Lab Gab 20 summary: Second Life cloud uplift & more

via Linden Lab

The 20th edition of Lab Gab live streamed on Friday, April 3rd, featuring Oz Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Engineering and a member of the company’s management team, and April Linden, the Lab’s Systems Engineering Manager. They were appearing to primarily discuss the work in transitioning Second Life to commercial cloud environments. Ekim Linden had also been scheduled to appear, but was unable to do so.

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 asked. Note that the first half of the video is related to the cloud uplift, and the second half to broader engineering-related questions.

April Linden has some 20 years of experience in systems engineering, and is genuinely passionate about Second Life. She first became involved in the platform in 2006 as a resident (and is still extremely active as a resident). She joined the Lab in 2013. She worked within the systems engineering team, and was promoted to her current position of Systems Engineering Manager, Operations, some 18 months ago. For her, the great attraction of the platform has been, and remains, the empowerment it gives people to express themselves positively.

Oz Linden joined the company in 2010 specifically to take on the role of managing the open-source aspects of the Second Life viewer and managing the relationship with third-party viewers, a role that fully engaged him during the first two years of his time at the Lab. His role then started expanding to encompass more and more of the engineering side of Second Life, leading to his currently senior position within the company.

Both are genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about Second Life and its users.

The bunny and the wizard who bring us Second Life: April Linden (Systems Engineering Manager, Operations) and Oz Linden (Vice President, Second Life Engineering)

The Cloud Uplift

What is It?

[5:40-9:45]

  • Cloud Uplift is the term Linden Lab use for transitioning all of Second Life’s server-based operations and services from their own proprietary systems and services housed within a single co-location data centre in Tucson, Arizona, to  commercial cloud services provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google.
  • The process of moving individual services to the cloud is called “lift and shift” – take each element of software, making the required adjustments so it can run within a cloud computing environment, then relocate it to cloud infrastructure and hardware in a manner that allows it to keep running and avoids disruptions that may impact users, and continues to run exactly as it did prior to the transfer.
  • The current plan is to have all of this work – up to an including moving all of the SL region simulators – to cloud services by the end of 2020.
  • Numerous services have been transitioned to date.
    • The Lab generally prefers not to discussion which specific services have been moved, to prevent users seeing the move as a placebo reason for issues they may be encountering, thus biasing their bug reports.
    • However, one service that is known to have moved is the inventory (asset) database, so that all users’ inventories are obtained via the cloud, and not from a dedicated asset cluster within the Lab’s co-lo facility.
  • With the services that have moved, the Lab has seen noticeable improvements in performance, partially as a result of cloud services using more recently / more powerful hardware configurations than the Lab can run without making a major new capital expenditure in equipment (which the uplift is intended to avoid).
  • A practical advantage of cloud operations is the ability for LL to scale services to meet demand.  The recent increase in users logging-in to SL, for example, placed a strain on the services that feed the CDNs that in turn deliver the majority of asset data to users (mesh data, textures, sounds, gestures, clothing, etc.). These services we then able to dynamically scale to an increased number of nodes to handle the load, something LL would not have been able to do without first sourcing, installing ans configuring the required hardware.
Oz and April with Strawberry Linden (c)

What Improvements Might Users See from the Uplift?

[9:48-14:42]

  • Between now and the end of 2020, no appreciable different should be observable to users.
  • The move is initially being made to a single AWS centre, so things like ping times to regions (once they are moved) shouldn’t change.
  • In terms of reducing simulator-side lag, the answer is unclear, as simulators have yet to be tested – this is due to start with simulators internal to the Lab Soon™. This will enable the Lab to begin to get real numbers in terms of simulator performance.
    • It is believed that simply moving simulators to the more recent, more powerful hardware used by cloud services should on its own result in a modest improvement in simulator performance.
    • That said, the outcome of performance adjustments in distributed environments is “really, really hard to predict”.
  • Longer-term, as the Lab is able to start exploiting the advantages of being in the cloud, there is confidence performance will improved in various areas.
    • For example, if simulators can be distributed in accordance with the geographical locations of their primary audiences (e.g. simulators that tend to get the majority of their audience from South America being located in South America), then this could reduce network time in connecting to them for those audiences, and so help boost performance as seen by those users.
    • While this is a longer-term goal for the cloud migration (it’s not going to be there from “day 1”), it is a part of the motivation to make the transition.

How will the Lab Handle Costs?

[14:45-18:40]

Sidebar note: cloud services typically bill based on demand and usage. This has given rise in some quarters to concerns / beliefs that LL could find themselves facing unexpected large bills for hosting.

  • Two answers: the first is nothing is ever certain.
  • The second is, the Lab, with April and Ekim in particular leading the effort, put a lot of work into modelling their likely operations and costs when using cloud services and infrastructure.
    • This work involved a lot of assumptions on how LL anticipated their costs would look based on how the planned to operate SL in a the cloud.
    • This model was then put to both AWS and to an independent, outside consultancy with expertise in advising clients on the use of cloud-base service provisioning, both of who gave positive feedback on the approach the Lab would be taking and the likely costs involved.
  • Further, the fact that SL isn’t a service that dynamically expands under use. All of its services are operating 24/7, so the costs can be readily calculated and pretty much consistent, therefore, the dynamic surges that can lead to high service bills don’t actually apply.
  • While there are some back-end services that can leverage dynamic hardware use in times of heavy load, these are in the minority (all of SL’s back-end services account for only 15% of its server fleet), so again, dynamic increases in hardware use for those services that can leverage it, are not going to be massively excessive.
  • As such, and allowing for answer (1), the Lab isn’t overly concerned about costs spiralling.

Will There Be Cost Saving that Can Be Passed to Users?

[18:41-19:54]

  • Unfortunately, the engineering teams are not responsible for determining fees charged to users.
  • More practically, it is not going to be possible to make any informed judgements on costs to users until the Lab has had the opportunity to see how actual operating costs compare with their predicted costs model.
  • Further, it is not anticipated that any cost savings will be made in the first 1-2 years of cloud uplift, so any decisions on if and where to reduce costs to users won’t be made for a a while to come, and those involved in making such decisions are not in the engineering teams.

Previewing Lab Gab 20: cloud uplift and engineering

via Linden Lab

The 20th edition of Lab Gab will be live streamed on Friday, April 3rd at 10:00 SLT (18:00 UK; 19:00 CET). For those who have not seen the official blog post about it, the segment will feature members of the Second Life Engineering team: Oz Linden, April Linden and Ekim Linden.

Oz Linden is the Lab’s Vice President of Engineering and a member of the company’s management team. Together with Grumpity Linden and Patch Linden, he is responsible for SL’s technical and operational directions. He specifically overseas the Lab’s engineering teams to manage all aspects of the Lab’s server environment (hardware and software) and the teams engaged in all aspects of viewer development and testing.

April Linden has become familiar to many SL residents for her honest and informative blog posts explaining what happened and how things were fixed when Second Life suffers a significant system upset and / or outage. As the Lab’s Systems Engineering Manager, she particularly coordinates and manages all aspects of the Lab’s server operations, including dealing with the third-party teams who physically care for the Lab’s hardware at its data co-location centre.

Ekim Linden is the Lab’s Director of Web Engineering, as manages the engineering team directly responsible for the Lab’s web properties (such as the Marketplace, the secondlife.com website, etc).

Ekim Linden (l), Oz Linden and April Linden (r) on the Lab Gab set. Credit: Linden Lab

All three are responsible for managing and coordinating the extensive work in transitioning all of the Lab’s services from their dedicated hardware and infrastructure and to recognised cloud services operated by Amazon (AWS) and Google. As such, they are appearing on Lab Gab to talk about this work – which the Lab refers to as the Cloud Uplift – although doubtless, other subjects will come up for discussion.

If you have a question you’d like to put to Oz, April or Ekim (or all of them), particularly on the uplift, make sure you submit it via the Lab Gab Google form.

As usual, the programme will be streamed via YouTube, Facebook, Mixer, or Periscope, and if all goes according to plan, I’ll have a summary of the video (and the video itself) available soon after the the broadcast, for those unable to watch live.

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.

Advanced notice for Lab Gab 19: how the Lab is dealing with the health crisis

via Linden Lab

The 19th edition of Lab Gab will be live streamed on Friday, March 27th at 10:00 SLT (17:00 UK; 18:00 CET). The segment will feature Ebbe Linden (aka Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg) and Brett Linden, Senior Director of Marketing, two recent guests on the show (see here and here for summaries of their prior interviews). They are returning to address, as the official blog post states:

Discussing how Linden Lab is responding to the public health crisis to ensure uninterrupted Second Life operations, as well as how the company is offering new remote turnkey solutions for conferences, events, or classes.

This is once more a segment during which questions from Second Life users will be put to Ebbe and Brett, so if you have anything you’d like to ask  – particularly in relation to the SARS novel-coronavirus pandemic and Second Life / Linden Lab operations, although not necessarily restricted to that topic – be sure to submit them via the Lab Gab Episode 19 Questions form. Not all the questions may be asked / answered, but if you don’t try, there’s a greater chance your question may not be asked anyway!

The programmed will be streamed via YouTube, Facebook, Mixer, or Periscope, and if all goes according to plan, I’ll have a summary of the video (and the video itself) available soon after the the broadcast, for those unable to watch live.

Lab Gab 16 summary: marketing Second Life

via Linden Lab

The 16th edition of Lab Gab was live streamed on Friday, March 6th, featuring three members of the Second Life Marketing team: Brett Linden, the Lab’s Senior Director of Marketing, Darcy Linden, Performance Marketing Manager and Strawberry Linden, who was also acting in her role as the show’s host.

The official video of the segment is available via You Tube, and the following is a summary of the key topics discussed and responses to questions. Note that this is not a full transcript or summary; I’ve tried to keep this summary to the core discussions on the Marketing Team’s work, so be sure to refer to the video as well. Also, items provided below may not all reflect the chronological order in which they were discussed, but have been grouped together where appropriate. Time stamps are provided for those wishing to jump to a specific point in the video, which is also embedded at the end of this summary.

Note that further information on the Lab’s Marketing work for Second Life can also be found in the official blog post, The Heart & Science of Second Life Marketing, which is mentioned on several occasions during the video.

Brett Linden (l) and Darcy Linden (r) will be joining fellow Marketing team member Strawberry Linden for the March 6th edition of Lab Gab

Marketing Team Goals for 2020

[4:02-5:17]

  • Continue the drive for greater user acquisition (sign-up and conversions to retained users) and grow the active user base.
  • The retention focus is also on existing users – helping to keep them engaged and feeling a part of SL’s very broad “community”.
  • Helping the Second Life economy – highlighting and encouraging creativity in Second Life and the potential the platform offers in terms of creativity and potential income generation.
  • To re-energise the Second Life brand. The platform is 17 years old – no mean feat for any technology product  / platform – but that longevity  and history means that it’s important to keep SL relevant in pop culture, the media, etc., so the fact that it is still thriving is not forgotten.

General Marketing

  • [6:44-7:43] One of the major aspects of marketing material production has been SL related videos (e.g. in-house tutorials and videos exploring different regions in SL, plus the Made in SL series).
    • These have seen a dramatic increase in the volume of available videos for people to see through various channels and many of them have been localised into other languages for ease of digestion.
    • They also feed into market segmentation and efforts by the Lab to probe what resonates with users (potential, new and established) and generate greater interest / awareness in the platform.
  • [9:05-10:22] What is the target demographic LL looks at for SL?
    • LL has done analyses of audience segmentation, communities, themes, etc., and a lot of demographic data has been gathered in respect of this.
      • There is a lot of interest in the platform from the 18-24 year age bracket.
      • Conversely, with users who have spent 1,000 hours or more in SL, the age range is much broader (18 through to 60+).
    • Given the latter point, and  that as a virtual world, SL allows people to do pretty much anything they want and be whomever they wish, the Lab focuses more on breaking age barriers, and focuses on the richness of opportunities and experiences available within the platform, rather than on specific age groups, and helping communities active within SL to grow, regardless of age, race, gender, etc.
    • [46:35-47:22] That said, campaigns that are targeted for older users are being developed.
  • [24:32-25:49] Where to SL ads go, and how are channels selected?
    • Ads go to all suitable channels across the web – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc., and more recently Twitter and other social media.
    • Videos go to You Tube and Facebook.
    • LL always willing to experiment with new channels – social media, for example, has given “very mixed results”.
    • All advertising is subject to analysis and time has been put into enhancing the tools available for doing to and which will allow LL to extend their reach even further.
    • Part of this drive also involves identifying active communities in SL that can be used as a focus for ad campaigns.
  • [27:23-28:52] and [37:50-39:48] Is SL marketing work being localised for languages other than English? Yes. The new user video tutorial series, for example, has been translated into around 8 languages.  The same is also being done with SL ads.
  • [29:02-30:29] Why don’t SL users see these ads?
    • The fact the active SL users rarely / never see on-line adverts for SL is testament to the targeted nature of the campaigns and that they are reaching the intended audience – people who are not active in SL.
    • Advertising specific to existing users (e.g. promoting events, etc), goes via different mechanisms.
    • Investment is being made in technologies and capabilities to extend SL’s reach via marketing and potential user acquisition.
    • Most tech-literate people have heard about SL, so a portion of the work is focused on piquing their curiosity to the point where they go from reading / hearing about it to actively taking a look.
    • Some of this has been geared towards encouraging former users to log-in once more.
    • Work is also focused on audiences who may not be aware of SL.
  • [32:22-35:23] What is happening with regards to more organic marketing?
    • LL wants to to curate, create or assist the SL community in strong word-of-mouth marketing, including high-quality social media content.
    • Also looking at possibly using non-paid product placement opportunities with established TV programmes and media channels to more directly pitch SL.
      • An example of this that unfortunately didn’t go ahead, was the potential for Second Life to be placed / referenced within the British-made Black Mirror anthology series.

Marketing Second Life’s Adult Content

[10:28-16:00]

Two core questions were asked on the subject of adult content.

  • Is there any work being done to promote adult content in Second Life, including LL working with adult content creators, bloggers, etc, plus placing ads on other adult platforms?
    • Yes, LL are cautiously looking at how to incorporate SL’s adult content into messaging. But there are major  business implications / issues associated with trying to do so.
    • For example, industry “best practices” as defined by Google, Facebook, et al, tend to be conservative / limiting in what they will allow with advertising, which can impact both how LL can promote adult content and how effective any campaign might be given the restrictions other platforms have in place vis. adult content.
    • There are also serious consequences LL have to consider if they promote adult content through other platforms in the wrong way – such as losing complete access to a mainstream channel for advertising SL as a whole.
      • [58:15-59:24] The reason SL does not have a Twitch presence is because Twitch will not countenance any risk of adult content appearing on their platform. This is something the Lab is attempting to redress via discussions with Twitch.
    • Nevertheless, LL is testing more “provocative” messaging in some of their romance related campaigns – on of the more successful of their promotional campaigns in terms of click-through and possible audience capture.
  • Will adult content be promoted alongside / as a part of major SL events such as the SL Birthday, or promoting those adult regions that are thematically landscaped, or offering adult bloggers blog roll support?
    • For those logged-in to SL, either in-world or places like the Marketplace, it is possible to opt-in to seeing information related to Adult products, places, etc. via search, through the Maturity ratings.
    • There is also a Destination Guide category for adult content, allowing for the rules on image types, etc.
    • In terms of SLB and adult content, Marketing cannot speak for the Product Operations team, but how adult content might be handled vis-a-vis SL17B is something that is on Patch Linden’s radar (see also: Lab Gab #15 summary: the Moles, Patch SL17B and more).

Increasing User Retention

[18:56-24:30]

  • A good part of the marketing work is not just running campaigns and hoping they will draw users, but actively monitoring campaigns – how well / poorly they perform – and carrying out a range of testing (from simple A/B testing through more complex multivariate testing) to provide direct feedback on campaigns allowing them to be constantly refined and improved.
  • Testing also encompasses all aspects of the user sign-up process, landing pages, etc., that sit behind ad campaigns (collectively the join flow that carries an interested party from an ad through the sign-up process and (hopefully) in-world).
  • This has resulted in upticks in both sign-ups and users arriving in-world.
  • Testing initiatives also extends into the active user base (e.g. the rez day e-mail campaign) to see how the Lab can more positively engage with its existing users.
  • In terms of further plans  / activities related to user retention, The Heart & Science of Second Life Marketing provides more information on what the Marketing team is and will be doing.
  • In terms of how existing users can help SL grow, the easiest, most effective way to it tell others about the platform, what you do, invite them to give it a go and be there to help them and help get them involved.
  • [25:50-27:22] Most SL ads focus on a specific genre / theme – so why don’t users following those ads go to a related sign-up process with suitable default avatars and arrive in-world at locations that reflect the theme of the ad?
    • Lab has run several experiments with community matching between ads and sign-in / arrival in-world.
    • However they are dependent on a wide range of factors (time taken to create the relevant avatar type, work with communities in-world to ensure incoming users get the support they need on arrival, resources available at the Lab to make them happen, etc.), and so they do take time to implement.
    • Currently, much of the focus at the Lab with SL is towards other areas / requirements, so such tests are currently on hold, to be picked up in the near future.
    • The aim is very much on having people to traverse a sign-up experience and arrive at an in-world location that meets their expectations based on the ad.

Additional Discussions

  • [5:17-9:04] Lucagrabcr initiated a forum thread on SL Marketing which is mentioned in the segment, with Brett specifically picking up on the idea of “spinning off” communities into their worn worlds (“Tiny World”, for example).  In particular, while making it clear this is not on  LL’s roadmap, the idea does resonate with SL possibly having the potential to offer white label services (e.g. “Tiny World, brought to you by XYZ, powered by Second Life”).
    • Offering the platform as a white label service is actually something I thought Sansar would have been ideally suited – and early in the platform’s history, Ebbe Altberg did point in that direction. Whether it was actually promoted that way, I’ve no idea. If not, then it might stand as a missed opportunity for that platform.
  • [16:02-18:55] and [30:30-32:21] Second Life has had something of a negative stigma in the media over the years. What is being done to reverse this?
    • Negative press must be responded to on many fronts. Much of what is being put out through social media, performance advertising campaigns, the video promotions, etc., will all combine to shift such negative perceptions where they occur.
    • The community plays a role in this through positive videos that are organically created by users, blogs and other resources that help present SL’s richness, etc. user generated videos are seen as particularly effective in countering trolling videos.
    • Lab is aware that more can be done to challenge perceptions and preconceptions, and again, they see telling the stories of those engaged in the platform as a means of doing this.
  • [59:28-1:00:22] Is physical world merchandise being considered as a means of helping to promote SL? Yes, but nothing to announce at this point in time, but a review of potential merchandise, vendors, etc., has been carried out.