Sansar’s sale and Tilia Inc: Ebbe Altberg reveals more on both

Speaking at the Above the Book session at the 2020 Virtual Worlds Brest Practices in Education conference on March 26th, and again during the Lab Gab episode 19 segment that aired on Friday, March 27th, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg revealed more about the about the sale of Sansar and the future of that platform. Also during the VWBPE session, he revealed something of the future path for Tilia Inc, the Lab’s subsidiary company.

The following is an amalgam of his comments during both sessions, complete with a quotes, audio extracts from the VWBPE Above the Book session, references to source material and supporting links.

Sansar’s Sale

Summary

The decision to sell Sansar came, at least in part, from the recognition that as a platform, it lay at a very different stage of its evolution compared to Second Life, requiring different investment and resourcing¹.

With the decision made, the Sansar team were apparently given the freedom to attempt to raise money / seek interested parties in order to keep the platform going (hence, perhaps, Ebbe Altberg’s February 12th comment that the former Sansar team were involved in discussions concerning the platform’s future – see the quote in Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion, February 12th, 2020)².

As it is, with the sale of Sansar, some 30 members of the team have (so far?) received offers to join Wookey Project Corp, and as of the March 27th Lab Gab session, “a bunch of them” are back to work¹. In support of this, I noted in a recent blog post that Sansar’s Community Manager, Galileo, appears to already be part of the Wookey Sansar team, having posted the Sansar blog post referenced below. Further, both Sheri Bryant and Julia Munck, formerly Sansar’s General Manager and Sansar’s VP of Product respectively at Linden Lab, have departed the company – presumably to join Wookey Project Corp.

It appears that the focus for the platform will potentially remain on it being a platform for large scale virtual events in the music / entertainment sectors, and that both desktop and VR support will be continued – although obviously, strategy and direction are now the remit of Sansar’s new owners.

Linden Lab will remain a “partner”, inasmuch as Tilia will continue to be used for Sanasr Dollar transactions and fiat money payouts (see more on Tilia below)¹ ².

Ebbe’s Comments – VWBPE Above the Book

To make the long story short about Sansar, we at Linden Lab decided to sell it and to give the team the chance to go raise funds and go it alone. I think it’s easier for them to go raise money as a separate stand-alone company rather than as a part of Linden Lab. Second Life is a very established, profitable, product and we kind-of had a start-up inside of an established, profitable company. And it was actually easier for them, I think, to raise money as a standalone, rather than as a part of Linden Lab.

So … the staff that worked on Sansar are all getting offers by the new entity to come back and start working on Sansar again, and I think they’ve started this week, so I’m super happy that the product and the technology and the team all get a chance to continue … and it makes it easier for Linden Lab and Sansar to both succeed, I think, going forward. I’m happy for the way things ended up in the end.

References

  1. Lab Gab – 0:40-3:00.
  2. VWBPE 2020 Above the Book – 49:55-51:47.

Additional Links

Tilia Comments

We are all likely familiar with Tilia Inc., Linden Lab’s subsidiary that handles all micro-transactions and payments /payouts related to Linden Dollars and Sansar Dollars, and which manages the Lab’s compliance with regulations relating to its role as a Money Transmitter / Money Services Business (MSB).

Tilia officially launched on Thursday August 1st, 2019, having been formally introduced to SL users in July 2019 – although as I noted at the time, SL and Sansar users may have had some awareness of its existence as the Tilia Inc., logo had been on both the SL and Sansar web pages related to L$ and S$ account purchases and Sansar account management for some time. For my part, I’d been speculating about the company since November 2015, and did so again in July 2019, when I noted that Tilia appeared to be geared towards providing its services to other companies.

I first ruminated on Tilia being a means for Linden Lab to offer virtual economy solutions in July 2019, as a result of the (fairly obvious!) clue on the Tilia home page

Whilst speaking at the VWBPE Above the Book event, Ebbe indicated that with the sale of Sansar, Wookey Project Corp is effectively Linden Lab’s first customer for Tilia’s services, as the latter will continue to provide payment / payout capabilities for those using Sansar and the Sansar Dollar.

In addition, he also indicated more customers for Tilia are on the way:

We’re partners with them [Wookey Project Corp] because they’re using Tilia for payments / payouts just like Second Life is doing, and Tilia will have more and more customers over time. We have several of them lined-up to be integrated to get those payment services.

No specific details on which companies are planning to use  Tilia, I’ll hopefully have more as they are announced.

Linden Lab confirm the sale of Sansar to Wookey Project Corp – updated

Courtesy of Wookey Project Corp

On March 21st, and following rumours and conversations on the Sansar Discord server, I reported on Linden Lab having sold Sansar to Wookey Projects Inc (now referred to as Wookey Project Corp).  At the time, there was no confirmation from either Linden Lab or Wookey Projects on the matter (although I can note that since that post, I’ve had a brief conversational exchange with Wookey’s interim CEO, and hope to have more in the future).

On Tuesday, March 24th, Linden Lab, in response to assorted enquires issued a press release confirming the sale, which reads in part:

Linden Lab has had some inquiries from the public and media about the current happenings of Sansar. We are very excited to witness the unfolding of Sansar getting a fresh opportunity to thrive under the ownership of Wookey Project Corp., a San Francisco-based technology company that has assumed all operations without any interruption to operations or the Sansar community.

We are proud to have given birth to this amazing platform for creativity and live events, and encourage our community to continue the process of supporting Sansar as it shifts to new ownership. We’ve assembled a quick FAQ to address key inquiries about this transition.

Among other things, the release also makes clear that:

  • Wookey Project Corp. assumes all operations and management of Sansar, and Linden Lab is no longer involved with the platform.
  • The deal does not include or affect the ownership, management and operation of either Second Life and Tilia Inc., which continue under Linden Lab’s sole ownership.
  • However, Tilia Inc., has been contracted by Wookey Projects Corp as a third party service provider to perform certain back office functions for Sansar, including the issuance and redemption of Sansar’s in-game virtual tokens.
  • Wookey’s aim for Sansar is to “continue to evolve [it] as the premier platform for live events and entertainment including (but not limited to) support for VR, while Second Life is positioned as the Internet’s leading user-created virtual world platform.

Further to the announcement, a familiar face at Sansar – Galileo, the community manager there – issued a Sansar blog post that also provided a further official confirmation, reading in part:

Meet the new Sansar. Recently we were presented with an exciting opportunity: strike out on our own as a new entity, under new management with a focus on premier virtual events. We knew we needed to keep together our team and our vision, and the incredible community we’d built over the years.

Lucky for us, there was a company out there just as ambitious and passionate about virtual events as we were – a team that is nurturing and expanding our platform to new heights, deploying capital and expertise in a time full of opportunities for virtual communities around the globe. This week, we’re thrilled to join their family officially. Join us in saying hello to our new owners, Wookey Project Corp.! 

Galileo’s post also makes it clear that Wookey intends to continue building Sansar as a platform, stating:

What does this mean for you? More of the amazing events you know and love! More cosplay karaoke, more zero-gravity game nights, more of the massive interstellar shows that Sansar’s known for – thousands joining from anywhere in the world for one-of-a-kind live performances. You can also expect more features for meeting, socializing and hanging out with friends from around the world. Possibly even more ways to experience Sansar across different devices (more on this in weeks to come!). Nothing will change in your day-to-day.

In these challenging times, we know just how important it is to stay connected. That’s why we’ll be working hard these next few weeks to bring people together with new shows and surprises. Meet-and-greets and live performances from some of music’s biggest names. Virtual versions of the festivals you thought were cancelled or postponed. It’ll be the most fun you ever had staying home!

I recommend both the press release and Galileo’s post for further information, and I will likely resume coverage of Sansar in these pages in the near future.

Those interested can also catch-up on my own look at Wookey here: Sansar: looking at the apparent new owner – Wookey Projects Inc.

Update: Sheri Bryant (formerly Linden Lab’s General Manager for Sansar) and Julia Munck (formerly VP of Product for Sansar) both appear to have departed Linden Lab in the course of the last week. Whether they have moved across to join Wookey or not has not been confirmed – but such a move would appear to make sense for both Sheri and Julia and for Wookey Project Corp.

Sansar: looking at the apparent new owner – Wookey Projects Inc.

Courtesy of … Wookey Projects Inc (?)

News is buzzing on the Sansar Discord servers about a possible take-over / buy-out of Sansar by Wookey Projects Inc.

There has been no official word from Linden Lab on the matter as yet, however:

  • Sansar was removed from the footer links of Linden Lab properties earlier this week.
  • The Sansar web pages have all bee updated to assign Sansar as “©2020 Wookey” in the footer areas.
  • The Sansar Terms of Service  and Privacy Policy (which broadly remain the same as previous Terms of Service for the platform, have been revised to reference “Wookey Projects Inc (Wookey)”.
The Sansar Terms of Service and Privacy Policy both now refer to Wookey Projects Inc. (Wookey).

There are some hiccups evident in the change-over: when logging-in to Sansar via the web, users may get a log-in pop-up asking them to agree to the new Terms of Service, but I found the link still points to the Lab’s ToS page for Sansar, resulting in a 503 page error. Doubtless, issues like this will be smoothed out in time.

I first noted the absence of Sansar in the footer areas of Linden Lab related web pages (e.g. the SL Dashboard) earlier in the week of March 16th-20th, which first alerted me to possible changes coming in Sansar’s status

Who Are Wookey Projects Inc?

Information is scarce, but in a couple of hours of digging since seeing the Discord speculation, here’s what I’ve (hopefully correctly!) put together:

The address for Wookey Projects Inc is given as:

Wookey
765 Beach Street
San Francisco, California 9410

This puts it remarkably close to the Lab’s own stomping grounds at Battery Street.

But more particularly, and  going by the corporate logo, Wookey Projects Inc., appears to be either and offshoot of, or new operating name for Wookey Search Technologies (strapline “We removed the search bar from search”).

The latter’s place of address is given as 235 Montgomery Street Suite 912, San Francisco, CA 94104, so its not entirely clear if Wookey Technologies and Wookey Projects will operate as separate entities, or whether the latter’s address might signify a physical move on the part of Wookey Technologies. Certainly, both entities appear to share the same web domain of wookey.com.

Wookey Technologies was founded by Mark Gustavson, who serves as the Chief Financial Officer, with Garnet Chaney serving at the Chief Technology Officer, and Steve Moriya as the Senior VP of Marketing. The web page also gives Jonathan Fried as serving as interim CEO.

The Wookey Technologies Management Team: Mark Gustavson (Founder / CFO; Garnet Chaney (CTO) and interim CEO (r) Jonathan Fried.

Peeking behind the curtain of the company’s website, it appears that they are spreading their wings  and moving into the VR / AR environment, with the About Us page reading:

Wookey started from our own experience. Just like you, we saw the limitations of flat, one-dimensional internet interaction. With each experience, the frustration grew. It’s evident that algorithms are telling me what it wants, not hearing what I need.

What if we could create on-line experiences that were unbiased and arranged by relevance to us, not by advertisers or bias of company? We realized, with the right team and the right investors, we can.Wookey was born.

We endeavour to create a new generation of on-line AR/VR experiences that allows users the power of collaborative interaction through knowledge immersion.

Interestingly, and despite having been around since approximately 2016, the company describes itself as “approaching the beta stage of development”. Quite what this involves is unclear, but I assume it is in relation to their move to focus VR / AR. In this, and given the changes to the Sansar ToS and PP, it would appear likely they are seeking to keep the platform going in some active form, at least for the time being, possibly as a (further?) means of leveraging themselves into the VR space.

If this is correct – and keeping Sansar alive is certainly what Linden Lab have been hoping to achieve – it will be interesting to see if any of those formerly working on Sansar at the Lab might be involved in the shift of Sansar to Wookey, and whether familiar names might yet be seen to return to the Sansar fold. I speculate on this because, at the time it was confirmed the Lab would no longing be developing Sansar, Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg noted that the company was trying to keep former employees engaged in Sansar involved in discussions in the platforms future:

Yes, there were lay-offs today. A truly wonderful group of people. But as you can see Sansar is up and running. We are still in discussion about next steps. Including with the wonderful group of people. More to come.

– Ebbe Altberg, February 12th, 2020 (see: Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion) – emphasis added

In the meantime, we’re still awaiting official word on things from both Linden Lab and Wookey projects Inc. I hope to have more on this as and when something more official is available.

Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future

Courtesy of Linden Lab

During the Friday, February 21st live stream of Lab Gab, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg gave what may amount to the first fully public statement on the future of the Lab’s social VR platform, Sansar.

Speaking at the top of the programme, he stated:

Yeah, so as you might have heard, sadly we have decided that we, as Linden Lab, couldn’t continue to sponsor the project financially, so we’re looking for a plan B for Sansar to continue. I can’t say much, but we’re having very interesting conversations with several parties to help that project move forward, which I’m really excited about. But no deal is done yet, so people will just have to be patient and see what happens with it, but yes  it is true that Linden Lab going forward will focus entirely on Second Life and Tilia. I’m still busy making sure that Sansar finds a great home and that the great work that that team has started can continue.

So that’s where things are at. Hopefully, we can be more specific on what’s going on in the next couple of weeks or so. So lots of conversations going on.

The statement confirms belief that, following the recent lay-offs of staff working on the platform, that Linden Lab is looking for a new home / a new means to continue Sansar. Whether this means the Lab is looking to sell the platform entirely, or looking for a company to partner with them in order to allow development of Sansar to continue, was not made clear – although the former appears to be more likely.

Also in commenting on Sansar, Ebbe also referenced the “heavy hitters” who have returned to Second Life, laying to rest the unfounded rumour that perhaps Philip Rosedale had returned (Philip is still very much engaged with High Fidelity as a company), and instead appeared to pointtowards the long-term Lindens Whirly Fizzle and I have previously pointed to (see: Linden Lab provide statement on SL in the wake of Sansar lay-offs) – for example: Maestro, Monty and Runitai Linden.

You can hear Ebbe’s comments on Sansar’s future in the audio clip below, and in the Lab Gab video, including his remarks vis. the returning “heavy hitters” and his relationship with Philip Rosedale.

In the meantime, Sansar does still remain open for users, community events continue to be added to the events calendar and experiences remain open for people to visit.

Sansar: lay-offs, rumours, and confusion

Courtesy of Linden Lab

Update, February 21st: please also see Lab seeking a “plan B” to secure Sansar’s future.

Update, February 13th: Linden Lab offered a statement on Second Life that references the lay-offs. I’ve posted separately on that with some additional notes on SL. See: An Update About Second Life (Linden Lab) and Linden Lab provide statement on SL in the wake of Sansar lay-offs.

On Tuesday, February 11th, Ryan Schultz reported a claim that Linden Lab had shut down development of Sansar, their Social VR platform, and that there had been a large number of lay-offs (up to 40 of the remaining staff of approximately 60-75 people).

Unsurprisingly, the news gave rise to a lot of speculation on the platform’s status and future. I have a request for information in with the Lab, but due to time differences, I’ve yet to receive a reply (the major reason I had thus far held off on writing about the matter – assuming I do get a reply. But in the interim, here is what has been stated:

  • The Lab is rumoured to have shut down Sansar development.
  • Some 40 staff are rumoured to have been laid off.
  • Some staff are rumoured to have been transferred back to Second Life.

The only official word in response thus far on the matter is a Sansar Discord post by Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg:

So, I’m only going to say this tonight as it’s late. We can pick up the conversation in the following days. Yes, there were lay-offs today. A truly wonderful group of people. But as you can see Sansar is up and running. We are still in discussion about next steps. Including with the wonderful group of people. More to come. Don’t give up yet. Go create and have fun. Not much point in speculating until we can tell you more.

So it would appear the rumour of lay-offs is accurate, if not necessarily the number. There is always a temptation to dig into potential departures, but I would rather not unduly add to speculation on that front until more is known via official sources.

In terms of Sansar staff transferring back to Second Life, it is worth noting that a number actually did so in late 2019 (or at least, some transferred back while some may have resumed splitting their time between Sansar and SL – Monty Linden, for example resumed posting to the SL forums on topics at the end of 2019, while one of the rendering team moved back to SL from Sansar). So, at this point, it is not clear if there may have been further moves from Sasnsar back to SL, or whether the current rumours on on such moves is the result of people picking up on last year’s shifts.

As it is, Sansar currently remains accessible to users (I’m in Sansar as I write this), and events through until the end of March 2020 remain active in the Sansar events page. However, this should not be taken to mean “business as usual”; until the Lab comments further on the matter, nothing can really be taken for granted either in terms of Sansar’s continuance or otherwise.

On a general note, I would hope some form of clarification / statement of intent regarding Sansar is made sooner rather than later. This is because news of lay-offs + rumours and speculation, particularly coming on top of the lay-offs at the start of November 2019 and the shift in emphasis with the platform that occurred at that time, tend to rock confidence for those actively engaged in Sansar (and there are a fair number of creators very active within the platform), and can also easily result in FUD and rumour spreading well beyond the platform, potentially to its detriment.

As further information becomes available I’ll follow-up on this post with either updates or additional articles.

Sansar update: of lay-offs and moves

Sansar load screen

Alongside of the announced shift in emphasis with Sansar, there have been rumours of multiple lay-offs among the Sansar team. Ryan Schultz has led with the story, stating 30 have gone, although the rumour mill has been bouncing between 20 and 30.

Exactly how many have departed is difficult to judge, simply because LL does not comment on departures or cuts, but there are some limited ways in which we can stick a finger in the air and test things. My own knowledge of the Sansar team is limited to around 16 names, but it would appear from my rudimentary yardstick, that four of those names are no longer at the Lab.

My yardstick for this measurement is simple, but has been known to be effective in the past. All Lab staff have a Linden account in Second Life. With most of the Sansar team, that account name tends to marry up with their Sansar name (e.g. Ebbe Linden marries up to Ebbe in Sansar; Boho Linden marries up with Boho in Sansar, etc.). So by checking to see which accounts are inactive, it is possible to hazard a guess that the individual is no longer at Linden Lab.

In this respect, my findings tend to concur that of the three very specific names that have been mentioned in reference to the Sansar lay-offs do indeed appear to have departed Linden Lab. However, it also appears (up to the time of writing, at least) that a third high-profile name – that of the Lab’s Chief Product Officer, Landon MacDowell – still appears to be with the Lab, as his SL account is still active.

Granted, this is not a genuinely scientific means of making a judgement. However, it amounts to 1/4 of the names I know in the Sansar team, and if I recall correctly (I confess that in digging back through my notes, I’ve been unable to pin down the specific quote) during a meeting in either Sansar or Second Life, Ebbe Altberg indicated the Sansar team is around the 100+ mark. So, my finger-in-the-air figure would tend to concur with the idea of 20 to 30 people being laid off / transitioned.

In this latter regard, I took time to try to dig around a little further and concluded that it seems likely that at least two of the Sansar team who originally moved to that project from Second Life may have transitioned back to working on SL (in addition to Harley Linden also transitioning from Sansar to SL).

Precisely what this means for Sansar development in the future remains to be seen. I’ve already commented on the move to focus efforts on trying to make Sansar a venue for “live” virtual events (see Sansar changes emphasis: of live events and audience, and it’s something I intend to circle back to in the near future as it seems some of that piece may have been misinterpreted. For now, all I will say in regards to the lay-offs, is that whenever and wherever they happen, no matter how big or how small, they are never pleasant – least of all for those being laid off. So I genuinely hope any who have been let go by the Lab are successful in finding new positions sooner rather than later.