Lab Chat #1: Ebbe Altberg – Concerning Sansar

Concerning Second Life General Q&A

This page is a part of the transcript of the Lab Chat interview with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg (in his alter ego of Ebbe Linden) held in-world on Thursday, November 19th, 2015.

The Quick Links below provide access to all of the questions asked and answers given. However, those included on this page are those picked by the Lab Chat production team as being of general interest to people wishing to learn more about Project Sansar.  So, you can scroll down through the text here, or use the Quick Links section to jump to any question / topic of a particular interest to you. The links at the top and bottom of the page allow you to navigate through the three sections of the transcript.

Quick Links

Right-to-leeft: Saffia Widdershin, Ebbe Linden and Jo Yardley at the first Lab Chat session
Right-to-left: Saffia Widdershin, Ebbe Linden and Jo Yardley at the first Lab Chat session

Project Sansar and Second Life

Assuming Sansar makes it into a revenue-generating beta, how will the Lab organization be structured to keep SL and Sansar from sabotaging each other’s success?

This has been a problem for the Lab, historically, most disastrously with the competition between Marketplace and the Land product, but this could be worse: the Sansar team has a natural incentive to cannibalize the Second Life business — but if that’s premature, LL could be left with no profit from either product. How will you prevent this?

(Yes, eventually Sansar’s market should be so large that the current Second Life business doesn’t even register as a blip on the adoption curve. But initially, Sansar Marketing will be tempted to feed off SL, potentially leaving neither platform viable.) – Qie Niangao

Well, I’m not sure why we would try to sabotage ourselves in the first place. But they are two very separate teams, from product and design and engineering are two completely separate teams … at some point they meet-up in the organisation higher up, but they are working very independently today.

An image from the Project Sansar: a platform that will offer a quite different approach and look to Second Life
An image from the Project Sansar: a platform that will offer a quite different approach and look to Second Life

And there’s some pieces the two products will share. Clearly we don’t want to have to replicate the whole virtual economy pieces, and all the compliance work that goes with that, so that is something we try to make sure we only do once; and that will be a service both Sansar and Second Life will leverage[1]. but other than that, the teams are free to work completely independently on what they think is best for them and their users every day.

But of course, if Sansar opens up and it is offering much cheaper land and everyone is running to Sansar, automatically, Second Life will suffer.

Yes, so this is the cannibalisation effect. It’s obviously real; and all I can say to that is, it’s better it’s us than someone else. Because it’s going to be someone, some day. and so we’ve decided it has to be us. It is a complex thing, and we want to make sure that we make it easy for users. Because in the beginning, Sansar might look all shiny and whatnot, but it’s not going to have the level of complexity and sophistication of Second Life, that’s been developed for almost 15 years now. It will take time for a lot of the things that you all love and do in Second Life to be something that you could completely do in Sansar.

And for some of you, you’ve built things that would take a long time to replicate. not just the content and the experience, but also the communities and all that goes around it. so we want to make sure that you can take your time in choosing where you want to spend your time. And we’re not planning to force anything; we’re going to give you the opportunity to choose where you want to spend your time and how you want to spend your time.

And there is a risk. What if you subtract enough from Second Life that it loses complete momentum and implodes, and we did something wrong with Sansar, so it implodes and doesn’t really work and so now you have two things that don’t really work, rather than one thing that sort-of works.

But again, I don’t see that we have a choice. We just have to figure out how to overcome this. And like I said, nothing is going to be forceful; users can vote with their clicks and their virtual feet, and that will ultimately determine how things play out. It’s going to be difficult to put a time line on this; but what we’re trying to do is create something that is probably going to be very interesting to a lot of second Life users, but for some users, it might take a couple of years before they feel that Sansar is maybe something that’s more suitable to them than what Second Life is today.

And for some users, maybe never; which is OK to. I mean, some communities are not dependent upon what the overall volume of the entire world is. There are so many experiences that, if they weren’t happening, it wouldn’t impact communities at all. So as long as we keep it easy, for example, for you, Jo, to keep Berlin to keep happening, and then we make it easy for you to keep bringing more users into Berlin, does it matter if a vampire island on the other side of the sim is fully booked or not? Not really.

I mean, you want to have choices to move around things, but you’ll also have the option of moving around things in Second Life and Sansar; you can bop in and out of both as you wish.

Another image from Sansar, as used in the masthead to the Lab's corporate web site
Another image from Sansar, as used in the masthead to the Lab’s corporate web site

When you walk around Second Life, especially around your own sim, and you know how many tools you need to manage such a place, for instance, a rental system, that makes you realise it’s going to be a long time before someone goes to Sansar and build an entirely new rental system. Even if Sansar were to open tomorrow, it will take some time. By the way, when will we be allowed in?

Well, we will continue to sort-of add a few more people, and I mean “few”, I’m talking single-digit numbers, over the next several months. Just a few here and there, for what I say [are] use-cases around things that we believe Sansar can actually deliver value around today. So Jo, if you wanted to see if you could build Berlin? Well, not today, because of this, this, and that.

But there are other users that can actually create some things right now and find value from it. So we’ve been working with some architecture firms and some museums and stuff, where highly sophisticated scripted interactivity of this and that aren’t necessary, and monetisation is not even necessary yet, so we’re trying to work with customers to find value in it today.

Then as we get more and more functionality, we can bring in more and more people who would have more expectations of things working in certain ways. We’re pushing hard to have a much broader beta … it now sounds like it’s about June … a much broader beta; and then my goal is still to make it generally available by the end of 2016. and I’m going to be very firm on that date.

I mean, when you get closer to some things, you might change your mind, but I’m very firm on that date. We only have three things to work with: one is time, I don’t want to mess with that; another is resource, and we’re hiring as fast as we can, and we’ve been very lucky in adding some really highly skilled talent across the organisation, and we’re going to continue to hire more people. but that’s not something you can change velocity on in massive way in a short order of time, so we’ll continue to do that. And the third is scope; how much functionality are you trying to shove in there in a particular time frame.

Scope is sort-of the lever we have a lot more options to play with. So we’re just going to have to sort out this product so that it’s really good for a few people for some core scenarios, and then let the product evolve and expand in scope over time; rather than being everything to everybody from Day 1 – that’s like too much.

Which means that for a lot of you, based on the scope we have to ratchet down to, to make sure we can get it out in these time frames, the product on Day 1 will not be what you want it to be, or will not have what you needed to have in order to create what you imaging or create what you find is meaningful to you. But for some people, it will be. and then over time it’ll be relevant to more and more people.

Marianne McCann in the crowd just said you mentioned June or July next year. That would be around the time of Second Life’s birthday. So that would perhaps be a nice little announcement for around the birthday celebration.

OK, maybe we have to synchronise those dates, maybe.

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Keeping people informed about Sansar

We’ve had a lot of questions about Sansar, and perhaps it would be great if the Lab could perhaps find a way of giving residents an update on the way that things are going that would address some of these issues. Like, for example, we were asked questions about hypergriding between Second Life and Sansar. I know some of these have been asked before, but perhaps we could have a place where some of these were collected together.

Possibly. I mean I could see sort-of a “What’s up with Sansar?” kind-of [thing]. For us right now, there’s so many things moving, and a clear definition on everything is something we’re chasing every day; how should this work? How should that work? What should this building experience be like? What should the social infrastructure be?

And we have a lot of definition on what we’re trying to accomplish three months in front of us. And then what we want to in the following three months, we kind-of have a pretty good idea, but a lot of details missing. And so it goes; and then what we’re going to do nine months from now is even fuzzier than that.

So it’s something that’s hard to keep up-to-date, even to keep ourselves informed internally between product and design and engineering and make sure they’re in complete synchronisation on what we need to deliver by when, and how it’s supposed to work. and so to keep that fresh for an external audience and relevant for an external audience adds even more complexity.

And I’m not even sure what kinds of details are even going to be necessary for people. I mean we provided quite a bit already, and I know want to know more, and I’m happy to answer as much as I can here and now. I just don’t know if it is going to be easy for us to have a sort-of simple document that tells you everything you’re going to want to know that is always up-to-date.

So a page that just says, maybe on the Second Life wiki, “Often Asked Questions” where you get all the same questions. You know, “can we move our last names to Sansar?”, “do we have last names in Sansar?, “how do we fix this?” Some questions which just keep coming back and back.

We’ll see if we can do some kind of high-level FAQ to make sure at least the common stuff is covered somewhere, so that we can constantly reference people that start from scratch asking all the basic stuff all over again. Just like, “start here, and then ask questions after you’ve read that”. Yeah, makes sense.[2]

Jo Yardley, Ebbe Linden and Saffia Widdershins
Jo Yardley, Ebbe Linden and Saffia Widdershins

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Project Sansar, Hypergriding and Maps

Looking out 3 or 4 years, do you see Project Sansar as creating many separate sharded experiences for its users or will a user see themselves as being part of a connected whole? My question is about the Lab’s interest in supporting the creation of a “metaverse” of linked and shared content. So, do you see a continuing role for the massive investment in content and shared experiences that are already in Second Life (and indeed in OpenSim) and where technically feasible for that to still be able to be “visited” from newer platforms… perhaps with a limited outfit and “travel suitcase” – A.I. Austin

I’m not very optimistic on the idea of being able to hop from one platform to another and sort-of retain your identity and some appearance doing that. I think that would be extremely difficult to do.

I mean, it hasn’t even happened on the Internet yet; I mean try doing that, going to Facebook, then you go to Amazon, and then you go to Google, like. No, you cannot carry your one ID across those, and they have quite a head start on where we’re at. And what we’re trying to do is way, way more complicated than that. you’re talking about an avatar with [an] appearance and animation, and I would say a stronger identity than just a user name or something like that.

So I don’t think that’s something worth chasing right now; I think the competition between all kinds of grids is good, it’s going to push us forward to having better and better experiences. But the idea of this being all tied together, I think … so much energy could be spent just on that and not necessarily getting to where you need to go.

If someone has a solution, I’m willing to figure out how we can participate, but I’m not chasing that myself.

Do you see Project Sansar as creating many separate shared experiences, or will they be part of a connected whole?

It all depends on what you mean by a connected whole. I mean, is it the map what makes it a connected whole? Is it the fact you can teleport from one to the other that makes it a connected whole?

Clearly, we want to create the ability for people to create experiences and interconnect them as they wish. So, ultimately, it’s a web of experiences. And users could enter into one experience, and from that experience move through other experiences as they navigate through the platform.

I think what is meant is the idea to have some kind of map or idea of a world. For instance, when I and I see how big it is, some people do that, they just randomly click on a place where there seems to be some life and they can go there.

We’re thinking less that way, at least to start with for Sansar. We’re focusing more on making individual experience creators more successful. How can an experience creator create an extremely scalable, highly monetisable and successful experience; and how can they bring their own audience into that experience. More so than thinking that you’re entering into this thing called the virtual world.

The map in Second Life is seen as a powerful metaphor for the grid being a contiguous whole, even where private reagions may be remote and physically isolated from their neighbours
The map is Second Life offers a powerful metaphor for the grid being a contiguous whole, even where private regions may be remote and physically isolated from their neighbours

Now, the fact is that all of these experiences the users create can be interconnected in all kinds of ways. Around themes, or whatever relationship you want to have; language, culture, so you can build enormous things by interconnecting pieces. either one team can do it, by interconnecting a huge amount of pieces into a sort-of web of experiences. Or different people interconnecting with each other to form experiences which go across many simulators, or servers, if you will.

I could build 1920s Europe!

Exactly. Or you could collaborate with people who each do their own country as part of that, and interconnect with each other in various ways. Which you can do as well in Second Life today, but land cost has had a constraint on a bit of that type of creativity.

So that’s more how we think about it, in that it’s more how can we make creators more successful on this platform. In Second Life, I see people that are successful in selling content, and I see people that are successful doing arbitrage on land. But you don’t necessarily see a lot of people that are very successful monetarily because of an experience. and so how can we make more successful experiences that people are willing to spend time and money in.

And part of that has been the difficulty in scaling an experience in Second Life, so we want to solve that for Sansar; the number of users you can serve with an experience can be much, much, much, much larger.

So, that’s where we’ll start, and then it could be that maybe people create continents, or whatever you want to call it, even worlds, and maybe over time we’ll think about ways in which those can figure out how to have a map of that experience, and those could be vast. But I’m not sure it’s important for us to have the notion that you’re entering this virtual world, and here’s a map of everything, from Day 1.

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Project Sansar, Metaphors and “Experience”

SW: Do you think Sansar will have an underlying metaphor [such as the map with SL], or are you really trying to avoid that and make it something more open?

More open, more variety, less themed. Let creators have more control over what the experience should be within that experience. And I just caught here in the chat, people asking “what is an experience?”

Jo’s Berlin is an experience; it’s multiple regions stitched together to present an overall experience, and in this case, that’s a themed experience around a place and time. but there could be other experiences that are just fantasy games, or a classroom, so you can start to think of these experiences almost like applications that are for a specific purpose targeting a specific audience for a particular set of use-cases.

So, how can we made it possible for people to create extremely powerful and successful experiences is something we’re going to focus a lot on. And we use the word experience because it’s not just an application, especially in VR, when you’re actually really there; it is an experience. I don’t know if there’s a better word for it than experience, so that’s what we call it internally.

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The Approach to Content Creation

What can Linden Lab do to help, advice and encourage content creators to build an even better Second Life for everybody? – ChinRey

Well. Wow. That’s very big question. Well, obviously continuously providing us [with] feedback to what works and what doesn’t work. Ad also … it’s very tricky, because what’s the definition of “success”? It’s very different for different people. For some people, creating all by themselves over in a corner, that’s their definition of success. For others, it’s “how can I create an experience that serves millions of users and can make millions of dollars”.

Now, a clear position we’ve taken as we think about Sansar is that the creator is our primary customer. In Second Life, it’s been a little bit split; I mean it’s partly the creator, but it’s also the consumer, because we’re kind-of responsible for attracting all the consumers for the creators, because we didn’t make it easy enough for them to acquire their own audiences.

So, with going into Project Sansar, we said from the beginning is the success of creators is what we’re striving for. If we can make creators successful, then we will be successful. And creators will only be successful if they can create experiences that their audience, their communities, their users find successful.

So that’s how we sort-of made it very clear as to who our main audience is, and therefore what our goals are and what our approach is to build a product; to give more power and control into the hands of creators in what their experience should be like, and also give you more power and control over how you can bring in audiences, and get more data and analytics over time to, so you can understand how good a job you’re doing in acquiring and retaining users in your experience. So that’s how we think about it.

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Concerning Second Life General QA


  1. While some of the speculative nature of the article may now be far less applicable, you can read about the Lab’s subsidiary for the virtual currency / economy compliance side of the business in this article: Linden Lab and Tilia Inc. – speculations on the Lab’s new subsidiary.
  2. I am producing a semi-regular “Sansar Summary”, which is intended to cover key elements of Project Sansar, as stated by the Lab directly, through forum or blog posts, in presentations, or in talking to the media. The first of these was published in July, and is listed for reference.