The 6th annual Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) took place in Boston this past weekend. It was an exciting weekend packed full of Linden Lab announcements as well as a plethora of resident-led discussions and presentations.
The theme that resonated throughout the Linden Lab keynotes was Fast, Easy, Fun which are also their new strategic goals. While a vast wealth of information was delivered at SLCC, there were 5 announcements in particular that that I think will bring forth some significant changes to Second Life.
1. Mesh Support
Mesh support was actually first announced at last year’s SLCC by Linden Lab’s (now former) Chief Product Officer, Tom Hale. After the recent layoffs of several key Linden Lab employees including Hale himself, there has been much speculation as to the status of mesh support. Linden Lab Founder and CEO Philip Rosedale (aka Philip Linden) cleared this up in his keynote address when he candidly declared,. “We are going to ship mesh.” He also stated that we can expect Mesh to go into Open Beta before the end of the year.
I was relieved to hear this, as I have been very vocal in regards to how critical I think mesh support is to the future of Second Life. Not only does it allow developers an unparalleled level of control, but it could also decrease lag and increase overall performance.
2. New Users Directly to Content
Instead of the orientation experience current users had, new users will be sent directly to the content that they are interested in. For example, if someone was interested in live music, they could click a link and be sent directly to a show and the orientation process would then be shifted.
Philip himself admits that this is a gamble, but he thinks it’s a good one. I agree that in theory this could be very successful. By sending new users directly to content, they have the opportunity to find the communities and content that interests and engages them, therefore making it more likely that they will stay, explore, and return. How this feature is implemented though, will make all the difference.
3. Display Names
Currently we all use avatar names that we created by entering a first name and choosing a last name from an available list. This is very different from most current platforms and while cute, it is simply no longer acceptable to limit avatars in this fashion. With the addition of display names, new users will no longer have to chose from a list of last names. They will be able to define their own user names and display names. For us current users, our avatar names will become our user names and we will be able to define our display names. This feature is currently slated for release in the next few days!
I still have a lot of questions about display names, but I am thrilled at the prospect of them. They will allow users like myself to easily link their avatar to their real world persona while also allowing users who wish to remain anonymous the ability to do so.
4. Closing of the Teen Grid
Not all the announcements were happily received. This announcement in particular has upset many educators who have worked hard to establish opportunities on the Teen Grid. Unfortunately for those involved, the Teen Grid will be closing. However, users that are 16 or 17 years of age, will be transfer to the main Second Life grid.
While I can understand the hurt and frustration of the educators and community leaders involved, I also understand that tough decisions had to be made. I’m hopefully that Linden Lab and the educators involved can come to some agreement to make space and certain content available to younger users, but that is certainly a daunting task that must not be taken lightly. Philip himself said that he would like to work with them to find a way for the younger teens to have a place on the main grid.
5. New Development Methodologies
The Lab is changing the way they develop things. Instead of spending large amounts of time working on a project, they are switching to short release cycles and implementing the use of an auto-updater. This will allow Linden Lab the ability to quickly implement changes and present the community with the opportunity to provide essential feedback along the way. The Lab currently has about 15 scrum teams working on different areas of development. During this weekend we were introduced to one of the teams focusing on improving the Second Life Viewer aka the Snowstorm Team. Project Snowstorm hopes to improve the performance, reliability, and ease of use of the Second Life Viewer while rapidly releasing new improved “development” viewers as often as bi-weekly. The best part is they plan to be completely open about the whole process. Each day, the Snowstorm team will meet in Second Life for an open Daily Scrum, where each team member will give a short status update. The status updates will also be published on the Wiki and the team will be blogging as well. They will also be looking to the open source community and welcoming them to contribute to the viewer development.
Philip outlined upcoming fixes to several bugs including fixes to group chat and region crossings. He also stated that they plan to make SL twice as fast on start up and improve the crash rate. In addition they are also working on having more avatars per region, and reducing lag issues by implementing controls on avatar complexity. He promised that these fixes and others would soon be outlined in a official published roadmap.
These change are quite radical compared to some the recent methods of the Lab, and I am looking forward to this new level of transparency and accountability. The lab is not only welcoming feedback and new ideas, they encourage and asking for them. They have asked though that these ideas be well thought out and constructive. Several months ago, I wrote about how much of the Second Life community had adopted a sort of culture of complaining. I suggested ways that the community could bring forth their complaints in a more constructive manner, and proposed that by doing so, they would have a better chance of being heard. That time is now. Assuming the Lab honors their part of the deal, the ball is now in our court.
Project Snowstorm Keynote