News Watch: What I Didn’t Blog About in April and May!

I’m constantly on the look out for stories for the RyanSchultz.com blog, bookmarking anything and everything that I or my readers might find of interest—news and announcements about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse (including the blockchain-based platforms).

At the moment, I’m so backlogged with my bookmarks, that today I’ve just decided to share many of them with you, in an effort to get caught up! Each would likely be the seed for a proper blogpost all on its own, but here each one will just get a sentence or two, a brief annotation only. Hope you don’t mind!

Ready? Let’s dig in!


Geekwire: ‘Second Life’ creator shares lessons learned from one of the world’s first metaverses (an interview with Linden Lab’s founding CEO, Philip Rosedale).

Businesswire: Razorfish Study Finds 52% of Gen Z Gamers Feel More Like Themselves in the Metaverse than in Real Life (Razorfish and VICE Media Group released findings from a new research study, titled The Metaverse: A View from Inside).

Road to VR: Virtual Social Platform ‘Rec Room’ Hits 3 Million Monthly Active VR Users (Rec Room continues to rack up some impressive statistics).

The Conversation: Can you truly own anything in the metaverse? A law professor explains how blockchains and NFTs don’t protect virtual property (a thought-provoking editorial by Indiana University law professor João Marinotti)

Medium: World War “M” and the curse of the Metaverse, by Avi Bar-Zeev (an editorial where Avi poses the question: If “The Metaverse” represents our digital future, who decides what “it” is?)

metamandrill: Interview with Founder Adam Frisby of Sine Wave Entertainment (an interview with the man behind both Sinespace and Breakroom)

NFTs are Legally Problematic (a 46-minute YouTube video featuring lawyer Steve Mould and NFT pundit Coffeezilla)

24/7 Crypto: Metaverse hotel for avatars to open in Decentraland next week: “The first ever metaverse hotel (*cough*cough*Second Life*cough*cough*) is being opened next week in Decentraland by Singapore’s Millennium Hotels and Resorts.”

TIME: 6 Lessons on the Future of the Metaverse From the Creator of Second Life (a good overview article, with the writer talking to both Philip Rosedale and Tom Boellstorff about the lessons learned from Second Life).

moOMNI: Around the Metaverse by DrFran Babcock (short but essential reading; Fran shares her thoughts about the community within the metaverse).

Road to VR: A Dating App for Meeting Avatars in VR Aims to Build Very Real Relationships (a review of the Flirtual matchmaking app)

XR Today: Sensorium, Humanity 2.0 Launch Vatican City Art Metaverse (Ultra high-end social VR platform Sensoirum Galaxy partners with the Humanity 2.0 Foundation to build a virtual gallery for Vatican City). “The company’s Sensorium Galaxy platform is currently in beta testing, with a launch date set for later in the year to expand its availability across devices, including VR headsets, PCs, and mobile devices.”

Road to VR: Meta to Merge ‘Venues’ Event Space into ‘Horizon Worlds’ Social VR Platform (starting June 6th, 2022, Horizon Worlds users will have direct access to live sports, concerts, comedy, and user-created meet-ups in Horizon Venues).

WIRED: This VR App Has Legs: Spatial adds support for full-body virtual avatars, giving realism in VR a step up (the Spatial social VR app now had a full-body option).

The Atlantic: Lessons From 19 Years in the Metaverse (an interview with longtime Second Life blogger Wagner james Au).

Medium: Web3.0 Must Be Destroyed (long, but well worth the read).

Harvard Business Review: Cautionary Tales from Cryptoland (interview with Molly White, creator of the website Web3 Is Going Just Great).

Current Affairs: Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should “Die in a Fire” (interview with UC-Berkeley computer science professor Nicholas Weaver)


Now that I’ve shared some of my most interesting finds with you, I hope that this list will tide you over until I can whip up some fresh new content for you! Expect more blogposts soon. (If people find these news roundups useful, I might continue to write them, as well as my regular blogposts.)

I Was Interviewed by a Business Reporter for The Globe and Mail for an Article About the Metaverse

On March 10th, 2022, I was contacted by Joe Castaldo, a business reporter for The Globe and Mail (which bills itself as “Canada’s National Newspaper”). He was writing up a story about businesses entering the metaverse, and the current metaverse hype cycle, and he asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed.

After checking in with my union representatives at the university, who gave me the all-clear to go ahead, I was interviewed for an hour via telephone. The Globe and Mail had given Joe a Meta Quest 2 wireless VR headset, so a couple of weeks later, I gave him a guided tour of two popular social VR platforms, VRChat and AltspaceVR.

Well, Joe’s article was published in The Globe and Mail today, titled Is the metaverse the future of the internet? A Globe journalist steps inside to find out (if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version).

I’m not going to reproduce the entire newspaper article here; I was mentioned in the final few paragraphs:

For Ryan Schultz, the widespread interest in the metaverse is a little weird. “My obscure, niche hobby has suddenly gone mainstream,” he told me. A reference librarian with the University of Manitoba, he spends a few hours every week strapped into a headset or exploring desktop-based worlds, and has been blogging about it for years.

Mr. Schultz finds the speculative nature of the digital land rush in some worlds off-putting. “People are investing in this basically as a flex and as a boast to their friends that they can afford these artificially limited items,” he said. Businesses with virtual office space, meanwhile, are likely spending money on a “really fancy three-dimensional brochure.”

He’s seen much of it before. Corporations flocked to Second Life when it took off in the 2000s. Coca-Cola installed soft drink machines, Toyota set up a car dealership, American Apparel built a clothing store, and IBM established an island for employee recruitment and training.

It wasn’t long before the corporate enthusiasm died. “Nobody came to visit these locations, because the people who were already in Second Life didn’t care,” Mr. Schultz said.

He understands the appeal of virtual worlds, though. When he first discovered Second Life, he spent hours there each day. Away from the computer, he has jokingly called himself an “overweight, divorced, gay librarian with diabetes.” At 58, he feels his body growing older, and he’s struggled with depression so bad he’s taken leaves from work. “I kinda suck at this whole reality business,” he wrote on his blog.

In Second Life, Mr. Schultz loved building avatars – angels, supermodels and a Na’vi from, well, Avatar. There was solace in becoming someone else. During the pandemic, he’s met his social needs through virtual reality, and a mental-health app became a lifeline. “I can put on my headset, join a group, and use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to work through issues and problems, and it’s extremely powerful,” he said. “You feel like you’re really present.”

For those of us who are not already immersed, such moments are likely a long way off. I searched high and low for meaning and connection in the metaverse, but mostly found empty branding experiences, a speculative frenzy around digital assets, and people who were just as curious as I was to find out what this was all about, and were still searching for answers.

But given the relentless enthusiasm of those trying to turn the metaverse into some kind of reality, there will be plenty of chances to try again, for better or worse.

I think that Joe did a good job of describing the metaverse in a way that newspaper readers could easily understand, and there are a couple of videos included in the digital version of the article which made me laugh at certain points, as Joe and his producer Patrick Dell navigated Decentraland and Horizon Worlds!

I also appreciated that the online article linked out to my ever-popular list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds. I’m not really expecting a spike in traffic to my blog (I didn’t get one when I was interviewed by a writer for New Yorker magazine in 2019), but it was an interesting experience, nonetheless.

(By the way, I do receive more and more requests to be interviewed lately, because of my blog. I turn most of them down, but I said yes to this one, because The Globe and Mail is a major Canadian newspaper, and one which I read often.)

The Globe and Mail newspaper interviewed me for an article on the metaverse

P.S. The mental health app mentioned in the quote above is called Help Club; here’s the blogpost which I wrote about this self-help social VR app for mental health.

Relm: A Brief Introduction

Describing itself as “a tiny metaverse for life coaches and other transformation facilitators”, Relm (sic; there’s no “a”) is a browser-based virtual world for support groups, team meetings, and life coaches. Here’s a twenty-second teaser:

Here’s a longer, one-minute video, showing you some of the avatar customization options:

Relm’s avatars are disconcertingly blank-faced, but you can use your computer’s webcam to provide a face for other avatars to see:

Duane Johnson, the Canadian CEO and co-founder of Relm, tells me that it is possible to do collaborative editing of the worlds you create in Relm (called “relms”). In relms where you have edit rights, just hit Tab to pull up a menu on the left-hand-side of your screen:

You can also edit objects in Relm in a similar way to the prim-editing tools in Second Life, such as this vase:

As an example use case, an association of non-profit organizations in Lyon, France called UniVers-K uses Relm to assist cancer patients and their families by meeting with coaches, planning events together, and organizing fundraisers.

One thing I found heartwarming about the small team building Relm is that, even at this early stage of development, they have posted an Online Social Universe Manifesto:

Human beings are fundamentally social creatures. But the world wide web was not designed to meet our social needs. When we look around at the networks we’ve created online, we see a travesty of real connection with each other—sometimes an emotional wasteland filled with failed efforts to see and to be seen, to be with and to belong.

Today, we have Facebook “friends”, Instagram influencers, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter mobs. In addition, we see more depression, anxiety, and loneliness in our society than ever before.

But if we can re-imagine the web the way it should be—not as an inter-linked store of hypertext documents, but as a place to work together and build community together—why not fashion for ourselves an online universe that is pro-social and social-first?

We evolved in a spatial world, and we thrive in 3 dimensions. Video games and MMO worlds have led the way in showing us how to build trust and culture online—and we should take their lessons seriously enough to integrate the experience they offer in fields as far away as remote teamwork and business meetings.

Our surroundings tell us about ourselves, and hold us in relationship to one another. As we work, create, and collaborate together, we need a virtual world in which to do it—not necessarily because it’s efficient, but because it’s the most human way we know to be online together.

We believe that the architecture of the web experience needs to be re-designed for online teams and communities. A healthy online universe for human beings prioritizes:

• Belonging over status updates
• Visual and auditory communication over textual communication
• Real-time interactions over asynchronous requests/responses
• Rootedness in community over fast network growth
• Hospitality over bureaucracy (e.g. log-in forms)
• Opportunity for human connection (and serendipity) over efficiency
• Socially meaningful surroundings over missing context or sterile environments
• Representing ourselves as avatars over having little to no representation of “me”
• Fun throughout!

The next version of the web experience should be a social universe—a place where we can see, be seen, and belong—just like our ancestors’ communities, but online.

An online friend shared this image taken from their blog, telling me, “They have a really nice ethos,” and I must agree! In the current metaverse season, which has so many blockchain, crypto, and NFT-based platforms operating on a purely mercantile basis, these people certainly have their hearts in the right place. Relm is intended to be, first and foremost, a human (and humane) place for people to meet.

If you are intrigued and want to learn more about Relm, you can check out their website, read their blog, check out their YouTube channel, or join their Discord server. And, of course, I will add Relm to my ever-expanding, comprehensive list of social VR, virtual worlds, and metaverse platforms.

UPDATED WITH AUDIO LINKS! Philip Rosedale: Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse—Some Notes from a Wide-Ranging Conversation Multicast on Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, Callin and Second Life

Today at 11:00 a.m. CST, Philip Rosedale (the founder and former CEO of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, and the current CEO of High Fidelity) hosted a discussion titled Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse, where people had an opportunity to ask him questions. Dr. Fran Babcock and Dr. Hayman Buwaneswaran Buwan from the MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show were key organizers. Philip is always an engaged, articulate, and informed speaker, and if you missed this event, I will update this blogpost with links to an archived version which you can listen to via Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, and Callin. UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Links are at the end of this blogpost.

Philip was on Twitter Spaces, with well over 100 listeners in the room, but the conversation was also extended to the social audio apps Clubhouse and Callin, plus there was a virtual auditorium set up in Second Life, with almost 50 avatars present! Participants in all four spaces could both hear and ask questions. To my knowledge, this is the first time something like this set-up had been attempted.

Philip shared a couple of “first stories” from his experience with Second Life, real stories from the early years of the company, both pre- and post-launch in 2003, e.g. Steller Sunshine’s beanstalk. He talked about how it was a challenge to provide backwards-compatibility, and how this affected the design of SL over time (for example, changing the friction elements would affect how people could climb the beanstalk). He talked about how he was able to drop a virtual pebble into the virtual water to create ripples (something which was later taken out because it was so computationally expensive!).

When asked why Second Life did not create mobile apps, Philip says that SL, when launched in 2003, predated mobile devices like the iPhone (introduced in 2007) and apps like Facebook (launched in 2004). While Philip is an advisor to Linden Lab, he is not a member of the executive team running the company day-to-day. He says that running SL on a mobile app is a “hard problem” to solve (I agree).

I asked Philip about his opinions regarding Meta’s surveillance system to enforce good behaviour, which includes constantly recording what happens in Horizon Worlds in case someone wants to send an abuse report to the moderators to act upon. Philip talked about his misgivings about AI-based surveillance and targeting systems in the metaverse, and how they could be used to gather information about us in new and disturbing ways, such as using how we are feeling to decide what ads to show us.

Philip has grave concerns about a business model of metaverse designed around advertising and surveillance. Talking about moderation, Philip wants the metaverse to be designed largely driven by the actions of the (human) people who are there, rather than implementing an automated behavioural surveillance and reporting system.

In answering a follow-up question, Philip said he felt that it it is indeed possible to have a metaverse with consequences for trolls and griefers, while still building strong social connections between people, citing as an example banning a person from a public place such as a restaurant where they were misbehaving.

Philip mentioned, in an interview he gave to a media outlet earlier today, that Second Life still has a higher revenue per person per year than YouTube does, with most of that income coming from fees: fees on sales and fees for virtual land (tier). He feels that a business based on fees (as opposed to surveillance advertising) is most definitely scalable, citing the approximately one million users in Second Life.

Philip talked about how presence can change communication dynamics, such as how how walking up to another avatar, and being physically near another avatar, triggers a response where people tended to be more civil than they might be in a text-only environment like a chatroom, and how quickly such presence could help defuse potentially negative communications.

Among the speakers present were Avi Bar-Zeev, the person who created SL’s primitive system, the digital atoms used for building anything and everything in the early days of Second Life! In fact, many content creators in the metaverse got their start by prim-building in SL. (One SL historian remarked that today was the 20th anniversary of the first-ever created prim in Second Life, made on January 25th, 2002.) Philip talked about how Second Life’s prim permission system could be seen as a forerunner of newer digital asset systems being considered for the metaverse.

Avi also talked about the necessity to design the metaverse to be human spaces, a place to rehumanize rather than dehumanize those who participate.

Philip talked about how VR headsets are still not affordable and accessible enough (i.e. uncomfortable if you have to wear them all day), to be able to have the kind of social community that we experience in virtual worlds like Second Life. He said (and I was transcribing madly while he spoke, so this is a paraphrase!):

It’s difficult to get people to communicate normally in a virtual world. It’s easy to forget that this is an experience that most people would not be comfortable with, yet. We’re not there yet, and the way we get there is to make avatars more visually expressive, which is a tough problem to solve.

—Philip Rosedale

Philip talked about spatialized audio products such as High Fidelity’s 3D audio as an aid to community-building, but adds that we still need to work on nonverbal communications (the listener leaning in to the speaker to indicate engagement, etc.).

There was a lot more discussed, including Philip Rosedale’s thoughts about virtual economies and NFT real estate, which unfortunately I did not have a chance to transcribe. Philip is always an articulate and informative speaker, so you will want to listen to the recording if you missed this event.

I will, however, provide a link to an archive of this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion on Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and Callin, once Dr. Hayman posts it! He is to be thanked for juggling everything in order to make this multicast such as success.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Here, as promised, are links to the recordings made:

Twitter Spaces recording 1:43:44 (Dr. Hayman tells me, “this recording has less of the interruptions from Second Life, as I muted the mic when feedback and keyboard noises were present in SL”)

Callin recording 1:40:08

Enjoy! I know I will be relistening to portions of this.