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