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!

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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

The Lab’s most recent board members

In mid-March 2017, Linden Lab introduced a new member of the board of directors via a press release.

William “Bing” Gordon is a man with impressive credentials. The Chief Product Officer of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), where he serves as an advisor and General Partner, Gordon worked with Electronic Arts for 26 years from its founding in 1982, driving the company’s branding strategy with EA Sports, developed EA’s pricing strategy for package goods and on-line games, created EA’s studio organization, and contributed to the design and marketing of many EA franchises, including John Madden Football, The Sims, Sim City, Need for Speed, Tiger Woods Golf, Club Pogo and Command and Conquer. As well as EA and KPCB, he has He has served on the boards of public companies Amazon and Zynga, and was a founding director at Katango (acquired by Google 2011), ngmoco (acquired by DeNA 2010) and Audible (acquired by Amazon in 2008).

William “Bing” Gordon

One of the acknowledged experts in computer gaming, Bing Gordon was awarded the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and he held the game industry’s first endowed chair in game design at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He is a robust thinker and, unlike many in the tech industry, retains a level head when it comes to the subject of VR – in 2015, he spoke to Fortune.com about the risks involved for companies leaping into the emerging VR market.

In joining Linden Lab, Gordon will will advise on strategy, product, marketing and other issues as Linden Lab continues to improve Second Life and brings to market its new platform for user-created social VR experiences, Sansar – with the Lab particularly emphasising the latter for understandable reasons, CEO Ebbe Altberg noting:

We’re honoured to have Bing join our board of directors and work with our team,” said Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab. “He’s helped to bring to life some of the most influential entertainment experiences in recent memory, and as we prepare to open Sansar for all creators, his insights, expertise, and counsel will prove invaluable.

Bing Gordon isn’t the only relatively recent appointee to the Lab’s board of directors. He joins Mark Britto, in adding his name to LL’s board. Britto is most recently the founder/chairman of Boku, Inc., a mobile on-line payments company he founded in 2009 and which now is the leading name in mobile payments, servicing 50 countries through more than 200 carrier partners. Mr. Britto also serves on the Boards of Angieslist, PayNearMe and Sonder.

Mark Britto

After starting his career in banking, Britto co-founded Accept.com, a peer-to-peer payments company which was purchased by Amazon in 1999, where it became the primary backbone of Amazon’s global payments platform. Britto himself worked for Amazon as a Senior Vice President of Worldwide Services and Sales, prior to departing the company to take over the helm of Ingenio, a communication and e-commerce platform acquired by AT&T in 2007, and more recently re-established as an independent company in May 2013.

From this, it is clear that Britto has a wealth of experience in developing and managing payment services which would appear to be of particular merit to Linden Lab as they continue to operate their micro-currency systems for Second Life and Sansar, together with their Tilia Inc., subsidiary.

Interestingly, Mark Britto joined the Lab’s board in August 2016. However, his biography notes only appeared on the company’s leadership page in April 2017, when it was updated with Bing Gordon’s details.

Together, Mark Britto and Bing Gordon join Jed Smith, Bill Gurley and Dana L. Evan as serving members of the board at Linden Research Inc.

Raising Abuse Reports in Second Life

Griefing, be it through word, action, noise, or object (as seen here), etc., is one of the items covered by the Abuse Report

The following notes are drawn from a presentation Governance Team manager Tommy Linden and team member Corky Linden are making to various communities within Second Life as part of an initiative to better disseminate information about the Governance Team, and on filing Abuse Reports (ARs). The hope is that the information provided will give users a better understanding of what the Governance Team hope to see provided in an Abuse Report in order to fully investigate it.

Note that  official information on Abuse Reports can also be found in the Knowledge Base.

Governance Team: Quick Facts

  • The team is relatively small – under a dozen in size – but handles an average of 400-500 Abuse Reports per day
  • All Abuse Reports get reviewed as the first stage of an investigation, with priority given to those seen as critical (such as an in-progress griefing attack)
  • All ARs that can be investigated are investigated
    • How far the investigation goes largely depends on whether the AR is filed against something Governance is empowered to investigate, and how much meaningful information is supplied in it
    • The Governance Team intentionally does not report back on the outcome of their investigations for a number of reasons. Just because the outcome might not be visible to the reporter / match their expectations when filing an AR, does not mean the report was ignored.
  • One of the biggest issues with incoming Abuse Reports is that they often lack the basic information required in order for an investigation to be properly carried out.

What is an Abuse Report?

The Abuse Report (AR) is for reporting any individual or group of avatars or any in-world object engaged in an activity deemed inappropriate under the Second Life Terms of Service  / Community Standards and/or is in contraction to the maturity rating for a region.

ARs apply to: griefing, spamming, age play, assault / pushing / disturbing the peace, disclosure of personal information, fraud, harassment, indecency and Skill Gaming violations. In addition, there are Welcome Area Guidelines governing places like Infohubs, which contain restrictions on what should not be done in those areas with any violations also subject to ARs. Report.

There are also certain things that do not apply to ARs. For example, being banned from a particular group or region or parcel, or a dispute over rental payment between residents are not actionable via AR.

ARs can be filed by anyone suffering abuse, or by those directly witnessing an abusive act. However, this does not mean teleporting multiple people into a location and having them file reports as well. Rather than “speeding up” any investigation, it can actually slow down the entire process by forcing Governance to spend time reviewing dozens of additional (and possibly contradictory) reports.

Accessing the Abuse Report Floater

The AR floater can be accessed via:

  • Menu bar > Help > Report Abuse
  • By right-clicking on an avatar or object and locating / selecting Report Abuse from the context menu / pie menu.
    • Make sure you have the right avatar / object selected when doing this
    • Launching the AR floater using either of these two options will auto-complete parts of the form.

The following guidelines are intended to help with filing an AR.

Screen Shots

Where possible, try to include a screen shot of the situation you are reporting. It can be the most effective means of illustrating what is going on, and gives the Governance Team clear visual proof / evidence of what has happened. It can also make up for information missed from the rest of the report.

The slide below outlines some of the key points to remember when using the AR floater to capture a snapshot – click to enlarge it in a separate browser tab for ease of reading.

Abuse Report snapshots: click on the slide to open it in a separate browser tab for easier reading

Note that most viewers do not have a refresh button for the snapshot preview, so try to make sure all the information you wish to capture is on your screen. If you are unable to get a screen shot for whatever reason, it is important you provide clear, accurate information in the Summary and Details section of the report (see below).

Object Picker

The Object Picker allows you to identify an abusive object (e.g. a particle / noise spammer, a weapon, etc.), and include its name and owner in the body of your Abuse Report. Instructions on how to use it are included in the AR floater, and this section will be auto-completed if you launch an AR by right-clicking on an abusive object. Remember you can further verify the item by including it in a snapshot with the Edit floater open to show the object name & owner.

Report Categories

The Abuse Report floater includes a pre-defined, drop-down list of categories which should be used when filing a report. Notes on the *valid* categories can be found here. Note that filing under the wrong category doesn’t prevent a report from being investigated, but it can slow things down, particularly if there is insufficient information provided elsewhere in the report.

Abuser Name

This allows you to grab the name of someone causing abuse from those around you. If you launch an Abuse Report by right-clicking on an object or avatar, this section will auto-complete (make sure you have selected the right avatar), otherwise click the Choose button and follow the on-screen instructions.

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