A VRChat Avatar with Full-Body Tracking Dances to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why VRChat is still pulling in the crowds: a simply mesmerizing YouTube video of an expertly-rigged custom avatar operated by a user wearing an HTC Vive VR headset, hand controllers, and three Vive Trackers securely attached to his feet and body:

This video was posted to the VRChat subReddit. When asked about his setup, the user said:

Usual HTC Vive setup + 3 trackers and strap belts for them. I used to have a wireless adapter, but the cables kept breaking (lose contacts from jumping around, 30 bucks for each cable set…), so I just ditched it and got used to dancing with cables around me LOL!

And when asked how to managed to secure the trackers to his feet, he replied:

I have them strapped really tight a bit above my ankles. My feet are too thin for tracker straps and stepping on the straps gets uncomfortable after a while.

I honestly cannot wait until the day that other virtual worlds like Sansar support Vive Trackers (or a similar technology) to allow for full avatar body movement. Can you imagine what fun we’ll have?

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Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Sweet E’s August Hunt at the Free Dove

Every month, The Free Dove freebie store selects three designers who place hunt items throughout the store for you to find (sometimes, the free hunt items are also found in their mainstore locations). Savvy freebie hunters already know to drop by The Free Dove once a month to pick up some fabulous hunt goodies!

One of the designers participating in the August hunt is Sweet E’s, which has some truly delightful and well-designed items available as free hunt gifts, either at The Free Dove or at the Sweet E’s store:

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In both locations, you are searching for a cupcake with bright pink frosting and an “E’s” on it, which looks like this:

Sweet E's Hunt 2 13 Aug 2018

Vanity Fair models some of the amazing hunt gifts that Sweet E’s is offering up—everything from ballgowns to a bikini to a comfy men’s shirt and matching socks! (Please click on each picture to see it in a larger size.)

To pick up the hunt gifts at The Free Dove, you must join the Free Dove group (there is no join fee). To pick up the hunt gifts at Sweet E’s mainstore, you must join the Sweet E’s group (also free). So the total cost of all these beautiful items is zero, zilch, nada! Best of all, these items come in sizes to fit all the major mesh avatar bodies (Maitreya, Belleza, Slink, The Mesh Project, Tonic and eBody) and classic system avatars too!

Remember, you only have until the end of August to do this hunt. Happy hunting!

Linden Lab Built a Wanna One Fan Experience in Sansar for 2018 KCON

Linden Lab was at 2018 KCON in Los Angeles (the annual Korean pop music convention), showing off a new Sansar experience! The experience is a game for fans of the popular South Korean boy band, Wanna One. Here’s a YouTube video of KCON attendees taking part in the interactive Wanna One experience:

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Menswear by Bakaboo

Bakaboo (in-world store, SL Marketplace) is a Second Life brand known for their vibrant, colourful patterns in clothing for both men and women. But did you know that you can pick up a small wardrobe of fabulous freebies for men from their Group Gifts section at the back of the store?

Bakaboo 2 13 Aug 2018

If you join the L’Homme Magazine SL Readers group for free, you can pick up four articles of men’s clothing! Here’s a complete suit, which is one of the four gifts:

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And, if you join the Bakaboo group (also for free), you can pick up an additional three gifts for male avatars! The following outfit consists of a jacket (another group gift from L’Homme Magazine), plus matching pants and shoes (both group gifts from Bakaboo):

Bakaboo 1 13 Aug 2018

And finally, if you can find the black moustache from the Men Only Hunt hidden somewhere in or around the store, you can get this sweatshirt and sweatpants outfit for free! The clue is “The wisest and deerest one”. The hunt ends Aug. 18th, so hurry down!

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Here’s the SLURL to take you to Bakaboo.

Decentraland Sets Up $5 Million Fund for Blockchain Gaming Initiatives

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A report from CCN (a cryptocurrency news website) says that Decentraland is setting up a five-million-dollar fund to support blockchain-based gaming projects:

Decentraland, a decentralized user-owned virtual world on the Ethereum blockchain, plans to invest $5 million to fund blockchain gaming projects built on the Decentraland platform. To this end, it created the Genesis Content Program, through which gaming developers can submit proposals for “blockchain games” and “interactive experiences” that can be built on Decentraland.

More information is available from this Medium post by Decentraland:

We’ve been thinking hard about blockchain games in Decentraland, and have identified several key characteristics that we think will have a big impact on how these games are built:

  • Small parcel footprints — Given the fact that LAND is scarce and that developers can only host their games on the LAND they control, the “play space” that each game may take up is limited. This means that as a developer, you will have to design your game to fit within the parcel boundaries of your LAND. Decentraland does provide the opportunity to build decentralized item or collectible based games, like trading card games, that can be accessed “remotely” from anywhere in Genesis City. However, even these games still require at least one LAND parcel to host and run the game.
  • Distributed ownership — Unlike traditional MMO games or VR platforms that are created and controlled by a single company, Decentraland is a shared, open source hub for user generated content. Because we want to encourage diversity in the games that are built for Decentraland, LAND developers (as in real life) must respect the property boundaries of others. However, Decentraland makes it possible to build distributed games that are hosted across multiple parcels.
  • Limited graphics — We are building Decentraland with a “web-first” approach, following Google’s lead in incentivizing a low-poly aesthetic. This will optimize the quality of the experience for as many users as possible without favoring any single device or binding Decentraland to any particular app store.

All funded projects must be built on Decentraland’s parcels of virtual land (called LAND), which can be purchased using the platform’s cryptocurrency MANA. This could, in theory, get quite expensive, as the minimum price for each 10m-by-10m parcel of LAND is currently 6,000 MANA each (which works out to US$443.48). I still think that Decentraland’s LAND is outrageously expensive, and that cost is going to severely constrain any game-building that takes place on that platform.

However, I am glad to see Decentraland putting its money where its mouth is, and finding ways to attract developers to its platform. I wish them every success.

The Rise and Fall of Library Use of Second Life: What Happened to All the Libraries That Used to Be in Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds?

Back in 2008, a book was published covering the then-exciting new world of libraries usage of virtual worlds in general, and Second Life in particular.

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The book, which was titled Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries, and which perfectly captured the zeitgeist of that time, has chapter titles such as “Library, Education, and Museum Applications of Virtual Worlds for Child, Tween, and Teen Projects”, and “Rocky in Wonderland: A Librarian’s Journey Down the Second Life Rabbit Hole”.

It was truly a heady time to be a librarian involved with virtual worlds. I was one of the many librarian volunteers who worked shifts at the virtual reference desk at Info Island, fielding questions from whoever teleported in. There were dozens of public and academic libraries operating sims in Second Life and providing various services for their own users and for the general public.

The Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries book also had a colour picture section that included one photo of my librarian avatar (named Notecard Writer) attending a Virtual World Conference:

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According to a chapter in the book Teaching and Learning in Virtual Environments: Archives, Museums, and Libraries, published in 2016:

When virtual reality via virtual worlds first began trending the hype was immense and librarians flocked to Second Life (SL) and other virtual worlds to explore the potential for outreach to patrons and for education. Libraries with real-world counterparts blossomed in this virtual world, and Community Virtual Library (CVL), then known as Second Life Library 2.0, opened as the first entirely virtual working library to serve the residents of SL.

Lori Bell of Alliance Library Systems in Illinois saw the potential for libraries in virtual environments early on and founded Second Life Library 2.0 in 2006. This library has served a global public as a hybrid public, academic, and special library with no real- world library as a counterpart. Alliance Library Systems funded the early years of exploration and growth and received grants and great recognition as early adopters. Second Life Library 2.0, now known as CVL, operates solely on the contributions of patrons and through volunteer staffing. In our 10 years of serving the residents of SL we have ridden the rise and fall of the economy and of public opinion to the gradual leveling of the parabolic curve of the {Gartner] Hype Cycle, all the while bringing resources and services to the residents of SL.

A brief history will be helpful in fully understanding the function and evolution of CVL. After the founding of Second Life Library 2.0 in 2006, changes to SL’s terms of use disallowed the use of “Second Life” in any group or organization not connected to their organization, and the library’s name became Alliance Virtual Library (AVL). AVL grew from a small rental space for a single library to a complete sim with multiple sections. A sim, or simulator, is an area of virtual real estate equaling 16 acres. This was a time of great library interest in virtual worlds, and AVL experienced rapid growth in the next few years due to grants and partnerships.

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The Community Virtual Library in Second Life

Now, a decade on, libraries have a greatly diminished presence in Second Life. Indeed, it’s hard to find any libraries in SL at all, except for the infrequently-visited Community Virtual Library. What happened?

With the economic downturn during 2007–2009, many libraries with real-world counter parts began to withdraw due to tightened budgets and personnel reassignments. In 2010 the continuing economic downturn resulted in the defunding of Alliance Library System and the loss of financial support for the AVL library archipelago. AVL transferred owner ship of several sims, such as Health Info Island, Virtual Abilities, and Renaissance Island, to individual groups. Samantha Thompson, known in SL as Hypatia Dejvu; Bill Sowers, known in SL as Rocky Vallejo; and Rhonda Trueman, known in SL as Abbey Zenith formed CVL as a nonprofit educational entity in order to continue operation of the three main library islands. The CVL organization, composed of the former AVL volunteers, sustained three library sims—Info Island, Imagination Island, and Cybrary Island—through donations and rentals.

In 2011 Linden Lab discontinued the nonprofit and educational discount, essentially doubling the cost of maintaining a sim, which resulted in many nonprofits, libraries, and education institutions leaving SL.

CVL responded to the loss of the discount by downsizing to two sims and then to a single sim that combined common, multiuse spaces and rental parcels for community members. The rental covered between 40 percent and 50 percent of the sim expense. The single sim gave CVL space for a reference desk and library, social and event space, and common spaces that included two exhibit spaces and several meeting spaces. In 2014 Linden Lab restored the discount for nonprofits and educational virtual property owners, easing the need for CVL to continually raise funds. We continued with the single sim for two years, but library interest in virtual worlds had waned, and we still found the space difficult to manage with a dwindling volunteer base. CVL’s latest move is to a half- sim space on Bradley University’s sim. This is an ideal location between two long- time educational sims: Bradley University and San José State University (SJSU). This last move allowed CVL to give up management of rentals, a source of income but a drain on human resources, while retaining enough space for the library, reference, exhibits, events, and social and meeting space and still provide room for our partner group Seanchai operated by Judy Cullen, known in SL as Caledonia Skytower and by SL avatar Shandon Loring.

The ability to find, train, and keep volunteers motivated is an ongoing issue in both real- life organizations and virtual organizations. When Second Life was brand new, there was a large component of librarians from around the world who were interested in seeing how library services could be offered in this new frontier. Librarians were eager to stretch the limits of this new environment. The thrill of building immersive learning environments outweighed the effort required to become proficient in this new 3D world. Finding the time to acquire the skills to successfully navigate and explore SL and to take advantage of all of their offerings can be difficult.

There is no lack of ideas or projects, but finding people who can commit the time and energy to see those projects through can be difficult. The level of enthusiasm and dedication of those coming into SL during the glory days is hard to match. Although a small group of volunteers has been with us from the beginning, nine years is a long time to maintain the time and effort of sustaining volunteer duties. Over the years, some volunteers developed outside interests and became successful in the commercial aspects of SL or with other nonprofits. Some simply withdrew due to the economic downturn and its effects on libraries and have not returned.

Linden Lab ‘s 2011 decision to remove the nonprofit and educational discount, without any advance warning, was a particularly boneheaded move that forced many educational institutions to suspend their sims, and the decision ultimately backfired on Linden Lab and cost them a key business market they couldn’t really afford to lose. (Some institutions moved to OpenSim in response.) Linden Lab re-established the discount three years later, but the damage was done, and relatively few educational institutions have bothered to come back into Second Life. At a time of tightening budgets, virtual worlds were seen as a frill few institutions could afford.

One of the biggest problems that many libraries encountered was that (after the initial excitement and novelty wore off) these virtual library services were not terribly heavily used by Second Life avatars. Most were in SL to do things other than peruse and use libraries, thus the actual use of in-world libraries declined. The target audience wasn’t really there.

Another problem was the relatively steep learning curve to Second Life (as mentioned in the quote above), which meant that the people who were most likely to use library services were unlikely to download and install the client software, and spend 30-60 minutes learning how to navigate and teleport, simply to ask a simple reference question or read an ebook. The cost of admission was simply too high.

So, in times of ever-tightening budgets, and having gained some hard-earned experience on what does and doesn’t work in virtual worlds (mostly the latter), public and academic libraries are unlikely to jump whole-heartedly into the newer virtual worlds such s High Fidelity, Sinespace, and Sansar. There simply isn’t the money (or the time) nowadays to expand library services to platforms where there is still too steep a learning curve to participate, and still too small an audience, especially compared to the 2-billion-plus people on social media like Facebook.

It’s been somewhat sad to seem the rise and fall of library use of Second Life, but it has been instructive to participate in the cycle and learn from it. Who knows, maybe sometime in the next few decades, libraries will return to social VR and virtual worlds as the technology improves and user acceptance grows.

What Do You Do When You Can’t Log In to Second Life?

Every so often, you get the dreaded message:

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So, what do you do when you can’t log in to Second Life?

  • Keep retrying?
  • Keep rechecking the status page?
  • Hang out on one or more of the many Second Life Facebook groups or Google+ communities?
  • Write a blog post? 😉
  • Go somewhere else (e.g. OpenSim)?
  • Do something else (ohhh, like maybe clean your kitchen?)

What do you do when you are jonesing for your SL fix, and cannot get in? Please leave a comment and tell me how you cope when you can’t log in, thanks!