The 19th edition of Lab Gab was live streamed on Friday, March 27th, featuring Brett Linden, the Lab’s Senior Director of Marketing, and linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, who were invited to discuss the Lab’s response to the SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic and talk about Second life in general.
The official video of the segment is available via You Tube, and is embedded at the end of this article. The following is a summary of the key topics discussed and responses to questions. Note that the last 15 minutes of the video is something of an advert for the Linden Lab sponsored Mankind Tracer concert being held on Sunday, March 29th, which is not a part of this summary.
The decision to sell Sansar came, at least in part, from the recognition that as a platform, Sansar is at a very different stage of its evolution compared to Second Life, requiring different investment and resourcing.
Some 30 of the original team have received offers to join the new entity running Sansar (Wookey Project Corp), and “a bunch of them” are already back at work.
It appears that the focus for the platform will potentially remain on it being a platform for large scale virtual events in the music / entertainment sectors, utilising the platform’s ability to instance events for “many thousands” of attendees. Also, desktop and VR support will both likely be maintained.
However, the overall strategy and focus for developing Sansar is now obviously up to the new owners.
Linden Lab will remain a “partner”, inasmuch as Tilia will continue to be used for Sansar Dollar transactions and fiat money payouts, with Tilia also due to gain more customers in the near future..
On a set of personal notes,Ebbe, Brett and Lab Gab’s host, Strawberry Linden have thus far avoided infection (like the rest of the Lab’s staff they are working from home), but obviously, they do have concerns about the virus and its potential to impact family and friends.
Linden Lab is fortunate that it is exceptionally well geared towards remote working (many staff worked from home as a matter of course well before the current pandemic, and that’s been the way since the company’s formation).
It is not anticipated that Second Life should experience significant service interruptions due to the current health situation.
A comment that has been used among LL staff during calls and virtual meetings has been, “stay safe, stay virtual”.
[14:53-17:04] Users can help ease unnecessary stress on SL / LL staff by avoiding squabbles and upsets that can result in unnecessary abuse reports, etc., and by providing help to one another to lighten calls to support staff, as well showing support / friendliness to new users.
[27:55-29:33] All LL offices are closed. The co-lo data centre is open for access, if required, but all co-lo work is actually outsourced.
The last several weeks has seen a resurgence in the number of returning users (those who have not logged-in to SL for some time) as well as a rise in new users accessing the service.
New registrations are up by some 60%, with a rise in concurrency of around 10% overall.
These rises particularly correspond with cities, regions and countries where a lock-down is ordered.
Established users are encouraged to be kind and support incoming new and returning users, given they are likely trying to deal with the anxieties of the current situation.
Absolutely. We’re seeing quite [an] interesting resurgence of returning users, as well as new users coming in to explore Second Life. We see registrations up over 60% and concurrency’s up north of 10%, and we’re just a week or so into people being locked up. We can actually see countries and states that imposed strict stay-home policies, we see a corresponding jump in people in those markets jumping into Second Life.
– Ebbe Altberg, Lab Gab, March 27th
LL is not focusing any new features / activities specifically for those coming into SL as an alternative to watching television, playing games, etc. They are constantly working to increase registrations and user retention outside of any crisis.
The company is heavily committed to the the cloud uplift to AWS / Google through until the end of the year, so there is not a lot of available resource to take on major new initiatives. This work will likely take the majority of the Lab’s technical resources through until the end of the year (see below as well).
Region Owners Impacted by the Virus & Assistance from the Lab
LL has no wish to see regions go under because holders are experiencing hardship as a result of result income at this time. however, the company also cannot afford to just give across-the-board reductions in tier.
Where cases can be explained / discussed / explored, Linden Lab will try to do what they can and is taking a “human, compassionate” approach to people’s needs”.
Linden Lab has been “inundated” with requests from educators, businesses, etc., on whether Second Life can provide support for them.
The volume has been such that LL has had to re-assign resources to help deal with the incoming requests. There has also bee a certain amount of media attention on what Second Life can offer – the UK’s Daily Telegraph ran a paywalled article on SL and remote working on March 26th, for example)
It takes time to bring organisations in: understanding their requirements, getting them into SL, ensuring they have the required in-world facilities, etc.
In addition, LL have been carefully crafting a media campaign to raise awareness of SL as a place for socialisation and discovery. These have been garnering high rates of click-through that may be contributing to the upswing in registrations.
For the business side – remote working, conferences, meetings, etc., – the Lab launched a micro-website and an accompanying updated FAQ promoting Second life as a working environment (see also: Second Life: support for remote working & reduced education / non-profit fees – updated, March 16th). This provides access to a series of seven turnkey region solutions for business use, comprising single and multi-region settings, capable of handling up to 350 avatars, with individual regions intentionally optimised such that they can comfortably and consistently handle 75 avatars apiece without becoming stressed.
4- region Town Hall
Horizons Community Centre
The seven new turnkey business/ meeting environments provided by Linden Lab.
Education is still very much a factor in Second Life as well, with the platform again seeing an uptick in interest from educational organisations.
Various schools and universities can be found in the Destination Guide, and some have been active in SL for over a decade.
More are not publicly visible as they operate gated access for staff and students only.
Organisations such as CNDG are using Second Life for teaching / simulations in what is referred to as an “ambitious long-lasting run in SL”, with up to 10,000 students involved with Second Life experiential teaching modules.
Training also forms a part of learning in SL. For example, many nurses and medial staff have received simulation training within Second Life.
LL is committed to continuing to support educational use cases and make it easier for educational organisations and students to take advantage of what SL can offer.
Despite the cloud uplift work, Linden Lab did announce two new two new initiatives on the marketing side:
The Second Life Book Club will launch on April 8th and a monthly event. A spin-off from the Draxtor Book Club hosted on Sansar, the Second Life Book Club will feature Draxtor Despres in conversation with authors from around the world, with the first instalment featuring Matt Ruff, Ken Liu, SL Huang, CB Lee, and a possible additional guest.
Showcase Streams will be a series of spontaneous “drop in” video streams that will aim to spotlight the many music, art and cultural events in Second Life.
Outside of the current pandemic, a reason for implementing initiatives like these is that the Lab has seen an uptick in interest in second Life as a result of the their social media engagement and the success of formats like Lab Gab in capturing non-SL users’ interest.
For 2020, the cloud uplift. This is occurring on a service-by-service basis on the back end (e.g. log-in service, web services, group services, etc.).
Transitioning the simulators will be a huge undertaking.
Some services have seen significant performance improvements following their transition, just because services a moving to more up-to-date hardware and newer infrastructure.
Because of this, 2020 will not be a major SL feature release year beyond what is already stated as being in the works (e.g. EEP, Name Changes, Premium Plus, mobile companion). Anything else will be subject to resources being available.
Note that more on SL tech and the uplift will be featured in the April 3rd Lab Gab which will feature Oz Linden, VP of engineering and members of his teams.
Speaking at the Above the Book session at the 2020 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference on March 26th, Patch Linden had this to say about region owners who may be facing financial issues / loss of income as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 / Covid-19 pandemic that is currently having a significant impact on people’s lives around the world. In doing so, he also touched on the plight of the Second Norway / Sailor’s Cove East estates that formed the subject of a March 23rd report in these pages (see: Second Norway & Sailor’s Cove East: rumours & statements).
Region owners are absolutely encouraged to approach my support team, if you find yourself in a situation of difficulty because of what’s going on.
And specifically for Second Norway, we are working with Ey on that situation, and actually, I think we’re going to see a really good outcome there.
Patch’s comment can be heard at the 1:11:16 point in the session video.
As he notes, region / estate owners facing hardware as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 situation should in the first instance contact the Second Life Support team for advice / assistance.
The following is a summary of the VWBPE Above the Book session held on Thursday, March 26th. The session featured as guests, Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab and Patch Linden, Vice President, Product Operations and a member of the Lab’s management team.
The video of the session is available on You Tube and is embedded at the end of this article, while the following is a summary of the discussion’s key points, with time stamps to the relevant points in the video for reference.
Ebbe Altberg had a significant viewer issue that precluded his participation in the first half of the discussion, as such the majority of the summary points below are based on Patch Linden’s responses to questions etc. Where they are based on a reply or comment made by Ebbe, they are preceded by “[EA]”.
Time stamps commence at the 18-minute mark because there is a significant blank lead-in to the video.
On March 13th, 2020 linden Lab introduced a limited time offer for education and non-profit organisations to to obtain full regions in Second Life / reduce their current full region tier to US $99.00 per month.
Once granted the fee reduction will remain applicable “as long as their [the organisation’s / individual’s] invoicing is current.”
The reduction is something that had been under consideration by the Lab prior to the SARS-Cov-2 / Covid-19 situation, but it seemed that given the situation with learning centres around the globe being closed around the world, now was the time to introduce the offer in order to help organisations find a place where they can continue to offer lessons / services alongside of other options they might be exploring.
Alongside of the educational / non-profit discount, Linden Lab also created a micro-website and an accompanying updated FAQ promoting Second life as a working environment.
This is designed to appeal / apply to to broad range of potential use-cases: educational, business, etc.
It is being actively used by LL to coordinate responses to the needs of those making enquiries and correspond with applicants / interested parties.
Connected to this work, the Lab has offered a set of seven turn-key solutions for interested parties.
Comprising single and multi-region facilities, which see a clever re-purposing of existing designs (e.g, the Horizons hub area, the Bellisseria Campwich lodge, the SL16B auditorium, part of the Paleoquest regions), as well as the 4-region Linden Town Hall facilities.
The single region facilities have been intentionally optimised such that they can comfortably and consistently handle 75 avatars apiece without becoming stressed.
The seven new pre-fabricated business/ meeting environments provided by Linden Lab.
There has also been some marketing work alongside of this to help raise awareness of SL’s continued presence as a platform (the UK’s Daily Telegraph ran a paywalled article on SL and remote working on March 26th, for example).
SL and Technology Related Questions
[24:24-25:33] Cloud Uplift: will sharding / instancing of regions be possible?
Potentially, but much further down the road.
The focus at the moment is on transitioning the SL infrastructure and getting it to a point where regions can be operated via the cloud.
Opportunities for product offerings, etc, will be considered some time after the uplift has been completed and costs, etc., better known.
[32:07-34:34] Despite all the talk of VR headsets and immersivity being ” the future”, the fact is virtual worlds already provide a 3D, immersive experience, even if viewed via a 2D screen. Given high frame-rate VR systems are still outside of most people’s pockets / interest, don’t you think worlds like SL are due a renaissance?
VR is a fully immersive experience that cannot be matched for its sense of presence.
SL has some significant challenges when it comes to that kind of immersive experience it will need to rise to [FPS, optimised content / content management], and / or the VR hardware requirements will need to come down to make VR is SL acceptable. They will likely draw together in time, but that’s not something for SL’s current roadmap.
[40:17-42:25] Has the more widespread availability of bandwidth and higher speed connectivity made it easier for people to connect to Second Life?
Yes. The ability for ISPs to provide faster connectivity, particularly now with fibre, has helped with SL’s global reach and accessibility.
16-17 years ago, cable DSL was just coming in, and people without it, particularly if far away from the SL data centres, could experience issues with connecting. Over the last decade, the reported incidence of these kinds of issues has decreased to a point where they seem to be rarely heard.
Region owners facing such issues are encouraged to approach the Second Life support team.
As it is, LL is working specific with Ey Ren, the estate owner for Second Norway / Sailor’s Cove East to try to resolve that situation.
Second Life and the Future
[1:02.07-1:07:38] As LL is again a single-product company, what is the vision, looking forward?
As already mentioned, the cloud uplift to AWS and Google is a major focus, and will take up most of the Lab’s time and effort throughout 2020, with the goal of completing the work in 2020.
It is hoped that the basic transitioning to the cloud will produce meaningful performance improvements.
There will not be a significant number of features coming on top of this work outside of those committed to (e.g. EEP, Name Changes, Premium Plus).
However, the uplift should position LL / SL for a long-term future, and should be seen as a commitment on LL’s part to the continuance of SL – the investment required in the shift would not have been made if there was a lack of confidence about the platform’s future.
LL itself is in a very comfortable position and profitable.
Further, the company’s organisational set-up means that it has not been overly impacted by the current pandemic crisis.
Second Life is seeing rising engagement and concurrency at present.
Overall the company has a very positive view of the future for SL, and very pleased with where they are in terms of the SL product offering.
Those interested in learning more about the technical side of SL can tune-in to the April 3rd edition of Lab Gab, which will feature Oz Linden, VP of Engineering and members of his teams.
Ebbe himself is now “100% devoted” to Second Life and Tilia.
Education Related Questions
[25:45-26:47] Will SL be able to connect to Canvas LMS? A lot of this can be supported through the in-viewer browser and via the viewer’s implementation of Chrome Embedded Framework (CEF).
Improvements to media / web handling in the viewer are being made (notably media and CEF), and there should hopefully be more news on this Soon™.
[27:39-28:29] Can more be done to allow people to bring in their “traditional” and familiar 2D means of presentation (e.g. PowerPoint, etc), into SL beyond having to use use things like Media On A Prim (MOAP), etc?
The coming updates to media / web handling might have a lot to do with this, particularly in displaying 2D information formats. Essentially, if it is web-based, then you should be able to display it in-world.
[EA – 52:49-54:29] SL is perfect for iterative, interactive classroom activities and allowing students to contribute content to the classroom and in experiential education (field trips, learning through directed activities / simulation / training). However, more could be done to make the more traditional teaching tools – blackboards, whiteboards, video presentation, etc., – available / easier to utilise with Second Life.
[37:57-38:55] What about screen sharing / desktop sharing with SL?
Would be challenging to provide through Second Life, but obviously there are applications that will allow Second Life itself to be shared between screens / desktops.
It’s unclear as to what form any path to providing screen / desktop sharing within SL / the viewer might take.
[55:25-57:40] Can teaching environments be locked down to only allow students and staff access, and to prevent students teleporting away?
Regions do allow levels of privacy (access by group, access list, region / estate-level access blocking, etc.). It is also possible to bring users directly into a specific region / estate, and created accounts can be locked to a specific region / estate.
The siloing capability is available in Second Life, and it is made available to educators to use, and are available as a part of the educational / non-profit region fee.
While it is not being considered by the Lab at present, it might be possible, post cloud uplift, to enable separate Second Life grids to be spun-up with completely different user name / account spaces associated with them.
If there are specific use cases for access control that aren’t provided by the Lab, or ways in which LL might provision specific market silo support, educators / physical world business users are encouraged to contact Patch and his team to discuss them or send ideas to business-at-lindenlab.com.
[1:07:53-1:10:54] Could a controlled space be provided where educators could collaborate to produce material in-world for students?
Can already be done.
A portal style space showing what is available for education in SL might be possible. One used to be provided, and LL might be interested in partnering with educationals to again provide one. Ideas can again be passed via business-at-lindenlab.com.
Sansar Related Discussion
[43:05-49:54] Second Life (and OpenSim) has always offered the ability for real-time content creation, which has been seen as one of the major attractions for it, and it was something lacking in Sansar that may have contributed to its lack of appeal. Do you think there is a long future for Second Life with its ease-of-creation?
[EA] Nowadays original content creation within SL is rare; most users are more customisers that original asset creators; they purchase items and then lay them out. Clearly, content creation & collaborative design are required in a virtual space, but do they need to be in the run-time environment?
[EA] Sansar took the route of separating the design process from the run-time environment to allow the latter to be a more performant environment, allowing everything placed in the design environment to be properly optimised [“baked”] to provide a good run-time experience.
[EA] Sadly, LL never got to the point of implementing collaborative design in the editor, or in really giving power to users to design their space without having to have a lot of expertise.
Decision was made to sell Sansar and give the team that had been working on it to go and raise funds to try to go it alone with Sansar.
Was felt that it was easier for them to raise money as a separate entity from LL, given that Second Life is an established brand and Sansar was effectively a start-up brans within the environment responsible for Second Life.
As it is all of the staff who worked on Sansar are getting employment offers from Wookey project Corp., the new owners.
Linden Lab remain something of a partner to Sansar, as the platform will continue to use Tilia Inc, the Lab’s micro-payments / virtual world tokens subsidiary to manage Sansar Dollar payments and payouts. Tilia itself will be growing its customer base with more clients lined-up to join it.
A new top-level blog menu Category, Tilia, replaces the Sansar category. This will be used for information and updates relating to Linden Lab’s Tilia Inc., subsidiary, and includes sub-menu options for general news on Tilia, and articles about Tilia / Tilia operations that are specific to Second Life.
The Sansar category, with all sub-menus relating to it, has been moved to appear under the Other Worlds and Tech menu category.
Sansar is kept distinct from those worlds I’ve covered in the past (Blue Mars, Cloud Party, High Fidelity, OpenSim grids, etc.), to distinguish it as a platform I’m still currently reporting on. Other worlds / platforms are listed under the Other Virtual Worlds Archive sub-menu (not shown above).
The menus will hopefully remain in this format for the foreseeable future (allowing for the resumption of work on Sansar and my ability to report on it), and I’ll leave this post up as a sticky for the next few days just so people are aware of the changes.