VWBPE 2021: Grumpity and Brett Linden

VWBPE 2021

On Saturday, March 20th, 2021, the final of three sessions featuring Linden Lab staff took place at the 2021 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference. Whilst the the third session overall, this was actually the second of a double series entitled Reconnaissance with the Lab, and featured Grumpity Linden, VP of Product and Brett Linden, VP of Marketing, the first having been held on Friday, March 19th, which saw Patch Linden, VP of Product Operations and Madori Linden, Product Specialist (Land Operations) joining Grumpity and Brett.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session. however, as some discussion points followed directly on from the Friday March 19th, discussion, it should be read in reference to my summary of that meeting as well.

As always, time stamps are also provided to the relevant points in the video for those who wish to listen to specific comments.

The Attendees

Grumpity Linden

Grumpity Linden heads up Second Life Product, where she has overseen a shift to growth, a stronger, more balanced economy, movement towards better community cohesion, and an overall forward-looking approach.

Prior to working for Linden Lab (first joining as a contractor in 2009 and then full-time in 2014), she was involved in a number of industries, including technology, higher education, and oil & gas. She enjoys exploring worlds both virtual and physical and takes pride in building bridges – personal and professional.

Grumpity holds a Master’s in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s from same in Computer Science & Psychology, both from Johns Hopkins University. She finds leading the Second Life product a joy because it allows her to draw on both areas of study.

As VP of marketing, Brett Linden manages the team responsible for developing media campaigns and strategic content partnerships for Second Life. Together they focus on both the acquisition of new users and the retention of existing users for the virtual world.

Brett Linden

In the past decade, he has produced numerous virtual and “mixed reality” events and panels on various academic topics with an emphasis on legitimising and better surfacing the many cultures and communities within virtual environments.

From Rolling Stone to Billboard, Brett has also written for major publications and managed multimedia initiatives for Amazon.com and RealNetworks. He has co-founded numerous media sites on-line, including the Second Life Destination Guide and Rolling Stone Radio. As a co-founding editor at Billboard.com, he interviewed Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Shania Twain, and Bjork.

Dealing with Griefing

[Video: 10:04-19:09]

  • Grumpity:
    • The Governance User Group offers a monthly forum in-world for region / estate holders (and general users) to discuss matters of security, griefing, abuse reporting, etc. Meetings are held monthly on the third Tuesday of the month at 13:00 SLT (at the time of writing).
    • Specific issues can also be raised through the Support channel, or can be passed to Madori Linden, who will in turn pass them on to the Governance and Land teams.
    • For specialised environments, such as regions operated by educators, non-profits, business organisations, etc., the best way to secure a region or estate is via the RegAPI [see below for more on this].
    • With regards to griefing via voice – specifically things like voice channel hijacking – LL has worked extensively with the Voice API provider, Vivox, to prevent / eliminate such issues a lot more readily.

What is the RegAPI?

[Video 11:48-17:21]

  • RegAPI is a means for organisations that need to to provide dedicated, controlled access to Second Life to their users.
  • Organisations are assigned a keycode by the Lab. This can used in conjunction with the Second Life registration form (web page) the organisation designs to connect to the Second Life account registration process and then, and as required:
    • Define: the group new-sign-ups are assigned to.
    • Limit created accounts to only accessing the defined region / estate, and block them from teleporting away from it.
    • Control the avatar options available to new-sign-ups.
    • Control access to associated services within the viewer such as the voice stream.
  • The sign-up form can be hosted directly by the organisation concerned within their own environment (thus controlling access to it).
  • The process can also lock access to the defined region / estate from being accessed by accounts not created using the organisation’s dedicated key.
  • Linden Lab does not directly provide turnkey registration forms for clients, but can provide more general assistance where required.

Accessibility – Those with Disabilities & for whom English is a Second Language

[Video: 19:22-25:37]

  • Grumpity:
    • LL is constantly trying to improve accessibility.
    • Now the majority of the work in moving SL to AWS has been completed, there is potential scope to further address accessibility, including looking at some of the available third-party tools that can be integrated into the SL product – previously, the Lab has attempted to provide dedicated solutions for some issues, but then maintenance and upkeep became problematic, so third-party tools are now seen a preferable way forward.
    • There is no definitive road map as to what may be tried / addressed at present, but the Product team is now far better placed to look at potential options in discussion with involved communities within SL (e.g. educators, Virtual Ability, etc.).
    • In general, LL are very aware that there are many different uses and needs that can be addressed by Second Life by many different individuals and communities, many of who may have specific access requirements, so accessibility is very much a part of thinking at the lab.

New Users: On-Boarding and Experience

[Video: 26:23-37:07]

  • Grumpity:
    • The Lab is working on a new on-boarding experience, but it is not yet ready for deployment.
    • This has been developed not only as a means of updating the new user experience, but also looking at what people actually need to have a successful initial experience with Second Life.
      • So rather than focusing on the basics, like avatar movement, which most people with even a basic exposure to playing games can likely work out for themselves, the focus is more on social interactions – starting a conversation, for example.
    • Connected to this new on-boarding experience are:
      • A cleaning-up the viewer UI, allowing the more essential elements to be better identified and more logical.
      • An overhauling the avatar customisation process to make it easier for incoming users to create a basic look they are happy with.
    • An overall aim of all of this work is to reduce some of the multiple ways in which certain common tasks can be completed, in order to help flatten the curve of Second Life being “complicated” to learn.
    • There is also the Community Gateway programme as well, which provides an important means of bringing users into SL Life, and which Linden Lab monitors and takes lessons from, as well as carrying out testing within their own on-boarding process.

Questions Arising

Is there effort to create a browser-capable grid to flatten the learning curve?

  • Grumpity:
    • LL is working towards a possible partnership that will allow for a streaming solution  for Second Life. This is not something that can be discussed in detail at present, but would love to talk more about it Soon™.
    • In terms of mobile devices, the nature of SL means than any dedicated experience via a ‘phone is going to be less than ideal – ideally a keyboard and mouse are required, but it is being explored. [Again, the Lab has an active project to bring Second Life to both iOS and Android, initially as a basic communications tool.]
  • Brett: streaming is an area that has expanded over the last 12+ months, with multiple companies moving into the space, allowing dialogues to take place. Among other things, the Lab recognises the need to be on more lightweight client systems (such as Chromebook) when addressing areas such as education.

Why are there no up-to-date videos on how to do things in Second Life and on the communities,  etc?

  • Brett: there is a series of New User tutorials by Strawberry Linden that are just over a year old, and which are available in multiple languages. These will likely be refreshed every 18-24 months.

How Can the Education Community Help with Marketing SL?

[Video: 38:45-44:39]

  • Brett:
    • Anyone with ideas, comments or constructive critique about SL marketing are invited to contact the Marketing team.
    • There is also the potential for in-world meetings between community leaders and members of the Marketing team to discuss ideas and options, etc.
    • There is a lot going on in marketing: this year will see a new general consumer campaign to reinvigorate the SL brand. Some of this has started to roll out,  such as developing new social media partnerships and other outreach efforts.
    • Further community exposure can be obtained by being a part of stories the Lab either pitch to the media, or are approached about by the media to provide. In  particularly, success stories about how SL is being used, innovative or novel ways in which the platform is made use of, are of particular interest.
    • Now is actually a good time for such stories, as the pandemic has lead to and increased / renewed media interest in the platform and its potential.
    • In terms of marketing within SL, there are multiple options to help promote work / use / events, from the Destination Guide through to the Lab Gab live stream sessions.
  • Grumpity [49:40-50:10]: in terms of general liaison between the Lab and the educational community, there has been discussion about establishing a dedicated Discord channel, and feedback from educators (via Madori Linden) is sought.

Costs and Pricing

[Video: 45:57-48:45]

  • Grumpity:
    • It was “misguided” to have removed the non-profit  / educational discount [June 2011], and equally very important to see it returned [in 2013] as soon as the Lab could do so.
    • In  March 2020, a flat monthly fee of $99 was introduced for educational and non-profit  organisations, and the Lab has no plans to increase this.
    • However, the narrative that has circulated that costs to the Lab would be reduced as a result of the move to AWS, isn’t accurate; while it removes the high level of capital expenditure LL must make in new hardware every several years, it does not reduce the basic operating costs for the service as a whole. Ergo, there are no plans to reduce prices.

VWBPE 2021: Grumpity, Patch, Brett and Madori Linden

VWBPE 2021

On Friday, March 19th, 2021 , the second of three sessions featuring Linden Lab staff took place at the 2021 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference. Whilst the second session overall, this was actually the first of a double series entitled Reconnaissance with the Lab and took the shape of a round table discussion with from members of Linden Lab’s staff: Grumpity Linden, VP of Product, Brett Linden, VP of Marketing, Patch Linden, VP of Product Operations and Madori Linden, Product Specialist (Land Operations).

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session, which is embedded at the end of this article. Time stamps are also provided to the relevant points in the video for those who wish to listen to specific comments.

The focal point for the session were four questions, which form the topic headings in this summary:

  • What is Linden Lab excited about that will be of interest to educators and VWBPE community members?
  • What is the greatest concern about education in virtual environments like Second Life right now?
  • How can educators and the VWBPE community work with Linden Lab in creating and supporting vibrant and engaging learning environments?
  • What can educators and the VWBPE community look forward to in the next year?

Note: the second of these Reconnaissance discussions is summarised here.

The Attendees

Grumpity Linden heads up Second Life Product, where she has overseen a shift to growth, a stronger, more balanced economy, movement towards better community cohesion, and an overall forward-looking approach.

Prior to working for Linden Lab (first joining as a contractor in 2009 and then full-time in 2014), she was involved in a number of industries, including technology, higher education, and oil & gas. She enjoys exploring worlds both virtual and physical and takes pride in building bridges – personal and professional.

Grumpity holds a Master’s in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor’s from same in Computer Science & Psychology. She finds leading the Second Life product a joy because it allows her to draw on both areas of study.

Patch Linden is Vice President of Product Operations at Linden Lab where he works to bring the best of product and support decisions on a daily operational basis to the virtual world platform for Second Life. He also maintains oversight on how all of the various teams within Linden Lab can best work together for the highest good of the Residents and the business.

Patch started as a Resident in 2004 before joining Linden Lab in 2007. Prior to joining Linden Lab, he held leadership roles focused on customer service and product development where he always maintained a customer-first focus while striving to deliver best-in-class products and services. He has a deep passion for creativity and uses that to bring enjoyment to others. He continues to evolve his skills to include virtual worlds, 3D Design, 3D printing, modelling, photography and videography.

Grumpity, Patch, Brett and Madori (individual images via Linden Lab)

As VP of marketing, Brett Linden manages the team responsible for developing media campaigns and strategic content partnerships for Second Life. Together they focus on both the acquisition of new users and the retention of existing users for the virtual world. In the past decade, he has produced numerous virtual and “mixed reality” events and panels on various academic topics with an emphasis on legitimising and better surfacing the many cultures and communities within virtual environments.

From Rolling Stone to Billboard, Brett has also written for major publications and managed multimedia initiatives for Amazon.com and RealNetworks. He has co-founded numerous media sites on-line, including the Second Life Destination Guide and Rolling Stone Radio. As a co-founding editor at Billboard.com, he interviewed Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Shania Twain, and Bjork.

Madori Linden is a product specialist on the Land Operations team. Among other things , she works with educators and various types of specialty regions; from their inception and development to maintenance and support.

Her LBL (Life Before Linden) was a winding path to Second Life. She studied Socio Cultural Anthropology with a specialisation in fringe societies within techoology. The contacts made there led to a career in marketing and being the co-owner of an event production company Having children brought her back full circle to education. Second Life was the vehicle for all of those passions to merge.

She works towards making sure that #AVVILEARNING (avatar virtual learning) won’t be just an idea, but part of the future of learning.

What is Linden Lab excited about that will be of interest to educators and VWBPE community members?

[Video: 6:10-24:23]

  • Patch: the new energy the new ownership is putting in the platform and the investment on the table to take Second Life to new heights.
  • Grumpity:
    • Excited by completing the transition to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the continuing work to optimise Second Life in it new environment.
    • Also the potential for the AWS environment to perhaps offer new products as the company moves forward.
    • The transition took several years to complete, consuming a lot of engineering effort, and it offers the potential to enhance the longevity of Second Life using the best hardware and infrastructure available.
  • Brett:
    • Also excited by the energy within LL that is being driven by the new board. Especially impressed by the way Brad Oberwager (board member and Executive Chairman) frames his thinking in a very customer-centric way (“Hows does this benefit the users? How does it benefit SL?”).
    • The ability to stream content into Second Life, as originally demonstrated in the Adult Swim streaming of episodes from The Shivering Truth in May 2020. This is a capability that has meaningful enterprise and educational applications
  • Madori: not so much excited by given the circumstances, but pleased in the way people have seen Second Life as a means to maintain contact while socially distanced. In this, the incoming new owners with their drive to grow the platform has been fortuitous.

What is the greatest concern about education in virtual environments like Second Life right now?

[Video: 14:13-22:11]

  • Patch: safety. Fortunately, SL has a lot of capabilities to help with this and keeping students safe. The foremost is the RegAPI capabilities, which can be used to create a dedicated on-boarding experience. This allows for elements such as custom name accounts, making identification easier, limiting the number of accounts an organisation is bringing into SL, deliver users directly to a defined in-world location. There’s also the ability to lock regions from being accessed by others and to prevent students leaving the learning spaces, etc.
  • Brett: not a concern, but what has been noticed is that some educators have noted that using second Life as a medium is less intrusive than expecting parents to put heir young children in front of a camera for remote schooling.
  • Grumpity: echoes Brett’s comments, noting that teenagers as well can feel exposed in having to face a camera and be observed by others in close details, whereas SL embodies a freer sense of presence, one that is perhaps more familiar to teenagers today, who have a lot more exposure to have an on-line presence, whilst also maintaining a sense of distance / privacy that can be important.

Questions Arising

Will there be a renewed push, with allocated staff support, for growth in Community Gateways featuring direct SL registration?

  • Madori: the support is already there. In fact, there is a new community gateway that started on Friday, March 19th.

Any thoughts to bring back something like TEEN Grid – where there was more protection for young folks?

  • Grumpity: Teen Grid doesn’t provide the same level of protection and unique features as found in the RegAPI capability.

Many students are using Chromebook and similar, which cannot easily run SL. Is this being addressed?

  • Grumpity: this is understood, and LL are looking to find a potential partner who can help achieve this [streaming solution], as well as internal efforts to being SL to mobile devices [e.g. tablets with keyboard input for a fuller educational experience]

How can educators and the VWBPE community work with Linden Lab in creating and supporting vibrant and engaging learning environments?

[Video: 24:38-36:42]

  • Madori: if you have specific ideas that may benefit SL – reach out to the Lab; it may be something that is feasible and could benefit the community as a whole. LL can better visualise needs by hearing about them.
  • Brett:
    • From a Marketing and communications aspect, is extremely interested in hearing about case studies, success stories and innovative uses of the platform that can both help promote the community concerned and demonstrate the relevance of SL.
    • Lab Gab is a potential opportunity for educators to tell their stories to the wider SL audience.
  • Grumpity:
    • Would be every interested in finding out more about the learning management tools educators use and what they are looking for in learning platforms and tools – although the volume that were suggested by the audience illustrates the problems in trying to offer a solution that will satisfy all needs.
    • Also wanted to mention the turnkey solutions LL have developed specifically for educators. These can be found at Explore Second Life.

Continue reading “VWBPE 2021: Grumpity, Patch, Brett and Madori Linden”

VWBPE 2021: Patch Linden – the board, Second Life, and more

VWBPE 2021

On Thursday, March 18th, 2021 Patch Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product Operations and a member of the company’s management team, attended the 2021 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference in the first of three special events featuring representative from Linden Lab.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session, which is embedded at the end of this article. Time stamps to the video are also provided to the relevant points in the video for those who wish to listen to specific comments.

Notes:

  • This is a summary, not a full transcript, and items have been grouped by topic, so may not be presented chronologically when compared to the video.
  • In places, information that is supplementary to Patch’s comments is provided in square braces (i.e. [ and ]) are used in the body text below to indicate where this is the case.

Linden Lab’s New Board

[Video: 4:04-10:55]

[For additional information on the new board members, please also see: Meet Linden Lab’s new board of directors (January 9th, 2021) and Linden Lab’s board of directors: snippets of news (February 4th, 2021).]

Linden Lab’s board of directors (l to r): Brad Oberwager, J. Randall Waterfield and Raj Date
  • New ownership team is a “joy to work with”.
  • Brad Oberwager is particularly active, and has the avatar name Oberwolf Linden  and is described as “a lot of fun” to be around and to work with. [He is both on the board and serves as Executive Chairman on the management team.]
Brad Oberwager has joined the Lab’s management team as Executive Chairman, and his long-time colleague, Cammy Bergren serving as Chief of Staff
  • As Executive Chairman Brad Oberwager’s aim is to see Second life set as the “largest and best” virtual world,  and has a genuine love for the platform.
  • Both J. Randal Waterfield and Raj Date (particularly) appear to lean more towards the Tilia Pay side of things, with Brad Oberwager more “in the middle”. However, this doesn’t mean there is a dichotomy. Tilia is a key component of Second Life (it runs the entire Linden Dollar eosystem), and Tilia’s own success and growth will benefit SL.
    • [Tilia is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Linden Research (Linden Lab). It’s board comprises two members of the Linden Research Board: Brad Oberwager and Raj Date), together with Aston Waldman, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Linden Lab. The management team comprises: members of the the Lab’s management team: Aston Waldman, David Kim, Ray Johnson, Emily Stonehouse and Brett Attwood.]
    • The two entities enjoy a symbiotic relationship: Tilia is owned by Linden Research with Linden Research also a primary customer. However, day-to-day operations are carried out by two separate  teams.
  • [48:48-49:59] The new owners are bringing a tremendous new energy to Linden Lab, and are “super enthusiastic” about growing Second Life, including its educational use. What gets to be invested in the platform will only benefit everyone.
    • The key question Brad Oberwager asks and prompts people to ask is, “How will it benefit the residents, and how will it benefit Second Life?”

SL Short-Term and Longer Term

Priorities for the Second Life Team in the Next 12 Months

[Video: 10:57-16:02]

  • Immediate priority is to increase the Second Life active user base. This is very much being driven as a goal by Brad Oberwager, and includes:
    • “Drilling down into” the new user experience.
    • Refactoring the on-boarding process and orientation islands.
    • The work will include viewer-side changes that are intended to “smooth out a lot of the bumps in the road”.
    • The will will be built on two years of active study and A/B testing to try to determine what the on-boarding path should look like, together with learning from users returning to Second life as a a result of the SARS-CoV-2 impact.
    • It is hoped this work will both help LL improve user retention and also feed through to the community gateways, particularly with regards to the upcoming changes which will be made to the viewer.
    • No specifics provided, but the viewer changes are described as:
      • “New UIs”
      • Refreshed looks.
      • Easier to find information.
  • There is also the need to complete the work of transitioning to AWS – fixing the current issues directly related to the move and also on-going work to properly leverage the AWS environment for the benefit of the platform.
    • [29:24-30:00] This work includes a  lot of under-the-hood simulator performance improvements that will be continuing throughout the year.

Second Life in Five Years Time

[Video: 16:04-19:33]

  • The company would like to at least double the active user population over the next 3-5 years.
  • This is seen as a realistic goal in light of the shift in emphasis seen within business, education, etc., from purely physical world interactions towards more digitally-based interactions / hybrid opportunities that mix various formats [e.g. digital + virtual + remote working / learning].
  • AWS offers the potential for regions to be geographically located around the world, potentially bringing them closer to their core audience.
    • This could allow educational regions, for example, to be hosted much closer to the schools / colleges / students they serve, making them more responsive.
    • This approach could potentially start to be used towards the end of 2021.
  • Further out, geolocating regions could potentially offer the ability for the Lab to offer white label grids to specific customers / groups.
  • [24:00-28:25] White label grids present the opportunity for the Lab to better meet specific client requests to remove features and capabilities from the viewer – and also take features an capabilities required for a specific environment and potentially make them available across the entire Second Life product.
    • Two examples of the latter already exists: the new extended chat range feature available to region owners, and the Chrome Embedded Framework updates that allow video to be streamed into Second Life, as originally demonstrated in the Adult Swim streaming of episodes from The Shivering Truth in May 2020.

What Lessons has LL Learned due to the Pandemic?

[Video: 20:31-24:00]

  • The pandemic, particularly as a result of attempts to leverage the platform for education, business and similar use by organisations and groups, reinforced the fact that the new user experience needs to the overhauled.
  • It has also underlined the fact that people’s usage habits have changed.
  • The Land Team in particular has learned a lot about business, etc., needs of clients – the team deals directly with such requests as they come in to the Lab, and so have been dealing first-hand with understanding client requirements, determining the best for of assistance (e.g. providing one of the Lab’s turn-key solutions or brokering contact between the client and a solution provider who can meet their requirements.

Pricing and Options

[Video: 30:27-34:17]

  • Nothing on the roadmap related to pricing; land costs should remain untouched through the rest of the year.
  • There is the potential for AWS to allow the Lab to develop new region products; this is something that may start to be looked at 12-24 months hence.
  • AWS might also allow for on-demand spin-up of regions, initially building on the idea of Homestead holders being able to take a temporary upgrade to a Full region to run a specific event, then downsizing back to a Homestead.

Competition and Experimentation

[Video: 34:39-45:58]

  • Competition helps drive innovation.
  • There is no Lab-based group specifically tasked with investigation competitive platforms, but staff tend to try them out through their own interest.
  • Attention is paid to how other platforms adopt newer technologies and the challenges encountered in such adoptions.
  • There is still no real, direct competitor to Second Life in terms of size, flexibility of use, or in having an in-built content creation tool set.
  • LL don’t regard users as beta testers per se. However, major new features do require trialling / testing, which can involve selected users / tried at scale to determine feasibility / performance, etc. Sometimes the result is a capability has to be withdrawn as it is not performant enough (e.g. the VR headset viewer) and / or negatively impacts the user experience.

Oz Linden’s Departure

[Video: 46:09-46:56]

  • Oz was a fabulous colleague to work with. His retirement leaves a “gaping chasm” at the Lab.

Patch Linden talks Linden Homes and more

Patch linden appeared at a Home and Garden presentation session,on Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

On Wednesday, March 10th, 2021 Patch Linden attended the home and Garden Expo to talk about his role, Linden homes and other aspects of SL  and Linden Lab, and to answer questions from the audience.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The notes provided have been taken directly from the official video of the session, which is embedded at the end of this article. Time stamps to the video are also provided for ease of reference.

Notes:

  • This is a summary, not a full transcript, and items have been grouped by topic, so may not be presented chronologically when compared to the video.
  • The last 20+ minutes of the session is a general Q&A session where Patch was addressing questions and comments put into local chat, which is not visible in the video. Some of these are highly specific questions based on an individual’s experience, other more generic – please refer to the video directly for this part of the session (commencing at 56:50).
  • In places, information that is supplementary to Patch’s comments is provided in square braces (.i.e. [ and ]) are used in the body text below to indicate where this is the case.

About Patch

  • Originally a Second Life resident and business owner who joined the platform in 2004, and became a Linden in 2007.
  • Initially worked as a support agent and then as a support liaison. From there he moved to the Concierge team, eventually becoming that team’s manager. From there he took on the role of Operations Support Manager for a year, then moved to the Product group, the team responsible for defining the features, etc., found within Second Life.
  • In 2019 he was promoted to Vice President, Product Operations, and joined the Lab’s management team (see: Linden Lab’s management team expands: congrats to Grumpity, Patch and Oz).
  • In this role, he has two major departments reporting into him: those of Support and Product Operations, the latter of which comprises the Lab’s internal content creation team (which includes the Moles of the Linden Department of Public Works) and the Land Operations team, which he originally established whilst working within the Product group. Together, these make up the largest teams at Linden Lab.
  • Together with Grumpity Linden, who is Vice President of Product and Acting Vice President of Engineering since Oz Linden retired, he oversees Second Life’s continued development.
  • He is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and was responsible for establishing the Lab’s support office there.

Linden Homes And Bellisseria

Linden Homes

[Video: 6:38-23:06]

  • The “new” Linden Homes, as launched in 2019, came about in part because of the Premium “free” tier being upgraded from 512 sq m or 1024 sq m. They were also driven by the “ageing” design of the original Homes themselves (i.e. using older capabilities, being non-mesh, etc), together with their relatively high density tending to make them less appealing over time.
  • Developing the new Homes has been both a learning process and an exercise in incorporating additional capabilities within the different themes.
  • The release of the Silt Homes (see: Linden Stilt Homes released in Second Life), the first release to be made following the move to AWS services, did bring with it a number of issues (e.g. the infamous “blue window” issue), but most of these have now been resolved or have fixes in the works.
  • The release of the “Alpine” – or fachwerkhaus, as Patch would prefer them to be called – theme is now “just around the corner”, and may be occurring in the “next couple of weeks”.
    • Preparations for the release have seen an large extensive in Linden Home regions to the north-east of Bellisseria beyond the Silt Home / Houseboat regions, such that the estate now almost reaches Satori.
    • While the regions containing the fachwerkhaus theme will have hilly / mountainous areas, they will not be “snowy”. The Lab has learned through various channels that predominantly snow-covered regions tend to be polarising: people either love them or hate them, so prefer keep it seasonal.
    • However, were there a demand to make such regions “snowy” in theme, it may be something the Lab could look at doing in the future.
The fachwerkhaus theme of Linden Homes could be released within the next 2-3 weeks
  • Right now the overall drive with Linden Homes is to get all the planned themes – fachwerkhaus and beyond – released by the end of 2021.
  • Once this has been achieved, it is likely that the retirement of the “old” Linden Homes will commence.
  • There are currently no plans to directly replicated the themes found in the “old” Linden Homes beyond what has been seen (e.g. the Log Homes offering a similar environment to the Tahoe theme).
    • This is something that might be contemplated some time after all the currently planned themes have been released, but no guarantees.
    • In terms of the “old” styles, only one – the Meadowbrook (the “suburban” style 1- and 2-storey homes) – proved to be particularly popular, beating the other three styles by “leaps and bounds”.
  • There have been requests to allow groups of people to select Linden Homes that are located close to one another, so that they might establish little communities of friends, etc. This is actually difficult to achieve, but might be something that could be looked at some time after the roll-out of Home themes has been completed.
  • [33:20-34:55] The next NEW theme for Linden Homes (to follow the fachwerkhaus theme) will be previewed at SL18B in June.
    • It is promised that it will “Blow your socks off” and be the “most impressive theme released to date”.
    • It will have “unique” capabilities not previously seen in Linden Homes
    • It is unlikely the theme will actually be released during the SLB event, but will likely be available some time afterwards.

Bellisseria and Community

[Video: 23:15-32:49]

  • It was anticipated that some form of community would develop around Bellisseria,  if only going by lessons learned from Bay City. However, the speed with which it developed and grew has been surprising to Patch.
  • Has been watching the growth of the many sub-communities with the continent, which now cover all interests and social aspects – boating, flying, merfolk, LGBTQ+ – even Adult.
  • While it was not with a specific aim of building “community”, having public spaces to visit and explore within Bellisseria and venues that could be used was key part of planning the estate.
  • These remain a focal point of effort through seasonal events and activities – such as those in Millbank such as the Halloween build there.
  • There is a dynamic between the community and the Lab – the latter listen to the former, may adopt ideas from the former, and the former may take ideas and facilities from the Lab and run with them (as with the use of the Bellisseria Fairgrounds), etc.
    • An example of this is the adoption by the Lab of the house number system introduced by the community.
    • Also, the Bellisseria Bureau of Bureaucracy “passport” system will be adopted, with the Lab providing their own kiosks within the various locations within Bellisseria they maintain, allowing visitors to have their passports uniquely stamped.
  • There are no plans to name roads in Bellisseria – it is hard enough to come up with fresh region names [although I admit to having an amused groan over the likes of Salmon and Gillfunkel, OccupenSea (together the neighbouring xxxSea regions), Lone Shark, Miniature Gulf and so on!].

AWS Migration

[Video: 37:07-48:22]

[Note: details on several of the issues relating to the AWS migration and the on-going follow-up work on it can be found in my weekly Simulator User Group meeting summaries and on my notes from the February Lab Gab AWS update.]

  • The move to using AWS services that was completed at the end of 2020 was just that: relocating services to AWS without making significant changes to them, unless absolutely essentially to their smooth running [what Oz Linden and his teams referred to as “lift and shift”].
  • Unfortunately, this met that certain services (e.g. the Map tile generation and the Land Store) did break.
    • [The major cause of these breakages was down to the code having certain assumptions about the operating environment “baked in”, which are no longer true within the AWS environment.]
    • The Land store issue is now fixed, and the Map tile issues are well on their way to being fixed [there are still issues around the “stitching” and rendering process when zooming out from the Map].
  • With the migration work completed, the emphasis is not on performance tuning and on bug fixing.
  • Broader issues – such as Search  (notably People search) are also problematic, and these issues are also on a priority list for fixing.
  • As always, if people come across a specific technical issue (particularly if it can be reproduced using the official viewer, please raise a bug report.

SL, the Lab and the Pandemic

[Video: 46:28-56:50]

  • SL has seen numerous examples of increased activity during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. In particular, merchants across markets are seeing increased sales; charity events are seeing increased fund-raising, etc.
  • The Lab remains sensitive to the issue, particularly around issues of people who may have lost loved ones or are struggling with increased financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
  • Obviously, the Lab is pleased that Second Life has provided a positive outlet for people, and they have noted upticks in “old” users returning to the platform an in “new” new user accounts being created.
    • The latter is particularly being noted through the use of the platform by the likes of the education, business and non-profit sectors, which has in turns spurred renewed media interest in the platform.
  • Patch [and others at the Lab?] appreciate the greater freedom using Second Life gives them over other other business tools they use – Zoom, Google Meet,  etc. – simply because it offers the chance to have a change of surroundings and relax into their avatars.

Lab Gab Feb 26 summary: AWS update and a farewell to Oz

via Linden Lab

On Friday February 26th, Lab Gab, the live streamed chat show hosted by Strawberry Linden on all things Second Life, returned with a show of two halves.

Featuring guests Grumpity Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product and Oz Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Engineering, the first part of the show took a look at the latest of the work to migrate Second Life and all its services to running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) hardware and infrastructure and attempted to address questions forwarded to the Lab by Second life users.

Table of Contents

The show was also an opportunity to say “farewell” to one of the leading lights at the Lab – Oz himself, who is retiring from the company and from full-time work as a whole – after more than 11 years with the company.

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.

Please be aware that as some topics were touched on more than once during the conversation, the notes blow collect references together, rather than presenting them in chronological order. However, where relevant, time-stamps are provided.

Strawberry linden (l), Oz Linden and Grumpity linden (wearing an Oz ‘tache and goatee in his honour)

On the Status of the AWS Migration and the Future

Current Status

[1:43-2:50]

  • All of the services related to Second Life were transitioned to running on AWS hardware and infrastructure by the end of December 2020.
  • The last aspect of the core work was the removal of all of the Lab’s own hardware and equipment from the Arizona co-location facility that had been hosting Second Life, which included the shredding of 10,588 hard and solid state drives to ensure data security.
  • The majority of the work went a lot more smoothly than had been thought might be the case, however, there are some services that have given rise to some problems that are still being resolved.
  • Chief among the latter is the Land Store, which was once again turned on ready for use on Thursday, February 24th.
  • Map title generation has also been a issue sine the migration, but work is progressing on fixing this.
    • [9:09-11:34] A core issue with the Map tile generation failure lay in the fact that the code had not been touched in a “long, long time” – so long, in fact, that the code isn’t geared to rendering mesh objects, hence why they can look so abstracted on a map tile.
    • In terms of the current problems, the code made a lot of assumptions about the architectural environment in what it was running, assumptions that are no longer true with the move to AWS.
    • The current work is focused purely on getting the service to generate Map tiles one more, without making any additional changes to the code to account for things like rendering mesh objects correctly  or addressing other bugs.
    • Most of this work is now thought to be complete and Map tiles are now being generated as they should. however, there is some work to be completed on stitching tile images together when a user zooms out on the Map.
    • There is a project to improve the overall appearance of Map tiles, but this was put aside in the focus of migrating to AWS, but will hopefully be picked up again at some point in the future.

What is Next?

[2:54-5:45]

  • While the physical migration of Second Life services from a proprietary environment to AWS is complete, the Uplift Project work is not, and so will continue to be a focus of engineering efforts.
  • In  particular, the immediate focus is on optimisation work, which encompasses:
    • Optimising the performance of the various series on the new hardware / infrastructure.
    • Optimising (for the Lab) the cost involved in running within an AWS environment.
    • Fine tuning systems and operations within the new environment.
    • Working to leverage the new hardware options and infrastructure presented by AWS to favour Second Life as a product running in that environment.
  • In this it should be remembered at the initial migration work of getting Second Life transitioned to AWS was devoted purely to taking all of the SL services – front-end simulators, back-end services, middleware, web properties and services, supporting tools, etc., – from the proprietary environment in which they had always run and just getting them running on AWS in what was called a “lift and shift” operation, whilst making as few changes to any of the services as possible.
  • With the “lift and shift” aspect of the work completed, the engineering team has turned its attention to gathering data on exactly how the various services are running in the new environment and understanding where opportunities for making the improvements noted above may lie, and how they might best achieve them.
  • In this, the Lab now has much improved service monitoring tools at their disposal, and these are now allowing the initial work on tuning performance on key services to be made.
  • Two practical benefits of the move are:
    • Regions running on AWS can run more scripts / script events in the same amount of time than can be achieved on non-AWS regions.
    • The way in which simulators are now managed mean that LL can more directly obtain logs for a specific region, filter logs by criteria to find information, etc., and the entire process is far less manually intensive.

Will the Migration Mean lower Prices for Users?

[5:46-9:02]

  • Sort answer for the foreseeable future: no.
  • There has been an idea circulating among users that running SL on AWS is “dramatically cheaper” for Linden Lab; but this is actually not accurate.
  • Prior to the migration, all of SL and its services had been running on LL’s own hardware  for which there had been no capital expenditure for years, and which had completely depreciated.
  • The move to AWS represents something of a new capex spend, increasing the Lab’s costs [although it is not unfair to say that the capex involved is liable to be significantly less over time than repeatedly buying-in new server clusters to allow SL to run on more modern systems].
  • Rather than presenting LL with reduced costs, the move to AWS is designed to:
    • Present the company with far broader options for delivering a more performant and capable service to users – although as noted above, it will take time for all of this to be delivered.
    • Improve the overall longevity of the Second Life service through the noted performance improvements and access to better hardware and infrastructure services.

Second Life Mobile App  Status

[19:20-20:39]

  • Mobile has taken longer than expected to bring forth, for two primary reasons:
  • The first is that while the initial release will be more of a communications tool, considerable foundational work has been put into ensuring the app can be encompass a lot more functionality than that in the future.
  • The second has been that as a result of testing by Apple, the Lab has been forced to make changes to the way in which chat works.
    • These changes will, in time, be filtering through into the viewer as well.
    • They should actually make chat more reliable in the future.
  • No commitment as to when the app may be more widely available.

Other Technical  Questions

  • [11:38-17:47] There have been numerous niggling issues of late: further issues with search (e.g. avatars failing to show in search), profile issues, etc). When are these likely to be addressed? Should users report bugs then find?
    • Whilst the majority of the migration process did go smoothly, there have been glitches, and the Lab is working to address them alongside of working on the performance, etc., work mentioned above.
    • There are a lot of aspects of SL built on old technology, so there is an expectation that, over time, and as things can be looked at, not only will niggles go away, but software and capabilities as a  whole can be made a lot more stable and resilient.
    • Bugs should most definitely be reported using the SL Jira. Information on how to file bug reports (and feature requests) can be found here:
  • [17:55-19:18] Will capabilities that were being worked on some time ago (e.g. 360 snapshot viewer) ever be completed?
    • The migration work has demonstrated what can be achieved with a tightly defined set of goals and teams focused solely on those goals.
    • This is an approach Grumpity would like to carry forward, with a commitment to review current and past projects to determine what might be required to bring them to completion (input, time, resources, etc), and then make decisions from there.

About the Lab’s New Owners

[20:50-24:06]

Looking Back at Oz’s Time at the Lab

[24:20-46:20]

The latter half of the programme looks back over Oz’s time at the Lab and provides him with the opportunity to discuss what attracted him to Linden Lab, the nature of his work, why he regards his time with LL as potentially the best job he’s ever had, and to discuss his post-retirement plans and answers various questions.

Rather than offer a summary of this part of the show, I encourage people to listen to it in full, as it really is informative and enlightening, particularly if you’re not familiar with Oz’s work, his teams, or the Lab as a whole.

Lindens say “farewell” to Oz

[46:23-end]

The end of the show sees Strawberry teleport Oz to s special in-world retirement party, where the teams reporting into him and other LL staff have gathered to wish him well. This again a touching and moving tribute that says so much about Oz and the high regard in which he is rightfully held, and should be seen without input from the likes of myself.

For my part – and because Oz has been both a direct and indirect influence in my SL time – I’d like to just repeat what I wrote a few days ago on reading of his upcoming retirement:

For my part, I cannot claim to know Oz as well as I would like to – but I’ve always found find his enthusiasm for Second Life never to be anything less than totally honest and infectious, and his high regard for users utterly genuine and sincere.
As such … I’d like to take this opportunity to offer him a personal and public “thank you” for all the times he’s provided me with insight and / or encouraged me to get involved in various projects, all of it has been greatly appreciated. I am, and will be, genuinely saddened to see him leave the Lab; we are all losing something in his departure, and the void left will not be easy for the management team to fill.

Don’t forget: Friday Feb 26th – Lab Gab AWS update and a farewell

via Linden Lab

Just a quick reminder to folks who may not have caught the official announcement at the start of the week.

The latest edition of the Lab’s chat show series hosted by Strawberry Linden, Lab Gab, streams at 11:00 am on Friday, November 26th. And it’s a special show.

As most are aware, the work to transition Second Life to operating via Amazon Web Services (AWS) was completed at the end of December 2020, and the Lab has completely moved out of its former co-location facility in Arizona.

Since then work has been continuing to make tweaks and updates to both help get some services that didn’t make the transition as smoothly as hoped (perhaps most notably to most people, Map tile updates) once again running as they should, with work also progressing on fine-tuning things, with the Lab looking to better optimise their services to take full advantage of the the hardware and infrastructure provided AWS.

Given all this, the show will feature Grumpity and Oz Linden, respectively the Lab’s Vice President of Product and Vice President of Engineering, will be providing a update on how things are going.

Oz and Grumpity Linden, with Strawberry Linden between them, will be appearing on Lab Gab on Friday, February 26th, at 11:00am SLT. Image courtesy of linden Lab

In addition, Friday, February 26th marks the end of an era. As he recently announced, Oz  Linden is retiring from the Lab as from today, as so the show marks once of his last public appearances as a member of the Lab’s management team – and indeed as a Linden.

In his time at the Lab – which amounts to something over 10 years -, he has achieved and overseen a lot, and has been responsible both directly and indirectly for making Second Life a much more capable platform, and in building a solid and fruitful relationship with both third-party viewer developers and the open-source community in Second Life; he also makes no secret of the fact that he has enjoyed his time at the Lab immensely.

To mark the fact that this is potentially the last time the users will get to hear from Oz, the show will also look back over his time at  the Lab – so be sure not to miss it and hear from him on a personal level.

You can catch it through the Lab’s streaming outlets on YouTube, Facebook, or Periscope, and I’ll more than likely have a summary of the show out within 24 hours of it airing.