Editorial: I’m Officially Back!

Well, I am now officially back from my self-imposed vacation from the blog, refreshed and re-energized!

However, I will still extremely busy with projects at my full-time, paying job with my university library system over the next month, so please don’t expect a torrent of blogposts. My time will be limited.

I will also be resuming sponsored blogposts for Sinespace. If you are interested in having me writing sponsored blogposts for your platform, feel free to contact me. If sponsored blogposts are not your thing, then how about advertising on my blog?

Don’t forget that you can also join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where 450 people from around the world discuss, debate, and argue about anything and everything pertaining to the ever-evolving metaverse. We’d love to welcome you!

Thanks for sticking around, and stay tuned for more “News and Views on Social VR, Virtual Worlds, and the Metaverse”!

UPDATED! VRChat Maps Discord Server: A Directory for Finding Cool Worlds to Explore in VRChat

Stair Hall in VRChat: A procedurally-generated maze of staircases.
Can you reach the prize in the glass cabinet, tantalizingly out of reach?

With over 50,000 user-created worlds, there is just so much to see in VRChat. However, there is no in-world directory, and you have to rely on using keyword search to find worlds to explore, which admittedly is not ideal. What’s really needed is some sort of directory broken down by category (something I am surprised has not been added to VRChat yet).

However, VRChat user CatRazor has created a very useful Discord server called VRChat Maps, which is described as follows:

CatRazor here, I made this place to sort out the maps of VRChat into categories in case someone is looking for something specific. These maps are personally picked out by me, I believe these maps are worth a visit and you will not regret it!

#adventure-maps – Maps with an objective, such as escape rooms, boss battles and etc.

#club-and-dance-maps – Dance to your heart’s content!

#exploration-maps – Maps where you can enjoy beautiful sights and seek out secrets.

#festive-maps – Maps to celebrate the holidays!

#game-maps – PVP/Game maps.

#hang-out-maps – Usually small maps where you can enjoy conversations with friends.

#horror-maps – As the name entails, not for the faint of heart.

#sleep-maps – Good places for sleepy time, make sure you use a private world for these to not be woken up.

#unique-concept-maps – Maps designed to show off cool mechanics.

For example, here is the entry for the Stair Hall world, found in the #unique-concept-maps channel. Basically, it’s a snapshot of the entry under the Worlds menu:

The world itself, Stair Hall, is a maddening maze of procedurally-generated staircases leading up and down as far as the eye can see, with your goal being to reach an elusive prize in a glass cabinet.

The only problem with this directory of cool places to visit is that it is in Discord, outside your VR headset! So you’ll have to go back and forth in order to use it. Either that, or use the VRChat Maps Discord first, in order to draw up a list of some interesting places to see, noting down the keywords to search under Worlds, then go in-world to explore.

Other ways to find cool worlds to explore are to check out the #world-showcase channel on the VRChat Community Discord, or the #favorite-worlds channel on the VRChat Events Discord. There’s also a Showcase forum on the VRCat user discussion forums for people to share worlds.

Happy exploring!

UPDATE Nov. 12th: A commenter on the VRChat subReddit told me about The World of VRChat, a website directory for VRChat worlds that I did not know about before. The website is in Japanese, but if you turn on Google auto-translate, it works well. Thank you, Warhorse07!

Editorial: We Are the Problem and We Are the Solution

I remember when I was first invited into the Sansar closed beta in December of 2016. That early community consisted of content creators who had been contacted by Linden Lab and asked if they wanted to take part in the beta test, and many of us eagerly accepted the invitation, even going so far as to recommend other people that LL could contact to add to the community.

It was a heady, exciting time. People were feeling energized and invigorated by the challenges of working on a brand-new, VR-capable platform. We used Slack as our main means of communication, as well as meetups in Sansar, and together we worked to test things to see what would break, and to report bugs and make suggestions for improvement to the team at Linden Lab. Jenn was out first community manager, working double-duty between Second Life and Sansar in those earliest days.

It’s now August 2019, thirty-two months later. Slack was replaced by Discord. Jenn went back to Second Life full-time, and was replaced as Sansar community manager by Eliot, who in turn was replaced by Galileo. Many new features have been added to Sansar in that time.

Many of the people who were heavily invested in the earlier days of Sansar have pulled back, or pulled out of Sansar completely. Each had their own personal reasons for doing so. Some left because they were frustrated at what they saw as slow development of features that they considered fundamental. Some left because they didn’t like the way that Linden Lab was running things with respect to fees and payments. Some left because of harassers, trolls and griefers, either on the Discord or in-world. Some left because they felt they weren’t earning enough money to make their work worthwhile. Others left because they just felt burned out, and they needed a break, and they simply never came back. And all of these are perfectly legitimate reasons. Communities grow and change over time. Some people leave; others join.

But I have noticed a particularly troubling and dispiriting trend in the Sansar Discord channels lately. In the early days, disputes and arguments were relatively few, and (usually) quickly settled. But the number of disputes, attacks, arguments, and just overall ill-will has risen sharply in recent months. People seem to have shorter tempers, and they seem to be much more likely to start attacking each other personally. And I’m as guilty of this as anybody else.

The earliest members of the Sansar community knew that things were not perfect, but almost all of us felt that Linden Lab was working hard and in good faith to fix the bugs and add the features we wanted to see for Sansar to be a success, if not immediately, then in the future. But now, it almost feels like everybody’s patience has been stretched too thin. We (and I do include myself) are quicker to take offense, quicker to lash out, and quicker to assume ill intentions from the actions of other people and from Linden Lab itself.

This is a problem that can’t be resolved just by moderation on the Discord and ejecting troublemakers in-world. Galileo and Lacie and Harley are good moderators and bouncers, but they can’t be around 24/7/365, and they shouldn’t have to be.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The problem is us. I—we—all of us—need to stop and look in the mirror before pointing fingers at other Sansar users, or at Linden Lab. We all need to address what we do in that infinitesimal gap between the trigger incident that made us upset or angry, and the response we choose to make. The response we CHOOSE to make. Hiding behind a username or an avatar is no excuse.

The solution starts with us. We need to communicate in ways that build people up instead of ripping them down. We need to disagree in ways where we don’t attack other people. We need a return to manners, civility, and etiquette. We need to emulate the behaviour we want to see in newcomers to our community. We need to become better people.

Behavioural scientist and researcher Jessica Outlaw has started a nine-part series on how to build a strong culture in social VR. So far, she has posted the first 3 parts:

Please take the time to read Jessica’s articles, and please reflect on what we can do, individually and collectively, to make the Sansar community the best place it can be. We are the problem, but we are also the solution.

How to Effectively Deal with Conflict in Online Communities

Early this morning before I left for work, I had to step in to intervene in a three-way conversation on the RyanSchultz.com Discord about a technical issue, which was rapidly turning into a heated disagreement. All sides of the argument had very strong opinions, and after another angry debate later today, one of the parties chose to leave the Discord completely, despite my pleas to stay.

Which led me to ask myself: what is the best way to moderate online communities when people start to argue? And how can you have a civil disagreement without having it devolve into arguments, accusations and people leaving the community, never to return? (Please note that I am not talking about trolls, griefing and harassment, which are an entirely separate topic.) So I went and did a little research…

And I found a very useful post from the SocMedSean blog, ten tips for knowing when and how to avoid an online argument:

  1. Learn Thumper’s Rule: If you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all.
  2. Don’t argue just to argue: “Community managers can spot them a mile away. Trolls who like to just stir the pot and start arguments. They’re the bane of our existence and when I spot one, I give one stern warning and then have no problem clicking the Ban button when they do it again. If you’re there just to argue, then go someplace else. If you’re there to contribute and enjoy the company of other people, great. But don’t be a troll. No one likes  a troll.”
  3. Know your position and how to defend it: “Do you really believe in the argument you’re making or are you just attacking the person who is disagreeing with you?”
  4. Think about the community: “Before you go off on a rant, think about whether the content is actually useful to the other members of the community. If not, keep it to yourself or find the right channel to express your point of view.
  5. Consider how others would view the discussion and your behaviour
  6. Consult with the site owner or community manager
  7. Learn to agree to disagree
  8. Consider learning from the person you are debating
  9. Be you…the real you: “Understand that who you are online should be reflective of who you are in real life. Ask yourself, ‘if I held this argument in person over a beer, would I be saying the same things?’ If the answer is NO, then stop typing. Don’t say things online that you wouldn’t say in-person.”
  10. Back up your position with real, verifiable facts

Neobela, one of the members of the RyanSchultz.com Discord, summed it all up in a couple of words:

Howard Rhinegold’s Brainstorms (where many folk from The Well landed) had only one community rule: “Assume Goodwill”. That pretty much covers it all if you think about it!

Part of the problem with online communities is that you often don’t have things like tone of voice or facial expressions to add to what the person is typing. This can often lead to tragic misunderstandings. And it’s surprising how often people forget this. It’s always better to ask and confirm what someone is saying, rather than make assumptions. (Again, I am not talking about dealing with trolls and griefers.)

So, what tips and tricks have you found helpful in dealing with conflict in online communities? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or even better, join us on my Discord and continue the conversation there!