Walking a Cloud Edge in Second Life

Cloud Edge, January 2023 – click any image for full size

Funky Banana is a region designer with a keen eye for detail and an imagination capable of presenting settings which can attract and enthral. I’ve covered his work a number of times in these pages, going all the way back to 2016. However, it has been a while since I’ve made any visits, so when Cloud Edge popped up on my radar screen, I decided to set things to rights once more and hop over to take a look.

The last couple of times I did write about Funky’s work was in covering Wild Edge (in 2018) and Summer Edge (in 2019); designs which clearly share a common element in their naming with Cloud Edge. Both of these designs offered much for visitors to appreciate – and so does this one, but in a very different way; in fact, I’d go so far to say that in its disarmingly simple design, Cloud Edge is one of the most imaginative region builds I’ve seen of late.

Cloud Edge, January 2023

It is a setting more than adequately explained through its About Land description:

Welcome to Cloud Edge.
A high ground environment based above the clouds, surrounded by mountains. A place to escape, relax and enjoy the views.

And so it is that arrivals find themselves in the mountains, surrounded by high, snowy peaks and lower, snow-free ridges not so far above or below the tree-line that whilst the majority of their vegetation is moss on the rocks and hardy shrubs and bushes, a few stunted trees deformed by wind and cold into krummholz manage to survive. Between these ridges and peaks and the much higher surrounding mountains is a sea of white, the tops of clouds obscuring everything below from view and giving the impression that the peaks, ridges and mountain tops are islands sitting within an ocean of fluffy white.

Cloud Edge, January 2023

The landing point is set on a broad wooden deck, also rising above the cloud tops (which are formed using Fluff Clouds by Satomi XOXO), and moored to a slender ridge of rock by a single wood-and-rope bridge. Watched over by a single crow seemingly unaffected by the altitude, the bridge provides access to a rocky path as it skirts around a small peak to run along the spine of the ridge to a second peak, passing the krummholz tenaciously clinging to its flanks.

A further bridge stretches out over the hidden abyss at the end of this path, guarded by a young eagle that periodically takes the air before settling back on a rocky perch. The bridge itself extends out over and into the clouds, vanishing before connecting to land once more. This it does by way of a finger of rock of a semi-regular shape suggestive of interesting wind patterns flowing around these peaks, and which is in turn connected to a further pinnacle of rock via a second bridge.

Cloud Edge, January 2023

This bridge is allowed passage through the rock by means of a natural-looking tunnel burrowing its way through the flat top of this peak, which rises higher than the rocky finger to which it is linked, but not as high as the peak at the southern end of the ridge with its footpath. Beyond the tunnel lies a shoulder of rock on which a further deck has been built, offering superb views of the remaining peaks within the region’s boundaries, both of which are isolated from access by foot, and the largest of which features a powerful waterfall facing the deck like a shimmer curtain as it drops into the clouds below.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated with Funky’s region designs is the degree of minimalism he employs. Where others would be tempted to add life to a setting with – say – the addition of birds or animals or further flora, Funk keeps things such that there is know to give life to his settings and no more.

Cloud Edge, January 2023

Thus, while it might have been easy it add trees hither and thither, or add mountain goats to “enhance” the sense of elevation, Funky resists, offering only those trees and birds required to underscore the sense that we are indeed at some altitude, allowing the surrounding clouds to speak for themselves. Similarly, the soundscape for the region is kept to the perfect minimum of the lonely moan of wind over exposed rock, the occasional cry of a crow and the slow growth of water falling over rocks as you approach the deck overlooking the falls.

Beautifully conceived and executed, Cloud Edge is visually impressive and offers plenty of scope for art and photography. Those who do so are invited to add their images to the Cloud Edge Flickr stream, whilst visitors are invited to claim a small gift from Funky’s Marketplace store.

Cloud Edge, January 2023

SLurl Details

January 2023 SL Web User Group summary

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 4th, 2023.

WUG meetings:

  • Are held in-world, generally on the first Wednesday of the month – see the SL public calendar.
  • Cover Second Life front-end web properties (Marketplace, secondlife.com, the sign-up pages, the Lab’s corporate pages, etc.).
  • They are not intended for the discussion of Governance issues, land fees / issues, content creation & tools, viewer or simulator development / projects. Please refer to the SL calendar for information on available meetings for these topics.

A video of the meeting, courtesy of Pantera, can be found embedded at the end of this article (my thanks to her as always!), and subject timestamps to the relevant points in the video are provided. Again, the following is a summary of key topics / discussions, not a full transcript of everything mentioned.

Updates for December 2022

Marketplace Elastic Search Overhaul

[Video: 3:41-5:27]

  • Following recent delays, it had been hoped the MP search updates would be deployed before the end of 2022. Unfortunately, issues with the updates continued to prevent this.
  • The hope is now to have thing deployed as the “first thing” for web-related deployments, hopefully by the end of January 2023.
  • As a reminder: this work is essentially the same kind of back-end update as carried out with Web search a few months ago, with the emphasis on faster, more robust performance, together with new search options, including:
    • Merchant and store names will no long be searched in product searches.
    • Wildcard (e.g. using *) will be possible.
    • Better exact matching against search terms
    • The back-end supports fuzzy matching to better handle typos when inputting searches.
    • There should be a noticeable increase in speed of search results being returned.
  • Once running, these updates will allow LL to add-in the relevance engine AI to the Marketplace search (as a separate API entity to the relevance engine already running on the web search).

“Land Ownership Journey”

[Video: 5:31-7:30]

Summary: A complete re-write of every route by which users can obtain and hold land, from Premium (+Plus) Linden Homes, obtaining Mainland (incl. Abandoned Land), and private island regions, and renting from private estates.

  • The first user-facing element of this work – the new Land Portal, a central hub from which to get to all aspects of land “ownership” – will likely be deployed by the end of January 2023.
  • The Portal layout is liable to be a template / proof of concept for overhauling the rest of the Second Life web properties to give them a coherent appearance, make them easier to maintain and add new pages, make SL’s web presence more performant overall and ensure it works on mobile devices as well as desktops / laptops.
  • Once the Portal has been deployed, the focus will shift to the Linden Homes selection pages.

Marketplace Styles

[Video: 56:08-56:55]

  • Work had been expected to resume on Styles (allowing multiple colours, etc., for an item to appear within a single listing rather than each requiring its own listing) following the deployment of the MP Search updates, with the plan for a deployment early-ish in 2023.
  • As the Search updates deployment has been delayed, the work on Styles is currently being “re-prioritised”.

Q&A Summary

  • [Video: 9:41-11:09] Marketplace Refresh / Rebuild:
    • This is still being looked at as a project for development and possible initial deployment in 2023.
    • There are still no firm plans in place as to what will be changed and why, how things will look, etc.
    • Feature requests and suggestions from users and merchants are welcome via the Second Life Jira.
  • [Video: 45:20-End] Marketplace suggestions:
    • LL provide an individual RSS feed to all Marketplace stores for announcing new releases, etc.
      • Whilst not refused as a suggestion, the point was made that implementing and maintaining such a service would not necessarily be easy or direct – as every MP store would require a feed, regardless of whether or not the store owner uses it / people actually subscribe to it via their RSS readers.
      • There is already functionality available for this within the MP via Favourite Stores > Age: Newest First. This gives a thumbnail view of the most recent 4 releases for every store a user has selected as a Favourite, providing something of an at-a-glance view. It is not as proactive as an RSS feed but has the benefit of already being available.
    • A request to include a Date Uploaded field in Marketplace descriptions. This would:
      • Help determine the overall age of a product, allowing it to be better (but not perfectly) assessed against more recent improvements to the platform.
      • If also included in the Favourite Stores summary list, would further help users determine new releases.
      • This is seen as being a part of LL’s wish list for MP improvements.
    • With the move towards supporting the glTF 2.0 specification (initially for PBR materials, but potentially to be expanded to mesh content in general (and eventually possibly animations), these request was made to enable a glTF specific description / search indicator to be added to MP listings.
      • This is something LL has not considered – but given the shift in emphasis involved in glTF adoption, it is something that should be considered over and above the simple “Mesh” definitions in listings.
      • For those unaware, details of the glTF / PBR project work can be found in by CCUG meeting summaries.
    • Requests were also made for:
      • The ability to preview the contents items sold on the MP as boxes – the problem here being the box is seen as just that; a single object, so a means to “access” its contents and then generate a listing them would need to be built.
      • The inclusions of triangle counts / VRAM usage / complexity values for objects and attachments – the problems here are numerous, from how would lists be generated  / populated (e.g. some form of automated analysis of folder / box contents would be required for accuracy),through how should it be presented without “overloading” listings with information, to the question of whether the results would be properly understood by potential purchasers).
    • The ability to add multiple items to a shopping basket, but then select which are to be purchased immediately, and which can be “shelved” for a later purchase (if required), rather than having to purchase everything in the basket.
      • This was also indicated as being on LL’s own wish list of future options for the MP.
  • [Video: 16:28-25:50] Place Pages:
    • Launched in 2017 (see: Linden Lab announces Second Life Place Pages available and Tutorial: creating Second Life Place Pages) Place Pages have never really been utilised or enhanced, which is acknowledged by LL.
    • Currently, there is no clearly-defined use case for Place Pages, although they do have a number of interesting features and capabilities.
    • The think at the Lab at the moment is whether Place Pages:
      • Should be given a degree of work to overhaul them in order to make them more broadly usable, or
      • Scrap them entirely and replace them with something more attractive to users overall – whatever that might be.
    • A perceived attraction with Place Pages is the ability for people to show off / promote their Second Life without necessarily having to have others log-in to the platform – or as a means to encourage them to do so – using tools that might be better attuned to presenting SL through the web compared to “ordinary” website building tools
    • The major reason for not overhauling Place Pages thus far is the fact that they underpin the land auction system.
    • It is acknowledged that given the plans for overhauling the SL web properties in general, there is potential the produce a version of Place Pages with better integration into SL’s web presence, etc.
    • User suggestions for Place Pages are welcome, again via the Second Life Jira.
  • [Video: 27:29-28:02] Communities: a request has been made to expand the range of Second Life communities represented through the Communities landing page (such as the furry community, the sci-fi community, etc). Feature Requests are suggested on these, although it was hinted the number of communities to be rotated on the landing page may be increased.
  • [Video: 34:24-39:00] “Premium a-la Carte”: whilst indicated as something LL would like to do, the idea of an “a-la carte” set of Premium benefits users can choose from and they pay a fee based on their selection, there are significant issues around general maintenance and billing and tracking which options each user has subscribed to.
    • What happens if a user selects option A as a part of their package, but then decides they don’t need it, and  they want to remove it (and its cost) or swap it for one or more other options + their costs? How frequently should this be allowed? How are the changes to track and recognised by the viewer and relevant back-end services? How is billing to be managed?
    • How much work is involved in managing an options list (adding new options to it or remove unpopular items from it, in order to maintain its appeal with users, etc.?
    • How complex any a-la carte system might be was demonstrated by the number of different views expressed in the meeting as to what options might be attractive to different people.
    • There is also the question as to whether an “a-la carte” option is required, or whether the existing Premium  / Premium Plus subscription levels need to be adjusted.

Next Meeting

  • Wednesday, February 1st, 2023. Venue and time per top of this summary.