Tilia Inc and Second Life: town hall summary and video

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Tilia Inc.
On Friday July 12th Linden Lab hosted a town hall meeting on the subject of Tilia Inc., and forthcoming changes will affect those who have a US dollar (USD) balance associated with their Second Life account, and those who transfer US dollar amounts out of Second Life.

The session involved Grumpity Linden (Senior Director of Product) and Patch Linden (Senior Director of Product Operations), and was moderated by Brett Linden, Head of Marketing for Second Life.

The following is a summary of that meeting, which addressed questions asked both through the official Tilia Q&A forum thread and during the meeting itself concerning Tilia and the announced changes.

Questions were selected on the basis of how broad an audience they might affect. Numerous questions of an account-specific nature, or applicable to specific country circumstances had been received (and were put forward at the meeting); however, due to the very specific nature of any answers relating to them, these were deferred with the recommendation that all such specific questions such be filed with support.

It was also noted that questions will also continue to be addressed through the official Tilia Q&A forum thread going forward.

A note on the structure of this summary

The format of the event – including questions being asked multiple times, and  / or not being grouped together means that this is not a full transcript of the session.

Instead, I have attempted to gather questions into logical topic headings and provide bullet-points of responses, together with direct quotes from either Grumpity or Patch where I felt they might offer greater clarity.

In addition, the video of the event ad recorded by Peetie Auer of SL4Live – TV is embedded at the end of this article, for those who would prefer to watch it. In addition, topics and questions in recorded in this summary include time stamps to the video. This will open the video in a separate browser tab and at the relevant point in the meeting, to again allow responses to be heard first-hand.

My thanks to Peetie for agreeing to my use of the video.

Summary: How Do the Tilia Changes Affect YOU?

If you have a US dollar balance associated with your Second Life Account on August 1st, 2019, or if you add a US Dollar balance to your Second Life account on or after August 1st, 2019 (e.g. by converting Linden Dollars to US dollars via the LindeX):

You will be required to consent to the Tilia Terms of Service.

In addition, if you wish to credit process all or any part of that US dollar balance (that is, transfer it out of Second Life to PayPal or Skrill or another supported method) on or after August 1st, 2019, and have not already provided personal information to Linden Lab as a part of the credit process:

You will be required to provide personal information as outlined in Linden Lab’s July 1st blog post and listed in the Tilia FAQ.

[Video: 46:05-47:00]

(Note: you do not have to provide personal information if you have  US dollar balance as of August 1st but  never transfer funds out of Second Life – as per the note above, you will only need to agree to the Tilia Terms of Service.)

If you do not have a US dollar balance associated with your Second Life account on or after August 1st, 2019, and only buy L$ amounts:

You will not have to consent to the Tilia Terms of Service nor will you be required to provide any additional information to Tilia.

 

If you have a US dollar (USD) balance associated with your Second Life account on or after August 1st, 2019 you must consent to the Tilia Terms of Service. In addition, if you transfer out all or part of that USD balance on or after August 1st, 2019 you will be required to provide personal information in order to do so (see the July 1st official Tilia blog post and the Tilia FAQ for details on the required information). Note: the USD balance given hre is for illustrative purposes only

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What Is Tilia Inc?

[Video: 2:01-3:28]

Tilia Inc., is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Linden Lab. It was formed in 2014, focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies. As a part of this, it will provide services for both Second Life and Sansar.

Specifically in reference to Second Life, Tilia Inc., will, from August 1st, 2019, take over the management of all US dollar (USD) account balances user may have associated with Second Life. As such, it is central to the Lab’s work in seeking federal and state registration as a US Money Transmitter a form of regulated Money Service Business – MSB) and to comply with all US laws regarding the movement of money. This had been a stated goal within the Lab pretty much since Ebbe Altberg joined the company as CEO.

Note: while it is not relevant to this meeting or how users’ USD account balances are managed, I have written (and speculated) more broadly about Tilia Inc., in Tilia – a further look and a little more speculation.

The “Tilia Account” and “Tilia Wallet” / “US Dollar Wallet”

[Video: 3:30-4:50]

Two terms that have caused confusion amount users are “Tilia Account” and “Tilia Wallet” / “USD Wallet”.

  • The Tilia Account is the mechanism that will be used, from August 1st, 2019 to manage all US Dollar balances associated with Second Life (viewed via Account > Account Summary on your Dashboard at secondlife.com) and for managing transferring US dollar amounts from Second Life (viewed via Account > Credit Process on your Dashboard at secondlife.com).
    • You are effectively logged-in to it when you log-in to your Second Life account at secondlife.com. There is no separate “Tilia log-in” required.
  • The Tilia Wallet  / US Dollar Wallet is, in simple terms, the US dollar balance associated with a Second Life account.
    • By default all “real money” balances (referred to as fiat money) held on a Second Life account is denominated in US dollars (USD).
    • Processing credit from Second Life (referred to as cashing out by many in the community) is expressed in US dollars, but can be converted to local currency by your preferred payment option (e.g. PayPal).

Does Tilia Affect Those Who Only Buy and Use Linden Dollars?

[Video: 11:44-12:16 – see also Linden Dollar / Direct Payment Questions, below]

  • No.
  • There is no need to provide any additional information to Linden Lab for purchasing L$.
  • Users can still purchase L$ amounts exactly as they have done prior to the August 1st, 2019 changes – through the viewer, via the Second Life LindeX web page, using credit cards and or other recorded payment options associated with their account.
  • Users are only affected if users have US Dollar balances, on or after August 1st, 2019, and / or who wsh to process credit their USD balances out of SL.

The changes specifically apply to USD credit processing and there’s no impact on the routine purchase of Linden Dollars we don’t need your ID we don’t need your sisters maiden name we don’t need your first-born and don’t even need a blood sample. You will continue to buy Linden Dollars as you did before.

– Grumpity Linden [video: 11:44]

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Tilia Terms of Service

[Video: 7:17-9:00]

Only those who have a USD wallet [balance] need to accept the Tilia Terms of Service and if you are one of those people then you will see the Tilia Terms of Service and [you will] need to accept them when you log into your account on the web.

– Grumpity Linden [video: 7:39]

How do users with US Dollar balances on their account consent to the Tilia Terms of Service? – By logging-in to their account via the secondlife.com website.

What if a user doesn’t want to consent to the Tilia Terms of Service?

So if you don’t have a USD balance and you don’t plan on having a USD balance and you will not sell Linden Dollars to acquire a USD balance, you don’t need to do anything. You will not be required to accept the terms of service and literally nothing changes.

If you do currently have a USD balance and you don’t want to accept the Tilia Terms of Service, you need to basically get rid of it; you need to either complete a process credit of your entire USD balance before August 1st, or spend that USD balance in Second Life. You can buy Linden [Dollars], pay for land, pay for a Premium membership etc. If you have a USD balance come August 1st, you will need to accept the Tilia Terms of Service.

– Grumpity Linden [video: 8:13]

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Tilia – a further look and a little more speculation

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Tilia Inc.

Note: this article is about Tilia Inc., as a business. It is not about the Tilia and how USD dollar balances and cashing-out from Second Life will be handled. If you wish to comment on those subject please refer to:  Linden Lab announce important Second Life account changes and comment there. Thank you.

On Monday, July 1st, Linden Lab announced important upcoming changes related to Second life accounts and credit processing, which linked to their subsidiary company, Tilia Inc. Full details of these changes can be found in the Lab’s official blog post: Important Changes to your Second Life Account – Introducing Tilia, which I also covered in my own post, Linden Lab announce important Second Life account changes, which includes additional links to the Lab’s comments posted in reply to questions on the forums.

But what exactly is Tilia Inc.?

Well, for a start, Tilia Inc isn’t actually something new – it’s been around in relation to the Lab since 2014 / 15; in fact, Second Life users might actually already be aware of it without realising it, as the Tilia Inc., logo appears on the SL web pages related to L$ account purchases (Tilia also drives elements of Sansar accounts as well).

In describing Tilia Inc., in the blog post noted above, the Lab give a fairly basic description of company’s function::

A subsidiary of Linden Lab that offers certain financial services to the Second Life community and helps Second Life comply with U.S. laws and regulations.

This is actually only a part of the story – the part that affects Second life users; there is more, some of which I speculated about when first writing about Tilia almost five years ago in November 2015 – see Linden Lab and Tilia Inc. – speculations on the Lab’s new subsidiary – and which would now seem to be correct.

That article came about as an extension of investigations fellow Second life user Vick Forcella, had started before punting things over to me to build on his work. In the course of my digging, I spoke with Peter Gray, who was then the Director of Global Communications at Linden Lab, and while he didn’t give too much away at that time, he did say something that resonated with me as I speculated about what Tilia Inc might hold for the future.

Tilia is a subsidiary of Linden Lab, focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies, and it will provide services for both Second Life and Project Sansar.

– Peter Gray, former Director of Global Communications, Linden Lab, November 2015

Back in November 2015, two things in particular struck me about Peter’s comment.

The first is pretty straightforward: Tilia Inc., was, and would remain, central to the Lab’s work in seeking federal and state registration as a US Money Transmitter and to comply with all US laws regarding the movement of money. This had been a stated goal within the Lab pretty much since Ebbe Altberg officially joined the company as CEO.

Secondly, Peter’s statement struck me as interesting in that its structure seemed to suggest that supporting Second Life and Sansar (then still “Project Sansar”) was part of, but also separate to, the overall goal of presenting Tilia as an entity focused on providing a robust payments and compliance system for operating (and managing) virtual economies to third parties.

Another option might be that the Lab be considering making the Linden Dollar and all its attendant services a pre-packaged solution / service they can offer to other companies wishing to operate a virtual currency, with Tilia Inc., as the nominal operating company for that service. After all, they have made much of their leadership in matters of virtual economies and compliance, so spinning it out and offering it to others might be a means of generating additional revenue, although admittedly, given the complexities potentially involved, this might be seen as a bit of a stretch.

– Part of my speculations, November 2015

Reading the Tilia Inc website, it seems that this is what Linden Lab plans to do – the main difference being that Tilia is geared to work with any “virtual token”, not just the Linden Dollar. Not only does the home page promote the company as a “solution provider”, so to speak, but it also includes a form by interested companies / organisations can register their interest with the Lab.

The Tilia Inc., home page promoting the company as a virtual economy solution provider to other businesses

(I’ll only say in defence of my linking Tilia and the Linden Dollar as the hip in 2015 was in part due to the Lab at that time hoping to use the Linden Dollar with Sansar, so it seemed logical to present they would offer it to others as part of the overall package.)

Some may well be upset at the idea of LL spinning off a business entity “at the expense of Second Life” (even though Tilia does and will have a bearing for both SL and Sansar, as noted). However, as noted in the quote above, it does have potential. There is already much more talk today about virtual currencies and economies  – notably focused around blockchain systems (such as Etherium), and the Lab does – as noted – have 16 or so years of running a virtual economy at scale and with users cashing-out up to US $65 million a year. Combine this with Tilia’s US-wide certification as a recognised Money Transmitter, and the Lab could have a robust business platform to offer clients.

Of course there are risks involved, such as the realities of this new market and how long it might take to grow, how LL might fair in the face of competition like decentralised blockchain system should these reach a similar level of certification, how much of any potential market LL might corner, etc. However, none of these mean the company shouldn’t necessarily try. Were Tilia prove to be successful over time, it could provide Linden Lab with an alternative revenue stream, possibly allowing them to do something else Ebbe Altberg alluded to in his Meet the Lindens session at SL16B: reduce their margins around SL and possibly lower fees.

But even if this doesn’t pans out, Tilia Inc., still means that LL are in compliance with US laws regarding money handling across state lines and borders, and so can continue to offer users the ability to generate and cash-out their own revenue through Second Life (and Sansar).

Which perhaps -for now – just leaves the question, ‘Why “Tilia”’? Well, possibly because, as I also noted back in 2015, tilia is genus of trees that encompasses linden trees.

Tilia Inc., and forthcoming Second Life account changes

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Tilia Inc.

Update, July 12th: this article has been updated to reflect comments made at the July 12th ton hall meeting at which Tilia Inc., and its role with regards to Second Life. A summary of that event, with audio extracts and video will be available in this blog soon.

Update, July 2nd: Linden Lab have started a new forum thread designed to directly address questions. Answers to questions will be placed in the original post in the thread to save having to scroll through question. The new thread can be found here: Official Tilia Q&A Forum Thread.

Update: some 90 minutes after this article was published, Linden Lab issued a further forum post on the subject. Among other clarifications, this further reiterates that L$ purchases, L$ balances, use of L$ to pay tier or Premium fees will all not be affected by these changes. 

Also, as clarifications are still being given, some of the wording in this blog post may be revised to match LL’s feedback so as to maintain the accuracy of the information given here. However, do please keep an eye on Lab posts to the forum thread, as additional information, separate to the points I’ve highlighted below may also be given.

On Monday, July 1st, Linden Lab issued a blog post announcing important changes to how Second Life accounts are to be handled with regards to the Lab’s subsidiary, Tilia Inc (which the blog post officially introduces for the first time) and credit processing.

Tilia Inc is a wholly owned subsidiary of Linden Lab, which was established in 2014/15, and focused on payments and the compliance work associated with operating virtual economies. Since its formation, the company has been involved in becoming a registered Money Transmitter throughout the United States, and many SL and Sansar users may have had some awareness of its existence as the Tilia Inc., logo appears on both the SL and Sansar web pages related to L$ account purchases and Sansar account management.

The blog post issued by Linden Lab, Important Changes to your Second Life Account – Introducing Tilia, should in particular be read in full and carefully noted by anyone who currently withdraws funds from Second Life through the credit process mechanism. This following is merely a short summary of the key points:

  • On August 1st, 2019, Tilia Inc., will assume responsibility for managing users’ USD denominated accounts, which will be referred to as their Tilia Account.
  • This means that users with US Dollar accounts and / or who cash-out (“credit process”) money from Second Life, will be required to agree to the Tilia Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Doing so will automatically create a Tilia Account that will be associated with the user’s Second life account and use the same user name and password.
  • Most importantly: users wishing to process a credit – that is, withdraw money from Second Life via their US dollar account – after August 1st, 2019 must be prepared to supply the following information directly to Tilia Inc: name, address, date of birth, and social security number (or government-issued identification for non-US citizen).
    • Note that if you have previously supplied this information to Linden Lab, you may still have to re-supply it to Tilia Inc.
    • This information should only need to be supplied once, and will be retained on file by Tilia Inc., (as is currently the case through Second Life at the moment)
    • Some users may be required to provide additional information to complete a transaction.
    • Again, only those cashing out of their USD balance are required to meet the ID verification requirements.
  • These changes should not impact the average time it takes for credit to be processed (around 3-5 working days) for most SL users, once the required identification documentation has been verified.
  • The fees for inactivity mentioned in the blog post, etc., are still TBD, but again, they only apply in cases where USD have been cashed out, but the account has been dormant (i.e. no cash-out / no logging-in) for 12+ months. They do not affect L$ balances.
  • These changes do not impact or change the purchase and use of Linden Dollars with Second Life or on the Marketplace. So you do not need to provide personal information in order to buy L$.
  • Additional information can be found in the Lab’s official Tilia Inc FAQ.
From August 1st, 2019, US dollar balances associated with Second Life will be handled by Tilia Inc.

The blog post has already led to a growing forum thread on the matter, which voices some genuine confusion on matters, coupled with no small amount of misunderstanding. This prompted the Lab to add further clarification, and additional replies many be forthcoming from LL over the next day or so to try to address additional concerns / answer further questions. Note that I cannot address specific concerns or answer questions posted to this blog, as I do not represent Linden Lab.

As an aide, I first wrote about Tilia Inc., almost five years ago. At that time, I lot of what I had to say was highly speculative. However, there is now more to say and consider – but to avoid conflating my commentary about Tilia Inc., with news of this announcement, I’ll leave that to a separate blog post.

Related Links

Linden Lab announces significant SL fee changes

via and © ™ Linden Lab

Update, June 1st: Following the amount of feedback concerning the planned reduction in the Basic account group allowance, Linden Lab has amnnounced this will not now be changing on June 24th, 2019. See: Group Limits Update: No Changes for Basic Members (Linden Lab) and LL reverse planned Basic account group limits reduction (this blog).

On Wednesday, May 30th, Linden Lab announced further changes to Full private region fees, significant changes to Premium subscription fees and to credit processing fees, and changes to some Premium and Basic account capabilities.

As detailed in an official blog post, the changes can be summarised as follows:

Full Private Region Tier Change

Source: Linden Lab

The Lab notes that:

  • These fees are exclusive of VAT, where applicable, and do not apply to Skilled Gaming region.
  • Education / Non-profit (EDU/NP) discounted Full islands will be re-priced to maintain their 50% discount off the regularly priced Full island fees.

Premium Subscription Fee Increase

In the same blog post, Linden Lab have announced a re-structuring / re-pricing of Premium subscriptions as follows:

Source: Linden Lab

Notes:

  • The monthly fee increase represents an annual increase of 26.21% (from US $114 pa to US $143.88 pa).
  • The annual increase represents an annual increase of 37.5%.
  • Quarterly subscriptions are to be retired as an option for users wishing to upgrade to Premium, but will still be available to those already using this plan. The fee increase of US $22.50 to US $32.97 represents an annual increase of 46.53% a year (US $90 pa to US $131.88 pa).
  • Both monthly and quarterly subscription fees will be subject to VAT, where applicable.

With regards to these Premium subscription changes, the Lab note:

To help with the transition to the new pricing, starting June 3, we’re offering a limited-time opportunity for existing Premium members to lock in their current rates for one more billing cycle, including extending an existing monthly to use the current full year rate by upgrading now to annual. Simply renew before June 24th to extend your current Membership at the same low rate. For example, monthly members will be billed at the lower rate for one more monthly billing cycle, while annual members may renew (or monthly users may upgrade to annual) early to add one more year to your existing Membership at the current lower rate. We will update when the option becomes available on June 3rd. Until then – if you are not up for renewal already, you will not see the option to lock in your current price. Keep an eye out for updates.

Credit Processing Fee Changes

In what will be seen as a further blow to those regularly / routinely cashing-out from Second life, the blog post also announced changes to credit processing fees, to wit:

Effective June 24, the fee for processing credit transactions (i.e. paying real money into a PayPal or Skrill account) will be 5% per transaction with a minimum fee of US$3 (there is no maximum fee).  The fee is currently 2.5% per transaction. This fee change offsets increased regulatory and compliance costs to Linden Lab and is in line with our continued commitment to the long-term successful operation of Second Life.

Change to Premium and Basic Account Capabilities

In order to try to offset some of the negative feedback these changes have already cause (as per at least two forum threads, here and here on the topic), the Lab also indicated increases to a couple of perks available to Premium members, together with a decrease in the same capabilities available to Basic account holders, a per the table below.

Source: Linden Lab

Note that group membership will not be revoked for Basic members who are involved in more than 35 groups at the time this change comes into effect. However, Basic members will be unable to join new groups until they reduce their group enrolments to below the new 35 group limit.

In addition, the Lab indicate that further improvements to Premium memberships  will be announced later in the year, as will a new Premium membership level, “for those who want to get the absolute most out of their Second Life.”

Thoughts as Premium Member

As one who is a Premium Member, I’m not entirely sanguine about the pricing increase – although I appreciate that in trying to pivot revenue generation away from a reliance on virtual land fees, Linden Lab must ensure any potential shortfalls are adequately guarded against. I’m also aware that while the Premium fees increase does hurt – it is actually the first such increase I can recall for a long time.

How this effects Premium level overall remains to be seen; however, my personal feeling right now is that unless the to-be-announced Premium membership level is truly exceptional in terms of benefits and opportunities, it is going to be hard to justify making a leap to it based on the prices announced with these changes and what might be taken from them in estimating to potential cost of any new membership package.

Those who are likely to feel particularly aggrieved are those who do routinely cash-out from Second Life, given credit processing fees have seen a number of increases over the last few years. While the Basic account changes come across as punitive in nature.

Please refer to the official blog post for the full text relating to these changes.

Promoting Second Life: LL at MomoCon

Linden Lab’s booth at MomoCon 2019. Credit: Linden Lab

During a couple of his public chat sessions in 2018, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg indicated that as well as continuing with the work to enhance Second Life, introduce new technology and new capabilities, Linden Lab would also be looking at new ways that might help grow the Second Life user base, possibly through a number of different channels / approaches.

One of the more interesting of these approaches is taking place between May 23rd and 26th, 2019, as Second Life makes a début at MomoCon 2019 in Atlanta Georgia.

Defined as a “geek culture convention”, MomoCon is an annual event held in wither March or May of each year, which the official website describes as:

One of the fastest growing all ages conventions in the country. Fans of Japanese Anime, American Animation, Comics, Video Games, and Tabletop Games come together to celebrate their passion by costuming / cosplay, browsing the huge exhibitors hall, meeting celebrity voice talent, designers, and writers behind their favourite shows, games, and comics and much, much more over this 4 day event.

– Official MomoCon website

MomoCon has its roots deep within the anime community – it started life as a offshoot of Georgia Tech’s anime club, Anime O-Tekku, with the first convention, called Techwood Con, held in 2004. In 2005, it became MomoCon (“momo” being Japanese for “peaches” and Georgia being the Peach State), and the convention enjoyed rapid growth over the next few years as a free-to-attend event.

In 2012, MomoCon became a paid-to-attend event, and experienced massive growth: in 2018, for example, over 35,000 unique visitors attended the convention over its four days, with a programme encompassing anime and animation, games, comics, manga, contests, demonstrations, cosplay activities, photo shoots, screenings, concerts, robot wars, and more.

Visitors have been dropping into the booth since the conventions opened. images credit: Linden Lab

While such a venue for the presence of Second Life might initially seem a little unusual, the fact is that there is a rich and vibrant cosplay community in Second Life, some of which does encompass anime, which also has a large following among Second Life users. As such – and given the event is also about on-line activities – there is a potential for Linden Lab and Second Life to engage with people face-to-face and potentially bring new users into the fold. A further reason for appearing at MomoCon in particular is that Linden Lab have a physical presence in Atlanta, with their support centre being located there, thus making the logistics of an appearance at the convention somewhat easier.

Even so, the company’s presence at MomoCon does represent something of an experiment for Linden Lab, as their head of Second Life marketing, Brett Linden noted to me.

This is our first presence at MomoCon and it represents a new test for us to try in person outreach at themed consumer events where we feel there is potential to introduce Second Life to new audiences. As part of our presence, we are demoing Second Life to attendees with the goal of registering new users on site.

– Brett Linden, heads of Marketing for Second Life

How successful the booth might prove to be remains to be seen. Certainly, Sansar has spent a fair amount of time “on the road” over the last couple of ears, which if nothing else, can help raise brand awareness. As such, seeing Second Life out and about  – and possibly able to both garner users and / or change preconceptions is worth the time and effort. Depending on the Lab’s view of how things went, and their willingness to discuss them I hope to have a follow-up on this a little further down the road.

With thanks to Brett Linden for taking  time out for his vacation to discuss the Lab’s presence at MomoCon with me. 

Second Life new user experience: themed Learning Islands

The Sci-Fi themed Learning Island

Over the past few months, several mentions on the idea of themed Learning Islands have cropped up in various public discussions featuring staff from Linden Lab – notably CEO Ebbe Altberg.

The idea is that rather than a user signing-up for Second Life via an advert and / or  landing page that delivers them to a “generic” learning island and then leaving them to discover things for themselves, incoming users will have a “path of interest” as it were, that leads them from an advert through the sign-up process and then delivers them in-world to a location in keeping with the theme of the ad that originally appealed to them.

– Ebbe Altberg discussing the themed Learning Islands idea in May 2018.

Broadly speaking, things run like this:

  • The Lab runs a web advertising campaign featuring a specific theme – such as “science fiction”.
  • Those clicking on an ad are taken to a Second Life landing page that matches the ad’s theme (example shown below).
  • A Play Now button allows people to sign-up to SL and which, when they log-in for the first time with the viewer, will deliver them to a Learning Island in keeping with the theme of the advert and landing page, where they can get started with using the viewer, etc.
  • As well as lessons / opportunities to learn, this themed Learning Island includes one (or more) portals which allow incoming users to reach the destinations appearing on the landing pages (and others like them).
Part of the Sci-Fi landing page, an example of the themed landing pages used in conjunction with the themed Learning Islands

The first of these campaigns / themed Learning Islands has been in testing for the last couple of months, and the next is about to be rotated into testing, as Brett Linden, head of Marketing for Second Life, informed me.

Linden Lab is still in the early weeks of testing the concept of Themed Learning Islands. The initiative began quietly a month or so ago with a Romance-themed island test that is not currently active. Next up is a Sci-Fi-themed learning island that we’ll begin testing very soon. We’re also looking at several other themes for future tests, [and] it is also possible that we’ll revise the Romance and Sci-Fi themes as we gather more data on them.

– Brett Linden, head of Second Life Marketing, Linden Lab,
discussing the new themed Learning Islands

The Romance Learning Island presents a wooded island with trails and climbs, with a central “quick learn” starting point covering the essentials of movement

Of course, putting an ad campaign backed by a sign-up process, etc., is only part of the story. There needs to be some means of assessing just how well (or otherwise) it is performing. Such assessment is very much core to all of the Lab’s user acquisition and retention efforts, with A/B testing being one of the primary methodologies they employ. This is the case  with these themed campaigns / islands as well, which will be tested from a number of perspectives.

Firstly, the themed campaigns and themed islands are operating alongside the Lab’s various other user acquisition campaigns and in-world learning islands. This allows the Lab to assess the overall effectiveness of each themed campaign compared to existing methods of acquisition / retention that take a more “non-themed” approach. Secondly, the themed Landing Islands within each campaign are being directly compared with their non-themed counterparts to assess their effectiveness in retaining a specific target audience, again as Brett informed me.

There is indeed an A/B test happening — where there are two equal themed landing pages with everything being identical in design/content — except for the Join URL. On the “A” version of the landing page, a click on Play Now will take you [via the sign-up process] to the non-themed learning island (currently used for most new users outside this test). The “B” version of this page contains the Join link that will direct [again via the sign-up process] the new user to the Themed Learning Island as their first login destination. In our paid ads that accompany this campaign, we’re distributing both the A and B versions of the landing page equally so that volume to each location will be equal.

– Brett Linden, head of Second Life Marketing, Linden Lab
on some of the Learning Island A/B testing

The Romance Learning Island presents core information on using the viewer to move, communicate and interact, and provides more general information on using Second Life

As a third level of testing, the Lab is using different approaches to the information provided within each type of Learning Island, again to assess what might be more or less effective in encouraging engagement and retention.

For example, the “Romance” themed Learning Island included what might be termed minimal user guidance beyond the basics of using the viewer to walk, jump, fly, communicate and interact. By contrast, the Sci-Fi island is far more hands-on with the user, with “main” and “advanced” tutorial areas, far more ways to impart information: info boards, local chat, links to external SL resources, etc.  In the future, other means of providing incoming users with information and to help them understand to basics of the viewer, etc., will be tested in specific theme types.

Thus it is possible for the Lab to investigate what works and what doesn’t in terms of information presented to an incoming user: is it too little or too much? Where might the balance between the two lie? Does a relaxed approach that lets the user learn on their own as the explore work, or is something more “formal” in layout better? Is it better to employ one approach to passing on information, or multiple means – text, boards, videos, web links?

The Sci-Fi themed Island provides a much broader learning experience, covering many more aspects of viewer use, with subject matter split between “Main” and “Advanced” tutorial areas

When not being tested, some of the themed Learning Islands may be opened to broader access from within Second Life. However, during testing, the islands are not publicly offered up for general access. The reasons for this are fairly clear if you stop to think about them, and Patch Linden summed them up succinctly.

We actually want to discourage public access to the islands while in testing so that our statistics, measuring and data-gathering don’t get influenced by having the islands inundated with established users coming into them and possibly preventing new users from naturally proceeding through the anticipated test flow. That way, we can gather as accurate information as possible on what’s happening in terms of acquisition and retention against everything else. 

Patch Linden, Senior Director of Product Operations, on why information
on the themed islands isn’t being generally announced

Also, once initial core testing with a specific themed island has finished, the Lab plan to add it to the broader Learning Island rotation. This allows a further level of comparison: does a themed Learning Island perform better with retention of users delivered to it outside of any related advertising campaign than is the case with non-themed islands, or does it not perform as well? Is there a difference? And so on.

Elements common to the “non-themed” learning islands can also be found in some of the themed islands, such as this guide to the SL viewer’s default toolbar buttons, again allowing for wider testing of approaches

One thing that struck me in talking to Keira, Brett and Patch about this programme is just what is going into user acquisition and attempts to improve user retention, when it is perhaps a little to easy to assume the Lab is just “tinkering without understanding”. Considerable thought is being put into trying to increase new user engagement and retention, and it does involve a lot of number crunching, analysis, and trying to build on what is shown to work, as well as trying entirely new approaches.

Overall, this themed approach to advertising / new user experience comes across as a good idea to try. Whether it actually works or not, and how well it works and with which themes, will only become clear over time; I do admit to being a little edgy around the Sci-Fi Island, which is very different in looks to the “hard sci-fi” images presented in the landing page – leading me to wonder if the contrast might have an impact on the new users who come through it.

But, concerns like that aside, it’s clear from talking to Brett, Keira and Patch that the Lab is pouring a lot of effort into this approach, as well as looking at other avenues of user acquisition and retention. Certainly, as this particular programme evolves I hope to be able to return to it in the future and offer updates and perhaps insights. In the meantime, I’d like to extend my thanks to Keira Linden, Patch Linden and Brett Linden for extending their time and input to this article.