On Friday April 11th, Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s CEO, addressed a packed amphitheatre at the 2014 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference in Second Life. Some 200 people were in attendance in SL, with around 100-150 on the live stream channel for what was almost a 90-minute session, entitled Reconnecting with the Education Market, and which comprised an opening statement from Ebbe, followed by an extended Q&A / discussion session.
The following is a transcript of the session, which includes all questions asked via the moderator, Phelan Corrimal (given in italics). The video is the VWBPE official video, recorded by Mal Burns, and my thanks to him for making it available. Timestamps within the transcript notes indicate the points in the video at which Ebbe’s comments can be heard.
Click the timestamp to go the relevant section
- 0:05:38: Terms of Service – “I am working with my Legal Counsel to try to try to figure out how we can make it more obvious – or very obvious – that the creators of the content own the content … we’re working on some simple tweaks to the language to make that more explicit.”
- 0:07:26: Brand – “We have an incredible breadth of content creators for all kinds of purposes, and this is kind-of unique with Second Life, and I think it’s incredibly important to support everybody and what they want to do.”
- 0:08:59: The Metaverse and LL – ” There might be some people who might be interested in my position on the metaverse and OpenSim and interoperability, and that whole category.”
- 0:11:09: Integrating new capabilities – “Some of you might be interested in what kind of integration we can do to make it easier for you to use Second Life in the context that you want to use it.”
- 0:12:04: Improving SL – “And then I think we still have a tremendous about of work still to be done – actually, a tremendous amount of work has already been done; Second Life today is so much better than it was two years ago.”
- 0:16:16 Future technologies – “A little talk about future tech. Many of you have hopefully seen that we are obviously actively developing for technologies that we believe will have substantial mass appeal; Oculus being one.”
- Questions and Answers / Discussion:
- 0:21:12 – Are the community liaisons with Linden Lab about to be re-introduced?
- 0:23:39 – Tier Breaks for Support and Mentor Groups
- 0:26:28 – Do you feel that communications between Linden Lab employees and content creators are important?
- 0:31:09 – On users having a voice in the development process
- 0:35:36 – On Marketing SL, Overcoming Perceptions and Getting People Engaged in SL
- 0:41:24 – On Opening-up The L$ Beyond Second Life
- 0:44:44 – Making the Viewer Easier to Use & the Relationship with TPVs
- 0:48:19 – On a Distributable Version of Second Life
- 0:50:08 – Is there any hope that shared media, MOAP [Media On A Prim] can be fixed for Mac users soon?
- 0:50:42 – On Second Life and High Fidelity
- 0:53:49 – On Network Issues affecting some APAC Countries, Latency & Geographic Distribution
- 0:56:16 – On Exporting Content
- 1:01:15 – On the Teen Grid, Student Security and Younger People Accessing SL
- 1:04:12 – What are Linden Lab’s plans for mainland?
- 1:05:42: – On Office Hours, Lindens In-world and Community Engagement
- 1:13:54 – Is the Barrier to VW Mass Adoption Technical, Or Something More?
- 1:17:26 – On Acquisitions in the Technology Market
- 1:20:12 – On Encouraging Lindens to Join Groups and Communities
- 1:22:03 – A Takeaway Message for Educators (and all of us)
0:01:59 Hello everybody. I can’t hear you, but I can sure see you! It’s an incredible sea of people here [approx. 180-200 across four regions]. I’m very excited to be here, very happy for all the work that people are doing to put this conference together. Not only this session but all the other sessions you’re doing through the week. I did pop-in just the other day and listened to Philip, which many of you here might have done as well, and I just wanted to say that I’m really excited to be here.
I’m not going to spend most of this hour just talking. I will be saying a few things up front … putting some topics on the table to discuss and then very much looking forward to it being an interactive conversation between us. I’m mostly here to learn, not necessarily to tell, although I will be speaking about some things that I think matter to you, and some of the things that are going on first.
0:03:06 First, I feel very strongly that the education sector, the education market, is a very important partner of Second Life, and that it’s important to us to make it a great product for all of you. I know many of you have tried and been successful and many of you have tried and maybe not been successful in doing the things you wish you could do, and I’m here to learn more about what we can do to make you successful in the future.
I think the education sector helps us a lot of ways, in that if we can provide a great service to you, you can become great evangelists for the platform, and also in many times I think you are pushing in research and thinking about how to use environments and technologies like this differently from your main consumers. So you’re a very important group of people for us to stay in touch with and learn from and collaborate with.
I know that originally education was an important aspect to Second Life and Linden Lab and then a few years back we make a mistake of disconnecting with this community and increasing pricing and all kinds of things; and we’re actively now trying to reverse that. I’m very happy that even before I came here two months ago, pretty much exactly now, the team had already decided to put the better pricing for the education sector [back] in place. So at least that was reversed, with some slight improvements, even. And I’m here to start the dialogue and the conversation so we together can figure out where we go from here.
As we looked at things that might be of interest to this community, the branding and Terms of Service and our interest in doing better integration with all sorts of products … let me touch on a few of these.
Terms of Service
0:05:38 I am working with my Legal Counsel to try to try to figure out how we can make it more obvious – or very obvious – that the creators of the content own the content, and we obviously have no intent of ever stealing your content or profiting off of your content independently of the creators in some fashion.
The current terms might indicate that we might somehow have some plan to steal people’s content and somehow profit from it for ourselves, without benefitting the creator, and that’s obviously not our intent at all. It would be very damaging to our business if we started to behave in that way because this whole platform is all about the content you all create. And if you can’t do that, and trust that it is yours, that’s obviously a problem. So I’m working on that, and I can ask you right now to trust us that we’re not going to do what the current clause might suggest we’re going to do, but we’re working on some simple tweaks to the language to make that more explicit.
We also have no interest in locking you in; any content that you create, we feel you should be able to export, and take and save and possibly if you want to move to another environment or OpenSim, that should be possible. So we’re not trying to lock you in either. Obviously, it’s very important to us to get content both in and out, so I just want to put that right out there.
0:07:26 I know brand has probably been an issue for this community. Depending on how you arrive at Second Life, whether it’s via our homepages or advertising you might see; you might see advertising or content [creators] talking to other communities which may not have relevant to this community, but is relevant to other communities. And it’s a challenge that we have; we have an incredible breadth of content creators for all kinds of purposes, and this is kind-of unique with Second Life, and I think it’s incredibly important to support everybody and what they want to do.
And to have that many different types of communities with that many types of interest and creating that many different types of content; we want to enable that, just like we all want to have those rights and freedoms in the real world. But to try to figure out how you make it comfortable for all these different groups of people to ultimately be inside the same environment, this is an interesting challenge that we’re going to keep working on to improve, but at the same time, I think we have to realise that we do want all these different users to be able to get the most out of Second Life.
The Metaverse and LL
0:08:59 There might be some people who might be interested in my position on the metaverse and OpenSim and interoperability, and that whole category. I think for starters, I’m mostly focused to get the “verse” part right, and then we can think about “meta” later on; at least for me.
And I’m happy that other groups – and I’m including Philip and many others – are thinking about how to push “meta” forward, but I think we still have so much work still to do to just make the “verse” part of “metaverse” a much, much, better experience, much, much easier for normal consumers and creators to be able to come in and enjoy and use; and to this date, with all the work we’re doing, it’s still too difficult for most people.
And this is the challenge; that you ultimately end up with a small, or smallish – well, we’re pretty big, but still relatively small in internet speak as to how many consumers and users can participate in this product. And to get much more mass-market, it has to become easier to use, and there are obviously numerous technology advances that are happening as well as improvements that we can do to the user experience. And that’s an area I want to make sure we spend a lot of energy solving. Some things we can do in the short-term, but a lot of things will take quite a while to solve.
So that is where I sort-of lean in terms of priorities: make it much, much easier to use in advance of focusing on the metaverse or interconnection. Even the web today is not really interconnected; you don’t take your identity from one place to the other, and the Internet works quite well without that, and so it’s not a top priority for me. It’s not that I disagree with it, it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just a matter of priority for me.
0:11:09 Some of you might be interested in what kind of integration we can do to make it easier for you to use Second Life in the context that you want to use it. How do you make it easy to administer what users, students, teachers, facility, whatever you want to participate in a particular experience, and how do you make it easy to manage that in one place, and whether that’s an LDAP integration or something where every time user come and go that you want to allow in your experiences – is there a way we can do that in one place?
I don’t know if that’s something we can deliver soon, and how many that would benefit, but I’ve heard that is something that’s maybe interesting to this community, so we should continue that conversation.
0:12:04 And then I think we still have a tremendous about of work still to be done – actually, a tremendous amount of work has already been done; Second Life today is so much better than it was two years ago. And I don’t think that people have necessarily realise all this progress that has taken place; whether it’s the quality of the avatars, or the performance or the fact that we can have this many people in one space without crashing.
This is due to a tremendous amount of hard work by the team here, and it’s not the sexy stuff necessarily, but it’s making this space that much more useful to all of us. And we’re going to continue to push, to make sure that quality improves and performance improves in a number of areas. But it’s sort-of this slow drip; it’s not necessarily a big bang, but over time, you suddenly realise that, “wait a minute! This is not what it used to be like a couple of years ago!” It’s constantly improving.
Like I said earlier, I think there’s still a tremendous amount of work we can do in a lot of sub-components of Second Life. I actually think that most sub-components are not particularly great in Second Life. You can look at the communications tools, the social networking tools, the building tools, the rendering quality … You can look at almost any sub-component and say, “wow! That could really be so much better.” Discoverability, search, Marketplace, almost everything we have you can clearly see how it could improve.
But the cool thing that we have is that the sum of these nutty parts that we have is still the coolest thing that exists on the marketplace today! And that’s after eleven years; no-one else has really figured out how to create this incredible environment that has this level of freedom and openness and ability for users to take it where they want to take it.
0:14:15 And with a very stable and reliable Marketplace where we have a currency exchange that is very safe and trusted. There’s a lot of work going on to make sure the currency remains stable, so what we have to do is sell Lindens into the economy to make sure the currency exchange stays level with the dollar is something that makes for an environment that people trust and are comfortable doing commerce inside of. And that take a lot of effort.
And with that too, this massive scale that we have of dollars coming in, into Lindens, and then all these incredible amount of transactions. I mean the GDP inside of this world is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. and then [there's] a tremendous amount of money being cashed-out. And you can imagine the sort of effort we have to put in with compliance to make sure that things like money laundering and fraud and all those things are under control.
0:15:28 So it’s kind-of crazy that we have sub-components that you see in Second Life – entire successful companies do nothing but that one component – and we’re a huge collection of these components that are, each and every one of them, very complicated. and that is part of the magic of Second Life, but also why each sub-component is not necessarily world-class, because with the size of team, we can try to do this much … we’ve bitten off a lot, and I’m really impressed with what the team has managed to do so far. and I feel very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in today, to be able to help us move forward from here.
Future Technology and Second Life
0:16:16 A little talk about future tech. Many of you have hopefully seen that we are obviously actively developing for technologies that we believe will have substantial mass appeal; Oculus being one. We released a beta of a viewer that is compatible with the Oculus, and we’ll have another update here within the week or so where the depth and the realism of the 3D rendering inside is going to improve even further. so you can really truly be in-world in a very realistic way; and that’s with the old headset. We don’t have our hands on the new version of the Oculus yet, but people who have tried it say it is absolutely amazing.
I was talking to Philip. He flew down there and he met with the team and he looked at it and said it was an incredible improvement, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the next version of hardware there to. and we’re running to make sure that as that hardware develops, we’re right their next to it, making sure that you can all experience this world from the inside. Not looking at it, but being in it, which is an incredible step forward.
I’m very excited that Facebook stepped-up and bought the Oculus team, because I think that is a big step to legitimise and express – or indicates to the market that this is not just a niche thing, that this is something that will have extremely broad implications for a lot of people. And we have the luxury of being the ones that have been working on what a version of what a virtual experience can be; probably the most advanced to this date. So I’m super-excited that Facebook did that, and I trust that they will do the right things that will benefit all of us, not just them; I don’t think they have a choice.
And I’m also glad for what that’s doing for funding into the market, what it’s doing for other competitors to step-up and do even more work on new, innovative hardware and things that will combine with Second Life – and other products as well – that will make the things that we’re all passionate about here go faster and faster forward from this point. So that’s something I’m very excited about.
0:19:10 With the Oculus we have done work primarily focused on your viewing experience. We really didn’t do any work yet – not that you can see, anyway – in what the user interface for that will be. I’m sure many of you who have tried it will realise that once you have the Oculus strapped to your face, that the keyboard disappears and it becomes really hard to interact with a complicated product like Second Life; how do you communicate, how do you chat, how do you navigate. so those are areas we’re really interested in exploring how we can make complete changes in the user interface and how you interact with the world and how you navigate around and how you communicate and do all the things you want to do without being reliant on a keyboard and mouse ultimately.
So Philip is doing some interesting things with his company, and many, many other companies are doing interesting things, and we’re keeping a close eye on that and trying to make sure we work with the things that have a chance of being mass-market and push on user interface experiences that hopefully define how the right way of interacting in environments like this with this new hardware should take place.
0:20:33 so that’s my quick summary of a number of topics I’ve put on the table for us to potentially discuss. I’m sure there’s a number of things that you would like to discuss that I haven’t touched on; I’ll be happy to talk about those. There’s very few things that I can’t talk about, so I’m now looking forward to taking some questions and seeing where this dialogue can take us.
Questions and Discussion
0:21:12 Question: You had been talking in other sessions previous to this one about service. Are the community liaisons with Linden Lab about to be re-introduced?
0:21:24 Community liaison within the community; I assume you mean the people who were specifically dedicated at Linden Lab to engage with the education community? I’m not sure we would have what you would call a liaison, but we will certainly figure-out a way where the dialogue can be open between us and all of you. Whether this is a product manager or someone in marketing, or at times myself, I don’t know yet. Depending on how that dialogue goes, we might have to have dedicated personnel to facilitate that.
Although I can’t imagine that the things we can actually do, technically deliver things that are going to make a difference to what this experience is for all of us – there’s only so much we can do – so if you can understand what the priorities are of the things that make most sense to do, then that’s probably where we should focus on, because otherwise there could be a lot of conversations with us without a lot of action. And if we have a full-time liaison talking to you all day, you could probably come-up with a million things that we couldn’t get to, because we don’t have the resources to do everything.
But whatever channel makes the most sense for us to figure out what is the most important thing for us to do to enable all of you to succeed – and we can’t do all of it – but what are the most important things?
You won’t all agree on what the most important are; some of you will want us to do X and some of you will want us to do Y. And we’re going to have to figure out what’s going to have the most impact for this community and give us the most traction in the education space. And once we know what those things are, it comes down to delivering those things and making progress.
Tier Breaks for Support and Mentor Groups
0:23:39 Question: There are a number of communities inside Second Life that have been self-supporting, and quite often most of them don’t get any money, they don’t get tier reduction. Groups like Caledon, Oxbridge, the builder’s Brewery group, the New Citizens Incorporated, these kind of groups. And then we’ve also had informal groups, like the SL Mentors that used to get a lot of support from Linden Lab in terms of the type of work that they were doing … they were getting support when we had community liaisons, but that seems to have disappeared, and a lot of these groups have broken-up. Is the Lab going to encourage these things to come back, and is there an opportunity for groups like NCI and other groups that are out there to be also able to participate in things like the tier breaks that educationals and non-profits are receiving?
0:23:49 I don’t know exactly, because I don’t know any of these groups and exactly what they were trying to do. but if there are groups in there that are trying to do work in the educational space but they’re not for some reason qualified according to our current rules for what is an educational institution, what is not; is there a grey area there of some that sort-of belong to that community but they don’t have the credentials to say that they really are. I don’t know; maybe there’s an area there we can explore where there are people we could put in the bucket of the educational sector, even though they don’t have those explicit credentials to prove that they are, so to speak.
And that can become sort-of a tricky issue for us; who’s in, who’s out, who qualifies, who doesn’t. but if there are people there working for education, with the intent of supporting education but don’t necessarily work at an educational institution, then maybe there’s something we could do there.
But it could be a lot of work for us, with everybody trying to say that they are, but they aren’t. But I’m happy to look at how that current definition is set, and whether there’s some flexibility in letting more people in at those rates.
Relationships and Communications with Users and Lindens In-world
0:26:28 Question: Do you feel that communications between Linden Lab employees and content creators are important?
0:26:33 Oh, absolutely! I mean, the content creators is who makes what we’re looking at and sitting on and interacting with every day possible. Without you, it would be just blank space in here. We’re not in the business of doing content. We’re in the business of empowering content creators to create experiences that in turn then draws-in other users to experience those and share those. So that’s incredibly important to us.
I think we’re breaking it down to three key segments as we think about how we look at customers on a go-forward basis. There’s the consumer, there’s the creator, and then there’s the entrepreneur. I think most residents in Second Life can be in one of those three buckets.
So understanding how we understand those audiences, how we further sub-segment those audiences, how we have conversations with those audiences and what we can do to enable them and empower them. Because the better job we can do to empower content creators to succeed, the better [the] content they can create and the better Second Life will be for all of us.
We’re all about that, so it’s kind-of crazy to me that the question had to be asked! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude there or anything, but it’s so obvious to me. And it’s also obvious to me as well, that when I came here two months ago, that the general communications channel with all of you and us had unfortunately deteriorated from where Second Life was many, many years ago.
0:28:21 I’ve known Second Life from the beginning. I was an early user myself; my son spent a tremendous amount of time on Second Life early on, when he was too young to do it, but I was fully behind him to use it. And I spent quite a bit of time with Philip and some of the board early on to understand Second Life, use Second Life, understand even the culture of the organisation, understanding the relationship between Linden Lab and the users.
And when I first came here a couple of months ago, I was kind-of shocked at what a tremendous difference it was from how I remembered it from many, many years ago. I would say I was most involved in it back in like 2005-2006 or around those years.
So it was extremely sad for me, but it was also extremely low-hanging fruit for me to start opening these channels, starting conversations. And whether it’s me Tweeting with you all or being on forums, I try as much as I can to participate in these conversations, and we’ve changed internally the culture back more towards where it used to be where we’re more open.
Weirdly enough , when I got here, there was actually a policy telling employees that they could not be in-world as a Linden; so we reversed that policy a couple of weeks ago, and I made explicitly a deal myself of spending time myself in-world with some of you and some others, and all my experience going in-world completely unannounced and just hang out with people has been super-positive for me; it’s been a lot of fun.
And I’m encouraging the employees at Linden, once they’re read the policies and the guidelines and gone through the sort-of the boot camp of how to do all this stuff, to go back in and start having conversations with you. So I can understand where some of these questions are coming from, because of some strange steps that were taken. so some things are being reversed, some things are maybe being done differently, but we’re definitely opening ourselves up to be more accessible and participating in the conversation.
On Users Having a Voice in the Development Process
0:31:09 Two follow-on questions. Do your Agile teams decide what to work on each week, and further to that, will there be opportunities to discuss new and existing tools to and with the Lab where we can have a bit of a larger voice in which features are being prioritised for future enhancement?
0:31:31 It’s a tricky one. We want to do more than we have been, but historically with all my experience, is that it can take a tremendous amount of resource and time to engage in that conversation, and I’m not saying that we don’t want to, but it comes at a cost. And unfortunately, a lot of the people who participate in the conversation are not really up-to-speed on the topic, or people have very biased views, or they don’t have the experience. There are really only so many people on the planet who know how to develop products and how to prioritise these things. so it can add a lot of overhead and cost and complexities to try to design a product with a million users.
So we do want to be more transparent, we do definitely want to participate with you so that we can get your feedback and learn from you, and correct things based on what we hear from you. but sometimes, we actually learn more from watching what you do as opposed to listening to what you say. And I’m not saying that to one particular person, but just in general, I’ve found that the customer is often wrong when they ask for something specific.
Now, when they say, “I have this pain” or “I have this need”, they’re pretty much always right. But when they say, “it needs to be solved this way”, they’re usually wrong … and it can be really distracting for a team that’s trying to deliver something to get that variety of input.
So it’s a double-edged thing. We have to do it, we have to be more transparent, we have to involve you in how we do it and what we’re going to do, and what the priorities are; and at the same time, in order to stay sane and to be able to do it in an efficient manner, we have to keep some control of that.
There are some things we might not be able to talk about because of a competitive nature or who we’re partnering with or stuff like that. And there are often times when we talk about things some users get really upset when we change our minds and decide not to do something because something else becomes more important; because they’ve now vested a lot of interest and participated in creating the solution, and we have to have the opportunity to change our minds quickly.
Back to whether we chose weekly, yes and no. we are fairly agile, but a lot of these things that we’re talking about, especially Second Life, which is a tremendously complex platform, and also in some areas, a bit old; so modifying it and improving it is not as simple as it should be. Some projects can go month and months from beginning to end, and you can’t just change your mind every week on what you’re going to do, because you would distract those longer-term efforts.
But we obviously want to be as agile as possible, and we’re already discussing here how we re-shape ourselves internally to become more agile and figuring out how those Agile teams can interact with users of the things that are relevant to the things they’re trying to solve, and engage with the communities and then iterate quickly in what we do. It’s just something that for Second Life is just technically a little hard, and we have some organisational things to tweak as well, to work less level. but we’re working on those things.
Marketing SL, Overcoming Perceptions and Getting People Engaged in SL
0:35:36 Can we expect a more aggressive media campaign to correct the “bad media” narratives that are potentially out there? There’s this perception that Second life is a great place if you want to engage in adult sex activities.
0:36:08 I’m well aware of that, and it’s an unfortunate thing … I don’t know how much of that was self-inflicted versus the dynamics of the market … certainly, I think there are things we could have done historically to control the message and little bit better. But never mind that, that’s happened, that’s passed.
Looking forward, it’s obviously in my interest to make sure that people understand the breadth and the depth of what Second Life has to offer, and not to be pigeon-holed as an adult sex place or any other vertical for that matter. It’s not something that’s exclusive for education or something that’s exclusive to vampires or exclusive to sex or exclusive to any subject matter or category. Just like real life, we want to allow anything and anybody.
Looking back, it seems that Second life got over-hyped … how much of that was Second life itself hyping itself too much, or maybe the hope was that it could become a product that tens of millions or hundreds of millions would use. but given the complexities of using the product and the quality and what you could achieve, it got as big as it got because of how easy or difficult it was to use and how much value people felt they got from it.
So I think that the notion that Second Life, or a product like this or a concept like this would somehow displace the Internet as we know it was obviously a little bit, I would say, swollen-head type thinking at the time, so maybe what we wished for and the reality were a little too far apart. and as a part of that, there came this backlash. so instead of it being really cool, and just not broadly appealing, it became somehow bad, or negative, which is really unfortunate, because there’s so much positive, tremendous good stuff happening in Second Life, and that’s just not being heard or seen outside the walls of Second Life sufficiently.
So that’s something we want to correct, obviously, and I think things like Oculus and the market now again starting to embrace the whole idea of virtual reality and virtual worlds and all this, there’s a big opportunity for us to re-state what we are and what role we play in all these things that are happening.
This is something that Peter and I chat about, how do we do that and when’s the right time to do that. We don’t necessarily go out there and over-promise again and get a backlash again, so we want to be careful. and at the same time, we have to realise that we spend a lot on marketing, whether you agree with it or not, and the conversion rate for people coming to Second Life and ultimately ending up inside of Second Life and actually having an enjoyable, long-term stay with us, is not super-great.
You have to be really committed, you usually have to have someone from the inside pull you in, because you have a really strong reason to go in there, and that’s either because you’re really passionate, as we are in this place or someone sucks you into this experience. But if you’re uninitiated, and you don’t know anyone there, and you just want to go in and see what it’s like? You have to be really determined to make it all the way through and start to get value back from Second Life.
That’s not a simply thing to solve. It’s not just a simple bitmap change or simple messaging; it’s a lot of things people have to understand how to do. How to navigate, how to function, what do I do, where’s the right audience for me to engage with, how do I find people who are relevant to me, how do I find subject matter that’s relevant to me … those are all very complicated things to solve for.
but we certainly believe that they are solvable, but it will take time. We probably know more than anybody what has been tried, what’s hard, what’s easy, what’s possible, what’s not possible, so I feel we’re in a great position to take it to the next level, but it’s going to take some time.
On Opening-up The L$ Beyond SL
41:24 Would Linden Lab have a view or plans on positioning the Linden Dollar as a currency outside of Second Life? Many think that linking the financial systems to the hypergrid would favourably position the Lab for the future.
0:41:41 Obviously, we would love to be in the position to enable that [but] it’s a massive undertaking. I spoke on compliance a bit earlier; to do an economy like this at a scale that authorities and bankers and you name it, are comfortable with, is not a trivial undertaking. We’re very fortunate enough to be as far along in solving this; no-one else has come this far. So we’re spending quite a bit of energy improving those systems to make sure that we can have even more transactions at a higher volume and still have even better control over things like fraud and money laundering and all those complexities that you’re running into.
And … there’s a lot of extra eyeballs in this space right now because of all the things that are happening with Bitcoin, and I’m fascinated by Bitcoin. I think it’s a really exciting thing that’s happening out there, and there’s a lot of plumbing around Bitcoin to make it safe, to make it secure, to make it legal, to make it compliant, to do all those things. And we’ve done a lot of those things. How we can leverage that, and go beyond the walls of a micro-currency within the walls of Second Life, is something that is very interesting to us, but it’s going to take a lot of work; and again, it’s one of those things with priorities.
But we are talking about those things, and we are doing all the compliance work we need to do to make sure that we’re completely in line with State and Federal regulations, and we’re checking things off quickly and we’re hiring people who are experts in this area. so yeah, I can totally see us going there, but it’s not really a short-term conversation. This is a long-term goal of ours.
If we offer it, what that offering would look like and how we could extend the notion of a micro- or virtual currency like this beyond the walls of Linden; that’s sort-of another step beyond just getting the scale and the performance and compliance issues resolved first. But I’m hoping we’ll be able to offer that to the world in the future.
Making the Viewer Easier to Use & the Relationship with TPVs
0:44:44 Are there any projects that you can share with us that are going to appear in the next little while that are going to make the viewer more intuitive and easier to use?
0:44:47 There have been efforts in this area to make the viewer more intuitive and easier to use. and actually, one effort that was done was not received super well. So one attempt to sort-of simplify it didn’t completely take-off. I haven’t had time yet to completely understand why it didn’t succeed as well as we had hoped, but ultimately, in order for Second Life to grow, it has to become easier to use.
That’s what I spoke to earlier: it takes too much effort and it takes too much time for someone to get fully engaged and immersed and fully functional in the world today. Some of it is tech, some of it is user interface, and those are things we have to continue to work on, because we’re not going to go mass-market to tens or hundreds of millions of users if it remains as complex to use as it is today.
0:45:55 Do you have any plans or interest in improving transparency and cooperation between third-party viewers in order to facilitate faster development and integration and adoption of new features and bug fixes so that the community as a whole can benefit from such innovations occurring faster?
0:46:20 From what I understand we’re doing a decent job today of collaborating with the open-source community. Oz linden has made our interface with that community and those third-party players much, much better today than it used to be a few years back. And that community does add a lot of value to provide other types of viewers that are more optimum for other types of audiences, because we can’t necessarily be everything to everybody. Whether that’s people with disabilities or people on other platforms or what have you. So it sort-of stretches the type of use-cases and scenarios we can solve for with that community helping us.
So I think right now, we have a pretty good relationship with them … I don’t know that we’re not being sufficiently transparent with that community; if that’s the case, I would love to hear about it. But again, this is a double-edged sword. A lot of good happens with that, but over the years a lot of bad has happened with that as well. I mean, some open-source developers took advantage of what they could do, and did some nasty things. So it takes a lot of extra work on our part to enable a successful third-party ecosystem, and we get a lot of benefits from it as well.
On a Distributable Version of Second Life
0:48:19 I’m not sure if you’re aware of a product that Linden Lab was trying to promote a while back called Nebraska [also known as the Second Life Enterprise (SLE) product]. Will a Second Life redistributable service be reintroduced into the marketplace?
0:48:38 This was the notion of a product that could be placed behind a firewall … a private version of Second Life where they can fully control membership and stuff like that. It sort-of spoke to a little bit of what I talked about earlier, about some integration. For what purpose is this? Is it security, is it ease of management, and we need to better understand that.
I doubt we’re in a position right now to take this product and make many copies of it behind firewalls. I don’t know why that didn’t succeed last time, but somehow it didn’t. Maybe the market wasn’t big enough, maybe the offering wasn’t right, but I don’t think we’re in a position to take the effort on right now. I’d like to understand what it is that it’s trying to solve, and see if we can solve that, rather than assume it has to be a box sitting behind a firewall that someone else can fully control.
There’s OpenSim out there that people can use for those kinds of things, I think. But I’d love to hear use-cases that would enable you to do things that you cannot otherwise do. and then we can talk about what that solution might look like. But I don’t think we’re about to start going down the path of doing Nebraska again. At least, not in the near-term.
0:50:08 Is there any hope that shared media, MOAP [Media On A Prim] can be fixed for Mac users soon?
0:50:22 That sounds like a bug! I don’t know that status of that, and I don’t know if that’s something the platform is constraining us in some way, or if it is just a bug in our code that needs to be solved. I’ll have to look into that, I don’t know the status of that.
[The issue is a combination problem with the third-party webkit library used within the viewer and Adobe – see here, under “webkit woes”.]
On Second Life and High Fidelity
0:50:42 What tech from Hi-Fi [High Fidelity] can be used in Second Life?
0:50:58 I’m hoping a lot … I’m hoping High Fidelity will create all kinds of advances that us and many others can benefit from to move virtual worlds and virtual reality further forward. so the more people who are creating new experiences and new hardware and new interfaces and stuff that we can all learn from that moves us all forward. So that’s great.
Philip and I know each other well. Philip came by the office here a couple of weeks ago where he and I chatted for a couple of hours about what they’re doing, we’re doing. A group of us are going to go over and see the High Fidelity team in two weeks to again get demos of what they’re trying to do, what they’re working on and what things can we do to help them and what can they do to help us. We’re still in the early stages of having those conversations … but Philip and I are very transparent with each other, and we want to figure out how we can help each other.
We have a tremendous amount of assets that would be of value to them, and I’m hoping they can create a bunch of assets that can be valuable to us, so that we can both benefit by collaborating going forward.
Specifically, things that they are working on that are interesting as I think about it right now … the work that they are doing in bringing emotion into your avatar experience, where it’s not just a fairly static ball, but you can see the expressions in someone’s face you can have a conversation with someone and look them in the eye. where you can not only hear me but you can also see expression; am I expressing surprise, anger, happiness, or whatever it is; having that emotion transmitted visually, not just auditory.
I think that’s an area that they’re working on that I want to make sure that we provide that level of emotional capability to our avatars, to Second Life as well. so that’s one of the areas that I’m really interested in what they’re accomplishing.
On Network Issues affecting some APAC Countries, Latency & Geographic Distribution
0:53:49 There are some issues, especially with regards to schools and other groups located in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, where they’re talking about broadband issues when trying to connect to Second Life. Would it be possible to connect something like the New Zealand high-speed network to Second Life Servers , and what can people in these regions do that might expedite being able to communicate with the rest of Second Life more effectively?
0:54:13 This is a fairly big question. We’re aware that latency, as it obviously increases the performance, and obviously the further away you are from our co-location facilities in the middle of America, you’re going to increase latency and [have] a reduced sense of functionality or quality.
we have a very big partner working in Asia, and we’re having conversations with them about how we can test more about understanding what aspects of our tech stack is causing issues like this. But ultimately, we must develop a technology that has much, much, lower latency, much, much less weight, so that the amount of data that we have to push over the pipe is reduced. and then ultimately, you have to look further about geographic caching or distribution of data centres, etc., to make the experience as good as it can be when you’re close to our facilities with good broadband.
And so it’s not one answer, it’s significant investment in the tech stack to be of higher performance, as well as looking at networking and peering, and whether we have to have additional places in the infrastructure in other places – but again, it becomes a tech issue. How do you distribute tech hardware around the world when you have users that are geographically dispersed that show-up in that world.
So regardless of where you put that hardware right now, some users are going to be far away from that hardware. So it’s not a simple question, but obviously we have to, in the long-term, solve for this. So as we think about the more long-term investments that we’re doing, this is hopefully going to be part of the problem set that we’re going to tackle head-on.
On Exporting Content
0:56:16 You had mentioned a little bit earlier to allow a little bit more control to enable people to export their content. will there be some kind of export flag that people will be seeing shortly that will allow them to sell their content or export it out of Second Life?
[Note: the following answer should be framed by the facts that while third-party viewers do provide a means of exporting content, they do so in accordance with the existing permissions system in Second Life. This means someone can only export content they created entirely – the object, any materials used on it, and scripts within it, etc.]
0:56:38 As far as I’m know, there’s nothing we’re doing technically to prevent someone getting their content out. Maybe we’re not providing a user interface that makes it obvious or simple enough. But as far as I know, there are plenty of users that are getting their content out, and I don’t know if it’s us that’s providing the functionality or if they’ve figured-out a way to do it with third-party solutions, or what have you.
So this is not something that we’re technically preventing, so many the question is whether we’re making it simple enough directly from our interface to do it. And it might be one of those things where there might be very few people who do this, so it hasn’t been prioritised high, because there are workarounds for actually accomplishing this task. That’s my understanding.
If it is something that you cannot accomplish with either our tools or third-party tools to successfully get your content, that you have full rights to, that it doesn’t have any permissions set on it that it isn’t actually owned [or created] by someone else, etc., etc., they it should be possible for you to get it out.
And where we would prioritise us making this a process more streamlined within our viewer directly or something, I don’t know how we would prioritise that. But it’s not something we’re actively trying to prevent, but at the same time, we want to make sure we don’t make it easy for people to rip other people’s stuff. So you want to make it easy for some use-cases, and you want to make it impossible for some use-cases! That’s something we have to be mindful of.
0:58:21 The whole premise within Second Life is almost everything you see here is a derivative work, based upon something that somebody else has done. so based on the current requirements to be able to get something out, you have to be the owner of everything, and quite often that’s just completely unrealistic. People will but something that is Copy / Mod, that they have the rights to create modifications to, and create a derivative work, and now they’ve got something here that is uniquely their own, but they can’t get it out.
0:59:05 I’ll have to look at that and understand it better. So it’s a permission issue, and I don’t know if there are some permissions that should allow export, that aren’t, but I would need to have more conversations with people in here to understand it better. But the general principle is, that if you own it, you can take it.
0:59:32 Ownership is probably the most complicated issue around all of that.
0:59:36 Of course. Ownership is … a huge, complex issue for us to reduce whether it’s copybotting or stealing and profiting from other people’s work, etc. Never mind us not doing it to you, it’s us making sure you can’t do it to each other! And at the same time, not just come up with some DRM policy that makes it so inflexible that you can’t collaborate and get the work done together.
It’s a very complicated thing, and I think that Second Life has probably dealt with this issue more than anybody in the world over the years. So we have a tremendous about of knowledge, and a tremendous amount of functionality to try to solve for this; the permissions you can set, the tools for us to monitor, tools for us to try to prevent stealing and fraud and all this stuff is an incredible amount of complex work we’ve done over the years. and we will continue to do, because it’s trying to protect you and your creations as well as we can, so that you’re comfortable enough to spend time and energy on the platform.
On the Teen Grid, Student Security and Younger People Accessing SL
1:01:15 I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Second Life used to have a Teen Grid, which was taken down a couple of years ago and the policy extended to allow teens into the Second Life area under certain restrictions. But the question of security for students is still a big issue for those people who are dealing with education. So are there plans to improve that as we move forward?
1:01:43 I’m well aware of the Teen Grid. My son was deported to the Teen Grid when he was 14 or 15 after having spent quite a bit of time successfully on the main grid. And he quit soon thereafter, because there just wasn’t enough stuff going on there that was of sufficient interest, there was not enough talent around him to be able to create the things they were able to create elsewhere.
So I can also understand the challenge of trying to make that a viable, successful business. It’s hard enough for us to make a successful business for adults. so I think we’ll spend the foreseeable future trying to make the main grid, as we know it in Second Life, better, safer, cleaner, without restricting what people can do. and once we’ve solved it, so that if adults can use it successfully at a broader scale, we’d love to see how we can start attracting other audiences, whether it’s younger or what have you.
But I don’t think we’re going to be tackling a dedicated teen grid in the near-term. It would just take too much resource from us that would distract us from other things at the moment. It’s unfortunate, because I’d love to do it, but I think it’s just a matter of priorities, and focus[ing] more energy on making Second Life as we know it a more welcoming place for all of us.
Not that we would open the doors to K[indergarten] on Second Life any time soon, but I think that if we solve all the ease-of-use and the quality … and also make our technology more flexible, hopefully we’ll arrive a t a point down the road where it wouldn’t be cumbersome for us to offer it to more dedicated, specialist audiences like that, in a same manner. But it’s not a top priority at the moment.
On the Mainland
1:04:12 What are Linden Lab’s plans for mainland?
1:04:27 I don’t know. I haven’t actually discussed specific plans for the mainland since I arrived here. I’ve heard things about it, if you will, but I haven’t actually engaged in those conversations, and I haven’t seen any plans to do anything radically different with it.
I know there are some modernisation efforts underway to make the overall product better, and it should be easy for people to get a nice plot of land with a cool mesh house and improve the quality of that sort of experience.
Generically, we’ve had interesting discussions about how do people navigate around, what does teleportation mean to the overall experience? but I haven’t had any in-depth conversations with people here about specific things we want to do to the mainland yet.
On Office Hours, Lindens In-world and Community Engagement
1:05:42: Will be Linden Office Hours be back, are there going to be any plans to re-introduce having Lindens around on a more regular basis?
[Framing note: while they are not as diverse or as encompassing as the old Office Hours, there are a series of User Group meetings held in-world by the Lab.]
1:05:53 I spoke to this earlier; the policy that Lindens with their actual Linden avatars – there was no policy against Lindens using alts in-world – but there was a policy against Lindens using their Linden avatar in-world, so that’s been removed. We just had an all hands meeting yesterday [Thursday April 10th, 2014], and I’m standing in front of a group of people and I’m saying, “I’m in there. I’m interacting with the users and I want you to do it to.”
So as more and more of us comfortably go in there and re-engage with you and other users, we’ll see where that takes us. And if some of that starts to create formal meeting times between certain Lindens and certain groups, interest groups, over time, I’m perfectly happen if those kind of things happen.
I think some of them will start to happen organically. so of them have already been going on. I know Oz and others have been in-world interfacing with, for example, the open-source community, the third-party viewer community. And as people start to go in-world, it’ll probably be more relevant to projects that they’re working on that they’ll want to engage with users and understand how the work they’re actively doing could improve.
It’s also a matter of how do you do this at scale? There’s so many users, and setting-up an event like this is not a minor undertaking. You guys have put a tremendous amount of effort into putting something like this on. So right now, I’m happy if we can just get more of the Lindens in-world to just start to arbitrarily interact with you and engage with you and make that a comfortable, normal thing that we can all do, where we can all behave and we can all respect each other and we can all learn from each other, and see how that evolves.
If we’re to do these kinds of special meeting groups, then what topics would there be, who would facilitate, how do we make sure that something actionable comes out of it, because we have a lot of work to do, and having people sit in conversations all day doesn’t necessarily get us closer to the results we want; so it’s a balancing act.
But there’s certainly nothing that I’m doing to prevent those things from happening. And if there’s certain interest groups where it makes sense, whether it’s an education one and a subset of the audience here wants to have a more regular check-in, we can discuss that and see who of the Lindens would like to participate and make it useful for everybody.
1:08:58 Is there a way for communities within Second life to directly engage with, or make representations to, Linden Lab (specific groups mentioned: machinima, e-sports, SL Bar Association, the music community, the education community)?
1:09:51 I don’t even know what e-sports is! … Just like real life, you can almost think of every hobby interest group … there’s a tremendous amount of them, and there’s only so many of us, and how many of these interest groups can we engage in conversations with that are very specific to their specific needs? That’s a challenge. There’s just too many. And how do we scale this conversation, this dialogue in a way that it helps us all in the best way?
I don’t know if we have the answer right now, but at least we’ve taken the first step of making sure that the basic interface between all of you and us, that had basically and to some degree broken down, is repaired and we’re now completely OK to go back in and re-engage and start having conversations and dialogues. and I think we will learn over time how we can do it in an efficient way that scales, that is of benefit to everybody.
I mean I could have a whole army of people doing nothing but talking to all the special interest groups. I’m happy to spend some of my time doing it, because I love to engage in these conversations and learn things; but it’s definitely a challenge, how to do it in an efficient, fair, scalable and productive way. So I’m all ears to what we can do to improve, to do it better, but it can’t constantly be the answer that we need to hire more people to have more conversations with more people because even if those conversations led to fantastic ideas for what we could do, do we then have the people to actually go do all that stuff? No.
We can only do so much, so we have to be very focused and we have to think of the things that will have the most benefit to the most people, otherwise we can get extremely rat holed in a lot of areas.
1:12:18 I think I can speak for most of us here, to just let you know that you have a massive community behind you that is willing to support the direction of Second Life and Linden Lab. so there are people who have definitely spent hundreds of thousands of hours contributing back to the community and trying to make this platform a success. It doesn’t always have to be about how much money you’ve got, but simply, we’re your community, we’re your stakeholders, we want to be involved, come ask us.
1:12:54 And there’s no doubt of that. None of this would exist without the things that we’ve done together. With just us, there’s nothing; with just you, there’s nothing. We have to do this together. So if there are things the community can do, and they want to set-up programmes and they can invite some of us to participate in these programmes, I think that today you will find more people who can and who are willing to participate in those conversations than you did just a few weeks ago. We’re all ears, and we want to figure out how to engage with all of you as best as we can. So don’t doubt there; agreed, 100%.
Is the Barrier to VW Mass Adoption Technical, Or Something More?
1:13:54 Philip was on a couple of days ago, and he was doing our opening keynote. He was mentioning the biggest obstacle to mass adoption is in general a technical issue, or do you feel there’s a more deep-seated fear, perhaps, in the general public, reservations to engage this sort of way with other people. Is there a need, perhaps to study this further on a psychological / sociological basis?
1:14:24 It’s probably easier to say it’s always a technical issue, because unless we do something technical, nothing in the product will change, so it’s all technical. But I don’t know if we can just have conversations and just let the technology be the same and expect change. The product and the technology has to change to create new opportunities for change.
But I think there’s an under-investment in user experience, and I spoke to that earlier; it’s too difficult. It’s a technical problem, but it’s not necessarily just a technical solution. Understanding how people think and how they function, and how you make something intuitive, it takes a tremendous amount of work and it’s not always obvious and it doesn’t always look like a big project or a feature.
It’s sometimes the absence of features, the absence of things that makes something intuitive. It can be very, very small things and it can be very, very big things. It could be new hardware, new ways of interfacing with the product, more expressive avatars; it could be better performance, it could be an easier way of finding communities and users that are relevant to you, that you want to engage with.
And these all have very different solutions and needs, so I think it’s the sum of a lot of these parts that have to ultimately take it to a point where it goes from a product that’s appealing to a few million to something that’s appealing to hundreds of millions.
There’s obviously no doubt in my mind that we will get there. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I’m excited to be here. Because I know we can solve this, and I know that Second Life and Linden Lab are in a front seat of being able to make that happen. So that’s my dream, that we make this something that a huge number of people can participate and enjoy and contribute and socialise and learn. so it’s just the beginning, there’s more and more to come.
I don’t know if I feel the need to go talk to psychologists about how to convince people that this is a safe thing to do; I think it is a product experience. It’s kind-of like what you do with a mobile ‘phone today versus ten years ago, and there’s just one company that just figured-out how to make that have that transition. and I think those kinds of advances need to happen in the area we’re in as well. And they will. We’ve just got to make sure that we do a lot of those instead of someone else doing it instead of us.
On Acquisitions in the Technology Market
1:17:26 Based on current trends in the Marketplace – we’re seeing things like Yahoo! bought-out Cloud Party, and then promptly shut it down, which was a little bit unfortunate. But Facebook has now bought-out Oculus, you guys have just recently introduced Second Life on a tablet. Are there particular messages that we should be getting out of the tech industry that indicate where a lot of this is going in terms of virtual worlds?
1:17:57 I think that you have to look at those individually; they’re all different. But I think in aggregate, it indicates there is industry interest in solving the things that we are trying to solve. And the more people who are out there trying to solve these things … yeah, on the one hand, it gets more competitive, but I think it’s great, because … any one of us doing anything that moves the ball forward, helps us all move forwards. And we need that.
I think Yahoo!’s acquisition was probably – my guess, I haven’t spoken to anyone about it, but knowing Yahoo! pretty well, I’m guessing that was a pure talent and technology acquisition. I don’t think or necessarily believe that they had any intent or interest in getting into the sort of space that we’re in.
Facebook buying Oculus, like I said earlier, I think is a tremendous thing; having a big company with that kind of reach, seeing the future that we have all been thinking about and working on for so long, and contributing to accelerate us getting there, I think it is a fantastic thing.
You also mentioned that we brought Second Life to [the] tablet. I would say that we have not. That’s actually a third-party, OnLive, that is using our open-source technology to provide a viewer that’s specific for the tablet format. The confusion comes in a little bit, I think, because we actually let them use a little bit of our branding in their product.
But we have no technical involvement with that product or with their business model . We have conversations with them, and we had them in our office just the other day. Of course, we’re collaborating with them like we do with all third-party viewer companies or teams. We were very happy to see that they were comfortable enough to improve the pricing model on that product, but I want to make it clear that that’s actually a third-party viewer.
On Encouraging Lindens to Join Groups and Communities
1:20:12 How would we be able to contact the Lab the right way in order to allow Lindens to be a part of our groups and communities?
1:20:24 That’s a good question … obviously, any of you could reach out to individual lindens if you think they have an interest or a passion for any particular interest group that wants to start something up. Maybe we can think of a way to somehow have a place where we can list interest groups and what they’re talking about and then make sure that the Lindens are aware of those. and the if I’m interested in one, I’ll hop in. so maybe we can find a way to have an interest group catalogue of some kind, or list, so that we can see what are the meeting times and what are the formats and then people who see any interest groups that appeal to them can jump in. Maybe that’s a way to go about it.
1:21:24: Looks like in the local chat we’ve got a “bring back Torley!” campaign going on right at the moment!
1:21:35 Yeah, I know Torley. He and I actually haven’t met yet; when I was up in the Seattle office a few weeks ago, he was sick that day, so I haven’t met him in person, but I’ve spoken to him. and I understand he’s been a key contributor to the relationship between us and you all. Well, Torley can go in-world and hang-out with you guys as much as he feels he has the time to do so.
A Takeaway Message for Educators (and all of us)
1:22:03 If you had just one message that you wanted us to take back to other educators and to other educational institutions with regards to Second Life and to education, what would that message be?
1:22:22 I would say the message would be that we’re here, we’re willing to listen, willing to engage in dialogue, we’re willing to have conversations about what is the future and how do we get there, and that the doors are open now again. We want to talk to you, we want to understand you, we want to understand how we can make you successful in whichever way you feel is required to make that happen.
So that’s it. I’m here, I’m happy to talk with all of you. I want to learn and listen and most of all, I want to make you successful. That’s how we can all become successful.
Closing thanks from Phelan for Ebbe’s attendance and Ebbe’s thanks to the VWBPE conference organisers and all those who attended. I would also add my own thanks to Ebbe for taking the time to talk through issues and for his honest, candid approach to the questions asked and in providing insight in to what has been happening at the Lab since he took over as CEO.
(My special thanks to Strawberry Singh for providing the images of Ebbe Linden at VWBPE while I was busy recording!)