SL17B Meet Ebbe Altberg- a summary with video and audio

via Linden Lab
On Monday, June 22nd, 2020 at the SL17B celebrations, the first of five Meet the Lindens sessions was held, featuring the Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, aka Ebbe Linden.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised, with  audio extracts where relevant. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session, which is embedded at the end of the article. Time stamps to the video are also provided for ease of reference. In addition, audio extracts are provided in places that may be of particular interest to readers.

Table of Contents

When reading this article, please note:

  • It is not a full transcript:
    • Discussion points have been grouped by topic, and not necessarily in the order raised during the session.
    • I have focused on those topics liable to be of the most interest to readers / generated the most informative answers, so this is not a summary of all comments, feedback, etc.
    • Topics are given as bullet-point highlights for ease of reference.
  • In places, information that is supplementary to Ebbe’s comments is provided, and square braces (.i.e. [ and ]) are used in the body text below to indicate where this is the case.
  • Audio extracts have been cleaned-up to remove repetition or pauses, etc.

About Ebbe

[Video: 3:44-6:21]

Note: the following is taken from both Ebbe’s comments and my own research into his background, carried out when he joined Linden Lab in 2014, and which also included input from Ebbe.

  • Swedish by birth and still by nationality – he is still working in the US on a green card.
  • Graduated from Tärnaby Skidhem in 1983. He had hoped to be a ski racer – with eyes on the Swedish national team and the world cup – but was prevented from pursuing this career due to a back injury.
  • Instead went to the USA to study at Middlebury College, Vermont, USA, where he spent a lot of time in the art studio and the computer lab in an extreme left brain / right brain type of education”, before graduating with a degree in Fine Arts and a concentration in Computer Applications.
Ebbe Linden, aka Ebbe Altberg. Credit: Strawberry Linden
    • He  “slipped into Microsoft on a random banana peel”, where he spent twelve years. He was particularly involved with the Office products (Word, Mac Office, etc.), and although he wasn’t directly responsible for Clippy! – he did oversee it being ported to Mac Office 98.
  • In 2000, he joined Ingenio, a company that created marketplaces for people to buy and sell information over the phone. As well as managing the engineering, program management, operations, and quality teams, he also served as both the company’s interim CEO its Chief Product Officer. He also “racked up quite a few patents there.”
  • Joined Yahoo! in 2008, filling out a number of senior roles, working in both Europe and the US.As the Senior Vice President for Media Engineering based in the USA, but with global responsibly for Media Engineering, managing  an organisation of more than 600 engineers, architects, program managers and quality engineering staff, and with dotted-line oversight of some 150 product managers and designers.
Linden Lab’s chairman of the Board, Jed Smith, is a long-time friend of Ebbe Altberg, and had previously tried to get Ebbe to join the company prior to his appointment as CEO in 2014. (image: Owl Ventures)
  • Moved from Yahoo! to San Francisco based BranchOut, a small company that had, prior to his joining built a 25 million user base for its professional networking app before seeing that number shrink to just 3 million. He was specifically responsible for pivoting the company to a new workplace messaging application called Talk.co, launched in October 2013.
  • Has had a long exposure with SL indirectly through his son Aleks, who initially joined the Teen Grid before moving to establish his own in-world business.
  • Has also been long-term friends with LL board Chair, Jed Smith, through whom he met Philip Rosedale. Smith had asked Ebbe to consider the LL CEO position previously to 2013/14, but “things “didn’t line up” .
  • Is immensely proud of the all that the company has achieved and continues to be drawn by both the rewards and challenges involved in running a platform that is so technically and socially diverse.

 

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Working at the Lab

Rewards and Challenges Working with SL

[Video: 6:23-10:20]

  • Loves the technical / product aspects of the platform and the diversity of potential use cases it can meet. Also loves the rich diversity of ways users make use of SL creatively, socially, etc., that mean the platform constantly offers unique opportunities and challenges.
  • Enjoys the fact that SL makes it possible to meet people from around the world and from all walks of life who find value in the platform for so many different reasons.
  • These aspects also, for him, present the challenges of working with SL: putting all the different technologies that make SL work together such that they can form a virtual world where people can create, socialise, earn income, etc.
  • There’s also the challenge of talking to a customer base that is not of a single mind in using the platform, but rather is a range of user communities, each of which has nuanced needs and requirements that need to be met.
  • Also likes the challenge of trying to extend and build a product set that no-one else has managed to develop to the same degree – such as with SL’s economic model and the development of Tilia Pay.
  • The strength with SL that he loves is the sheer diversity within the technology required or SL and the people that use is – which is also the platform’s most engaging challenge.

SARS-Cov-2 Impact

[10:22-12:04; 12:30-18:53]

  • Is appreciative of the power that SL has in bringing people together during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and providing a safe space for continued interaction, and that it can continue to help furnish those using it to generate an income to continue to do so.
  • From a business perspective, SL has seen significant increases in demand. However, this has been somewhat impacted by the “land shortage” [see The Cloud Uplift, below for more on this].
  • This increase is not just from “social” users; here has been “a lot” of demand from businesses wanting to host meetings through the platform, education institutions wanting to hold lessons, etc.
  • Company has been very fortunate in its operations because, while it does have offices in San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Atlanta, many of the staff have always worked from home, so there has always been the assumption of remote working [even the Operations Team works remotely from LL’s co-location data centre in Arizona]. So, moving to that model of operations was less stressful than it might have been.
  • The real hamper in the move has been more the “knock-on” effect caused by the isolation – having children at home whilst trying to work, seeing to their needs, etc.
  • Overall is very pleased with how the company has been able to continue to manage SL and move ahead in plans and development.
  • Pandemic has also caused the media to re-examine SL, and Marketing has been via busy dealing the increased interest in how the platform and how it can be of use to people / organisations during the pandemic.
  • What has been particularly pleasing is the more positive view the media has of the platform, and the recognition of its maturity as a platform.
  • Like to point out to reporters that Second Life isn’t “old”, it is “mature”, which is not necessary a bad thing when talking about a platform.

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The Cloud Uplift

[Note: Cloud uplift is the term used for the project to transition all of the Second Life services from hosting in a single co-location data centre used by Linden Lab and using their own hardware, to provision it all via Amazon AWS cloud services.]

[Video: 19:51-23:25]

  • Likely to be around 3-4 months before new regions are once again available, although it is understandably hard to put a definite date on things.
  • The shortfall is due to LL wanting to cease any expenditure in hardware and supporting infrastructure for SL during the cloud transition, believing they had sufficient reserves to offer during the uplift period – but the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic resulted in an unexpected burn through of that reserve.
  • Provisioning and testing new hardware and infrastructure is being avoided, as this would effectively be “lost” capital expenditure.
  • The uplift work is the primary focus of the product, engineering and operations teams at the Lab, with many services have actually already been transitioned to AWS.
  • Details of which systems these might be are not generally given out by LL due to the fact users often make false assumptions on things like issues when aware of such information.
  • Region servers [aka simhosts] make up the majority of the Lab’s hardware, and the Lab now has a test region server successfully running within AWS, but there is still “quiet a bit more work to do” in terms of security and other elements before the Lab will be in a position to offer a region product running in AWS.

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Lab Gab 19 summary: Ebbe & Brett; LL, SL, Sansar & more

via Linden Lab

The 19th edition of Lab Gab was live streamed on Friday, March 27th, featuring Brett Linden, the Lab’s Senior Director of Marketing, and linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, who were invited to discuss the Lab’s response to the SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic and talk about Second life in general.

The official video of the segment is available via You Tube, and is embedded at the end of this article. The following is a summary of the key topics discussed and responses to questions. Note that the last 15 minutes of the video is something of an advert for the Linden Lab sponsored Mankind Tracer concert being held on Sunday, March 29th, which is not a part of this summary.

Sansar Summary

[0:40-3:00]

  • The decision to sell Sansar came, at least in part, from the recognition that as a platform, Sansar is at a very different stage of its evolution compared to Second Life, requiring different investment and resourcing.
  • Some 30 of the original team have received offers to join the new entity running Sansar (Wookey Project Corp), and “a bunch of them” are already back at work.
  • It appears that the focus for the platform will potentially remain on it being a platform for large scale virtual events in the music / entertainment sectors, utilising the platform’s ability to instance events for “many thousands” of attendees. Also, desktop and VR support will both likely be maintained.
    • However, the overall strategy and focus for developing Sansar is now obviously up to the new owners.
  • Linden Lab will remain a “partner”, inasmuch as Tilia will continue to be used for Sansar Dollar transactions and fiat money payouts, with Tilia also due to gain more customers in the near future..

Coronavirus Related

Dealing with the Virus

[3:00-7:48] plus as timestamped below.

  • On a set of personal notes,Ebbe, Brett and Lab Gab’s host, Strawberry Linden have thus far avoided infection (like the rest of the Lab’s staff they are working from home), but obviously, they do have concerns about the virus and its potential to impact family and friends.
  • Linden Lab is fortunate that it is exceptionally well geared towards remote working (many staff worked from home as a matter of course well before the current pandemic, and that’s been the way since the company’s formation).
  • It is not anticipated that Second Life should experience significant service interruptions due to the current health situation.
  • A comment that has been used among LL staff during calls and virtual meetings has been, “stay safe, stay virtual”.
  • [14:53-17:04] Users can help ease unnecessary stress on SL / LL staff by avoiding squabbles and upsets that can result in unnecessary abuse reports, etc., and by providing help to one another to lighten calls to support staff, as well showing support / friendliness to new users.
  • [27:55-29:33] All LL offices are closed. The co-lo data centre is open for access, if required, but all co-lo work is actually outsourced.

Usage and Concurrency

[7:48-11:09]

  • The last several weeks has seen a resurgence in the number of returning users (those who have not logged-in to SL for some time) as well as a rise in new users accessing the service.
  • New registrations are up by some 60%, with a rise in concurrency of around 10% overall.
  • These rises particularly correspond with cities, regions and countries where a lock-down is ordered.
  • Established users are encouraged to be kind and support incoming new and returning users, given they are likely trying to deal with the anxieties of the current situation.

Absolutely. We’re seeing quite [an] interesting resurgence of returning users, as well as new users coming in to explore Second Life. We see registrations up over 60% and concurrency’s up north of 10%, and we’re just a week or so into people being locked up. We can actually see countries and states that imposed strict stay-home policies, we see a corresponding jump in people in those markets jumping into Second Life.

– Ebbe Altberg, Lab Gab, March 27th

  • LL is not focusing any new features / activities specifically for those coming into SL as an alternative to watching television, playing games, etc. They are constantly working to increase registrations and user retention outside of any crisis.
  • The company is heavily committed to the the cloud uplift to AWS  / Google through until the end of the year, so there is not a lot of available resource to take on major new initiatives. This work will likely take the majority of the Lab’s technical resources through until the end of the year (see below as well).

Region Owners Impacted by the Virus & Assistance from the Lab

[17:10-18:54]

  • Contact support – see also: Region owners impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic encouraged to contact LL.
  • LL has no wish to see regions go under because holders are experiencing hardship as a result of result income at this time. however, the company also cannot afford to just give across-the-board reductions in tier.
  • Where cases can be explained  / discussed / explored, Linden Lab will try to do what they can and is taking a “human, compassionate” approach to people’s needs”.

Supporting Businesses and Education

[18:59-27:50]

  • Linden Lab has been “inundated” with requests from educators, businesses, etc., on whether Second Life can provide support for them.
  • The volume has been such that LL has had to re-assign resources to help deal with the incoming requests. There has also bee a certain amount of media attention on what Second Life can offer – the UK’s Daily Telegraph ran a paywalled article on SL and remote working on March 26th, for example)
  • It takes time to bring organisations in: understanding their requirements, getting them into SL, ensuring they have the required in-world facilities, etc.
  • In addition, LL have been carefully crafting a media campaign to raise awareness of SL as a place for socialisation and discovery. These have been garnering high rates of click-through that may be contributing to the upswing in registrations.
  • For the business side  – remote working, conferences, meetings, etc.,  – the Lab launched a micro-website and an accompanying updated FAQ promoting Second life as a working environment (see also: Second Life: support for remote working & reduced education / non-profit fees – updated, March 16th). This provides access to a series of seven turnkey region solutions for business use, comprising single and multi-region settings, capable of handling up to 350 avatars, with individual regions intentionally optimised such that they can comfortably and consistently handle 75 avatars apiece without becoming stressed.

The seven new turnkey business/ meeting environments provided by Linden Lab.

  • Education is still very much a factor in Second Life as well, with the platform again seeing an uptick in interest from educational organisations.
    • Various schools and universities can be found in the Destination Guide, and some have been active in SL for over a decade.
    • More are not publicly visible as they operate gated access for staff and students only.
  • Organisations such as CNDG are using Second Life for teaching / simulations in what is referred to as an “ambitious long-lasting run in SL”, with up to 10,000 students involved with Second Life experiential teaching modules.
  • Training also forms a part of learning in SL. For example, many nurses and medial staff have received simulation training within Second Life.
  • LL is committed to continuing to support educational use cases and make it easier for educational organisations and students to take advantage of what SL can offer.
  • Second life is also the focal point for the annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference.

Other Topics

Book Club and Showcase Streams

[11:10-14:43]

  • Despite the cloud uplift work, Linden Lab did announce two new two new initiatives on the marketing side:
    • The Second Life Book Club will launch on April 8th and a monthly event. A spin-off from the Draxtor Book Club hosted on Sansar, the Second Life Book Club will feature Draxtor Despres in conversation with authors from around the world, with the first instalment featuring Matt Ruff, Ken Liu, SL Huang, CB Lee, and a possible additional guest.
    • Showcase Streams will be a series of spontaneous “drop in” video streams that will aim to spotlight the many music, art and cultural events in Second Life.
  • Outside of the current pandemic, a reason for implementing initiatives like these is that the Lab has seen an uptick in interest in second Life as a result of the their social media engagement and the success of formats like Lab Gab in capturing non-SL users’ interest.

Name Changes

[29:41-30:52]

  • Most recently subjected to an internal pile-on test (stress test with mass use of a capability, in this case by LL staff) to uncover any previously missed bugs or issues.
  • Could now be just “a very few weeks” away from launching.

iOS Mobile Companion

[30:58-33:11]

  • Lots of activity.
  • Must be understood this will primarily be a communications tool (e.g. IMs, group messaging, etc., but not local chat or in-world presence / 3D view initially).
  • Now very close to Alpha status, which may only be for internal testing, and the path from that to initial release isn’t currently clear (iOS apps are subject to Apple strictures, among other things).
  • Work has now started on the Android version of this companion app as well, and the hope is this will quickly catch-up with the iOS version.

Future Plans / Updates

[36:10-39:27]

  • For 2020, the cloud uplift. This is occurring on a service-by-service basis on the back end (e.g. log-in service, web services, group services, etc.).
  • Transitioning the simulators will be a huge undertaking.
  • Some services have seen significant performance improvements following their transition, just because services a moving to more up-to-date hardware and newer infrastructure.
  • Because of this, 2020 will not be a major SL feature release year beyond what is already stated as being in the works (e.g. EEP, Name Changes, Premium Plus, mobile companion). Anything else will be subject to resources being available.
  • Note that more on SL tech and the uplift will be featured in the April 3rd Lab Gab which will feature Oz Linden, VP of engineering and members of his teams.

VWBPE 2020: Above the Book with Ebbe and Patch – summary

via vwbpe.org

The following is a summary of the VWBPE Above the Book session held on Thursday, March 26th. The session featured as guests, Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab and Patch Linden, Vice President, Product Operations and a member of the Lab’s management team.

The video of the session is available on You Tube and is embedded at the end of this article, while the following is a summary of the discussion’s key points, with time stamps to the relevant points in the video for reference.

Notes:

  • Ebbe Altberg had a significant viewer issue that precluded his participation in the first half of the discussion, as such the majority of the summary points below are based on Patch Linden’s responses to questions etc. Where they are based on a reply or comment made by Ebbe, they are preceded by “[EA]”.
  • Time stamps commence at the 18-minute mark because there is a significant blank lead-in to the video.

Educational Discount and Work Opportunities in SL

Educational Discount

[18:48-19:45]

  • On March 13th, 2020 linden Lab introduced a limited time offer for education and non-profit organisations to to obtain full regions in Second Life / reduce their current full region tier to US $99.00 per month.
  • Once granted the fee reduction will remain applicable “as long as their [the organisation’s  / individual’s] invoicing is current.”
  • The reduction is something that had been under consideration by the Lab prior to the SARS-Cov-2 / Covid-19 situation, but it seemed that given the situation with learning centres around the globe being closed around the world, now was the time to introduce the offer in order to help organisations find a place where they can continue to offer lessons / services alongside of other options they might be exploring.

Business / Work Opportunities

[20:14-24:17]

  • Alongside of the educational / non-profit discount, Linden Lab also created a micro-website and an accompanying updated FAQ promoting Second life as a working environment.
  • This is designed to appeal / apply to to broad range of potential use-cases: educational, business, etc.
  • It is being actively used by LL to coordinate responses to the needs of those making enquiries and correspond with applicants / interested parties.
  • Connected to this work, the Lab has offered a set of seven turn-key solutions for interested parties.
    • Comprising single and multi-region facilities, which see a clever re-purposing of existing designs (e.g, the Horizons hub area, the Bellisseria Campwich lodge, the SL16B auditorium, part of the Paleoquest regions), as well as the 4-region Linden Town Hall facilities.
  • The single region facilities have been intentionally optimised such that they can comfortably and consistently handle 75 avatars apiece without becoming stressed.

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The seven new pre-fabricated business/ meeting environments provided by Linden Lab.

  • There has also been some marketing work alongside of this to help raise awareness of SL’s continued presence as a platform (the UK’s Daily Telegraph ran a paywalled article on SL and remote working on March 26th, for example).

SL and Technology Related Questions

  • [24:24-25:33] Cloud Uplift: will sharding / instancing of regions be possible?
    • Potentially, but much further down the road.
    • The focus at the moment is on transitioning the SL infrastructure and getting it to a point where regions can be operated via the cloud.
    • Opportunities for product offerings, etc, will be considered some time after the uplift has been completed and costs, etc., better known.
  • [32:07-34:34] Despite all the talk of VR headsets and immersivity being ” the future”, the fact is virtual worlds already provide a 3D, immersive experience, even if viewed via a 2D screen. Given high frame-rate VR systems are still outside of most people’s pockets / interest, don’t you think worlds like SL are due a renaissance?
    • VR is a fully immersive experience that cannot be matched for its sense of presence.
    • SL has some significant challenges when it comes to that kind of immersive experience it will need to rise to [FPS, optimised content / content management], and / or the VR hardware requirements will need to come down to make VR is SL acceptable. They will likely draw together in time, but that’s not something for SL’s current roadmap.
  • [40:17-42:25] Has the more widespread availability of bandwidth and higher speed connectivity made it easier for people to connect to Second Life?
    • Yes. The ability for ISPs to provide faster connectivity, particularly now with fibre, has helped with SL’s global reach and accessibility.
    • 16-17 years ago, cable DSL was just coming in, and people without it, particularly if far away from the SL data centres, could experience issues with connecting. Over the last decade, the reported incidence of these kinds of issues has decreased to a point where they seem to be rarely heard.
  • [1:10:55-1:11:41] Given the current pandemic and the situation with the Second Norway / Sailors Cove East estates (see Second Norway & Sailor’s Cove East: rumours & statements), is LL considering providing region holder who are facing financial issues / lack of income due to SARS-Cov-2 some form of relief?
    • Region owners facing such issues are encouraged to approach the Second Life support team.
    • As it is, LL is working specific with Ey Ren, the estate owner for Second Norway / Sailor’s Cove East to try to resolve that situation.

Second Life and the Future

  • [1:02.07-1:07:38] As LL is again a single-product company, what is the vision, looking forward?
    • As already mentioned, the cloud uplift to AWS and Google is a major focus, and will take up most of the Lab’s time and effort throughout 2020, with the goal of completing the work in 2020.
    • It is hoped that the basic transitioning to the cloud will produce meaningful performance improvements.
    • There will not be a significant number of features coming on top of this work outside of those committed to (e.g. EEP, Name Changes, Premium Plus).
    • However, the uplift should position LL / SL for a long-term future, and should be seen as a commitment on LL’s part to the continuance of SL – the investment required in the shift would not have been made if there was a lack of confidence about the platform’s future.
    • LL itself is in a very comfortable position and profitable.
    • Further, the company’s organisational set-up means that it has not been overly impacted by the current pandemic crisis.
    • Second Life is seeing rising engagement and concurrency at present.
    • Overall the company has a very positive view of the future for SL, and very pleased with where they are in terms of the SL product offering.
    • Those interested in learning more about the technical side of SL can tune-in to the April 3rd edition of Lab Gab, which will feature Oz Linden, VP of Engineering and members of his teams.
    • Ebbe himself is now “100% devoted” to Second Life and Tilia.

Education Related Questions

  • [25:45-26:47] Will SL be able to connect to Canvas LMS? A lot of this can be supported through the in-viewer browser and via the viewer’s implementation of Chrome Embedded Framework (CEF).
    • Improvements to media  / web handling in the viewer are being made (notably media and CEF), and there should hopefully be more news on this Soon™.
  • [27:39-28:29] Can more be done to allow people to bring in their “traditional” and familiar 2D means of presentation (e.g. PowerPoint, etc), into SL beyond having to use use things like Media On A Prim (MOAP), etc?
    • The coming updates to media / web handling might have a lot to do with this, particularly in displaying 2D information formats. Essentially, if it is web-based, then you should be able to display it in-world.
    • [EA – 52:49-54:29] SL is perfect for iterative, interactive classroom activities and allowing students to contribute content to the classroom and in experiential education (field trips, learning through directed activities / simulation / training). However, more could be done to make the more traditional teaching tools – blackboards, whiteboards, video presentation, etc., – available / easier to utilise with Second Life.
  • [37:57-38:55] What about screen sharing / desktop sharing with SL?
    • Would be challenging to provide through Second Life, but obviously there are applications that will allow Second Life itself to be shared between screens / desktops.
    • It’s unclear as to what form any path to providing screen / desktop sharing within SL / the viewer might take.
  • [55:25-57:40] Can teaching environments be locked down to only allow students and staff access, and to prevent students teleporting away?
    • Regions do allow levels of privacy (access by group, access list, region / estate-level access blocking, etc.). It is also possible to bring users directly into a specific region / estate, and created accounts can be locked to a specific region / estate.
    • The siloing capability is available in Second Life, and it is made available to educators to use, and are available as a part of the educational / non-profit region fee.
    • [EA – 59:10-1:01:55]:
      • While it is not being considered by the Lab at present, it might be possible, post cloud uplift, to enable separate Second Life grids to be spun-up with completely different user name / account spaces associated with them.
      • If there are specific use cases for access control that aren’t provided by the Lab, or ways in which LL might provision specific market silo support, educators / physical world business users are encouraged to contact Patch and his team to discuss them or send ideas to business-at-lindenlab.com.
  • [1:07:53-1:10:54] Could a controlled space be provided where educators could collaborate to produce material in-world for students?
    • Can already be done.
    • A portal style space showing what is available for education in SL might be possible. One used to be provided, and LL might be interested in partnering with educationals to again provide one. Ideas can again be passed via business-at-lindenlab.com.

Sansar Related Discussion

  • [43:05-49:54] Second Life (and OpenSim) has always offered the ability for real-time content creation, which has been seen as one of the major attractions for it, and it was something lacking in Sansar that may have contributed to its lack of appeal. Do you think there is a long future for Second Life with its ease-of-creation?
    •  Yes.
    • [EA] Nowadays original content creation within SL is rare; most users are more customisers that original asset creators; they purchase items and then lay them out. Clearly, content creation & collaborative design are required in a virtual space, but do they need to be in the run-time environment?
    • [EA] Sansar took the route of separating the design process from the run-time environment to allow the latter to be a more performant environment, allowing everything placed in the design environment to be properly optimised [“baked”] to provide a good run-time experience.
    • [EA] Sadly, LL never got to the point of implementing collaborative design in the editor, or in really giving power to users to design their space without having to have a lot of expertise.
  • [49:55-51:47] On the sale of Sansar  [EA]:
    • Decision was made to sell Sansar and give the team that had been working on it to go and raise funds to try to go it alone with Sansar.
    • Was felt that it was easier for them to raise money as a separate entity from LL, given that Second Life is an established brand and Sansar was effectively a start-up brans within the environment responsible for Second Life.
    • As it is all of the staff who worked on Sansar are getting employment offers from Wookey project Corp., the new owners.
    • Linden Lab remain something of a partner to Sansar, as the platform will continue to use Tilia Inc, the Lab’s micro-payments  / virtual world tokens subsidiary to manage Sansar Dollar payments and payouts. Tilia itself will be growing its customer base with more clients lined-up to join it.

Lab Gab: Second Life in 2020 with Ebbe and Grumpity (and Keira!)

via Linden Lab

The 14th edition of Lab Gab was live streamed on Friday, February 21st and featured as guests, Ebbe Linden (aka Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg) and Grumpity Linden, Vice President of Product, who between them discussed the Second Life roadmap for 2020.

As might be expected, a call to Second Life users to submit questions that might be asked of Ebbe and / or Grumpity generated a lot of feedback, so little time was lost in getting down to hearing their responses. Note that this summary may not reflect the chronological order in which questions were asked; however, time stamps are provided for those wishing to jump to a specific point in the video, and a complete video is embedded at the end of this article.

But first – Sansar and Linden Lab

[1:09-5:06]

At the top of the programme, Ebbe confirmed Linden Lab is no longer “sponsoring”, as he put it, Sansar, and are actively seeking a new home for the platform.

So as you might have heard, sadly we have decided that we, as Linden Lab, couldn’t continue to sponsor the project financially, so we’re looking for a plan B for Sansar to continue. I can’t say much, but we’re having very interesting conversations with several parties to help that project move forward, which I’m really excited about. But no deal is done yet, so people will just have to be patient and see what happens with it, but yes  it is true that Linden Lab going forward will focus entirely on Second Life and Tilia. I’m still busy making sure that Sansar finds a great home and that the great work that that team has started can continue.

– Ebbe Altberg

He went on to note that the company is continuing to work with those they have laid off to help their secure their futures, and that overall, Linden Lab remains in a strong financial position with strong confidence in the future, vis Second Life and Tilia Inc.

You can read more on this in Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future.

Current Technical Projects

Cloud Uplift

[5:51-8:28 and 10:30-11:03 and 27:13-28:41 and 49:47-51:51]

  • Cloud uplift is the term now being employed by the Lab to describe the project to transition all of Second Life to cloud-based provisioning.
  • This has been a long-term project, with considerable planning and preparation work having thus far been completed, and 2020 marking the time when the actual transitioning of services takes place (“lifting them to the cloud”).
  • The work is long-term not just because of the number of services that must be transitioned, but also the amount of operational  / engineering requirements required to ensure that services that are linked by physical proximity and connectivity in a single hosting environment continue to function  and communicate with one another when moves to an environment where they no longer share that proximity or direct line of communication.
  • There are a lot of perceived benefits from the move, most noticeably that hardware / infrastructure renewal will no longer be a significant factor for the Lab, while longer-term the grater spread of geographical options, hardware options, etc., may mean the Lab will be able to offer broader simulator products or reduce latency between physical groups of users and  the servers they most regularly access, etc.
  • The downside of this is that for the time being, the focus for engineers and developers at the Lab is very much on the cloud uplift, and not on developing new features.
  • The hope is that his work will be completed by the end of 2020, otherwise the Lab starts incurring costs (e.g. Cap Ex costs) they’d prefer to avoid.
  • Once the transition has been completed, a further benefit could be with LL being able to experiment with different (and more recent) server types to help with simulator-side performance, and perhaps even offer different product offering based on different servers, with suitable price points (e.g. those running venue that have high numbers on attending avatars can opt to pay to have their regions hosted on very high-end servers capable of managing the script, etc., load.
  • Currently, there are no plans to make private regions an on-demand service in the cloud (that is, only spinning up a region when there is one or more avatars in it).
    • This is primarily because of the persistence model around which Second Life has been built, and the expectations of some of the operations services have around this.
    • However, at some point after the cloud migration, it might be possible for LL to offer a kind of on-demand private region product with a suitable price-point.

Mobile Access for Second Life

[11:13-14:03]

  • Lab is developing a “companion” app for Second Life, that will initially be for iOS devices (see: Lab working on a Second Life iOS client?, Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making (both January 2019) and Second Life iOS companion app – mini update (March 2019).
  • It is currently in internal alpha, and does *not* have 3D rendering but does provide chat, group chat, IM, and other core communications capabilities, although additional functionality may be added over time.
  • Development will be iterative, and there will be opportunities for users to help test the app when it is ready to be public-facing. The exact mechanism on how this will work is still TBD.
  • There is no formal ETA for the app, but the hope is some form of (closed?) alpha testing period may be made available in the next few months (or sooner).
  • [54:28-55:15] The focus is on iOS, with the hope that once done, it will not be a major effort to port the app to Android.

Premium Plus

[14:05-17:35]

  • Premium Plus is the upcoming new Premium subscription offering that will sit “above” the current Premium, and jokingly referred to as Premium Plös (“ploos” with a French sounding accent).
  • No formal release date as yet – as LL prefer not to commit to specifying dates so as not to disappoint should things get delayed.
    • It has, however, been stated at the monthly Web User Group meetings, that Premium Plus will not be released until some time after Name Changes has been implemented – so it is in the Soon™ category .
  • When introduced, it will have a pro rata option, so existing Premium users will have any remaining balance on their subscription at the time they upgrade credited to Premium Plus.
  • Premium Plus will have a range of additional benefits – most of which are still TBA. However, it will mean Name Changes will be “around” US $20 cheaper for Premium Plus members (so if the Name Changes fee in US $39.99 for Premium, Premium Plus many only have to pay US $19.99).
  • Focus at present is on putting in place the coding and updates required to support multiple Premium account levels.
  • Lab will continue to add value to both Premium Plus and Premium.

The Marketplace

[23:05-25:53]

  • A lot of work has been put into the Marketplace in responding to a lot of long-standing feature requests, etc, from users and in dealing with some of the low-hanging fruit of MP fixes, etc.
  • More work is planned, but again, the cloud uplift project  – which includes the MP and all of the other Second Life web properties – is the primary focus at the moment.
  • In terms of questionable content on the MP (e.g. the mis-selling of No Copy items), this isn’t an issue that can be solved via any automated means, and is thus resource intensive and does require the support of users in flagging items, etc.
    • However there are plans to replace / update some of the existing processes around these issues, so that issues can be more readily reviewed and dealt with.
  • LL are conscious of being vague on matters like this, but feel they need to be, as saying too much publicly could open the door to those less-than-earnest actors trying to circumvent actions that might otherwise impact them.
Ebbe, Strawberry and Grumpity (+cats!) in Lab Gab episode 14

Performance Improvements

[25:53-31:55]

  • A major cause of performance issues is sub-optimal content  that the viewer has to deal with when rendering (e.g. poorly-designed mesh, heavily tortured prims, sculpties, flexies, etc.), and which impact performance.
  • There’s not a lot that LL can do about this, other than appeal to content creators to consider performance when designing their models, and to region creators to do likewise when designing their regions and the impact overly complex content or the over-use of unique high-resolution textures has on the viewer.
  • In time, the more powerful server options that will be available for running simulators once they have been transitioned to the cloud may help improve server-side performance (e.g. thing like script processing, etc.).
  • In the future, more work may be put into providing better tools to help creators ensuring their content is more performant.
    • As an aside, and as reported in my CCUG summaries, work is already in progress to provide creators and user with better means of understanding the impact various content is having on their system’s performance – remembering that it is the *viewer*, not the simulator , that does most of the heavy lifting.
  • Elsewhere there have been subtle performance improvements:
    • A move of Marketplace infrastructure to a new environment means page loading times are measuring an 11% improvement; changes made to the asset services have improved inventory stability.
    • There are currently simulator updates that are being / about to be deployed across the grid sever channels that should see improvements in region crossings (updates on server deployments can be found in my weekly SUG summaries).

Name Changes

[38:08-]

  • No confirmed date for deployment.
  • Last Names competition has seen EIGHT names (rather than the originally stated five) selected to go into the first list of last names that will be available when the service is deployed: Conundrum, Dismantled, Huntsman, Littlepaws, Nova, Ravenhurst, Wumpkins, Yeatley.
  • These are the only names that will be in that first list, and the winners will be informed via e-mail.
  • The time taken for the project to be implemented is due to it touching every aspect of SL, and thus requires careful implementation and testing.
  • Rather than using a credit card or similar to pay for a Name Change, Premium members can opt to use a USD dollar balance in the Tilia Wallet, including by converting L$ to USD via the LindeX. Note that anyone who has not previously held a US dollar balance associated with their account will have to accept the Tilia Terms of  Serivce, but no identification documents need be submitted, unless any remaining US dollar balance is to be cashed out.

Environment Enhancement Project (EEP)

[44:10-46:45]

  • Again, no confirmed release date.
  • As per my CCUG summaries, the are around a dozen remaining rendering bugs to be resolved, but the hope is the deployment is now weeks rather than months away.
  • There will still be changes in how some region environments are seen in an EEP viewer compared to a non-EEP viewer, but the decision has been made to deploy rather than constantly trying to strive for a like-for-like look in all cases.
  • There is a pending rendering / graphics project that is held-up by EEP, partially prompting the desire to get what is available deployed.

Land

[17:36-19:58]

  • Transfer costs for buy-down / grandfathered regions is to be reduced from US $600 to US $300.
  • No plans for other land price reductions at this time.
  • The aim is[18:00 to continue to balance revenue generation between land and other sources.
  • Overall, the Lab feel that the reductions in land pricing introduced since 2017 (see: Linden Lab announces SL Mainland price restructuring (March 2018), and Linden Lab announces major SL private region pricing restructure (June 2018) for example) have been positive in helping move the land market forward.
  • The Lab also remains conscious of the fact that too many changes in too short a time period can disrupt the economy.

User Retention

[32:07-35:50]

  • Will be covered more in-depth in a future Lab Gab segment with the Lab’s marketing team.
  • The best way for users to help with new user retention is a) bringing friends into SL and spending time with them, getting them engaged and making friends; b) offering support and friendship to newcomers.
  • There has been some success with recent attempts to re-introduce new user mentoring.
  • LL has also invested a lot of time in bettering understanding the traffic coming to SL, allowing for more refined approaches to user acquisition.
  • There is a firm belief within LL that SL’s user base can be grown.
  • [53:54-54:25] There are roughly 5,000 new accounts logging-in to Second Life every day.

Other Items

  • [8:30-10:30] Will LL resume issuing economic stats for SL?
    • The reports were stopped many years ago. Currently the focus is on the cloud uplift, and this together with the work on projects the Lab does have in-hand or planned, means there are no plans for the present or foreseeable future to re-implement reporting economic stats.
    • However, it might be possible to implement some form of “spot” economic reporting via one of the official blogs.
  • [20:00-23:00] Does Linden Lab manipulate the LindeX L$ exchange rate?
    • Short answer: no, they do not.
    • The most LL do is sell into the market if there is a genuine need for L$, but even then, this is kept to a minimum both in terms of frequency and amount.
    • [52:02-53:52] There will be a blog post (/ series?) on how the LindeX works, etc., appearing in the near future.
  • [35:55-] Account security and two-factor authentication (2FA)
    • Yes, there are plans to introduce 2FA.
    • The first step is providing notifications of possible attempts to wrongfully access your account. This is to be rolled out in the near future. However, notifications will only be sent to verified e-mail addresses (see: Important: verifying your e-mail address with Second Life).
    • The next step will be to disallow unverified log-ins from unfamiliar locations until verification is given.
    • There are some complexities in implementing 2FA as a result of SL’s age and design, but these are being worked on.
  • [47:32-48:18] VR and Second Life:
    • There are no near-time plans to revive the work on supporting VR headsets in SL.
    • The requirement for 90-ish fps throughout for a really smooth experience is considered as mostly beyond SL’s reach due to the nature of the content.
    • However, once the cloud uplift has been completed, and after the major rendering / graphics overhaul has been delivered (e.g. 18-24 months hence), the question of VR support in SL may be re-evaluated.

SL16B Meet Ebbe Altberg- a summary with audio and video

Courtesy of Linden Lab
On Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 at the SL16B celebrations, the third of five Meet the Lindens sessions was held at the SL16B Auditorium. It featured the Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, aka Ebbe Linden.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised, with  audio extracts where relevant.

Table of Contents

Note that there are three videos of this event that I’m aware of:

When reading this summary, please note:

  • It is not a full transcript:
    • Discussion points have been grouped by topic, and not necessarily in the order raised during the session.
    • I have focused on those topics liable to be of the most interest to readers / generated the most informative answers, so this is not a summary of all comments. etc..
    • Topics are give as bullet-point highlights for ease of reference.
  • Audio extracts are provided.
    • These have been cleaned-up in places to remove repetition or pauses, etc.
    • Audio extracts may concatenate comments on specific subjects that may have been made at different points in the discussion, and so do not always match the chronology of the video.
  • Timestamps to the SL4Live – TV video are provided for those who would prefer to listen to Ebbe’s comments “in the raw”. This video is also embedded at the end of this article.

About Ebbe

[Video: 2:40-11:55]

Note: the following is taken from both Ebbe’s comments and my own research into his background, carried out when he joined Linden Lab in 2014, and which also included input from Ebbe.

Swedish by birth and still by nationality – he is still working in the US on a green card -, Ebbe graduated from Tärnaby Skidhem in 1983. His time there was focused on skiing, as he wanted to be a ski racer, with his eyes on the Swedish national team and the world cup. Unfortunately, a back injury stopped him pursuing that particular career option, and so he crossed the Atlantic to study Middlebury College, Vermont, USA.

Ebbe Linden, aka Ebbe Altberg. Credit: Strawberry Linden

Founded in 1800, Middlebury is regarded as one of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the United States. While there, he “spent a lot of time in the art studio and the computer lab in an extreme left brain / right brain type of education”, before graduating with a degree in Fine Arts and a concentration in Computer Applications.

From Middlebury, and with the clock ticking down on his visa, Ebbe “slipped into Microsoft on a random banana peel”, where he spent twelve years. Joining in the pre-Windows era, he was particularly involved with the Office products (Word, Mac Office, etc) and multimedia products.

In March 2000, he moved on to Ingenio, a company that created marketplaces for people to buy and sell information over the phone. While there he was responsible for managing the engineering, program management, operations, and quality teams, and served as the company’s interim CEO before taking on the mantle of  the Chief Product Officer. And while he doesn’t often mention it due to not being a huge fan of the patent system, he “racked up quite a few patents there.”

After Ingenio, Ebbe joined Yahoo! n February 2008, filling out a number of senior roles, including Vice President, Head of Audience for the company’s EMEA division, being based in Rolle, Switzerland, managing some 180 people and multiple products across six countries. During this period he also served on the board of Yahoo! SARL (Société à responsabilité limitée) – think the equivalent of a Pvt Ltd company in the UK or a limited liability partnership in the USA, before returning to the United States to become the Senior Vice President for Media Engineering at Yahoo!  with global responsibly for Media Engineering, a position that involved managing an organisation of more than 600 engineers, architects, program managers and quality engineering staff, as well as having dotted-line oversight of some 150 product managers and designers.

Linden Lab’s chairman of the Board, Jed Smith, is a long-time friend of Ebbe Altberg, and had previously tried to get Ebbe to join the company prior to his appointment as CEO in 2014. (image: Owl Ventures)

Following Yahoo!, he took up the challenge of turning around a small tech company called BranchOut, based in San Francisco. Around two years old at the time of his joining, BranchOut had been through a roller-coaster ride with its product, a Facebook oriented application designed for finding jobs, networking professionally, and recruiting employees. Seven months before Ebbe joined the company, the app boasted 25 million users across 60 countries – but by the time he came on board, the user base had shrunk to just 3 million. Under his guidance, the company pivoted the BranchOut app into a new workplace messaging application called Talk.co, launched in October 2013.

Ebbe was actually aware of Second life  – and had experienced it first hand – a long time before joining Linden Lab in 2014. His son Aleks, had been heavily involved in SL, starting with the Teen Grid, making content and then moving to  developing a successful in-world business there (Aleks is now an Lab Employee, working on Sansar, where he is a regular at in-world community meet-ups and product meetings).

More particularly, Ebbe has had a long-standing friendship with the Chair of the Lab’s board of directors, Jed Smith. LL was one of Smith’s first investments when he became a venture capitalist, and through Jed Ebbe gained an awareness of the Lab, its product, and met Philip Rosedale.

So I fell in love with the idea, and understood what Philip and Second Life was trying to achieve, but it wasn’t until many, many, many years later – well, five years ago now – that it came up that they were looking for someone, and it was the right time and place for both the Lab and me to hook up and see how I could help keep things going here.

I have not regretted that decision for a second, it’s been absolutely fantastic; it’s an incredible group of people I get to work with. Having the Second Life team is just an absolute privilege … Everyone is just incredibly passionate about the product … that’s just been a very, very enjoyable ride for me so far.

– Ebbe Altberg, Meet the Lindens, June 26th, 2019

The Lab’s Battery Street staff (image: Ebbe Altberg, via Twitter)

One of the greatest rewards he sees in being with the company is diversity, be it within the people working the Lab or using Second Life, or the equally rich diversity of uses people find for Second Life – be it as a means of expression or as a platform for business, as tool for health improvement or an aid education, and so on, and the multiple ways Second Life can benefit those who engage with the platform.

He is also drawn to the technical aspects of the platform, including its multiple challenges, and the way it combines so many different capabilities: tools for content creation, options for social engagement, the ability to run a virtual economy, etc., all of which combine with the need to constantly discover / learn new things about the ways in which SL is being used, to continually refresh interest in, and enthusiasm for, managing, improving and expanding the platform.

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On Fees and the SL Economy

[Video: 12:16-18:16]

  • As a world Second Life has a huge diversity of uses, and there is no single “one size fits all” solution.
  • Has always and consistently stated a belief that virtual land in SL is too expensive [it has been a major theme from users throughout his tenure as CEO as well, and preceded his arrival at the Lab].
  • HOWEVER, Land fees generate the majority of the Lab’s inflow of revenue, even if it has been over-monetised by the Lab in order to meet that revenue requirement.
  • Therefore, if land fees are to be reduced, the Lab must find ways to move its revenue generation from virtual land to other opportunities that have previously perhaps been under-monetised in their ability to generate revenue. These include things like Premium fees and consumer-related revenue generation options.
  • Also feels there has been an imbalance in the way SL operates, as a merchant without any land can produce goods and sell them (via the Marketplace) without really paying for the opportunity to do so (just 5% commission on sales), and could then cash-out with very little cost to their revenue.
  • Unfortunately, both trying to broaden LL’s revenue generation options to decrease a reliance on land fee, and trying to correct some of the balance in where fee are obtained to help with that revenue generation, can result in some feeling hurt.
  • LL are attempting to be careful in how these shifts are made, as there are major risks involved (for both in-world business and the Lab itself), and so are progressing in small steps – the recent Premium and processing fee increases being the latest of those steps.
  • Believes there are still opportunities to further re-balance things, and to reduce land costs.
  • Also believes it is fair to say that while things like credit processing fees have been increased, they are still well below what might be regarded as “industry standards” for many digital transactions, which can be 30% and upwards.
  • Understands that the increases have impacted people, notably creators with very low margins, and who may have to make adjustments to their pricing, etc., and recognises that changes like those now implemented (as of June 24th) might make it tougher for some to survive, but believes the changes are necessary.
  • Points out that one of the consequences of high tier is that SL so often loses stunning public regions that have been built, and which people miss when they vanish.

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Continue reading “SL16B Meet Ebbe Altberg- a summary with audio and video”

“Dear Ebbe II” (on the subject of Basic account changes)

The Colder Water; Inara Pey, April 2015, on Flickr The Colder Water, April 2015

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

=======

Dear Ebbe,

Five years ago I wrote to you as you formally joined Linden Lab as the company’s new CEO. At that time, there was a certain degree of disillusionment among Second Life users about the platform, and I took it upon myself to comment on one area in particular: that of communications.

In the years since then, Linden Lab, Second Life and its user community have come a long way. It’s no exaggeration to say that things in 2019 are a lot different than 2014. Not just technically, but across a range of fronts, most especially that of the relationship between users and Lab.

You’ve seen this first-hand with regards to people’s attendance at Lab Chat and SLB Meet the Lindens events, where audience support and response has been positive and supportive to many of the programmes and developments the Lab has implemented, and towards the drive to increase awareness of, and involvement with, the platform.

True, things have not always been plain sailing; there have been hiccups along the way, but the Lab’s drive to improve SL and respond to many of the requests put out by the user base has been enormously appreciated. However, the most recent changes announced by the Lab with Land Price Reductions, New Premium Perks, and Pricing Changes (May 29th, 2019) have given me pause, and to take the time to write to you once more.

Throughout the last five years, I’ve personally appreciated the efforts Linden Lab have put into trying to meet the demand for lower land tier and to make virtual land holdings in Second Life more attractive. I also understand the need to offset such reductions with increases elsewhere to ensure LL as a company mains a good revenue flow. As such, while the fee changes announced on May 29th have caused me something of an “ouch!” reaction, I can understand the motivation behind them, and will learn to live with them.

However, what I feel is ill-conceived are the proposed Basic account changes.

Although I can understand there may well be technical reasons for doing this (load balancing to enable the increases to the same capabilities that are to be offered to Premium subscribers, perhaps?), the fact remains this these reductions come across as best as being punitive and at worse entirely mean-spirited towards Basic account holders. As my friend and fellow SL user Will Burns has noted:

One increases the value of a Premium account by actually increasing the value added proposition, not forcing the issue by reducing the value added of the free account.

I would therefore urge you to re-consider this move, and allow Basic members either retain their current 42 group limit, or as a compromise (and while I appreciate this is easier said than done), seek to allow current Basic member retain the current 42 groups cap whilst restricting those joining after June 24th to a maximum of 35 groups.

I am not the first Second Life user, Premium or otherwise) to voice concerns over this move. Please do take the time to consider what is being said the changes to Basic accounts via Twitter, in the SL forums and other social platforms, and how they could stand to significantly alienate a good portion of a user base that, while they may not pay subscription fees, nevertheless play an important role in both the economic and social fabric of Second Life, and who – like all of us engaged in the platform – want to see it continue to thrive and grow and remain a part of our lives.

My best,

 

Inara