Ebbe and Oz talk Second Life in the cloud

Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

It’s a huge effort. Right now the Second Life grid is a proprietary set-up in a hosting facility that we have customised for the purposes of what we’re doing – which made sense a decade and half ago. But these days, with the services from Google and Amazon and Microsoft with cloud infrastructures, it makes a lot of sense to shift our technologies to be on top of those cloud infrastructures instead of having our own.

Ebbe Altberg, VWPBE, March 15th, 2018.

That the Lab is working on moving Second Life to the cloud is becoming more and more widely known. First mentioned by Landon Linden (aka, Landon McDowell, the Lab’s Chief Product Officer) during his SL14B Meet the Lindens session, it was “officially” announced in August 2017 via a blog post.

Landon Linden, June 2017, talking about the Lab’s hope to move Second Life services to the cloud.

It’s a long-term project, which will extend well into 2019 (at least), building on a relationship with Amazon dating back to 2008, and which today both Blocksworld and Sansar (see: “Project Sansar”: an Amazon ECS case study), from which the Lab hope to gain a range of benefits, including – in time – perhaps the opportunity to offer a broader range of products at more comfortable (for users) price points.

There are some significant technology challenges the Lab faces with the move. However, progress is being made. Some non-user visible services are already running in the cloud, and more recently, the Lab has started preliminary testing with cloud-based simulators – although they are fair from ready for users to access, as Oz Linden outlined at the March 16th TPV Developer meeting:

We have actually run experimental regions on cloud servers, and it worked. There were some functional limitations that we have to do a lot of work to solve before we could begin to do regions that ordinary users can get to … It’s something we’re pursuing as aggressively as we can [but] I’m not even sure we have a sufficiently comprehensive view of the problems … some of them will only become apparent as we actually put things into production.

Oz Linden, TPVD meeting, March 16th, 2018 – full audio below.

Oz Linden, March 16th, 2018, talking about progress to date, and how things are likely to progress.

For the Lab, the benefits of the move to the cloud include things like a reduction in their capital expenditure  – no need to maintain their own dedicated hardware (or continuously update / replace it) within a dedicated operating environment. It also means they can more dynamically scale consumption according to needs – this could be beneficial for a number of the back-end systems within Second Life.

It turns it into less capital expenditure to have to buy all the equipment and doing all the maintenance on that. You kind-of pay for what you use; with Second Life [right now], once we’ve bought a piece of hardware, we have to sit on it whether it’s being utilised or not, whereas you can kind-of dynamically scale your consumption as necessary when you use something like AWS … which we believe will reduce costs for use and then ultimately, we hope to pass that on to customers.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th 2018.

Once the transition has been completed and the Lab has had time to evaluate things, the move might allow them to offer a more varied land product – something again touched upon in Ebbe Altberg’s 2018 VWBPE address, and allow them to more extensively “re-balance” the revenue model – something that is also an ongoing project at the Lab.

We’re really thinking hard about the economic model of Second Life. We share a belief inside the Lab that land is quite expensive. so we’re constantly looking at ways to lower land prices and find other ways to find revenues. So I think you will see us try to shift from what I would say [are] high real estate taxes to more consumption taxes or fees to create an environment where it’s easy for people to create and own experiences, and we [the Lab] participate more in all the transactions that take place.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th, 2018.

Given that land tier provides the lion’s share of the Lab’s revenue, this re-balancing is far from easy to say nothing of the potential for user outcry at any fee increases). Ergo, having better means to lower fees such as through reduced operating costs and a broader spread of more “affordable” products could – depending on the time frames involved – go a long way towards helping the Lab achieving that re-balancing goal.

So what might the move to the cloud mean for users? That’s hard to quantify at the moment, simply because the project has so far to go.However, some hints at what might happen have been offered.

For one thing – and on the subject of different land products – it might allow the Lab to offer two broad categories of region / server type; I’ll call them “always on” and “on demand”.

  • “Always on” would be simulators running 24/7 as with SL at present. These would be ideal for handling Mainland, large open spaces like Blake Sea and the larger, contiguous private estates. Such regions might have a similar type of fixed-fee tier cost associated with them as we have today (although not necessarily the same price points).
  • “On demand” would be simulators that are only active (and charged for) when in active use. When devoid of avatars, they are saved to disk and spun down. These types of region could be ideal for special events, or for private business / residential regions which don’t have any surrounding regions, and would only be charged for when avatars are present; once the last avatar leaves, following an appropriate pause, the region is saved, and the instance spun-down.

Such an approach has been alluded to by Ebbe Altberg:

Some experiences might want to have continuous persistence over time, and maybe that’s one type of pricing model, for an “always on” type of scenario. Maybe other will be fine with, “hey, I’m only using this for a few hours in a class a few times a week” or something. and if that can spin-up in a few seconds, and then I just need to basically pay for the time that I’m utilising it. Those could be potential options for us to explore.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th, 2018.

Land offerings could be broadened in other ways. Again, as Ebbe Altberg indicated at VWBPE 2018, there might be high-performance, high-capacity, “upper tier” servers available for those needing them for specific uses (e.g. events need high concurrency levels or similar), sitting alongside more moderate, lower-cost servers for things like residential use.

More intriguingly, cloud hosting might even allow the Lab to more readily geo-locate simulators / regions with their physical world audience. Such regions wouldn’t necessarily have to be grouped together in-world, they are simply located a lot close to the user base that most frequently uses them, potentially improving performance for that audience.

Today we are located in the US, which means that people from Australia or Asia or Europe have to travel quite a ways, which is hundreds of extra milliseconds of latency. So if you want to have a very dedicated community in Australia or somewhere, we could maybe start to distribute our server infrastructure to be closer to where the actual customers of those regions are, which would make things more performant.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, 15th, March 2018.

There will be more to come on SL and the cloud and the Lab provide further updates as the work progresses, and I’ll hopefully report on them as they are made public. In the meantime, and for those who haven’t waded all the way through the VWBPE 2018 video with Ebbe Altberg (and Brett Linden), or who don’t want to read either my transcript of that event or the bullet-point summary, here’s the audio of Ebbe’s comments on SL and the cloud:

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Linden Lab: images, logos and IP

Image via lawdonut.co.uk

Update, December 14th, 10:07 UT: Linden Lab has issued an apology on the specific situation involving Strawberry. Included in the blog post is a broader statement concerning the use of their trademarks and the guidelines thereto, and how the Lab will be revising things somewhat for the future. 

The apology and statement are both welcome (not the least by Berry herself!), and kudos is offered to the Lab for openly admitting the error both reasonably quickly and positively.

 

As I was heading for bed last night, I caught a blog post by Strawberry Singh concerning  a trademark complaint she has received from Linden Lab.

Specifically, Berry was informed that a video tutorial she had produced a year ago had been found to be in violation of the Lab’s Trademark Guidelines. These guideline specify how terms like Second Life®, Blocksworld®, SL™ , InSL™, and the eye-in-hand logo might be used.

The guidelines are reasonably clear, and even include a point that journalists and media outlets have special permission to use these marks in articles, vis:

License for Press Use of the Second Life Eye-in-Hand Logo. We’ve given journalists and media outlets special permission to use the Second Life Eye-in-Hand Logo in published articles, blog entries, and news programs specifically about the Second Life virtual world, subject to our Guidelines and Terms and Conditions

Berry, as a blogger / vlogger, thought she was in compliance with the above requirement. The replies she’s had from the Lab – both through Tia Linden, the Lab’s IP Specialist, and other Lab personnel indicate this is not the case.

One possible way of looking at this issue – and according Linden Lab due fairness in their possible concerns – is that YouTube is a platform with a reach that goes well beyond that of a Second Life audience. As such there could be concerns about the use of the various logos and trademarks, etc., being seen as some form of “official” production  – or, were they to be used with other content related to Second Life – as an implied “endorsement” of products, activities, etc. However, were this the case, the matter could perhaps have been dealt with through a request for a suitable disclaimer to the start / end of the video and to its YouTube description.

Admittedly, this doesn’t cover concerns around licensing / monetisation which some might see as being a possible cause behind the notice being issued. But then, this doesn’t appear to be the Lab’s primary concern. Rather, as indicated in Tia’s e-mail – and underscored by the updates Berry has provided since I first read and responded to her post – is over the use of images from specific Second Life web properties and the use of a logo which had – according to the trademark guideline quoted above – previously been allowed. To quote from Tia’s e-mail response to Berry:

More specifically, we do not allow images of our avatar building page, home pages or Second Life Eye In Hand Logo to be used in any capacity. Please do not use images of any Second Life web pages or logos ( with the exception of our inSL logo noted at http://secondlife.com/corporate/brand/insl/#) in your video or any other work. You may provide a link to our website or registration page in your video if you wish.

Note the bold emphasis is mine, to underscore the specific issue: the statement that certain images and logos now cannot be use in any capacity.

If this is now the case, it is worrying for many of us who routinely blog about Second Life and have used such images and logos. I  have, for example, used the eye-in-hand logo in what I have believed to be in accordance with the trademark and branding requirements. Where do we now stand if we are now seeing a shift in position from Linden Lab? Are we now in violation of a new prohibition on image use? Are the various guidelines on trademark and brand use about to be revised? If so, how do such chances sit with conception such as Fair Use?

Of course it could come down to poor wording within an e-mail, and the underpinning reasons for the notice don’t extend beyond the one specific video. But if this is the case, then we should still be given further clarification on the use of images and logos.

I’ve written to Linden Lab raising these broader questions on the use of logos and images. Hopefully, I’ll receive a reply and will follow-up with a post should this be the case.

Our Digital Selves: living within a virtualised world

Coming to a screen near you in 2018  – and not to be missed. Via: Draxtor Despres

In 2016 I wrote about the work of Tom Boellstorff and Donna Z Davis (respectively Tom Bukowski  and Tredi Felisimo in Second Life). Since 2015 Donna – a strategic communications professor at the University of Oregon specialising in mass media & society, public relations, strategic communication, virtual environments and digital ethnography – and Tom –  a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine – have been engaged in a National Science Foundation funded study formally entitled  Virtual Worlds, Disability, and New Cultures of the Embodied Selfand more informally referred to as Our Digital Selves.

Their work, which will continue through into 2018, focuses on the experiences of people with disabilities – visible and invisible – who are using immersive virtual spaces to represent themselves, possibly free of the shadow of any disability, engage with others and do things they may not be able to do in the physical world.

Donna Z Davis and Tom Boellstorff (Tredi Felisimo and Tom Bukowski in Second Life), co-researchers in Virtual Worlds, Disability, and New Cultures of the Embodied Self, supported by the University of California, Irvine; the University of Oregon; and the National Science Foundation.

The work encompasses many aspects – physical, mental, technical, for example – of occupying both a physical space and a digital environment when living with both visible and invisible disabilities – the benefits with can be enjoyed, together with the potential risks / fears. Some of these aspects, particularly the more positive, are perhaps familiar to us: the power of being defined by who we are as a person, rather than in terms of a disability; the freedom presented by the ability to embody ourselves within an avatar howsoever we like, and so on. Other may not have been fully recognised for the fear they can create; while the “new era” for VR system may well be liberating for the able, it can be a frightening / debilitating threat for some with disabilities.

Given the extent of the study, it obviously crosses the physical / digital divide.  There have been experiments and discussions in-world. And there have been real-world interactions between Tom and Donna and those participating in the study.

One of those who has been following the study closely is Draxtor Despres. He has featured Tom’s work in The Drax Files World Makers, and is now engaged in producing a documentary  – also entitled Our Digital Selves – about the study, travelling with Donna and Tom to meet some of those participating in the work. While not due for release until early 2018, the first official trailer for the documentary was made public on Tuesday, October 11th, 2017.

Members of the study meet in-world. Credit: Draxtor Despres

“I’m not sure how long the finished piece will be,” Drax informed me in an exclusive one-to-one about the trailer and the film. “I’m aiming for around 40 minutes, but am currently editing an hour-long cut. It’s a massive project. We’ve been travelling across the United States and across the Atlantic meeting with people and interviewing them.”

It’s a massive undertaking; Drax goes on to note that there are around 15 participants in the study who have been involved in the filming, and he has around 3 hours of recording with each. Some of this was necessary simply to get to know people and overcome perfectly natural barriers – shyness, nervousness, and so on – and establish trust; however, it still means there is a lot which needs to be synthesised into a cohesive whole, whilst also doing justice to the stories of all of those volunteering to participate in the film.

Part of the study has involved participants being provided with a 32m x 32m parcel on Ethnographia Island which they could use to share their experiences, insights, and thoughts on their disability. Shown here, Jadyn Firehawk sands before her exhibition space (May 2016).

Nevertheless, the first public trailer does much to establish the structure of the documentary and present an accessible framework against which the broader story will naturally unfold.

This promises to be one of the most engaging, moving and informative documentaries on virtual living, embodiment and personal expression since, perhaps, Login2Life, and something that should not be missed once available. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the trailer  – and the hope that, subject to feedback from Donna, Tom, Drax and those involved the work, I’ll be able to bring more on the documentary and the study in the run-up to the release of the completed film.

Going to the Max in Second Life

With thanks to Sophia Harlow

On September 22nd, Maxwell Graf issues a deeply personal, heart-breaking request via Plurk. Related to a personal situation, it included a request for people to buy from his store (in-world or on the Marketplace). The news was broken by Prim Perfect, and quickly circulated by other bloggers (my own report can a little late in the day, so to speak).

For obvious reasons Max didn’t feel comfortable in asking for more than this, despite the severity of his situation, but that hasn’t stopped friends and fellow creators from rallying around; and on Monday, September 25th, Going to the Max, a special shopping event, organised by Charlotte Bartlett, Sophia Harlow and Blazin Arubet, was announced.

Sponsored by Callie Cline, the event will run from Tuesday October 3rd through Tuesday October 10th. Details are still being put together, but the initial announcement for the event, posted to Plurk by Sophia Harlow and reproduced above,  reveals the line-up thus far.

Responding to the news, Max said:

I don’t know how to receive the massive amounts of love and kindness from so many I know and so many more I don’t…It is a foreign concept to me to get such a cosmic blast of positive affection and concern from so many people at once. It’s really overwhelming and I’m so small right now I can’t do anything but say this over and over, I am humbled beyond my ability to express.

In gaming parlance, this would be like if I was a tank amid a team of 10,000 healers and they all suddenly got very gracious on me at the same time and I started growing and then glowing and then my mana reached peak and my head exploded as I turned in to a demigod and could face any enemy.

Full details on the event  – SLurl for the region, etc. – will be posted in due course, again as things come together, as will more details on how people can get involved. Plurk is one place to keep up with the news, as is Scarlett Creative Facebook page (no Facebook log-in required). In the meantime, don’t forget you can still help Max directly by visiting Rustica in-world or on the MP and buying an item or two … or three!

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Lab issues important update for international credit card users

Linden Lab has issued an important notice for international users who have a credit card filed with the company for the payment of services.

The blog post, issued on Friday, September 22nd, reads in full:

Due to some unexpected changes with our International Billing system, some Residents outside the United States with a Credit Card on file may have difficulty with their current payment method as of September 30, 2017.  

In order to avoid any service disruption, we encourage all Residents outside of the United States to please take a moment to log into your account and re-enter your existing Credit Card information. Doing so now will prevent any disruption in in-world and Marketplace purchases, as well as recurring monthly billing for Premium Accounts, Private Regions and monthly Mainland maintenance.  If you have difficulty with your payment method after September 30, 2017, updating your payment information will resolve the issue.

We apologise for this inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we continue to upgrade our billing systems in order to best service our Residents around the world.  If you have any questions regarding this notice, please visit https://support.secondlife.com to contact our Support teams.

To re-enter your credit card details, go to your account dashboard at secondlife.com, click on Account (top left) and then on Billing Information on the list of options that opens. This will display your billing information summary (sample image below).

Make a note of the services the card is Used For on the right, then Remove your card details (option on the left) and then click Add A Credit Card (circled). This will open the form for you to enter your card details. Make sure to click Add Card to add the card to the system.

When your card has been recorded, you can check the details under Payment Method, then review the services the card is Used For. Should you need to change any of the latter, click on the Change option (circled under Used For on the right) to display a pop-up of services charged to the card and check / uncheck as required.

Billing information summary page sample

 

Supporting Maxwell Graf

Maxwell Graf’s Rustica

I’ve known Maxwell Graf – incredibly enough – since 2007. We’re not actually in the same social groups within Second Life and rarely hang out, but Max is the kind of person you can instantly feel at home with. We can go without talking for several months, and then an impromptu IM picks things up almost where they were left last time around. I’ve also been honoured that Max has, on occasion passed his written thoughts on subjects related to content creation, Second Life, etc., to me for thoughts and feedback – even though I’m possibly the least qualified to comment on matters of content creation.

Max is perhaps best known for his period furniture and buildings

It is as a content creator that Max is perhaps best known in Second Life. His Rustica brand is renowned for quality furnishings, building kits and more, particularly for those with a lean towards Medieval or fantasy settings – although his products are applicable to more than just these two genres. In more recent years he’s branched into steampunk and fashion (with his Bitch and Bastard brands of female and male clothing and apparel – including some magnificent facial hair options for the discerning gentleman!). He is also a superb sculptor of land and maker of landscapes – as anyone who has visited the stunning and beautiful Rustica, home of his brand, will agree.

… However he offers far more for period setting, role-play, home and avatar. His “Ex Libris” range of books offers “titles” of great benefit to SLers (we have them at home) and can be bought as a set or as part of an entire library displayed within beautiful modular cabinets

Nor has Max content with offering his creativity to just Second Life. He has one of the first into Blue Mars and also quickly active in Cloud Party. More recently, he’s been working in Sansar, building a five experience “chapters”, including some familiar names – LagNmoor, Rustica, and Neptune’s Revenge  – those willing to dip their toes into Linden Lab’s latest venture can visit and enjoy (just follow the clues!).

Throughout all of this, Max has been a friend to many; honest, supportive, outgoing, and true.  So when he puts out a plea on Plurk concerning a personal situation, those who know him rally round with re-Plurks, Tweets and blog posts (and my apologies to Max and Lyric for being a little tardy with this blog post, I haven’t been paying attention to social media of late – and my thanks to both Saffia Widdershins and Ciaran Laval for the indirect nudges on the matter).

The Rustica Maison de Maille at Rustica – see inside the store for a petite version

Max isn’t asking for donations or any kind of direct financial support via the real world. What he is asking is for people to buy something for their in-world enjoyment from his store. It doesn’t matter how big or small, how much or how little; in fact, as he says himself, if there is something you desperately want, but cannot honestly afford it, contact him, and he’ll try to sort something out with you.

As we’re currently re-building and replacing elements of Holly Kai Park to ensure all of the landscaping elements, buildings, accessories, etc., are held by a single account, we took the opportunity to zap to Rustica and pick up a set of Max’s PipeWork Electric Lamps, which are now installed in the snug lounge and around the dance floor at Caitinara Bar to add some lighting ambience with a unique look.

We added the Rustica PipeWorks Electric Lamps set to the snug at Caitinara as an ideal option for projected lighting, using the table lamps (foreground, left and on the tables) and wall sconces (over the bar) . Some have also been used around the dance floor and gallery seating area.

So please, do take the opportunity to help a talented creator and friend. Hop over to Rustica in-world or on the Marketplace and offer support by buying an item or two. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed with the quality of anything you purchase from Rustica / Max.

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