UPDATED! Ample Coverage on Sansar Avatars: “We’re all peacefully witnessing the sansarship”

Jesus H. Christ.

Is there a full moon? That’s the only possible explanation of the levels of craziness I have been witnessing in the past 24 hours on various social VR platforms.

First was the three-ring circus around High Fidelity’s Virtual Co-working Island Cam. And now all holy hell seems to have broken loose in the avatar creation community over on Sansar.

Apparently, a Linden Lab employee has flagged several custom female avatars for sale on the Sansar Store for lacking “ample coverage” (i.e., having enough of their breasts, vagina, and ass covered, as per Linden Lab guidelines banning totally nude avatars. I’ve already written an editorial about this overly-strict policy and what I think about it.

Furthermore, the Linden Lab staff member then issued 24-hour deadlines for the avatars to be fixed, or have them removed. This edict has gone over about as well as it could be expected. One creator who is quite upset about it, Medhue, told me:

Of course, I complained to Ebbe that all the female avatars on the marketplace don’t have enough ample coverage. So, today, all the female avatars or most [were flagged], including Fabeo’s. Fabeo tried to make an announcement about it all, in a funny creative way, and [LL staff member] removed the comment, and banned him from the Discord. In fact, the whole Avatar channel was blocked for any posting for a number of minutes, twice. You could get quotes from Bagnaria and Fabeo about it all, and dealing with [LL staff member]. They are truly a tyrant.

It’s one thing to enforce the rules, but it is another to dictate how much time you have to do it. One day isn’t even remotely reasonable. The craziness in the Discord though, is a whole other level of craziness, by a Lab employee trying to justify their tyranny.

For Bagnaria and I, it is just super demotivating to know [LL staff member] is watching us closely, for any missed step. I only complained to Ebbe to show how they are targeting us alone. All those other bodies were posted a good week before ours. So, [LL staff member] is either targeting us, or they just didn’t do their job for a week, and then chose to hit us first.

(UPDATE: Apparently, Medhue was wrong, and Fabeeo Breen was not banned from Discord. However, “slow mode” was enabled, which meant that you could only post once every five minutes on the #avatar channel. I apologize for my role in reporting untrue information. I should have checked with Fabeeo before posting that, and I didn’t. Also, I screwed up in the use of the proper pronouns in referring to the LL staff member in question. They have all been changed to they/them/their.)

For her part, Bagnaria said:

Let me just say, have never felt less motivated to continue to work on anything in Sansar.

Fabeeo Breen reported on the message he received from Linden Lab:

Hi Fabeeo, Announcing the replacement of the Daphne avatar is fine, but please make sure that your announcement does not contain language that might fall under our Community Standards against Disturbing the Peace.

Medhue retorted:

It is quite funny now that the Lab is using Disturbing the Peace as their reason for removing things posted by their CUSTOMERS. Ebbe, I read the post, and it was entertaining, and creative. Quite enjoyable actually. The only people being disturbed by it was Lab employees. Crap! This could fall under Disturbing the Peace too…

We were the first to get hit by the censor hammer. As Bag pointed out, we were contacted yesterday, and given 24 hours to fix it, as if we are just sitting around doing nothing and actually have the time for this sillyness. If they wanted a specific coverage, then they should have given that to us, instead of being VAGUE. They vagueness created this. I asked them several times at meetings exactly what was required, and instead of taking that question seriously, they laughed it off and said AMPLE COVERAGE. Again, they created this situation, by being vague.

I have complained in the past about the sometimes heavy-handed moderating of the official Sansar Discord. And I have blogged about how we need a return to etiquette, manners and civility in our online forums, too.

Frankly, both sides in this dispute need to take a step back and re-examine how they are approaching this situation. I am not impressed by either side’s behaviour today. Linden Lab needs to stop being so heavy-handed. And, for their part, the content creators need to be a little less thin-skinned.

But all this patent ridiculousness over “ample coverage” could easily be addressed by letting avatars be naked, like Barbie and Ken dolls. Then, custom avatar creators wouldn’t have to guess if the painted-on underwear is too revealing or not. I mean, for God’s sake, the default system avatars and the most popular mesh body avatars in Second Life are sold naked. Why is that such a big deal in Sansar? Is Linden Lab that scared of Sansar being tarred with the brush of X-rated content that they have to police this sort of thing, and go to these ridiculous extremes? Are we going to have an Ample Coverage Police Force?

The only truly funny thing to come out of this godawful mess was Silas Merlin’s comment:

We’re all peacefully witnessing the sansarship…

Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the content guidelines for the Sansar Store again, maybe even loosen them up a little. Either that, or explicitly mandate exactly how much of the avatar needs to be covered.

After all, even children are allowed to play with Barbie and Ken dolls.

May I leave you all with some sage advice from Taylor Swift?

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m.: Well, this blogpost has sparked a wide-ranging discussion on the official Sansar Discord server, and I learned quite a few things that I didn’t know before, such as the fact that the “ample coverage” guidelines Sansar has now are the result of the adjustments they’ve made to accommodate content creators over a period of years, and that the 24-hours rule (while being reviewed, internally, in response to this episode) is also a compromise to the original policy, which was to remove such content immediately without notice.

So, the message I get from Linden Lab is that these rules are not made up arbitrarily or on the spot. Mind you, Linden Lab has historically not been very good at providing the context in which those rules are formulated and updated. And, to be fair, the users and content creators often assume the very worst of intentions on the part of Linden Lab, often leaping to conclusions without evidence. Both sides can improve.

But I do apologize to Linden Lab and their staff the part I played in this. In particular, I jumped the gun and published this blogpost without getting all sides of the story. That was clearly not the best way to handle this situation, and I’m sorry.

SECOND UPDATE, Sept. 18th: I have replaced the original illustration at the top of this blogpost with this wonderful tongue-in-cheek image supplied by Silas Merlin, who told me his own stories of “sansarship”, but requested that I do not repeat them on the blog. Thanks, Silas!


Linden Lab Needs to Promote Their Contests More Effectively

I am in a somewhat cranky mood this morning. (Yes, I am 55 years old, and in certain circumstances, I am already considered a senior citizen, so I assume that this comes with the territory.)

This morning, the target of my ire is Linden Lab. Fellow Sansar blogger Inara Pey appears to share my irritation:

Attack of the Clones: a series of running (I believe) challenges for users to create avatar likeness of famous people using Sansar’s facial morphing capabilities (not made outside of Sansar and then uploaded). The first selection of faces runs through until Monday September 16th, and features the faces of Ripley (aka Sigourney Weaver) from the Alien franchise, Lando Calrissian (a.k.a. Billy Dee Williams, not Donald Glover) from the Star Wars films or someone called Pow3r (no, I’ve no idea who this is either). I gather entries are to be posted to Flickr.

I’m unable to give further context to these challenges, as the details are buried somewhere in Sansar’s Discord pages (where contests and competitions apparently don’t even have their own channel).

I think that the idea for this contest is great. It helps promote the new facial deformation features of the new Avatar 2.0 avatars in Sansar (see image right). Where I have a problem is with the execution of this contest.

And I agree with Inara Pey: why is Linden Lab making it so hard for us bloggers to learn about these contests? I just did a search for “clones” on the official Sansar Discord, and I can’t find a damn thing! How am I supposed to write up something about a contest when I don’t have any of the details? I only learned about it today via Inara’s blog. Digging through my bloated Twitter feed, I finally found a tweet with an announcement:

So, now you know about it too. You have a couple of days left to submit your entries, by tagging them with @SansarOfficial and posting them to Instagram or Twitter by Sept. 16th, 2019 (not Flickr, as Inara said). I have no idea if this is a one-time contest, or a running contest, or if there are any prizes. Like I said, the lack of details is irritating to me.

Let me make a suggestion for Linden Lab: how about setting up some sort of mailing list just for promoting your contests to bloggers, influencers, and members of the news media? Put all the details in one email (deadlines, prizes, etc.) and send it out once to everybody, so we’re all in the loop.

Ryan takes another swig of Geritol, shakes his cane, and yells at those damn kids to get off his lawn.

UPDATED! Caveat Emptor: Social VR “Market Research Reports”

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? Discuss and debate anything and everything related to social VR and virtual worlds, on the first cross-worlds Discord server! More details here

Caveat emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware”.

This evening on Twitter, somebody I followed posted a link to the following social VR market research report, covering the period 2019-2024. At first glance, it looks okay:

My first clue that something was “off” was the image used to illustrate this report: it’s a very poor quality image of AltspaceVR that had clearly been resized much too large.

My second clue that something was wrong was the rather robotic text used to describe the contents of the report, which I have quoted here verbatim (except for the URLs, which I have removed for obvious reasons):

Global Social VR Market 2019 analyzes important characteristics in major developing markets in depth. The assessment involves the size of the industry, the recent trends, drivers, threats, possibilities and main sections. The research shows Social VR market dynamics for the present environment and future scenario over the forecast period in several geographic sections along with Social VR market analysis. In addition to a SWOT analysis of main players, the study also includes an extensive supplier landscape. The industry experts project Social VR market to grow at a CAGR of XX% during the period 2018-2024. It also discusses the market size and growth aspects of different segments.

Get Sample PDF (including full TOC, Tables and Figures) of Social VR Market: [URL removed]

Global Social VR market competition by top manufacturers, with production, price, revenue (value) and market share for each manufacturer: Altspace VR, High Fidelity, Padraft, WearVR, Vrideo, Emergent VR

On the basis of product, we research the production:
– Sightseeing and Chatting Type
– Interactive Games
– Interactive Music and Movie Type
– Others

This report focuses on the status and outlook for major applications/end users:
– Men
– Women

Each geographic segment of the market was independently examined with pricing and analysis, distribution, and demand data for geographic market notably:
Americas, United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, APAC, China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, Australia, Europe, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Russia, Spain, Middle East & Africa, Egypt, South Africa, Israel, Turkey, GCC Countries

Check the best discount on this report at [URL removed]

The first URL link in this text was to a standard form for you to fill in all your contact details to get a “sample” of the full report (and for the company to spam you forever afterward, no doubt). And the second link to the “best discount” pricing page for this report revealed some astronomically high prices, in the range of thousands of dollars: US$3,660 for a “single user” version of the market research report, US$5,490 for a “multi user” version, and US$7,320 for the “enterprise user” version!

Now, the rather strangely worded text describing this market research report sounded almost like boilerplate to me, something that someone had simply cut and pasted into a webpage, merely changing the product names (and you also might have noticed that they didn’t even bother to fill in the CAGR percentage, leaving it as XX%!). For example, I had never heard of AltspaceVR or High Fidelity being referred to as “manufacturers” before! Yet another red flag.

Furthermore, I had never heard of four of the companies listed (which, given how exhaustively and obsessively I have covered various social VR platforms on this blog for over two years, was also rather odd):

Padraft, WearVR, Vrideo, Emergent VR

So I did a little investigating and here is what I found: WearVR seems to be some sort of virtual reality app store (kind of like Steam). Vrideo is an immersive video showcase platform, while Emergent VR is an Android app for capturing 3D photos. And Padraft doesn’t seem to exist at all! To call these four disparate products “social VR” simply didn’t make sense.

So I did a Google search on that exact phrase—and BINGO! I pulled up dozens of almost identically-worded social VR market research reports, page after page after page of them in the Google search results! How very interesting that all of them had the exact same four products listed that I had never heard of before—and not only that, every report had them listed in exactly the same word order!

So by this point, all my alarm bells were ringing. What the hell was going on here?

A little more searching uncovered a possible answer: companies (many based in India) who do nothing but churn out these dubious “market research reports” for various industries, using the same template over and over again. The workers repackage Google search results and other easily-gathered data, and then sell the simplistic reports for thousands of dollars to unsuspecting businesses, using various SEO tricks to guarantee that their products will appear high in the Google search results.

One website reported on the problem of fake market research:

I’m working in one of Big Four accounting/consulting firms. We do a lot of in-house market research and regularly buy/subscribe outside market reports. Lately, I see a number of old and established boutique market research firms to close their offices in the face of increased competition from fake market research cottage industry sprouted mostly for the Indian city of Pune. 

Freshly baked Indian MBA’s are churning out thousands of new market reports weekly, playing [the] SEO [Search Engine Optimization] game on any meaningful word combination. The “analysts” in the Indian [offices] have never left their city or village in their life, less so worked in the industry they write about. In SEO, game quality does not matter, only quantity.

The small US or European market research boutiques that rely on analysts with extensive industry experience, do time-consuming surveys and interviews, dig in corporate reports and publish or maintain a few dozen report topics on annual basis are losing in this brutal spam onslaught. It’s like going old Western style with 6-loaded Colt against hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type aircraft gun spitting 3,000 round per minute.

So, caveat emptor! While this is unethical, it’s not illegal to do this. And you could view this relatively recent development as a sign that social VR has truly arrived; otherwise, why would anybody bother to try and make a quick buck off it? I mean, nobody generates market research reports for buggy whips or butter churns.

To find legitimate, professionally curated collections of market research, head to the library of your nearest university that offers a business program, and ask the library staff there to help you.

Oh, and the person who posted that link to Twitter in the first place? I immediately unfollowed him. Anybody who posts that sort of link without first checking it, is not somebody worth following. (Sorry, but it offends this research librarian.)

UPDATE Sept. 15th: Joey1058 posted the following comment on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server (I have his permission to post it here):

I just read your post about Market Research Reports. Permit me to direct you to a publication that’s been around since the early days of VRML. They’re very simply called Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. I’ve been subscribed to them for years. They publish quarterly, if I remember correctly. They take perhaps a handful of topics per publication, and their content is curated. I HIGHLY recommend them, considering the work you do. Their website is https://jvwr.net/category/home/

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 RyanSchultz.com 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!