Friday, October 17, 2014

Questions and Answers With Ebbe Linden

By Bixyl Shuftan

On Monday October 6 at 2 PM, "Designing Worlds" was giving an early showing of it's recorded interview with Ebbe Linden. About an hour and forty minutes later, as the video was ending and the peopke were discussing it, the crowd got a surprise when they got a certain visitor: Ebbe Linden himself, "Oh wow! Ebb is here." "Shhh. He's here!" "Hi Ebbe. Good timing, I just finished watching the interview (smile)." Ebbe was polite, "I don't mean to interrupt anything here." But no one minded him being around, "You are not interrupting! It's not every day we get to talk to Linden Lab." One commented about the interview, "it was good and refreshing. I think you have interjected life back into the grid (laughter)."

Ebbe then suggested, "Should we take some time for Q and A?" And the crowd agreed, Saffia Widdershins saying, "So now is your chance for all the questions we forgot to ask (grin)." There were a lot of questions, so not all were answered as Ebbe tried to keep his typos to a minimum.

Celene Highwater asked, "Is there any way to fix group chat where it won't be so laggy?"

Ebbe answered her, "Group chat. Yes, active work going on and ongoing fixes being pushed out. I just asked engineering if we can start talking about it but they said we have more to do."

Terry Willful suggested, Ebbe, with the world the way it is, money short, can Linden Labs cut sim prices?"

Ebbe answered, "Sim pricing, if I knew I would get twice the users and half the price I would go for it instantly, but we're concerned that it would not correlate one to one."

CB Axel added, "Especially for educational institutions." Ebeb responded, "(Educational sims are) already half price."

Georgi Devonshire-Otruc (duchessofdevonshire) asked, "What about having an Assistant Ebbe (laughter)?" Ebbe was puzzled, "What would assistant Ebbe do?" Georgi answered, "Well, be an excellent communication advisor for Second Life, help communicate information between Linden Lab and SL communities." Soda (sodasullivan) quipped, "She would find you a decent AO." Ebbe chuckled, "Ah, yes, I've been quite lazy to get my Avatar as cool as it could get...too busy to be cool (grin)."

Oriannabladequeen Resident asked, "I have watched a chat like this before and they assured us that Second Life would still be here, even when the new platform is up and running. Have these plans changed in any way, because rumors fly around SL like no tomorrow?"

Ebbe reassured, "Second Life will be around for a long time. The new platform has a lot of work to do (be able to do) only some of the things SL can do. And then you can try both and choose over time where you want to spend your energy and time."

Mike Denneny commented, "People still think 'highfidelity' is the next Second Life when it's just a separate project." Ebbe responded, "HiFi is a different company with different approach. Many companies will try out something like SL (and many have)." Mike then brought up, "Andrew Linden used to do a fantastic job at making office hour times, but now he's been reassigned to another project (sad expression)." Ebbe responded, "Andrew is now working at HiFi, and different company." Mike added, "Yeah, I know. He's my friend. But my point was the public connection he had."

I asked, "When Second Life was new, there was an official mentors group to help newcomers. Some years ago, it was done away with. Are there any plans to bring back an official mentor group of some kind?"

Ebbe's answer was, "Mentor groups, we're talking to some mentor groups, and we have said we're willing to send traffic to a few different onboarding experiences so we can measure how they perform vs one other. ... Agreed that connecting and communicating is key. Nothing is stopping the lindens now to do so."

Celene asked, "Land in Second Life is super expensive, and I see organizations who benefit SL leaving because they can no longer afford the cost. Is it possible to reduce the cost of land? For colleges and universities especially? They should recieve discounts as they bring lots of press and other benefits to Second Life." Oriannabladequeen added, "with today's economy, has Second Life been loosing customers, people owning sims, having to leave or give them up? Do you not think that the lowering of the prices would encourage people to again start businesses and open more sims again?" Celene commented, "Think of it as free marketing and advertising."

Ebbe answered, "Cost of land again, if I knew that we would make up whatever we leave behind on margin with volume then I'm all for it. So right now we would be afraid to drop prices and not having enough certainty that we would make up the difference in volume."

Terra Volitant asked, "I think you said that educational entities already get a hefty discount on land, right?"

Ebbe answered, "(Educational) and non-profit (are) half price."

Celene asked, "Are there any plans to market more to non-proffit and educational groups?"

Ebbe answered, "Market to (education) and non-profits? No direct plan yet, but I've been talking to a few people about getting that sector going strong again. So some ideas, but no final plans yet."

Cindy Bolero of Areo Pines Park commented, "(The) Teen Grid was done backwards. Linden Lab should have had the schools and institutions run it, instead of letting the kids run it. The kids learned no accountabiity." Mike remarked, "(The) Teen grid was a fantastic place, and I was glad to be appart of it. (It) fell appart when Linden Lab cut development for it."

Ebbe's response was, "My son left when he was 'demoted' to the teen grid, not enough action there he thought."

Garvie Garzo asked, "Lots of people are wondering about SL 2. Will it actually be a second Second Life do you think, or a whole new approach to virtual worlds?"

Ebbe answered, "Garvie, (the next generation world) is being done 'in the spirit of SL,' but will be different. (A) user generated economy (is) still what we plan for, but primarily focusing on architecture for optimizing performance so you can create better experiences and so that we can solve for other platforms such as VR and Mobile."

After a few more questions, Ebbe was getting a little anxious, "I can't type fast enough!" But the audience was reasuring, mostly, "Its okay." "Aaawww Ebbe." "Give him a chance to answer please!" "That's why he needs an assistant (laughter)." "You're right Ebbe. it's like a runaway train (laughter)." "(laughter) When will the SL brain-to-keyboard hands free interface be ready (grin)?" "I could ask questions all night." "Ebbe: you're doing fine, it's awesome that you're giving this a go with an open floor (smile)." "Thank you for coming Ebbe, we understand (smile)." "Yes take your time Ebbe, we love you (smile)."

Alice Klinger asked, "I have been in Second Life 8 years now, and run a business. I wanted to ask if we could have the Llemail function looked into. Particularly the practice of stopping prims from receiving Llemail calls. I heard from support that in case a prim causes trouble it is 'blackholed' this way, but I only use servers to communicate with my product vendors in other sims. There is a Jira on it classifying it as severe bug, but with 'won't finish' as comment. The problem seemed fixed for about 2 months during the summer, but sadly returned with last week's server roll. Maybe we could just roll back that update? Would help greatly. Thanks!"

Ebbe answered, "Alice, I don't know the answer but will ask."

Melvin Starbrook asked, "Will there be linden bears in the new Second Life?"

Ebbe answered, "Melvin, I have no idea. Maybe it will be something else. We have to see what the culture takes it."

Garnet Psaltery then asked, "May I ask whether there are severe problems ongoing with the asset servers? We seem to be getting hit hard lately."

Ebbe answered her, "Garnet, not sure of an ongoing problem with asset servers (although we did have a specific issue a week or so ago?) Please let me know if it's something recurring, you see."

Cindy commented, "All I can say about the technical problems here and there, is that there is much going on under the hood of Second Life and its amazing all that is working!!! Networking, servers, inventories! A huge technical feat and is much appreciated."

Ebbe responded, "Cindy, no kidding, Second Life is amazing in spite of all its craziness."

Norwester Kittinger commented, "Just don't monetize SL2 off land ownership. It's definitely a reason behind stopping any form of Second Life from being a mainstream success."

Ebbe commented, "Nor, we're still talking about business models. We have said that we want land to be much cheaper and that we have to collect money in other ways (as well as lower our margins and make it up in volume)."

Garnet suggested, "One week, perhaps, of lower land prices, a Christmas present to us all (smile)."

Ebbe answered, "Garnet, lowering prices is easy. Increasing them is hard, so hard to experiment with."

Terra Volitant asked, "Is the Marketplace and its role in the day-to-day of resident activity something that is under active discussion right now?"

Ebbe answered, "Terra, there have been discussions of MP vs inworld, but it's a bit like real-life, Amazon kicking bricks and mortar's (behind) Too convenient for too many. But I think we could make it easier to help you build inworld stores,but that will be a while."

Mike then mentioned, "Cube/ Safia I'm talking about the marketplace having a bad user experience in terms of finding what you need. I'm saying events are what is driving people to down size their land since they only need little stalls. Then people can just favorite their marketplace stores if they want more of their products. But if you want to do a dead search its a nightmare."

Ebbe responded, "Mike, we are looking at Search (indexing) improvements for Marketplace, as well as performance improvements. but again, (we are) spread thin so (this) takes time."

Mike added, "I did a full report and gathered real user data from content developers and users. Submitted it through Andrew last year."

Ebbe asked, "Mike, send it to me please. ... (not too hard to guess I have noticed (smile) ).

I then brought up, "Recently Blizzard Entertainment annouced they were stopping work on their planned MMO 'Titan,' partily because the company felt it would just end up draining users from it's existing game, World of Warcraft, which while having fewer customers from it's prime is still doing good. Is it possible the development of SL 2.0 as it's called could be shelved for similar reasons?"

Ebbe answered me, "Bixyl, Blizzard stopped because they did not think it would be good enough...very brave call by them after so many years of hard failure can and do happen and could happen to us but I spend almost no time contemplating failure (grin)."

Taro Firanelli suggested, "How about to introduce a system to sell additional prims for land owners?"

Ebbe wondered, "Charging for 'units' like a utility bill as a path to consider, so the bigger and more successful the more you pay." Saffia's response was to shiver, "The inventory tax?"

Mike remarked, "Ebbe another thing that is tough about Linden Lab, is that they only higher senior developers. They don't consider younger folks with dynamic backgrounds. Not sure that's your call, but it definitely has held me back from a position there."

Ebbe responsed, "We just hired a 'kid' and want many more. So no, not just looking for years and years of experience."

Apmel Goosson commented, "I wouldn't be sitting here 1:30 AM swedish time if Ebbe wasn't here. (smile)" Ebbe asked, "Apmel. where in Sweden?" Apmel answered, "Stockholm, Ebbe." The CEO added, "Cool. I was born and raised in Uppsala."

I then asked, "Over time some noted sims have faded away, such as the Vietnam Memorial. In the past one popular sim was brought back by Linden Lab: Svarga. Might there be more sims, such as memorials, that could also be revived?"

Ebbe answered me, "Bixyl, we can't run those experiences ourselves. So if the creator leaves, then their creation ultimately (goes) unless someone takes over. Otherwise you're asking us to provide discounts to some in some way. (I'm) not sure how to do that in a scalable and proper way."

Reven Rosca spoke, "I have a question about IP theft. Is there any way we can report stolen items (uploaded without owning the IP rights) without being copyright holders ourselves?" Ebbe responded, "Reven, (I'm) not sure I totally understand the use case you're thinking of." Reven spoke again, "There are loads of meshes and textures, both inworld and on MP, that are stolen. Ripped from games, uploaded without permissins etc."

Ebbe commented, "Knowing what's ripped and not and have (a) fail-proof copy protection scheme that consumers like ... hmmm anybody?"

Mike then asked, "Ebbe, I know Linden Lab has Q&A, Marketing, HR, Developers (WEB/C++) but do you guys have UX developers for Second Life?"

Ebbe's response was, "Mike, (the next-generation world) is on two week sprints, and hope we continue that cadence when we open (its) doors later next year and socializing with you inworld there to learn and improve. ... Yes, UI designers and product managers, but more focused on the next gen. I can't speak of the Second Life decisions of the past on some of the UI, a bit more random then."

Terra then brought up, "Ebbe, I think you've sort of touched on parts of this already, but over time I have noticed an enormous dwindling of mainland usage, with very large amounts of bare unused space that used to be full of residents. Is anything being looked at to increase mainland ownership and usage, to incentivize it, get it back into regular use, etc.? It's heartbreaking to see vast tracts of unused mainland, which is probably expensive to keep up and running with no residents on it. Is there a way to make that land more available to users, different cost structure or land use policy, etc.?

Ebbe's answer was, "Terra, not much work going on to 'activate' mainland."

Terra continued, "It's a shame, since there's so much history there, and interesting infrastructure, the roads, etc. It would be cool if there was a way to get people to come back and spend money and time on the mainland again but I wonder if it would require some new thinking about how to manage it."

Ebbe commented, "I hope (the next generation world's) land cost and scale would encourage user generated 'main lands' to take shape."

Mike then spoke, "I think Linden Lab did a great job at thinking 'let the world build itself,' but sometimes guidelines are nice. I'm sure its been a struggle to balance this way of thinking."

Ebbe responded, "Managing 'free to do whatever you want' with 'be sensible' can be hard (smile)."

Mike continued, " I remember Philip saying he didn't want the to govern the world, he wanted the world to govern itself. But my first thought was well you need to give us the tools to make a government."

Ebbe remarked, "I don't think we can hand government over completely."

Steele Castaignede asked, "I came late. (I have) three questions that any one can answer. Will we be able to import our inventories into the new SL, or do we have to start over? Will land tier be charged like it is now or is it going to be completly different? Is there going to be mainland property and sims?"

Ebbe answered, "Steel, import yes, but don't expect all things (from) Second Life to come over as you would think it should. Some data and features will be different. Work with mesh and you should be ok though. Mainland, probably not as you know it. But I hope users can create whatever landmasses they want."

Saffia spoke up, "Ebbe - here is Skate (Foss), whose island we took over for the interview (smile)."

Ebeb greeted him, "HI Skate! Thanks for letting us use your special place for that chat (smile)."

Asterion Coen brought up, "Ebbe, what about linksets? For old SL builders who are still building with prims and (have) several hundred objects. I've exported some dozens in opensims, and had to take three months vacations to recover, so I hope to dont have to take a year's vacation bcause (of) SL2 things!"

Ebbe wasn't sure, Asterion, (I) don't know, going from SL prims to next gen will not be simple or automatic. Ultimately it's possible to provide simple tools to create mesh, but the sequence for us will probably start with import and then grow into inworld tools. Those are hard to get right."

Saffia commented, "I know Max Graf would like me to breathe the word ... voxels." That comment got an "Ewwww, voxels!" from someone.

Ebbe remarked, "Voxels has a place and can be great (in) terrain, etc."

 Mike then asked, "Ebbe, how do you feel about"

Ebbe answered, "Mike, I like all companies that are trying to push the VR/VW envelope. HiFi (is) doing cool stuff in some areas (some of what we'll also do), so we chat now and then and help each other out. ... Oculus is a great thing in that way, not just a great new device, but also adding investments and progress in this area we're in ... someone please solve input! (smile)"

Saffia commented, "It rather speaks for the strength of the Lab that having seen off several competitors, it now seems that they will be offering the most significant alternative."

Ebbe responded, "Saffia, we're going to give it a shot, can't just wait for someone to come and take it away from us."

I then asked, "Last year, Linden Lab told third party Linden exchangers if they wanted to remain in business, they could no longer buy Lindens for real world currencies. When I interviewed one of the smaller "land barons" he told me this has affected his desire to do business as he can no longer cash out instantly but has to wait for his money. One resident from France told me he has a pile of Lindens he wishes he could sell for Euros but can't. Is there any possibility that licensed exchangers can go back to being able to both sell and buy Linden dollars?" This was a question that got some positive responses from the audience, "Good question bixyl, was about to ask about the lindex monopole too."

Ebbe's answer was, "Bixyl, I think there are compliance matters that made is change those exchange rules, and we're working to add other payment platforms that provide more geo/currency options. ... Compliance in a world like this where we pay out many tens of millions of dollars per year is not a trivial thing."

Mike then asked, "But when linden lab decided to take the burdon of processing all lindens traveling out, don't think it would be a priority to get the money in a timely manner? That was a big decision to make. ... I've never waited a few days for lindens. Its consistently a week. I pull my money out on Sunday and get it the next Monday."

Ebbe answered, "Mike, (I'm) not sure I follow. We need a bit of time to make sure we should pay out. Normally I think we do it inside three or five working days. We want it to be as short as possible, but making sure no fraud is taking place is critical."

Zim Farrasco asked, "Mr. Linden are there any plans in the near future to bring the company public so the general public will have the option to invest in it?"

Ebbe answered, "Zim, no plans right now, to do that you need to have strong growth. We're in a cycle to go build what will. Give us that and then we'll see."

Mike continued his comments, "I haven't seen less than 7 days to recover funds, when that occurs I'll think its working fine."

Ebbe answered, "Mike, our goal is to shorten the time it takes, as soon as our tools and processes improve we will make it faster."

"Are you guys dedicating dates to that?" Mike asked, "Dedicating a date to when it will become faster?"

Ebbe answered, "Mike, ah, I don't know of a date when we can guarantee faster payout but it's a goal. I'll have to check to see where we are on that."

Asterion brought up, "Also, the delay from lindex to the availlability to get our money, those forms (non us resident, ID cards) to fill everytime we try to recover some fiew hundred usd. All that take too long time. (more than the 5 days). Also, Linden Labs has ... enough tools to know where are coming the Linden dollars they own. That plus IP and other networks infos (isp), and bank infos about the residents, at least the one who paid with credit cards the premium abo."

Ebbe responded, "Asterion, you should only have to provide the info once. ... not sure what happened there unless it was for different avatars or accounts or...?"

Mike commented, "You know what would be great? A place where webpage users could visit to see a real time (timeline) so we could see what you are forcasting for updates, etc. Right now I just take guesses from the beta download page, and jira, but its alot of work.

Ebbe remarked in response, ""Mike, I wish! Some things, especially in SL, are really hard to predict. It's like, how long is a piece of string sometimes, in Second Life."

Mike countered, "Ebbe I know. Believe me I've worked really hard with my company to connect with users. But they love knowing the stuff we do in a visual format. Even if we miss the dates, they just like know we are working on it. And honestly putting down timelines had held us accountable, we learn why, we explain why, we build relationships."

Ebbe added, "Lately we do publish sets of things we have confidence wrt being on the roadmap and deliverable in a reasonable timeframe. The rest of information can confuse or upset or...."

Mike continued, "Our users used to call up and complain. Now they come with advice. I'm sure with the user base it can be confusing.  But there is such a disconnect. I mean I know what you guys do because I see all the change logs and the jira, etc. But most people ahve no idea, until you have a video about some significant thing. But anways ... the stuff I've said again all ties back to user experience and building relationships. I realize that's what this meeting here is (for). I'm glad you made time for this."

Ebbe's response was, "I do this as often as I can. But with a million people and so many different groups and individuals, it's hard to get around enough."

Mike added, "Right, and we feel that. We need more of this so we can be disciples in a sense and share with others. That's what a communications team would be fantastic (smile)."

Ebbe spoke, "Cool. I really enjoy doing this, just wish I had more time."

Mike quipped, " 'Maybe if I say it enough it will stick on him,' Haha!"

Ebbe commented, "Oh, no worries, it's stuck on good. But it's also timing and what we're doing next and where we need to/want to invest our money right now and...."

Someone noted the time, 5:45PM SL time (8:45 PM EST). Ebbe's response was, "5:45pm! (CENSORED)..." The Europeans commented it was the middle of the night for them. Mike commented, "Ebbe, don't act surprised. Then it's like you didn't know you were being noble, ha-ha!"

Ebbe asked, "So when do we get to hang out next?" Cindy suggested, "come to Halloween night in SL, laggiest night of the year!" Garvie suggested, "(The) cornfield and choose yer weapons!" Asterion suggested, "Ebbe, you could plan an office hour every month, to get in touch with your world (smile)."

Mike then asked, "Ebbe quick question, do you ever log on (as) an alt and just try to visit Second Life, to take a person's perspective, like going to some of the info hubs,: like korea1?" Ebbe answered, "Mike, rarely, (I) mostly cruise as myself." Mike then commented, "Well if he went to korea1, people would be banned. But thats another story, thats where the trolls live. Ebbe, I think you would find it more interesting to not go as yourself, especially to info hubs, Just sayin..." Saffia commented, "The Arabian Nights tale of the disguised Emperor?" I commented, "It can be bewildering to newcomers in places like those." Mike continued, "Some great CEOS of big corporations have done this, learned more than they ever would. That's just my two cents."

Skate Foss then asked, "A friend has a question, if most of residents migrate to SL 2, what will happen with (the) sims? Will there be some kind of land compensation for SL sim owners?"

Ebbe answered, "Skate, too early to tell as we don't know what that transition will look like yet (time or process), but we do want to make it so users can hope back and forth with same ID and their Linden dollars."

Garvie commented, "I wish alts were not anonymous ... I have HAD IT with kicking the same three people out of the same one place using 21 different names."

Ebbe countered, "Garvie, master account where you can manage multiple identities is what we're considering. But that's also a ways out, so who knows. Just know it's what we would prefer."

Garvie remarked, "You are assuming that people will somehow reveal a truth that would be unavailable to (you) as Ebbe. It would be better for 'serious' real world business. These relationships we supposedly have are fundamentally tenuous." Mike commented, "The purpose of him being on an alt is to interact with him as a regular avatar. not a Linden."

Ebbe countered, "Mike, if I think my identity as a Linden would color my opinion in a bad way then I'll alt it. But I find it's rarely needed. (It) seems like people and experiences are quite honest and true even with my Ebbe Linden persona."

Mike responded, "Believe me when people see a big blue name walk in with Linden, they think of you like gods. Sorry that you aren't aware of this feeling, who feel special when a Linden walks in. But I can vouch for many people. Heck, the sim I was in yesterday were talking about the one time they seen Governor Linden, and how exciting that was."

Ebbe's response was, "For sure people treat me differently as Ebbe Linden. But a ton of users have no idea of blue dots or Lindens. And many  experienced users get over it quickly and just have great dialog like we are here. At times being someone else has advantage, so I pop in as one of my alts, but (that is) pretty rare."

Mike remarked, "When I perceive a Linden, I feel the way I did when I was in class with a professor, or around a police officer, or around a doctor, anyone who has some superior ability that is part of what lets you function."

Ebbe stated, "Mike, (I) totally understand, but it's not preventing people from having great conversation with me."

Asterion countered, "Ebbe yes, but maybe not the usual conversation you could have with an alt. I used to talk finance with my banker even when I see him on vacation. I won't if he is (appearing) as a pompom girl or a man in black (smile)."

Ebbe's response was, "Yep, and I take that perspective now and then, but not by default. Hard enough to be one person! (smile)"

Melvin asked, "What's the timeframe for the new Second Life?"

Ebbe answered, "Timeline for next gen...early peek for some middle of next year, and by then it won't do a LOT of things Second Life can do. But the few things it can do, it should do a lot better."

Melvin asked, "Will it be open for all then? Or just for some people to test it?"

Ebbe answered, "Melvin, when we first start bringing users into next gen, it will most likely be to a limited alpha set of users."

Asterion asked, "And how will you select the alpha/beta tester users (smile)?"

Ebbe answered, "Asterion, it will be bribe system. ... As who we will work with for our Alpha, some Second ifeL users (focused on creators as that's where it has to start) and some non-SL users to get broad perspective. Also depends on what functionality we'll have by when as that will make it useful for some use cases and not others."

Cindy spoke, "That's what I was going to say, alpha testers should be those that will be creating content or interactions."

Ebbe commented, "Yeah, not much for non-creators to do until the creators have done their thing (grin)."

At 6:12, about two and a half hours since he appeared, Ebbe told the group, "So I finally have to run. It's been great talking to you all. It was my pleasure and look forward to chatting soon again." The crowd wished him well, "tack Ebbe..du höll mej vaken (smile)" "Thanks Ebbe." "Thank you for coming here and talking with us." "Great talking to you Ebbe." "Thanks Ebbe and have a great evening." Ebbe turned to the lady who interviewed him earlier, "Thank you Saffia for doing what you're doing!" Saffia responded, "It's our pleasure (smile)." Ebbe did not just up and teleport out, but walked to the entryway of the place from where he came and left the building before leading. The crowd then thinned as those who delayed leaving finally left while others remained to chat for a time.

And so ended the Question and Answer session with Ebbe Linden following the first showing of the recording of his interview in "Designing Worlds." It should be noted there was no mention of Linden Lab's decision to close their game "Patterns," announced publicly a few days later. While there would be no reduction in tier soon, there was a  "Limited" 50% reduction in Premium membership announced a few days later.

Bixyl Shuftan