Ebbe Altberg Speaks!

Ebbe Linden

Ebbe Linden

I was very fortunate to snag an interview with Ebbe Altberg, Linden Labs new CEO. I sent him a list of questions, and he quite graciously answered all of them. Linden Labs has many things “in the works” that they are not able to address, but I am excited about the direction he is taking Linden Labs and I am hopeful that under his guidance, we can continue to make Second Life a fresh, exciting place to be. It’s so easy to get jaded, after being in SL for awhile and feeling ripped off by people and griefers alike. But after watching my RL friend’s awe and wonder at all SL has to offer, I believe that we can regain a fresh perspective and that sense of excitement once again.

Take a look at what Ebbe had to say. I’ve cut and pasted his responses here and have not edited or altered them in any manner. Many, many thanks to Linden Labs staffer Peter Gray for facilitating this interview.

Suzanne: What do you see as your biggest challenge in the next 12 months?
Ebbe: Overall, our biggest challenge is with ease-of-use. Second Life is incredibly powerful and complex – it’s a 3D object creation tool, a communication platform, a user-to-user marketplace, and much more, all in one – and making it truly easy to use is a massive challenge and an area we need to improve in order to take virtual worlds to the next level.

Suzanne: How do you plan to address the ongoing problem of copybotting and content theft in Second Life?
Ebbe: Creators are essential to Second Life, and we want to do everything we can to support them and help them to be successful. The fact that users can profit from their creativity is part of what makes our virtual world unique, and we’re continually looking for ways to thwart those who copy and steal content while keeping it easy for users to create and profit from their unique creations.

Suzanne: This is a four-part question about mainland:

a)What are your plans for the Mainland? Will more mainland be offered, developed or expanded upon?
Ebbe: There are currently no plans to expand the Mainland, but we are always looking at our current offerings and making small developed areas to enhance the Mainland experience.

b) Would Linden Labs ever consider allowing landowners to drop a sim in the sailable water on Blake Sea? Currently our problem with providing sailable waters is that we have to sink a sim in order to do so, which is quite expensive as we cannot rent out that land and simply becomes an expense.
Ebbe: We’re not looking at expanding the Blake Sea, which is currently composed of fully sailable regions. If you’re interested in providing water space around your region, we do offer low-cost alternatives to Full Regions and Homestead Regions, called Openspaces that could be used for this.

c) How are the Linden homes working? Are people using them and liking them? Are there any plans to expand them?
Ebbe: Linden Homes are a very popular product, and an account benefit that our Premium Subscribers enjoy – they are always near full-occupancy. We currently do not have any plans expand them, but we are working on an update to the product for the near future, which will enhance the home models, and bring them up-to-date with today’s content creation standards.

d) Why does the mainland not allow terraforming?
Ebbe: Actually, the Mainland does allow terraforming. Most Mainland regions have the ability to be terraformed to +/- 4m, and this restriction is a product feature difference between our Mainland and Private Island region products.

Suzanne: Does Linden Labs plan on any pricing structure changes for privately purchased sims?
Ebbe: We have no plans about this that we could share at this time.

Suzanne: What, if anything, does Linden Labs have planned to help strengthen the economy in SL, and assist businesses in gaining a foothold in SL?
Ebbe: We’ll certainly strive to maintain the amazing strength of our vibrant economy. Today, Second Life has the strongest and largest virtual economy based on user-to-user transactions in the world: the price of Linden dollars has been very stable, tens of millions of dollars have been paid out to users, there are more than a million transactions between users every day, and right now, creators are selling more than three million virtual items on the Marketplace. Starting a successful business – in the physical world or the virtual one – isn’t always an easy endeavor, but there are no shortage of opportunities or success stories in Second Life today, and that absolutely will continue in the future as well.

Suzanne: We feel that the search feature in SL needs serious improvement. In order for residents to find businesses in SL, they must use search. Is Linden Labs working on improving that?
Ebbe: Yes. We completely agree that search is in need of improvement, and we’re putting in some work to do just that.

Suzanne: One of the biggest concerns to business owners and land owners in SL is keeping people in SL. What plans, if any, does Linden Labs have for partnering with Philip Rosenberg and High Fidelity? It would be a huge draw to SL if we could embrace the oculus rift and the ability to have immersive experience in SL.
Ebbe: We have a good relationship with Philip Rosedale and the High Fidelity team and we expect that to continue, but there are no real plans to establish a partnership at this time.

As we said in our blog post about integrating the Oculus Rift with Second Life, we’ve been very happy to see all the recent activity and interest in the virtual reality space – it’s a sign of progress and innovation in the industry and helps validate the space Second Life has led for more than 10 years. Developments like the Oculus Rift hold great potential for Second Life, and we’re very excited to bring the virtual world into the future with new technologies and partners. We have already embraced and integrated the Oculus Rift in a Project Viewer available to everyone now, and we plan to continue to support relevant new technology as it progresses.

Suzanne: If there a plan for structuring the real estate in SL along the lines of creating a central grid, where you could go from one world to another, such as from High Fidelity to SL using Oculus Rift?
Ebbe: Our focus is on making Second Life the absolute best it can be and bringing the greatest value to our customers, not on building things like the ability to teleport your Second Life avatar to a separate platform.

Suzanne: Does Linden Labs have any plans to offer different real estate sim configurations, such as a “party sim” that could hold up to 400 avatars for instance, or have a sim that is between a full prim sim and a homestead sim (7,500 prims)?
Ebbe: No, we don’t have any plans to offer regions like this that we could share at this time.

Suzanne: Real estate owners are the number one business in SL right now. Would LL be willing to bring back the Land Expos? In the past, these expos were a huge event spread over 10 sims for 7 to 8 days, and is a wonderful opportunity for estate owners to get together and kibbutz. It would be a wonderful opportunity to have Linden Lab staffers attend and really get to know SL estate owners and help improve communication and create a dialogue.
Ebbe: We’re certainly happy to support and help promote community events and meetings – and to participate as appropriate – but this sounds like an initiative that would be best organized and hosted by estate owners, rather than Linden Lab.

Suzanne: In addressing communication, estate owners feel that there is a lack of communication and that the case workers at Linden Labs aren’t listening to their concerns. Are you aware of this problem and how can estate owners help facilitate a better exchange of ideas with Linden Labs?
Ebbe: Improving our communications with our customers and community at large has been one of my early goals since joining the company, and we’ve made significant strides in that regard. We’ll always be open to listening to concerns and ideas – in addition to direct conversations, meetings, emails, we keep an eye on discussions in blogs, forums, other social media, JIRA, for example – and we’re working to be as proactive and transparent in our communication with our customers as we can be.

Suzanne: Linden Labs currently does not provide support 24/7, and there is a gap between midnight and 8am SLT that is a “dead zone.” Since SL is 24 hours, and we have many clients and customers around the world that are only online during that time, this creates a huge problem for us in helping our customers and clients get their issues resolved. Does Linden Labs have any plans to bring back 24 hour support?
Ebbe: It sounds like you’re referring to our Concierge-level support, which does have a gap in shifts between 12am and 7am PT/SLT. However, we do currently offer live support for billing and basic assistance around the clock, and even during the hours that the Concierge team is unavailable, you should still be able to reach a live agent by phone or chat.

Suzanne: Will Linden Labs consider bringing back the community gateways, to help drive noob traffic to the estates and businesses?
Ebbe: I’m not ready to make a commitment saying we’ll bring back the community gateways program, but we would certainly consider an approach like it. I like the idea of empowering users themselves to bring in new Second Life users and help them get started inworld, as opposed to Linden Lab being the sole source of new users and pushing them all through our own registration and initial experience ‘funnel.’ The challenge is to do this in a way that’s scalable and makes the best use of our resources – i.e. provides a consistently high quality experience to new users, adds significant value for us and our customers, etc.

Suzanne: I know that Education and Nonprofits are going to start getting special pricing once again, to encourage virtual education. How can businesses like ZoHa Islands get involved with encouraging the influx of education and nonprofit organizations, and getting them started in-world?
Ebbe: The educational and nonprofit discount was actually reinstated and expanded last July, and we’re happy to see organizations like these continue to see great value in using Second Life. We don’t currently have a program to refer organizations that apply for the discount to particular businesses in Second Life, but certainly want to make it easy for inworld businesses to connect with prospective customers of all kinds.

Suzanne: Jump forward six years. What does SL look like in 2020?
Ebbe: In 2020, the virtual world will be incredibly immersive, and you’ll truly feel a realistic sense of presence as you explore and interact inworld. You’ll be able to participate across all kinds of devices, including tablets and mobile devices, laptops and PCs, virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift. Creators – from hobbyists to professionals – will be making an ever-more-diverse range of rich content and experiences that will be easily accessed and enjoyed by a massive global audience. Some of the experiences, creations, and uses of the virtual world will likely include very advanced and extremely high-quality versions of the kinds of things enjoyed in Second Life today, but I expect new uses will also emerge. The virtual economy will be operating at a scale many times what it is today, and we’ll see new records set for the profits that people earn from their virtual creations.


Once again, thank you, Ebbe Altberg, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I appreciate the time and effort very much.

I remain respectfully yours,
~ Suzanne Piers, ZI Social Media Manager

Ebbe Altberg: For the People

“We’re here, we’re willing to listen. We’re willing to engage in dialog and have conversations about what is the future and how do we get there. And that the doors are open now, again, and we want to talk to you, we want to understand you, we want to understand how to make you successful, whichever way you feel is required to make that happen. So that’s it. I’m here, I’m happy to talk to all of you, I’m gonna learn and listen and most of all, I want to make you successful, because that’s how we all can become successful.” ~ Ebbe Altberg, April 9. 2014

At a recent in-world conference for VWBPE (Virtual World Best Practices in Education), one of the keynote speakers was Linden Lab’s new CEO, Ebbe Altberg. This was a wonderful opportunity to really get to hear from Ebbe since he was installed as CEO of Linden Labs in February of 2014. You can see the video of Ebbe’s entire address here.

During his 84 minute keynote address, Ebbe touched on his thoughts for the future, gave updates, and answered questions from the audience. He addressed not only issues within the educational community, but also in SL and virtual worlds as a whole.

First of all, Ebbe feels that education is a very important partner with Second Life. He has already reinstated better pricing for educational organizations and nonprofits. He wants to reconnect with the education community and feels it is an important part of the virtual world experience. He is looking forward to education being an important part of SL from this point forward.

Another priority is working with the legal department regarding revamping the TOS (Terms Of Service) regarding content creation in order to mitigate the rumors that Linden Labs is into stealing the rights to user created content and selling it to benefit themselves. They are working to change the wording to reassure creators so they will feel confident that Linden Labs won’t steal their unique user created content, and wants to make it very clear that content creators are owners of their own creations. He is very interested in ensuring that creators can get their content both in and out of SL. Linden Labs is not trying to lock them in to SL only and wants to ensure people can export their items to the metaverse and open sim. Ebbe wants to see users getting the most out of SL.

Ebbe spoke about LL’s position regarding the metaverse and open sim. He feels that he’s glad that others, such as Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity, are exploring this area, and that it is important for growth going forward. However, Ebbe feels that we need to get SL right first, and that we still have a long way to go. He feels that SL is too difficult for most people, and the learning curve is really steep. Ebbie states that he wants to make SL more user friendly and easier for people to use who are new to virtual worlds. Second Life needs to be easier to use and that we need to make improvements to the user experience. Linden Labs is working on this and they have developed some short-term goals, but most changes are long-term and will take time to develop.

A great deal of progress has been made over the last two years and most of these changes have been behind the scenes, such as a huge improvement to avatars and the ability to have lots of avatars on a sim without crashing. Change comes to SL like a slow drip — they’re constantly improving in small increments.

Future Technology
Ebbie touched on the fact that Linden Labs is actively in development on new technologies — specifically Occulus (a beta viewer has already been released, and an update is coming soon). One of the issues being worked on is how to interact in world without a keyboard and mouse.

Ebbe has received many inquiries about whether or not the in-world Community Liaison between Linden Labs (LL) and SL users will be reintroduced, and the answer is “not at this time.” However, a very big priority of Ebbe’s is to reopen the dialogue between educators and Linden Labs, and to make sure that talk turns into action. Linden Labs wants to develop priorities and work on them to make progres towards those goals.

He is also encouraging employees of LL to go in-world as Lindens. He has lifted the rule against LL employees going in-world as Lindens, and wants to encourage them to get out there and interact with end users and really see what is going on in SL.

There is a perception that SL is nothing but a venue for gratuitous sex. Ebbe feels that there is a need to try and market SL better, so that we can improve the reputation and help people understand the breadth and depth of all that SL has to offer. The good and wonderful things in SL aren’t being seen outside the walls of SL, and that needs to change.

Strategy Going Forward
Some of the things that are in Ebbe’s top priorities in the immediate future include:

• Taking Linden dollars as a currency outside of SL. This is a massive undertaking, and getting RL bankers and so forth to go along with it is huge. They have to ensure transactions are safe and there is controls in place to avoid fraud and money laundering. It needs to be safe, legal and compliant. Ebbe compared this project to Bit Coin.

• Make SL and the viewer more intuitive and easier to use: There was an attempt by LL to simplify the viewer, and it didn’t work. Ebbe says that he is looking into why this didn’t work, because once again, SL’s learning curve is so steep it often chases off potential new residents before they can even get started.

• HiFi in SL: Linden Labs is working on making a richer avatar experience by bringing emotions to avatars. They’re in the early stages of development, but they want to make it so you can interact with avatars and be able to see their emotions, as well as hearing it in voices or emoting it in type. He wants to move avatars to beyond just being “dolls” and actually being able to see expressions of surprise, anger, happiness and have that transmitted visually.

Audience Questions:

• Will LL be working on the ability to export content out of SL?
Currently, Linden Labs isn’t actively preventing this from happening. Perhaps what is happening is that the way to export isn’t simple enough, or isn’t being communicated, but people currently do export content. Perhaps they are using a work-around, but LL isn’t actively preventing this. Which brings up another problem, where creators need to be the original creator of every single piece of the item in order to export it, and so if you’ve added a script or other component created by someone else, then you cannot export the item. And the reasons for this are simple: We need to make sure people can’t pirate your work by exporting it out of SL and into other platforms, but clearly LL needs to work out how to allow creators to export items with other user-created content and still make it so that your content cannot be pirated.

• There is a problem with schools and other groups in Japan, Australia and New Zealand having issues connecting to SL. Will it be possible for people in New Zealand to be able to connect to SL servers using their high speed network? And what can they do to expedite communications with SL more effectively?

Linden Labs is attempting to partner with companies in Asia to help understand what their issues are and how to fix this problem. How do we distribute hardware globally, and there will always be some users who are going to be far away from hardware and thus unable to connect to SL without some latency. The long-term goal is to invest in more hardware and distribute it globally as much as is feasible.

• How is Linden Labs addressing some concerns that educators have with allowing K-12 children onto the grid and still ensure their security and safety?

Linden Labs is attempting to make the main grid better, safer, and cleaner without restricting what adults can do, and then expand it to include children. LL is not currently planning on resurrecting the teen grid because it’s not worth it and it’s not a priority and it takes up too many resources for limited content. Right now, LL’s priorities are solving the problem of ease of use, solving quality issues, making technology more flexible. Then, down the road, we can offer more dedicated special interest audiences like that in a safe manner. But it’s not currently a top priority.

• Community Development — We want to see LL office hours in world back and more visible Lindens in-world.

Once again, the restrictions against allowing staff to go in-world as Lindens has been lifted. Staff need to interact with users, and find out what their issues are. LL would like to have meetings but there needs to be ground rules, such as keeping it calm, make sure actionable items come out of the meetings, and that they are not simply gripe sessions. Perhaps a good way to connect with special interest groups, such as E-sports, the bar association, music groups, machinima groups, etc. would be to create an area where these groups can post the dates and times of their meetings and informational get-togethers. Then LL staff can go there, find something they’d like to attend, and then be able to go there. Ebbe stated that he would like to be involved in that, too. Linden Labs is working towards more transparency, and they want to repair that communication. Special interest groups are welcomed and encouraged to invite LL staff to participate in their events and meetings.

In conclusion, Ebbe stated that he is excited to be here and being part of the cutting edge of this type of technology. The possibilities are endless. Advances need to continue to happen, and LL should be at the forefront of these advancements.

I remain respectfully yours,
~ Suzanne Piers
ZoHa Islands Social Media Manager