Ethereal Shapes in Second Life

Ethereal Shapes

Currently open through (I believe) until the end of October 2018, is Ethereal Shapes, an installation of form and light by Noke Yuitza. It comes with an intriguing introduction (touch “Info” on the board on arrival):

Within the forms of faces, animals, flowers… in groups of stars, ink, glitter… There are 4 scenes: Dreamer, Galaxy, Ballet, and Eyes. The concept that brings them together is the dreamer that looks at how stars dances in a galaxy ballet.

The landing point – a gazebo that appears to have been in part delicate spun from light – sits at the centre of a series of scenes brought to life by the shimmering play and movement of light. They stand in a circle against the darkness of night sky (note the windlight for the installation appears to have been set at parcel level, so if you are not using Firestorm, you may have to manually swap to Midnight in order to appreciate the setting properly).

Ethereal Shapes

The ring of scenes, linked by more shimmering tendrils of light that form intricate, ghostly flowers, are pointed t to by short walkways radiating out from the gazebo. Two of these routes may appear to have greater prominence than the others as they are marked by avenues of the gossamer, gently pulsating flowers. However, I’d venture to suggest it does not matter which of the five routes you opt to take in stepping off the gazebo; all of the scenes will captivate both eye and imagination.

These are elements designed to appeal to our imaginations, the dreamers within us, calling to us to look beyond the obvious and see what lies within each of them – the hidden faces, the hints of animal or creature outlines by curve and twist of leaf; the majesty of the cosmos around us, and the life it gives to us – and so much more. As such, words alone are insufficient to convey this installation; it needs to be experienced first-hand.

Ethereal Shapes

In this, having to manipulate the camera freely is of a huge advantage – and those who have a means to flycam via a joystick, game controller or Space Navigator style of mouse controller will be at a distinct advantage, as with some of the elements within the installation, a distant look isn’t always enough to fully grasp, rationally or via the imagination, the subtle beauty of things.

Take for example, the plants and the play of light across them.  It is as if they are in motion: dancers caught in an intricate ballet, or intangible creatures leaping into the air or caught on the wing. Then there are the very human figures also give to dance, their outlines broken into tiny constellations of softly pulsing light and flaring blooms of flowers. Zoom on these, and it is like zooming into the microcosm of the the heavens, a delicate reflection that we are in fact star-stuff.

Ethereal Shapes

Ethereal Shapes is an environment where the longer one spends within it, the more captivating it becomes. It is also a setting that is hosting a number of music events while open; so be sure to check the events board as well when visiting.

SLurl Details

Ethereal Shapes (LEA 2, rated Moderate)

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ACS: new SL volunteer structure – Growth, Service, and Outreach

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has a long and distinguished history of fund-raising to help those with cancer, their families and their caregivers not only in the United States but the world over. ACS is perhaps most widely recognised for the Second Life Relay for Life season with its mainstream events: the kick-off weekend, the main weekend, and the mega events such as Fantasy Faire, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, the Science Fiction convention and so on.

This 2018 in-world season for ACS has been one marked by a number of changes, all of represent the first step in a multi-phase plan to shape the future of the American Cancer Society in Second Life and in virtual spaces beyond. For example, for 2018, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (MSABC) is launching a new approach to breast cancer fund-raising in Second Life,with not one, but two month-long events running throughout the month of October: the Parade of Homes, and the Out-Shop Cancer event. In addition, MSABC will also host the “5K” walk, where walkers can collect donation pledges for the amount of laps walked around a pink-ribbon track.

Also, earlier in 2018, the Fantasy Faire team raised over US $50,000 to help with the Kenyatta Hospital Hope Hostel project in Kenya (see: Fantasy Faire 2018: supporting the KNH Hope Hostel). Going forward, ACS plan to allow volunteers and fun-raisers to have more opportunities to directly affect specific global projects, while additional focus will be placed on establishing new partnerships with businesses both in and out of Second Life, helping the ACS volunteers communities grow and increasing outreach efforts to let cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers know that they have a place to turn for support, without having to leave Second Life.

Artist rendering of the Hope Hostel in Kenya, the focus of the 2018 Fantasy Faire fund-raising programme. Credit: Kenyatta National Hospital website

As a part of this planning, ACS is both refocusing it in-world efforts, to both enhance existing activities and events and to offer a new range of opportunities and programmes in world to assistance and support to anyone facing cancer either directly or as a caregiver or family / friends.

In addition, ACS is asking all of those who have supported their work as a volunteer, or who wishes to join the ranks of ACS volunteers to take a moment to find out more about the restructuring and refocusing (see below), and complete the ACS in SL Volunteer Form.

During the next few weeks, we want to offer everyone the opportunity to express interest in being involved with any of the areas identified…or offer suggestions for something that you don’t see reflected in this structure

Stingray Raymaker,  Director of the American Cancer Society in Second Life
on the call for volunteers and supporter to indicate their interest in supporting ACS activities in Second Life

The refocusing is summarised in the images seen at the top of this article, which outlines the key areas of ACS focus – existing and new -, which are also summarised as:

  • Support, Outreach, Advocacy Team: providing overall vision and strategic guidance for the American Cancer Society in Second Life, including developing and executing outreach strategy for recruitment of new volunteers, new partnerships, new relationships, events, etc. Also advocates on behalf of all teams within the ACS volunteer structure.
  • Partnerships: working with volunteers to meet & discuss partnership opportunities for all areas within the ACS in Second Life. Provides strategic consulting and fundraising coaching to volunteers in Second Life.
  • Research: investigating ways to help identify opportunities for all areas within the ACS in Second Life.
  • Mega Events: consulting with the RFL mega events teams, identifying potential events, and fostering growth, when appropriate.
  • Media: establishing and maintain relationships with media partners, providing back and forth communication of needs, assets, and expectations.
  • RFL Season Lead: coordinating tasks associated with the execution of the RFL of SL season, from pre-kickoff until event weekend.
  • RFL Event Lead: coordinating the tasks associated with the execution of the RFL of SL event weekend.
  • ACS Island Design: establishing ACS island as a destination experience that features the services offered by the ACS in Second Life.
  • ACS Island Event: managing the calendar of events for ACS Island; booking performances, recruiting merchants for stores, and promoting ACS island events to the grid.
  • Hope Haven Survivor Group: fulfilling the new vision for Hope Haven Survivor Support, working with ACS team to promote Survivor Support Group to the grid as a place for cancer patients and survivors to receive support from one another.
  • Hope Haven Caregiver Group: fulfilling the new vision for Hope Haven Caregiver group, working with ACS team to promote Caregiver group to the grid as a place for education and information for caregivers. Also produces interactive experiences that educates residents on cancer information and support.
  • Hope Haven Memorial Garden: managing the memorial garden experience on the American Cancer Society island.
  • Community Gateway Story: developing and writing the story that will be used to teach/train new users in Second Life on how to use the platform.
  • Community Gateway Design: coordinating the design tasks in order to build the Community Gateway learning environment, as defined by the story.
  • Community Gateway Host: leading and coordinating the hosting tasks for the Community Gateway, ensuring that new users are welcomed, supported, encouraged, and have a friend along their journey. Also provides recommendations for groups and communities to join, as well as offering ACS volunteer opportunities, when appropriate.
  • MSABC 5K Walk: coordinating the tasks related to the MSABC 5K walk event in Second Life.
  • Parade of Homes: coordinating the tasks related to the annual Parade of Homes breast cancer event in Second Life.
  • Out Shop Cancer: coordinating the tasks related to the Out-Shop Cancer breast cancer event in Second Life.

It is Stingray Raymaker’s hope that by initiating and growing the new events and activities within this list while continue to grow and enhance the existing range of events fostered by Relay for Life in Second Life, the American Cancer Society will be seen as the premier destination experience for cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and their families and friends worldwide. A place where they can find support, answers, education, and resources to help one another and anyone facing cancer wherever they are in the world and on the grid.

via Stingray Raymaker and the RFL of SL website.

2018 SL project updates week 33/1: Simulator User Group – Animesh in viewer RC

Cloudbreak; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrCloudbreak blog post

Server Deployments

as always, please refer to the server deployment thread for the latest update.

  • The Main (SLS) channel was updated on Tuesday, August 14th with server maintenance package 18.07.20.518086, previously deployed to the RC channels and containing internal fixes.
  • On Wednesday, august 15th, all three RCs should be updated with server maintenance packager 18#18.08.10.518612. This comprises an update to the HTTP delivery of off-line IMs and notifications that should ensure group notices and Friend requests are correctly delivered.

SL Viewer

Animesh RC Viewer

The Animesh release candidate viewer arrived on August 13th, with the release of version 6.0.0.518579. For those not familiar with Animesh (anyone?) please see the viewer release notes and the links within them, or check my updates on Animesh, provided as a part of my Content Creation User Group meeting summaries.

Remaining Pipelines

Outside of the Animesh update, at the time of writing, the remaining SL viewer pipelines remain unchanged from the end of week #32:

  • Current Release version 5.1.7.517973, dated July 30th, promoted August 3rd. Formerly the Quinquina Maintenance RC viewer.
  • Release channel cohorts (please see my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • BugSplat RC viewer, version 5.1.8.518305, August 7th. This viewer is functionally identical to the current release viewer, but uses BugSplat for crash reporting, rather than the Lab’s own Breakpad based crash reporting tools.
    • Second Life Voice RC viewer, version 5.1.8.518310, August 7th.
  • Project viewers:
    • EAM project viewer, version 5.2.0.518362, August 9th – improved region access control tools; see my overview for more.
    • Bakes on Mesh project viewer, version 5.1.7.518013 August 3rd.
    • 360 snapshot viewer, version 5.1.6.515934, June 6th.
  • Linux Spur viewer, version 5.0.9.329906, dated November 17th, 2017 and  offered pending a Linux version of the Alex Ivy viewer code.
  • Obsolete platform viewer, version 3.7.28.300847, May 8th, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

Region Crossings

Region crossing have been somewhat rougher recently than had been the case of late. Simon Linden had been poking at the code in the hope of making some updates, but has been diverted but other working, and is hoping to get back to things soon.

I know the viewer has very similar messaging code as the simulator and there are tweaks I want to make to that which  should help crossing issues caused by packet loss … it doesn’t always recover when a crossing goes bad, as we all know. We’re looking at that from two ways … ideally fix things so it doesn’t go bad. But if it fails, be more graceful about it … and there’s a certain amount of hope that the way we force the error is actually what happens in the random normal case.

Part of it now is even having the 2 regions and the viewer agreeing on what happens and how to deal with it … where an AV and vehicle end up and confirming all parties know the same state… I’m hoping this can at least get better if the target region can at least report to the viewer and 1st region a status for how it works out.

Simon Linden discussing region crossings at the Simulator User Group meeting, August 14th, 2018

The question was asked if part of a multiple region crossing (e.g. from the corner of one region to another, passing through the corner of a region adjacent to both) could result in the viewer talking to the “wrong” simulator, to which Simon replied, “I haven’t seen it have issues with talking to the wrong simulator, but then I’m not looking yet at the issue of a corner crossing that might quickly move to a 3rd region.”

So, no changes for the present, but the problem is still getting attention at the Lab, and there is an appetite for trying to improve things from the server-side of the equation, with Simon also noting, “It’s also a classic case of working on SL … we always want to fix things with a minimum disruption. Being able to make something better only by touching the server is a lot better than requiring a viewer update.”

 

A return to Kekeland – Bardeco in Second Life

Kekeland - Bardeco; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrKekeland – Bardeco – click any image for full size

It’s been nigh-on a year since our first visit to Kekeland – Bardeco, and while the titular bar served as an inspiration of me to remodel Caitinara Bar, after we visited the in the latter half of 2017,  we hadn’t been aware of any move or make-over in the design – until, that is, Shakespeare dropped a new LM on me. Intrigued, we hopped over to have a look, to discover Kekeland – Bardeco has moved from a Homestead to Full region, and undergone a make-over in the process.

We tried to recreate a quiet, sunny and peaceful fishermen place, inspired by an Italian village. You will find a little harbour and a coloured village, and hillsides of vines, with camping and mountains.

– Dandy Warhloll (terry Fotherington) and Belle des Champs (Bridget Genna)

Kekeland - Bardeco; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrKekeland – Bardeco

As recreations go, the “new” design for Kekeland is impressive, and succeeds in imparting the feeling of being within the kind of setting that inspired it; but the success might come at s slight cost to some visitors: this is a place where there is a lot going on, particularly with textures, so some adjustment to viewer settings might be required to compensate.But this should put you off visiting; after all, that’s what graphic presets are for!

The harbour described in the land description sits on the south side of the region, a walk down through the streets of the town surrounding it on two sides. Protected from the sea by a breakwater and watched over by a lighthouse, it is fairly bustling with boats: sailing boats, yachts, motorboats, RHIBs – so much so that the fishing boats tied-up at the wharves must have to fight their way out to the freedom of the sea in order to ply their trade each morning!

Kekeland - Bardeco; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrKekeland – Bardeco

These fishing boats are tied-up on the east side of the harbour, which is clearly the “working” side: a busy waterfront road where a lot is going on. Behind it, and climbing the stepped cliffs, tall, modern-looking apartment blocks vie with  an ancient fort that once commanded a strategic view over the bay, to claim the skyline as theirs.

The town continues round to the north where, set back from the harbour is a plaza – surprisingly overgrown and with more tower blocks and houses climbing up the inland slope behind it. Along the plaza the predominant business appears to be entertainment and refreshment. The coffee houses, bars, boutiques and open-air music area, together with the more modern apartment houses up on the cliff-top, suggest why the harbour is so chock-full of boats: once a working coastal village, this place has now become a holiday destination.

Kekeland - Bardeco; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrKekeland – Bardeco

A further attraction lies on the west of the harbour. Here, sitting atop a rough table of rock, sits Bardeco. The last time we saw this (also the occasion of our first visit to a region design by Belle and Dandy), it was imaginatively placed at the foot of of the region’s cliffs and built back into them, offering an entirely “covert”, so to speak, setting that was both part of yet separate from the rural setting above. Seeing it out in the open in this “new” location did take a little getting used to, I admit, but it has not lost any of its shabby-chic appeal.

North of Bardeco, beyond the slip of water and beach dividing it from the town, the buildings quickly give way to open, rugged land. Here can be found trails, old ruins and signs that not all the locals have been driven away by the maddening crowd on the waterfront. Goats are being reared and grape vines cultivated on some of the lower northern steps of the island, while old farmhouses hide among the trees or sit aloof from the trails on their own shoulders of rock. There’s also the ruins of a much grander property sitting forlorn and alone, whatever story of times past lying within its broken walls fading slowly as nature takes up a greater and greater residence.

Kekeland - Bardeco; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrKekeland – Bardeco

In its Homestead iteration, Kekeland – Bardeco offered a wonderful sense of rural living, complete with its discrete and neatly tucked away bar. With its move to a Full region simulator, it presents a more urban setting, and marries these with some of the feeling on open spaces that made the “original” so appealing. It is very different to the “old” design, but sports a unique look and charm nevertheless.

SLurl Details

Kokua update, MetaChat issues and Firestorm version block

A quick round-up of news relating to a handful of viewers and clients.

Kokua

Kokua 64 bit (Windows, Mac and Linux) updated both the RLV (5.1.7.43693) and non-RLV (5.1.6.43692) flavours of the viewer on Sunday, August 11th. I’ve not had time to drive the update – and my not be able to, due to other commitments. However, the core of the update brings the viewer to parity with the SL viewer 5.1.7 code base, and offers some updates from the Kokua team, described in the release notes as follows:

In addition the options for configuring the chat range rings and colours move from the Kokua General preferences tab to Kokua Chat which as well as being more logical also frees up space needed in the RLV version for a new option on the General tab.

The RLV version gains an option on the Kokua General tab which allows @standtp to be disabled. This has been added because @standtp tends to operate in various counter-intuitive ways despite operating as intended.

Here’s one scenario that illustrates the problem:-

  • @standtp is applied to the avatar.
  • The avatar hitches to (sits on) a cart.
  • The avatar pulls the cart from location A to location B.
  • The avatar is unhitched from the cart (stands up).
  • At that point @standtp teleports them back to location A.

Links

MetaChat

MetaChat the iOS client  is having problems courtesy of Apple. The app was removed from the iStore on August 9th, as part of a purge by Apple on “gambling apps”.

Enquiries have been lodged with Apple on when / if the app will be allowed to re-list, but thus far, no response has been given.

In the meantime, versions already downloaded  / downloaded and installed will still work, this move by Apple only affects the client’s listing on the iStore.

iOS / MetChat users can read more on the MetaChat blog, where updates will also be posted.

Firestorm Version Block

A reminder to Firestorm users, Firestorm 5.0.1.52150 (released December, 2016) will be blocked from Tuesday, August 14th, in keeping with the Firestorm team’s policy of only allowing the current, and the two version immediately prior to it.

This means that if you are still used Firestorm 5.0.1, you need to update to a more recent version: 5.0.7, 5.011 or the current 5.1.7 release.

To find out more about why Firestorm versions are blocked, please read this blog post from the Firestorm team.

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.