On Friday, March 19th, 2021 , the second of three sessions featuring Linden Lab staff took place at the 2021 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference. Whilst the second session overall, this was actually the first of a double series entitled Reconnaissance with the Lab and took the shape of a round table discussion with from members of Linden Lab’s staff: Grumpity Linden, VP of Product, Brett Linden, VP of Marketing, Patch Linden, VP of Product Operations and Madori Linden, Product Specialist (Land Operations).
The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session, which is embedded at the end of this article. Time stamps are also provided to the relevant points in the video for those who wish to listen to specific comments.
The focal point for the session were four questions, which form the topic headings in this summary:
- What is Linden Lab excited about that will be of interest to educators and VWBPE community members?
- What is the greatest concern about education in virtual environments like Second Life right now?
- How can educators and the VWBPE community work with Linden Lab in creating and supporting vibrant and engaging learning environments?
- What can educators and the VWBPE community look forward to in the next year?
Note: the second of these Reconnaissance discussions is summarised here.
Grumpity Linden heads up Second Life Product, where she has overseen a shift to growth, a stronger, more balanced economy, movement towards better community cohesion, and an overall forward-looking approach.
Prior to working for Linden Lab (first joining as a contractor in 2009 and then full-time in 2014), she was involved in a number of industries, including technology, higher education, and oil & gas. She enjoys exploring worlds both virtual and physical and takes pride in building bridges – personal and professional.
Grumpity holds a Master’s in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor’s from same in Computer Science & Psychology. She finds leading the Second Life product a joy because it allows her to draw on both areas of study.
Patch Linden is Vice President of Product Operations at Linden Lab where he works to bring the best of product and support decisions on a daily operational basis to the virtual world platform for Second Life. He also maintains oversight on how all of the various teams within Linden Lab can best work together for the highest good of the Residents and the business.
Patch started as a Resident in 2004 before joining Linden Lab in 2007. Prior to joining Linden Lab, he held leadership roles focused on customer service and product development where he always maintained a customer-first focus while striving to deliver best-in-class products and services. He has a deep passion for creativity and uses that to bring enjoyment to others. He continues to evolve his skills to include virtual worlds, 3D Design, 3D printing, modelling, photography and videography.
As VP of marketing, Brett Linden manages the team responsible for developing media campaigns and strategic content partnerships for Second Life. Together they focus on both the acquisition of new users and the retention of existing users for the virtual world. In the past decade, he has produced numerous virtual and “mixed reality” events and panels on various academic topics with an emphasis on legitimising and better surfacing the many cultures and communities within virtual environments.
From Rolling Stone to Billboard, Brett has also written for major publications and managed multimedia initiatives for Amazon.com and RealNetworks. He has co-founded numerous media sites on-line, including the Second Life Destination Guide and Rolling Stone Radio. As a co-founding editor at Billboard.com, he interviewed Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Shania Twain, and Bjork.
Madori Linden is a product specialist on the Land Operations team. Among other things , she works with educators and various types of specialty regions; from their inception and development to maintenance and support.
Her LBL (Life Before Linden) was a winding path to Second Life. She studied Socio Cultural Anthropology with a specialisation in fringe societies within techoology. The contacts made there led to a career in marketing and being the co-owner of an event production company Having children brought her back full circle to education. Second Life was the vehicle for all of those passions to merge.
She works towards making sure that #AVVILEARNING (avatar virtual learning) won’t be just an idea, but part of the future of learning.
What is Linden Lab excited about that will be of interest to educators and VWBPE community members?
- Patch: the new energy the new ownership is putting in the platform and the investment on the table to take Second Life to new heights.
- Excited by completing the transition to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the continuing work to optimise Second Life in it new environment.
- Also the potential for the AWS environment to perhaps offer new products as the company moves forward.
- The transition took several years to complete, consuming a lot of engineering effort, and it offers the potential to enhance the longevity of Second Life using the best hardware and infrastructure available.
- Also excited by the energy within LL that is being driven by the new board. Especially impressed by the way Brad Oberwager (board member and Executive Chairman) frames his thinking in a very customer-centric way (“Hows does this benefit the users? How does it benefit SL?”).
- The ability to stream content into Second Life, as originally demonstrated in the Adult Swim streaming of episodes from The Shivering Truth in May 2020. This is a capability that has meaningful enterprise and educational applications
- Madori: not so much excited by given the circumstances, but pleased in the way people have seen Second Life as a means to maintain contact while socially distanced. In this, the incoming new owners with their drive to grow the platform has been fortuitous.
What is the greatest concern about education in virtual environments like Second Life right now?
- Patch: safety. Fortunately, SL has a lot of capabilities to help with this and keeping students safe. The foremost is the RegAPI capabilities, which can be used to create a dedicated on-boarding experience. This allows for elements such as custom name accounts, making identification easier, limiting the number of accounts an organisation is bringing into SL, deliver users directly to a defined in-world location. There’s also the ability to lock regions from being accessed by others and to prevent students leaving the learning spaces, etc.
- Brett: not a concern, but what has been noticed is that some educators have noted that using second Life as a medium is less intrusive than expecting parents to put heir young children in front of a camera for remote schooling.
- Grumpity: echoes Brett’s comments, noting that teenagers as well can feel exposed in having to face a camera and be observed by others in close details, whereas SL embodies a freer sense of presence, one that is perhaps more familiar to teenagers today, who have a lot more exposure to have an on-line presence, whilst also maintaining a sense of distance / privacy that can be important.
Will there be a renewed push, with allocated staff support, for growth in Community Gateways featuring direct SL registration?
- Madori: the support is already there. In fact, there is a new community gateway that started on Friday, March 19th.
Any thoughts to bring back something like TEEN Grid – where there was more protection for young folks?
- Grumpity: Teen Grid doesn’t provide the same level of protection and unique features as found in the RegAPI capability.
Many students are using Chromebook and similar, which cannot easily run SL. Is this being addressed?
- Grumpity: this is understood, and LL are looking to find a potential partner who can help achieve this [streaming solution], as well as internal efforts to being SL to mobile devices [e.g. tablets with keyboard input for a fuller educational experience]
How can educators and the VWBPE community work with Linden Lab in creating and supporting vibrant and engaging learning environments?
- Madori: if you have specific ideas that may benefit SL – reach out to the Lab; it may be something that is feasible and could benefit the community as a whole. LL can better visualise needs by hearing about them.
- From a Marketing and communications aspect, is extremely interested in hearing about case studies, success stories and innovative uses of the platform that can both help promote the community concerned and demonstrate the relevance of SL.
- Lab Gab is a potential opportunity for educators to tell their stories to the wider SL audience.
- Would be every interested in finding out more about the learning management tools educators use and what they are looking for in learning platforms and tools – although the volume that were suggested by the audience illustrates the problems in trying to offer a solution that will satisfy all needs.
- Also wanted to mention the turnkey solutions LL have developed specifically for educators. These can be found at Explore Second Life.
Does the Lab have a social media strategy?
- Lab is active across all major social media platforms, and publishes at least one video a week through its channels whilst also highlighting original content.
- LL is actively forging relationships with multi-platform content streamers (e.g. Carmen King), as they have the potential to reach large audiences and possibly encourage some of them to cross over to try SL.
- Social media is an important channel to market in terms of encouraging people to try SL, and the company is investing more in it in 2021.
What can educators and the VWBPE community look forward to in the next few years?
- A streaming service to devices such as Chromebooks “and more systems in general”.
- Exploring the opportunities presented by using AWS services – such as geolocating servers closer to the audiences accessing the regions running on those servers.
- Improvements to the new user experience / on-boarding process [actually one of the more immediate projects for the Lab, as indicated by Patch Linden at VWBPE on Thursday, March 18th].
- Echoes Grumpity’s comments on the new user experience.
- Simplifying the avatar customisation process.
- In the near future, a new set of starter avatars.
- Maintaining the current educational / non-profit discount on region fees, certainly for the next 12 months, if not for (hopefully) longer.
- Brett: The second half of the year should see visible campaigns to push Second Life back into mainstream consciousness, particularly given this year marks its 18th anniversary. This will include SL’s first broadcast quality commercial, as well as updates to the Second Life website, etc. There will also be several more partnerships being unveiled.
Would the streaming solution use Worldstream or similar protocol technology?
- Brett: no decisions have been made regarding technology, as things are only at the exploratory stage, but Worldstream is one service that has been mentioned in discussions.
Do the new owners and members of the management team have their own avatars and are trying out the new user experience themselves?
- Grumpity: Brad Oberwager [Oberwolf Linden] had quite a time exploring the new user experience and customising his avatar, and his persistence with a wolf tattoo made him really happy in completing his avatar.
- Brett: Brad actually attempted the avatar customisation on his own so he could experience it as a new user would, although ultimately he had to seek assistance. But he wanted to get a hands-on understanding of the friction points involved in customising an avatar, not one sanitised by someone hand-holding him.
Will there be an update to the RegAPI for those of us like Virtual Ability and Rockcliffe that already have community gateways set-up?
- Grumpity: very much depends on what is being sought. Specific requests can be made by submitting a Second Life Jira Feature request [tutorial here].
- Grumpity: the last years has been energising for all at the Lab, particularly in seeing the way in which SL’s global reach has been able to help so many in what has been a situation with a world-wide impact. It has really brought home the power of the platform and the benefit people can find in having a little second life in their lives.