Michael Linden Departs Linden Lab

Michael Linden in his usual Mole look, attending the February 2017 Mole Day
Michael Linden in his usual Mole look, attending the February 2017 Mole Day. Credit: Marianne McCann

As explained below, long-time Lab employee (over 13 years with the company) and head of the Linden Department of Public Works – the Moles – Michael Linden, has departed the Lab. I didn’t know Michael that well, having only chatted on a couple of occasions, so I invited Marianne McCann, someone who has known him for a long time, to write a piece about him and his impact on Second Life.

By Marianne McCann

Over the weekend of February 11th and 12th 2017, it was noted that Michael Linden’s profile was not showing up in Second Life search, nor was he showing as a member in several groups within his profile. Many began to question if he had left Linden Lab, and – given he was known as the head of the Linden Department of Public Works – if the LDPW was being shuttered.

At the Bay City Alliance meeting on the 14th of February, a trio of LDPW staff, Shaman Linden, Squishy Mole, and Sylvan Mole, attended in part to address these concerns.

Speaking at the meeting, Sylvan Mole confirmed that Michael has indeed left Linden Lab, but was unable to give many specifics. It is assumed that he left of his own accord.

Michael once showed up at an impromptu Lab / resident get-together aboard the SS Galaxy, (2015) complete with an Starax wand, and proceeded to set about with good-natured mischief: until he doused himself beneath a giant faucet!
Michael once showed up at an impromptu Lab / resident get-together aboard the SS Galaxy, (2015) complete with an Starax wand, and proceeded to set about with good-natured mischief: until he doused himself beneath a giant faucet! Credit: Inara Pey

Michael Linden started with Linden Lab in the autumn of 2003 as an in-world Liaison, moving briefly to Governance in 2007 before becoming one of the heads of the LDPW with the former Blue Linden. The LDPW has expanded to include several Linden staff members and a fair number of “Moles,” as the resident contractors working on content for Second Life are known.

One of the first projects released by the LDPW under Michael was the Bay City mainland regions. Last week, Michael added a rail and boat terminal to Bay City, in the Grub Beach region. It is believed that was his last project under his Linden name.

Michael has been heavily involved in the past with vehicles as a Resident, in particular with Second Life railway projects. It is expected that he will again do so, but no longer as a member of Linden Lab’s staff. Resident and Linden alike will miss his presence within the LDPW.

Grub Beach Station - thought to be the last of Michael's projects while at the Lab
Grub Beach Station – thought to be the last of Michael’s projects while at the Lab. Credit: Marianne McCann

As to the question of the LDPW’s future, they are most certainly still an ongoing department under Patch Linden, with Shaman, Dee, Keira, Kona, and Vitae Linden as an active part. As we’ve seen, the LDPW has just recently completed the multiple-region residential and experience-laden Horizons project, and they have several current and future projects on their plates.

Those of us who know Michael will miss his presence and guiding hand as a Linden, as well as his sense of fun. We all hope he enjoys every success wherever his career and work take him, and offer three cheers as he sets sail to pastures new.

Michael's love of vehicles can be seen in his collection of vintage seaplanes
Michael’s love of vehicles can be seen in his collection of vintage seaplanes. Credit: Inara Pey

Many thanks, Michael for your years of work within Second Life!

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Radegast: recovering Voice capabilities

Gentle Heron, second from the right encountered a Radegast Voice installation during the recording of a Designing Worlds special. Credit: Beq Janus
Gentle Heron, second from the right encountered a Radegast Voice installation during the recording of a Designing Worlds special. Credit: Beq Janus

Update, November 30th: Cinder Roxley has updated the Radegast installer to work with the most recent SLVoice package. See her comments here and here (following this article). There is also a separate blog post on her work, for easier future linking.

It was recently discovered that the Radegast client was no longer installing the SLVoice extensions with a new / clean installation. On hearing of the problem, Beq Janus and Whirly Fizzle decided to investigate, and thanks to their work, we now two workaround solutions. As they had put the effort into sorting things out, I asked them if either would like to write about the issue and the solution, and Beq, with Whirly’s blessing, agreed to do so.

by Beq Janus

A few days ago when I was invited to reprise my role as a videographer for a special episode of Designing Worlds on the Future of Second Life, which will air in early December. The panel for the discussion included Gentle Heron of Virtual Ability Inc, the group who work to enable access to virtual worlds for those who, through disability or illness are unable to make ready use of regular viewers.

During the show, Gentle urged Linden Lab and us all to look for ways to make Virtual Worlds more accessible, remarking, somewhat fatefully, that many of her communities are limited to a single, troubled viewer, Radegast.

A subject of reviews in this blog, Radegast is a lightweight, extensible client which has been the ideal foundation for the disabled communities to build upon. It boasts an impressive set of speech to text and text to speech integrations and can be integrated with other devices such as braille screen readers. Sadly, Latif Kalifa, Radegast’s creator, passed away earlier this year and despite the code being open source, no-one has yet stepped forward to maintain it at a time when the Lab viewer is moving ahead in leaps and bounds, with the risk that non-maintained viewers and client might lose functionality.

 Radegast client is the leading lightweight client for many users with disabilities
Radegast client is the leading lightweight client for many virtual world users with disabilities

As if to underline this, Gentle fell silent towards the end of the show, as she was dealing with a number of users who were reporting they were unable to use Voice with Radegast as it was failing to install the all important SLVoice extensions. While I am unfamiliar with Radegast, I offered to try looking into it for Gentle.

SLVoice is a pre-built binary package supplied by Vivox and distributed by Linden Lab. During the summer, it had been upgraded to address some security concerns and so it seemed likely to me that Gentle’s problem might be that the older SLVoice package had been deprecated and removed from the download server. Sure enough, a quick check on the package URL resulted in  the dreaded 404 not found error. I sent an email to Oz and Patch Linden asking them to confirm whether older versions of SLVoice had been moved.

The next day Oz confirmed that all old SLVoice packages were still available and nothing had changed. Whirly Fizzle, the powerhouse behind Firestorm QA, leapt into action: she cracked open the installer and discovered the URL actually pointed to a separately hosted Voice package which was no longer available, causing the Voice installation to silently fail during a new or clean Radegast installation as a result. However, Whirly also found a working back-up archive we could perhaps use. Unfortunately, neither Whirly or I are C# coders and cannot update the installation package directly; so how could we get a Radegast installation to work with the back-up Voice package?

I hit on the idea of first installing the backup package that Whirly had discovered, and then running the standard Radegast installer. Success! So, for anyone who is performing a clean / new install of Radegast and needs Voice, I’ve produced a set of instructions – see the link below. There is, however, more.

I mentioned above that Linden Lab had updated the SLVoice packages over the summer to deal with security concerns. Because of this, older versions of SLVoice are to be blocked from connecting to the service, and Radegast would once again be without a Voice option. Knowing this, and never one to leave a job half done, Whirly successfully tested my approach using the most recent SLVoice package available from the Lab, and confirmed it will also work.

This means that providing that there is no internal dependency within Radegast on the legacy Voice package, we now have an upgrade path for Radegast users that will ensure continued voice support after the block on older SLVoice packages comes into force. To help ensure people know what they need to do, Whirly’s instructions can also be found in the link below.

Radegast Voice Installation Instructions.

A Plea to Developers

These instructions are only a workaround. We still need to find a way to have Radegast install the correct Voice extensions automatically, as a part of the client install process. So, if you are a C# (C-Sharp) developer and are willing to spare a few hours looking at this, please take a look at the Radegast codebase and see if there is a way to incorporate the correct binaries into an installer package. Thank you.

With grateful thanks to Whirly Fizzle.

What are you doing the rest of your Second Life?

Paper Dinosaur, 2015
Sorrow for Paper Dinosaur, 2015; image – Caledonia Skytower

By Caledonia Skytower

Last October 24th’s article in Wired by Rowland Manthorpe, entitled Second Life was just the beginning. Philip Rosedale is back and he’s delving into VR ignited the usual round of reactions from fans and critics of Philip Rosedale, Ebbe Altberg, and virtual worlds in general.  Guaranteed, there would be opinions and plenty of “should-haves”, “could haves”, and speculations about machinations we may never fully understand, and to which uncertain credit can be given.  

Philip Rosedale’s particular dream of virtuality is reflected in Second Life, written as deeply as the original code, which continues thirteen years after the first pixels clicked on for the public.  As such, it seems like a democracy and the term “resident’ only reinforces that. Let’s be clear, residents in virtual worlds are not citizens in democratic societies, we are consumers.  We don’t have any more of a “right to be heard” than any other consumer does by a corporation or creator.  

Smart companies listen to their consumer base – it is called good business. Linden Lab has waxed and waned on that over the years, better more recently I think.  Yet no one will ever know their product the way they do.  No one will understand their finances, their market standing, the pressure of industry innovation and its impact on their company the way they do. As a consumer, with a free account, the Lab doesn’t owe me a vote in their decision-making process.  Virtual worlds are not a public entitlement.  Yet it is surprising how many people disagree with that – passionately, vitriolically disagree. The funny thing is, that state of entitlement has been there as long as I have been in SL.

Invictus by Storm Septimus
Invictus by Storm Septimus; image – Inara Pey

I entered Second Life in 2008, which makes me older than some, not as old as others.  In those eight years I have seen a procession of public doomsday fests boil up to a frenzy, and then cool down.  Always, the perceived calamity is touted as the Lab’s fault. Even at five years old, Second Life was doomed, dying, already deceased. An average of 67,000 users on-line from all over the world at any one moment, which would fill my local “home field”, Centurylink Field in Seattle, to capacity but with a lot fewer parking hassles.  Think of that: a football stadium full to the brim twenty-four hours a day. Here we are in 2016 and the averages have dropped to the low 40,000s. That’s still enough for the food vendors to make a tidy profit on game day! And when I think of the things that have happened in those eight years, doom, death, and extinction are not what come to mind:

  • There have been some fascinating educational studies, my favourite being the National Science Foundation funded study in a collaboration between Texas A & M and the Florida Institute of Technology involving college chemistry students and on-line learning.  
  • There is incredible work ongoing with the disabled and people suffering from different medical conditions.
  • Charitable organizations have benefited from the fund-raising efforts that engage a global volunteer and donor base in one of the most cost-efficient fund-raising endeavours in existence.  Relay for Life in SL has raised 2.7 million U.S. dollars for the American Cancer Society in just a decade.
  • Businesses have grown, with individual content creators stretching their wings and flexing their artistic muscles: everything from publishing to fashion, animations, buildings, and furnishings of all kinds.  
  • There have been some amazing creative achievements using the virtual world as a dimensional palette, too many to name.  

In all cases, some enterprises have endured, and some have termed out.  But there has never been a lack for them.  There is always someone charging the fence of what is possible in the platform. Where the platform limits them, people have found workarounds that are clever and industrious.

Sapphire Mirror Lake, Fantasy Faire 2016
Sapphire Mirror Lake, Fantasy Faire 2016; image – Caledonia Skytower

The Wired article refers to a 2006-ish review of user analytics; “Second Life was a retreat for escapists, an outlet for pent-up creativity – a place, as Rosedale once put it, for ‘smart people in rural areas, the disabled, people looking for companionship.'” Hello!  Just by mentioning rural areas and the disabled you just hit upon a huge under served percentage of the general population.  Virtual worlds break down barriers of proximity, and of ability.  That may not be Rosedale’s vision of egalitarian virtuality, but it is a notable accomplishment nonetheless.

Phillip Rosedale is a sprinter.  He gets excited and he sparks new ideas, opens up the Pandora’s Box of possibilities and lets the creativity flow. He sees things and expresses himself in terms that are limitless. Sprinters are essential to innovation.  But you can’t sprint forever. At some point that spark has to transition into something sustainable, based on something more than enthusiastic creative juices.  

That’s where someone like Ebbe Altberg comes in.  No less creative, Ebbe’s temperament is different. He uses limitations to propel rather than obstruct. He is a distance runner – eyes on the long road, not so dazzled by the big picture that he can’t keep moving forward.  Healthy industries need both those who can sprint, and those who can sustain distances. We need them both, and the future of virtual worlds is more promising for the different directions they are taking.

Nothing lasts forever. In that, Second Life is not unique.  It’s possible that those early delvers into on-line virtuality in 1995 thought that Worlds Chat would last forever. Did they even think about Virtual Reality in those days?  Yet with the bubble of VR expanding before our eyes, people are still feeling threatened in what has been one of the most successful, stable endeavours in the evolution of this form of social engagement.  Even though it still turns a profit for its owners, people are determined that Linden Lab has nothing better to do than throw over its consumer base. In some ways, the very openness and lack of restrictions that we value – the legacy of Rosedale – is our own worst enemy.

Wounded Angel by SistaButta. Image - Caledonia Skytower
Wounded Angel by SistaButta; image – Caledonia Skytower

So, what have you been doing with your virtual life?  Have you been learning? creating? exploring?  Have you used the tool – because that’s what it is – to make your life as a whole enriched?  Because in a free and open community, the quality of life is defined by the creativity and industry of that community.  

We all had that thrilling moment when we got past the initial boggle-ment of functioning in the platform, and discovered that our avatars could be a reflection of our emotional selves.  I could wear high heels and run on the sand! I could fly, walk among ancient ruins, meet and work with people who will never breathe the same salt water, pine-scented air that I do.

I suggest that people get burned out on Second Life for any number of reasons.  Some like to blame it on the Lab, and maybe there is some truth in that.  But people also get bored with the same old thing.  For those who do not see SL as a tool, but as a game, it will always become passé at some point – when something newer, faster, and sexier comes along. Whose fault is that?  Is it really the Lab’s fault that they cannot alter enough decade-old code to keep people’s attention? Especially when you know that the entrenched in SL will squawk loudly and painfully at any change that disrupts their  status quo. So the very stability that we crave works against us, for once the thrill of virtual freedoms are over, those who are consumers only will grid fade.

So, we come back to this: what are you doing the rest of your Second Life? The potential for personal and communal enrichment has not been tapped out. Will virtuality expand to embrace the entire earth’s population as Rosedale envisions? Probably not.  Someday, the ship of Second Life will hit the iceberg.  You get to decide what you’ll do now, and when that happens.  Will you wring your hands and cry out “the end is nigh” as you may well have been doing for years?  Will you lob deck chairs at the lifeboats screaming “I told you so!”?  Or will you take your place with the band and go down profoundly playing “Nearer My God to Thee”?  In an open community, you have a choice about how you conduct your virtual life, and what you make of it.

SS Galaxy; image - Inara Pey
SS Galaxy; image – Inara Pey

Years ago a well-respected teacher and legislator in my community was known for saying “life is like a sack lunch.  If you pack it carefully with all your favourite things, lunchtime with be a joy.  If you just carelessly throw any old thing you find in it, there’s a high probability that something will not be very tasty.”  Your virtual living is no different from the rest of your life.  If you treat it as a recreation, you are destined to get bored with it, grow out of it, have it lose relevance, and you will move on.  That’s no one’s fault.  That’s life. If you treat virtuality as an opportunity, no platform, no grid format, no change in terms of service will get in your way because you will always be questing, always be seeking, always be looking for new challenges.

The one notable difference between corporeal and virtual lives will always be the white X in the red box in the corner of your viewer.  You can always turn your virtual life off, re-invent it, reboot it, or just walk away and let it die.  The repercussions are limited. In the corporeal world, such flexibility of change is much harder to manage, and you only really hit that big X once.

“If you just build it, They won’t come: promoting events in Second Life” (Final)

blog-post-6-image-1
Tying all the knots together. Credit: public domain

by Caledonia Skytower

Part 6.  Tying it all together (Final)

This series has covered a lot of territory this year, and I am changing the ending of it somewhat, as it feels like we are reaching a point where everything is impacted by the answer to this basic question: what do you want?

This answer is key to how you interpret many of the points made in this series. What you want out of your event promotion is defined by what your long range goals are for your event.   There is no wrong answer to the question. Not all viable paths are exactly the same.

If what you want is a nice, cosy intimate gathering of friends every once in a while, then a lot of the ideas that I have shared are irrelevant and unimportant.  If you want to create a closed community of like-minded, like-interested individuals, similarly some of these practices will be helpful, and some are not for you.  If you want to grow your events or your venue into something more than either of those, then roll up your sleeves and be prepared to get messy and stay messy for a while.  Growth requires consistency, connections, and constant vigilance! (invoking Madeye Moody). I am going to tie a number of these concepts together in this final post.

Are you on the grid, but not on-line?   “On-line” off-world can manifest itself in a number of ways.  Do you have a website or blog presence? Do you post your events in social media – either Facebook or Google+ at the very least?  These are all pathways to furthering your reach and promotional impact.

Social media - an invaluable tool
Social media – an invaluable tool

A website or blog presence.  The more complex your schedule, the more you need something like this to answer the question “who are you, and what do you do?”  Beyond the simplest of operations, it gives you somewhere to send people when they ask for more information.  Remember from the very first post, The Basics – Who? What? Where? When? How?  – always leave people knowing where to find more.  That can be as simple as an event calendar, or a single blog page.  Blogger (by Google) and WordPress make it incredibly easy for the non-html-savvy person to create and maintain a simple blog for free.  Google even offers a domain service for US $12 a year, which is very reasonable.  But don’t take my word for it, look around and see what tools fit best for you.  There are lots of accessible options.

You can’t be in your venue 24/7, or available to answer questions from interested residents all the time.  So make it easier for them to answer basic questions on their own.  Things that you can include on you site/blog could include:

  • Calendar
  • Your grid location  – “SLurl”
  • Additional details on upcoming events or programs
  • Who to contact in-world
  • Links to the web presence of others that you are affiliated with
  • Links to other on-line presences: Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram etc.
Blog
A blog can help you gain an audience. Credit: public domain

Social media.  It is important to emphasize that social media is not a guaranteed direct promotional source.  It is true that some people have great success with social media event postings, but their common usage is far from wide-spread.  I suspect that some people have gathered around them groups of people who use the same tools, and that is why it works better for some people than for general public recruitment. Both Facebook and Google+ have event functions, and they also both have Groups or Communities for different virtual world enterprises.  Use their search functions to find groups that you can join where it would be appropriate for you to post your information.  Be sure to read group/community guidelines and rules carefully.  More posts are not better if your “singing to the wrong audience.”

This is important: copious posting in social media will not guarantee you a full venue or an SRO event. Why?  Because most standard postings only reach 5% of their potential audience.  Unless you do nothing else but watch social media  and post repeatedly (which I do not recommend), things will get missed.  Do not post about a single event more than once in 24 hours. The 5% who do see your posts will start to ignore you.

On average, social media is not a means of direct promotion (i.e. “butts in seats”), but a way of raising consciousness.  You may get the odd person wander in because they saw you in a Google+ community.  It is more likely that they will have seen your social media posts and then run into some mention of you while logged in and think, “oh yeah, I have heard of them.”  That kind of casual exposure is as crucial as direct promotion.  You need them both.

Get your audience working for you, by regularly encouraging them to use whatever means exists in that social media tool to “like”, “plus”, “share”, “re-tweet” or whatever.  By doing so they assist you in extending the life of the post and keep it higher up on the feed to the greater potential audience.  If it helps, think of these functions like touches.  Plenty of people see your post.  But a post that is seen but not touched sinks to the bottom quickly.  The more your post is touched, the higher it floats.  Likewise, if you want to be helpful for an endeavour you like or support, touch their posts in whatever way the media provides.

blog-post-6-image-4A Basic rubric for social media promotional posting:

  • Text Only Posts (lowest number of views)
  • Post with a link to a site/blog (higher)
  • Post of an image or picture with details (even higher)
  • Post of a video clip (highest number of views)
  • Posts with cute puppies and kittens . . . okay, not even going THERE!

Constant Vigilance!  So you’ve done it all.  You have:

  • Answered (or are answering) the basic questions – Who? What? Where? When? How?
  • You have crafted your message in words, and shared those words with people who can spread your story around.
  • You have created consistent, strong visual images that easily identify your venue and events – created a “brand.”
  • You have built a network of synchronistic enterprises and individuals who share information for mutual benefit.
  • You have established and maintained an on-line presence that informs people of who you are, what you have done, and are doing.

What now?  Sit back and watch all the good people flow in?  No, my friends.  Once you build a promotional machine you not only have to feed and water it, but you have to make sure all the parts are still working to their optimal capacity.  Regularly (minimum every six months) evaluate where you are spending your resources, and how effective the results are.  Give things time to work and develop, but don’t be afraid to stop promoting where there are no measurable results.

Who posts your press releases?  What exposure are you getting outside of your own venue or endeavour? What does your traffic look like in-grid, and on-line? Know how your current audience found you – ask them!  That’s most likely where you’ll find new audiences. What is your ratio of new to returning audience/participants? Empower your existing audience to be “roaring lions” on your behalf. Be creative.  Make it fun!

Be prepared to adjust things, try new things, and always be evaluating.  What worked dependably for years may not work as well any more.  Be prepared to refresh everything at all levels.  Be aware of what others, engaged in similar enterprises, are doing: where are they posting, promoting.  Don’t miss an opportunity to turn the competition into a colleague – developing mutually beneficial relationships where everyone wins.

When things seem to be going nowhere, or you find yourself frustrated, go back to the basics: Who? What? Where? When? How?  And most importantly for you personally, always be able to answer the question “Why?”

***

My profound thanks to Inara for her support and patience with this series, and to everyone who has enjoyed it, and left such great comments.  I look forward to seeing you all around the grid.

~ Slainté!

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Read the Entire Series

If You Just Build It… has been a multi-part guest series this year. To read posts you might have missed, follow the links below.

  1. Blasting the Myths
  2. The Basics: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  3. Words matter. So does how you use and share them
  4. Creating Visual Collateral
  5. Building a network