Five years ago I wrote to you as you formally joined Linden Lab as the company’s new CEO. At that time, there was a certain degree of disillusionment among Second Life users about the platform, and I took it upon myself to comment on one area in particular: that of communications.
In the years since then, Linden Lab, Second Life and its user community have come a long way. It’s no exaggeration to say that things in 2019 are a lot different than 2014. Not just technically, but across a range of fronts, most especially that of the relationship between users and Lab.
You’ve seen this first-hand with regards to people’s attendance at Lab Chat and SLB Meet the Lindens events, where audience support and response has been positive and supportive to many of the programmes and developments the Lab has implemented, and towards the drive to increase awareness of, and involvement with, the platform.
True, things have not always been plain sailing; there have been hiccups along the way, but the Lab’s drive to improve SL and respond to many of the requests put out by the user base has been enormously appreciated. However, the most recent changes announced by the Lab with Land Price Reductions, New Premium Perks, and Pricing Changes (May 29th, 2019) have given me pause, and to take the time to write to you once more.
Throughout the last five years, I’ve personally appreciated the efforts Linden Lab have put into trying to meet the demand for lower land tier and to make virtual land holdings in Second Life more attractive. I also understand the need to offset such reductions with increases elsewhere to ensure LL as a company mains a good revenue flow. As such, while the fee changes announced on May 29th have caused me something of an “ouch!” reaction, I can understand the motivation behind them, and will learn to live with them.
However, what I feel is ill-conceived are the proposed Basic account changes.
Although I can understand there may well be technical reasons for doing this (load balancing to enable the increases to the same capabilities that are to be offered to Premium subscribers, perhaps?), the fact remains this these reductions come across as best as being punitive and at worse entirely mean-spirited towards Basic account holders. As my friend and fellow SL user Will Burns has noted:
One increases the value of a Premium account by actually increasing the value added proposition, not forcing the issue by reducing the value added of the free account.
I would therefore urge you to re-consider this move, and allow Basic members either retain their current 42 group limit, or as a compromise (and while I appreciate this is easier said than done), seek to allow current Basic member retain the current 42 groups cap whilst restricting those joining after June 24th to a maximum of 35 groups.
I am not the first Second Life user, Premium or otherwise) to voice concerns over this move. Please do take the time to consider what is being said the changes to Basic accounts via Twitter, in the SL forums and other social platforms, and how they could stand to significantly alienate a good portion of a user base that, while they may not pay subscription fees, nevertheless play an important role in both the economic and social fabric of Second Life, and who – like all of us engaged in the platform – want to see it continue to thrive and grow and remain a part of our lives.
On Wednesday, March 9th 2016, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg appeared at the 2016 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education conference, where he gave a brief overview of matters pertaining to Second Life and Project Sansar over the course of the year since the last VWBPE conference, and to answer questions about either platform asked by the audience.
The following is a transcript of his session at VWBPE 2016, complete with audio extracts. Note that note all items are given in the order they are discussed in the video of the session. For ease of reference, I’ve split comments and questions between those specific to Second Life and those focused on Project Sansar. Also, where more than one question was asked on a specific topic, I’ve grouped the questions / responses together under a single topic.
Click on the links below to go to the relevant section.
Thank you so much. Great to be here again; it’s an awesome event, I hope you’ve all have had great sessions and more sessions to come. I will just spend a little bit of time and just talk about what I am and what we here at Linden Lab are really excited about, and what we’re working on a little bit. Then as usual, very happy to spend most of the time actually talking to you with regards to your questions that you may have.
So, first of all, wow! What an incredible year it’s been. The virtual reality market that we’re sort-of been waiting for is actually in the process of happening. We’re now seeing incredible investments from a very large number of companies, whether it’s hardware, software, platforms tools, that I’m sure many of you are very excited to get your hands on very soon.
We in the Lab have been playing a lot with the latest hardware that’s going to hit the consumer market soon, over the next few months, and doing a lot of work to integrate those into project Sansar, but there’s also work to get some integration of that into Second Life.
So we feel very fortunate to be having all this incredible experience, together with you all, of running Second Life. Having the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work, what works really well and what is not working at all, and what it takes to run a platform like Second Life. What makes creators successful, what makes businesses successful, because our primary goal here is to make creators of experiences as successful as they can possibly be, and share their success.
Second Life Overview
Second Life has made a lot of good strides over the last year since we last met. Performance is continually improving, and we have some more performance improvements in the pipeline to come out soon. Quality is improving, stability is improving, and we’ve also managed to roll out some nice improvements. New avatars, and you have the new, better web control or media on prim, that’s now a really modern browser technology, which hopefully will be really helpful for educators.
New Registration API
We also have a lot of interesting things coming in the pipeline. [An] improved registration API, so that it will be easier for institutions to bring on their customers or clients or students in a more pre-configured way: choosing what avatars they can select from, getting them set-up in the proper groups, and taking them through a whole custom on-board experience.
We’ve also done a huge amount of work in what seems boring but is very, very, important to us, and even though you might not realise it, very important to you all as well, which is around compliance, and making sure that all the things we do fiscally within the Second Life virtual economy, and what it takes for people to redeem to fiat currency, US dollars or whichever currency you prefer around the world. We’re doing a huge amount of work to improve all the tools and fraud controls, etc., to make sure we’re running a clean, tight ship where there’s no money laundering or anything of that sort.
We’ve gotten far enough that we’ll be able to soon improve the time it takes for people to redeem money, so we can do that in hopefully just a day or two for most people. We’ve blogged about that, so you might already know about that.
So, I feel really good about the Second Life team. Just a few weeks ago we had the whole team together in Seattle. We keep switching spots; sometimes we do it in Boston and this time we did it near the offices in Seattle. And it’s a very tight group, they are very passionate about Second Life, with Oz heading-up on the engineering side, and just a great, tight crew who really just want the absolute best for Second Life and for you all. So I feel very good with what that team has been able to do over the last year, and what they’ll be able to do in the coming years.
Some cool things coming in addition to the registration API. We have a way for, institutions that have had interruptions of viewer updates when it wasn’t something they were completely prepared for can now sign-up to be on an EDU channel, where we can better manage viewer updates.
We’re working on an update to get the current Oculus viewer working with Second Life, and we’re also working on this Quick Graphics viewer (version 184.108.40.2061103 a the time of writing), so that you can manage when people show up in your regions with way too much clothing or too heavy of an avatar and still get good frame rates within your regions if there are avatars that are too heavy.1 Those will all roll out over the next weeks and months.
On Friday, June 26th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg faced questions from Saffia Widdershins, Jo Yardley and the audience in the last of the Meet the Lindens series sponsored by Prim Perfect.
The session lasted just over the hour, after initial teething problems in getting everything working, in which he addressed a wide range of question on both Second Life and Sansar, and offered-up some information of his own.
The following is a transcript of the event, based on a video by Chakat Northspring, which is embedded at the end of this article. My thanks, as always, to North. The official video will be available in due course via the Prim Perfect website.
Are there any things that have changed since you’ve been in charge that you are especially proud about?
[0:01:04] There’s a number of things. I think primarily it’s the relationship between the Lab and residents., I think is much better today. It was a little bit tense, I would say, the relationship, when I came on board; and it seems to be much more casual and fun and collaborative. And I think many of you have seen more of us than you had for a while previously.
I’m also proud of the quality of the product. The performance, we’ve made lots of strides, the quality; [group] chat had lots of issues. So we’ve made a lot of progress on just making it a more stable product, a better performing product.
And I’m also proud of the focus we have at the Lab. When I came aboard, there were quite a few projects sprinkled about, and today I feel we have what I call four very strong focus areas with really good drive across each of them. So it feels like a healthier environment, not just between us and residents, but also amongst us Lindens, and a better quality product, and a better focused organisation. So I’m pleased with the progress.
Can you tell us what those four areas of concentration are?
[0:02:56] Obviously, continued to improve Second Life is something that we do. And you guys often hear from Oz and Danger on our progress there. We have Blocksworld; a fairly small team working on this neat little app for a younger audience to be able to build virtual experiences on the iPad. We have obviously a very huge investment in Project Sansar, our next generation experience platform, and we’ve worked really hard for over a year now, and we’ll start to get some external customers on-board in just a month or so. Just a few, but it’s great progress.
And the forth one, I would say, is compliance; making sure we run a tight ship when it comes to the linden dollar and who can cash out, and just running a tight ship when it comes to compliance … whether that’s fraud controls, identity controls – a number of things we need to do to make sure we and banks are comfortable with the business that takes place in Second Life.
So those are the four areas of focus.
The last thing you said about cashing out. You’ve said before that you want to speed that up. [do you have] any idea when this is going to happen, or how is the progress to that?
[0:04:39] The progress is good. We’ve now managed to automate a lot of things so that we can see what percentage we would be willing to pay out rapidly in an automated fashion. We’re still tuning the rules as to who we would trust to pay out; to make sure that we’re 100% certain that people who would be paid out should be paid out. And we continue to increase that percentage by continuing to dial the rules and make tweaks,
When we get to a significant enough percentage, then we should be able to start automating the process as well. not just the data saying we could, but we actually will pay out. I don’t have a date for exactly when we can turn that on; but it’s our goal for the vast majority of people that we have a trusted relationship with, to be able to pay within 24 hours or something.
I mean, there’s obviously external processes a well, that we’re not 100% in control of; but on our end, when someone clicks the button that says, “I want to be paid out”, we hope to, within 24 hours, to be able to automatically say, “start the process”, and then like I say, there’s actually some external dependencies for how quickly that actually takes place.
I think it’s interesting that you’ve given on compliance an equal status with the other three projects.
[0:06:14] Well, I wouldn’t say they’re all equal; but it’s a focus area, and it’s very important for us to run a trusted, large-scale business, to make sure that fraud cannot take place. For the sake of us as a business, as well as for the sake of you not having bad things go on. So it is an important aspect.
Danger Linden was actually saying that it’s one of Linden Lab’s advantages coming into Sansar, because all the new virtual worlds that are planning to come on-line, and you’ve got to get this right, and you have a head start.
[0:06:59] Yeah, we are pretty much alone in having had a virtual currency with a floating exchange with cash-out and all these capabilities. There’s no-one else like it. so yes, we have a pretty significant leg-up compared to others if your intent is to have a virtual economy as we do. I mean, there are other business models that one could apply, but the way we are doing it, there’s no-one else really doing it as well as we do. And so that’s something we’ll certainly leverage; both operational experience and [the] technology, as we move forward with Sansar.
Second Life still gets some negative feedback in the media, although it seems like it’s become a lot less recently … but which kind of negative feedback do you pick-up [on], both in the media and form people in second Life themselves, that annoys you the most.
[0:08:15] Well, it’s not that much that annoys me … I’ve only had the opportunity to hear negativity for about a year … but I hear very little of it. whomever I talk to, it’s mostly … surprise that it’s still around, or more neutral. It’s very rarely that I’ll run into people that start off with the negative. So that’s a very small percentage of the population. Usually the negative people tend to be quite loud, but it’s not something I stress about.
I guess my biggest annoyance is people intolerance for various types of content. and when you look at the content in the real world, and people’s tolerance for that content in the real world. Then suddenly, when it’s in a virtual space, then it’s, “Oh my God!” Then there’s like a different level of acceptance for all kinds of content for some reason.
And that annoys me. So whatever the subject matter is, I can always draw a parallel to how it’s always “so much worse”, or it has just as much interesting stuff going on in the real world as in Second Life, whether it’s art, whether it’s sex, whether it’s whatever it is, all of this stuff is all around us in the real world, so why would it not be completely reasonable and acceptable to also have it in a virtual world. That’s maybe the most annoying part; when people don’t get that.
I know that your family have come into Second Life as well, and you actually have a family home here in Second Life and have actually had that for some time before you became CEO. So presumably, they get Second Life as well. But when you talk to friends … when they’re new to it, how do you explain what your job is?
[0:10:31] Well, it sort-of depends a little bit on the context of whom I’m trying to explaining it to; and it also really depends on their experience with various things. Bit generic when I explain that we’re trying to create a three-dimensional canvas that users can chose how to fill it, and how to populate it with what type of experiences, and that we want to create as much freedom as possible to allow people to create as much stuff as they can imagine.
So, kind-of suggesting that in something like Second Life, you can be whatever you want and do whatever you want and create whatever you want, as long as it’s legal and as long as it’s somewhat appropriate for the rest of us.
But then you can go into the incredible breadth of things that are really already working so well in Second Life; whether it’s education, health, art, role-playing. There’s almost as much variety of hobbies and interests and creations and experiences in something like Second Life like people can enjoy in their real lives.
So yeah, sometimes it’s tricky because it’s so broad. It’s so many different things to so many different people. So usually in a conversation, you usually have to figure-out what is of interest to the other person and figure-out how to relate to them with subject matter that they can get into or understand. And that’s part of the challenge of trying to explain something that’s so broad, because it’s obviously easier to explain a product that is narrow in its application or focus. So it’s usually a bit of dialogue that usually makes it easier than just a simple statement; it’s hard to think of a simply statement that sort-of captures it all for everybody.
Have you had a chance to Look around SL12B yet?
[0:12:50] I was around, I think it was two days ago. I was probably in there about half an hour or so; so I didn’t get too deep into too many things. but I really enjoyed some techno music over in the corner somewhere for a while. saw some fascinating art and creations, all kinds of interesting music, but not really enough time to have a chance to see all of it.
The 2015 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference will take place in Second Life and OpenSim between Wednesday, March 18th and Saturday, March 21st inclusive.
VWBPE is a global grass-roots community event focusing on education in immersive virtual environments which attracts 2200-3500 educational professionals from around the world each year.
In the context of the conference, a “virtual world” is an on-line community through which users can interact with one another and use and create ideas irrespective of time and space. As such, typical examples include Second Life, OpenSimulator, Unity, World of Warcraft, Eve Online, and so on, as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or any virtual environments characterised by an open social presence and in which the direction of the platform’s evolution is manifest in the community.
As well as keynote speakers, activities include presentations and workshops which span all of education from primary through to post-graduate levels. 2015 marks the eighth year in which the conference has been held.
The theme for this years event is Crossroads, and the event’s opening speaker, as many already know, will be Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s CEO.
VWBPE 2014 marked one of Ebbe’s earliest public appearances before users in an open forum. Over a period of 90 minutes, he demonstrated his willingness to engage directly with people when he took an unscripted questions-and-answers session (full transcript) with the 200 people in attendance or watching the livestream. Since that time, and throughout 2014, he continued to meet with a wide range of groups and communities – including representatives of the education sector.
With the Lab now engaged on both enhancing Second Life to the best of its abilities and in developing a new virtual world(s) platform, there is liable to be a lot of interest in what is said during his presentation.
Final Call for Proposals – Reminder
The VWBPE attracts a wide range of speakers from the education sector, non-profit organisations, the arts, and so on. As noted in the original announcement that Ebbe would be opening the event, there is an open invitation to anyone who would like to make a presentation or run a workshop. However, the clock is now counting down.
If you are intending on submitting a proposal for a presentation or activity at this year’s event, please remember that the closing deadline for proposals is Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 (extended from December 14th, 2014). Proposals should be submitted on-line via the VWBPE Conference Central site (registration required), and guidelines are also available.
As a volunteer-based event, VWBPE depends upon sponsor support, and 100% of all sponsorship goes directly to funding each year’s conference to cover expenses such as the provisioning of information systems, development of video and machinima (and associated archives), live video streaming, social activities, professional building (mesh object) design and construction for virtual venues, graphics design and swag bags for attendees. No-one involved in the organisation of the conference receives a salary or stipend.
Several levels of cash sponsorship packages (US dollar value) are available for those interested in supporting the conference. Details of these, and the benefits of sponsorship, can be found on the conference sponsorship page.
On Monday July 7th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, Peter Gray, met with members of the education community to answer questions on the future of education in Second Life.
The video is embedded below, and the transcript is time stamped against it for reference. When reading / listening, please remember:
This is not a word-for-word transcript of the entire meeting. While all quotes given are as they are spoken in the recording and the audio files, to assist in readability and maintain the flow of conversation, not all asides, jokes, interruptions, etc., have been included in the text presented here
If there are any sizeable gaps in comments from a speaker which resulted from asides, repetition, or where a speaker started to make a comment and then re-phrased what they were saying, etc, these are indicated by the use of “…”
The transcript picks-up with the first question asked.
0:04:42 Aldo Stern (AS): Will the educational discount be stable over time, so that education organisations can take [it] into account for their budget cycles? So I think that reflects right off of the top one of the things that people will have a concern about.
0:05:00 Ebbe Altberg (EA). Yes. Well, it’s very unfortunate that back in the day … that the discount was taken away. I thought it was very fortunate that it was re-instituted before I showed-up here, and I can tell you we have absolutely no intent whatsoever to make the pricing worse for you guys. none whatsoever.
And over time, as some of you have heard about, we’re starting work on a next generation platform, I think that ultimately an extremely large and vibrant and successful virtual world, prices have to come down all the time.
Today, we’re constrained by a number of factors: technology, business models, what have you, and user experience, that sort-of limits the size of the market for a product like this. for example, if we were to cut prices in half, we would have to get at least twice the number of users – or more, actually – to end up with the same revenue. Right now, I’m not convinced we have a product that could attract two extra users at half the price.
But I’d be happy to lower prices to get more users and make it up in volume, once we know we have a product that can achieve that. I think it’ll be an interesting conversation at that time, especially with the educational sector. would an even lower price … let’s say we take the current discount that you have, which I think is about a hundred and fifty bucks for a region; if we cut that in half again and say it’s seventy-five bucks, would we have twice as many of you buying simulators? If that’s the case, then it might be worthwhile for us to do; but if it only increases by 5% the number, then it’s just hurting us and our ability to invest in the future.
But I feel very confident in stating that we’re not going to mess with the current pricing you have in a negative way for you.
0:07:55 AS: I think that’s very encouraging to us, and I wanted to ask if anybody had any further comment before the next question?
0:08:08 Comment: Well, it is encouraging to hear that; but I think there are a number of related issues that make the current platform problematical for educators, and a number of questions we’ve identified I think will get at that, if you want to move down the list.
0:08:26 Comment: I did want to say something about the pricing real quick. If you did lower the price for educators you might not see the number of buyers go up right away, because I’m not sure if you understand how the education funding cycle works, and probably everyone in the room here can explain that much better than I can. But that is the issue: getting into the funding cycle ahead of time to make sure that you have funds available for your projects. So if you implemented that today, cutting it in half again, you have to give the education community time to get that in their budget and make that happen.
0:09:27 EA: Absolutely, and there’s way to solve that. I could say, it’s a hundred and fifty bucks now and it’s 75 bucks starting next quarter, so you can put it in your plans. how much advanced notice do you need to be able to get it into your budget cycle?
0:09:48: About a year.
0:09:49 EA: My lord! (Chuckles).
0:09:53: And that’s why, when the funding was cut, it was so devastating, when the discount was cut, because no-one had enough notice to get their funding back up to what they needed, and so it was very frustrating for a lot of educational folks.
0:10:14 EA: I understand. I can’t even begin to understanding the reasoning behind why that whole thing happened. I’m just very glad it was reversed before I came here, otherwise I would have done that myself. So you can at least be confident that we’re not going to make that mistake again.
On Friday April 11th, Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s CEO, addressed a packed amphitheatre at the 2014 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference in Second Life. Some 200 people were in attendance in SL, with around 100-150 on the live stream channel for what was almost a 90-minute session, entitled Reconnecting with the Education Market, and which comprised an opening statement from Ebbe, followed by an extended Q&A / discussion session.
The following is a transcript of the session, which includes all questions asked via the moderator, Phelan Corrimal (given in italics). The video is the VWBPE official video, recorded by Mal Burns, and my thanks to him for making it available. Timestamps within the transcript notes indicate the points in the video at which Ebbe’s comments can be heard.
Click the timestamp to go the relevant section
0:05:38: Terms of Service – “I am working with my Legal Counsel to try to try to figure out how we can make it more obvious – or very obvious – that the creators of the content own the content … we’re working on some simple tweaks to the language to make that more explicit.”
0:07:26: Brand – “We have an incredible breadth of content creators for all kinds of purposes, and this is kind-of unique with Second Life, and I think it’s incredibly important to support everybody and what they want to do.”
0:08:59: The Metaverse and LL – ” There might be some people who might be interested in my position on the metaverse and OpenSim and interoperability, and that whole category.”
0:11:09: Integrating new capabilities – “Some of you might be interested in what kind of integration we can do to make it easier for you to use Second Life in the context that you want to use it.”
0:12:04: Improving SL – “And then I think we still have a tremendous about of work still to be done – actually, a tremendous amount of work has already been done; Second Life today is so much better than it was two years ago.”
0:16:16 Future technologies – “A little talk about future tech. Many of you have hopefully seen that we are obviously actively developing for technologies that we believe will have substantial mass appeal; Oculus being one.”
1:01:15 – On the Teen Grid, Student Security and Younger People Accessing SL
1:04:12 – What are Linden Lab’s plans for mainland?
1:05:42: – On Office Hours, Lindens In-world and Community Engagement
1:13:54 – Is the Barrier to VW Mass Adoption Technical, Or Something More?
1:17:26 – On Acquisitions in the Technology Market
1:20:12 – On Encouraging Lindens to Join Groups and Communities
1:22:03 – A Takeaway Message for Educators (and all of us)
0:01:59 Hello everybody. I can’t hear you, but I can sure see you! It’s an incredible sea of people here [approx. 180-200 across four regions]. I’m very excited to be here, very happy for all the work that people are doing to put this conference together. Not only this session but all the other sessions you’re doing through the week. I did pop-in just the other day and listened to Philip, which many of you here might have done as well, and I just wanted to say that I’m really excited to be here.
I’m not going to spend most of this hour just talking. I will be saying a few things up front … putting some topics on the table to discuss and then very much looking forward to it being an interactive conversation between us. I’m mostly here to learn, not necessarily to tell, although I will be speaking about some things that I think matter to you, and some of the things that are going on first.
0:03:06 First, I feel very strongly that the education sector, the education market, is a very important partner of Second Life, and that it’s important to us to make it a great product for all of you. I know many of you have tried and been successful and many of you have tried and maybe not been successful in doing the things you wish you could do, and I’m here to learn more about what we can do to make you successful in the future.
I think the education sector helps us a lot of ways, in that if we can provide a great service to you, you can become great evangelists for the platform, and also in many times I think you are pushing in research and thinking about how to use environments and technologies like this differently from your main consumers. So you’re a very important group of people for us to stay in touch with and learn from and collaborate with.