Happy 20th rezday to Second Life’s humble Prim!

20 years of the prim by SarahKB7 Koskinen

It All Starts with a Prim

Those six words used to be one of the tag-lines associated with Second Life. Six words that – long before mesh or even sculpties entered our consciousness – summed up the unique magic of Second Life: the ability to create almost anything you might imagine, just by taking simple geometric shapes and playing with them – shaping, sizing, bringing them together, etc., – to produce something either individually or collectively, right there within a virtual space.

Of course, things like scripts and tools were required to get things to do things or to make the shapes that were needed, but at its heart, SL’s creativity lay within the humble primitive shapes offered to users through the viewer.

I mention this because January 25th, 2022 is officially the 20th anniversary of the first prim ever being rezzed within Second Life (or rather, its precursor: LindenWorld) – something marked by SarahKB7 Koskinen, who has produced a celebratory sculpture (seen at the top of this piece) which can – for the 25th of January 2022, at least, be seen at the Ivory Tower of Primitives sandbox.

Touching the sculpture will present you with a notecard about the prim cube it contains explaining that whilst a reproduction, like the very first primitive rezzed in 2002, it has no listed creator. Why? Because the rezzing of the first primitive predated the database that would be used to record information such as object creator names!

Avi Bar-Zeev

But exactly howdid SL’s primitive originate?

Well, their creator is one Avi Bar-Zeev.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Avi has been a pioneer, architect and advisor in Spatial Computing (AR/VR/MR/XR) for nearly 30 years. He’s worked for some of the biggest corporations including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft (where he pioneered the HoloLens, whilst in the 1990s, he worked for the Disney Corporation, working on what he refers to as “novel VR experiences”, including Aladdin’s Magic Carpet, the Virtual Jungle Cruise and Cyberspace Mountain.

Speaking on the January 25th, Avi describes the arrival of primitives thus:

About 10 years into that [his early work in the eXtended Reality space] I met Philip and we worked together on some things in Second Life. And early on, [Philip] had said, “let’s figure out this prim thing; let’s figure out how to build the world”. An I just so happened to have studied computational geometry in a college, and so I said, “I know how to do that!” and wrote a couple of hundred lines of code to make all the primitives in the world, with various knobs and capabilities to stick them together. So that was my claim to fame back then! 

– Avi Bar-Zeev talking with Philip Rosedale during a Twitter Spaces event, January 25th, 2022

Whether or not Avi had any idea back when he wrote those “couple of hundred” lines of code that they would still be in use 20 years later, I’ve no idea. But it cannot be denied that his code was, throughout the early years of Second Life, one of the mainstay reasons people kept up with their engagement with the platform; the joy of shaping simple shapes and learning how to cut and shape them and then bring them together and then going on to texture and (perhaps) script them to make something you can point to and say, “I did that!”.

Even today within the world of mesh, prims building offers opportunities for in-world collaboration, for fun and / or indulgence that simply cannot be matched by the more solitary world of mesh design, and primitives continue to hold a certain magic with anyone who learns to work with them.

So, happy rezday, primitives, and thank you to Avi Bar-Zeev for enriching our world!

Philip Rosedale: musing on Second Life and the metaverse

Philip Rosedale (2006) via Esther Dyson on Flickr

Note: the articles linked to in this article will display a log-in form on opening. Simply click the X to close this and view the article.

Whilst coming a week late to the party, but Protocol, the on-line tech publication, presented a brief but punchy interview with Philip Rosedale on his return to Linden Lab, a piece that makes for worthwhile reading.

I admit that a small part of my attraction to Second Life’s founder doesn’t believe in VR, by Janko Roettgers and Nick Statt, lay in the fact a couple of Rosedale’s comments on the state of VR as it is today, pretty much echo what I was saying a good few years ago (that the current generation of VR headsets are inherently anti-social in the way that cut the user off from those immediately around them). However, that’s not the reason for me to point to the article; there is far more of relevance within it.

What makes this article a particularly pleasant read is the direct approach taken by this authors, with key points neatly broken down into sub-sets of bullet points. These start with a refreshing  – and, I would state – fair summation of the state of consumer-facing VR before moving to to some of the challenges faced by “the metaverse” is trying to reach a significant global audience, and what’s on the horizon for Second Life in the future.

Janko Roettgers

This third sub-set of items has already been covered to some degree and includes the topics we’ve already heard about / surmised:

  • The use of tracking technology for avatar expressiveness.
  • A renewed move towards mobile support for Second Life (again, related to the “decentralised environment patents” transferred to LL?).
  • Improved communications capabilities.

No specifics are offered, admittedly – but what is recognised and – allowing for the fact that Rosedale is only (currently?) a part-time advisor to the Lab – a recognition that Second Life is long in the tooth with a heavy reliance on legacy technology  / approaches – and that at some point it is entirely possible that at some point building a new platform alongside of, and eventually replacing, Second Life as we know it, may well become a necessity.

And before anyone says, “but they did that with Sansar, and look at what happened!”, it is worth pointing out that a) Sansar was never developed as some kind of “SL 2.0”; it was made clear from the outset that the Lab was looking to address two different environments: Second Life and what was believed to be the coming wave for VR users, with agendas / needs that were very different to the majority of Second Life users. As such, there is no reason why, if LL did embark on an actual “SL 2.0”, it would likely be far more in respect of retaining the current user base and growing it, rather than seeking other horizons, as was the case with Sansar, whilst also allowing the platform to pivot more readily to newer technologies.

I actually find this point-of-view – which again, is a personal perspective from Rosedale, and not at this point anything we know to be part of the Lab’s plans for the foreseeable future – to be refreshing. Linden Lab has perhaps been too afraid of the spectre of “content breakage” and Second Life users a little too attached to inventory that they (probably) haven’t used in years, that it’s about time someone voice the reality that in order to move forward, there may well come a time when a break from at least some of the past is required.

For me, a particular point of interest within the article is what Rosedale states about the challenges facing “the metaverse”, and specifically the need to get to a point where avatar-centric communications can be “as effective as a simple Zoom call” together the  need for Second Life to provide “a better communication experience to take on Zoom calls.”

Nick Statt

I find this of a point of interest because it both underlines the coming of “avatar expressiveness in SL, and what the Lab hope to achieve with it, and also a continuing disconnect that is still evident in thinking around what “the metaverse” “must” do.

Within SL (and for the metaverse as a whole), there is no doubting that there are a range of use cases that can only benefit from avatar expressiveness. Picture, for example, a teacher within a virtual classroom being able to recognise a student who is experiencing difficulty or confusion during a lesson just by witnessing their facial expressions, and thus provide assistance.

However, the idea that “the metaverse” can gain traction among users just by emulating tools already at our disposal – Zoom, Skype, Duo, Viber, etc., – is potentially misguided. Such tools are already too ingrained into our psyche of ease-of-access and use to by easily replaced by carrying out the same task in virtual spaces. If “the metaverse” is to gain a mass appeal that isn’t centred on one particular environment / limited demographic – again, note Rosedale’s comments about Fortnite, Roblox and VR Chat – then it has to have a broad-based and compelling set of attractions rather than risking being seen as “just an alternative” to what can already be done using this, that or the other app or programme, etc. that is already at our disposal.

But in this I’ve said more than enough –  or al least the article from which it is drawn, so I’ll close here and leave Roettgers, and  Statt’s piece for you to read directly. And in doing so, I’d also recommend taking a look at what amounts to a follow-up piece by the same authors. With In the metaverse, everyone can sound like Morgan Freeman, Roettgers and Statt talk to Philip Rosedale about spatial audio and the company he currently runs: High Fidelity; it’s another informative read.

Lab blogs on Second Life script performance improvements

As I’ve noted in various pieces in this blog, whilst the physical transition of Second Life services from dedicated hardware operated directly by the Lab in a co-location facility to running those services within an Amazon Web Services (AWS) environment was completed at the end of December 2020, work on the project continued through 2021 in refining how the various services run within the AWS environment and in work leveraging the better capabilities Amazon provide  – hardware configurations, monitoring tools, etc., – to improve the performance of SL’s services.

Towards the end of that year in particular, the simulator engineering team was focused on what has been referred to as the “tools update” which, among other things, should bring improvements in the area of scripts, potentially allowing more scripts within a simulator to run per cycle, and even return some time to the simulator for other processing. It’s work that I’ve referenced in my own Simulator User Group (SUG) summaries and which has, more particularly, been moving through the simulator update process over the past few weeks to the point where it is now grid-wide.

Given this, on Thursday, March 20th the Lab officially blog on the update (as Monty Linden stated would be the case during the Tuesday, January 18th SUG meeting), the core element of which reads:

The release also includes a modernization of our compiler and supporting runtime.  Newer tools allows for better code generation and awareness of modern CPU designs.
While the news is mostly good, a word of caution that with more scripts running, other areas of the simulation environment may be driven harder.  Scripts that were already approaching throttles or other limits may find a throttle engaged; this also applies to remote services accessed via llHTTPRequest. We do see the possibility of revisiting these throttling limits as a result of these improvements. They could see higher request rates as scripts perform more work.  
We hope that you enjoy the additional script performance for your regions. Anecdotes from region owners on the RC channels before release were generally positive. We are keeping an eye on the data with expectations that these improvements are here to stay.  We hope that as the regions improve performance you will find ways to create and explore in ways that you could only dream of before.

Note the emphasis on the middle paragraph has been added by myself.

The blog post also outlines further updates to SSL support within the simulator hosts (simhosts), including all SSLv3, TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, and related ciphers being deprecated for llHTTPRequest, llRequestURL, and llRequestSecureURL functions – although these changes do not affect log-in services, so users should not see any of the issues witnessed with the recently TLS changes to the login services.

Please read the full official blog post for complete details and context.

Hi-Fi and the Lab: in the press, & further speculation from me

Logos via Linden Lab and High Fidelity respectively

Following the announcement that High Fidelity, the company co-founded by Philip Rosedale in 2013 and after his departure form Linden Lab, has invested money, patents and staff into the latter, the news hit a lot of on-line tech publications and even the Wall Street Journal – creating a buzz around Second Life that has so far, if we’re honest, somewhat eluded the Lab in the wake of all the broader “metaverse” chatter that has been going on.

Of these articles, the most detailed came via GamesBeat / VentureBeat (by the ever-informative Dean Takahashi), c|net and The Wall Street Journal (the latter via Archive to avoid the paywall)¹ that added butter to the bread of the original announcement, which I’ve summarised below, and which gave me further pause for thought.

To deal with the bullet point takeaways first:

  • The patents transfer from Hi Fi is for distributed computing, and include “moderation in a decentralised environment patents.”
  • In all some 7 members of the Hi Fi team will be moving to work alongside the Second Life engineering team, effectively increasing it by around 20%.
  • The move will mean that around 165 people will be working on Second Life and Tilia.
  • Two elements of the work Hi Fi staff will be involved in are:
    • SL’s “social aspects”, given as “avatars and digital marketplace”. I assume the former is a reference to things like “avatar expressiveness”, on which more below.  And the latter potentially greater accessibility to SL’s Marketplace by users using mobile options, etc.
    • Oberwager also indicated that Hi Fi’s work will be to assist LL in developing “the tools to make virtual economies work” and a concept for “underpinning FinTech to metaverse” – which I assume is a reference to involvement in Tilia, per my original speculations on the investment.
  • Separate to its involvement with LL, High Fidelity will continue to develop its spatial audio capabilities, which have already been licensed by a number of other companies.
  • In terms of SL itself:
    • 2020 still seems to be the platform’s most robust year, with the economy put in terms of a US $650 million GDP, with 345 million annual transactions (virtual goods, real estate, and services) and US $80 million cashed-out.
    • The platform boasts more than 1.6 million transactions per day and generates 1.8 billion messages (presumably user-to-user and Group IMs) per month.
    • Second Life won’t be moved to support VR headsets any time soon, simply because the latter need much more time to mature, both in terms of their technology and their market reach; something Rosedale believes (and I’d agree, for whatever that is worth) is unlikely to be reached in the next 5 years. However, once SL itself is more performant and better placed to naturally leverage VR hardware.
Philip Rosedale and Brad Oberwager, via VentureBeat / GamesBeat. Credit: Linden Lab

In terms of my own speculation, this primarily arise – and rather belatedly, given my own previous coverage of High Fidelity in this blog – as a result of a comment from Philip Rosedale in the piece by Dean Takahashi:

The tech changes are all about communication,” Rosedale said. “I don’t think it’s about pixels. I don’t think it’s about radical richness. I don’t even think it’s all about 3D. I think the problem and the opportunity is communicating with people in a naturalistic way where I can interview you.

– Philip Rosedale, speaking to Dean Takahashi

We already know from Linden Lab’s own review of 2021, which includes a bullet list of deliverables planned for 2022 – that “avatar expressiveness” to Second Life that will bring “camera-based gestures and movement to your avatar for a whole new level of interaction and connectedness”. This is something that marries up to Rosedale’s comments above. More particularly, it is something High Fidelity started to develop back in 2014, when the company was working on its own decentralised virtual spaces – even producing an informal video that helped demonstrate that early work – and which I’ve embedded below.

Yes, the avatars are someone cartoonish is looks, but this work was carried out in Hi Fi early days and before their avatars developed into something SL users might find more appealing, so don’t get too hung up on that fact.

What’s important is to note that how the avatars (faces and hand movements) reflect those of the people behind them. Take, for example, Emily’s face as she emotionally responds to the lyrics she is singing, and the way Ryan’s avatar (with the beard) makes eye contact with viewers as it looks directly out of the screen, and they way his eyes / head naturally move as he also addresses Chris and Emily who are sharing the same office space with him – plus the capture of his real-time hand-clapping at the end of the song! (And as a total aside specific to SL “old timers”, not that the guy providing the backing vocals is none other than Andrew Meadows (once (and again….?) aka Andrew Linden.)

If this capability could be brought into Second Life – and again, I have no idea how much further down the road Hi Fi got in developing / enhancing it and am aware that SL presents a range of its own technical challenges (range of mesh heads, rigging /weighting, etc.) – then clearly, it could offer considerable depth to avatar interactions for those who would care to leverage them. Take the SL live music scene, for example, and the potential for performers to add gestures to their music and (like Emily) have the emotions in singing transferred to their avatars. (I’ve also submitted a question on this subject for consideration in the upcoming Lab Gab session with Brad Oberwager and Philip Rosedale.)

There is a lot more that might be unpacked from these articles – such as the idea of a “decentralised environment” and what that might mean for thing like SL and mobile device access, and a lot to chew on regarding SL’s approach to virtual spaces and how it stands apart from the recent headline-grabbers like Facebook / Meta. Some of these comments should give comfort to those concerned about matters of privacy and the like, and Rosedale at least has carried his view on things beyond talking to journalists, embodying them in some of his tweets.

Philip Rosedale via Twitter,, January 15th, 2022

Given what is available for consumption between the three articles, I would recommend a reading of all three rather than having me drone on further here, or dilute the core speculation I wanted to put forward as a possibility. As such, I’ll leave you to peruse them in your own time, if you’ve not already done so.

Related Links

 

  1. While there were other articles on the announcement, most were either baseline reproductions of the original press release (with a sprinkling of commentary in some cases) or re-treads of one of these three pieces.

High Fidelity, Linden Lab, and the return of Philip Rosedale

Logos via Linden Lab and High Fidelity respectively

On Thursday, January 13th, Linden Lab officially announced that High Fidelity Incorporated has invested in Linden Lab.

For the few who may not be familiar with High Fidelity, it is a company co-founded in 2013 by Philip Rosedale, one of the co-founders of Linden Research (Linden Lab), and who had initially departed Linden Lab in a hands-on leadership capacity in 2008, prior to severing all ties (management and board) in 2010.

The news came via an official press release from both parties, and also via blog post from the Lab to users – of which more at the end of this article.

Originally founded to build a distributed, VR-centric virtual worlds / virtual environments platform, High Fidelity was an interesting concept that attracted considerable inward investment (rounding-out at some US $73 million), and provided numerous innovative and unique features and capabilities. However, despite that investment, the support of luminaries such as Tony Parisi, the co-creator of the VRML and X3D ISO standards for networked 3D graphics, and numerous efforts to encourage the use of it (such as a US $15,000 “STEM VR Challenge”), the platform developed by High Fidelity failed to gain broad traction, Thus, in mid-2019, the company announced it would be pivoting its business to focus on a virtual workstation / environment that would allow people to work collaboratively whilst geographically separate (see: High Fidelity Changes Direction: the Reality of VR Worlds Today (& Tomorrow) and High Fidelity Changes Direction (2)).

Then, in December 2019, the company indicated a further change of direction to focus on a (then) unnamed new project, which was eventually revealed to be a new immersive spatial audio capability, which appears to form a part of the structure of High Fidelity’s investment in Linden Lab, as the official press release notes:

 The deal includes a cash investment and distributed computing patents. Members of High Fidelity’s metaverse team are joining the company, and Philip Rosedale, who is a founder of both companies, is also rejoining Second Life as a strategic advisor.
Philip Rosedale: inwards investment to LL via High Fidelity and a Strategic Advisor role with LL

It’s interesting to note that the press release does not indicate any potential board / direct management role for Rosedale – although I’ll be watching the Lab’s management page to see if it is updated subsequent to this announcement.

Certainly, that he, and other members of the High Fidelity team are joining Linden Lab strongly suggests High Fidelity’s audio capabilities could be playing a strong role in SL’s future – and it cannot be denied that a rich, immersive spatial voice audio could help SL better serve existing audiences – such as those in the educational sector – and potentially increase the platform’s appeal among potential audiences. I’m also curious as to whether such a capability might be used in overhauling SL’s other audio capabilities, such as through the introduction of audio materials and surfaces. Perhaps time will tell on that.

Another aspect of High Fidelity that might be of relevance – although this is again highly speculative on my part – is whether or not the work and IP the company put into developing their own commerce and micro-transaction system might have a bearing on SL and (more specifically) Tilia Pay.

Obviously, given his work in establishing and running Second Life – a decade of being away not withstanding – and in formulating and developing High Fidelity both initially as a content platform  / virtual spaces environment and more latterly as a potential business tool, Philip Rosedale potentially has a broad enough view of digital spaces, coupled with a direct hands-on approach with software development that could be of significant benefit to Second Life as a it does seek to grow its audience(s).

Outside of what this means direct for SL / Tilia (and for the longer-terms futures of Linden lab and High Fidelity as a whole – e.g. future merger, allowing for respective investors?), this announcement is interesting for a handful of minor points.

The first is that When High Fidelity was being established, Linden Research was one of its early investors, albeit it (according to Ebbe Altberg) on a relatively small scale. The second is that Linden Lab’s Executive Chairman, Brad Oberwager, has been friends with Philip Rosedale for a long time (he has described Rosedale’s wife as one of his closest friends), and they appear to have like minds and approaches to things. Thus, Rosedale’s return in the role of a “strategic advisor” would seem to be a natural fit in helping to leverage  / define SL’s development and potential future directions.

Finally, the announcement that Rosedale will be joining Linden Lab as a “strategic advisor” (note: not as the “new CEO” as I’ve already seen flying around in one in-world group) actually marks his second “return” to a hands-on role at the Lab. In 2008, he handed the CEO reins over to Mark Kingdon (“M Linden”) – although for a while he retained had Board position albeit while working on other business ideas such as Coffee and Power – but then returned to the role on an interim basis for several months in 2010 following Kindgon’s departure and pending the arrival of Rod Humble as the de facto CEO at the end of that year.

Lab Gab Special

To mark Rosedale’s return to the Lab, and hopefully discuss more of what his and High Fidelity’s involvement with Linden Lab means for Second Life, etc., the Lab will be running a special edition of Lab Gab towards the end of January 2022, and – as per the official blog post – the event will be open to questions from Second Life users.

The show will feature both the Lab’s Executive Chairman, Brad Oberwager (Oberwolf Linden) and Philip Rosedale, and questions can be submitted via this form, prior to midnight (SL time) on January 16th, 2022.

Related Links

Lab announces change to e-mail preferences for Group notices

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021: Linden Lab have announced a forthcoming change to e-mail notification preferences in respect of the receipt of Group notices received via e-mail when users are not logging in to Second Life.

To quote the blog post in part:

We will soon be adding an option to email notification preferences. Currently, you can choose to receive IMs in your email when you are not logged in to Second Life. There will now be an additional setting that controls whether you receive Group notices in e-mail.
We are rolling this change out in stages. If you change your settings, it may be up to two weeks before it takes effect.
The default for the new setting affecting Group notices will be OFF. If you wish to receive Group notices in email, you will need to visit the web page and opt in.
This change is motivated by feedback from our community as well as residents frequently marking Group Notice emails as spam.  We want emails to our residents to be as relevant and useful as possible.

via Linden Lab

The ability to opt-in to receiving Group notices can be found on your account dashboard at secondlife.com (there is a direct link provided in the official blog post), under Account → Change Email Settings.

Note that this is an option subject to multi-factor verification when accessing it, and the option includes a check box and dedicated Save button that must be clicked in order to update any changes, as per the image below.

As from December 15th, 2021, anyone wishing to receive Group notices as e-mails when they are not logged-in to SL will have to explicitly update their account e-mail options in order to do so

Finally, and as per the comment in red on the Change Email Setting page, and the note within the official blog post, this option must be checked by anyone who wishes to continue to receive Group notices via e-mail when not logged in to Second Life, from December 15th onwards. Also note:

  • From December 15th the IM’s to e-mail preferences setting within the viewer will no longer be valid; only the web page options will work to change these preferences. Until the option is removed from the viewer, attempts to use the Preferences option to change the setting will return an IM directing users to the web page).
  • This change does not see any change in the current cap on IMs-to-e-mail caps. However, if Group notices are set to off (the default), the cap should only apply to off-line IMs, rather than counting both IMs and group notices.