Editorial: Metaverse Madness Is Truly Upon Us (Caveat Emptor!)

It is wintertime here in Winnipeg, and in addition to the coronavirus pandemic (now in its 21st month), a strike by my union (now in its fourth week), and a stretch of some bitterly cold November winter weather, I have been fighting a nasty cold. (I know it is a cold and not COVID-19 because of my runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and sinus congestion, plus I cannot stop sneezing.)

I am NOT a happy camper (Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash)

All in all, I am in a miserable, foul and cranky mood today. So I figure it’s the perfect time for me to write one of my patented snarky editorials. My target this fine and frosty day is the metaverse.

Not all of the metaverse, mind you. I have little to no problem with the actual metaverse platforms that are already out there and operating (and more power to you; you know who you are!). And I have no issue with the bulk of these social VR platforms and virtual worlds which have thus far resisted the siren call of the blockchain*. Yes, I am even willing to forgive Cathy Hackl for having the sheer audacity to rebrand herself the Godmother of the Metaverse on Twitter:

Godmother of the metaverse? Philip Rosedale and Adam Frisby would like a word 😉 but I must admit that this is a bold, nervy, and frankly savvy move. Go get that consulting coin, Cathy!

But what I do have a serious problem with, and what I want to focus on today, is the hothouse atmosphere created by the collision of the existing crypto/NFT/blockchain hype with the newer-but-no-less-hyperbolic metaverse hype triggered by Facebook’s recent rebranding.

This is getting completely out of hand, people

I have been writing this blog for four and half years now, and I have seen a lot of sketchy stuff during that time, but I have never witnessed as much absolute, unadulterated, utter bullshit out there as I am seeing and hearing right now. The number of schemes, scams, and outright cons out there, seeking to profit off of gullible investors who have not done their due diligence, is frightening. The grifters are out in full force!

I am a member of various Discord servers relating to blockchain-based virtual world projects, such as Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, and Somnium Space (all of which, I hasten to add, I have little to no issue with, since they are all actual, working products which you can visit today). Because of that, I am inundated with DMs from people wanting to sell me on the latest and greatest get-rich-quick NFT scheme. Here are examples of two messages which I deleted (and reported as spam) just this morning:

Last night, I went and visited a couple of metaverse communities on Reddit (namely, r/metaverse and r/Metaverse_Blockchain), and I was staggered by all the johnny-come-latelies who are piling on, shilling for this or that pet project. Almost all of them involved cryptocurrency, NFTs, or the blockchain in some way or another. Here’s a couple of sample videos to give you a flavour of the overall feeding frenzy:

You get all that jargon? There will be a quiz later… 😉 Here’s another example:

My eyes rolled so far back in my head that I could see myself think! What’s worse to me, though, is the number of cryptonewbies who are asking questions and seeking advice on where to invest in these Reddit communities. Lambs to the slaughter!

These past few days, I have also spent many hours hanging out in several metaverse-related discussion rooms on the social audio app Clubhouse (or, to put it another way, rooms with “metaverse” in their title), where various people were actively shilling for any number of sketchy, dubious, and frankly harebrained schemes, seeking to part the unwary and the ignorant from their hard-earned money. No, I am not naming the names of any guilty parties in this particular blogpost, but I listen, I worry at the amount of misinformation and disinformation circulating out there, and I shake my head.**

I fear that we are going to see a LOT of people lose a LOT of money on these projects. Just because a project name-drops terms like “blockchain” and “crypto” and “NFTs” and now the latest buzzword in the mix, “metaverse”; and/or the project has an active Discord or Telegram or Clubhouse rooms full of true believers and yes-men; and/or the project has a slick-looking website all ready to accept your crypto wallet credentials—NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE ANY SUBSTITUTE FOR YOU TO CAREFULLY DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH, AND YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE, BEFORE YOU INVEST A PENNY.

Do your research before you invest a penny (Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash)

And if you can’t do your own homework because you don’t know enough, then take the time to learn what you are doing before you spend any money on any scheme—no matter how wonderful it sounds. Ask someone you trust for their opinion. And then ask again, and again, and again, until you feel you know enough to make an informed decision. If you have any doubts, pull out! Steer clear of anyone who is using the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) to try and sell a project, or who appeals to your greed with rash promises of lofty returns on your investment.

For example, there are now about 600 people on the RyanSchultz.com Discord, with actual experience in dozens of social VR platforms and virtual worlds, who are my personal team of metaverse bullshit detectors! We learn from each other, we help each other, and we rely on each other to spot and avoid precarious schemes and outright scams.

I shouldn’t have to say any of this, people, but as I said earlier, I have NEVER seen so much bullshit out there as I do right now about the metaverse. So forewarned is forearmed.

Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

*I will make an exception ONLY for those crypto/blockchain projects which already have an actual social VR/virtual world platform which you can currently visit, namely: NeosVR, Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, and Somnium Space.

**Note: I am not talking about the MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show rooms on Clubhouse, which I am often a part of, enjoy participating in, and which are not devoted to selling you on any particular projects.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: A List of Stores with a Free Group Join this Black Friday Weekend

Pink Cream Pie is one of many stores who have made their groups free to join this weekend

I hope that you have been taking advantage of the multitude of Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend sales in Second Life! Here’s my blogpost with all the lists of stores having such sales, plus a few significant deals which should probably take advantage of with respect to mesh heads and bodies (LeLutka, Kalhene, Legacy, Belleza, and Maitreya).

One aspect of the Black Friday sales which I have overlooked is that many stores have made their store groups free to join, for a very limited time (this weekend only). For example, both ALB and 7 Deadly S[k]ins are allowing you to join their store groups for FREE this weekend, and both will have Advent calendars with oodles of free group gifts! The name of the ALB store group is called LAMU GROUP, and the new store group for 7 Deadly S[k]ins is called SEVEN – [7DS].

The following list of store SLURLs was compiled by my friend and colleague Caroline Walker of the Freebie Queens SL Discord (which you should join, if you haven’t already!). Many if not most of these stores also have group gifts you can pick up. And, of course, you’re all set to collect any free group gifts these stores offer in future!

Thank you to Caroline Walker for compiling this list!

Barbados to Set Up an Embassy in Decentraland

The Caribbean nation of Barbados is planning to set up a virtual embassy in the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland. While the idea of a country setting up an embassy in a virtual world is not new (both Sweden and the Maldives have had embassies in Second Life), this is the first time that a country has set up an official presence in a blockchain-based virtual world, and perhaps a sign of things to come.

According to a recent CoinDesk article written by Andrew Thurman, Decentraland is not the only metaverse platform the country is looking at:

In what could be seen as a historic step toward the legitimization of the metaverse, the island nation of Barbados is preparing to legally declare digital real estate sovereign land with the establishment of a metaverse embassy.

The Barbadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade signed an agreement on Sunday with Decentraland, among the largest and most popular crypto-powered digital worlds, for the establishment of a digital embassy. Per a press release provided to CoinDesk, the government is also finalizing agreements with “Somnium Space, SuperWorld and other Metaverse platforms.”

Both Decentraland and Somnium Space I could see as possible sites for a virtual embassy, but SuperWorld? Really? The last time I looked at the SuperWorld project, back in January, I was less than impressed with the concept. I wonder how much the Barbadian officials understand about the metaverse, if they lumped SuperWorld in with Decentraland and Somnium Space. Let’s hope they are getting good advice!

The CoinDesk article goes on to say:

With the release of the embassy, tentatively scheduled for January, Barbados will become the first country in the world to recognize digital sovereign land. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Ministry of Science and Technology, and many other governmental bodies reviewed the plans over “several, several months,” said [Barbados’ ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, H.E. Gabriel] Abed.

The country has also retained legal counsel, as the embassy will set a number of unique precedents. So far experts have said that the embassy will be compliant with international law as well as the Vienna Convention.

Barbados is among the friendliest countries in the world for cryptocurrencies and has been among those leading the charge on the development of a central bank digital currency.

A view of Barbados (Photo by Kathryn Maingot on Unsplash)

Thank you to Akumie for the tip!

Skittish: A Brief Introduction

Skittish is what you’d get if you crossed Animal Crossing with Clubhouse.

Taylor Hatmaker, TechCrunch

Skittish is a web browser-based virtual world with a whimsical spin: you can choose from one of 45 different animals as your avatar, and you can host conferences, festivals, meetups, parties, workshops, etc. in a playful cartoon world with spatial audio, where you can create virtual worlds with a drag-and-drop editor.

You wanna be a cow? You’re a cow! Just pick a starter avatar and you’re all set to go!

In fact, Skittish’s high-quality spatial audio chat uses an API from High Fidelity, the company run by metaverse pioneer and Second Life founding CEO Philip Rosedale. TechCrunch reports:

Skittish grew out of a $100,000 grant awarded by Grant For The Web, a fund created by Coil, Mozilla and Creative Commons to support projects that incorporate micropayments for online creators. [CEO Andy] Baio began prototyping Skittish last July, imagining it as a pop-up space for events rather than a persistent virtual world.

Skittish spaces initially accommodated up to 120 mixed voices in a single room, but the audio capacity is even higher now. Though he’s still testing what the new limits might be, Skittish is getting closer to Baio’s goal of hosting 1000-person events. Skittish rooms can now be password protected, invite-only or public, and Baio imagines special “cozy” 3-5 person spaces in the project’s future.

Here’s a one-minute video overview (you might need to turn your sound up a bit to hear the narrator):

Skittish reminds me of a similar product I wrote about last year, called Remotely, only in that case, instead of an animal, you were an astronaut! I can see the appeal of this if you, like me, are fighting a serious case of Zoom fatigue (although I’m not quite sure how much uptake there will be among the educational and corporate sectors!).

To learn more about Skittish, visit their website, check out their YouTube channel, or follow them on Instagram or Twitter. And, of course, I will be duly adding Skittish to my sprawling list of social VR, virtual worlds, and metaverse platforms (which I hope to reorganize and recategorize sometime soon!).

Thank you to both Dr. Fran Babcock and Rainwolf for the heads-up!