January 2022 Web User Group summary: Premium Plus, Search

The Web User Group meeting venue, Denby

The following notes cover the key points from the Web User Group (WUG) meeting, held on Wednesday, January 12th, 2022.

These meetings are generally held on the first Wednesday of the month, with dates and venue details available via the SL public calendar. A video of the meeting, courtesy of Pantera, can be found embedded at the end of this article (my thanks to her as always!). Again, the following is a summary of key topics / discussions, not a full transcript of everything mentioned.

2022 “Roadmap”

In the 2021 year-end review blog post the Lab issued in December 2021, several projects for 2022 were mentioned, some of which fall wholly or in part under the Web team’s responsibility. Reed Linden used this meeting to discuss some of them, as summarised below.

Premium Plus

  • The Lab has a full list of features and options they would like to include in Premium Plus. However, what is actually delivered (and I assume when / how it is delivered) is still subject to a number of factors.
  • Because of the above, Reed could not offer definitive statements on what “will” be included, only hints to what might be present when the option is rolled out, such as:
    • The potential for a higher amount of free tier than Premium’s 1024 sq m.
    • The potential for specific Marketplace options to the available to Premium Plus subscribers.
    • The potential for reduced upload and other fees (Name Changes?) for Premium Plus.
    • The potential for a high-than-the-current Premium weekly stipend.
  • Also, because the final list of what is to be released is potentially still subject to change, final pricing has yet to be agreed, although it will be higher than the current Premium subscription fees.
    • The current plan is to introduce Premium Plus as “single level” offering at a set fee level (presumably monthly, quarterly, and annual, as per the current Premium). However, functionality has been provided to allow the Lab to offer further levels of “Premium” options, should this prove to be wanted.
    • However, Reed also indicated that Premium offerings might and in an unspecified future become à la carte, allowing users to pick and pay for the options they want.
  • The introduction of Premium Plus will not see any “downgrading” of current Premium subscription benefits or any changes to the current Premium subscription fees.
  • A major question still to be answered by the Lab is how are upgrades / down grades handled (e.g. a user goes from Premium with grandfathered stipend (L$500) to Premium Plus then back down to Premium; does their stipend revert to the current L$300 a week, or go back to the grandfathered amount?).

Search Improvements

  • The “next few quarters” will be focused on an overhaul of Second Life Search, with the aim of “making it work “the way we expect it to work, with all the little features we all as good Internet residents have come to expect from a robust and well rounded search engine”. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Making the search filters more universal and offering more options for searching for things (e.g. such as being able to search for a region through Search → Places in addition to via the World Map).
    • Improving both the relevancy and the ranking of Search results.
  • To achieve this, the Lab has hired in specific experts in Search systems to carry out the work.
  • Specifics on precisely how changes will be made and implemented are currently unclear, as a lot is dependent on further metrics gathering on the way Search objectively functions and then working with the incoming expects to recognise where and how things can be improved.

Marketplace Variants and Performance

  • Described as the “big ticket item” for the Marketplace in 2022, is listing variants
    • This will introduce the ability to have variants (e.g. different colours of an article of clothing) within a single listing – perhaps the single longest-running request for Marketplace functionality, reaching back to beyond the days of Pink Linden.
    • The focus for Quarter 1 2022 (January through the end of March) is on putting in place the back-end support for this, including ensuring all of the required infrastructure is in place to support the functionality.
    • Work will then switch to build-out the user-facing aspects of the capability, with the expectations that new features could start surfacing for users in late spring / early summer, with work then continuing.
  • It has been noted that Marketplace performance can be very variable, depending on overall usage at any given time, and it is hoped that time in 2022 can be allotted to making some performance improvements.

In Brief

  • Another aspect of work that will be continuing through 2022 is the revamp of SL web properties to bring them more into line with the flat design seen within the web search pages, splash and log-in pages, etc.
  • Opening grid-wide experience capabilities to users is still under consideration, as is allowing larger script sizes – although technically, neither of these capabilities are the remit of the Web Team.
  • Marketplace:
    • There appears to be some confusion over the current status of commenting on reviews left on the Marketplace after recent changes. It keep things before, at present, only the seller of an item can leave a comment (reply) to a review of their item; all other changes were rolled back.
    • Marketplace Q&A option: as noted in a couple of past meeting summaries, it has been suggested LL provide a facility where questions concerning products on the MP can be asked and responded to by the seller or those who have purchased the item (similar to the “Customer Questions and Answers” section of many Amazon listing pages).  Precisely how this should look and be managed is to be a topic for discussion at the next WUG meeting.
  • Events (including searching events and how they are presented on the Event page) is also something that has been earmarked for possible work during 2022.
  • Date of next meeting: Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022, starting at 14:00 SLT.

High Fidelity, Linden Lab, and the return of Philip Rosedale – updated

Logos via Linden Lab and High Fidelity respectively

Update: January 26th: this piece contains speculation (emphasis intentional) about High Fidelity’s spatial audio capabilities playing a future role in Second Life. Commenting on this at the Concierge and Land meeting, Wendi, Izzy and Vix Linden commented that they are unaware of any plans to move in this direction (or discussions on the same), and that for at least the foreseeable future, voice audio within SL will remain with Vivox. Comments can be found on this video (direct timestamp).

On Thursday, January 13th, Linden Lab officially announced that High Fidelity Incorporated was now an official investor in the company.

For the few who may not be familiar with High Fidelity, it is a company co-founded in 2013 by Philip Rosedale, one of the co-founders of Linden Research (Linden Lab), and who had initially departed Linden Lab in a hands-on leadership capacity in 2008, prior to severing all ties (management and board) in 2010.

The news came via an official press release from both parties, and also via blog post from the Lab to users – of which more at the end of this article.

Originally founded to build a distributed, VR-centric virtual worlds / virtual environments platform, High Fidelity was an interesting concept that attracted considerable inward investment (rounding-out at some US $73 million), and provided numerous innovative and unique features and capabilities. However, despite that investment, the support of luminaries such as Tony Parisi, the co-creator of the VRML and X3D ISO standards for networked 3D graphics, and numerous efforts to encourage the use of it (such as a US $15,000 “STEM VR Challenge”), the platform developed by High Fidelity failed to gain broad traction, Thus, in mid-2019, the company announced it would be pivoting its business to focus on a virtual workstation / environment that would allow people to work collaboratively whilst geographically separate (see: High Fidelity Changes Direction: the Reality of VR Worlds Today (& Tomorrow) and High Fidelity Changes Direction (2)).

Then, in December 2019, the company indicated a further change of direction to focus on a (then) unnamed new project, which was eventually revealed to be a new immersive spatial audio capability, which appears to form a part of the structure of High Fidelity’s investment in Linden Lab, as the official press release notes:

 The deal includes a cash investment and distributed computing patents. Members of High Fidelity’s metaverse team are joining the company, and Philip Rosedale, who is a founder of both companies, is also rejoining Second Life as a strategic advisor.
Philip Rosedale: inwards investment to LL via High Fidelity and a Strategic Advisor role with LL

It’s interesting to note that the press release does not indicate any potential board / direct management role for Rosedale – although I’ll be watching the Lab’s management page to see if it is updated subsequent to this announcement.

Certainly, that he, and other members of the High Fidelity team are joining Linden Lab might suggest High Fidelity’s audio capabilities could be playing a role in SL’s future – and it cannot be denied that a rich, immersive spatial voice audio could help SL better serve existing audiences – such as those in the educational sector – and potentially increase the platform’s appeal among potential audiences. I’m also curious as to whether such a capability might be used in overhauling SL’s other audio capabilities, such as through the introduction of audio materials and surfaces. Perhaps time will tell on that.

Another aspect of High Fidelity that might be of relevance – although this is again highly speculative on my part – is whether or not the work and IP the company put into developing their own commerce and micro-transaction system might have a bearing on SL and (more specifically) Tilia Pay.

Obviously, given his work in establishing and running Second Life – a decade of being away not withstanding – and in formulating and developing High Fidelity both initially as a content platform  / virtual spaces environment and more latterly as a potential business tool, Philip Rosedale potentially has a broad enough view of digital spaces, coupled with a direct hands-on approach with software development that could be of significant benefit to Second Life as a it does seek to grow its audience(s).

Outside of what this means directly for SL / Tilia (and for the longer-terms futures of Linden lab and High Fidelity as a whole – e.g. future merger, allowing for respective investors?), this announcement is interesting for a handful of minor points.

The first is that When High Fidelity was being established, Linden Research was one of its early investors, albeit it (according to Ebbe Altberg) on a relatively small scale. The second is that Linden Lab’s Executive Chairman, Brad Oberwager, has been friends with Philip Rosedale for a long time (he has described Rosedale’s wife as one of his closest friends), and they appear to have like minds and approaches to things. Thus, Rosedale’s return in the role of a “strategic advisor” would seem to be a natural fit in helping to leverage  / define SL’s development and potential future directions.

Finally, the announcement that Rosedale will be joining Linden Lab as a “strategic advisor” (note: not as the “new CEO” as I’ve already seen flying around in one in-world group) actually marks his second “return” to a hands-on role at the Lab. In 2008, he handed the CEO reins over to Mark Kingdon (“M Linden”) – although for a while he retained had Board position albeit while working on other business ideas such as Coffee and Power – but then returned to the role on an interim basis for several months in 2010 following Kindgon’s departure and pending the arrival of Rod Humble as the de facto CEO at the end of that year.

Lab Gab Special

To mark Rosedale’s return to the Lab, and hopefully discuss more of what his and High Fidelity’s involvement with Linden Lab means for Second Life, etc., the Lab will be running a special edition of Lab Gab towards the end of January 2022, and – as per the official blog post – the event will be open to questions from Second Life users.

The show will feature both the Lab’s Executive Chairman, Brad Oberwager (Oberwolf Linden) and Philip Rosedale, and questions can be submitted via this form, prior to midnight (SL time) on January 16th, 2022.

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