Working in the Virtual World

Ok, I admit it. When I first joined Linden Lab to head up Enterprise Marketing three months ago, I wasn’t 100% convinced that working in virtual worlds really works. I mean, intellectually, immersive environments make perfect sense. We’ve all heard the key messages and I’ve been hard at work writing them. Meeting in Second Life allows global and mobile teams to collaborate in ways that aren’t possible other ways—improves efficiency, creativity, communication, and keeps travel costs in check. But, seriously—does working in the virtual world work?

My first official meeting in Second Life was an important and jarring experience for me—waking me up to how powerful the medium really is. The meeting took place in the Isabel conference room, here at the Battery Lab. The physical conference room—Isabel—has a virtual counterpart that is an exact replica—Virtual Isabel. A camera in Isabel captures what’s happening in the room and displays it in the virtual space. Simultaneously, the participants in Virtual Isabel are projected on the wall of physical Isabel. The result is a seamless experience—two conference spaces, one real and one virtual, merge into one. At first, it was a bit strange, but then I became absorbed into the discussion and the lines between the physical and virtual spaces blended. Then, in Virtual Isabel, I saw someone floating outside the window with a box on his head. What was my first reaction? I looked outside the physical window of the conference room to see if there was really someone floating outside. My colleagues caught me—in a completely confused state about what’s real and what’s virtual–and we all burst out laughing. I learned something very important that day. The virtual medium is extremely powerful and the ‘sense of presence’ is real—and that’s the magic ingredient that makes a meeting truly productive.

Virtual Isabel

Virtual Isabel

To that point, I believe that the only good alternative to virtual meetings is a face-to-face meeting. It would be a hard to argue the teleconference calls or WebEx can create as immersive an experience. I mean, how many wasted hours have we all spent staring at a Polycom or ‘multi-tasking’ (i.e. barely tuning into the meeting) during a WebEx presentation? Don’t remind me.

Video conferencing is increasingly being used as an immersive meeting technology, but there are some psychological aspects that limit its potential. Caleb Booker recently blogged on this very topic. He posits two very interesting theories. First, usually when you’re in a video conference, the camera is zoomed in on the speaker and—unconsciously—we pull back because we feel we’re in a conversation with a ‘close talker.” (Anyone remember that Seinfeld episode? A classic.)  He makes the case for virtual worlds and says, “The entire virtual world phenomena works because it accomplishes one simple thing: the perception of space. This is one of the most underestimated and wildly powerful tools of the past decade. Without even needing 3D glasses, a virtual space moves another person’s “presence” to a comfortable distance while still creating a sense that you are somehow physically together.”

His second point is even more compelling. As you know, there are three types of learners—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (or experience-based). The virtual world is a perfect mix that accommodates all three. He says, “Visual folk can look around the room to ’place‘ the voice they’re hearing or the text they’re reading (critical for them if they want to remember anything that happened!). Auditory people can just sit back and chat, occasionally glancing at the typed text. As for the kinesthetic people, well, they’re in absolute heaven.”

In fact, there really isn’t any other collaboration platform that can successfully do all three for distributed teams—except for a physical meeting. And, with travel budgets completely decimated these days, the luxury of a physical meeting is no longer a viable option for day-to-day interactions.

These days, I’m spending at least 2-3 hours a day in Second Life, meeting with my colleagues distributed all over the world—collaborating, brainstorming, learning, and decorating my new office space in LindenWorld. Using Second Life as an enterprise solution is helping us get our enterprise solutions to market smarter, cheaper, and faster than we might otherwise.

Ok, I’m the Marketing gal who drinks my own Kool-Aid—true. But, I’m also a believer, and if you’re not already—you will be, too. Just try it and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Posted in -Miscellaneous, Business, Community, Creativity & Ideas, Education, Enterprise | 35 Comments

Stories from Second Life: DB Bailey’s LOCUS

Did you ever wonder why so much of the architecture in Second Life seems to strive to model reality? David Denton did, and his work on LOCUS in Second Life seeks to go beyond replication to explore new possibilities for expression that can only exist in a world without weather, gravity or budgets.

Known as DB Bailey in Second Life, David set out to design a place which allows “each building to have an individual architectural expression, working together as an aesthetic whole”.  Currently located on the region known as Cetus Institute, eventually LOCUS will be housed on its own island.

locus-06

LOCUS takes the approach that architecture in a virtual space should reflect the unique character of that space,  while fostering a sense of community.  In that regard, it’s possible to walk together throughout the space along tree-lined boulevards.  At the same time, vertical signs hover above, providing orientation for airborne avatars.

It’s not surprising that such a creative place would attract a community of artists and designers.  There are exhibits by individual artists, galleries and design showcases, and clearly the range of artistic involvement will grow.  As Denton and his partner, Alex Noble (Happiness Merryman in SL) describe their goal:

The overall direction for the project is to create a community of design oriented entities, each connected to its Internet website, drawing traffic to and from the websites and Second Life. LOCUS will be a colony of virtual versions of websites that would encourage the meeting and interaction of website visitors. The intention is to strengthen the connection between SL and RL as well as to promote the sales of RL art and design services through the SL venue.

LOCUS is still in development, but stop by — there are already installations by well-known real life artists Robert Wilson and Daniel Maltzman, and showcased Second Life designers such as Eshi Otawara, with more to come.  Or take the elevator up to the top of the tower (originally built for Burning Life), which features music by Second Life’s own Dizzy Banjo.

locus-06

Feel free to discuss in the forums.  I’ll join you there.

Posted in Community | 6 Comments

Introducing Judy Linden

Hi Everybody,

I wanted to introduce myself, Judy Wade, or Judy Linden inworld. I’m the new VP of Strategy and Emerging Business. Inworld I look a bit like a green sea fairy, which is what I always wanted to be when I was 6. Little did I know that I’d be able to carry out that wish in my professional life oh so many years later!

I’ve actually been working with Linden since last April, essentially on a borrowed basis from Kapor Enterprises, Mitch Kapor’s investment fund. I came on board to help with the CEO transition from Philip to Mark, and stayed on to help the company with strategic planning.

I started my career at Hambrecht & Quist as a semiconductor analyst, and then spent most of the rest of it at McKinsey & Company, working in New York, South Africa, and San Francisco, for a lot of different kinds of companies– from mines in Colombia to Internet start-ups in South Africa to technology behemoths here in the U.S. I’ve always tried to spend a chunk of my time working in the non-profit space, and have a passion for education and economic development, as well as for Cal specifically, where I spent my college years.

But I’ve never worked with or for a company with such passionate ‘customers’, such amazing opportunities, or one my dad would instantly fall in love with (as he did once he was given a tour around the rockets at the International Spaceflight Museum inworld – he’s a 77 year old wannabe physicist). I am continually amazed at the creativity of our Residents, be they consumers, enterprises, or educators, and our strategic roadmap has to focus on continuing to figure out new and better ways to enable the creativity of existing Residents and attract new people to participate in this incredible ecosystem.

So what do we mean by strategic roadmap?  Sounds like a lot of consulting jargon I’m sure. At Linden it is the process we use to help us prioritize where we put our resources – to better serve existing Residents and to grow our user base in high potential markets. Some of it has resulted in big investments in what I would call the ‘must-dos’, those things we need to do no matter what – increasing technical stability, scalability and predictability, improving the overall user experience so we continually delight new and existing users, and enhancing core products such as land and e-commerce (thus the purchase of Xstreet SL and OnRez).  Other parts of this roadmap are about where we invest to grow our user base, including how we can better serve and grow our international markets, how we can better serve inworld businesses and land owners, and what types of ‘killer applications’ will increase user hours and attract new users. While we conducted a formal inworld survey last May to get input on these issues, and will launch another one soon, if any of you have ideas on the above, please send in comments here.

Now that I have officially joined Linden in this new role, I will continue to work with Mark and the rest of Linden on our strategic direction, as well as being responsible specifically for potential strategic partnerships, international strategy and market growth, and education. Most importantly, I look forward to continuing to help Linden nurture and support the amazing Resident creativity and activity that is Second Life.

Posted in Announcements & News, International, Resident Experience | 2 Comments

A new chapter

To all my Second Life friends,

After nearly seven years, I’ve decided to step down from my role at Linden Lab on February 15. I’m planning to take some time to explore a few different avenues as I decide where, when and what the next chapter of my life will entail.

Watching the growth of Second Life from the early beginnings in Lindenworld to the unbelievably diverse, creative, vibrant community that exists today has been the highlight of my career. The people who built the world of Second Life are fantastic pioneers and I’m so proud to have been part of the genesis of this amazing experience.

I’ll be in Second Life as Robin Linden for the next two weeks, and after that as my alt, Taliesin Protagonist.

See you in-world and in the forums!

Posted in Announcements & News

The Question of Land Cutting

We have set ourselves a goal to create the most enjoyable Mainland experience that we can. As part of this effort, a few months ago we took action to limit Ad Farming (especially adverts that are intended solely to drive an unreasonable price for the parcel it is on; think visual spam) on the Mainland. The effects of that program and the response from the community have been overwhelmingly positive. We’re continuing our mission to improve the Mainland and wanted to present a new issue, discuss some possible next steps and elicit direction from the community about the best way to move forward.

Let’s talk about land cutting and why we feel this is an issue that needs to be resolved.

Land cutting is the deliberate chopping up of parcels into smaller pieces in an attempt to sell those pieces collectively for more than the value of the original parcel. Whenever you see land that has a grid of 16m parcels for sale that are all clumped together, or in a checkerboard pattern, then what you’re seeing is an example of land cutting.

To be clear, we are not talking about creating one or two small parcels for legitimate reasons or as part of your normal land management, we are referring to the commercial cutting up of land, usually for profit and on a larger scale.

This practice has a serious impact on the Mainland. Fragmented land is usually unattractive to look at which can lead to lower land values in the region. Rarely, if ever, do the segmented areas get consolidated back into large parcels, and if they do it typically causes more harm than good to local landowners.

Please remember that this issue only applies to the Linden Mainland, it does not affect the private estates.

In early February we would like to announce a policy that makes the deliberate and extensive cutting of land a violation, similar to how we dealt with ad farming. The owning of cut land would not be a violation (unless you cut it in the first place), rather it is the act of cutting it that would be the violation.

Before we do this, I’d like to canvas opinion from the community.

Here’s a list of questions we’d love to get your opinion on in the forums.

  • Do you agree in principle that land cutting needs to be a violation?
  • Are there any legitimate reasons for land cutting (excluding profit) that we should consider when setting policy?
  • With land that is already cut up, but still mostly owned by the resident that cut it, should we ask that the land be joined back together?

Please join me in the forums to provide your feedback.

Finally, it has also been suggested that parcels of 64m or smaller have their sale value clamped to be no higher than the current average price per meter. This would obviously involve development work so wouldn’t be something we could deliver quickly, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Posted in Announcements & News, Land, mainland | 6 Comments

New Members of the Executive Team

Greetings all!

As those of you who follow Linden Lab have probably noticed, I’ve been expanding the executive team since I joined in May, 2008.  Each hire has been focused on major initiatives within the Lab designed to make Second Life more reliable, more relevant and more usable.

We are reworking the user experience end-to-end.  We started with the website (we recently launched a new home page which is the start of a larger redesign), are hard at work on the viewer and will shortly start redesigning the first landing locations for new users. Last week, we made two ecommerce acquisitions that will be more fully integrated into the Second Life experience as well.  We have a new land store in the works.  We’re developing a behind-the-firewall product for enterprise customers.

Put all these things together, and you will see we are intent upon making dramatic improvements to the Second Life platform and experience.  At the same time, the team has been hard at work on stability and scalability.  Last year, we halved the user hours lost to downtime in the second half of the year.  But, with growth ahead, we have more to do and the team is hard at work on continued platform and network improvements to enable us to break peak concurrency records on a regular basis as we did this past Sunday when we hit 82,653.  [As you know from FJ’s blog posts, it was “all hands on deck” this past weekend to ensure we delivered a stable experience to Residents.  I watched the action on our internal chat channel during peak sessions on Saturday and Sunday as we broke our peak concurrency record without a hitch.]

All in all, we have a long list of ambitious projects on our “to do” list for 2009.  To help us move the platform, product and the user experience forward, we’ve added two senior executives to an already excellent executive team:

Brian Michon (Michon Linden) will take on the role of VP of Core Development. Brian will be responsible for the voice, database and simulator infrastructure of the Second Life platform, scaling it to support our growth and our product expansion. Brian has over twenty years of technology experience with Fortune 500 companies. He joins us from Intuit, where he managed the development and operation of Web-based services and made popular products like TurboTax and QuickBooks easier to use and manage, both for organizations and individual consumers.

Judy Wade (Judy Linden) has come on board as VP of Strategy and Emerging Business. She’ll be responsible for working with the executive team in refining Linden Lab’s overall business strategy, including seeking out key partnerships to expand the capabilities of Second Life in key geographic and vertical markets. She joins us from Kapor Enterprises, the investment company of Linden Lab board member Mitch Kapor. Prior to Kapor Enterprises, she was a partner at McKinsey and Company, where she worked with a variety Fortune 500 companies, helping them define and implement significant strategic and organizational transformations across multiple sectors.

Brian and Judy join a stellar crew of Lindens on our executive team, including three hires I made over the past six months (in reverse order of appointment):

  • Howard Linden, SVP Customer Applications, responsible for improvements to the Second Life experience and the development of new products and features that enhance the usability and overall customer experience of Second Life
  • T Linden, Chief Product Officer, responsible for driving the product strategy for Second Life
  • FJ Linden, SVP Global Technology, responsible for processes, systems and tools to maximize the scalability of Second Life’s network architecture

I’m really pleased and honored that we’ve been able to bring on such extraordinary individuals.  Each is a great talent in their own right and together form what I feel is a superb team.  Our ability to bring on such great talent is a testament to the power and potential of Second Life and to the wondrous content and experiences you – our Residents – have created.

I can tell you that going into 2009, everyone at Linden Lab is focused on making Second Life an even more important, more useful, more joyful experience for the Residents and we’re pleased Brian and Judy are joining us. Thanks to all of you for making Second Life what it is today. I look forward to all that we will accomplish together.

If you’d like post some questions, thoughts or congratulations on the Forum, you can do so here. I won’t be able to read and respond until after 5PM Pacific, but I’ll jump in then to answer questions.

Cheers,
M Linden

Posted in Announcements & News, Creativity & Ideas, Grid Stability and Reliability | 4 Comments

Weekend Grid Support

Before we hit the weekend, I wanted to update you on our progress on Grid stability. We have taken a number of major steps this past week to improve database performance, which included offloading high impact queries to slave databases, and completing a master database conversion on Thursday. These actions, along with many other performance tweaks, have significantly improved query response times and reduced load on the central database.

While I am optimistic that these measures are helping to stabilize the Grid, I also want to be ready for any event contingency. We have mapped out a detailed response, escalation, and triage plan across the entire company. One of the major changes for this weekend will be the corrective steps we take if the central database becomes overloaded and unstable. Past procedures were to almost immediately block logins, to allow for load to subside and protect the database from a complete crash (which is what happened last Sunday). This is a rather drastic approach to protect the database, and we’ve now put some “throttling” mechanisms in place that would be our first step to reduce load vs. blocking logins. Throttling literally means turning features and functions off, and potentially degrading in world experience. One of these throttles would disable group queries to the central database, and would cause group features to be unavailable during that period of time. While degrading the resident experience is not a preferred step, we believe that it is far less punitive than the drastic measure of blocking logins. So if some in world features are temporarily disabled, you would still be able to log in, and enjoy other in world features that do not tax the central database.

We have an entire support team that is standing by to react to any potential problem, and will aggressively communicate with the residents, through multiple means (in world, web, blogs, etc) to keep you informed of any problems and progress to correct. While I am optimistic that none of these recovery steps will have to be taken, I think it is very important to continue proactively reaching out to the resident community on our plans.

I’ll be in the forums later to answer questions, and continue to thank you for the very constructive and helpful feedback.

Posted in Announcements & News, Grid Stability and Reliability | 1 Comment