Editorial: Sansar—A Call to Arms

This past Sunday evening, feeling vaguely anxious, uneasy, and depressed, I loaded up my Vanity Fair avatar in Sansar, outfitted her with a brand new gold outfit (dress by Daisy Winthorpe, matching shoes by Morgane Paris), and I spent a couple of hours wandering through the various worlds in my Codex, in search of…something.

Something. Anything.

I don’t even really know what I was looking for. Reassurance? Inspiration? Answers? I should know better than to find answers in virtual worlds. But I set out exploring anyways, dressed for a party that didn’t exist, and not feeling in a party mood at all.

Somehow the look on Vanity’s face seemed to match my inner mood: dissatisfied, bored, restless. I must have wandered through at least two dozen different Sansar worlds over several hours, some old, some new.

And I never found what I was looking for, even if I could have named it.

I think what is bothering me most about Sansar lately is the fact that it is still so utterly empty; despite all the beautifully-designed places you can visit, only a small handful have anybody else in them at any one time. You can pretty much be guaranteed to run into groups of avatars chatting at the Nexus, of course, but other than that (and the occasional scheduled event), you’re on your own. Sansar is a ghost town.

Despite every concerted effort made to date, Linden Lab has not succeeded in getting more people to visit Sansar, and it has also failed to convince them to come back for return visits and set up a home or a shop (aside from a small, tight-knit community of die-hard regulars that essentially communicates primarily via the official Sansar Discord).

I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of the Sansar community since December 2016, when it was still a closed beta (actually, it was more alpha than beta). I vividly remember that there was such an infectious energy and excitement among the chosen few who had been allowed in to test everything out, almost a giddiness to try different things out, to see what would work and what would break, sending feedback to a development team that at times seemed even more excited than we the testers were! The future seemed so bright.

But that initial giddiness has slowly ebbed away over time. Many of those early testers have moved on to other worlds, other projects. Now, if I could use one word to describe Sansar lately, it would certainly not be giddy. It would be forlorn. Sansar seems to have completely lost its way. And it breaks my heart to admit the truth to myself. It almost moves me to tears.

As I have written, I have a deeply emotional connection with this place (and yes, I do consider Sansar no less a place than Paris or London or New York in the real world). My soft spot for Sansar is also my blind spot, I fear. I held on that honeymoon feeling about Sansar for far, far longer than most other people. And so when the layoffs happened in October, I was triggered, furious, and upset. I wasn’t thinking with a clear head; I was grieving the loss of what could have been. What should have been, that seemed to be suddenly taken away from me by forces outside of my control. How dare they make such massive cuts to a place I loved? Couldn’t they see they were killing the place?

For over two years I strove mightily, within my admittedly feeble sphere of influence, to portray Sansar as a place where an exciting future was going to happen. I wrote and wrote and wrote to entice people to pay a visit, and to make them want to come back again and again, becoming a regular part of what I hoped would be a growing, vibrant Sansar community.

And at this task I feel I have failed (which might be one reason why I feel so depressed this holiday season). Perhaps nobody could have pulled this task off successfully; maybe the technical, social and political obstacles were altogether insurmountable. Getting people to pay sustained attention to a new virtual world is a much, much harder task than it seems at first glance (as many other companies are finding out).

At first, I decided that I would respond by blogging about Sansar and High Fidelity less often, since obviously my many previous blogposts about those platforms attracted so little traffic and attention. Why bother?, I told myself.

And then, the inevitable happened, the other shoe finally dropped, and High Fidelity announced they were essentially shutting down completely early in 2020, seemingly a victim of lack of interest in VR in general, and social VR in particular. And I thought: would Sansar follow soon after High Fidelity?

So, while mournfully wandering through the various Sansar worlds on Sunday evening, with recent High Fidelity events weighing heavily on my mind, I made a decision. I changed my mind.

I decided that I would, once again in the new year, start writing more regularly about Sansar worlds and events. Sansar might well still falter and fold in 2020 (or 2021), and there is absolutely zero guarantee that a pivot to hosting live events is going to save the platform. But if I can do anything within my limited power to help promote Sansar and show potential users the potential and possibilities of the platform, perhaps even my small efforts can still make a difference before it’s too late.

Many say it is already too late. Some have told me Sansar is doomed. Many former Sansar content creators and users have already given up, packed up, and moved on, angry with one decision or another made by Linden Lab over the years, or upset that one or more key features they wanted weren’t on the software development roadmap. Many have given up on Sansar, but I won’t. Not yet. Not without a fight. I am damned if I am going to write a post-mortem for Sansar on this blog, which, after all, was originally started to write exclusively about Sansar.

Eugène Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People (1830, The Louvre)

Sansar needs our help. All of us, all our help, and whatever talents we have to offer. Sansar might well still fold despite all of Linden Lab’s efforts, and despite all of our own individual efforts. But at least we can try.

Nobody knows what lies ahead in 2020. Anything can and may happen. Obstacles and hurdles can appear out of nowhere, and Linden Lab can choose to respond to them in any way that the company seems fit. What is increasingly clear is that the Sansar project cannot continue along the way it has been going, with the relative lack of overall usage it has, and the relative lack of corporate partners it has, forever. Something, somewhere, is going to have to give. Something has to change.

Linden Lab may choose to shut down the Sansar project completely, or put it on indefinite hiatus until conditions improve. They may decide to sell Sansar off to another company. They might even decide to make the Sansar code open-source, leaving further development up to the community in a way similar to the OpenSim project. Anything can happen, and we have to be prepared for anything to happen.

I want each of you to think about the Sansar project, and what you can do as individuals and as teams to help build the platform and make it better, and help take it to the next level. You might be an event planner or a talent booker; you might be a content creator or a world designer; you might be a talented scripter; you might be a blogger. Or perhaps your talent is just being friendly and greeting newcomers at the Nexus and helping them get oriented. Everybody has something that they can contribute.

And rather than turn away from Sansar as a lost cause, I humbly ask that you come back, and fight to keep this wonderful, special, fragile place that we have been building over the past few years from slipping away completely. At this point we need plenty of fresh ideas and fresh inspiration, thinking outside of the box. We need you. Don’t turn away.

Sansar needs all the friends it can get at this point. I hope that you can be counted on to be one of them. I know that I will be. It won’t mean that I will refrain from criticism when I feel it is necessary. I will still hold Linden Lab’s feet to the fire when and if I see them do something stupid. But I will not walk away. I will not ignore Sansar in 2020. Good, bad, and everything in between, I plan to be there to cover it all.

This is your call to arms. Will you accept?

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Asteria

If course, you all realize that I have completely broken my promise not to blog over the holidays, don’t you? Oh well. In for a penny, in for a pound.

My favourite SL freebies vlogger, Cat Pink SL, has just published an end-of-year rundown of various stores offering free group gifts:

Among those stores is Asteria (here’s the SLURL), which has a free group join. Just click the sign outside the store:

The group gifts section is very conveniently located right next to the sign, outside the store:

This is an extremely generous selection of group gifts! You can get up to eight different versions of each of the outfits. However, you should know that these are mostly older items, which come in the five standard mesh sizes (instead of models to fit Maitreya, Belleza, and Slink bodies). Also, in a couple of cases, the outfits consist of system layers, prims, and mesh components. So your mileage on these deals may vary. I found I had to fiddle around a good bit to get some items to fit my Maitreya Lara body, and in some cases I just gave up in frustration.

Please be sure to check both the front and the back of each of the group gift displays, as they show different group gifts, and don’t forget to use your camera carefully, so as not to miss any gifts because of those pesky transparency overlapping issues that can happen in Second Life—the outfits you are clicking on can appear and disappear behind the grass!

Here Vanity Fair shows off some of the Asteria group gifts. First up is the Agnes belted turtleneck dress, which comes in four different colours: beige as shown, mint, black, blue, and claret. (Tucked away to the side of the Agnes outfit display are matching boots, but unfortunately they didn’t fit my Maitreya Lara mesh avatar, and I could not resize them.)

Next Vanity models the Lily top (which comes in seven different colours) and the Lily miniskirt (which comes in six different colours, including lace and leather versions):

Here is the midriff-baring Sophia blouse in claret red, matched with the low-cut Sophia pants in black. The blouse comes in seven other colours (beige, floral pink, yellow, black, maroon, blue and white, and the pants in six other colours (claret, yellow, black-and-white, floral pink, maroon, and blue), so you can mix and match to your heart’s content:

This very pretty pink patterned shirt is part of the Wild Bedrosian outfit, which also includes shorts, and comes in pink as shown, and also powder, black, and blue. I had absolutely no luck fitting the standard-sizes shorts to my Maitreya Lara body, however (you might have better luck with your own mesh body).

In total, I picked up well over a hundred different free articles of clothing in one stop! So come on down to Asteria and vacuum up some fabulous, fashionable freebies! Thanks to the store for being so generous!

In these pictures, Vanity Fair is also wearing:

Happy freebie shopping!

Spinview: A Brief Introduction (Yet Another YARTVRA)

Yawn. Here we go again…

YARTVRA: Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App. 

And yet another boring, cookie-cutter corporate website where it appears the owners haven’t even bothered to swap out the lifeless, generic default clip art. And yet another platform which is only nebulously described by its company:

You can use Spinview’s social VR space to immerse your team in a real-world learning environment for effective and engaging training without them leaving their desks, let alone their city. In our environment up to 8 people can focus and communicate with each-other in real time. They can work together, train together, research, plan and more. You can create a workspace designed to encourage a culture of sharing without the cost and time taken to get people physically in the same office. With Spinview, 8 heads can easily be better than one.

Again, absolutely zero technical details of their platform, and no mention of which VR hardware is supported. Just a lot of handwaving, and a cookie-cutter contact form, complete with more uninspiring clipart and vague suggestions of possible corporate uses for the Spinview platform:

VRFocus reported in November 2018 that the company acquired Agority, another social VR platform I had never heard of before:

Spinview, a company that concentrates on VR for business use has purchased immersive social platform Agority as part of its continued expansion.

The aim of the purchase is to offer businesses a new way to communicate and collaborate, letting teams inhabit a virtual area together, even if they are miles apart.

And Spinview’s corporate blog has not been updated since October 2018 (no news of the acquisition). Since then, radio silence. Who knows what is going on behind the scenes. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Spinview, like all the other YARTVRA I have covered on this blog, is having some trouble signing up paying customers. The list of companies who want to sell VR products supporting remote workteams is getting rather ridiculously long (you can see a list of other YARTVRA platforms in this earlier blogpost).

Let me say this again: High Fidelity has already decided that there’s not enough corporate interest in a remote workteams app to continue operations, and they are essentially shutting down as of January 15th, 2020. If a company that has raised $72.9 million in venture capital and has an actual working platform can’t make it happen, companies that can’t even bother to keep their websites up-to-date and demonstrate to their potential customers that they have any sort of deliverable product are doomed to failure.

Flowtropolis: A Brief Introduction

Flowtropolis is YARTVRA: Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App. (Yes, I am still trying to get the acronym to catch on!)

On their website, there’s lots of handwaving about the benefits of remote teamwork and various applications of virtual reality to the office, but precious little detail about any actual products. According to their website:

We are currently building the Flowtropolis platform and will soon open up for our wider community to take it for a spin during the fall of 2019. Please hold on, it´s going to be worth it!

Well, autumn has come and gone, and there’s still no concrete details on what this platform is all about. Absolutely zero information on what VR headsets it supports, for example. The company does offer a link to a form to fill out, for customers interested in what they call “co-creation opportunities”. Hmm.

It all sounds rather suspiciously like “contact us with your ideas, and we will build it for you”, as opposed to an actual deliverable. If you’re interested, you can contact Flowtropolis, but be sure to also check out my list of other YARTVRA platforms before you make any decisions.

This is still a nascent, rapidly-evolving marketplace, and High Fidelity has already decided that there’s not yet enough corporate interest for it to market a product for remote workteams. I suspect that we are at least a generation away from the more widespread use of remote workteams in VR/AR/MR/XR at most corporations. Most companies still expect their employees to commute to a central, shared office space to do their work.