Linden Lab invited Mal Burns, Daniel Voyager, Inara Pey, Draxtor Despres and myself to a meet & greet with its new CEO Ebbe Altberg.
We started with a little delay due to technological issues and unfortunately quite a few of us had problems with the sound.
Ebbe wanted to know if it was normal to have this much audio difficulty, we explained that many of us used Skype for recordings and such.
I could almost hear Ebbe make a mental note of this.
But once that was all figured out we got started.
Ebbe was dressed as one of the library robot avatars.
Of course we all had a lot of things we wanted to talk about but we only had about a hour and there were six of us so in the end we all could ask just a few questions
I hope that Ebbe will find time in the future to have longer conversations with each of us or perhaps visit my blog here and answer some of your questions directly, especially as I only managed to ask a couple of things and I didn’t get to the questions some/most of you wanted me to ask.
Sorry about that, I had a long list myself but the ToS topics, tier and avatar names were next on the list when time ran out.
But afterwards on Twitter Ebbe suggested that there will be more chats and also with other people.
Our meeting was also followed by Ebbe’s personal introduction on the official LL website and he also responded to the comments to this introduction on the forums.
It seems our new CEO is taking one of SL’s biggest problems very seriously and has started fixing it right away; better communication between LL and the users of SL.
I will tell you what was discussed as it happened.
Peter Linden explained that Ebbe had started his job with Linden Lab very recently and was still getting stuck in.
Ebbe added that he had been already interacting with a few of us on the internet, had been reading our blogs and watching Drax his videos and our cities (did he mean Berlin perhaps?).
But he has only been with LL for a week and he spend all of this time talking to employees.
And he has explicitly avoided diving into issues too deeply just to make sure he would first have a chance to meet with everyone at Linden Lab first.
Which makes sense but of course we were itching to ask about the ToS debacle, copyrights issues, griefers, taxes, etc.
But he was right, it would not be fair to confront him about some of the more complicated issues before he even had time to get settled, he had only just managed to get his computers up and running.
On the other hand, he is clearly trying very hard to try and understand what is going on and has been very active on twitter, forums, etc.
When we all introduced ourselves and I when I told him I am from the Netherlands, Ebbe let us know that his mother was Dutch.
He loves Pannenkoeken.
Draxtor started the session by asking Ebbe why he took the job.
Ebbe explained that he knew about SL since the early beginning and that he was even one of the early beta users and his son was also very involved.
So even though Ebbe had been too busy to get much involved himself, he’s been following SL since day 1 and has been friends with Jed Smith of the company’s Board of Directors for a long time, Jed tried to get him on board with several other companies before.
This time he was successful.
Ebbe said it was an easy decision to make when he was asked to join and has been interested and exited about products such as SL for a long time, he loves products that empower people to do things that are otherwise not possible.
Another subject he addressed was the situation with young people using Second Life and confessed to us that his own son joined the main grid when he was too young.
He got caught and booted but because Ebbe knew Philip he got his son back in again even though it didn’t take long for him to be kicked out of SL again.
But when his son then joined the brand new Teen Grid he was one of the first ten teenagers to arrive there.
Ebbe thinks that SL hasn’t become even more successful than it has been because of the very high learning curve and it has become a bit of a niche product.
It will be a challenge to keep SL interesting for those creators who use it to its fullest and new visitors who may just want walk in and get started right away.
If you dumb it down it becomes more broadly appealing but wouldn’t have the depth it has today.
So it is a matter of getting the breadth and depth all at the same time.
He hopes they can create an environment where young and old can participate together.
I asked Ebbe about his first time as a newbie in Second Life, when he joined up, what he thinks about the experience for new users and how he plans to change this to improve user retention.
He said that this was one of the first things he started asking about when he joined Linden Lab, wanting to know about all the things that had been tried to keep new users to stay as the conversion rate is not where he wants it to be.
He still has to learn more about the years and years of attempts that have been made to try and fix this, he is having a meeting about it this week.
He compares joining Second Life to starting with a blank canvas, a bit like expecting people to understand Photoshop right away without any instructions.
He realizes that it is important to help find new users their way to activities and interests that are relevant to them is the challenge they need to get better at this.
I asked him if he planned to ask old and new SL users about their experiences, if he wanted to get people who use SL involved in trying to solve this issue.
Yes, of course, he answered, assuming that 4 or 5 people sitting in an office at Linden Lab would have all the answers would be silly.
I don’t know how much has been tried here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s been a very normal process to do usability testing, user testing, so that’s something i have to look into as well and see how people react to things that we create. I’ve grown-up with that. Even at Microsoft you couldn’t do a single feature for Word without sitting in a lab watching people struggle with using your feature.
Making something that works for such a broad demographic won’t be easy, but he hopes that there are some basic things they can do to make the ‘boarding’ easier but also long term hard work that needs to be done.
Mal asked about some of SL’s other products and possibilities, such as making it easier to use Second Life for more things than a virtual world.
Ebbe thinks that it would be good if SL became a better tool for people who wanted to use it just for a single event, for meetings, etc, without having to figure out all the tools.
He knows that some of these things were attempted before and his first reaction was to ask why it isn’t easy for anyone to create an experience and easily create entries into this experience where the users don’t have to absorb every single option and possibility of SL.
So we can have users that could experience SL in a dozen different ways without perhaps even realising that all those ways were SL with all those abilities.
Then SL could become a natural extension of the real world.
About the other products Linden Lab has Ebbe says that that he has already made decisions regarding the simplifying of the LL portfolio and there will be more news about that later this week.
I’ve already helped support some decisions of simplifying our portfolio a little bit, and there will be more news on that later this week. They won’t have significant ramifications for us with regards to resources and stuff like that, so it’s more lightening the load on our minds more so than the work we do every day, but it’ll be a little bit simplified.
This is very interesting, does it mean LL will drop some of its products or simply concentrate more on just a few of them?
Saffia wanted to know if Ebbe was going to continue trying to attract non profit and educational organisations to Second Life.
Ebbe replied that he would love to do that and that he just heard about the special deals for the Education market and how these were cancelled and then brought back again.
He is very happy about the return of them and it makes a lot of sense for SL to be appealing to not just individuals but also to organisations, institutions and companies.
Ebbe wants to understand what happened and see what he can do to start talking with these groups again.
He would love to go to places where he can meet those kinds of communities and understand what they want and what LL can do to empower them to succeed.
Daniel wanted to know what plans Ebbe has for the future of Second Life and what he is most excited about in the short and long term.
Ebbe said that it is a bit to early for specific plans, but he has a huge belief that Second Life is just the beginning of something that could be much, much bigger.
I have a huge belief that Second Life is just the beginning of something that can be much. much, much bigger.
If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.
He has had options to do many cool things but this is the coolest thing he could imagine doing.
Previously Ebbe worked on things that had a massive reach, products that would reach more than a billion people.
He believes that he can make the online world a much more engaging, interactive social experience.
So making it appealing to a much, much broader audience is obviously the long-term goal.
How can we get tens of millions, and hopefully hundreds of millions of people to participate in the things that we enable them to do.
On the short term his goal is to understand his team, the talent, how we work, are the people at LL productive, focused, and how they interact with users, partners and so on.
But he has also realised that he was too optimistic with some of the assumptions he made about where Linden Lab was, he is a little disappointed about some of the things that aren’t where they should be when it comes to quality or how they do things.
some of the assumptions I had about where we were, I’m a little disappointed about some of the things that aren’t where they should be when it comes to quality or how we do things.
He hopes he can raise the bar when it comes to productivity, focus, dedication and some of that may be related to having a clear mission and vision, so everyone is heading in the same direction.
He also hopes to use his experience with other organisations in the past will help Linden Lab work in a more tactical, agile and quick way.
On a more personal note, Ebbe is very interested in sports and would like to play them in Second Life but at the moment he is still learning how to walk and sit.
He feels like a newborn.
He is not sure if he wants to get a Linden home and set it up, he plans to spend more time visiting everybody else’s homes.
Finally I asked Ebbe how excited he was about the Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality going big and if he tried it yet.
Ebbe answered that he is extremely excited about the interesting new hardware and he tried the Oculus last friday, a great finish to his first week.
They are still using the old version but are trying to get their hands on the newest one.
The experience of being in-world, where you’re truly in-world rather than looking at the world, you’re inside it, is an incredible feeling. Now I got motion sickness probably within about eight to ten seconds, but a lot of that has to do with the quality of the early generation of their device, and they’ve already made a lot of strides to try to solve a lot of those things so that your average person’s tolerance for that incredible immersive experience is much, much higher.
But he also mentioned other devices such as the leap motion where you no longer have to be attached to a keyboard and mouse to navigate and do things.
Ebbe expects the way we interact with SL to be at a whole other level in a few years and he is looking forward to taking advantage of those capabilities.
So I know we have an implementation that’s pretty good. Right now all it is, is a proof of concept because your normal consumers can’t get their hands on this stuff, so we will continue to evolve with them, and hopefully collaborate, because I think we’re one of the most interesting canvases that the Oculus has.
Ebbe finishes by talking about the hype and bad reputation SL has.
He thinks that at first SL did not live up to the hype but it may also have something to do with marketing and lots of other things and he feels they need to work hard on getting people to discover the amazing place SL is.
He feels that LL perhaps lost the ability to tell the story and that the story was told to them, or in other words, the media had a bigger impact on how SL was seen by outsiders than LL had.
Ebbe feels that SL today has the quality it should have had when it created the big buzz, SL was not yet ready for it back then but has since grown up.
It’s been fighting uphill and against the wind because of the reputation it gained early on. And some of it was silly stuff because the press likes to talk about the silly stuff, like the adult-themed stuff, as if none of those things happen in real life. So I’m looking forward to turning the story around and getting people to discover it for what it really is
And that was the end of our chat.
Even though we of course had a lot more questions to ask, Ebbe had to go.
I have to say that I am very positive about Ebbe, so far.
When I first heard about him I didn’t know much about him and wondered why he was picked as CEO but the more I found out and especially after talking to him during this chat, the more I feel he might actually be just what we need.
He at least knows and understands a lot more about Second Life than most of us assumed.
And after just a week he is already spotting some of the problems and is thinking about solutions.
He seems excited, positive and full of good ideas and plans.
And as a person he appears to be open, to the point and able.
Of course the proof is in the pudding, so even though I now think that he may turn out to be a very good CEO, he still has to actually proof himself.
Personally I hope he will follow my blog (and perhaps answer some of the readers questions I didn’t get a chance to ask) and listen to the Drax Files radio hour.
We will be discussing our meeting with Ebbe during the next episode this friday, make sure to tune in so you can hear more details about this meeting.
And I also hope he will be our guest there some time!
He already mentioned that he will be exploring SL with his alt, I hope his alt will visit us in 1920s Berlin of course, a schnaps and Stroopwafel will be waiting for him.
Dutch treat; The Stroopwafel