Is the Virtual Worlds Community an Echo Chamber? Is There a Hard Upper Limit to Public Interest in Virtual Worlds?

I usually check the newsfeeds of Google News for my news highlights of the day (I rarely watch TV anymore, and I check the newspapers maybe 2 or 3 times a week, max). So imagine my surprise when, on a whim, I searched Google News today for “Second Life 15th anniversary”, just to see what coverage there was of last week’s event:

Google News Second Life 25 June 2018.png

Zip. Nada. Zilch. Not a single mention of Second Life’s 15th anniversary in any of the current news media sources that Google News indexes! (I got the same results on “Second Life 15th birthday”.)

So I sat down and thought about what this might mean. Why is it that something that was a (relatively) big deal in virtual world news got so little mainstream press coverage, despite (I assume) the best efforts of Linden Lab to do PR and get the word out?

Tie into that the current difficulties that High Fidelity, Sinespace, Sansar, and other firms are having in attracting people to their social VR/virtual world platforms, and I have a theory. Hear me out.

Could it be that the virtual worlds community is so (relatively) small and insular, that it has developed into its own echo chamber? According to Wikipedia:

The echo chamber effect occurs online due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online discussions may find their opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. However, individuals who participate in echo chambers often do so because they feel more confident that their opinions will be more readily accepted by others in the echo chamber.

When we talk about virtual worlds, are we pretty much only talking to—and listening to—each other? A closed community that is not listening to the outside world, perhaps thinking that it is more important than it really is? (I have noticed that I have tended to run into exactly the same people on every virtual world platform I have visited over the past 11 years.) Do we tend to stick to our own blogs and discussion groups (hello, Plurk!), and therefore become resistant to messages coming in from the outside? Are the metaverse companies (and their current customers) convincing themselves that virtual world platforms are a more vital and necessary service than the rest of the population believes? Maybe.

It might explain why Second Life never really broke through to the next level, even though it has pretty much kept 500,000-600,000 active user accounts over the past decade or so, despite the addition of thousands of new accounts each and every month.

And, even more ominously, it might just explain why the other, newer virtual world platforms are having some trouble breaking into the marketplace. What if that pool of less than a million people is the entire potential audience that virtual worlds—all virtual worlds—can attract? In other words, is there a hard upper limit in public interest in virtual worlds? Are all these metaverse companies fighting each other over a pie that is never going to get any bigger?

And if that is true, then what happens when most of those people are already happily settled in Second Life, prefer life in their own isolated little world with its echo chamber, and don’t feel the need to venture out any further?

What do you think of these ideas? Sound off in the comments…

Editorial: Crypto/Blockchain is Becoming a Cesspool

Image by TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay
Ever since I encountered my first blockchain-based virtual world, Decentraland, back in February, I have been watching the marketplace closely. Many companies have announced social VR platforms based on the blockchain; either they are selling a cryptocurrency for use in their virtual worlds, or are using blockchain technology in some another way, such as registering ownership of virtual land. I have joined the Discord and Telegram channels for the various metaverse-building companies and avidly followed the discussions and arguments taking place. I have scanned their websites. I have read through all their white papers.

The hype surrounding blockchain technology has now reached unprecedented levels. Some of the claims made by companies (or their cheerleaders) for blockchain-based virtual worlds have been misguided at best and deluded at worst (here’s just one example). Bold promises are being made for virtual places which you cannot even visit yet, or which only exist in skeleton form.

In some cases, the use of blockchain is a solution where there wasn’t a problem in the first place, as someone else recently pointed out when commenting on one product. In other cases, companies may be feeding the impression that their blockchain-based coin/token/land will only gain in value, without making the risk clear. Investors who have not done their proper due diligence have jumped on board many recent ICOs and ITOs, hoping to score huge profits similar to those who were early investors in Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Frankly, one of the few companies I have encountered in this area that actually has some substance behind all the hype is Virtual Universe, and I have given video proof as to why I am looking forward to their product launch. But the often-misleading and sometimes-shady statements of some blockchain-based virtual world companies are tainting the entire marketplace, including VU. If I were an investor, I wouldn’t touch any of them with a ten-foot pole.

As I have stated before, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is that it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer (as a Canadian I cannot buy tokens). But I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

For example, I am currently a member of the Staramba Spaces Telegram community, and I has been watching with increasing dismay over the past week as numerous people report that scammers are trying to steal their money by impersonating Staramba staff and direct-messaging potential customers, posing as agents for the Staramba initial token offering. The entire Staramba ITO has been a shambles, with the company having to hurriedly suspend the buying of tokens by credit card until a later date. (And why would you choose to go deeper into debt to buy a blockchain token in the first place? It’s insanity.)

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!