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 A Globe journalist steps inside to find out (if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version).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.

Metaverse Fashion Week in Decentraland, March 23rd to 27th, 2022

I’ve already written about the Metaverse Fashion Week virtual catwalk shows previously held in Second Life here, but I also wanted to mention that the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland is hosting several days of virtual fashion events as part of its own Metaverse Fashion Week.

The Fashion Bible Vogue reports:

MVFW, which starts this Thursday 24 March on virtual real estate platform Decentraland, is the largest digital fashion event to date. It is open to anyone, and a full schedule will appear online. Ongoing events throughout a four-day period include a handful of shows, alongside showrooms, stores, panels, virtual parties and NFT drops. It’s also become a major crossover event for mainstream fashion, with brands including Paco Rabanne, Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Tommy Hilfiger, Dundas and Cavalli set to join digital firms such as Auroboros and DressX.

Here’s the full schedule of events, plus my step-by-step instructions on how to set up a Decentraland account if you need them. See you there!

UPDATED! Blockchain, Crypto, and NFT Metaverse Platforms: How to Spot a Scam

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

Not too long ago, I wrote up a blogpost about an NFT-based metaverse project called Wilder World. As part of my research, I joined the Wilder World Discord server. This morning, I got a direct message from someone with the account name Wilder World, with a come-on to invest in a “limited-time presale” of Wilder World virtual land.

As I suspected, this was a scam. I know this because I know that legitimate NFT metaverse projects do not direct message users via Discord. (I have seen similar messages before, borrowing the names of projects such as Cryptoland, Decentraland, and Somnium Space, to the point where I recently issued a warning via Twitter:

I also got a DM via Discord from them this morning. In the past month, I have received phishing offers from scammers impersonating Cryptovoxels, Decentraland and Somnium Space. Caveat emptor! These are all scams. #MetaverseNFT

Getting back to the scammer from Wilder World, I read the message carefully, and noticed a couple of signs that something wasn’t quite right.

First, in a direct message, Discord will inform you if you and the other person have any Discord servers in common. The fact that Wilder World and I had “no servers in common” is a big red flag. You seriously mean to tell me that the REAL Wilder World would contact me from a Discord account that doesn’t even belong to the official Wilder World Discord server?

Second, I checked the URL against the list of official links in the #official-links channel on the official Wilder World Discord server, and did NOT find this new, suspicious URL on it! (I blurred out part of the URL address in the previous image.) If the Discord server does not have such a list (and all legitimate projects should), then look for it on the official website. Never click on a new, unfamiliar URL you have not thoroughly investigated first!

It is all too easy to target people who have joined an official Discord server for NFT metaverse projects, since you can easily see who else is with you on the server (just check the far right-hand column). It’s also very easy to create a false account by stealing an official logo and calling yourself the project’s name (e.g. “Wilder World”). There is nothing stopping you from creating as many Discord accounts called Wilder World as you wish, since each one has a separate, randomly-generated four-digit suffix at the end of the username (see image, right).

And, unfortunately, some people always fall for this particular scam which appropriated the logo and name of Wilder World, using a well-written come-on and a fake website to take that person’s hard-earned cryptocurrency:

A: That was a scam, I think
Victim: are serious?! ffs

B: There is no land stuff [right now] The focus is on Pets.

Victim: I just filled it out!

A: So any land sale is a scam [right now]

Victim: omg did I just get scammed

C: There was a scammer yesterday DM’ing people

Victim: wtf it was a message from Wilder World
D: From a scam CLONE
E: oh noooooooo Wilder World never DMs u!!
F: Was a scammer with a WW logo on their profile
G: [refers Victim to the -scammers channel]

H: Land is not for sale yet, only raffle for mint list is available on [Wilder World] website, click the link in announcements

And I went over to take a look at the -scammers channel on the official Wilder World Discord server, to see this, plus numerous other scams being reported on. The Victim did report this scam on that channel (see image right), but unfortunately, any money he thought he was spending on NFT-based virtual land in Wilder World is unrecoverable.The scammer, once he or she fleeces a number of people, then deletes the Discord account and the website, and vanishes into the night—likely to repeat the same scam on a different target in future.

So, once again, I am going to list the things that you can do to avoid getting scammed via a direct message on Discord for the various and sundry NFT metaverse projects:

  1. Legitimate projects will not direct message you on Discord. Instead, they will use an #announcements channel on their official Discord server, or perhaps post a blogpost on their official website.
  2. Always check any DM you receive via Discord to see what servers you and the other person have in common. If you and the other person have “No servers in common” (particularly, the official Discord for the legitimate project), that is a red flag! I belong to almost a hundred Discord servers related to social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, and I now routinely block any DM from someone where I have “No servers in common”. The reasoning is this: anybody whom I am interested in talking to should belong to at least one of the same Discord servers as I do!
  3. Check the various channels of the legitimate NFT metaverse project Discord server carefully. Look for an official announcements channel. Look for an official links/URLs channel, either on the Discord or on the project’s official website. Look for a channel to report potential scams and scammers.
  4. Always stop and ask yourself if something is too good to be true. Be highly suspicious of any “good-will gesture” such as the following example, taken directly from today’s Wilder World scammer: “As many of you may have expected, there has been talks of a land sale coming up and we are excited to officially announce…As a way of giving back to those who supported Wilder World early, we will be hosting a limited-time presale to raise liquidity and allow our users to buy the land early before…”.
  5. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON BLOCKCHAIN, CRYPTOCURRENCIES, AND NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS! If you aren’t willing to take the time to learn how all this works, you are better off staying out of this arena until you do.

I leave you with a few articles on the subject of blockchain/crypto/NFT scams (I’m sure you can find many more on your own):

REMEMBER: Do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your homework before investing in any blockchain. cryptocurrency, or NFT project! Be especially cautious when you receive a direct message on Discord!!! Caveat emptor!

UPDATE 4:17 p.m.: Someone on the official Wilder World Discord server shared the following handy tip:

You should turn off server DMs from any NFT Discord you’re in – just click on the server name, select Privacy settings from the drop down menu, and switch them off. NFT Discords will never DM you directly.

Everyrealm: The Multi-Million-Dollar Metaverse Company You Probably Haven’t Heard of Yet (But You Will!)

Republic CEO Kendrick Nguyen (image source)

This man is Kendrick Nguyen. Five years ago, he founded an investment firm called Republic, focused on opportunities in startups, real estate, video games, and crypto. On Oct. 19th, 2021, TechCrunch reporter Connie Loizos wrote:

Where many see regulatory murkiness, the five-year-old, New York-based investing platform Republic sees opportunity. Indeed, while many outfits grapple with whether to distance themselves from certain digital assets, Republic — whose CEO, Kendrick Nguyen, started his career in securities litigation with Goodwin Procter — has focused from the start on establishing itself as a go-to brand for what Nguyen calls “compliant tokenization.”

Just today, the company is announcing a $150 million Series B round led by Valor Equity Partners, which follows a $36 million Series A round that the company announced in March from Galaxy Interactive, Motley Fool Ventures, HOF Capital, Tribe Capital and CoinFund. (Those earlier investors just re-upped, by the way, and were joined by new backers Pillar VC, Brevan Howard, GoldenTree and Atreides.)

Altogether, says Nguyen, Republic, which employs 200 people, had raised more than $50 million in equity financing ahead of this newest round, and more than $20 million in a token sale.

The outfit is certainly busy putting it all to work. Republic already comprises several different business arms, including a popular retail investment platform that invites people to invest with as little as $10; a private capital division with almost $1 billion in assets under management that funnels accredited investors into startups; and a blockchain consultancy arm that provides technical, financing, distribution and tokenization services.

Republic also right now has two affiliated closed-end investment funds deploying capital into startups and crypto projects, along with a digital investment arm operating as Republic Realm that focuses exclusively on metaverses and NFTs.

Anita Ramaswamy wrote in a follow-up TechCrunch article on Feb. 10th, 2022 that Republic has spun off its Republic Realm arm into a separate company, helmed by CEO Janine Yorio. Republic will be a minority investor in this new company, which has been rebranded as Everyrealm:

Some statistics taken from the brand-new Everyrealm website include the following:

My avatar standing in the Metajuku shopping district in Decentraland

It’s clear that Everyrealm has serious money to spend (they’ve already raised US$60 million), and they intend to invest it in a variety of metaverse platforms! Anita reports:

Everyrealm hopes to become “the gateway to the entire metaverse ecosystem,” according to the company. It is invested in 25 different metaverses and owns 3,000+ NFTs today, Yorio said.

“We started out investing [in the metaverse], but we’ve since expanded our mandate to do a lot more than that. We see ourselves as developers of metaverse content, so we don’t just passively invest and sit back and wait for other people to build things,” Yorio said. The company has built on top of many of its virtual properties — for example, it launched a retail store concept in Decentraland two weeks ago, which it plans to expand into other metaverse platforms, Yorio said. Indeed, 10,000 virtual items in the store sold out in the span of an hour, she added.

Not too long ago, I wrote a blogpost about the then-Republic Realm’s foray into education, writing with just a smidgen of snark about something called the Republic Realm Academy:

Apparently, they have set up a virtual campus in the blockchain-based social VR platform Somnium Space, and Somnium Space CEO Artur Sychov himself will be teaching “a class at the Academy about VR and the future of the metaverse:”

Tuition for four weeks, which includes a “limited edition Republic Realm Academy NFT Tuition Badge”, which will “be your campus ID card and unlock all Republic Realm Academy resources and initiatives at the start of the term”, six online courses, plus “limited office hours with professors, subject to availability”, costs US$1,000…

Let’s face it: it’s to Cathy’s and Artur’s and so many other people’s advantage to sell (and yes, I deliberately use the word sell) as many people as they can on this frankly blinkered perspective on the metaverse—even to the point of offering thousand-dollar certificates for things could probably be learned just as easily from others for free! The overall messaging here is that the non-blockchain-based metaverse platforms which predate this boom in artificially-scarce NFT-based real estate are simply not worth bothering with or investing in.

Well, I now publicly will eat some crow, because buried in Anita’s TechCrunch report is the following news nugget:

Everyrealm also operates a virtual educational campus called Realm Academy in the Somnium Space metaverse, where users can learn more about web3 concepts through online courses. Its inaugural class has 500 students who have paid $1,000 each to attend, Yorio said.

If Janine Yorio is to be believed (and frankly, I have zero reason to doubt her), Everyrealm cleared 500 x US1,000 = US$500,000 from the first offering of their six-course educational program. That’s right—a cool half-million dollars! I guess I was seriously wrong about people not being interested in signing up for their courses, and I am willing to admit that I was wrong. Hey, it does happen—sometimes… 😉

And, I was also wrong about something else. As it turns out, Everyrealm has not limited their investment to solely the metaverse platforms with NFT-based real estate! Today I learned that the company is involved in a major event which is taking place this week in Second Life, the Metaverse Fashion Week 2022:

As featured in Vogue today, designer Jonathan Simkhai has partnered with metaverse developer Everyrealm and metaverse production house Blueberry Entertainment to produce an exciting new Metaverse Fashion Week event inside Second Life – and you are invited!

Second Life community members can be among the first to preview all-new exclusive spring 2022 collections this week by attending any of the several runway shows scheduled throughout this week

Check out this video sneak peek of what to expect on the runway. Video Production by Vrutega.

Irritatingly, the above link to “several runway shows scheduled throughout this week” only takes you to the sim where the events are taking place, but without the details of when they were happening! Fortunately, Inara Pey has all the details in a detailed write-up on her blog:

The individual in question is New York fashion designer and 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, Jonathan Simkhai. As a part of the New York Fashion Week event, he offered a special preview of some of his designs from his Autumn / Winter 2022 (AW22) collection at a special fashion show that took place in Second Life.

In all 11 pieces from the collection have been visualised for Second Life by none other than Mishi McDuff (aka Blueberryxx), founder and owner of SL’s popular Blueberry brand (and, I will admit, one of my go-to designers on the admittedly rare occasions I feel I need to spruce up my virtual wardrobe). In bringing the designs to SL, Blueberry has also given them a special “metaverse flair” – utilising the unique advantages of the digital world to offer twists to some of the items that cannot be replicated in the physical world – such as a sequined dress that gradually loses its embellishments and morphs into a bodysuit as the model walks the runway.

The items were presented to an invited audience of models, influencers, celebrities, and journalists from the fashion, technology and lifestyle industries. They had the opportunity to see the virtual items ahead of Simkhai presenting their physical world equivalents on the New York catwalk, so the guests could witness the virtual garments and their unique properties up close – and even try them on.

I think that this is a brilliant move by Everyrealm. Why? Because none of the NFT metaverse platforms they currently invest in (Decentraland, Somnium Space, Axie Infinity, etc.) have anything which compares to the mature, fully-evolved dressable avatar system which has evolved over the 18+ years of the history of Second Life! Here’s one of the pictures used in the (unfortunately paywalled) Vogue Business article:

And you can bet that Linden Lab is on board with this; how often does Second Life get mentioned in Vogue, plus fashion and tech news outlets like British GLAMOURMobile Marketing, and the Fashion Network? As Inara says:

This may sound like something straight out of 2006-2008, when many physical world brands tried to hop into SL in the belief it would magically allow them to grow their market influence, but actually it isn’t. The Simkhai / Blueberry relationship is far more symbiotic and engaging, and for two reasons.

The first is that as well as being presented to invited guests, the Second Life Simkhai collection will be the subject of a series of catwalk shows open to Second Life residents on Thursday February 17th / Friday February 18th, with shows set hourly from 13:00 through 16:00 (inclusive – see the Destination Guide link at the end of this article). Not only will these serve to show the designs to the Second Life community, they will also – according to Vogue’s Maghan McDowell –  allow SL users to purchase them at around L$1,000 per item.

So, if you missed out on today’s fashion shows, you can try to catch one tomorrow! I do have my eye on that haute couture dress illustrated in the Vogue Business article above! According to a press release posted to Reddit:

You can see the NFTs listed for sale here (scroll down the page a bit).

Yes, those are prices in U.S. dollars!

These NFTs, which cost anywhere from US$200-600 apiece, confer the following “benefits” (please note that this does not apply to sales within Second Life; as mentioned earlier, SL versions of these virtual garments, made in association with well-known womenswear designer Blueberry, will cost about L$1,000 each, a relative bargain!):

  • Limited edition Metaverse Fashion Week merchandise/apparel
  • Ability to wear Jonathan Simkhai NFT wearables as your avatar in the metaverse
  • Access to future Everyrealm digital wearables activations
  • Whitelisting for future digital wearables drops

Keep in mind that your ability to actually wear these garments on your avatar in the various NFT metaverse platforms is heavily dependent upon the ability of the various companies building those platforms to support it (I can guarantee you that the lovely Lucee dress shown above will not look nearly as sparkly on the current crop of Decentraland avatars, for example, let alone the voxel-based blockchain-based platforms like Cryptovoxels and The Sandbox!)

Therefore, many of these “benefits”, like so much for sale in this current season of blockchain, crypto, and NFT-based metaverse madness, are essentially the opportunity to flex and/or gloat to your friends…and to be first in line for the next line-up of expensive NFT-based avatar wearables!

However, I do have to hand it to Everyrealm. The company is certainly putting its money where its mouth is, and they are making a significant splash in the metaverse in a short time. I honestly cannot think of another firm which has its fingers in so many metaverse pies, all at the same time! More power to them.

As I often say on my blog, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and Everyrealm is attracting big money (and attention) to the ever-evolving and mutating metaverse! Who knows, maybe Second Life will be home to a few more fashion shows linked to real-world, big-name designers? As we can see, there’s still a valuable place for older, non-NFT-based metaverse platforms like SL in this season of the NFT metaverse!

Metaverse Fashion Week 2022

2022 is promising to be a very interesting year, I predict! Stay tuned! I leave you with this (undated) writeup by David Murphy of MobileMarketing:

Metaverse Fashion Week, an event produced by Everyrealm and Blueberry Entertainment, took place yesterday, featuring Jonathan Simkhai as the debut designer. The event occurred day prior to the physical Jonathan Simkhai 2022 presentation at New York Fashion Week, making the real-world designer the first ever to show it’s Fall/Winter 2022 digital wearables collection ahead of their physical counterparts…

Guest took their seats in the larger-than-life bespoke set made specifically for the fashion event in the Second Life metaverse. The secluded location was inspired by natural elements such as rock, water, air, and fire. Simkhai’s latest collection was showcased on the avatar models during the 8-minute presentation. Simkhai debuted 11 designs from his Fall/Winter 2022 collection, which were digitally reimagined for the Metaverse.

The garments are converted from the real-world version into 3D digital models using design software and video gaming technology. The Second Life Marketplace has been selling digital clothing and accessories from Blueberry since 2011. Wearables and clothing are among the most popular types of commerce in Second Life’s $650m dollar virtual economy.

Founded by Mishi McDuff in 2012 as a solo creator on Second Life, Blueberry has sold more than 20m on digital wearables, amassed a library of more than 10,000 digital SKUs optimized for hundreds of design attributes, and scaled an engaged community of loyal customers. Blueberry is already live on multiple metaverse platforms, and is actively expanding its brand and community to other web 2.0 and 3.0 metaverses.