation of more than 600 engineers, architects, program managers and quality engineering staff, as well as having dotted-line oversight of some 150 product managers and designers.

Linden Lab’s chairman of the Board, Jed Smith, is a long-time friend of Ebbe Altberg, and had previously tried to get Ebbe to join the company prior to his appointment as CEO in 2014. (image: Owl Ventures)

Following Yahoo!, he took up the challenge of turning around a small tech company called BranchOut, based in San Francisco. Around two years old at the time of his joining, BranchOut had been through a roller-coaster ride with its product, a Facebook oriented application designed for finding jobs, networking professionally, and recruiting employees. Seven months before Ebbe joined the company, the app boasted 25 million users across 60 countries – but by the time he came on board, the user base had shrunk to just 3 million. Under his guidance, the company pivoted the BranchOut app into a new workplace messaging application called Talk.co, launched in October 2013.

Ebbe was actually aware of Second life  – and had experienced it first hand – a long time before joining Linden Lab in 2014. His son Aleks, had been heavily involved in SL, starting with the Teen Grid, making content and then moving to  developing a successful in-world business there (Aleks is now an Lab Employee, working on Sansar, where he is a regular at in-world community meet-ups and product meetings).

More particularly, Ebbe has had a long-standing friendship with the Chair of the Lab’s board of directors, Jed Smith. LL was one of Smith’s first investments when he became a venture capitalist, and through Jed Ebbe gained an awareness of the Lab, its product, and met Philip Rosedale.

So I fell in love with the idea, and understood what Philip and Second Life was trying to achieve, but it wasn’t until many, many, many years later – well, five years ago now – that it came up that they were looking for someone, and it was the right time and place for both the Lab and me to hook up and see how I could help keep things going here.

I have not regretted that decision for a second, it’s been absolutely fantastic; it’s an incredible group of people I get to work with. Having the Second Life team is just an absolute privilege … Everyone is just incredibly passionate about the product … that’s just been a very, very enjoyable ride for me so far.

– Ebbe Altberg, Meet the Lindens, June 26th, 2019

The Lab’s Battery Street staff (image: Ebbe Altberg, via Twitter)

One of the greatest rewards he sees in being with the company is diversity, be it within the people working the Lab or using Second Life, or the equally rich diversity of uses people find for Second Life – be it as a means of expression or as a platform for business, as tool for health improvement or an aid education, and so on, and the multiple ways Second Life can benefit those who engage with the platform.

He is also drawn to the technical aspects of the platform, including its multiple challenges, and the way it combines so many different capabilities: tools for content creation, options for social engagement, the ability to run a virtual economy, etc., all of which combine with the need to constantly discover / learn new things about the ways in which SL is being used, to continually refresh interest in, and enthusiasm for, managing, improving and expanding the platform.

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On Fees and the SL Economy

[Video: 12:16-18:16]

  • As a world Second Life has a huge diversity of uses, and there is no single “one size fits all” solution.
  • Has always and consistently stated a belief that virtual land in SL is too expensive [it has been a major theme from users throughout his tenure as CEO as well, and preceded his arrival at the Lab].
  • HOWEVER, Land fees generate the majority of the Lab’s inflow of revenue, even if it has been over-monetised by the Lab in order to meet that revenue requirement.
  • Therefore, if land fees are to be reduced, the Lab must find ways to move its revenue generation from virtual land to other opportunities that have previously perhaps been under-monetised in their ability to generate revenue. These include things like Premium fees and consumer-related revenue generation options.
  • Also feels there has been an imbalance in the way SL operates, as a merchant without any land can produce goods and sell them (via the Marketplace) without really paying for the opportunity to do so (just 5% commission on sales), and could then cash-out with very little cost to their revenue.
  • Unfortunately, both trying to broaden LL’s revenue generation options to decrease a reliance on land fee, and trying to correct some of the balance in where fee are obtained to help with that revenue generation, can result in some feeling hurt.
  • LL are attempting to be careful in how these shifts are made, as there are major risks involved (for both in-world business and the Lab itself), and so are progressing in small steps – the recent Premium and processing fee increases being the latest of those steps.
  • Believes there are still opportunities to further re-balance things, and to reduce land costs.
  • Also believes it is fair to say that while things like credit processing fees have been increased, they are still well below what might be regarded as “industry standards” for many digital transactions, which can be 30% and upwards.
  • Understands that the increases have impacted people, notably creators with very low margins, and who may have to make adjustments to their pricing, etc., and recognises that changes like those now implemented (as of June 24th) might make it tougher for some to survive, but believes the changes are necessary.
  • Points out that one of the consequences of high tier is that SL so often loses stunning public regions that have been built, and which people miss when they vanish.

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The exquisite allure of Otter Lake

Otter Lake; Inara Pey, June 2019, on FlickrOtter Lake, June 2019 – click and image for full size

Otter Lake is one of the most alluring homestead regions we have recently visited. The work of Sharon Hinterland, this is a truly remarkable region in terms of the amount of space the region exudes, the beauty of the design, and the richness of detail. So much so that it is actually hard to believe it is only an Homestead region and thus capped with a land capacity of 5K.

Set out as a rural island sitting amidst a little archipelago, this is a place that is a sheer joy to explore. The landing point sits towards the west of the region, lying on a stretch of shingle coast bordered on one side by the estuary of a fast running channel that cuts the land in a broad arc, and overlooked by a wooden lighthouse sitting on a rocky promontory on the other.

Otter Lake; Inara Pey, June 2019, on FlickrOtter Lake, June 2019

The dock on which the landing point can be found is clearly a place where visiting boast might moor – a gas pump for refuelling them sits just back from the water’s edge, a little office just behind it. From here, visitors can walk up the hill and visit the lighthouse (be careful around some of the rocks, they can be a little “spongy”, shall we say), or follow a wooden path that curls around an old barn / garage to where it splits to either roll back down to the coast and a simple bridge of planks spanning the arcing channel, or to wind onward to become an asphalt path that twists over of the ridge coming off the back of the rocks supporting the lighthouse to drop back down into a small valley and across the little channel of water via a more substantial bridge.

The far side of this bridge offers further choices: do you turn left and inland, to follow the raised bank of the channel, keeping to the narrow ledge the sprouts from the side of a hill? Or do you follow the log path that climbs the hill under the shade of the trees crowning it? And if you do, should you turn off from that path and descend stone steps to where smoke rises from a small cabin? Or do you continue to follow the path onwards into the lee of tall cliffs?

Otter Lake; Inara Pey, June 2019, on FlickrOtter Lake, June 2019

It is these kind of choices – and there are many across the region – that help to make a visit to Otter Lake such a joy.  Paths meander, climb slopes, descend hills, curl around rocky heights or climb them along the curling or straight lines of stone steps, or point the way to where ribbons of sandy or shingle beach wrap their way around the coast. Within all of these paths is a further delight: just when you think you have seen it all, you round a corner or reach another ridge, you find yourself at another unexpected path or stairway, or a new vista opens before you, enticing you on, giving the region its feeling of expansive openness.

Across this landscape are multiple points of interest – places to sit, to cuddle, to appreciate the view, and relax. There are cabins and little houses waiting to be discovered – all of them open to exploration, as the About Land description notes.   Travel to the north-west of the island and you’ll find a small working farm, sitting in the loop of a shingle beach and at the end of a dirt track.

Otter Lake; Inara Pey, June 2019, on FlickrOtter Lake, June 2019

Follow this track as it winds upwards along a gentle slope and under a rich mix of trees, and it will lead to the island’s heart, literally and visually: a marvellous lake from which a single brook tumbles its way along another channel that connects the lake to the coast by way of rocky pools and little drops over their lips, the water bubbling and splashing under bridges and across what might be little fords.

The lake forms the focal point for a stone-built cottage that looks out over the waters from a shoulder of rock, revealing the quite extraordinary garden-like setting. This features places around the rim of the lake that can be enjoyed, There’s a deck, an old rowing boat tipped on its side to form a little snug, paths and little gatherings of plants, a gazebo and, for those so minded, a raft on the lake’s waters.

Otter Lake; Inara Pey, June 2019, on FlickrOtter Lake, June 2019

The entire location is fabulously natural in design. And that’s the other attraction of Otter Lake; the entire region feels like it has been formed by nature, not created by human mind and hand. This is a place where the landscape is widely varied, rich in contrasts from shingle and sandy shores through low-lying grasslands, rolling hills to up-thrusts of rock that form plateaus and tables, all of which roll together in a perfect blend, populated by trees and bushes, grass and flowers, rounded-out by an ideal sound scape.

Nor does it end there at the lake. Across the water from the cabin, water tumbles down a high cliff-face. Follow the paths running around the bowl of the lake from the cabin – one of which will lead you past another, smaller cabin – and you’ll come to more stone steps leading the way up the slopes either side of another channel of fast-flowing water that churns its way from a pool on the crown of the island down to the falls that drop into the lake. Here sits the final treat: the pond itself and the shack of a cabin overlooking it, aged but cosy inside, and with an octagonal deck extending out to the south and west, providing a magnificent view back towards the lighthouse and the landing point.

Otter Lake; Inara Pey, June 2019, on FlickrOtter Lake, June 2019

Otter Lake really is the most exquisite design for a region. Almost perfectly formed, it is a photographer’s and explorer’s delight, a tour de force of what can be achieved within a Homestead region – and without overloading people’s systems. It is certainly a destination not to be missed and appreciated. When visiting, do please consider making a donation towards, the region’s continue existence (there’s a piggy bank at the landing point!

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