Notes from Lab Gab with Oberwulf Linden and Philip Rosedale

Me sitting at a table in the Rainy Cafe

Aaaand, I’m back! Much has gone by since my last post. That was in mid-October as all the Halloween events were getting going. Since then there’s been the holiday Shop and Hop, the residents vs. Lindens snowball fight (awesome!), and all the fantastic winter themed builds that came out for the season. It hasn’t been boring!

Today I’m writing from The Rainy Café. I think I first ran across this cozy place when Strawberry Linden hosted part of a Lab Gab episode from here. And speaking of Lab Gab… that’s my topic for today.

Perhaps you noticed the news a few weeks ago that Philip Rosedale, one of Second Life’s founders, has rejoined Linden Labs in an advisory role. This is actually big – dare I say huge? – news. Even WSJ noticed! Fittingly, Lab Gab hosted Oberwolf Linden and Philip Linden/Rosedale for a special Q&A episode.

Strawberry Linden hosted the session at the secret, undisclosed studio location. (Query, is there such a thing as a secret, disclosed location?)  Oberwolf Linden (hereafter OL) joined as himself, and Philip showed up in his Philip Rosedale (PR) incarnation; apparently that account was the only on where he had ready access to his… classic… avatar.

Lab Gab splash screen showing Oberwolf & Philip

Strawberry had put the call out for questions from the residents well in advance of the event and mentioned that she had received some 300 of them by way of response. With the show running only a little over an hour, obviously not all of those questions were addressed, though one assumes a great many of them fell into a handful of themes.

If you are an even moderately committed Second Life resident, by all means have a look at this Lab Gab episode. You will likely find it interesting. I personally have watched it three times in putting these notes together, so you can probably struggle through it at least once!

If you don’t want to spend that kind of time, I’ve  highlighted the questions addressed with timing so, if you like, you can skip straight to the good parts.

0:01:54 – Can you share with us more details with what is happening with High Fidelity investment and Philip’s return to Second Life?

PR recapped High Fidelity’s work, both in VR and spatial audio. His conclusion, VR headsets just aren’t there yet, at least not for supporting something like SL. They are not accessible, nor inclusive, nor widely enough used yet to support an experience like SL.

Spatial audio, however, has been a successful product and is being licensed to a number of customers.

High Fidelity’s VR team, then, was looking for a home. Linden Labs appeared to be the best option, a place where VR work proceeds in a way that is not causing harm. [This not causing harm will emerge as a theme during the discussion.]

0:04:53 – What does this mean for the future of SL and High Fidelity?

OL’s answer was from three perspectives: personal, business, and “meta”.

From the personal perspective, PR and OL have been friends for many years. Their ending up working closely together is not surprising.

From a business standpoint, he noted that helming SL is a “great responsibility.” Help with vision is critical.

Finally, from the currently hot “meta” angle, OL noted that with other companies having substantially different business models jumping into the genre, the metaverse needs a moral compass. He views PR as that moral compass.

PR’s answered regarding High Fidelity’s status noting that it continues to license its spatial audio technology and that he remains on the board.

0:09:37 – PR could you share specifics on what your new role as strategic advisor will encompass?

PR explained that the role will be advisory, not one involving day-to-day decision-making. He will be meeting with groups within LL. “At heart I’m an engineer/product strategist.” He anticipates being involved in the conversations about what to do next.

He will be a voice at the table, not the voice at the table.

0:11:20 – Can you tell us about how you initially met?

Let’s just drop the quote “There’s Philip looking at me with this beautiful curiosity on his face as if he was in some sort of a safari and I was some species that he hadn’t yet come across.” You’ll just have to watch to get the rest!

0:13:41 – So how did you (PR) get him (OL) interested in SL?

PR explained that Brad (OL) was always fascinated by SL. When the subject of a potential sale came up in passing OL seized on it and decided it would be best if he and his group bought it rather than some other outfit.

OL noted that we may never know if SL is better because he and his group bought it, but if it had gotten into the wrong hands, it could have been very bad.

OL then expressed some things he quickly learned after beginning to manage Linden Labs.

  • The commitment to make SL better, without actually knowing what that means, is key.
  • You need to be more flexible, easygoing to be able to work with a community like SL.

PR said that upon returning he found the culture of LL feels much the same and is still able to support SL in a good way.

0:18:08 – Philip, did it take much convincing for you to decide to get involved again with SL? And what do you think of SL as it exists in 2022 and is that different from what you originally envisioned two decades ago?

PR said that it did not take any convincing at all. It felt like the perfect thing to do.

As for SL today and his original vision for it, he noted that SL is always changing. He noted Drax’s book club, one of Cica Ghost’s recent installations. It’s changing all the time. It is never the same place twice, but it’s always SL. He described it as a “beautiful standing wave”. He feels as comfortable in SL today as ever.

0:20:20 – Have you both heard of this thing called the ‘metaverse’? I hear it’s the next big thing. What advice would you give Facebook?

PR’s advice: “Don’t do it!” This is where the moral compass comes in. He’s struck now, much more forcefully than he was ten years ago, about the degree of harm that can result from employing the wrong business model – the attention based business model – when doing VR. If a targeted advertising based business is successful building a VR world, the potential for harm is enormous. We’re much more invested while in VR, with our AVs etc. By comparison, SL has demonstrated that a successful business can be built on a fee based model. SL makes more money per person than YouTube or FB. That’s a huge achievement and proves that a business model that is safe for its impact on people is feasible.

OL adds that LL also spend more money per resident than those other services. LL reinvests a lot of money and has been doing so for quite some time. He points out that services like YouTube and FB are based on scale. LL’s business model is different. It more closely resembles real world, physical businesses. People buy homes, pay for gas etc. The he makes is that for SL to be ‘free’, the revenue to pay engineers and run servers would have to come from some other source, like targeted ads.

OL finishes by noting that FB does not have a PR on staff, so they are going to make very different decisions.

0:26:53 – PR, how does it feel to be in the center of it all [the current mainstreaming of the metaverse]?

PR: “It feels a little nice to have a bunch of people coming back to talk about all this again. If you remember back in ’05-’06, 500 media articles a day, half on paper! The level of interest back then was crazy, and we’re not really back to that level.”

He then returned to the theme that things need to be done safely. Bias, racism, so many things that technology has not fixed or made worse. It matters that we do virtual worlds well, meaning that they’re helpful to people.

PR finishes by noting how daunting it is to impress upon people how many ways VR can go horribly wrong.

0:29:48 – OL, it has now been a year since you stepped in as co-owner of LL. What are your thoughts about SL and LL now that you’ve been at the helm for a year? What has surprised you the most? And what do you see as our biggest challenge in the year to come?

OL stressed the importance of focus on security. He also reminded us that SL is a world. It operates much more closely to the physical than people think.

Repeating a thought from the beginning of the interview, he once again noted that he almost immediately felt a big sense of responsibility.

Referring to the subsidiary that handles currency payments, OL pointed out that Tillia is a highly regulated company. This was a learning experience. There’s a lot of work that’s really important to make the whole thing function.

The biggest surprise? How quickly it went from being a ‘job’ to being a responsibility. Also, how much fun it can be. Every day is an adventure. It’s a crazy company and he’s never had more fun.

Near the end of OL’s answer, PR chimed in about how excited he saw Brad was about the whole enterprise and that this started very shortly after his assuming day-to-day management of LL.

0:34:11 – Now that the metaverse has come of age, how do you plan on bringing Crypto, Web 3, NFT, and SL together within the metaverse?

PR: “We were the original crypto and the original NFTs.” Not the NFT that is burning up the earth as Ethereum’s block chain, but the fact that every primitive asset inworld is a tracked, transferable asset. Billions of assets in SL. Transferable, digital assets.

SL is a co-created thing. Every feature, bug, tiny property of the grid has been taken up in a million different ways by the residents. The world is delicate in that you can’t suddenly change something without breaking a substantial part of the world. That leads to a certain durability to SL, an inability to too rapidly change it that is in a way an asset.

It’s more of a stewardship thing rather than a freewheeling experimental thing (at least from the LL side).

0:38:54 – Will SL ever have VR capabilities?

The answers to this question sparked a lot of thoughts and ideas that tumbled out very quickly and intermixed with each other. Below is my fragmented gestalt of the resulting conversation. If you view no other section from the original video, this would be a good one to watch! (Note that few of them were related to the issue of VR. Strawberry will gently remind them of this with the next question.)

OL, Going first, leading with something of an answer to the previous question, technical reason why it’s not something LL should do and an emotional/societal reason why they shouldn’t do it.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

“If I was afraid of anything, it would be the following. You don’t know sometimes for years if something is going to turn out to be good or bad.”

“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance much less.”

Having set out some firm guard rails about how these new technologies should be approached, he noted that saying ‘no’ to everything new without seeing what may be of benefit is also a bad idea.

He explained the impracticality of converting SL assets and MP items into NFTs and floating the L$ as a virtual currency on Coinbase. At the same time, it would not be prudent as SL residents to blanket ignore everything.

(At this point OL went on a short digression into offsetting carbon used by servers. Great idea and though I know not everybody will agree, OL, you may bump my land fees up a bit to cover the cost of the offset!)

So, all the difficulties with the current state of crypto, web 3, and NFTs, LL need to at least look at these new things and be open to how they might be integrated with SL. They need to look at new things, be open to how the residents are looking at them too.

All that said, right now, he reports no plans to change SL with respect to crypto, NFTs, web3.

An aside: Put an NFT in my SL home? (PR: What with scripting, somebody’s probably already done that. Feels great, go for it! This sounded like a prefect SL moment. PR commented that while they were talking about this, somebody probably already has a nice NFT gallery somewhere in SL.)

PR: The present rate of transactions in SL is greater than the sum of what Ethereum and Bitcoin combined can support right now. (Not to mention the ecological cost of doing anything like that.)

SL is in a middle ground. It’s a mix of centralized and decentralized technologies.

Aside on community governance. Too decentralized and there’s no community control. Imagine owning a piece of land simply to irritate your neighbors enough to force them to buy it. Fully decentralized, on chain, very high ecological impact being on the one end wrong and FB with totally central moderation being at the other end wrong. Again, SL finds the sweet spot in the middle.

0:46:53 – SL: What about VR?

PR: High Fidelity banged their heads against this one for a while. He reminded us that there have been VR capable viewers. However, SL allows people to go to hyper graphical detail, dropping the frame rate. Low frame rates are an even bigger challenge for VR headsets; they tend to make people sick more easily.

It’s also an inclusiveness problem. Some people are not comfortable with VR technology. The headset technology is just not there and probably will not be there for at least another five years.

Desktop and mobile will dominate virtual worlds for at least the next five years. (Though he admits he’s not sure just what form mobile access to the metaverse will ultimately take.)

0:49:01 – One of the attractions of SL is that it is easy for SL residents to stay anonymous. Will this anonymity remain protected in the future?

A question that’s very important to many of the residents!

PR: Pseudonyms have been powerful. They’re critical to any safe virtual world. [Emphasis mine] What you disclose is up to you. The core idea of having the option for pseudonymity You’re not anonymous. You create another you. You have an identity, but it’s not necessarily tied to your RL identity.

OL: The beauty of the virtual world, SL in particular, you can choose. It’s shocking how much information services like FB can capture about you without your knowledge. The way SL will be successful as a business is by differentiating itself from some services and interoperating with some services. As far as being an ad-based model where servers and virtual land are paid for by selling your attention, that’s off the table.

There’s no way for LL to know who residents are. They don’t seem interested in finding out. [So, the short answer to the question is ‘yes’.

PR: Recounts an anecdote where he was tempted to provide anonymized information to a top rank research group. The team disabused him of that idea. OL is certain that the team would do so again today.

0:54:37 – Some residents are concerned that SL will be absorbed by Meta. Are there any plans to sell the company? Merge with Meta?

OL took this first and while there was a business-speak sort of never say ‘never’ flavour to his response, he finished with “no plans. Not interested. Don’t think it’s the right thing. It wouldn’t be the right monetary decision.”

Interoperability may be a thing. There could conceivably be ways in which the world of SL could interoperate with other metaverses. What are the right ways to operate with other metaverses? Through partnerships. Not through merging. He sees a space containing a large number of metaverses.

PR: LL is a profitable company. There’s not a need for capital that would be generated in a merger.

The potential for all this stuff is huge but unknowable. There’s not a lot of pressure on anybody to have merger conversations.

0:58:16 – Even today, SL’s avatar system holds up against any other out there, particularly in expressiveness. How important is it for all worlds in the metaverse to have these interactive avatars? What is the history of the SL avatar?

PR exclaimed that there’s not enough time to talk about the SL avatar! Fair enough. It does now have a twenty year history, if you leave out pre-release development!

He went on to comment on avatars in the tech press recently noting that there’s an awful lot of hype about avatars. “We’re all gonna be avatars!” However, he doubts that most people out there are ready to be, to really be embodied in, avatars.

But, SL has done more work than anyone with building and pushing out the boundaries of what it means to be an avatar, to be embodied in the virtual world.

PR went on to say that we’re going to get to a point, we’re not there today, where we are going to get everything done right, where when you walk up to somebody inworld, you’ll really understand them, pick up the non-verbal cues etc. He believes SL is the most likely to find the way to this point.

1:02:26 – What’s next for SL? What would you like to see happen to SL in 2022 and beyond?

OL lead with his thoughts. He views SL’s progress as more of continuum than a series of big changes. For 2022? Make the experience better. More residents and more engagement are the most important things.

He noted that people think that SL is “coming back”. It never went away. It didn’t grow for some years but it has been growing. We need to have more fun. Consistent improvement in the experience, the engagement. Persistent increase in residents as the metric for success.

PR then weighed in with his thoughts. He continued with the avatar theme; more and more expressive avatars are necessary to get more and more people to feel comfortable in a virtual world. There are lots of kids that have grown up with avatars, but they don’t count yet for SL yet. They need to finish growing up first!

PR’s final thought on the what’s next question was mobile. Mobile will be required to provide a truly inclusive virtual world. For many, indeed most, people throughout the world, the smartphone is the only interface to the internet. He recalled seeing his kids working with Minecraft on a smartphone and was amazed at the parallels with building in SL. He doesn’t have the answers as to what a mobile interface to the virtual world might be, but it has to be there.

OL then provided the closing remark. Having listened to PR’s last answer, OL chimed in with “That’s why PR is joining as a strategic advisor! Can you delete my answer and just use his?”

My Thoughts

The most consistent theme I heard while listening to OL and PR was safety. That is, the importance of doing the metaverse in a way that is safe for the residents. Again and again they noted the damage that can be caused by attention based business models, how relying on targeted ads, algorithmic presentation, and behavior modification has resulted in so much harm. It’s quite clear that they want nothing to do with that approach. This was not unexpected, but it was heartening to hear it so clearly stated.

A couple of other threads that wove through the discussion were responsibility and stewardship. The feeling I got was that neither OL nor PR view themselves as being “in charge” of SL. (In fact, OL stated that explicitly.) Instead, I got the impression that they feel the sense of responsibility and stewardship to take care of this virtual world for the residents. Again, not unexpected, but nice to hear.


In converting my notes into a blog post, I have frequently smeared semi-quotes with my own voice. If I had a lot more time, I’d make the language a lot more rigorous. However, I think that despite this occasional sloppiness, I got the ideas expressed in the interview across with some accuracy.

Where I’ve put in actual quotes, I’ve tried to ensure that they’re accurate. If there are screw-ups, they are of course on me.

The Rainy Cafe:

Lab Gab episode:

Wall Street Journal artricle:

And if, having struggled through the above, want another take on this same Lab Gab episode from a blogger who actually knows wshat they’re about, see Inara Pey’s post:

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