Lab Chat #1: Ebbe Altberg – Concerning Second Life

Introduction Concerning Sansar

This page is a part of the transcript of the Lab Chat interview with Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg (in his alter ego of Ebbe Linden) held in-world on Thursday, November 19th, 2015. In particular, it covers those answers to questions asked during the first part of the recording which have a specific focus on Second Life, and which were selected from those questions submitted to the Lab Chat forum thread ahead of the interview.

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Left to right: Jo Yardley, Ebbe Linden and Saffia Widdershing
Left to right: Jo Yardley, Ebbe Linden and Saffia Widdershing

Land and Tier

 

Is there any chance for a change in the Private Regions land portfolio? Just this last week the SL grid size fell below the 25,000 regions number, since the Homestead Debacle more than 8,500 private
region were lost, amongst them many beautifully developed regions that were showcases for what is possible in SL. Private region costs are too high, the region types don’t cover the customers’ demands. I have Homestead customers who plead for some more prims, but the step to a full region is just too steep. A portfolio of full, half and quarter regions at a price tag of $250/125/65 should be possible and even profitable because of higher demand and actually adding more regions instead of losing them. Or, the smaller and almost cost neutral way: at least add a few more prims to the existing land products! 20,000 for a full region and 5,000 for a Homestead would go a long way already. And
even more important: it would send a message to the customers that LL actually listens and understands. –
Daniel Regenbogen

We do spend quite a bit of time looking at land pricing and looking at capacity of land as well. And I’ve stated several times before that I do believe that land is too expensive. So with Project Sansar we’ve stated that we want land to be a lot cheaper.

The tricky part is that [in] making land cheaper, we will have to make up that money in other ways, which is not a trivial thing to do in Second Life. It would be easier for us to do that starting from scratch in Project Sansar.

So as you saw this week, we did push a few changes to reduce some of the costs. We’re going to have to let that settle for a bit; you’re never really completely sure what the reactions will be from the market with changes like this. So we want to be a little bit careful, because – as stated here, we’ve made some mistakes in the distant past, where the reaction to some changes were not necessarily totally positive.

And we also have the challenge of not necessarily feeling that if we lower price by a certain percentage, will we make that up in volume so that we’re roughly revenue neutral on the changes we’re making [1]. And that’s not completely clear either; how long would it take to recoup a reduction in land cost or how do we recover from that? How long would it take for more users to buy that land to make up the difference? and that makes us a bit nervous to make significant drops in price, because we’re running a pretty tight ship already.

And offering more kinds of regions, as Daniel suggests. Half regions or quarter regions or regions that are only on-line at the weekends?

We have looked at introducing, and are still having conversations about potentially introducing other types of land products with different configurations, to try to find a place in the line-up that would be appealing to many; and we have to do quite a bit of analysis to understand what impact will that have, what users will move from what they have to a new product, how many new users would have this new product?

So we have this conversation quite a bit; but we at least took this first step, so at least let that settle for a little bit, and we will continue to talk about ways we can do things to introduce new products or different pricing or more capacity. Because in general, we’re in agreement, and we’re just in this weird bind because that’s how the business model has settled and tweaking the business model to shift income for us to other places is just a really complex endeavour.

So we’re going to keep working on it. I don’t have anything to announce [such as] a new type of product or a time frame, but we’ll certainly keep in mind because the decline is not something we want either. so there are lots of things we’re trying to do to stem that: improving quality and performance and a number of other initiatives. better acquisition of new users, etc.

And we also want to try to understand over time [on] what does it look like for someone who wants to spend time in both Second Life and Sansar and develop or create on both platforms, and what can we do to make that not a double whammy for people.

JY: Make a nice package deal!

That’s things we’ve started to talk about as well.

Jo Yardley, Ebbe Linden and Saffia Widdershins in the first Lab Chat recording
Jo Yardley, Ebbe Linden and Saffia Widdershins in the first Lab Chat recording

I heard that a while ago … there was a weekend when regions were free, there was no set-up costs. Just for a weekend as special offer, and people have been asking when that is going to happen again, because that might get quite a few people interested.[2]

Yeah, something to consider. I don’t know if that’s something the team is considering to do again any time soon, so I would have to ask my team to know more about that.

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Bringing users into Second Life

 

As much as we all love to hate newbies, we can’t get away from the fact that they are essential to the survival of the grid. Nobody stays in Second Life forever and without enough new users, it will slowly but surely fade away. It’s not only about recruiting new users though, we need to keep them too. The not very intuitive viewer interface with the steep learning curve, the not very well targeted portal park destinations (although I have to say they’ve improved considerably recently), the lag/high client performance requirements… these are factors that keep people from logging on a second time. I know there are plans for a brand new welcome area system but that’s only a small part of the problem, the existing Learning Islands and Social Islands are actually really good. It’s what happens after people leave there that is the real problem. So: What can Linden Lab do to recruit and keep new users? – ChinRey

A part of the education landing page, which includes links to details on the education discount, the SL education wiki,
A part of the education landing page, part of the series of pages referenced by Ebbe Altberg during the recording, and which are being used in ad campaigns targeting specific markets an groups of potential users (click for full size)

So, there’s quite a few things we are continuously doing, you may have noticed now that we are doing more targeted ad campaigns against specific audiences instead of just treating everybody the same way. So we’re trying to have more themed landing pages because a lot people want to use Second Life for a lot of different reasons; so we’re trying to figure out ways to be more precise in our targeting to different audiences.

I’m sure you’ve also noticed that over the course of the last years or six months or so, at least, we’ve done a lot more PR. We’ve been trying to be in front of the press as much as possible, which is really an opportunity right now, because the press is really excited about VR. And we make sure that the press is aware that this is the biggest, most successful virtual world ever created. so while you get excited about VR, you have to look at Second Life as sort-of the precursor to what’s going to come, and you have to take it seriously and understand it before you can make an assumption about what’s going to happen next. So make sure they understand who we are and where we’re coming from, and talking both about Second Life and Project Sansar. So we’ve [had] quite a bit of PR lately.

We’ve also improved our e-mails you get when you sign-up, and making those more specifically targeted … because we have quite a bit of drop-off of people; they register, they may even download the viewer, but they don’t log in. So what can we do to help them get to the next step of logging in, so we have a more tailored, sort-of event-driven e-mails series that happens after your registration to help bump people in.

So we’ve been able to move conversion rates all the way from the ad campaign, through the clicks, through the registration, through the downloads, to the sign-in. We’ve been bumping-up conversion rates along that funnel [in] small steps, which helps because it reduces the cost of our campaigns. But there’s more to do than that.

We’re also working on a project to better be able to track how users behave once they’re inside, so we can understand from the click where we purchase the user all the way, today we kind-of lose a bit of understanding what happens to that user after they log-in to the client. So in order to understand what the value is of that user, we need to do better tracking further into the client. So that’s a project we are working on.

As you mention, we are working again to modify and modernise our welcoming island and learning island with more instrumentation in place so we can have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t work and how it more quickly iterates on the experience to further improve it.

We did a bunch of testing with a number of welcoming islands created by the communities in Second Life. Unfortunately, none of them out-performed our Linden Lab versions; but it was good to get that tested at least. And if someone has something brilliant, let us know, we can do more testing; but so far nothing has been able to beat our own welcome and learning islands.

And then something I’ve spoken about: we’re thinking differently about making it a lot easier for creators of experiences to track their own audience. Part of the problem for us is that there is such an incredible variety of experiences in Second Life, and in the future in Sansar as well, that it’s almost impossible for us to acquire users for all these different types of experiences. There’s too much, languages and subject matter, that we can’t possibly related to them all; whereas the creators of these experiences know very well what type of audience would be attracted to these experiences.

So we want to make it a lot easier for creators to be able to track their own audience, and one project we’re working on and will hopefully come out soon is to what we call, “just straighten-out the SLurls”. Today, if you want to acquire your own users and put a SLurl out in the web somewhere to try to get someone to come to your experience as a creator, the chance of the user ending up in your experience is not great because they can get lost in the flow of registrations and downloads and they never end up where you hope they’d end up – or not always.

For the recording, Ebbe sported one of the recently introduced new "Classic" avatars
For the recording, Ebbe sported one of the recently introduced new “Classic” avatars

So that’s something we’re working hard on to fix, and that’ll make it more powerful and easier for users and residents and creators to bring people in from the outside world and put a little power control in your hand rather than it being completely up to us to bring users to the table.

So those are the things that we’re working on. we do a lot of A/B testing; we continually test various tweaks, whether it’s in ad campaigns, landing pages, and various parts of the flow. and yes to the question also, that once they come in and sort-of know what’s going on, now where do they go?

This is always going to be a challenge, because it’s not that easy to understand what the interest is for each and every one of these users might be. So want to go listen to music; some want to experience art, some want to join a community – but what kind of community? some want to play games, so how to match-up every individual’s potential interests with what we have to offer inside of Second Life is kind of an interesting, complex problem. But I think we can do better there as well. and I think with the new learning and welcome islands we can do a better job of sort-of funnelling people through to things that are likely to be of interest to them. So, lots going on.

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The Gateway Programme

 

Recently the Firestorm people announced the opening of their community gateway and stated it was a part of linden Lab’s community gateway revival yet there has been no official or formal word from LL that this is in fact true. My question: Is Linden Lab bringing back community gateways? And if so, why haven’t they announced it yet, and when will they announce it? Who will be allowed to participate? I would like to know more about this gateway program if it is in fact true. Thank you – “C00l M0m”

So, the Gateway Programme is of significant interest to us, because again … we want to make it possible for creators to attract their own audiences. We are in the testing phase … Laws, and all kinds of things have changed since we had gateways way back in the day, and it comes to who can collect what information, and what information can be stored where – so we have to get those pieces right. So the team has been working on it for quite a while, and we’re also going to make some improvements to the API so we can have a better experience for the Gateway Programme.

Obviously, we want to work first with people who are likely to be able to bring-in meaningful numbers of audiences. There’s no point in us having to manage thousands of gateway programmes that each bring in one user a week. So we want to clearly work with people who have the capacity and know-how to be able to attract meaningful numbers of users.

The Firestorm Gateway, part of the new trial Gateway Programme, provides new users with essential orientation in using the viewer and the opportunity to learn about a range of SL activities, such as aviation
The Firestorm Gateway, part of the new trial Gateway Programme, provides new users with essential orientation in using the viewer and the opportunity to learn about a range of SL activities, such as aviation

So we are testing with a few, including the Firestorm Team; I don’t know exactly when we think we are out of the test phase. I think there’s some improvements to the API that are coming so close; like I said, there are some things we had to change to make sure that information was collected properly to keep users’ information safe. but it should be around the corner. So hopefully in the next couple of months we’ll be able to expand the programme … And the people who can explain to us why they’re likely to able to attract large numbers will probably be the ones we prioritise first.

I don’t know how easy it will be for us to scale this programme[3]; it is something we can let almost anyone do? I don’t know how much overhead it is for us to manage per each case. Hopefully, it’s fairly scalable and we can let a lot of people do this.

Ultimately, this is not only interesting for us for Second Life, it’s also interesting for us to learn a lot here because this is the approach we want to take from the beginning with regards to Project Sansar, where from day one we want to make it very easy for creators of experiences to immediately attract their own audience directly into their experience without the expectation of having people, like Second life, having to come in through the front door and then by routed to various experiences.

SW: I would like to say that I’m delighted to see that the gateways are coming back, because it’s always a programme I thought was a really good way of keeping people … Some of those gateways got people involved in communities really quickly, and that was a good way of keeping people, I think.

Yes, for some markets. We’ve had a lot of success with users from Brazil. That was due almost entirely to a partner there having a very successful gateway programme, and you had local people who could attract a local audience in a local language much better than we could do from here. so we definitely believe in it and want to roll it out as quickly as we can, and it’s not just a feature; it’s actually a way of thinking how this should be done to get to complete scale , and like I said, it’s about how we think about Project Sansar from day one.

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The Marketplace and the Marketplace Search Beta

 

Considering the rather unpromising beta version for the new MP search, and the many other MP related problems still unaddressed. What plans do LL have for upgrading/replacing the existing Marketplace and when can we expect to see results?

Well, we’re rolling out a beta now, and we’re starting to get feedback, and we want to collect more feedback on some of the improvements we’re trying to make. The relevance of search will take us a while to get it tuned to a point where we can clearly see that it’s better than what we currently have in production.

So that’s going to happen. As soon as we find that the beta is out-performing the current production product, we’ll swap it over. I don’t know how long it’ll take us to test and tune and make sure it is an improvement.

The Marketplace Beta Search (indicated by the URL and warning label) has come in from criticism
The Marketplace Beta Search (indicated by the URL and warning label) has come in from criticism

What’s the best way for people to feed back to you?

Well, I’m hoping that the people rolling out the beta have been have been asking to provide feedback on that, and if that’s not clear, I’ll ask Pete to work the team to make sure it is clear to people. I’m not sure how they asked to receive feedback in the first place, and I don’t want to confuse anyone by suggesting where they should go. I’ll make sure that the team reiterate how the feedback should be provided.

But the new search engine we’re using underneath in this beta will make it easier for us to keep tuning it and improve relevance, and it’ll also help us better scale and add new categories.

And we just finally completed the deprecation of the XStreet technology, which was quite scary because there was a bunch of stuff in there that no-one here knew anything about. so not having a dependency on that any more makes us feel a lot safer. and like I said, the beta is a beta; I saw some people complaining about it not being as good as it should be, that’s why it’s a beta.

So please keep providing feedback, and the more precise your feedback of what your expectations were and what didn’t work, the easier it is for us to take your feedback and improve the product.

[Note that feedback on the Marketplace beta can be given through the dedicated forum thread and specific bugs / issues can be reported via the JIRA, specifying it is concerning the Marketplace Beta Search. ]

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The following question was asked after questions focusing on Project Sansar. As it is related to Second Life, it is included in this section for completeness, and can be found within the Lab Chat video recording commencing at around the 48-minute mark.

Mainland Abandoned Land

 

Can Linden Lab clarify and regularise your policy on the selling of abandoned land on the Mainland? There are persistent rumours that LL plans to merge sims with lots of abandoned land, moving existing owners to other sims. Is that true? Finally, is there some way to get auto-return automatically always put on abandoned land or land that people have not logged on to for years on end? – Prokofy Neva

So I’m told we currently don’t have any plans to consolidate abandoned land or move residents or any major shifts in what we have today; and unfortunately, there’s no way to currently have auto-return automatically set on abandoned land. And the policy – I have it right here. So no significant changes in the plans right now.

JY: I remember living on Mainland, and the regions next to me would be abandoned, and it would be so much effort to try to get that land. Would there be some sort of opportunity to offer the land for sale to the neighbours first, or am i asking too much?

I not sure you’re asking too much. I think you’re asking someone who doesn’t necessarily have the easy answer; that would be something for Patch to speak to, whether that’s something we could handle without too much complexity of resource. But Patch says here we do regularly; Patch and his team are always there, helping people out with these things.

Introduction Concerning Sansar

Additional Notes and Information by Inara Pey

  1. Those interested in understanding how tier cuts could adversely impact Linden Lab and Second Life are welcome to read my 2013 analysis of straightforward tier cuts when compared to the Lab’s revenue losses as a result the high levels of region losses witness in 2011 / 2012, and the impact they had on the Lab’s revenue stream. There is also a follow-up article, again for those interested.
  2. The “Land Sale” occurred in October 2011. It resulted in a net gain of some 508 regions on the grid. However, this was somewhat sort-lived. As Tyche Shepherd reported through her Grid Survey monitoring, the region gains were largely wiped out by a combination of the continued rate of region losses in 2012 and people returning their regions as the realities of tier bit home.
  3. The original Gateway Programme was discontinued by the Lab in August 2010 on the grounds that it was those gateways that were in operation were perhaps not performing as well in bringing new users into Second Life and retaining them than the Lab’s own approaches, and that the Lab was finding it increasingly hard to manage and scale the programme.