On Friday, June 4th, Linden Lab announced that the company’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg had passed away. Across the grid and blogsphere, tributes and obituaries have been offered in the wake of the news.
Now, for those who wish to commemorate Ebbe’s time with the Lab and pay respects to his memory in-world, a memorial has been created on – appropriately – Altberg region in Bellisseria.
Designed by the Moles of the LDPW, the region features a single island that is home to the memorial. Surrounded by fir trees offering a hint of Scandinavia, with water falling into a pond that feeds flowers, the memorial stands as a tall bronze figure of Ebbe, with a photo of him and the text of announcement of his passing located at the base of the plinth.
Candles are also to be found at the base of the statue, which will light on being touched, and benches are available for those who wish to sit and remember Ebbe and his time at the Lab.
The island is a gentle, quiet place; a place one cannot help but feel Ebbe himself would appreciate. A place where contemplation and reflection can be embraced.
So, for all those who do wish to pay their respects to Ebbe in-world, I can think of no better place in which to do so.
With thanks to the Moles for creating the memorial.
Note: as Tish Coronet has pointed out via the SL Feeds, be sure to look down on the memorial from overhead – the ground before Ebbe’s has been set memorial has actually been set out to form the Second Life Hand logo, the statue replacing the eye.
Friday brought the sad news that Ebbe Altberg, the CEO of Linden Research Inc., had passed away. And while it is perhaps too soon to be thinking about things as people are still coming to terms with the news, polls, comments and opinions have nevertheless already started circulating as to the kind of CEO the company should now look towards.
Chief among the opinions being expressed is that it should be “someone who has been in Second Life for a good amount of time and has plenty of experience.” But is this accurate?
As I noted in my own tribute to Ebbe, while he did come to Linden Lab with a good degree of foreknowledge – his son Aleks had been very successful with the Teen Grid before transitioning to the Main grid, and Ebbe himself was a close friend of Jed Smith, the former chairman of the Lab’s board; as he readily admitted himself, he was not in any way either a long-term user of the platform or who had “plenty of experience” with it prior to joining the company.
And yet, as we’ve all noted over the pass several days since the news broke, Ebbe has been without a doubt, the most popular of CEOs at the Lab among users. His tenure was by no means perfect, but overall his presence strengthened both company and principal product enormously – up to and including spinning-off a revenue-generating subsidiary that in time might help both, in the form of Tilia Pay.
Thus, I would suggest that the qualities needs for CEO are not so much any deep / long-term exposure to or involvement in Second Life, but rather the qualities and skills needed to manage and lead a company and leverage the strengths inherent in its management team and staff. In this, I would say that long-time friend and commentator R.( R. Dismantled) has summed up the requirements of any incoming CEO the best:
Not a celebrity, but a manager of managers, making the good and difficult decisions. And not just talk and hype and making Second Life something it isn’t, but making it better…
… I hope that the next person entrusted to manage the managers of our weird little social soap bubble will be cut from the same cloth.
– R. (R. Dismantled) commenting on this blog
From the outset, Ebbe was “a manager of managers”. He trusted those reporting into him to run their departments in a manner that would best support the company, its core product and its users. At the same time, he was prepared to make the necessary hard choices to swing the company back onto a more solid course of product development – shutting down the Creatorverse, dio and Versu projects almost immediately (and later allowing the creators of Versu to spin it off into its own platform), winding down work on Patterns and selling Desura, whilst allowing Blocksworld to serve its community through until mid-2020. And – while it may not have entirely worked out as hoped – he set the company on paths that might seen the development of additional revenue-generating opportunities, through both the aforementioned Tilia Pay and through the development of Sansar.
There’s also the fact that the CEO’s brief is a broad one, encompassing skills and abilities far beyond general team leadership and product understanding.
While such skills can be acquired from within organisation, they do make promotion from within potentially more difficult even when – from an outside perspective, at least – there may appear to be “obvious” candidates, simply because they do take time to acquire and effectively wield.
As such, the “hire from without / promote from within” is a difficult path to tread – with the latter aspect further compounded by the fact that even if there are potential candidates within the organisation that could transition and acquire the skills of a CEO over time – they may not actually want to do so, simply because it means they must relinquish aspects of their work they actually enjoy the most.
In the specific case of Linden Research, things are perhaps further compounded by the fact that Ebbe Altberg was somewhat unique in his background. This spanned running large and small corporate entities, presenting him with the broadest base of skillsets, and was coupled with his own “left-brain / right brain” balance of technical and creative skills and knowledge that – even without a long-standing involvement in Second life – provided him with a solid foundation for quickly understanding the complexities of the platform and its communities of users with their needs once he was at his desk at the Lab.
There is also another factor to consider here: does the Lab actually need someone to take over directly as CEO?
Since the acquisition process closed-off at the end of 2020, incoming investor Brad Oberwager has been conspicuous in the degree to which he has been hands-on in his role as Executive Chair within the management team, as reported by the likes of Grumipty, Brett and Patch Linden at various in-world events. Mr. Oberwagerf has also brought long-term business partner/colleague Cammy Bergren into the LL fold as the company’s Chief of Staff.
Between them, they have considerable experience in running corporate entities, and as such are well-placed to steer Linden Lab through the next several months without the need for any immediate appointment from without or within, giving staff more time to deal with the loss of Ebbe whilst ensuring both the company and Second Life adjust and move forward under a broader management umbrella (I exclude Tilia Pay here as that entity appears to be almost entirely self-managing).
So, with all that being said, right now it is far too early to be considering “what ifs” and “who mights” in terms of the role of CEO at the Lab. Ebbe’s legacy is huge and something that we should all spend more time reflecting upon – and we should allow Linden Lab space to reflect on the loss of a man they knew better than the rest of us, rather than speculating on “who should be next”.
On Friday, June 4th, Linden Lab broke the news that the company’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg had passed away.
The post, from Patch Linden, reads in part:
Second Life found new highs in 2020 between a worldwide pandemic taking grip, through the times of a tumultuous leadership change in the United States, and during movements of civil changes that will forever live in history books. Second Life provides many with the comfort of a normal that continues to exist for all of us, where many use it to escape real life pressures, stressors and day to day challenges. In Second Life we can be our ideal, our best, celebrate all that is good across the world together. Sadly we have also seen some people go, and they will never be forgotten as they touched us, gave us their best from their hearts, minds and souls – this thing called real life sometimes knocks on our door and makes a call.
As I am here before you today, it is with profound sadness that I share with you Ebbe passed away yesterday evening restfully and surrounded by the love of his family.
This is deeply sad news for all of those who knew or had contact with Ebbe during his seven-year tenure at LL. His arrival at Linden Lab the start of February 2014 came at a time when user / Lab relationships were at a particularly low state, and his arrival could not have been more timely.
From the outset, it was clear that he had more than a passing knowledge of the platform – his son, Aleks, had been keenly involved on the Teen Grid, up to and including starting his own business, and Ebbe himself was a long-time friend of former Linden Lab board member Jed Smith (who had actually tried to get Ebbe to join the company once before).
Referring to himself as a “left-brain / right brain kind of person” – he graduated Middlebury College (Vermont USA) with a degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in Computer Applications, it is fair to say he not merely was aware of the potential of Second Life – he was positively enthusiastic about it, technically and creatively.
From the outset, he was openly and warmly communicative with the platform’s user base, getting in-world as often as he could to meet people either casually or via small and large events – such as an early “fireside chat” a handful of us were invited to attend just a handful of days after his official arrival at the Lab, or via larger town hall style meetings, and appearances at events such as VWBPE, the SLB celebrations the Lab Chat sessions and their successor, Lab Gab, and more.
His openness and honesty did much to renew users’ faith in Second Life – but occasionally carried something of a price. When he popped-up at a Third-Party Viewer Developer meeting in June 2014 and mentioned in passing that the Lab were working on a new platform (which we would come to know as Sansar), the resultant conniptions among users was very palpable (and, being honest, partially fuelled by some hasty and somewhat inaccurate tweeting of his comments sans proper context) – which would require numerous repeats by both Ebbe and other at the Lab that the new platform did not mean “the end” for Second Life, but the company was committed to both.
In this latter regard, he fully supported the team that came together under Oz Linden to continue to build-out and improve SL and make it more accessible to people, whilst always stepping forward and facing the ire of users over perceived wrong-doings and working to further build / re-build confidence in company and product.
Nor was his enthusiasm constrained to platform and users – he faced the media head-on on numerous occasions in the US and international, proud to talk-up Second Life, Linden Lab, virtual worlds and the potential of VR, a technology to which he became an ardent convert. He also had the foresight to spin-out the lab’s expertise in virtual tokens into a subsidiary, Tilia Pay, presenting linden Lab with a further means of generating business for itself.
Prior to joining Linden Lab, his career have been wide-ranging, encompassing both major global corporations such as Yahoo and Microsoft, much of which I covered in a brief profile I was able to put together on him just appear he officially joined LL, and I was pleased to note that he and I had shared interests in both Formula 1 racing and space exploration, which allow for some early conversations between us.
The precise cause of Ebbe’s passing has not been made public, but it was clear to many through various sources that he appeared to be affected by a long-term illness, and over the last 12 months in particular, his presence had been somewhat conspicuous by its absence (I believe that perhaps his last public appearance as CEO was the occasion of Oz Linden’s retirement earlier in 2021).
However, it is clear that illness did not in any way blunt his determination to ensure Linden Lab and Second Life in a much stronger and better position than when he joined the company – a determination that included the hard choice of letting go of Sansar, and guiding the company through the difficult waters of acquisition and bringing into the fold investors who have the vision and willingness to move both company and platform forward.
Given this, and despite the shadow cast by the announcement of his passing, I’ve little doubt that he could be justifiably proud of all that he achieved at Linden Research Inc., and because of his dedication and enthusiasm, both the platform and the company are much better and stronger today than perhaps they’ve ever been.
My deepest and sincerest condolences to Ebbe’s family and all at Linden Lab at this time. I can honestly say that for all of us who have been invested in Second Life, he was more than just a CEO, he was a fellow resident an adventurer on the virtual frontier. He shall be greatly missed.
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 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.