Tag Archives: Linden Lab

Joe Miller

The news of Joe Miller’s passing has been circulating through the SL community for the last 24 hours, and has included a short tribute to his time with Linden Lab published on the Lab’s blog.

Mr. Miller served at the Lab’s Vice President of Platform and Technology Development from May 2006 through until December 2010, and as such, oversaw many of the key technical developments within Second Life.

Joe Miller's alter-ego at the Lab: Joe Linden, as seen on his Twitter page

Joe Miller’s alter-ego at the Lab: Joe Linden, as seen on his Twitter page

These included such activities as moving the grid away from the traditional “black Wednesday” downtimes while things were being banged upon for around eight hours, and users were faced with having to find something else to do with their online time; overseeing the arrival of voice in Second Life; improving the look of SL with the introduction of Windlight; and improving the overall stability of the viewer.

Throughout all of this, Mr. Miller, through his robotic alter-ego, Joe Linden, was popular among SL users, and not averse to meeting residents and participating in meetings. Via the Lab’s own podcast series, Inside the Lab, he discussed many of the challenges involved in running a service such as Second Life which, as Ciaran Laval (who has my thanks for providing the link) pointed out, can be as pertinent today as they were six years ago.

I didn’t actually get to meet by Joe Miller in-world while he worked at the Lab, but we did seem to share something of a passion for space exploration and astronomy. On Twitter and elsewhere, he would point to stunning astronomy and space images; one in particular that springs to mind is also a favourite of mine – a shot of the Earth and the Moon sitting against a backdrop of stars as captured in 2010 by NASA’s Messenger space vehicle when it was 183 million kilometres away, en route to a rendezvous with Mercury.

Joe Miller, a keen sports fan, joined Sportsvision as VP of Engineering after leaving Linden Lab in 2010

Joe Miller, a keen sports fan, joined Sportvision as VP, Engineering after leaving Linden Lab in 2010 (image courtesy of Sportvision.com)

Outside of his tenure at Linden Lab, joe Miller had a wide-range career in technology spanning some 30 years, and included time at Atari, Convergent Inc., Sega America and SegaSoft Inc. At the latter two, he respectively served as Senior Vice President, Product Development; and Executive Vice President, CTO, and board member.

Alongside of this, he also founded a number of companies and organisations during his career, including the Perilux Group, a product design company, which was engaged to develop several award-winning products now offered by LeapFrog (he is credited as one of the co-inventors of the original Leapster hand-held educational gaming console for young children), Bright Things, Apple, and Fitniks. He also founded the Knowledge Universe Interactive Studio, where he served as both President and CEO as well as serving on the board of directors.

Following his departure from the Lab, he went on to work at Sportvision Inc, as Vice President, Engineering,

Mr. Miller passed away peacefully on July 27th, 2014, with his family at his side. A memorial page has been established by his family where those who know him can remember him and perhaps leave a few words.

LL’s next generation platform and the mainstream market

There can be a broad gulf between niche and mainstream. Bridging it isn't easy

There can be a broad gulf between niche and mainstream. Bridging it isn’t easy

One of the aims the Lab has in developing a new virtual world(s) platform is that they hope to lift it into mainstream adoption, with not hundreds of thousands, but potentially hundreds of millions of users.

It’s a lofty goal, to be sure; but the Lab isn’t alone in talking in these terms. Brendan Iribe over at Oculus recently talked in terms of a virtual world / MMO (he seemed to be using the terms interchangeably) with a billion users – although granted, he also couched this in terms of being a decade or more away.

But how realistic is it for a virtual world to achieve figures of hundreds (or even tens) of millions of users? The gap between niche and mainstream isn’t an easy one to bridge. It’s fair to say that the Lab hasn’t managed it so far, although they’ve certainly had both opportunities and attempts at broadening their mainstream appeal in the past – which is not to say they yet can’t.

Bridging the gap involves dealing with a number of key issues. Three of these might be said to be relevance, identity and ease-of-use.

Loki Eliot's Main Stage, SL11B Community Celebration

Loki Eliot’s >stage desgin at the SL11B Community Celebration

If people don’t see a virtual world as having relevance in their lives and the things they do, then it’s going to be hard to persuaded them as to why they should consider using it. In this, it doesn’t matter how snazzy it looks or how clever the technology behind it.

This need for some real value proposition is perhaps most clearly exemplified by Pamela in the 8th segment of The Drax Files Radio Hour. She dismisses any involvement in a virtual world because she sees no advantage in it compared to what she can already do in her day-to-day physical life. Her reaction may have caused some of the mirth seen at the SVVR Creating the Virtual Metaverse panel, but it is one that is unlikely to be in the minority. Laughing such opinions off doesn’t actually make them go away.

Pamela’s comments also touch on the issue of identity.

Handling issues of identity for groups of people with very different views on the subject may not be easy

Handling issues of identity for groups of people with very different views on the subject may not be easy

For those of us engaged in Second Life, the ability to define our identity howsoever we wish by virtue of the anonymity we enjoy, is intensely liberating. We can be who we want to be and what we want to be; it gives us the willingness to express ourselves more openly and creatively.

However, as Roland Legrand points out when discussing the Lab’s new platform, for many people out in the mainstream world / market the Lab would like to reach, it is downright creepy and off-putting. They are intensely uncomfortable around the notion that the people they may meet in a place like SL may not be entirely as they present themselves.

How this might be dealt with in a manner which gives them the level of comfort they need while still allowing others complete freedom of anonymity, isn’t a straightforward matter. On the one hand, it must allow people to define themselves howsoever they wish; but on the other, it requires that the platform provide some form of assurance that the person with whom you’re interacting really is who they say they are.

And so to ease-of-use.

The new platform needs to provide an intuitive UI which presents itself as easy-to use and offers the greatest flexibility of use, be it with a keyboard and mouse, or an Oculus Rift and STEM system. It also needs convenience of use as well, if it’s going to be made available through mobile devices.

Allied to this is the need to ensure that incoming users are presented with compelling experiences which encourage their use of the platform, and increase their desire to explore it further. This includes ensuring those who come to it with an idea of what they want to do and what they are seeking can find it and similar-minded users quickly, while those who arrive out of curiosity are entertained and /or engaged.

Taken together, these three elements provide a substantial challenge to anyone attempting to drive a virtual world product into the mainstream market. So far, no-one has successfully managed to tackle all three with a single virtual world product and bridged the gap into mainstream acceptance, including Linden Lab. As such, it’ll be interesting to see if the Lab do indeed rise to the challenge, or whether they opt to channel their efforts in other ways, such as towards deeper penetration of vertical markets by offering multiple “worlds” via a single platform. That, however, may be the subject for another blog post.

Related Links

Ebbe: hiring 40-50 new staff, new platform to launch in 2016

Linden Lab: hiring 40-50 new staff for their new VW platform (via FogBay.com)

In keeping with comments various made during the TPV Developer meeting where the latest news on the new platform effectively broke, the article confirms that it will debut in  beta form in 2015, and will potentially launch at some point in 2016.

Other reasons given in the article for the move include an observation that, like its active user base, Second life’s technology has plateaued. additionally, the piece further quotes Ebbe Altberg, “With technology, market interest, hardware and software available, now is the time to give it another big shot. We have the experience to do it more than anyone else.”

Baldwin indicates that the new platform will, “offer more robust tools for creators. Games, designs, goods, all the things that make the current incarnation of Second Life the go-to place for current users will be part of the new world.”

Nor is the “current incarnation of Second Life” left out in the cold. The article provides a brief overview of SL, albeit one slanted towards the commerce aspects of the platform and makes mention of the fact that SL has been continuously upgraded over the years. It also, unsurprisingly, refers to the Oculus Rift headset integration. Allowing for the fact he was using the SD-1 headset, which Oculus users have reported as given rise to feelings of motion sickness, Baldwin’s response to the work – which the Lab has stated still has a way to go in terms of development and refinement – is interesting / encouraging, “beyond the rising tide of uncertainty in my stomach, Second Life finally clicked for me. Years ago I logged on, flew around, got bored, and logged off. The headgear made the entire experience immersive and actually interesting.”

Related Links

Lab: “We’re not giving up on Second Life”

Update: Just as a further reminder, what Ebbe Altberg had to say about the new platform can be heard here, with bullet points on his statements.

As per my article Ebbe confirms: “we’re working on a ‘next generation’ platform” (with audio), Linden Lab are working on a “next generation” virtual world – news of which should be appearing in the media soon, quite likely as a part of the Lab’s PR work around Second Life’s 11th anniversary.

The confirmation that the Lab are working on the platform – and may well have been for around the last two years (see: Rod Humble hints at more virtual worlds in LL’s future, October 2012) – have fuelled rumours and speculation about the future of Second Life (remembering that any new platform is still some way into the future).  As a result Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global communications contacted me with a copy of an official reply the Lab is circulating in response to enquiries on the matter, and has given me permission to reprint it here:

Hi Inara,

Just saw your post – thanks for taking care to get what Ebbe actually said. Below is the comment I’ve just sent along to a couple of folks who asked for clarification, which mostly reiterates what it sounds like you already know. Still, I just wanted to send it along in case it were useful.

Best,

Peter

more/…

Linden Lab is working on a next generation virtual world that will be in the spirit of Second Life, an open world where users have incredible power to create anything they can imagine and content creators are king. This is a significant focus for Linden Lab, and we are actively hiring to help with this ambitious effort. We believe that there is a massive opportunity ahead to carry on the spirit of Second Life while leveraging the significant technological advancements that have occurred since its creation, as well as our unparalleled experience as the provider of the most successful user-created virtual world ever.

The next generation virtual world will go far beyond what is possible with Second Life, and we don’t want to constrain our development by setting backward compatibility with Second Life as an absolute requirement from the start. That doesn’t mean you necessarily won’t be able to bring parts of your Second Life over, just that our priority in building the next generation platform is to create an incredible experience and enable stunningly high-quality creativity, rather than ensuring that everything could work seamlessly with everything created over Second Life’s 11 year history.

Does this mean we’re giving up on Second Life? Absolutely not. It is thanks to the Second Life community that our virtual world today is without question the best there is, and after 11 years we certainly have no intention of abandoning our users nor the virtual world they continually fill with their astounding creativity. Second Life has many years ahead of it, and in addition to improvements and new developments specifically for Second Life, we think that much of the work we do for the next generation project will also be beneficial for Second Life.

It’s still very early days for this new project, and as we forge ahead in creating the next generation virtual world, we’ll share as much as we can.

If we had one message to share with Second Life users about this new project at this point, it would be: don’t panic, get excited! Again, Second Life isn’t going away, nor are we ceasing our work to improve it. But, we’re also working on something that we think will truly fulfill the promise of virtual worlds that few people understand as well as Second Life users.