Ebbe Altberg at VWBPE 2018: video, transcript and audio

VWBPE 2018 banner. Courtesy of VWBPE

On Thursday, March 15th, 2018, Linden Lab CEO met with a group of invited participant for the Above the Book events at VWBPE 2018. Lasting some 80 minutes, the conversational  Q&A session was livestreamed for its first hour to the main auditorium at the conference. Also in attendance at the event was  Brett Atwood (Brett Linden), Senior Manager for Marketing at Linden Lab, was also in attendance.

The full transcript of the session, including a number of “after stream” questions not in the official video is available here. When reading, please note:

  • The transcript notes don’t follow the chronological flow of the session, as I’ve attempted to group subjects by topic for more concise reference.
  • Audio of responses to questions are provided for each section of the transcript.
  • Questions are given in bold.
  • Comments from Ebbe Altberg are prefixed EA; comments from Brett Atwood are prefixed BA.

The video of the session is embedded at the end of this piece for reference and for those who would prefer to watch it. My thanks to the VWBPE stream team for providing it.

The Short Form

For those who prefer,the following is a bullet-point list of the core questions asked, gathered into the same topic headings as the transcript notes. Links are given to the relevant part of the full transcript for those who would prefer to read / listen to the complete answers / comments.

Note: due to the nature of WordPress internal text anchors and scrolling, you may have to scroll up a little after jumping to a specific topic, in order to see the question.

The Lab and Education

  • Education is, and remains, an important element of the lab’s thinking, both with Second Life and with Sansar. Jump to topic.
  • For educators interested in engaging with the Lab, the best way to do so is by reaching out to Brett Linden, who himself is an educator with 15 years experience (and who currently teaches a course as Washington State University) and who sees himself as a advocate for virtual worlds in education.
  • To help educators promote their endeavours, Brett suggests looking at SL Place Pages as a means to self-curate a web presence for in-world activities. Jump to topic.
  • The Lab is willing to work with educators on putting together documents / information addressing the value proposition, safety, security, etc., of using virtual space in education which can be used by educators to help inform their administrators and IT experts. Jump to topic.
  • The Lab is also willing to consider ways to make SL more attractive to the education market, preferably with a list of prioritised ideas from the education community, which can be compared with other requests for features / improvements, evaluated (technically and in terms of value / ROI, etc). Jump to topic.
  • It’s unlikely that LL will, in the near future, provide a dedicated resource to the educational / non-profile community. However, the recent re-alignment of the Second Life and Sansar team structures means there is now a dedicated SL marketing resource, lead by Brett, to help and support SL communities such as the educational / non-profit community. Jump to topic.
  • What has been the educational uptake with Sansar?

Product Accessibility and Ease-of-Use

  • Access for the disabled:
    • Sansar is too early in its development to offer much in the way of ease-of-access for the disabled.
    • The Lab would like to hear of specific instances where more could be done to help with accessing Second Life by those with disabilities.
    • Jump to topic.
  • What is the Lab’s position on speech-to-text, text-to-speech?
    • There are 3rd party tool already available, which the Lab might not look to directly integrate into their platforms.
    • However, major players like Microsoft, Google and apple are developing capabilities which the Lab might look towards integrating in the future.
    • Jump to topic.
  • Providing a plug-in architecture for SL / Sansar to allow third-party extensions (text-to-speech, etc.), has been suggested.
    • Not n the current roadmap, as SL client already provides a lot of open-source extensibility.
    • Possibly something TPVs could implement / contribute.
    • For some services, would have an associated cost involved, adding complexity, simply because third-parties charge for their services.
    • Jump to topic.
  • More broadly, Sansar has offered accessibility for people to be able to create and publish their own VR experience to the world without the need to develop their own platforms on which to run them. Jump to topic.
  • Will Sansar have easier access to content tools? Jump to topic.

Second Life: Development, Land Cost and Fees

  • The Second Life team numbers just under 100 people (engineering, support, operations, customer services, and not including finance, compliance, etc.). Jump to topic.
  • Key focuses for SL are: enhancing the platform, growing  the user base and trying to re-balance the economic model away from a reliance on land fees.
    • Costs of involvement in Second Life remain a concern for the Lab, which is taking a high-level look at trying to pivot revenues away from the land model potentially towards more of a transaction-based model, while at the same time trying to reduce at least some of the burden of land costs (e.g. the 2016 private region buy-down offer and more recently, the Mainland price restructuring).
    • Jump to topic
  • In time it is hoped that transitioning revenue away from land might lead to a further reduction in land costs to educators. Jump to topic.
  • Other areas of focus include making SL more scalable, secure and performant. Jump to topic.
  • The Lab will soon be publishing a roadmap announcement of improvements / enhancements to Second Life. Jump to topic.

Developing Second Life and Sansar

  • Linden Lab has more clearly split the Sansar and Second Life teams; there are no longer people “floating” between the two and working on both.
  • The Lab see a lot of overlap between the two products, with customers potential using both for different purposes.
  • However, each has its own potential markets / its own selling points for those markets, allowing them to co-exist.
  • The Lab believes that with 15 years of SL notwithstanding, the potential of virtual spaces has only been scratched, and both second Life and Sansar can do so much more.
  • Jump to Topic.

Second Life and the Cloud

  • Huge engineering effort, still in early stages, which will take “all of this year and then some” just to get transitioned and working.
  • Benefits to the Lab:
    • Reduced capital investment and maintenance costs.
    • Potential to dynamically scale consumption, rather than having simulator servers always on.
  • Potential benefits to users:
    • Potentially more flexibility in products and tiers, possibly defined by a mix of region use and use-case (e.g. high-powered, high capacity servers for popular events; more moderate, lower-cost servers for residential use).
    • Might add the ability to geographically locate simulators closer to dedicated audiences (e.g. regions serving South American communities could have their simulators running out of cloud locations in South America, reducing issues like latency for customers).
    • Not something that will happen immediately, as the Lab will need to transition services and then refine operations and investigate option.
  • Jump to topic.

Second Life and VR / Browsers

  • VR remains a challenge to implement in Second Life due to the high run-time frame rates required. As such, it is not something the Lab plans to pursue or re-deploy.
  • Streaming Second Life to a browser / mobile devices has been tried by third-parties (OnLive with SL Go and Bright Canopy from FRAME).
    • It’s not something the Lab is actively pursuing at present, so they are leaving it to third parties.
    • As the cost of cloud-base GPU technologies come down it might be something the Lab re-examines in the future.
  • Jump to topic.

“After Livestream” Questions

Note some !after stream” questions and comments are also addressed in the sections above.

  • Will the Lab bring back the Teen Grid as “the Education Grid”?
    • Not at this time, as it doesn’t fit with current plans to move away from dedicated infrastructure and to the cloud.
    • Might be something to be considered after the move to the cloud: presenting grids for unique audiences.
    • Jump to topic.
  • Can educators be given more control over their regions?
    • This would need indication from educators as to what is required (prioritised list again).
    • Jump to topic.
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Bjørn Laurin departs Linden Lab for HTC Vive

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Bjørn Laurin, the former Vice President of Product at Linden Lab, has departed the company to join HTC Vive, where he is involved with Viveport, the company’s app store for Virtual Reality experiences.

Bjørn joined Linden Lab in March 2015 – although it passed almost unnoticed at the time. I personally didn’t catch it until a passing comment from Don Laabs (Danger Linden), at that time the Lab’s Senior Director of Product, whilst he was being interviewed at SL12B that year. That led me to provide a very quick outline biography for Bjørn.

Whilst his remit as VP of Product covered all three of the Lab’s platforms and applications – Second Life, Sansar and Blocksworld – over the course of his roughly two-and-a-half years at Linden Lab, Bjørn perhaps became most closely identified with Sansar. He was generally present at physical world events where the Lab sought to promote the platform. He was also, for a time, one of the “regulars” from the Lab who would hop into Sansar to join community  meet-ups and product meetings there.

Bjørn Lauren, the Lab’s former Vice President of Product (l), and fellow Swede, Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, in the basement of the Lab’s San Francisco office. Credit Dean Takahashi

In this latter capacity, he became one of the popular Lab reps (alongside Ebbe Altberg and Jason Gholston (Widely Linden)) for his willingness to offer broad-ranging views and comments on Sansar’s direction, upcoming releases and ideas being discussed for the platform back at the Lab.

Nor was his time restricted to meeting people in Sansar. Ahead of the launch of the platform’s open Creator Beta at the end of July 2017, Bjørn, together with  Jason (Widely Linden), sat down with Sansar and SL users to discuss the new platform and explain some of the thinking behind its evolution, as well as looking a little further down the road. It’s also not unfair to say that he has been an enthusiastic adopter of consumer-focused VR, something which tended to become very evident in even brief conversations with him, so his move to HTC Vive would appear to be a good fit.

I actually first became curious about Bjørn’s status at the Lab in mid-January, 2018, when I noticed his biographical notes had been removed from the Lab’s corporate website shortly after Peter Gray had dropped me a line to say he would be departing the Lab for pastures new.  At the time, I reached out to the Lab through various channels to try to ascertain whether Bjørn had left the company, but without success (someone – and my apologies to them as I forget who – had pinged me in late 2017 to ask if I knew whether or not he was still with that Lab – as there was no change in his status on the Lab’s corporate pages at the time, I took it to mean he was still with the company back then). According to LinkedIn, Bjørn took up his new position at HTC Vive some time around the end of January / beginning of February 2018.

Currently, there has been no nomination to the role of VP of Product at the Lab. However, it might be that Paul Chen, who has been with the company since the end of 2014, may have inherited Bjørn’s role. He is now listed on the Lab’s management page as Head of Product and Business operations – a role he moved to in October 2017, and which he describes in part as being, “Building and operating the next generation of virtual worlds, overseeing the development, planning and execution of Sansar.

Linden Lab’s senior management team, February 2018

While I didn’t know him particularly well, Bjørn always came over as very personable, friendly and with something of a wry sense of humour. He was always hugely enthusiastic about Sansar’s potential and Second Life’s future. I wish him all the best for his new role at HTC Vive.

 

Peter Gray to depart Linden Lab

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Peter Gray, Linden Lab’s Senior Director of Global Communications is departing the company after nine  years.

Peter broke the news to me via e-mail on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018 prior to e-mailing a number of other people. He first joined Linden Lab in 2009 from Lewis PR, a technology-focused company, where he gained his first exposure to both Linden Lab and Second Life. This means his experience with the company extends back more than a decade.

It’s been a privilege to represent Linden Lab, our innovative products, and their incredible users as a Linden for the past nine years. I wish our user communities and my Linden colleagues all the best for the future, and I’ll be rooting for their continued success.

– Peter Gray, Senior Director of Communications, Linden Lab

Throughout his time at the Lab, Peter has been one of the public faces of the company, rising from PR Specialist to his current position of Senior Director of Global Communications, gathering a wealth of knowledge about the Lab’s products along the way. In-world, his Classic avatar has often been visible at events such as the SL Birthday celebrations, taking questions at Meet the Lindens events, VWBPE conferences and more. More recently, Peter’s role has extended beyond Second Life to encompass Blocksworld and Sansar, and he has never failed to deal with the myriad question I and a lot of other bloggers have forwarded to the Lab over the years, as and where he has been able to do so.

In departing Linden Lab, Peter is moving on to  a new role with the communications team at Facebook AI Research  – and I wish him well in the new role, although I can honestly say he will be sorely missed.

Peter Gray and his Linden alter-ego

On a personal level, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Peter for all of his help over the years; I’ve deeply appreciated our working relationship, and can say with hand on heart that his support, assistance and insight is one of the major reasons I’ve kept on blogging about SL for so long; his support – and what of the Lab as a whole – has, I believe allowed me to present news and information through these pages objectively, and in the knowledge it is as accurate as I could possibly make it.

Throughout all our time in correspondence and conversation, Pete has never been anything less than open, supportive and friendly. I’d like to further thank him for the personal invite to pop into the Lab and pay him a visit if ever I managed to get back to California and make my way up to San Francisco; I’m genuinely sad I never got to take him up on the offer.

Many thanks again, Peter, and wishing you all the best for 2018 and the future!

Sansar and Second Life in the cloud: LL speaks at AWS Re:Invent

Logos: copyright Linden Lab

It’s been a busy time at Amazon’s AWS Re:Invent conference, which closes in Las Vegas USA on December 1st. At the start of the event, Amazon announced the launch of their VR / AR development / publishing platform Sumerian (see: Sumerian: Amazon’s VR / AR app building platform for more).

Meanwhile, on November 28th, and potential of more interest to Second Life and Sansar users, the event saw Tara Hernandez, Senior Director of Systems and Build Engineering at Linden Lab, give a presentation covering Sansar and touching on plans for Second Life, entitled How Linden Lab Built a Virtual World on the AWS Cloud.

Most of the video delves into the intricacies of building a complex platform like Sansar and how Amazon’s products have empowered the Lab. As such, it does come across as quite a dry listen; however, within it there are some useful areas of focus which are worth noting.

For example, the early part of Tara’s presentation touches on some core truths about Second Life. Such as the fact it is a platform now 14+ years old, which started as an environment engineered almost down to the bare metal, taking advantage of what were, at the time, deep-seated optimisations in graphics and networking capabilities.

Over time, these have not only been layered upon almost organically over the years, but have also become – in Tara’s own words – “kinda ugly” in terms of trying to maintain and enhance. This monolithic, deeply rooted approach to the core elements of the platform is – along with the user-driven expectation than the user-generated content within the platform will not break as a result of changes to the platform – one of the major reasons  why “updating” Second Life isn’t simply a matter of JFDI, as might be thought.

Aspects such as compliance – another issue which is perhaps a lot more complicated than many might appreciate, given the complexities involved in running services like Second Life and Sansar, where the ability to cash out money adds a lot of additional regulatory overheads (visible and invisible from a user’s perspective) over platforms which only allow users to pay-in.

The video also reveals the depth of the relationship between Linden Lab and Amazon, which in the case of Second Life, stretches back to 2008, and which has encompassed the Lab’s other product, Blocksworld. In particular, it touches on Linden Lab using (and sometimes breaking!) Amazon’s more recent offerings, such as their ECS services, as a beta customer. This is something that Amazon has itself highlighted, featuring Linden Lab and Sansar in one of their own ECS use-case studies (see my article “Project Sansar”: an Amazon ECS case study, from January 2016).

ECS in fact drives almost all of the Sansar back-end, from the Atlas through to the store. In particular, the way in which the ECS application layer is used to present the Sansar Atlas, and manage the entire management of the experiences offered by the Atlas and their instancing, utilising Amazon containers (see 27:40-30:58).

How Sansar uses the Amazon ECA application layer to drive the Atlas & managing experience instancing (screen capture). Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

What’s interesting here is not only the way in which Amazon’s services are being used, but in understanding what is going on from the moment a Sansar user clicks the Visit button in the Atlas, and the lessons the Lab are learning even now, as people use Sansar.

This latter point is itself of interest, as it helps to explain why Linden Lab opened Sansar up to wider audience in what seemed to many of us familiar with virtual space – myself included – to be a premature move. Simply put, they needed more of a flow of people moving through experiences to better judge how experiences can be more efficiently / effectively managed within the Amazon environment – spinning them up / down, instancing, optimising server use, etc.

In terms of Second Life, perhaps the most interesting part of the video can be found at 32:14-34:36, with a look at the recently announced attempts to move all of the Second Life service – including (eventually) the simulators, if possible – the cloud. Officially announced as a project in August 2017, but has been discussed at various in-world meetings such as the TPV Developer meetings.

Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

In particular, the presentation touches on one of the major reasons for attempting the move: costs. Right now, Second Life is dependent upon hardware the Lab has to source and operate through a data centre. Updating this hardware, and the underpinning infrastructure  – network, fibre, rack space, etc., – requires continuous and high levels of expenditure (even allowing for re-purposing / write-down of old equipment).

There are also limits, as touched upon in the earlier part of the video, on what can be done within specific areas of Second Life support and maintenance. For example, Tara specifically mentions the core database services (which have been subject to numerous issues over the last year plus). While recovery times for these services has been halved – from three hours to 45 minutes – it is still a considerable outage period from the users’ perspective, and one difficult to bring down further.

Second Life in the cloud – challenges. Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

Thus, an attempt to move Second Life to AWS could resolve a lot of issues for the Lab, and potentially allow them to leverage lessons learned with Sansar together with the capabilities of newer services – like ProxySQL – to further update and improve SL. It might also allow the Lab to move their database operations away from MySQL to more robust products, again following Sansar’s lead.

The shift of a platform from being data centre centric to cloud based is obviously non-trivial, and involves considerable challenges, some of which are outlined by Tara (above). However, from the comments she makes, she is anticipating possibly a dramatic level of progress over the next year. If so, it could be an interesting twelve months.

With thanks to Dassni – The Mesh Cloud for the Twitter pointer to the video.

Linden Lab: Terms of Service updates and new policies

On Tuesday, July 11th, Linden Lab issued an updated Terms of Service, which is due to come into effect on July 31st, 2017. As is the Lab’s usual practice, anyone logging-in to one of the Lab’s services for the first time after the new Terms have come into force will be required to accept them. As such, a read through is advisable beforehand.

The summary of the changes indicate them to be:

  • A restructuring of the Terms to include terms and conditions that apply to all Linden Lab products, with separate product-specific references (such as Linden Dollar and LindeX for SL) now contained within product-specific policies. The new Second Life Terms and Conditions contains all the Second Life-specific references that were previously in the Terms of Service.
  • Reference to the Lab’s wholly owned subsidiaries, Tilia Inc. and Tilia Branch UK Ltd., have been added. These companies will be handling payment services on our behalf under certain circumstances. I first wrote (albeit somewhat speculatively) about Tilia Inc in November 2015.
  • Minor text revisions to clarify that Linden Lab has discretion to undertake certain account actions.
  • An updated the arbitration provision in accordance with applicable law.

In addition to the updated ToS there is a new Intellectual Property Infringement Notification Policy, which I have not had the opportunity to digest, and a new Content Guidelines document; both of which also take effect from July 31st.

The first of these bullet points sees the most extensive changes to the ToS, with the removal off sections formerly specific to SL, and the removal of references related to the Second Life (e.g. “inworld”) to more generic terms. These are all clearly part-and-parcel of adopting the ToS to encompass Sansar, and some of the amendments make for interesting reading – such as the definition of terms.

While the blog post refers to “the Second Life Terms and Conditions”, there is no actual link to such a document at present. There is a link to the Community Standards – which are still specific to Second Life. However, it is unclear if this is what is meant by “the Second Life Terms and Conditions” – and if so, they have not as yet been updated to reflect elements of the ToS specific to SL – such as the operation of “bots” or to Skill Gaming / for profit games of chance, Linden Dollars, the LindeX, etc. Nor are the ancillary policies to Second Life listed (e.g. the Machinima policy, Mainland Policy, etc.).

Excluding the changes specific to Second Life (i.e. removal of references and clauses). The most extensive changes to the ToS can be found in the following sections:

  • 1.1 – updates to defined terms
  • 2.2 – licences granted, specifically the section on “Linden Content”
  • 3 Eligibility To Use the Service
  • 4.3 – payment service providers (including Tilia Branch in the UK)
  • 7 – Infringement Notifications – now dealt with via the Intellectual Property Infringement Notification Policy
  • 9.6 – Unsolicited Ideas and Materials Prohibited; No Confidential or Special Relationship with Linden Lab
  • 10.2 – Exceptions to Requirement to Arbitrate (dispute resolution).

I’ve not had time to do more than run through a rough comparison between this updated ToS and the current version (last archived via the Wayback machine in April), so my apologies if I’ve missed anything.

 

Lab issues Second Life account security tips / warning

Linden Lab has issued a reminder / warning about the need for Second Life users to keep their account details secure.

It comes as a result of tools such as viewer “wrappers” (third-party applications which must be launched in order to run the viewer) which effectively takes away a user’s ability to control their account. by making changes to both the account password and the e-mail address associated with the account (thus effectively preventing the user from ever recovering their account). In some cases, these viewers / wrappers may even effectively pass control of an account to another user.

All of the above is not only dangerous in terms of account security / integrity – it is also against Linden Lab’s Terms of Service.

The blog post carrying the warning is reproduced in full below, was issued by the Governance Team. It is designed to clarify the use of such viewers / wrappers, and provide Second Life users with guidelines on keeping their accounts secure. Please read and keep in mind.

Hey everyone,

It’s recently come to our attention that there has been an increase in the use of a third-party tools that give account credentials and control over a Resident’s account to another Resident. This and similar products can change an account password and/or details, such as email address, which could prevent an owner from accessing an account, or even from being able to recover the account.

We want to remind everyone that giving another Resident access to your account or account information, by any means and for any reason, is both dangerous and not permitted by the Terms of Service. An account is intended to be used solely by its creator, and keeping your account details secret and secure helps you keep it that way.

We’d like to provide you with some quick tips on how to keep your account secure:

Choose a secure password with upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, spaces, and symbols, and avoid common dictionary words or phrases. For instance, “password” is not a good password, but “wh4tAr g@t4P55!” is much better (though you shouldn’t use that last one either, now that all of Second Life just read it, too).

Choose a secret security question answer. To keep your information extra secure, choose an answer that you will remember, but that no one else could possibly guess. For example, answering “What is your favourite vacation spot?” with “Potsdam, Pennsylvania” isn’t secure if you have that listed as an interest on your social media accounts. Answering “The Wide Wide World of Sports” might be much more secure!

Keep your password and the answer to your security question secret from everyone, regardless of their relationship to you. Only you should know this information; not your significant other, family member, casual acquaintance, person with an honest look in their eye, or anyone else.

Keep your password unique and special to Second Life. Reusing the same password across different platforms or websites makes your account vulnerable if one of those sites suffer a data breach.

No Linden will ever ask for your password. Likewise, there is never a reason for you to enter your password to unlock an item, receive a discount, or anything else.

Use only the official Second Life Viewer, or a Third Party Viewer from the Third Party Viewer Directory. If the viewer does not allow you to log directly into your account for any reason, the viewer is NOT secure.

You can read more about keeping your information secure on the wiki at Linden Lab Official: Password Protection

If you have any problems accessing your account—especially if you believe that your password or security information may be known to anyone other than you—please contact the support team by opening a support case.

Thanks for keeping your account secure!

– Governance Linden