Somnium Space News—and the Most Outrageous Social VR Company Promise Yet!

Well, I decided to start blogging again, although I doubt I will be keeping up the same fast rate of blog-posting that I used to do!

For my return to regular blogging, the first social VR space I want to talk about is Somnium Space, which I first profiled in early May.

First, Somnium Space has announced that they are joining the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (VRBA), which I had written about earlier:

Somnium Space will join VRBA founders High Fidelity and JanusVR in the effort to create a universal digital identity platform, built on the blockchain, beyond the control of any corporate entity, bridging virtual worlds and the real one.

As a VRBA member, Somnium Space will host a node of the High Fidelity blockchain. Somnium Space will recognize identities created in High Fidelity and JanusVR, and assets created in JanusVR or High Fidelity will be transferable to Somnium Space. Users of all three services will be able to control what information they share and how they present themselves within each experience.

Second, Somnium Space has also launched a crowdfunding initiative on the new U.K.-based crowdfunding website for VR projects called SeedingVR. If you decide to donate, Somnium Space will give you free land:

Somium Space 22 June 2018

Third, Somnium Space is also proudly trumpeting the fact that someone (an executive of the company) bought the first Tesla in virtual reality:

Frankly, I don’t see what the advantage of purchasing the car in a VR headset was. There was nothing special that virtual reality added to the transaction; it could just as easily been done using a regular computer screen and keyboard, instead of having to awkwardly punch keys on a virtual recreation of a keyboard within a VR headset.

But it was something else on the SeedingVR announcement that really caught my eye:

Somnium Space Key Monetization Areas 22 June 2018.png

What? WHAT?!??

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So, I went to the Somnium Space website and sure enough, it was there too!

Live Forever 22 June 2018

Yes, that’s right. For a monthly fee, Somnium Space promises to record everything you do and say on your property, in order to (and I quote)  “bring you entirely back to life using AI”. This has got to be the single most outrageous promise I have ever heard from any social VR/virtual world/metaverse company!

Now, this is gonna be quite the feat! I still cannot quite believe that someone on the executive team at Somnium Space had the chutzpah to actually come up with this little gem, let alone announce this! I had believed that the ridiculous boasting and promise-making made by some of the metaverse-building companies were already at their highest level, but this one really takes the cake!

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Jaron Lanier: Ten Reasons Why You Should Quit Social Media

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I’m still taking a hiatus from the blog, but nevertheless, I wanted to share what VR pioneer, computer guru, and author Jaron Lanier (whom I have blogged about before) has to say about the dangers of social media to individual mental health and to society at large.

In a media report from ZeroHedge titled “Delete Your Account” Warns Virtual Reality Founding Father:

Lanier explained in a recent UK Channel 4 interview:

When you watch the television the television isn’t watching you. When you see the billboard the billboard isn’t seeing you… When you use these new designs — social media, search, YouTube — when you see these things, you’re being observed constantly and algorithms are taking that information and changing what you see next.

Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now according to his book:

1) You are losing your free will.

2) Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

3) Social media is making you an asshole.

4) Social media is undermining truth.

5) Social media is making what you say meaningless.

6) Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

7) Social media is making you unhappy.

8) Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

9) Social media is making politics impossible.

10) Social media hates your soul.

I’d like to encourage all of you to watch the Channel 4 interview via the link above. I am probably going to buy and read Jaron’s new book soon. His thinking on this subject seems to align with other recent criticisms of the negative impact of social media, and with my own experience. I used to be a firm and fervent believer in the power of social media, but no longer. And I am seriously thinking about giving up—or at least heavily scaling back—my own social media activity.

I Need to Take a Break, But I’ll Be Back

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Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged anything this week, except for one post last Monday.

The storm clouds have rolled in, and I’ve got a serious week-long case of the Mondays. Things have been going wrong for me just about everywhere I choose to look.

I flubbed up a simple series of tasks I was supposed to do at a certain time in my off-hours in Second Life, and as a result, I landed up ending a working relationship that had started out so well, which I destroyed through my own thoughtlessness and stupidity. (I’ve already apologized to the person involved, and removed myself from the project. I won’t write more about it.)

But I see that single trip-up as a warning sign. Everywhere I look this week, I see evidence of my difficulties in moving ahead. I’m really not very happy with myself right now, and I know that my depression is colouring everything with the darkest of colours.

I guess what I am saying is that I need to give myself some time to admit that not everything is O.K., that I need some time to rebalance my life and refocus on the essential stuff, and that I need to go forth and battle my depression (again).  So I’m taking a break from blogging for the next little while. How long? I don’t know.

Don’t worry about me; I have plans to go for dinner with my best friend tonight and he’s sure to get an earful. I will have supper with my Mom like I always do on Sundays. I have a real-life social support network full of people who love me and care about me, and I intend to make use of it to get back up on my feet again. I have absolutely no plans to do anything drastic, so don’t worry about that.

But I do need to take a break from blogging.

You’ll all be the first to know when I do come back.

Where is Virtual Reality’s Killer App?

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

According to Wikipedia, a killer app is defined as:

In marketing terminology, a killer application (commonly shortened to killer app) is any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology, such as computer hardware, a gaming consolesoftware, a programming language, a software platform, or an operating system. In other words, consumers would buy the (usually expensive) hardware just to run that application. A killer app can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.

Classic examples of killer apps in the early history of computers were the VisiCalc spreadsheet for Apple II series microcomputers, and Lotus 1-2-3 and WordStar for IBM PC compatible microcomputers. The popularity of these software applications drove sales of the hardware platforms they ran on.

So, what is virtual reality’s killer app? What VR applications are driving the uptake of VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the range of Windows Mixed Reality headsets?

Sibjeet Mahapatra writes for TechCrunch:

Compelling virtual reality shipped to developers and consumers nearly two years ago. The first flagship headsets arrived from Oculus  and HTC back in the spring of 2016, offering enough resolution, frame rate, field of view, latency mitigation and position-tracking to produce believable visual immersion.

But no one seems to know what to do with it. To date, no killer app has extended the promise of VR from a novelty to a sticky experience or utility that reaches beyond enthusiasts to resonate with the consumer center of mass.

This isn’t to say that great experiences don’t exist. Apps like Tilt Brush, Elite: Dangerous and Google Earth VR have earned rave reviews and plaudits from enthusiasts. But we have yet to see a household phenomenon like Halo or Lotus 1-2-3 — applications that single-handedly propelled their respective platforms to wide use. At CES 2018, one industry analyst referred to VR as “drawerware,” referring to the likelihood of headsets to be stuffed in a drawer after a few forays into jejune worlds.

Sibjeet ends off his article by saying that immersion or presence is the key to VR:

Each new iteration of core VR hardware is a rising tide that makes any VR application more appealing to users on the margin. But killer apps often emerge on imperfect versions of the platforms they bring to life. The charting function of Lotus 1-2-3 strained the limits of the early graphics hardware on x86 PCs, but until 1-2-3, no one knew that programmatic generation of charts and graphs was even possible.

A killer app doesn’t need to be a perfect encapsulation of a new technology’s potential. All it needs to do is hint at the grand vision by providing a single, irresistible demonstration of value over the status quo.

In the case of VR, I’m not certain if that demonstration will occur on this generation of hardware or the next. But I believe it will be an experience that compares in intensity or joy or uniqueness to the best experiences we can access in reality. If you’re working on VR content or applications, consider this advice: Give us the ability to be present in a vision of the past, or a counterfactual world. Give us the feeling of life underwater or in space. Give us the sense of being present for an experience completely native to virtual reality, not merely an emulation of experiences we can already inhabit. Give us something real in its own right. That’s when the mass market will start to believe — and buy.

Many companies are trying to get at this elusive immersion or presence in different ways. For example, Staramba Spaces is betting that you will want to spend time with a detailed 3D recreation of a famous celebrity, religious figure, or soccer star.

Platforms such as High Fidelity and Sansar are aiming at a sort of sandbox model very similar to Second Life, by giving creators the tools to build whatever experiences they wish. Some programmers have gone so far as to create inventive, fun games such as HoverDerby and The Combat Zone, but so far it’s still been an uphill battle to encourage people to come into Sansar to try out these games.

VRChat had a surge in usage due to the livestreamers on Twitch and YouTube, but most of those people didn’t stick around once they finished trolling each other on the platform. People came, kicked the tires, and (mostly) left.

What’s clear is that virtual reality still hasn’t discovered its killer app yet. Such an app might come from an unexpected corner. But what it will offer is something that is so compelling that it drives the purchase of VR hardware. We’re not there yet. But there’s no telling what might be just around the corner…