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Second Seattle

Posted by SIM on March 16, 2007

Real-life Move For Second Life
Creator Opening Office In Seattle
March 16, 2007

Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, is opening an office in Seattle and hopes to grab some of the area’s abundant technology talent. Yes, it will be a real office — not a virtual one.

San Francisco-based Linden Lab also plans to open offices in Boston and in Brighton, England. The Seattle office initially will employ up to 10 people, with expansions planned.

“We’re thrilled to announce our regional expansion into cities such as Seattle,” Catherine Smith, Linden Lab’s director of marketing, said via e-mail. “It has always been our goal as a company to decentralize, both physically and with regard to our computing platform. Seattle is home to a rich, creative community of developers and thinkers, and we’re looking forward (to) establishing a presence in the area.”

Second Life is an increasingly popular virtual world with millions of users who lead alter-ego lives online. The digital people, called avatars, are powered and paid for by flesh-and-blood people with spare cash and time.

People from more than 100 countries are creating the evolving world, building virtual homes and businesses, trading virtual stocks, dancing at virtual nightclubs and forming virtual relationships.

There are even virtual terrorists who shoot virtual bullets and detonate virtual bombs. Some real news outlets send correspondents into the virtual world to report on what happens there.

Though the company was created in 1999, and Second Life went commercial in June 2003, it has seen a giant boost in popularity in the past six months.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, Second Life had 4.7 million residents, a third of which had logged in during the past two months. In the past 24 hours, users had spent $1.64 million in real money on virtual stuff.

It costs $9.95 to join, but most people spend more than that to buy land and other products.

With all the growth, Linden Lab wants to expand past its current 30 employees. The company already has a tie to Seattle — Philip Rosedale, the former chief technology officer at Seattle-based RealNetworks, founded Linden Lab.

Alexander Castro, chief executive and founder of Pluggd, was excited to see Linden Lab move in two floors above his startup in the Buttnick Building in Pioneer Square. “We’re obviously fans of their stuff, too,” he said.

Castro wouldn’t reveal his Second Life identity, but did say that he’d bought a Second Life car and some “really nice clothes.”

“If I gave out my Second Life name, it’d really be like I only have one life,” he said.

“It’s like the ultimate people watching.”

But, perhaps the best part is the freedom to be whatever one fancies.

“I’m a lot thinner in second life than in first life,” Castro said. “That’s one of my favorite aspects.”



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John Edwards’ Second Life HQ Vandalized

Posted by SIM on March 2, 2007

Mar. 2 – KGO – According to a blog post on the John Edwards ’08 Web site, “a group of Republican Second Life users, some sporting ‘Bush ’08’ tags,” vandalized the presidential candidate’s Second Life online headquarters on February 26.

The vandalism included “Marxist/Lenninist posters and slogans, a feces spewing obscenity, and a photoshopped picture of John in blackface.”

Second Life is a 3D online virtual world where content is created by the residents that inhabit it.

Catherine Smith, director of marketing for Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, issued the following comment to ABC7:

“The world of Second Life is host to wide variety of groups, with equally wide ranging opinions and perspectives. At Linden Lab we do the utmost to ensure the protection of creative expression, within certain bounds. Ultimately, instances in which residents engage in vandalism will have to be taken on a case by case basis according to our terms of service.

It should be noted that the sheer volume of in-world activity prevents Linden Lab from being able to police all in-world activities, nor was it ever our intention to do so. Rather, we are actively working with the community to foster a self-governing community, where residents are empowered to act on things they feel strongly about, and adjudicate such disputes.”

The author of the blog post says an abuse report has been filed with Linden Lab.


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Rescuing Search In ‘Second Life’

Posted by SIM on February 23, 2007

By Daniel Terdiman
February 23, 2007

With at least a couple hundred thousand users, hundreds of stores, endless commerce and millions of objects, virtual world Second Life is begging for a top-notch search tool.

Yet search is one of the systems most in need of help in Second Life. The latest evidence is the recent selection of a team working on such a system as a finalist in the Second Life business plan contest.

“There’s a lot to be desired in the current (Second Life) search, quite a lot,” said Tony Walsh, the editor of Clickable Culture, a blog about virtual worlds and other online cultures. “We need a Google for Second Life, something that works quickly and produces intelligent results.”

Some might wonder how important search needs to be in a virtual world. But as the number of Second Life stores, places and objects explodes, it is becoming crucial that users be able to find what they need without trying keyword after keyword. And while that dynamic is more true today than ever, many people feel the search system has been insufficient for years.

And Second Life is not alone. Other online games and virtual worlds suffer from the same limited tools, say those familiar with environments such as and World of Warcraft.

“The built-in search functionality (in online games) can be rudimentary and somewhat frustrating,” said Ron Meiners, an expert in online games and virtual worlds. “I think the problem is in part that we are still discovering ways to organize information in these worlds that is effective and meaningful. Aside from simple text searches, it’s hard to define what a user can be looking for. It’s one thing to say a dance club, but you really want to know other things, too: How many people are there, age ranges perhaps, or what music is playing.”

That’s why organizations like Electric Sheep, the largest of a growing number of third-party companies that build projects and software for Second Life, are putting a significant amount of effort into trying to solve the search problem in that virtual world.

The complexity of Second Life has gotten to the point where better search is a requirement, much like it was on the Web in the late 1990s.

“One of the problems that you have with virtual worlds is that you want to know where to go, whom to meet and what (to) do,” said Giff Constable, the general manager of Electric Sheep’s software unit. “People are looking for things to explore, and that’s a huge information flow within Second Life that’s extremely inefficient. I almost feel that within Second Life right now, if you do want people to discover you, it’s like throwing a dart at a dart board made of cement. It bounces right off.”

Linden Lab, the publisher of Second Life, also recognizes its search tools are not up to snuff, and says it is working on updating them.

“It is time to make search in Second Life really work,” Linden Lab CTO Cory Ondrejka said in an in-world town hall meeting last December. “We are in the early technical and interface design period on search, but expect to be hearing more about it in (the first quarter of) 2007 with a goal of rolling (out) new search in” the second quarter.

Linden Lab would not divulge any details about its plans for new search tools.

But Constable said he has been spearheading a search project that is likely to bear fruit sometime in the next couple of months. And that’s in spite of the fact, he explained, that anyone besides Linden Lab trying to create a new search tool for Second Life faces the obstacle of not being able to directly access the virtual world’s database of people, objects and places.

Electric Sheep’s probable approach to solving search in Second Life is a work-around. Constable explained that one idea he’s trying is to employ an automated bot to gather data.

The bot would “basically crawl the (Second Life) grid and then figure out what we want to pull, what we want to save,” he said, “and what we want to keep of the data.”

Ultimately, he explained, the idea is that the aggregate data collected would give Electric Sheep enough to provide users with a searchable database, one that while not as complete as what Linden Lab could offer, might be better organized.

Another approach could be that of Mario Gerosa, an Italian journalist, and Laura Cassara, an Italian architect.

The two teamed up to create a proposal for the Second Life business plan contest that was chosen as one of four finalists.

Their concept, Gerosa explained, is based on the idea of Second Life users weighing in on the places and objects they encounter, rating things as they come across them, and having all the resulting data be organized into a searchable system.

Cassara said that their system begins with a set of predefined places and things that when encountered by users, offer alternative choices based on their ratings and preferences.

Then, she said, the system asks each user to rate the things they come across, each of which gets added to the database.

“So we quickly get a database with ratings and associations,” Cassara said. “All of this is based on crowd-sourcing.”

Still, while several projects are aimed at making search better in Second Life, it’s hard to know how optimistic to be.

But there’s no doubt that Second Life users want a search system that works as well as something like Google.

And now that Linden Lab has made the Second Life client software open-source, a decision which allows anyone to make improvements to the existing system, Walsh thinks that the ultimate solution could come from anywhere.

Regardless, he thinks that a solution is necessary.

“Second Life by its nature is a place where every object is already tracked, so it’s a shame not to be able to find exactly what we are looking for,” Walsh said. “I don’t really want to wander around a virtual mall actually browsing the shelves. I’d rather type in a search query and get a smart list of matches.”


Posted in Developer News, Linden Lab News, SL News | 1 Comment »

Dutch Demand Ban Of Virtual Child Porn In Second Life

Posted by SIM on February 21, 2007

By Jan Libbenga
Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Dutch prosecutor’s office is considering legal actions to test the law against child porn in the popular virtual game Second Life. With no clear litigation, it is difficult to act against perpetrators.

Kitty Nooij, who is in charge of the sex offences portfolio at the prosecutor’s office in the Netherlands, told Dutch news show Netwerk ( that she will try to bring cases to court so precedents can be set.

Linden Lab’s Second Life is an online digital world with almost three million “residents” claimed by the company. Some areas of Second Life allow adult members to have virtual sex with others who pretend to be children.

Experts, such as psychologist Jos Buschman of the Van Mesdag clinic in Groningen, say Second Life is “by definition a school for paedophiles”, despite the fact that adult members like to roleplay as children. Second Life requires all players to be adults.

Virtual child pornography has been a criminal offence in the Netherlands since 2002. However, there is no litigation related to virtual sex with virtual children. Today, at least four political parties in the Netherlands demanded a ban on virtual child porn roleplay.

Discussions about virtual child porn in Second Life already started three years ago with the introduction of an avatar called Sasami Wishbringer, who has the body of an eight year-old. Lately, there are more serious reports about adult players with child avatars soliciting (paid) sex.

Last year, Robin Harper, Linden Lab vice president of community development, wrote in a posting on the official Second Life forum, that “if Second Life has evidence of child pornography or abuse that involves children in the real world, it will act to protect the child and notify the authorities”. However, virtual roleplay is allowed.


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Linden Lab Defuses the Hype

Posted by SIM on February 9, 2007

Second Life’s Linden Lab Punctures Its Own Hype
By Mitch Wagner,
February 9, 2007

Linden Lab appears to be taking steps to puncture the hype bubble surrounding its creation, Second Life, providing realistic statistics on how many people are actually using the service, and debunking claims that the Linden Dollar tokens used in SL are a kind of real currency.

Still, the statistics released today show impressive rates of double-digit growth in real users and in the Second Life economy.

Linden Lab is picking up a gauntlet thrown down by Clay Shirky in December. Shirky, who is faculty on the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, correctly flamed Linden Lab and the gullible business press for touting the total number of residents in Second Life as being equivalent to its user base.

At the time, Second Life had 2 million residents. It’s now over 3 million. That sounds impressive, but it’s less so when you understand what a “resident” is.

A resident is another name for a Second Life account, also known as an avatar. Each individual user — each flesh-and-blood human being — can have multiple avatars in Second Life. And you don’t need to pay to participate either, most of the things in Second Life are free to do.

Moreover, everyone who’s ever logged in to Second Life counts as a resident, even if they gave it three minutes and bailed out, never to return.

Nonetheless, Linden Lab, until now, touted its residency statistics when asked about the size of its user base, and left credulous journalists to connect the dots. Shirky provided a roll of shame of journalists who fell for the line:

“It has a population of a million.” — Richard Siklos, New York Times

“In the Internet-based virtual world known as Second Life, for instance, more than 1 million citizens have created representations of themselves known as avatars…” — Michael Yessis, USA TODAY

“Since it started about three years ago, the population of Second Life has grown to 1.2 million users.” — Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN

“So far, it’s signed up 1.3 million members.” — David Kirkpatrick, Fortune

Today, Linden Lab divulged more sensible usage statistics:

Premium accounts, which people have to pay $9.95 per month to get, increased 16% month-over-month last month, to more than 57.7 thousand.

Unique users represent 64% of total residents.

Perhaps most interesting of all: About 10% of unique users have logged in 40 hours or more. “Interestingly, it appears that blogging has a similar ratio of committed users to registrations as indicated by Live Journal,” said Zee Linden of Linden Lab, writing on the official Linden Lab Second Life blog.

Does that last statement refute Shirky’s ongoing assertions that Second Life is not now, and never will be, a mainstream activity? At first glance, yes, because it indicates that SL has the same stickiness as blogging — one in ten people who try it, stick with it. Blogging has become mainstream, so Second Life is on its way to becoming mainstream, too, isn’t it?

Not necessarily, because far more people read blogs than write them, whereas to participate in Second Life, you need to have an account, and need to stick with it.

Still, the statistics are good news for Linden Lab and the people who are invested in Second Life, either financially or emotionally.

The credibility of the report is somewhat undercut by Zee Linden not signing his real name. Look, it’s swell to go around using Second Life nicknames while in Second Life and in the real-world SL community. But when talking about real-world business issues, it’s customary to use real names. I’m Ziggy Figaro in Second Life (IM me and say hi sometime), but out here, I’m Mitch Wagner.

I’m prettyy sure “Zee Linden” is John Zdanowski, chief financial officer for Linden Lab, but I had to do some middlin’ fancy Googling to figure that out.

Another thing Zee Linden wants you to know: Second Life’s internal currency, Linden Dollars, isn’t real money. And you don’t own your Linden$ the way you own the coinage under your sofa cushions. “Technically, the L$ is a limited license right to participate in and use certain features of Second Life,” he says.

That’ll help counter hype like this::

In November, 2003, Linden Lab made a policy change unprecedented in online games: It allowed Second Life residents to retain full ownership of their virtual creations.

That’s a pretty common statement in journalism about SL. But, actually, it’s not so much with the truth thing. Second Life’s terms of service lets them kick you off of SL for any reason, and you forfeit all your Second Life property and Linden Dollars.

It’s great to see Linden Lab stepping up and taking responsibility for debunking some of the more outrageous claims about Second Life. Based on my experience, Second Life is a powerful invention and has potential to be a great force in the world, but excessive hype can be fatal to a company when the backlash sets in. The backlash has already begun, the best way for Linden Lab to weather it is to get ahead of it.


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