The Joys of Second Life Photography

Among them

Image: Among Them, by Karin Verwood

In 2017, I decided to take a blogging course offered through BVuNiversity, the educational arm of the Blogger & Vlogger Network of Second Life (BVNSL for short). I was unique among the students attending, in that I was blogging about Sansar more than Second Life at the time (remember, this blog first started out in July 2017 as a blog about Sansar, launched when Sansar opened the doors to the public).

You can see the “test” Second Life blog which I set up to use for the course here. I’m no longer updating that blog; I just find it easier to have one blog (this one), where I can talk about various social VR/virtual worlds, including a section devoted to Second Life!

Anyways, a few of the weekly BVNSL classes were devoted to learning how to take good photographs in Second Life. And ever since then, I have found myself attracted to well-done SL photography, like the image at the top of this blogpost by Karin Verwood (you can see the rest of her pictures on Flickr, which is home to many talented Second Life photographers).

There are so many exceptional SL photographers that it would be impossible to list all of my favourites! Some focus on landscape or home and garden photography; others do portraits or fashion shoots; some focus on telling a story with action scenes!

If you are at all interested in Second Life photography, may I recommend you follow Wurfi on Twitter, who is a friend from both Second Life and Sansar? I have learned about so many wonderful SL photographers through his tweets.

Here are just a few recent examples of work from the many talented Second Life photographers whom I follow on Flickr. (You can click on each picture to take you directly to the Flickr page for the photo; from there, you can click on the photographer’s name under the picture to see all his or her work in chronological order.)

. you make me feel... like i'm alive again .
Crystal Gardens
Beauty is the ordinary
FGI19 Contest Entry: White As Snow
you are born to be real, not to be perfect
| { P A P P A D O } | CLOSED
Lost in the thrill of it all.
airplane mode.

The BVNSL also hosts an annual awards show, The Bloggies, where the public votes for bloggers and vloggers in various categories. Voting takes place from now until Oct. 19th, 2019, so don’t delay! The full list of categories and nominees and the link to the voting ballot is here.


Editorial: A Blogger’s Biases

bi·as /ˈbīəs/ — prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Oxford Dictionary (via Google)

Yesterday, I got into a debate with one of my blog readers on the Discord server, who felt that I was being hypocritical for saying that High Fidelity was “doomed” when I was not similarly harsh on Sansar, which also has low user concurrency figures.

She does have a good point (she comes from VRChat, which is demonstrably whooping Sansar’s ass in that department):

Every blogger has his or her own biases, and those biases will shift over time. I will admit that I have a soft spot for the two platforms developed by Linden Lab: Second Life and Sansar. And, I will also admit that my bias towards High Fidelity has swung from positive to negative in the past year. Other bloggers also have their biases, whether they publicly admit them or not. For example, Wagner James Au, of the long-running Second Life blog New World Notes, sometimes seems to have an axe to grind when it comes to Sansar.

Am I being fair to High Fidelity? Well, I guess it all depends on your perspective. Yes, I have been very harsh towards HiFi, because I see them lurching from mistake to mistake, but I am not really saying anything new here; other observers have also criticized High Fidelity. Many current and former HiFi users have told me privately that I am writing about what many of them are thinking. And I will continue to praise the company when I see them doing things that I think are beneficial, like their recent create-an-personalized avatar app for mobile devices, which I think is an excellent idea that I would like to see more social VR platforms and virtual worlds adopt. But yes, overall I do think that the company is in quite serious trouble, and yesterday I used the dreaded D-word: doomed.

Does this mean that I am uncritical of Linden Lab? Nope. I can point to numerous instances in the past where I have been sharply (and, yes, even unfairly) critical of Linden Lab. And I have been similarly critical at times of many other virtual worlds. Because I tend to get accused of bias when I do aim criticism at any particular company, I will refer you to a quote I made when I was accused of bashing Sansar by criticizing its too-early launch on Steam:

I want to stress that this is only one person’s opinion, not an official Sansar spokesperson’s point of view. I still remain a strong Sansar supporter, but I would be neglecting my duties as an independent social VR/virtual worlds blogger if I simply posted nothing but “good news” about Sansar, as some people want me to do.

And the exact same sentiment applies to any other platform I write about on this blog. I visit and enjoy many different social VR/virtual worlds, and I have made some great friends and had some wonderful experiences everywhere I go, but I am not simply going to be a cheerleader for any platform; I want to be able to report both the positive and negative sides of all the social VR platforms and virtual worlds I blog about.

So, why do I think that Sansar is not doomed? The various sources of Sansar user concurrency stats, while still low compared to rival platforms like VRChat and Rec Room, are showing promising signs of growth. This is also borne out by a definite increase in the number of people joining and participating in the official Sansar Discord. Sansar is clearly attracting new people. While that pace of user growth might still disappointing to Linden Lab, it is clear to this blogger that Sansar is still doing better overall than High Fidelity.

And yes, I could be wrong. I have often been wrong before. I thought that Virtual Universe would be a success, too, and it failed. I thought that Cryptovoxels would fail, and it has prospered. So, what do I know? I’m just a blogger who spends way, waaay too much time exploring social VR and virtual worlds, and writing about my experiences from my own unique perspective. I have been fortunate to get a bit of attention from my blog, but I am far from a seer. Nobody can predict the future.

And I make you this promise: if I do fuck up—and I tend to fuck up quite often, both in real life and in virtual worlds—I will admit it (especially if I am called out on it, as I was yesterday), own it, apologize, and move on. That’s the best and surest way to learn and grow.

Sometimes, I will push back, and argue my stance on certain issues if I still think I am right. And, right now, I will forcefully argue that Sansar is destined to succeed, although I suspect it will take many years for that to happen. Ebbe Altberg and his team at Linden Lab are very wisely playing the long game: slowly and methodically building a next-generation virtual world that might, someday, surpass Second Life in popularity (even in the face of potential behemoths like Facebook Horizon). We’ll see if that prediction comes to pass or not.

Finding Balance

Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash

I’ve been doing some thinking about all the crazy things that have happened this week on various social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and in the communities that spring up around them. And about how I have covered them here on this blog. Sometimes you have to take time to reflect on what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Otherwise, you are blundering on, making the same mistakes over and over again.

Trying to find balance as a blogger is difficult. You can write something that, to your eyes, looks like it’s a balanced treatment of something, and be criticized by someone who thinks it’s unbalanced, biased, and unfair. You can quote somebody, and then be accused of spreading misinformation by someone, because that’s not how they see things!

Look, people. The best I can do is my best, and that will almost certainly fall short of somebody’s expectations. I’m only human, I have my own set of biases, and when I fuck up, I own it, I admit it, and I apologize to the person or people I have offended, and move on.

I am not beholden to any of the companies that I write about, praise, and criticize. If I have any sort of relationship with a company, I am up front about it (as I did when I wrote about the Decentraland Game Jam; I had an affiliate link which I described in detail here, and I linked to that blogpost whenever I wrote a blogpost that included that affiliate link).

Yes, I have been critical—even downright sarcastic—in my evaluation of some platforms. Frankly, sometimes they deserve the criticism. I reserve the right to talk about how I see things happening, from my own perspective. And at times I have offered people who don’t like what I have written an opportunity to address that, in their own words, either as an update to the original blogpost, or as a guest editorial on my blog.

One platform owner wants to debate me on what I have written in an unedited video livestream, and that is where I absolutely draw the line. I explained to him that I do not do livestreams, as I prefer to release edited video content, like the episodes of Metaverse Newscast I do with my cameraman and producer, Andrew William. (In this particular case, I also offered to film an upcoming episode of the Metaverse Newscast about his platform, but he felt that that would take too long.)

At this point, after two years of blogging, I probably have any number of people who are unhappy, upset or angry with me for something I’ve written here. And you know what? I’m OK with that. I am not going to please everybody. And I am not going to go beyond a reasonable attempt to appease those who are unhappy, and who tell me they are unhappy, and who may even angrily rip a strip off me for what I’ve said or how I’ve said it.

Frankly, I am close to the point where I am fed up, and I am quite ready to completely write off a couple of platforms, no longer writing about them at all on this blog. (And I am quite sure some people involved with those platforms would probably welcome this.)

Finding balance is hard. Writing a blog is hard work. I will continue to admit when I make a mistake, where and when it is pointed out to me, and if I can see and appreciate where that person is coming from. I will try to make amends when I fuck up. But I do have my limits.

That’s all I have to say tonight.

Editorial: The Joys of Blogging

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

I first started messing around with blogging software like Movable Type and Blogger as far back as February of 2002. Nothing I created I stuck with for very long, although I did document the three years I spent in the nascent virtual world of Cloud Party (and my first adventures in avatar clothing design) in a blog I rather cleverly called Cloud Party Bugle. So this is not my first rodeo; I know the ropes.

As I have said before, I had never tried to get into the world (or “blogosphere”, as some call it) of Second Life blogging. It just seemed to me that bloggers like Strawberry Singh and Wagner James Au were already so well established, that I could never “break in” to that market and expect any success. I now realize that when you start your blog is not nearly as important as how often you blog, what you choose to blog about (finding your niche), and how you approach blogging (with enthusiasm and a unique perspective). If you have those things, readers will naturally come to your blog over time. My blog traffic is now twice what it was a year ago at this time. You might be surprised to know that, according to my WordPress statistics, Second Life users form the biggest group of visitors to my blog.

And I do take a certain amount of pride in my new role as the Freebie Queen of Second Life 😉 blogging about steals, deals, and freebies on the grid! In fact, my most popular blogpost of all time, a constantly-updated post about where to find free and inexpensive mesh heads and bodies for female Second Life avatars, now has 10,193 views as of today. There are a thousand bloggers covering fashion in Second Life, but few catering to freebie fashionistas! Even though I visit and write about many different social VR platforms and virtual worlds, one of my most enjoyable pastimes, still, is pulling together a well-put-together Second Life avatar look for next to nothing. If I could make money as a SL freebie fashion consultant, I would (but you really can’t make serious money at Second Life unless you are a successful content creator or a land baron).

I now find my email interactions with Google AdSense policy violations to be amusing rather than irritating. The latest one, ironically, was a blogpost about censorship flagged for having a Modigliani nude. And a few days later, as suddenly as the violation appeared in my Google AdSense account notices, it disappeared. I have no idea what happened, and I have given up trying to figure out the mysteries of Google AdSense policy application, and whether they are driven by computer algorithm or human intervention.

I’ve been alternately fascinated and appalled by the advertising inserted in my blogposts, both by WordPress WordAds and Goodle AdSense. The latest advertising scams making the rounds seem to prey on ketogenic dieters and older women obsessed with reducing wrinkles. Here’s a couple of examples of particularly ridiculous ads delivered via WordAds that popped up on my blog today:

When you click on these ads, it takes you to a website for a beauty product called the Essence of Argan. A little determined Google searching uncovered a detailed trip down the rabbit hole of a scam, and numerous consumer complaints of unauthorized credit card charges. Buyer beware!

The Essence of Argan website: Buyer beware!

As for scams around ketogenic dieting, Dr. Ryan Lowery has posted a good YouTube video on the whole Shark Tank keto diet pill scam:

I have some moral qualms about the WordAds advertising for these sorts of scams that I am seeing a little more often recently on my blog, and I may decide to pull my WordAds advertising altogether if the situation doesn’t improve (I make more money with Google AdSense anyways). I just hate the feeling that I may be inadvertently directing my blog readers to a scam artist, even though I know that I can’t assume responsibility for gullible people who click on misleading ads.

Between my Patreon patron page (thank you to all my wonderful patrons!) and my blog advertising via WordAds and AdSense, I am getting closer to the point where I can cover the costs my blog hosting plan on WordPress (I currently have their Business plan at CAD$33 a month, billed annually). But I am not too concerned about making money at this point. For me, it is more of a creative outlet. I didn’t get into this to make money; I did it because I love to blog!

But one of the most amazing things about my blogging is how it has changed my circumstances, and especially how people perceive me. Theanine said yesterday on the official Sansar Discord server:

Ryan is one of the most prominent social VR bloggers. His words have power…

And I immediately replied:

Oh God please do NOT put me on a pedestal. I will fall off and I will make a large crash when I do.

But the fact remains that I have, not by design and almost by accident, gone from writing a tiny blog exclusively about Sansar to a fairly popular blog covering any and all aspects of social VR, virtual worlds, and the evolving metaverse. And that means that I have a bit of clout. For example, I was among the first 200 people invited into the closed beta test of Decentraland, something I very much doubt would have happened if I weren’t blogging about this project since the very beginning.

And people are beginning to take notice: they are following me on Twitter (only 490 followers so far, but it’s gone up quite a bit this past year); they are welcoming me into their Discord servers (like the Educators in VR Discord, a community I first heard about via the entrepreneur who approached me about expanding and monetizing my list of social VR and virtual worlds); and they are coming to me with news tips and stories (for example, High Fidelity moving out of their expensive San Francisco headquarters). In one instance, two of the members of the Discord server, Michael Zhang and Jin, pulled together and analyzed all the data and produced bar charts which I used in a recent blogpost about which social VR platforms have raised the most money!

(By the way, I have decided not to monetize my list of social VR/virtual worlds. Instead, I will try to work something up for publication in a research journal instead. Working for a university, I tend to have more of an academic than an entrepreneurial bent anyways. Then I could add it to my résumé for the next time I apply for a promotion at work, assuming I do so before I decide to retire at the age of 60, which is the current plan. I might decide instead to create some sort of digital product and distribute it, perhaps via a newsletter mailing list, such as the one set up and operated by Tony, the Italian blogger behind the VR blog The Ghost Howls.)

I have rather ruthlessly pruned who I follow on Twitter to focus on virtual worlds and virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. And I discover a lot of ideas for blogposts from perusing my Twitter feed regularly. I much prefer Twitter and Reddit over Facebook (which, as many of you already know, I left as my New Year’s resolution at the end of last year, along with Instagram).

On Twitter, I can block tweets from irritating people like Donald Trump and his supporters, using tools such the Twitter Block Chain extension for the Chrome web browser, which will automatically block all users on a following/followers page. Here’s more information about Twitter Block Chain from the Boing Boing blog. (A shout-out to Jessamyn West, the librarian’s librarian, for telling me about Twitter Block Chain. It’s a Godsend. You should follow her on Twitter. Seriously, she’s my librarian superhero.)

Here’s another pro Twitter tip: how to automatically filter out neo-Nazi content from your Twitter stream, from the Lifehacker blog (another blog you should be following):

Twitter…is legally required to hide Nazi content and symbols in Germany and France. You can take advantage of this without moving to Germany. Twitter user Christa Peterson discovered that you can just tell Twitter you’re in Germany, and it will try to hide Nazi accounts and tweets.

Reddit has proven to be another good source for stories for the blog, including one of my most popular blogposts of all time, which actually got picked up by Google News and racked up over 10,000 views. (I didn’t even know that I could get a blogpost picked up by Google News! That just blew my mind when it happened.) Here’s a list of my favourite subReddits.

Among the useful resources I have discovered on my blogging journey are websites which offer free stock photos for blogs. You do not need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on pricey stock images! Most of the images you see on this blog are from my two main go-to sites, Unsplash and Pixabay, but there are literally dozens of websites out there which offer beautiful, high quality, royalty-free images.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

Another great find was the online graphic design program Canva. They do offer a premium subscription, but the free version is very powerful. I was able to use Canva to quickly and easily create professional-looking infographics, like this one, used in a January 2018 blogpost comparing Sansar and High Fidelity:

So, where does my blog go from here? Well, I certainly think I have found my niche, where I am very well-positioned to be able to respond to news and events in social VR and virtual worlds as they happen. For example, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland blows up in popularity, or becomes an epic crypto dumpster fire. Either way, it’s news and I will blog about it.

And yes, I was surprised when my recent blogpost about the first casino in Decentraland went viral, with almost 1,500 views in less than a week:

There is an amazing network effect in the crypto/blockchain community, especially if people think they can make money at something. Speaking of money, don’t forget to register for the upcoming Decentraland Game Jam, with some seriously sweet prizes, including a first place prize worth approximately US$21,000. You don’t need to own land to take part in the contest, and they’re even offering training sessions all next week (online via Twitch and at various real-world locations) on how to use the Decentraland SDK to create contest entries. Seriously, how can you lose?

So who knows what directions this blog will take in future, but I doubt I will stray far from my current formula: providing, as my blog tagline states, “News and Views on Social VR, Virtual Worlds, and the Metaverse”. Thank you all so much for accompanying me on this journey!