You might be interested to learn that my Google AdSense follies have continued (for previous updates, see here, here, here, and here). I have long ago given up on trying to fix blogposts which are flagged by their automated algorithms, and mistakenly determined to be “adult” content.
Well, I recently received an email from Google AdSense, informing me that because of what they politely call “invalid traffic concerns”, they are pulling advertising from my blog.
In the email I received, they say:
We found potentially invalid traffic being used to generate ad revenue on your account. As a reminder, invalid traffic is strictly prohibited by the AdSense Program policies. Clicks on Google ads must result from genuine user interest. Publishers may not ask others to click their ads. This includes asking users to support your site, offering rewards to users for viewing ads, and promising to raise money for third parties for such behavior. Additionally, clicking your own ads, automated clicking tools or traffic sources, robots, or other deceptive software are also prohibited.
We understand that you may want to know more about the activity we’ve detected. Because this information could be used to circumvent our proprietary detection systems, we’re unable to provide our publishers with information about specific account activity, including users that may have been involved.
Their algorithms have decided that there is invalid clicking on their ads;
And no, they can’t give me any more information (trade secrets, yaknow…)
I hereby give up, and I will be removing Google Adsense from my blog this evening. I have had enough of this bullshit. I will stick with WordPress’s own WordAds program.
I have decided that, effective immediately, I will no longer be using this blog as my pandemic diary. While the experiment over the past three weeks has proved interesting, and some people have commented that they liked to see some aspects of the real life of the blogger behind the blog, I also realize that they detract from the main purpose of this blog which is, as the tagline states, “news and views on social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse”.
I will also refrain from writing about the coronavirus pandemic in general, unless it also has something to do with my main focus: social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse.
I will also be taking a few days off from this blog, because I need to take a break.
While I am quite certain that I do not have anywhere near the same amount of traffic as popular, long-established fellow bloggers such as Wagner James Au of New World Notes or Strawberry Singh, my WordPress stats are telling me that I am now consistently getting between 1,100 and 1,300 views per day, which is a significant increase in just the past week. Thank you for your support!
Apparently, a lot of people who are trying to find ways to cope with social isolation policies, lockdowns, and quarantines during the coronavirus pandemic are busy setting up new accounts on Second Life, or dusting off old ones to pay a return visit! Almost all of that new traffic to my blog is Second Life-related, especially my continuing coverage of Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies. And there have certainly been a lot of high-quality freebies that have been given out by various stores during the pandemic, to encourage people to stay home and play Second Life instead of going out! (If you’re looking for one handy summary of my best advice for finding freebies in Second Life, here it is.)
I am endlessly amused that my all-time most popular blogpost of all time is one that is the top Google search result when you search on “vrchat adult” (which, apparently, quite a lot of people do):
I even joined the Second Life Blogger Network, and every so often, Strawberry Linden (formerly SL superblogger Strawberry Singh) kindly spotlights one of my blogposts on the official Second Life Community News feed, thus bringing me even more traffic. (Thank you, Strawberry!)
And (once again), two of my Top Ten posts are about adult content in social VR platforms and virtual worlds: VRChat (#1) and Oasis (#6, which was a sharply critical review of the struggling platform, which I do expect to fold at some point). It would appear that sex sells…or at least, it attracts readers who are searching Google for adult virtual worlds, which is a niche that, as I wrote in another popular blogpost (this link is also safe for work):
I want to make it clear that I am notgoing to get into the habit of covering adult/sex-based virtual worlds. There are literally dozens of them out there, and frankly, I find them boring as hell.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a game-changer, an unprecedented global health crisis that has had completely unanticipated impacts on all kinds of businesses (for good or ill), disrupted all kinds of practices and behaviours, and upended all kinds of conventional wisdom. So, perhaps, adult social VR platforms and virtual worlds will see an increase in usage if people can’t swipe right on Tinder? Who knows what will happen. It will be fascinating to watch.
But no, I still don’t plan to cover adult/sex-based platforms in the same way I write about other niche and more general-purpose social VR platforms and virtual worlds. Despite my very rare past forays into that market on this blog, I will be leaving that field to somebody else to cover. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
It’s 2:00 a.m. and I have an absolutely wicked case of insomnia, so I decided to write up most of this blopost in the wee small hours of the morning, and answer the questions I received in my Ask Me Anything (AMA) blogpost.
You might find it interesting to see my recent daily blog statistics from WordPress. As you can see, there has been a slow but significant increase in my blog views and visitors within the past two weeks:
In the old days, last year, if I got over 500 views per day, I was quite happy. Now I am regularly getting over 500 views by noon, and well over 1,000 views per day! In the past week, I have even hit 1,200 views per day several times. The overwhelming majority of that traffic is my Second Life content, particularly my coverage of Second Life steals, deals, and freebies.
Despite this level of activity, you are still a rather quiet bunch: I only received three questions!
Andrew Heath asks me:
What features do you think Facebook needs to add to Facebook Horizons, to make it stand out to its rivals?
Well, Facebook has lots of money to throw around at things like advertising and programming talent. Facebook has also been buying up popular VR companies like Beat Saber, and will no doubt find ways to provide exclusive access to Facebook Horizon users, shutting out competing platforms who don’t have such deep pockets.
Facebook will ruthlessly use every tool and tactic at its disposal to ensure that Facebook Horizon stands out and gets attention. Expect massive news media coverage when the social VR platform does open its doors to the general public. Until then, they will be keeping a very tight lid on the alpha testing process, with very little information released.
Another point I want to make is that Facebook is not aiming at the traditional virtual world user community (the classic example being, of course, almost 17-year-old Second Life). Facebook is aiming Horizon at their social media users, the Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp crowd, an estimated audience of over six billion individual accounts, which gives the company massive leverage.
Whether they succeed at enticing these people to take the plunge into virtual reality remains to be seen, but sales of Oculus Quest in particular have been strong, despite supply chain problems due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic may give an advantage to Facebook, as millions of people around the world self-isolate at home and seek ways to interact and socialize in ways that feel more immersive than Discord, Zoom and Webex. The timing might be perfect.
However, your Facebook Horizon avatar will be clearly associated with your real-life profile, and you can bet that Facebook will advertise to you in a similar targeted fashion to what you now see in your Facebook social network feed. While this link to your real-life profile may well cut down on griefing, trolling, and harassment, it is also likely to be unappealing to many current metaverse platform users for exactly that same reason. I wrote more about it in an editorial here.
Has anybody had any commercial success with any of these ventures, other than Second Life?
Well, the only company that I know that’s generating a profit (and that’s because because I was extremely nosey, and I asked them) is ENGAGE, which seems to be doing quite well for itself in the educational social VR market. And, of course, Cryptovoxels is making enough money to enable its lead developer, Ben Nolan, to work on it full-time. The rest is a question mark. And that’s perfectly fine with me; metaverse-building companies are certainly under no obligation to tell me/us if they’re making money yet or not.
The key here seems to be: start small, grow organically and incrementally, and let things evolve and customers come to you. I do know that some social VR platforms and virtual worlds have seen an uptick in business because of the wholesale shift of things like conferences from the real world to the virtual world (in fact, one company I know is working lots of overtime dealing with all the extra business!).
From my vantage point, it seems pretty clear that the strategy of throwing years of software development work and millions of dollars of venture capital at platforms has not worked out well so far (e.g. High Fidelity, Sansar), mainly because the consumer market for virtual reality failed to ignite as predicted. However, the coronavirus pandemic is now a potential game-changer for a lot of metaverse-building companies. The longer the public health crisis lasts, and the more quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing are imposed on restless populations, the more people will look at these platforms as a place to work, meet, rest, and play.
On the flip side, the mounting economic crisis will also cause some poorly-thought-out metaverse projects to fold due to lack of investment. I can see this happening for many of the start-ups in the blockchain-based virtual worlds, for example. Not the three front runners (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space), but the also-rans, many blockchain projects which seem to consist of nothing much more than: a white paper full of crypto-bafflegab; a .io website domain spouting senseless use cases; mystifying, vague promotional videos; and a tired Telegram group flogging a struggling ICO. Expect to see a lot of shutdowns in this market segment. Those who were lucky enough to get in at the right time might (might) make a tidy profit; the rest are doomed.
As for Sansar, I honestly fail to see how pursuing the exact same strategy that failed when they were owned by Linden Lab—a focus on live events to the exclusion of just about anything and everything else—will make the slightest bit of difference now that they are owned by Wookey, barring some miracle. I could very well be wrong; perhaps another year or two of runway, and Sansar will indeed take off in flight (my apologies for that rather mangled metaphor). But many of the world designers and builders who helped shape the early days of Sansar, and built many of their most popular worlds, now feel alienated by this pivot and have simply given up, migrating to benefit other platforms such as Sinespace. Many former Sansar users are now kicking the tires on Helios, a brand new social VR platform based on the Unreal game engine. Sansar’s loss is their gain.
Ironically, one or more of the three forks of the open-source High Fidelity code may yet take off in popularity, although there’s obviously still lots of work to do. However, there is an energy and enthusiasm I see taking place in these forks that is encouraging, and frankly infectious. I do wish these projects well, and I will follow them closely.
And finally, John has a longer comment and a question for me:
Not sure I have a question. But would very much like to say that the occasional glimpses into your ‘real self/world’ moments as opposed to the ‘virtual world’ moments/posts, are incredibly powerful and reassuring, reminding me that all of us are human, and these glimpses are what keep me coming back to your blog. They comfort me and reassure me. You are real. You are trying your best. And you help me (us) when you show us what is beyond the successful veneer of the top notch librarian/researcher. Just wanted to say thanks. Your blog is part of my morning ritual, along with the newspapers, and it is even more of a requirement now, in these difficult times. Oh yes, I might have a question. Can you keep this blog of yours going till the ol’ Internet fades?
Thank you for your kind words, John! I’m glad I can be a small part of your day.
And yes, I do plan to keep this blog going as long as I can, and I’ve even thought a bit about having it archived in some way after I pass on, to create a sort of time capsule of an interesting era in social VR and virtual worlds. I am currently in the process of creating a will and a healthcare power of attorney, still waiting to hear back from the lawyer that my financial planner recommended. (I also plan on leaving many of my Second Life avatars to other people via my will. My lawyer is going to have a field day drawing up my will!)
In the interim, especially in these precarious days of pandemic, I will be writing up a detailed document to share with my friends and family, with all my accounts and passwords, making my wishes clear in the event of my untimely death. I will not leave you hanging!
But I don’t plan on going anywhere! I am just starting to hit my stride here.