Linden Lab announce Viewer 2.1: voice morphing now available

First – some cynicism on what is otherwise a noteworthy announcement. It’s hard to imagine that it’s spontaneity that led to a fairly significant viewer upgrade a day after laying off 30% of its staff. It’s a move that will be seen through by a lot of Second Life residents for what it is: a carefully planned PR exercise to take the focus off the cutbacks whilst emphasising it’s ‘business as usual’.

On to the detail: aside from a bunch of bug fixes, the flagship for 2.1 beta, is the availability of voice morphing. For an extra fee of L$750 per month you can buy a pack of five voice morphs, with five different packs available. It’s a feature that will go down a treat with a lot of Second Life users and a lot will pay for the privilege – though the Lab obviously forecasted the revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover their wages and salaries bill as it existed a week ago.

You can download the alpha version now. Of course, I’m not sure how you have a 2.1 betaalpha before a 2.01 release version is on the horizon, but maybe that’s just me. I did try checking out Voice Island but was just given an error – either because it’s full or because I tried accessing it from an older Viewer version.

Linden Lab announce plans for layoff-funded Second Life in-browser

Linden Lab have now formalised the announcement on staff cuts – not that there’s any detail and plenty of corporate-speak. The whole claim that layoffs improves company focus is tenuous at best, and borders on insulting to those departing. The press release states:

Today’s announcement about our reorganization will help us make Second Life® even simpler, more enjoyable, relevant and engaging.

So does this mean that those employees laid off were making SL complex, frustrating, irrelevant and non-engaging? A lot of those words can apply to the Second Life experience at times – but in the context of this announcement it’s pretty much fluff.

The real reason is cited as well: strengthening profitability to invest in a browser-based SL viewer. That’s a significant (and overdue) announcement on its own – and given the stasis in the userbase and the US financial situation it’s understandable cost cuts need to fund part of that. The issue for me is that tying the old user experience to the departure of any staff caught up in the restructure, looks plain tacky.

What say you? Are you surprised by the way this has been done or is it a business-as-usual approach by Linden Lab to issues like this?

Linden Lab staff reductions: the picture painted

As she is wont to do, Tateru Nino has come up with another great story, albeit a sad one for those involved. Linden Lab have laid off a significant number of staff. Putting aside the obvious human impact of decisions like these, it’s certainly not a great look for a company already struggling under the stereotype of being a passed fad in some sections of the mainstream media.

What does it mean? As Tateru says in her piece – it’s not a sign of Linden Lab’s demise, but it’s definitely a sign of a company about to do one or both of two things: batten down the hatches for a lean time or create a leaner beast that becomes attractive for sale or acquisition. Either way, Linden Lab continue to have some significant challenges. There’s not likely to be direct admissions on causes for the latest round of staff losses, but factors such as OpenSim uptake, static user levels and less media coverage all have to be biting.

As usual, expatriate Aussie and virtual worlds observer, Skribe Forti, sums it up nicely:

One potential issue that LL and SL may have is that in restructuring the world to move it away from the ‘Wild West’ – brothel and casino on every corner – to a ‘Your mother would approve’ business environment they may have created a solution to a problem that only a few have and thereby potentially killed the golden goose. Too early to tell however.

There’s certainly a stark picture being painted – I’m still pretty confident that picture isn’t done and that there’s plenty of colours still to be added. It’s just determining who the painters will be in the months to come that is difficult.

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. We talk quite a bit about virtual goods and their popularity. MMO Behemoth World of Warcraft proved it in the past week, selling hundreds of thousands of an in-game mount called the Celestial Steed at US$25 a pop. No-one but Blizzard software know how many they sold but given queues exceeded 140,000 at one stage, we do know the number is big.

2. The SLENZ project has completed its run, but here’s a great write-up of how the work done still has legs.

3. The legal actions keep on coming for Linden Lab, as discussed by Tateru Nino here.

4. Version 2.0.1 of the Second Life viewer is now available, and there’s now a fleshed out FAQ document for Viewer 2.

5. A sad piece of news: Singapore-based virtual worlds dynamo Andrew Peters, passed away after a battle with cancer on the 13th April. I had the opportunity to correspond with Andrew many times including via phone and he was certainly a man committed to his work and its outcomes. The full announcement of his death is given below, and Andrew’s sense of humour would have appreciated the title of the press release:

Andrew Peters, Singapore’s resident social media marketing guru, moves on to Heaven 2.0

Singapore, 22 April 2010 – Andrew Peters, Singapore-based social media marketing guru, passed away at 4.45am (NZ time) on Tuesday 13 April in Christchurch in his native New Zealand at the age of 47, after losing a secret battle with cancer.

With 25 years’ experience in publishing, public relations, sales and marketing for leading industry brands, he worked in Sydney in the second half of the 1980’s with ICL and Wang Computers, then with Anixter, Australian Consolidated Press and Project Media in the 1990’s, before setting up a branch in Singapore in 1999 for public relations agency McCorkell & Associates, as Vice President, Asia Pacific.

He joined Pacific West Communications – started in 2001 by his Singapore best friend and business associate Imran Omar, in 2005. As Regional Director Asia Pacific for Pacific West, he was responsible for strategic development, overseeing client portfolios, business development and providing counsel to deliver value-added solutions that delivered sustainable results for clients.

He was instrumental in founding the Internet Industry Association of Singapore (IIAS), and sat on the Executive Committee of Singapore-based ‘The Digital Movement’ – a non-profit set up to build a community of young leaders in web 2.0 and social media and connect them to overseas experts.

Example activities included Nexus 2007, the first major Web 2.0 conference in Southeast Asia, which brought together 700 of the best entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, bloggers and world class thinkers from companies like O’Reilly, Google, Microsoft, Lenovo, Salesforce, Second Life and Yahoo; and BlogOut – a gathering of the best technology bloggers. He also sat on the Advisory Board of the Association of Virtual Worlds.

Highly connected with online & offline web 2.0, virtual worlds and social media communities, he had roles with a number of entrepreneurial ventures, and a close interest in virtual worlds and gaming platforms.

His pioneering work in social media marketing paid off with the success of the first annual Tattoo Show in Singapore in 2008, which catered to a niche group of individuals who loved body art but who were too niche for mass media to cover on a daily basis, or with frequency before the event. Social media engagement was a way to generate pre-interest in the event, and allowed for near real-time coverage and the creation of related events.

Epitomising the theory of the ‘long tail’ made popular by Chris Anderson – a niche strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities; and using social media and traditional PR hand-in-hand, he drove 15,000 attendees to the event and in the process, created an online regional tattoo community of more than 4,000 members.

He worked on virtual worlds projects with Second Life, and helped bring Germany’s virtual worlds creator Metaversum Gmbh’s Twinity into Asia. He developed social media strategies for AUSTRADE Study in Australia Events, and was social media strategist for cable television talk show ‘Asia Uncut’, broadcast on the Star World Network across Asia. He put in place a social media strategy for Singapore-based online television reality show – the first Web TV Reality show, as online publicist for global audience acquisition & interaction, and was also social media strategist for a number of Malaysia-based clients.

With social media marketing still in its infancy, Andrew Peters independently pursued a ground-up strategy of connected community building, actively integrating people from outside the professional world and inspiring talented new content creators who became friends, passionate online collaborators and agents; to make full use of the free resources of the Internet medium.

Exemplifying many of the concepts outlined in David Meerman Scott’s best-seller ‘The World Wide Rave’, in which his work for the Singapore Tattoo Show is highlighted, he got people around the world talking about his personal and client brands, events and messages, building audiences from scratch and inspiring online interest communities to link on the Web by creating online buzz that drove buyers to the virtual and physical doorstep. He created value that people wanted to share, and made it easy for them to do so.

Variously characterised as witty, wry and genuine, while loving the ‘seriousness and silliness’ of social media and the ‘digital revolution’, his fierce belief in community give-back and his desire to help and coach others, exemplified a passion for creativity and diversity, and a desire to listen, learn and add value without hesitation. In his final year he was looking with collaborators, into book publishing offers and ideas for new reality TV shows.

He was laid to rest on 16th April in Christchurch, and his life and work is to be commemorated at a gathering of friends and collaborators in Singapore on 24th April.

He leaves behind, best friend and business associate Imran, adoptive parent Stan and sisters Holly and Kyro, birth mother Marlene and siblings Sandra, Karen, Barbara and David, and a host of online followers, collaborators and friends in Singapore and across the Asia Pacific region, and further afield. He has a virtual afterlife on Facebook and other social media sites (although he is no longer active on Twitter and Foursquare).

“In Loving memory of Andrew Peters”

Viewer 2.0: after the afterglow

It’s been a couple of weeks since Second Life’s Viewer 2.0 launched, and as always there’s been no shortage of comment. Gauging the balance is always a challenge, but I think it’s fair to say that overall the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The fly in the ointment has been the new search functionality, particularly its impact on live music events, with some musicians very frustrated at the setback although there doesn’t seem to be widespread concern.

For what it’s worth, I’ve found Viewer 2.0 has been a huge step forward, making me happier to log in each time. I’m not 100% sold on the new camera controls but that’s more an adjustment issue. Ron Blechner has a great summary of perceived improvements with his post 21 Reasons the New Second Life Viewer 2.0 is a Huge Improvement. Veteran SL resident Gwyneth Llewelyn has a brilliant tutorial for Mac users on optimising their Viewer 2.0 experience.

I’ve certainly been critical of Linden Lab over the years over updates that haven’t delivered or decisions that appeared short-sighted. With Viewer 2.0, it appears a more methodical approach to software development has paid off. It’s far from certain, and I’d suggest unlikely that Viewer 2.0 will drive more widespread adoption, but whether it does or not, it certainly appears to have made the majority of current users happier.

Over to you: do I have the rose-coloured glasses on or would you agree things have improved? I’d also love to hear from SL musicians who believe the search functionality has impeded their performance work.

Photo courtesy: Fleep Tuque

Second Life 2.0: sneak peek of the new viewer

Back in June last year, we gave a sneak peek of the Second Life 2.0 viewer. At the time, Linden Lab stated it was only a very early iteration of what would be the final product. The imminent announcement by the Lab of the public beta for Viewer 2 certainly adds weight to that claim, given the much larger feature set of the near-final product.

Here’s the June 2009 version:

And thanks to some Viewer 2 documents accidentally placed on a public fileshare by the Lab, here’s a glimpse of the new (German) viewer:

(You can view the full size version here)

Cosmetically, things have obviously come a long way over the past 9 months. Under the hood, there’s also some big changes. Shared Media now allows for greater use of web content in-world. The viewer itself has the full web browser feel happening, which will no doubt engender some debate amongst longer term Second Life residents. The right hand favourites bar is certainly a big win compared to the current mess.

There are also other minor changes. Content ratings have had some name changes: ‘PG’ regions are now ‘General’, ‘Mature’ is now ‘Moderate’ and ‘Adult’ remains unchanged. Search functionality has been further tweaked with the Lab claiming a more intuitive search experience. Another plus: the system requirements for Viewer 2 are no different to version 1.23, so no-one is locked out from upgrading. Version 1.23 will remain viable until 30 days after version 2.1 is released – version 1.22 is now on a (deserved) 30-day countdown to extinction.

Overall, Linden Lab deserve kudos for delivering a significantly revamped viewer that should make using Second Life markedly easier for new residents in particular. Linden Lab have consistently stated their commitment to improving the user experience and this is one of the more concrete examples of how that is now being delivered. The proof of Viewer 2’s success will only come with widespread use, but initial impressions are positive. Of course, Linden Lab need to pull off a usability coup to ensure ongoing growth. Combined with potential improvements in grid performance, the horizon seems a little brighter than it has been in a while.

Over to you: what do you think of Viewer 2 from the brief glimpse provided? Is it a revolution or just steady evolution?

Update – here’s some other reactions:

1. Tateru Nino has a great roundup of features.

2. Linden Lab’s announcement, including a quick tour:

Avatars United: desire or forced marriage?

Linden Lab, whether by design or by accident, appears to have pulled their usual stunt: Wallace Linden’s post caused panic and disarray, focussed in a misleading direction, and barely hinted at the truth of the matter. Once again, decisions had been finalised even before the post went live. This sort of behaviour does nothing to inspire confidence in the user population, but I suppose it is at least consistent. These days, many of us know to be very critical of any blog post offering, even from new folk on the team. This consistency means that we can predict with some confidence that changes have been made. What changes? That is a much trickier question.

Putting that aside for the moment, let’s look at the acquisition of Avatars United by Linden Lab.

Acquiring a team of people who have already demonstrated their abilities in a certain field makes a whole heap of sense – especially when you want your existing development team to continue on with what they are doing. It’s also great to bring in new people for a fresh look at old problems.

[…] we’re committed to keeping this ideal of a place where avatars from multiple worlds and games can come together.” ~ M Linden

The Avatars United (AU) idea is all about collating your online identities, and connecting to other people engaged in the same virtual environments (VEs) or games as yourself. I am forced to wonder, how many people have the time to be heavily engaged enough in several VEs to want to be connected this way? Perhaps AU will encourage cross-pollination of VEs, perhaps each person will remain firmly in their own VE’s social circle. Since you cannot easily share the details for each avatar name between VEs, the latter seems most likely.

“The first design principle in this social strategy is respect of your privacy.  We aren’t going to take away any privacy or anonymity for those that want it. We are not going to “out” people.  We are not going to force anyone to reveal any private or personal information. […] But for those who don’t want to opt in to an arrangement like that, nothing at all will change.” ~ M Linden

Thank you, M, that’s a fantastic idea – make all linkages opt-in! But wait, what’s this – linking all your avatar names together in AU is opt-out, not opt-in? I sincerely hope that this is changed in the near future, and that the place that this is accomplished is made more obvious, instead of having it tucked away under the Account Privacy settings. I’m also keen to know why there’s a section under the Account tab that allows you to fill in your personal information. It too is opt-in, except for birth-date, but I don’t see how having that section is useful, or who might require or desire access to that information.

“In coming months, we’ll be looking at the best way to create new services for Second Life around some of the sharing and networking tools that Avatars United has to offer.” ~ M Linden

AU is set to be changed in the next few months. Applications for SL users seem imminent, and it will be interesting to see how much work is funnelled into SL-related ideas, and how much is devoted to other VEs. Fortunately, “the AU team already has an active and growing developer program”, so we should start seeing useful, relevant, apps quite soon, regardless of what is happening internally at Linden Lab.

I would like to see AU become a way to be lightly engaged in VEs, whereas actually entering those environments would be a heavy engagement. In the future, AU could become a way to check in, in a central location, and see who is online, what they are doing currently, keep in touch with groups via forums. You could use it to form an “acquaintance list”, or perhaps use the group features to belong to extra groups, or to have a forum for existing group. AU is a good place, and hopefully in time will become an even better place, to keep your finger lightly on the pulse of what’s happening in your social circle online, while still being able to get in-world and experience all the wonders of high social engagement and creative past-times.

Identity: Linden Lab change of heart?

Your identity is defined in part by which pieces of identification you choose to share with a person or group. Every person you know does not have the same information about you as everyone else. What you share with your mother, your boss at work, your bank manager, is different to what you share with your lovers (unless there is some overlap there).

You are identified by the identifications you share with those people. You create an aspect of your identity (or one of multiple identities, depending on how you like to look at it) each time you use a subset of your identifications to identify yourself; all those aspects, or different identities, all point back to you, the unique mind or being behind it all.

After centuries of discussion and thought, the only thing we can say for sure about identity is that it points to something that is both unique and somewhat fluid.

“Identity is an umbrella term used throughout the social sciences to describe an individual’s comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity.” ~ Wikipedia, Identity (social sciences)

“An online identity, internet identity, or internet persona is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. Although some people prefer to use their real names online, some internet users prefer to be anonymous, identifying themselves by means of pseudonyms, which reveal varying amounts of personally identifiable information.”  ~ Wikipedia, Online Identity

“As other users interact with an established online identity, it acquires a reputation, which enables them to decide whether the identity is worthy of trust.”~ Wikipedia, Online Identity

There are some pieces of identification that hold the promise of telling us all we need to know about a person’s identity. Their name, for example. Or, at least, a name that, when we communicate with them, that they respond to. That’s really as close as you can get – there’s no such thing as a person’s “one true name”. People may have names given at birth, names changed at the time of marriage, names changed by choice by deed poll, nicknames by which they are commonly known, stage names, a nom de plume, a nom de guerre, a gaming handle, a user name, or one of the other many types of pseudonym. All of which can be valid, legal, usable name types, and of which people will often have more than one – and each of which is an identifier for an aspect of identity.  Actors in particular commonly choose stage names; these names are often chosen to reflect a different ethnicity to the one they were born with and named for. It means they often get more work, less discrimination, less chance of being beaten (for example) for having the wrong background. Additionally, a stage name can be chosen to be more memorable than one’s given names, easier to pronounce, easier to spell.

A Second life (SL) account name is likewise a chosen name, albeit with some restrictions on what can be chosen. The behaviours associated with that account name are associated with an identity or identities, depending on how many people use the same account. No matter whether you inject your own personality, wrist, vocabulary, or what have you, or whether you imagine all the behaviours you create for that account, you are still the one creating those identifiers. There’s not some imaginary being making this up for you – this is part of you. As stated in the introductory paragraph, not every person knows everything about you – with an SL account, you may choose to share very few of the identifiers from your offline world with the people you meet there, and very few of your SL identifiers with people who are not a part of SL.

Every person limits how many identifiers other people and groups have about them – it’s what I would call “privacy”, being able to choose the amount and type of information you share. When you are forced to share things you do not wish to, privacy is broken. The bank manager does not need to know your shoe size, the passport office does not need to know your banking details, your mother does not want to know if you’re kinky in bed. We give each person or group only enough identifiers to specify us as an individual, so that they can eliminate all the other candidates. My gender (female) eliminates the 40% of physically male candidates present in the world, my address narrows the field to 2 potential people, my name eliminates the other person, if we were to carry out the testing in that order. Some people and groups do more testing to ensure the likelihood that they have arrived at the correct individual – Social Security, for example, is very keen to make sure that they get the right unique person, as are the police.

Why do we require privacy? Mostly, to prevent other from doing harm to us. Someone who knows your physical whereabouts has the chance to do physical harm to you or your property. Someone who knows how to access you online may be able to do mental harm, or even financial harm, depending on the identification they hold for us. People are judged by their identity – identity is comprised of names, locations, sexuality, ethnicity, preferences, what you choose to wear, what you have for breakfast, and many more such things – and people are quite willing to harm other people who they have decided deserve it.

When does privacy seem like less of a good thing? When it’s difficult to pin-point one person as the individual in question, therefore making it difficult to make them accountable for their actions. It’s where anonymity, or the semblance of it, encourages people to think that they can get away with harmful actions without consequences – because we cannot identify the correct individual to hold accountable.


Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Life experience. Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident –including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident’s privacy. Remotely monitoring conversations, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without consent are all prohibited in Second Life and on the Second Life Forums.” ~ direct from the Second Life Community Standards

There’s no way to know (bar leaks) whether Linden Lab plan to diverge from this standard and either provide “opt-in” ways for us to connect our SL and our other identities or to force us to do so if we wish to continue using their service. Certainly Wallace Linden’s blog post does not give me the impression that they are about to present it as a fait accompli. Unfortunately, we must remember that people who have not signed up to SL greatly outnumber those who have – Linden Lab can afford to throw away every user they have at the moment and, as long as they find a way to appeal to those who are not yet in SL, still come out ahead and profitable.

Will the Real You Please Stand Up: precedence in communications

The precedent that has been set by most of the employees permitted to post on the Linden Lab main blog is this: that the issues addressed in the post are close to final or finalised already. The posts are presented as though those commenting on the posts could still have some input, however it’s usually in vain – decisions have already been made. Indeed, often the item in question is ready for launch within hours or days of the post being made.

I do rather hope that Wallace Linden’s first substantive post is a departure from that state of affairs. It seems to me that what Wallace has presented here is a timely topic. Perhaps it has been discussed internally at Linden Lab, perhaps not; nonetheless, what the post contains is Wallace’s own ideas about aspects of identity and identification management, followed by an elicitation for comments from Second Life users about how they would like to be able to manage their identifications, on and offline.

“And as Web and mobile services continue to work their way into all corners of our lives, these aspects will continue to proliferate — and as they do, we’ll start facing important questions about how we handle these collections of selves.” ~ Wallace Linden

“The question we now face, both as people and as organizations, is how we handle these connections, how we handle these collections of selves.” ~ Wallace Linden

Unfortunately, Wallace has not satisfactorily expressed the intentions of the post. The evidence? The many, many comments from Second Life users who have failed to understand what Wallace was driving at.

“One question that’s interesting to contemplate is whether your avatars will share that digital identity card.” ~ Wallace Linden

“The interesting conversations here will be about what kind of value we’re looking for, and what kind of tools we need. The answers won’t be the same for everyone, of course, but they will be important to everyone as the various digital contexts we inhabit continue to converge.” ~ Wallace Linden

I believe that the above statements, combined with years of precedence of blog posts made too late, got people jumping to the wrong conclusions. They are seeing some sort of linkage between Second Life account names and other identifications, and have gotten the impression that such a thing has already come to pass, launch date to be announced within days.

I see that Wallace, however badly he has performed expectation management, however poorly he has expressed his intention, is genuinely looking to elicit responses about what Second Life users want with regards to what identifications they do and do not want to share. I see him looking at tools that will assist us in both creating links, and in suppressing such links, between our different aspects of identity.

“I get a lot of benefit, both personal and professional, out of being the same person in many different online contexts.” ~ Wallace Linden

“But you shouldn’t necessarily be forced to make the same associations I do. If you ask most people, making those connections should be opt-in. Not everyone sees the same value in such links.” ~ Wallace Linden

Wallace, when many people get the wrong impression about something, you have not successfully communicated your ideas. Communication has failed.

As a counterpoint to this blog post, I’ll point you to Diary of a Paranoid Mysql Upgrade by Charity Linden, and anything written by FJ Linden. Clear and concise, with good expectation management and intent stated clearly and upfront, their posts are a joy and a relief to read. Hey, Charity, could they pay you enough for you to take the post as communications Linden?

Photo: Von Cellar School

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

warcraft_deadspider 1. The announcement of Second Life Enterprise has certainly sparked some discussion. There’s some interesting debate here and some barely amusing coverage here – surely the ‘flying penises’ anecdote has been flogged to death a few dozen times by now?

Finally, here’s a great example of how the standalone offering is already being used (although it could just as easily have been done on the main Second Life grid).

2. World of Warcraft continues its work on extracting as much money out of players as possible. fatfoogoo argues it’s the next step toward microtransactions in the MMO. I’ve already had one guild member fork out US $10 for Lil’ K.T.

3. UK-based Second Life resident Tyche Shepherd does some amazing work crunching data over at her Grid Survey site. On the SL Universe forums a few weeks back, she posted some interesting information about the level of private ownership of mainlaind sims in Second Life. 70% is privately owned, the rest by Linden Lab.

4. Lost amongst the clamour around Second Life Enterprise, Linden Lab have released Q3 economy statistics. More than a billion hours have now been clocked up in-world by Second Life residents and Australia continues to be a significant player in terms of user-to-user transactions and hours spent. All the details here.

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