Second Life and the Lab: looking back at 2020

It’s become an end-of year tradition in the blog to offer a look back over the past 12 months and summarise much of what has happened in terms of Second Life, Linden Lab, my involvement in the platform, and the various other topics covered in these pages.

Last year I altered my usual approach to these look backs, as I felt the 2-part format I had been using was perhaps a little dry, so instead, I focused more on the notable events in SL through the year. I’ve opted to follow that approach, with some the highlights of the year (at least, as I see them).

Linden Lab

Acquisition

The biggest news of the year with regards to Linden Lab was the July announcement that the company was in the process of being acquired by new investors. At the turn of the year, the negotiations, etc., still appear to be in progress, although there have been no further updates from the Lab on the matter. The latter is hardly surprising,  given the complexity that can be involved in such deals, which in some cases can take well over a year to complete.

At the time of the announcement, the news brought forth a lot of angst and some negativity – although such acquisitions are not uncommon by by no means  indicative of “bad” news. With this situation, and given the backgrounds of the new investors, the move appears positive,  prompting me to point out a couple of things and offer some speculation.

J. Randall Waterfield (l) and Bradford Oberwager, the incoming Linden Research Inc., investors.

Sansar

The start of the year was not a little confusing for Sansar. 2019 had seen some rapid changes of direction with the platform, suggesting Linden Lab were having trouble settling on a market  / audience for Sansar, with a portion of staff working on the platform being laid off. In February, rumours were circulating that the Lab had suspended all development for Sansar and were laying off the rest of their staff working on the platform. Such were the rumours, the Lab took the step of publicly providing  reassurance about the future of Second Life, whilst seeking a future for Sansar.

In March it was confirmed Sansar had been sold to Wookey Projects Inc., (later Wookey Technologies). The deal was largely brought about by members of the Lab’s team directly involved in managing and running Sansar, and saw the majority of those who had been laid-off being hired by Wookey, whilst former Linden Lab Management Team members Sheri Bryant and Julia Munck also moving to Wookey to directly manage things.

Following its acquisition, the platform continued to focus on “live” events, including a major link-up with Lost Horizons to host a virtual Glastonbury Shangri-La festival in the summer, and a further Lost Horizons set of events at the end of the year – see my general Sansar reporting for more.

Tilia

Tilia Inc., is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Linden Lab that handles all micro-transactions and payments /payouts related to Linden Dollars and Sansar Dollars, and which manages the Lab’s compliance with regulations relating to its role as a Money Transmitter / Money Services Business (MSB).

I’d previously speculated that Tilia might be a means for the Lab to spin-off its expertise with managing micro-currencies to other companies wish to offer such services. With the sale of Sansar, Wookey Technologies effectively became the Lab’s first customer in this regard. Then in May 2020 it was announced that the property trading game Upland. had become Tilia’s second client customer.

Merchandise

After requests to do so for many years, Linden Lab started offering SL-related merchandise via RedBubble – see: Linden Lab launches the Official Second Life Merchandise store.

Second Life Marketing

2020 allowed users to see into the Lab’s marketing efforts for Second Life – which, contrary to popular belief – are actually carefully managed and coordinated. In February, Brett Linden penned The Heart & Science of Second Life Marketing, while in March, he and Darcy Linden appeared on Lab Gab information / insight into the Marketing Team’s work, with the entire team also participating in the 2020 Meet the Lindens sessions at SL17B.

Then at the end of the year, Brett followed-up with a further blog post looking back  at yhr year and offering a “behind the scenes” look at a Second Life’s first broadcast quality commercial – about which I’ll have a lot more to say come 2021.

Two of the more curious aspects of the 2020 marketing activities came in the form of tie-ins with  [Adult Swim], the American adult-oriented night-time programming block of the Cartoon Network (see: Adult Swim special streaming event in Second Life), and with animation studio Titmouse (see: Second Life to have a smashing time with Titmouse).

Technical Updates

Project Uplift: AWS Migration

The majority of the year was dominated on the technical front by the work to migrate all of the Second Life services and infrastructure to Amazon AWS hardware and infrastructure. Initiated in 2017, the reached a point of critical mass in 2020 with the transfer of all services from the Lab’s co-location facility in Arizona to running on AWS service out of Oregon. The last major element of the project was the migration of all of SL’s main grid regions to AWS, a process that came in the last part of the year, and proceeded relatively rapidly and smoothly, with the Lab confirming all regions were running on AWS services on November 19th.

The migration of all regions was not the end of the work, nor was it entirely without issues, technical and otherwise. In the case of the latter,it did require the suspension of new region provisioning from May through November. The work also saw a delay in the release of the Premium Linden Homes Stilt theme. However, by the end of 2020, the vast majority of the work had been completed, the Lab to discontinue all operations out of the Arizona co-location  facility just before Christmas 2020.

April Linden celebrates the Lab moving out of their former co-lo facilities.

2021 will see further adjustments and fine tuning of all SL-related services that will hopefully see like general improvements. For you wish to review the year’s progress, please use my SL in the Cloud and Cloud Uplift tags.

Viewer Highlights

  • In January 2020,the Lab ceased providing support and viewer-side updates for Windows 7, in line with Microsoft ending its support of the operating system.
  • Camera Presets – the ability to create a save multiple positions for your viewer camera arrived in a Release Candidate viewer. When the viewer reached de facto release status, I provided a complete tutorial for the capability.
  • The Environment Enhancement Project – a complete replacement for the Windlight rendering system – was launched in April, and I provided both a primer and an in-depth tutorial.

The official iOS / Android client continued to progress, with the iOS version making it to a closed alpha release, and from that to being submitted to Apple for evaluation – which remained its status at the end of the year. The Android client has year to surface, but is being actively worked on. Details on both can be found in my SL Mobile updates.

Second Life and the SARS-CoV-2 Virus

March 2020 saw the growing issue of the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-situation start to bite the world very hard. As a result, the Lab switched to fully remote  working (a large portion of the Lab’s staff already worked from home either full-time or on a regular basis, allowing the company to switch all of its centres  – Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and Atlanta – more readily  than other companies might have managed).

At the same time, the Lab put in place some practical steps to help those wishing to use Second Life as a means to support their staff working remotely. These steps included:

  • A new micro-website secondlife.com, and an accompanying updated FAQ on working in Second Life.
  • A reduction in region fees for registered non-profits and educational organisations / institutions, with Full regions fixed at US $99 a month.
  • Region holders experiencing difficulties in meeting their tier obligations as a result of the pandemic were encouraged to contact LL to discuss their situation and to see if assistance could be obtained.

In addition, I provided coverage of a number of ways in which Second Life was utilised by various organisations and groups as a direct result of the pandemic. See:

The Balticon science fiction convention was one of a number of physical world event that used Second Life as a means for attendees to come together

The pandemic also gave me pause to look at what was left of one of the most extensive past uses of Second Life – by the US Armed Forces in the platform’s early years. See Coalition Island: looking at the US military’s use of Second Life.

The pandemic almost also brought about the end of one of the popular Second Life estates – Second Norway – but rescue came, and the estate not only survived, but is growing. See: Second Norway & Sailor’s Cove East: rumours & statements, Second Norway and Sailor’s Cove East – status update, Second Norway: the future is bright, Second Norway: making the changes and Second Norway: a closer look.

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