Lab posts on their 64-bit viewer and plans

On Tuesday, January 16th, Linden Lab promoted the Alex Ivy 64-bit viewer (version 5.1.0.511732 at the time of writing). This is a significant release, not so much because of any specific new features (although it does include improvements to media handling), but because it marks a number of important changes to the viewer.

Following the release, which Oz Linden blogged about the viewer and the Lab’s plans around it, on Wednesday, January 17th, 2018, and I’ve highlighted a few points of note from that blog post below – but do please read it in full.

Most notably, this version of the official viewer is built using an updated set of libraries (some of which will be undergoing a further update in the future), and a revised build process. It is currently being made available for download for Mac OS X (64-bit) and Windows (32-bit and 64-bit) – there is no Linux version of this viewer at this time, as explained below.

For Windows users, the most significant update lies with a new viewer executable, the SL_Launcher, which – as Oz explains in his blog post:

Manages the viewer update process, and on Windows also ensures that you’ve got the best build for your system (in the future it may pick up some other responsibilities). For Windows systems, the best build is usually the one that matches your operating system. For example, if you’re running a 64-bit Windows, then you’ll get the 64-bit viewer. If not, then you’ll get the 32-bit viewer.  However, some older video cards are not supported by Windows 10, so the launcher may switch you to the 32-bit build which is compatible for those cards. You won’t have to do anything to make this work – it’s all automatic – if you get an update immediately the first time you run this new viewer, it’s probably switching you to the better build for your system.

Oz also notes that if you have a shortcut to the viewer set-up, you should update it to point to SL_Launcher rather than the viewer .EXE, to avoid issues with running / updating the viewer, and indicates there is a slight bug with both the SL_Launcher and Second Life Viewer processes both show as icons on the OS X Dock, and will be fixed in a future update so that only a single icon is shown.

One of the things the Lab has been tracking with the Alex Ivy viewer is overall performance / stability. It had long be noted that running the 32-bit version of the Windows viewer on 64-bit version of Windows with more than 4 Gb of memory could lead to fewer crashes related to running out of memory. However, with the 64-bit version of the viewer, the Lab have seen further benefits for Windows users, and so are encouraging those who can to switch to using a 64-bit version of their preferred viewer, if one is available (e.g. users still running a 32-bit version of a viewer on a 64-bit version of Windows, or those upgrading their hardware to a system running 64-bit Windows).

Linux will be supported – if there is sufficient input from the open-source / Linux communities

Linux is the notable exception to the Alex Ivy branch of the official viewer, as there is currently no support for the operating system.

Linden Lab halted Linux development work in 2015 for a number of reasons (see here for more), and sought the support of the Linux community (who represent around 1-1.5% for the SL user base) to help maintain the viewer on Linux. More recently, as I’ve reported in a number of my weekly SL project updates (see here for an example),  the Lab has set out new plans for Linux support going forward, With Oz explaining:

We’re reorganising the Linux build so that instead of a tarball, it produces a Debian package you can install with the standard tools, and rather than statically linking all the libraries it will just declare what it needs through the standard package requirements mechanism. We’ll post separately on the opensource-dev mailing list with information on where that project lives and how to contribute to it.

Again, a key aspect of this project will be continued support from the open-source / Linux community to help maintain the Linux viewer going forward, in providing bug fixes, etc., and the Lab providing essential QA and the core build environment, as noted above. This approach is seen as beneficial, as it will remove many of the idiosyncrasies / overheads involved in producing a Linux viewer, such as maintaining multiples libraries associated with the viewer, and instead provide a basic viewer package which can be used by TPVs / Linux users to meet their specific preferences.

Some TPVs have already released versions of their viewers based on the Alex Ivy code, and Firestom’s upcoming release should also, I believe, include a 64-bit version based on Alex Ivy.

And if you’re wondering about the viewer’s name – as Oz explains (and I noted back when the first 64-bit project viewer appeared), Alex Ivy is derived from 64 in Roman numerals: LXIV – aLeX IVy.

 

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Looking at the Second Life 2017 year-end Grid Survey report

La virevolte; Inara Pey, December 2017, on FlickrLa virevolteblog post

On December 31st, 2017, Tyche Shepherd issued her year-end summary on the general size and state of the Second Life main grid.

In terms of a percentage loss, 2017 saw private region losses return to the 2014/2015 levels, with a 4% decrease through the year, somewhat lower than seen in 2016. In all, 677 private regions of all classes were removed from the grid in 2017, compared to 992 in 2016. At the same time, the number of Mainland  / Linden held regions increased very slightly from 6,744 to 6,806 (up by 62), leaving an overall net loss of 605 regions across the grid as a whole.

Taking the year-on-year figures from 2010 onwards (that being the last year the grid exhibited a growth in the number of regions), we get the following breakdown for private regions:

2010 2011 2012 2013
24,483 23,857 20,994 19,273
Increase
%age
Loss %age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
810 3% 626 2.56% 2863 12% 1719 8.2%
2014
2015 2016 2017
18,600 17,775 16,783 16,106
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
Loss
%age
673 3.5% 825 4.4% 992 5.6% 677 4.0%

Working on the basis of Tyche’s Full Private Region surveys I have to hand, a breakdown of approximate recent monthly revenues from private regions over the most recent four-year period might be given as:

  • November 2013: US $3,857,000 (+/- US $52,000)
  • March 2016: US $3,385,000 ( +/- US $43,000)
  • December 2016: US $3,162,000 (+/- US $39,000)
  • December 2017: US$ 2,970,000 (+/- US $36,500)

This represents around a 23% drop in monthly tier revenues over a four-year period. Of course, there are other revenue routes associated with Second Life – notably Premium memberships (which the Lab has in the past indicated account for around 20% of revenues). More directly, the end of 2016 / start of 2017 saw the Lab generate an estimated US $80,000, which doubtless help offset the decline in tier revenues to some extent. So, taking these factors into consideration, I would suggest that overall, the Lab might still be generating around US $48-49 million in revenue, or roughly the same as my estimate from my 2016 end-of-year article.

In 2016 there was some speculation that any opening of Sansar might have an impact on SL’s landmass. In my 2016 piece, I expressed the opinion this would not be the case, noting:

Some have raised concerns over how much of an impact Sansar will have on SL’s landmass in 2017. I actually don’t think it will. While I anticipate the decline in land will continue (but hopefully at a slower rate than 2016), I simply don’t think Sansar will have any immediate impact on Second Life one way or the other. Not in its first year, at least.

Unsurprisingly, this has proven to be the case: region losses for the second half of 2017, following the opening of Sansar’s public Creator Beta, remained pretty much on a weekly par with the months prior to the Creator Beat opening. I expect this will continue to be the case through much – if not all – of 2018.

Private estate numbers downs and ups in 2017 – click for full size

For me, the question remains as to how the Lab might respond to the slow tier revenue decline. As unpalatable though it may be to some, the answer still isn’t any tier cut, for the same reasons I gave back in 2013.  Simply put, from the Lab’s perspective  – and contrary to popular misconceptions on the matter – what users might consider  a “reasonable” tier reduction could actually be more immediately damaging to LL’s bottom line revenue generation, and bring with it no actual guarantee it would be overcome through any sustained demand for private land.

A better way – again from the Lab’s perspective – to relieve any pressure causing by reductions in revenue would be to reduce the costs involved in running ad maintaining Second Life. Doing so may not yield direct benefits to users in terms of tier reductions – but given the Lab’s sensitivity to the subject, they could over time provide the means for the Lab to reduce the tier paid by users. In the meantime, reducing costs allows the Lab to better leverage revenue into bankable profits. This is true, as well, for the work to move Second Life to the cloud – although hopefully, as the Lab has indicated, this might also eventually result in new land products / more flexible pricing. We just perhaps shouldn’t anticipate this happening in the near future.

Might we see Horizons expanded or a re-run of the buy-down offer in 2018? Possibly; although if either were to be tried, I suspect were there to be a move towards one or the other, it would likely be more to s further run of the buy-down offer, rather than an expansion of Horizons. That said, I actually anticipate that 2018 will see a further drop in region numbers, albeit one hopefully / most likely slower as then year unfolds than that of 2017. I doubt there will be any significant reversal unless something happens to cause a sustained growth in the overall numbers of users actively engaged in Second Life.

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Gabrielle Riel to semi-retire from SL, St. John estate to close

St. John Parish

Long term Second Life resident Gabrielle Riel, founder and General Director of Radio Riel and owner of the St. John estate of seven regions, has announced she is to semi-retire from Second Life.

As a broadcaster and DJ, Gabrielle is well-known to many in Second Life, and her Radio Riel station is one of the most popular in Second Life, and one of the longest running, having celebrated its 10th anniversary of broadcasting in June 2017. Offering music covering a wide range of genres, Radio Riel is popular in the historic, fantasy and steampunk communities and well-known for their support of Relay for Life of Second Life and Fantasy Faire.

In 2013, Gabrielle founded the St. John residential estate of seven regions, which has proven popular with those renting there, building up a strong sense of community. Unfortunately, it is the part of her Second Life that is most directly affected by her decision.

Gabrielle Riel

“I want to make it clear I am not TOTALLY leaving SL!” Gabrielle told me. “Radio Riel will continue and I will still be coming in-world to play my gigs; I have four or five a month.

“I’ve always said ‘real life first, always’. It’s been my constant advice to everyone; now it’s time for me to take that advice.  I’ve been in Second Life for over eleven years now, and over ten of them have been on a professional basis: playing my gigs, managing the estate. It’s time for me to semi-retire, and that means I’ve decided to close St John.”

In order to try to minimise disruption for residents on the estate, Gabrielle intends to handle the closure in stages in order to give people time to arrange moving out without too much panic. To achieve this, she has set out a schedule of closures, and has asked that St John residents vacate their parcels as their tier expires, or no later than 12:00 noon, SLT on the following dates:

  • Friday, January 5th, 2018: Bayou St. John.
  • Sunday, January 14th, 2018: St. John Woods.
  • Tuesday, January 16th, 2018: Lake St. John.
  • Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018: St. John Parish, St John Maurepas, St John Uptown.
  • Tuesday, January 30th, 2018: St. John Islands.

She also notes that for those who have paid tier beyond these dates, refunds of any outstanding balance will be arranged and made, and she’ll contact those due a refund directly.

Given St John has always been a personal commitment from Gabrielle – a place of pure passion and love, as she puts it, from herself to those who have made the estate their home; she’s therefore – and understandably – unwilling to sell the estate on to someone else to manage, because and with the best will in the world, changes will inevitably come about.

That said, some of the regions will be offered for sale via the For Sale By Owner group in Second Life. However, anyone from the St John estate interested in purchasing one or more of the regions in order to continue part of the community, is invited to contact Gabrielle directly concerning possible sale, and she indicates she’d be willing help with landscaping, etc. The main caveats she has with any sale are that the regions will be sold clean – none of the current builds or landscaping will be included, and the buyer will also need to cover the cost ownership transfer and rename the regions they purchase.

St. John Bayou

“I agonised over this decision through many sleepless nights, but there are things happening in my real life that make this necessary for me,” Gabrielle explains, in discussing the decision. “I am closing the full estate because real life demands my full focus now; I’m not going to manage any sims, even a few … The reality is that I have barely logged-in to Second Life since July, and I’ve had to come to accept that is just the way things are … I have detested being an absentee landowner; I’ve hated not being able to update builds or landscaping or handle land administration.”

“I’ve tried to address everything about this decision within the audio,” she told me. “This really is a personal decision that I hope everyone will understand. But I do appreciate some of the residents of St John may have further questions. If they do, they can contact me via e-mail [gabrielle.riel-at-gmail.com].”

You can listen to Gabrielle’s comments in full below.

With thanks to John Brianna for the pointer.

millay Freschi: studying our relationship with our digital selves

millay Freschi – studying the relationship between our physical and avatar selves

At the end of September, Gentle Heron sent me a note card concerning a study being carried out by millay Freschi focused on our relationships with our avatar, other SL users, the group we belong to, and so on. The survey is still open, and millay is still seeking people willing to participate (a link to the survey is at the end of this article). Also included in the note card was feedback from millay on her initial findings from the survey, which also offered me the chance to chat in more detail with millay about her work and plans for the study.

In the physical world, millay is Amy E. Cross, a PhD candidate in an Interdisciplinary Programme at the University of Maine, and the study forms a core part of her dissertation. “I’m compiling information and research on the components of the avatar and how they affect our lives,” she told me earlier in November. “Specifically, I’m looking at social movements as that’s been my experience in SL; but the avatar components are the brunt of the research.

“I believe that I had 500 or so respondents when I talked about my initial findings in September. That number has now risen to over 900, and my dream is to have 3,000 respondents by the time I close the survey. I would like to get an honest look at how we view ourselves, our interactions and the place itself. As a part of this, I’m also conducting interviews with people willing to talk about themselves.”

Amy E. Cross, millay’s alter ego

millay’s research is being overseen by Dr. Kristina Nielson of the University of Maine, and those participating in the study must be at least 18 years of age, and able to answer 47 questions on a range of subjects relation to their physical and digital selves. It should take around 30 minutes to complete.

“It really is an exploratory study,” millay says of it. “I want to use the information to provide a solid foundation – a baseline of experiences and responses – for researchers Second Life, so I tried to  create a survey that would convey a lot of information without overwhelming the respondents. I’ll be expanding on it through the interviews I mentioned, together with observations and my own experience within SL.”

And millay does have considerable Second Life experience herself. “I didn’t actually just come here as a researcher,” she says. “I first arrived in 2007 as a physics major with an eye on maybe becoming an astronaut, drawn to Second Life simply out of curiosity, but once in-world, I was hooked!

“In 2008, I started the Four Bridges Project after working with Amnesty USA, which convinced me that peace and reconciliation studies were more in line with what I want to do.” She chuckles and adds, “I realised as well that my chances of becoming an astronaut were pretty slim!”

She continues, “As I was deciding on my graduate studies focus, I thought about who we are in this community and how what we do here, in Second Life, matter out there. So my Masters focused on virtual technology in education with a slant towards civic engagement and peace studies. My dissertation focuses on how our avatar components might play a role in virtual social activism.”

Turning to her preliminary findings, millay said, “Even in September the results were interesting, and educational for me! For example, most of the respondents at that time said they came to Second Life out of curiosity; I actually wish I had worded that response differently, as I’d like to know what gave rise to that curiosity. I’ll be so much better at the next survey! Of the 500+ responses I’d had at that time, 25% said that they came in to meet people, and 70% said they had met an SL contact in the physical world.”

Given the number of avatar profiles which carry statements like “SL is SL and RL is RL, I don’t mix the two”, this latter statistic might seem surprising; but it also might indicate an interesting bias in the nature of those taking the survey. While entirely anonymous, the questions do delve into our physical world lives; this could make it more appealing to those willing to be more open about their off-line selves than those who see a clear demarcation between “real life” and Second Life. By extension, those completing the survey may be far more comfortable with physical world meetings than might otherwise be the case.

It is because of the risk of bias within the results that millay would like to a broader cross-section of Second Life residents participate in her research. “For example,” She says, “Around 80% of the respondents up to the end of September 2017, have been in-world for six years or longer, with 40% over 10 years. While I know this is meaningful because it gives the survey a picture of a history in a way,  I would dearly like to see more people who have been in-world for less than five years take the survey.”

She adds, “One of the more surprising results for me was on the subject of alts. I have several alts, probably seven or eight, which I use for money management, privacy, inventory management, and so on. But 44% of those responding up to the end of September say only have ONE avatar, I can’t even imagine! In fact, 88% are between 1 and 3. Of those with alts, 95% have a “main” avatar, and 55%, use their alt for privacy.

The survey is yielding a lot of information about people’s on-line and off-line selves and how they may (or may not) mutually inform one another, that it could lead to several additional investigations. “For example,” millay notes. “75% of respondents said that their avatars are helpful to others. That number went down to 60% with regard to their off-line personalities. I wonder why that is, and if this shouldn’t be examined more closely – The peaceful warrior in me says ‘yes!'”

Once she has completed her dissertation, millay plans to publicly share it and her findings. All things being equal I’ll be discussing her findings in a lot more details once she has published, and also exploring more about the Four Bridges Project in more detail.

Four Bridges Logo

“In short, Four Bridges is a virtual sustainable global community model founded on the four principles of respect for nature, universal human rights, economic and social justice, and a culture of peace,” millay told me as we briefly discussed the project. “Members, who include fifteen organisations from sectors such as education and non-profits as well as individuals, share resources: space, venues, media, technology, as well as knowledge and skills.

“We had two regions in-world, but I actually closed them so that I could focus on my dissertation,” millay notes. “But we’ll be reopening in 2018, probably February.”

millay is looking to close her survey on or around December 15th, although it will remain available through until the end of the year. So, I’d encourage anyone interested in helping millay in her research to hop over to the Four Bridges website sooner rather than later. There is a comprehensive lead-in providing additional information, together with a link to the survey itself – and remember, it is completely anonymous.

 

With thanks to millay Freschi for her time, and Gentle Heron for the heads-up, and apologies to both for the delay in getting this article to print.

Sansar and Second Life in the cloud: LL speaks at AWS Re:Invent

Logos: copyright Linden Lab

It’s been a busy time at Amazon’s AWS Re:Invent conference, which closes in Las Vegas USA on December 1st. At the start of the event, Amazon announced the launch of their VR / AR development / publishing platform Sumerian (see: Sumerian: Amazon’s VR / AR app building platform for more).

Meanwhile, on November 28th, and potential of more interest to Second Life and Sansar users, the event saw Tara Hernandez, Senior Director of Systems and Build Engineering at Linden Lab, give a presentation covering Sansar and touching on plans for Second Life, entitled How Linden Lab Built a Virtual World on the AWS Cloud.

Most of the video delves into the intricacies of building a complex platform like Sansar and how Amazon’s products have empowered the Lab. As such, it does come across as quite a dry listen; however, within it there are some useful areas of focus which are worth noting.

For example, the early part of Tara’s presentation touches on some core truths about Second Life. Such as the fact it is a platform now 14+ years old, which started as an environment engineered almost down to the bare metal, taking advantage of what were, at the time, deep-seated optimisations in graphics and networking capabilities.

Over time, these have not only been layered upon almost organically over the years, but have also become – in Tara’s own words – “kinda ugly” in terms of trying to maintain and enhance. This monolithic, deeply rooted approach to the core elements of the platform is – along with the user-driven expectation than the user-generated content within the platform will not break as a result of changes to the platform – one of the major reasons  why “updating” Second Life isn’t simply a matter of JFDI, as might be thought.

Aspects such as compliance – another issue which is perhaps a lot more complicated than many might appreciate, given the complexities involved in running services like Second Life and Sansar, where the ability to cash out money adds a lot of additional regulatory overheads (visible and invisible from a user’s perspective) over platforms which only allow users to pay-in.

The video also reveals the depth of the relationship between Linden Lab and Amazon, which in the case of Second Life, stretches back to 2008, and which has encompassed the Lab’s other product, Blocksworld. In particular, it touches on Linden Lab using (and sometimes breaking!) Amazon’s more recent offerings, such as their ECS services, as a beta customer. This is something that Amazon has itself highlighted, featuring Linden Lab and Sansar in one of their own ECS use-case studies (see my article “Project Sansar”: an Amazon ECS case study, from January 2016).

ECS in fact drives almost all of the Sansar back-end, from the Atlas through to the store. In particular, the way in which the ECS application layer is used to present the Sansar Atlas, and manage the entire management of the experiences offered by the Atlas and their instancing, utilising Amazon containers (see 27:40-30:58).

How Sansar uses the Amazon ECA application layer to drive the Atlas & managing experience instancing (screen capture). Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

What’s interesting here is not only the way in which Amazon’s services are being used, but in understanding what is going on from the moment a Sansar user clicks the Visit button in the Atlas, and the lessons the Lab are learning even now, as people use Sansar.

This latter point is itself of interest, as it helps to explain why Linden Lab opened Sansar up to wider audience in what seemed to many of us familiar with virtual space – myself included – to be a premature move. Simply put, they needed more of a flow of people moving through experiences to better judge how experiences can be more efficiently / effectively managed within the Amazon environment – spinning them up / down, instancing, optimising server use, etc.

In terms of Second Life, perhaps the most interesting part of the video can be found at 32:14-34:36, with a look at the recently announced attempts to move all of the Second Life service – including (eventually) the simulators, if possible – the cloud. Officially announced as a project in August 2017, but has been discussed at various in-world meetings such as the TPV Developer meetings.

Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

In particular, the presentation touches on one of the major reasons for attempting the move: costs. Right now, Second Life is dependent upon hardware the Lab has to source and operate through a data centre. Updating this hardware, and the underpinning infrastructure  – network, fibre, rack space, etc., – requires continuous and high levels of expenditure (even allowing for re-purposing / write-down of old equipment).

There are also limits, as touched upon in the earlier part of the video, on what can be done within specific areas of Second Life support and maintenance. For example, Tara specifically mentions the core database services (which have been subject to numerous issues over the last year plus). While recovery times for these services has been halved – from three hours to 45 minutes – it is still a considerable outage period from the users’ perspective, and one difficult to bring down further.

Second Life in the cloud – challenges. Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

Thus, an attempt to move Second Life to AWS could resolve a lot of issues for the Lab, and potentially allow them to leverage lessons learned with Sansar together with the capabilities of newer services – like ProxySQL – to further update and improve SL. It might also allow the Lab to move their database operations away from MySQL to more robust products, again following Sansar’s lead.

The shift of a platform from being data centre centric to cloud based is obviously non-trivial, and involves considerable challenges, some of which are outlined by Tara (above). However, from the comments she makes, she is anticipating possibly a dramatic level of progress over the next year. If so, it could be an interesting twelve months.

With thanks to Dassni – The Mesh Cloud for the Twitter pointer to the video.

Lab invites designers to sign-up for Holiday Shopping Event

As a part of the SL14B celebrations marking Second Life’s anniversary  in June 2017, Linden Lab hosted a special in-world shopping event, which proved to be a success among designers and consumers alike.

Given that success, the Lab is now planning a similar event for the Christmas / New Year holiday season, and has put out a call to designers interested in participating.

The announcement, posted by Xiola Linden on Tuesday, November 14th, indicates that the event will run from Friday, December 15th, 2017 through to Monday, January 1st, 2018, and states in part:

This event … is an opportunity to introduce new customers to  your brand. We are looking for merchants willing to offer a discount on some of their items (think Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals!) and possibly provide a little non-exclusive gift to holiday shoppers.

The SL14B Shopping Event, organised by Linden Lab in June – now the Lab is planning on a similar event over the Christmas / New Year 2017/18 holidays

Those designers interested in participating in the event are invited to complete the application form (embedded below, and also available here, for those preferring the direct link).  Note that submissions must be made no later that 23:59 SLT on Monday, November 27th, as the cut-off for applications will be 00:01 on Tuesday, November 28th.