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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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 takeyou [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
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?
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.
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.
On May 25th, 2018 the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. While an EU regulation, the GDPR not only applies to organisations located within the EU but it will also apply to organisations located outside of the EU if they offer goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU data subjects.
The GDPR applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location. As such, it not only Linden Lab, who hold data on Second Life and Sansar users in the European Union, it can also impact those operating a business through Second Life and who collect data on customers which is stored outside of the servers operated by Linden Lab.
In preparation for the enforcement of the GDPR, on May 9th, 2018, Linden Lab issued a preliminary blog post on their compliance with the GDPR, which covers both Second Life or Sansar.
GDPR, in a nutshell.
What you can expect.
In coming weeks, we’ll provide more information on how EU residents in Second Life can best exercise their rights under GDPR. In some cases, you may take actions through your account dashboard (to modify your personal data, for instance). In others, it may be necessary to file a support ticket and verify your identity (to better protect your privacy).
– Linden Lab May 9th blog post on the upcoming GDPR
The GDPR defines personal data as, “any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’, that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person.” This includes, but is not limited to: IP addresses, on-line identifiers (including avatar names), e-mail addresses, photographs, as well as the more usual name, address, bank details, medical data, etc.
In addition to defining requirements for how such data should be managed and protected by organisations gathering it, the GDPR also specifies a number of rights to Data Subjects who have their personal information stored by companies and other entities. These include, but are not limited to:
The right to be informed: Data Subjects have the right to know what data is being collected, how it’s being used, how long it will be kept and whether it will be shared with any third parties.
The right to access: generally speaking, organisations are required, within one month of receipt of a formal request, to provide a copy of any personal data concerning the requesting Data Subject.
The right to rectification: a Data Subject can formally request that inaccurate or incomplete information relating to them is updated, and the update must be made within one month (exceptions can apply).
The right to be forgotten: a Data Subject can request the erasure of all personal data relating to them in certain circumstances (e.g. it is no longer necessary to hold it; if the data was unlawfully processed or it no longer meets the lawful ground for which it was collected). However, there are certain exceptions to this.
(In addition, the GDPR defines: The right to object (to data being gathered); The right to restrict processing; The right to data portability; and Rights related to automated decision making including profiling.)
For those running businesses through Second Life or Sansar which use services – web sites, computers, etc., – outside of Second Life for the collection and storage of personal information on their EU Second Life / Sansar customers, the GDPR might have significant import – and exposure to the risk of fines. For such businesses, the Lab’s advice is clear and straightforward:
If you collect or process personal data of EU residents on a website associated with Second Life or Sansar, or create or make use of programs that retain information about Second Life or Sansar users or their computers, you may also have obligations under the GDPR. You should consult with your legal counsel for advice regarding your site(s) or program(s).
– Linden Lab May 9th blog post on the upcoming GDPR
To help people get to grips with GDPR, if they haven’t been aware of its arrival, the Lab offer a series of links to articles and FAQs. To these I would add:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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, 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.
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!