SL18B Meet the Lindens: Grumpity Linden – summary with video

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021 saw the third in a series of Meet the Lindens events take place for the SL Birthday celebrations, featuring Grumpity Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product and interim Vice President of Engineering.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised, with selected audio extracts. The full video is located at the end of this article.

Table of Contents

Also, information given in braces ({ and ]), has been provided by myself and do not form a part of the conversation.

About Grumpity Linden

  • Heads up Second Life Product team, where she has overseen a shift to growth, a stronger, more balanced economy, movement towards better community cohesion, and an overall forward-looking approach.
  • Originally came to Linden Lab while working for The Product Engine, a company providing end-to-end consulting and software development services, and which supports viewer development at the Lab, and she was initially involved in the development and viewer 2 (as designed by 80/20 Studio).
  • She became a “full-time Linden” in 2014. Her current position involves coordinating the various teams involved in bringing features and updates to Second Life (e.g. Engineering and QA), liaising with legal, financial and compliance to ensure features and capabilities meet any specific requirements in those areas, etc. This work can involve looking at specifics within various elements of the overall SL product, such as UI design and layout, etc.
  • Prior to working for Linden Lab, 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.
  • Holds a Master’s in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s from same in Computer Science & Psychology, both from Johns Hopkins University. She finds leading the Second Life product a joy because it allows her to draw on both areas of study.

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Loss of Ebbe Altberg

Grumpity offered her own recollections on Ebbe Altberg, the Lab’s CEO, who passed away recently. As with the other summaries in this series, I’m including her comments as an audio file, rather than paraphrasing her words, which can be heard in the first 10 minutes of the video.

As a reminder, those wishing to pay their respect to Ebbe can do so at his in-world memorial (see also: Paying respects to Ebbe Altberg in Second Life).

Change of Roll and in the leadership Team with Oz’s Departure

[Video 4:38-7:10]

  • Misses working with Oz, and views their relationship at the Lab one of partners working together.
  • Has been terrifying since his departure, as her responsibilities have expanded to cover his teams, but also finds it exciting to face the new challenges until the new VP of Engineering joins LL.
    • The new VP has apparently been hired, and will be starting “soon-ish”.
  • Fortunately, the overall leadership team hasn’t seen too much upset with Oz’s departure, as they all work well together.

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Migration to AWS

[Video: 9:58-17:10]

  • LL operated the “old school” approach of running their own hardware and infrastructure in a dedicated environment [the co-location facility in Arizona], with operations very much locked-in to that environment, with periodic upgrades and purchase / replacement of existing hardware.
  • With AWS, Second Life is now hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS).  The advantages are:
    • LL able to focus on core competency of running and enhancing SlL and not have to worry about managing the underpinning hardware and infrastructure.
    • There are no longer periodic blocks of capital expenditure that must planned and be made to replace aged / depreciated hardware, etc.
    • LL can be more nimble in responding to the needs of SL by having a large pool of server types from which to choose from, and the ability to “tier up” to new and faster hardware as the need arises.
    • This offers the potential for new and enhanced land product offerings, the potential to geolocate servers closer to their primary audience etc.
  • Most of the transition work went smoothly, although due to certain hardware assumptions, there were some issues [e.g. the Map tile update problem] that took time to correct – although many of the issues towards the end of the process  were more to do with trying to operate one or two services in the co-lo facility when everything else was running via AWS.
  • The move has not reduced operational costs: the servers are still running 24/7, and Amazon obviously charge for this, and financial savings were not the motivator for the move: it was about ensuring SL’s longevity.

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Roadmap for Next 12 months

[Video 22:37-25:57 and 53:18-54:48]

  • Performance and stability are an on-going project across multiple area – script processing, region crossings [physical and teleport], viewer performance, Search performance, etc.
  • Simulator-wise, there will be experiments in different server types and what gives better performance for different use cases.
  • Further out there will also be the potential for new land product offerings [e.g. the “event tier regions” Patch referenced in his session].
  • There may be experiments around geolocating servers and simulators based on audience location, although it will be some time before the Lab will be in a position to offer this.
  • [53:18-54:14] The New User Experience, which involves Product operations, Marketing, viewer development and simulator engineering, and extends beyond just the on-boarding process to encompass how new users get to understand the platform, get to connect with others, how the platform is marketed to both new audience and to those who were once users but have fallen away & get them re-engaged, etc.
  • [54:15-54:48] Making the process of customising the avatar easier to understand and do. [See also Patch’s comment on New Starter avatars.]

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Graphics Related Topics

  • [26:02-29:30] EEP: had a rough roll-out and slow adoption period, but is now being more widely used, although there are currently no plans to enhance it at this point in time.
  • [35:55-38:53] ARCTan: an attempt to re-evaluate avatar rendering costs and the cost of in-world scene rendering.
    • The current focus on avatar rendering cost / impact, with the in-world scene rendering / LI to be tackled at some point in the future.
    • A viewer is currently in development that pulls together all the rendering information together and better presents it to the user. The idea is to provide users with more complete data on their viewer performance such that they can make informed decisions on what to do to improve things.
    • [This work is reported on in my regular Content Creation User Group meeting summaries.]
    • Beyond ARCTan the Lab is looking at performance, scene complexity and rendering as a whole in an attempt to improve viewer-side performance for as many people as possible.
  • [38:57-39:25] Support for VR headsets is not off the table, but there are a lot of things that would need to be done in order for SL to offer meaningful support for VR.
  • 45:10-46:15] updating the viewer code to better utilised multi-core processors is something the Lab is looking to address, but no time frames as to when it might be seen.
  • [48:04-48:38] While the rendering system is to be improved, there are no plans to switch to a commercial engine such as Unreal or Unity at present, although this does not mean the idea is entirely off the table long-term.

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Open-Source Viewer Development

[Video 29:56-33:03]

  • The Lab remains committed to open-source development for the viewer, and values the input and contribution from the open-source  / third-party viewer community.
  • While it is acknowledged the open-source path can be difficult at times, it is equally acknowledged the open-source nature of the viewer is a positive force within and for Second Life.
  • The third-party viewer (TPV) development community is kept in mind at the Lab when developing new viewer features [and similarly, the TPV / open-source community offer viewer code contributions to LL for incorporation into the official viewer].

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SL Mobile

[Video: 34:05-35:48]

  • The iOS version of the SL Mobile communications app is in alpha, and should be going to beta “soon”.
  • It will not support 3D rendering from the outset, but is solely focused on communications.
  • [An Android version is in development, but is some way behind the iOS version.]
  • [For periodic SL Mobile updates in this blog, use my SL Mobile tag and my Web User Group meeting summaries.]

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General Q&A

This section covers the majority of questions that were responded to in some detail. Note that questions specific to the topics given above are included under those topic headings.

  • [17:12-19:03 ] Search and Group Chat:
    • It is recognised that Search is “wonky” at presents, and the engineers are looking into matters, although there is likely to be more than one issue that will need to be addressed.
    • Some changes will be rolling out to help with stability, but there is still more investigation to be done before fixes for specific issues with Search results, etc. can be deployed.
    • Group chat is regarded as a “labour of love”, with work routinely being carried out to try to resolve issues and improve performance.
  • [19:19-20:27] Teleport Failures: there has been an increase in reports of teleport failures / viewer disconnects during teleport
    • LL is aware of these reports, although teleport metrics gathered show a 98% success rate across the grid of teleports.
    • It is believed that the this might be because the problems being experienced are not being reported as teleport failures, or the metrics simply aren’t picking them up. Either way, the issue is subject to investigation and analysis.
  • [41:26-43:00] Mini-Map and security orbs: Could parcels using security orbs / systems be annotated on the mini-Map in the same way as parcels using ban lines?
    • Probably not. A better solution would be to improve the means by which those travelling the grid get forewarning about active security systems.
  • [49:56-51:30] “Sub groups” and Group categories: Has consideration been to given to implementing some form of sub-group system (e.g. a separate category of groups purely for land management)?
    • Might be better to re-examine how Groups work and offer alternative functionality for cases where they are used, but are not potentially the best mechanism to achieve the desired goal.
    • Categorising Groups by use type might also work.
  • [51:48-53:16] Bigger oceans: Can the grid be made more “world-like” with bigger oceans?
    • Whilst a cool idea, LL needs to focus on priority items [There is also the fact that large number of Void (water) regions require servers = increased cost to LL, as noted by Patch in his session.]
  • [57:21-59:07] Jira and issue reporting: Can there be an alternative to filing a Jira / raising a ticket for reporting / getting information on issues (e.g. a “non-technical” user group for dealing the technical issues, providing information via e-mail etc.)?
    • There are already multiple channels by which issues can be reported – Jira, user group meetings with dates and SL times via the SL public calendar as well, support channels, etc.
    • Adding more channels further dilutes how information is received and managed & also dilutes the time available to investigate an work on issues.
  • [59:19-1:01:15] Simulator release information: Where can people go to find out what has changed following server deployments and creators can actually test changes in advance, as release notes don’t always give sufficient information?
    • LL tries to be as open as possible about the issues they are working on; however, sever-side, it’s not always prudent to cover some issues in-depth [as doing so can accidentally reveal information on the inner workings of the simulators that some might try to exploit].
  • [1:01:29-1:01:57] Off-line inventory management: Would it be possible to organise inventory off-line?
    • There are actually a couple of proposals for how this might be approached, but this is not currently a project that is being actively worked on.
  • [1:03:01-1:04:22] Scripting language: Could a more conventional (JavaScript / C++, etc.), scripting language be adopted?
    • It would be a huge projects and the costs (in terms of implementation / amount of work involved,  / potential impact, etc), would have to be weighed again potential benefits.
    • It is unlikely to be a project for the short-term,  but nothing is off the table.
  • [1:04:36-1:07:07] Simplifying mesh clothing: Can there be a means to make mesh clothing be more of a “one size fits all” ability, rather than having individual fits for individual body types?
    • Trying to introduce a new “standard” is not easy, as it will simply join all the other “standards” already available. However, there are probably ways in which some of the variants could be “tightened up”, and this is what is being thought about.
    • While there will always be exceptions, due to the ability to create customised avatar  forms (e.g. stick figures), such that any solution is unlikely to work for everyone, it doesn’t mean the attempt shouldn’t be made to simplify things for the majority whilst still allowing for the wider variety for the “edge cases”.
  • [1:07:16-1:08:27] SL usage metrics: Will SL usage data, etc., be made more regularly available?
    • Metrics and infographics do tend to be given to journalists, and it is something that would benefit from being done more regularly in order to shift the narrative about Second Life and its relevance.
  • [1:08:56-1:10:56] World Map: Will there be further enhancements to the World Map (e.g. overlays with additional info – continent names, etc)?
    • It is possible. LL intends to work on the World Map in the future.
  • [1:12:16-1:13:20] SL on TV: Thoughts on the use of SL on “CSI: NY” [season 4, episode 5, Down the Rabbit Hole, 2007]
    • Before Grumpity’s time, but suspects LL were delighted with the exposure at the time.
    • She can remember SL being included (on Dr. Phil [2015 in a segment dealing with on-line gaming and addiction – see A look at Dr. Phil’s show “featuring” Second Life] and liked it.
  • [1:14:45-1:15:56] Mainland / derendering: As many on Mainland use skyboxes with surrounds to block views of surrounding skyboxes, could Mainland parcels be set to derender objects outside of them when above a certain altitude, so skybox users could make use of EEP?
    •  Technically difficult to implement. Also, mainland is about having neighbours.
  • [1:16:00-1:18:49] SL population count: What is the current Second Life population?
    • This depends on how you define “population”. Average daily concurrency [at the time of recording] averages 40,000 with peak concurrency frequently hitting 55,000. It also tends to be cyclical throughout the day.
    • However, there are other metrics: hours spent in-world; daily active users (approx. 200,000), monthly active users, users returning to the platform (are they an active community of users who just “stepped away” from SL for a time?).
    • Seasonality also plays a role in determining when and how to assess overall population, and most recently, the pandemic has altered things a lot in terms of engagement.
  • [1:19:16-1:20:40] Parcelling land vertically: Would it be possible to parcel land vertically, as a 3D space to allow for individual audio streaming, etc.,  at different heights and within different spaces?
    • It is possible, but certainly not a trivial undertaking,.
    • However, would result in more people potentially competing for the same server resources. As such, it leans toward being impractical, as it would require server resources to be artificially limited.
  • [1:20:50-1:22:12] Account limits: How many avatars can a person have, and is there any kind of limit?
    • There is no longer any form of limit, and people can create as many accounts as they need / wish. Freedom of expression and anonymity are at the core of the SL experience, and this is reflected in people’s freedom to have multiple accounts.