Chris Collins From Linden Lab: Stability Is The Key

I had the opportunity today to catch up with Chris Collins, the “Technical Assistant to the CEO” at Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life. A Commerce graduate from the University of Western Australia he started in tech, then like many locals (Vibe Capital, Mig33) headed off overseas. After working on his own startup 3 years ago in the Valley he fell in love with Second Life and landed a job as a Business Analyst with Linden Lab. More recently he took up the Technical Assistant to the CEO role, an interesting position in that it’s essentially an executive in training position. Collins shadows Linden Lab CEO Phillip Rosedale at all meetings and functions, and is also directly responsible for Lindex Exchange, the Linden Dollar to US Dollar currency service for Second Life. At the end of the position (6-9mths) he will then take up an executive role with Linden Lab.

The following from my notes of the interview, the answers may be paraphrased at times but the core answers are per my notes. I’d hoped to record it but the initial Skype call was unusable.

DR: There’s been a lot of talk about open source in virtual worlds, with talk of everything from virtual world interoperability, open standards and web based browsing. What’s Linden Lab doing to open up its doors?

CC: Firstly we’ve opened up our client. As a direct result of this we are seeing new and innovative ways of connecting to Second Life. There are already a number of browser based clients in development, and more recently we saw a custom browser built specifically for the CSI:NY program. We’ve also started to provide API’s that hook into Second Life; registration is one area that provides Second Life registration capabilities to other sites, for example Telstra in Australia now provides registration from its Bigpond/ SL page.

DR: What about the Second Life world itself? Obviously the sale of server space is the bread and butter of Linden Lab’s business model; will you consider opening this up as well in future?

CC: Eventually we want to open up everything, every aspect of Second Life, but it’s a massive undertaking and it’s not something we can do overnight.

DR: Talking of servers, there has been rumors that we might start seeing Second Life game servers in other countries, specifically there was a rumor that Telstra in Australia would be hosting them. True or not true?

CC: We currently have around 6000 servers and they are all based in the United States. We are aware of the lag caused by people connecting from a distance, so we are looking at placing servers in other countries.

DR: stability is an ongoing problem for users of Second Life, and lately this seems to have gotten worse. Why? and what’s Linden Lab doing about it

CC: Our biggest focus at the moment is on stability and scalability. We’ve undergone incredible growth over the last 6 months and this has presented a huge challenge for Linden Lab. Stability is the key. Second Life and our backend is entirely unique so there is nothing else like it so it’s not a something that has a simple solution.

DR: We’ve seen companies such as IBM, Cisco and others use Second Life as a virtual meetspace, holding events, virtual recruiting etc.. and yet it’s always struck me as odd that a sim in Second Life can only handle 50-60 people at a time. What’s Linden Lab doing to address this aspect of the Second Life experience?

CC: We’re currently exploring ways of increasing concurrency on a server. This is related to our overall goals of stability and scalability, and like them Second Life in unique so it’s not easy to just provide it.

DR: Second Life has had its fair share of headlines this year for the wrong reasons. Gambling and age play come to mind. You’ve cracked down on gambling, but still there are stories relating age play in the press. What’s Linden Lab doing?

CC: Linden Lab has always had a policy against any activity in Second Life that is illegal. Linden Lab’s has cooperated and is cooperating with authorities in a number of countries.

DR: Someone once said to me that Second Life’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness, and that’s Linden Lab’s libertarian hands-off governance of in-world activity. Only in the last week has there has been yet another attack on Second Life financial institutions with L$3m reportedly stolen from one bank. Griefing is also on the rise, and has been known to interrupt many a meeting. Will Linden Lab step in, and if not, why not?

CC: We don’t encourage this sort of activity and we do have ways to reporting it. We’ve recently improved our community department who is able to deal with complaints of this nature. We are also going to introduce tighter registration requirements

DR: Are you able to elaborate on the registration requirements: credit card, drivers license, something like that?

CC: We have users in over 100 different countries and each country has different forms of identification. We’re still working on the best way of implementing verification that is inclusive of all legitimate signups no matter where they live.