I had the opportunity to meet, amongst other people, Mark Kingdon, who came in Paris to update on the situation at Linden Lab.
Mark started with some facts which, even thought they have been published, are worth repeating. Over one year, the number of active users has grown +24%, the number of hours spent have grown +33%, and the number of user to user transaction has grown +94%, and is now around 500 Million US dollars.
The main achievement Mark focused on are :
- a new web presence
- an emphasis on social tool aspects
- emphasis on commerce through the acquisition of Xstreet SL and OnRez
- back end integration and improved user experience
Linden Lab wants to put more strenght on the product itself, and has hired Tom Hale as product manager (Tom’s avatar is lovely).
In terms of the future :
- A new viewer will appear beginning 2010. 50 people are working on it. It will be more comfortable and familiar, with a navigation closer to the web. As an exemple, there will be like a browser bar where people will type the name of the Sim they want to go ot. Bookmark facilities will be offered. After this viewer, linden Lab will work on a light one, i.e. a plugin inside the browser, something I never made my mind about. After all, iTunes is not browser based, and has been widely downloaded.
- The distinction between consumer and professional market will be emphasised as well. There will be different entry pads, in order to differentiate between “those who come for fun, and those who come for a meeting”.
- There will be more help to the content creator, including the media API, but also possibilities for the creator to sell its products trough a mecanism which will be inspired by iTunes appstore portal.
- More emphasis will be on the international. As Mark pointed out, 65% of the users are outside the US, 50% of the billing is outside the US, but so far 100% of the technology is inside the US. Linden Lab will open an office in Amsterdam, is looking for an international business development manager, a European Marketing director, and different country managers. Linden Lab also intends to open a data center in Europe (all their data center are in the US so far), and may close an old one in the US to open one in Washington DC, “east of Missisipi” said Frank (I agree that, for a Californian, east of Missisipi is already abroad). The next viewer will be translated in 15 languages.
- Not only a new data center will be opened in Europe, but Linden Lab is evaluationg could computing technology, and will offer more flexibility and configuration management tools.
- More emphasis will be on the economic aspects: 23 payment methods will be introduced, there will be localized cashiers in 20 languages. More important, they plan in the future to have cash out facility. This is something I am not sure to understand, because the paragraph 1.4 of the TOS explicitely says that the Linden dollar is not redeemable. I still believe that a Linden Dollar is, in its philosophy, much closer to a prepaid card than real money.
I was anxious to see how Linden Lab is going to adress the business market. There will actually be two possibilities for business to use the technology.
The first one is to be on the grid, as of now. However, more professional tools will be offered, like registration as an organization, dedicated enterprise registration pathways, entreprise orientation island, offering the possibility to use company’s name for the avatars, the possibility for a company to give (or not) linden dollars, and to welcome guest avatars. The next phase will offer entreprise hub. There will be community gateways, Judy quoted the education pathway made of 6 education commmunities gateways.
The second one is to buy their standalone tool, whose code name so far is Nebraska. 10 alpha customers are using it, including IBM (who will launch a collaborative product very soon, as I have learned in 3DTLC), Intel, Boose Allen, and the US military. The product will be annouced around november, with full technical specification, features, and pricing, and version 1.0 will be public Q1 next year (I know that IBM already did some integration with LDAP server). They did not mention the business model, but they are looking for channel partners to sell the platform. Inside Nebraska, there will be a market place (iTunes like) where users can buy existing content.
With Nebraska, Linden Lab enters a market where products like forterra, protonmedia, teleplace, opensim and vastpark are already existing. It is always difficult for a company to both sell a software, and a service. In any case, 2010 will be a big turn in Linden Lab’s life !