You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as often as I used to. I’ve been on holidays from work these past two weeks, and I have been…percolating.
I’ve been feeling exhausted, and sleeping ten to twelve hours at a stretch, without feeling guilty or lazy. There’s been no shortage of things to blog about, but instead of leaping on top of them with a hot take, I have decided to just sit back and…percolate.
Hopefully, I’ll know when I am ready to jump back into things. But I think it’s good sometimes just to pause, take a deep breath, and relax. Recharge my batteries. Distance myself from the fray. Dream. Daydream.
Last year, I avidly watched Mark Zuckerberg and other senior Facebook executives at the Facebook Connect 2021 event, as they proudly announced that the company would be rebranding as Meta, and pivoting to go all-in on the metaverse.
This year, I was too busy with my full-time job as a university librarian to watch the Meta Connect 2022 keynotes live, so instead, I read through the tech news media’s coverage of the event. And, to say the least, that coverage was mixed in its assessment of Meta’s new high-end wireless VR headset, the Meta Quest Pro.
Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, covers the VR/AR/MR/XR industry and the metaverse, wrote:
Let’s be honest: Meta Connect was utterly disappointing.
The hardware to be launched at the event had already been totally leaked
We had no unexpected major VR game announced, nor news on GTA or Assassin’s Creed VR
Most pieces of news were already been announced or were not that relevant. Some of them, like the new avatars, were much worse than expected
It was a very lightweight talk about XR, social, the metaverse, and productivity, with almost no interest in giving important information. For instance, many writings were there for such a short time that I could not even take a screenshot: the price of the Quest Pro was on the screen for like 1 second and then disappeared. Some info was absolutely missing, like the specs of the Quest Pro were not specified during the launch. This was total nonsense.
Meta keeps saying VR is the future, but everything it shows us is an inferior rehash of the things we already have. Its event today was, between assurances that everything is great in the Metaverse, a collection of tacit admissions that the best they can hope to do is ape a reality we are all desperately trying to leave behind.
At Meta Connect 2022, the company’s annual developer conference for its VR efforts and Oculus hardware platform, the company announced a lot of stuff — but what it communicated more effectively than anything else was just how incredibly thirsty — one might even say desperate — Mark Zuckerberg is for his metaverse bet to pay off.
Meta just showed off its latest headset, the Meta Quest Pro. While it’s got real-time expression tracking and mixed reality, it’s also going to set you back $1,499. So who’s buying this tech that costs roughly the price of three current-gen consoles? The answer is…working professionals. Mark Zuckerberg wants to replace your dreary work computers with VR headsets…
VR headsets can be clunky, sweaty places, and many people get severe motion sickness in them. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg seems confident corporations will pay top dollar to entrap their workers in them. And maybe they will. VR is currently being used to train surgeons, analyze road scenarios for automobile companies, and design architecture. Maybe I wouldn’t hate myself if I had to write blogs while wearing a plastic headset. Ugh, okay. I can’t do this anymore. I would absolutely hate it. Corporate would have to take my MacBook from my cold dead hands.
All these advantages come with one big cost: the Meta Quest Pro’s battery life sounds very bad. I was told the headset would last between one and two hours on a single charge, then take around two hours to recharge, either on the dock or with a cable. (My demo was held at a series of separate stations with multiple Quest Pros, so I didn’t experience the limits firsthand.) That’s a little more than half the time you’d get with a Quest 2, which lasts two to three hours. The back-mounted battery isn’t easily removable like the Vive Focus 3’s, so you can’t just swap it out and keep going.
This narrows the Quest Pro’s flexibility as an enterprise device. HTC, Magic Leap, and other enterprise companies tend to emphasize how long their products will last — offering either comparatively long-lasting batteries or swappable ones.
I get using Quest for creative and scientific endeavors, such as designing shoes or looking at a virus from all possible angles, but putting on your headset to check your email or make a PowerPoint presentation? Somehow, that just doesn’t sound that exciting.
Avatar legs will be coming first to Meta’s Horizon social VR platform, though it’s unclear exactly when. They’ll be coming to “more and more experiences over time as we improve our technology stack,” Zuckerberg said. During the Connect event, they seemed to move quite naturally, though because it was a prerecorded video, we’re not sure yet how they’ll look in practice.
Meta isn’t just working on legs; it’s planning to add a whole bunch of new avatar-related features. The company is exploring how to make expressive and photorealistic avatars to represent yourself in different situations, for example. You’ll be able to bring avatars to Reels so they can be featured in your videos or to Messenger and WhatsApp for video chats. (They’re coming to Zoom, too.) And Meta is launching an avatar store in VR later this year so you can more easily shop for clothes and specific looks.
But Paul Tasso of Forbes was particularly scathing in his criticism, writing:
When your most significant announcement is the fact that after years and years of investment, you’re on the verge of debuting virtual characters with legs, something has gone wrong.
The entire problem with Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with the metaverse is that he’s trying to force a sci-fi reality to happen long before the rest of the society wants or needs it to actually exist. His version of an AR/VR-based metaverse remains a niche, not something to focus a trillion dollar company around. And given the trillion dollar company in question, which has spent the last decade rendering Facebook and Instagram close to unusable, this company being trusted with this supposed key part of the future is not something anyone has a lot of faith in.
As they say on RuPaul’s Drag Race, NURSE! Third degree burns over here! (Paul’s not wrong, though.)
But, in addition to the rather underwhelmed response of the major tech news websites, there was something else I noticed. There’s been a shift in attitudes by the general (non-tech) public towards the concept of the metaverse, in the twelve months between Facebook Connect 2021 and Meta Connect 2022. The mood seems to have shifted among some people.
I’m not talking about those people, like me, the early adopters and VR fanatics who have been active and building in various metaverse platforms for years. And I’m not talking about the passionate adherents of the various virtual worlds like Second Life, who were likely around the last time the metaverse was a buzzword. (By the way, The Wall Street Journal’s four-part podcast about Second Life and what it means to today’s metaverse ambitions is one of the best things I’ve listened to in years, and should it be required listening for the employees of any metaverse company seeking to inherit SL’s mantle in the present day—including the beleaguered staff at Meta.)
I am talking about those people who possibly first heard about the metaverse in the splash of publicity which the October 2021 Mark Zuckerberg keynote address at Facebook Connect 2021 ignited. People like the CNBC news correspondent Sam Shepard. Please watch this short news segment where he tries to grasp the concepts; I found it quite illuminating:
In twelve short months, we’ve gone from the general public not really knowing much about the metaverse, to the general public not getting what all this fuss is about, like Sam Shepard.
Even worse, between the ongoing crypto winter and Meta’s many missteps this year, the public is starting to sour on the concept of a metaverse. Most still don’t know a lot about it, but when they see many of the projects to which the term “metaverse” has been attached (like the various now-struggling NFT metaverse projects, and Meta’s attempts to sell Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms), they seem to be developing a distaste for the idea.
I’m sensing a rising tide of antipathy. Many non-technical people, like Sam Shepard, are either scratching their heads, or have already formed a negative opinion. (I’m seeing it arise in places like the cryptosnark community on Reddit, r/Buttcoin, where blockchain metaverse projects like Decentraland are being roundly critiqued, even mocked.)
Many economists are now predicting that 2023 will bring a severe global recession (exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine), and rising inflation sharply affecting the everyday cost of living. People have more important things to worry about—like putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. They likely will have less disposable income to spend on gadgets like a US$1,500 virtual reality headset.
Last Christmas, the Meta Quest 2 was a hot seller. This year, Meta’s Quest Pro, at four times the price and with half the battery life of the Quest 2, will most certainly not be under very many Christmas trees. It’s just not that exciting a product and (at least until there’s a killer app for it), Meta will just keep trying to sell it to businesses and consumers who aren’t yet convinced that virtual reality—and the metaverse—are all that necessary or compelling in the first place.
Brace yourselves: the next few years might be nasty. And I predict that many projects and companies in this space are going to struggle to get attention, attract users, and gain traction. A few firms might decide to repivot (as Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity has already done), to focus on areas where they can make money. Other companies will simply fold.
But those individuals and companies who can tell a story that ignites people’s imaginations, and come up with compelling use cases for virtual reality and the metaverse, might do very well. Savvy marketing and an unshakeable, clearly articulated vision will be key. Who knows, perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s investments will pay off, in five or ten or twenty years. But it doesn’t look too terribly promising in the short term, does it?
I have been blogging, off and on, for twenty years now, and in that time I have used just about every kind of blogging software imaginable. In the 2000s, I tinkered a bit with Blogger and LiveJournal, and for a couple of years I maintained a personal blog using the Movable Type software, really getting into the customization of it. From June 2012 to February 2014, I wrote a Blogspot blog about a metaverse platform called Cloud Party, called the Cloud Party Bugle (sadly, Yahoo! acquihired the company making Cloud Party, and ended the project).
In 2017, when I started writing a new blog called the Sansar Newsblog, I decided to go with WordPress. There are actually two WordPress services. WordPress.com is a service that helps you build a website using the WordPress software with managed hosting, while WordPress.org is the source where you can download the software itself, which you can use to build and maintain a website on your own. I chose the managed hosting option and, by and large, I have been quite happy with my decision.
In February 2018, I renamed my blog to RyanSchultz.com, using a domain name I had purchased a decade earlier. One advantage of naming your blog after yourself is that, no matter what tangents I might head off in, I am always on brand! 😉
WordPress offers dozens of professionally-designed site templates, and I chose the clean and uncluttered look called Twenty Fifteen:
However yesterday, much to my dismay, I loaded up the RyanSchultz.com blog in my FireFox browser to see this monstrosity (see below). All of my serif fonts had been changed to sans serif, and even worse, my main blog text was rendered so small as to be almost unreadable! AAAAARGH!!!
In a panic, I rapidly checked how my blog looked on other devices and in other browsers. What is confounding me is that it only appears to be happening on my work computer; it displays correctly in the FireFox browser on my iPhone and iPad, and it also displays correctly when I use the Chrome browser on my work PC. Even weirder, when I go into edit mode on a particular blogpost, it displays properly, too!
This problem just popped up out of the blue, I have no idea what is going on, and I am NOT a happy camper. Yesterday afternoon, I did a quick text chat with WordPress.com tech support to see if they could troubleshoot the problem, but September is a very busy month for me and I had to log off and tend to more pressing matters than font display issues! They suggested updating FireFox to the latest version and I did—but it still didn’t fix my problem.
If all else fails, I might decide to drop the Twenty Fifteen theme and pick a different theme for my blog. After five years, this might be my sign from the universe to change things up a bit!
So I apologize if your view of my blog looks a bit wonky today. I am aware of the problem and I am trying to fix it! If you do see what I see in the second picture above, could you please drop me a line and let me know? Thanks!
UPDATE 8:44 a.m.: And, as mysteriously as the problem popped up, it now appears to be fixed! But please drop a comment or ping me on the RyanSchultz.com Discord if you should encounter it, thank you!
I have been trying (dear Lord, how I try!) to stay away from what seems to be an unending litany of bad news lately, but last night I slipped up and opened the Apple News app on my trusty iPad, which promptly spit up the article which is the topic of today’s cranky editorial. (It’s a bit old now, but it’s the first time I read it.)
The piece, written by Katie Underwood on July 7th, 2022, for Canadian Business magazine, is the perfect example of metaverse bullshit that is currently circulating in the news and social media, and I have had it up to here with what passes for accurate reporting on the topic. Honestly, I swear, if this keeps up, I fear that the word metaverse itself will become so tainted that the general public will run the other way when it is mentioned! (And Mark Zuckerberg and his many missteps trying to pivot Meta into a metaverse company are not helping, either.)
The title of the article is Your Next Home May Be in the Metaverse (although the web page itself is actually titled Buying Real Estate in the Metaverse Isn’t Cheap; if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version). The article starts with a profile of digital artist Krista Kim, who built the home of her dreams—and then apparently promptly minted an NFT of it and sold it:
“I imagined creating a house that would heal me,” she says. She also hoped she’d find a buyer. “The question was: Would anyone else understand what I was selling?”
As it turns out, someone did. Kim’s futuristic dreamscape sold for approximately US$512,000 in March of 2021. The metaverse is a loosely but increasingly understood shared virtual space, accessible via smartphone, goggles or headset—and it’s the newest frontier in the global real estate blitz. The sale of Mars House, a 3-D file rendered using the video game software Unreal Engine, marked the metaverse’s first-ever NFT-based residential transaction.
Already, at the very beginning of the article, I am ready to tear my hair out. First, THIS IS NOT THE METAVERSE! The artist built a home using Unreal engine, but it is simply a three-dimensional object, which needs to be imported into an actual metaverse platform (e.g. VRChat) in order to be used! A CNN article about this transaction correctly reported:
The new owner paid digital artist Krista Kim 288 Ether — a cryptocurrency that is equivalent to $514,557.79 — for the virtual property.
In exchange, the buyer will receive 3D files to upload to his or her “Metaverse.”
So yeah, the fool who paid half a million U.S. dollars for this house still has to find a place to park it before inviting his or her friends over for a virtual barbecue.
Second, it is far from “the first NFT-based residential transaction”, which Katie Underwood would have known if she had bothered to do a little research before writing this article. Blockchain-based metaverse platforms have been buying and selling NFT-based virtual land parcels for years now! Decentraland, for one, began selling land back in 2017, and yes, some people have built virtual homes on that land.
With my teeth firmly set on edge, I continued reading, to find yet another section of Katie’s article which raised my blood pressure a notch:
Like terrestrial homebuyers, users keen to buy or sell real estate in the metaverse will have to go through a rigmarole not unlike the one for bricks and mortar. Right now, land sales in the metaverse are typically concentrated within the “Big Four” platforms—Decentraland, The Sandbox, Somnium Space and Cryptovoxels—which are developed and owned by users. (To date, their combined total of virtual plots is just under 300,000.)
Even in the metaverse, location is everything. In Decentraland, neighbourhoods are designated for specific activities; for example, there’s Festival Land (for live music events), University (for education) and District X (for clandestine dating adventures and adult-themed e-stores). Its fashion district is of particular interest to the Metaverse Group, a Toronto-based virtual-real-estate company that scooped up more than 100 of the area’s 16-by-16-metre parcels for US$2.4 million last November.
Also, “last December, one of Snoop Dogg’s most ardent fans dropped US$450,000 for a plot next to the rapper’s mansion in The Sandbox, a popular gaming platform.” Again, these quotes make me want to tear my hair out! Listen to me, people: LOCATION IS NOT EVERYTHING. For example, in Decentraland you can click on a URL with the exact coordinates of the parcel of land that you want to visit, which will take you directly there. Any metaverse platform worth its salt offers you some form of teleporting from place to place.
The idea of one virtual piece of land being “worth” more than another due to its location is patently absurd, an idea first brought you by the NFT-based metaverse companies who were only too eager to incite FOMO-driven bidding wars during the crypto bull market which has now cratered so spectacularly!
I could go on, citing other parts of the Canadian Business article that drive me insane, but I’m done enough ranting for today, and you get my drift (you can go read the rest of the article yourself if you want). I need to go put my feet up and listen to some Enya to calm down. If I sound absolutely and completely fed up about all this, it’s because I am. THE METAVERSE BULLSHIT HAS GOT TO STOP, NOW.
Look, I have no problem with the idea of a blockchain-based metaverse, but the entire ecosystem and environment around it have now become a toxic cesspool of scams, frauds, and rugpulls. And all that negative attention is dragging down even the legitimate players in the metaverse space. Frankly, things are now getting to the point that whenever the general public hears the words crypto, NFT—even metaverse—they start gingerly backing towards the exit door, because so many scammers and other bad actors in the blockchain space have tainted the concepts themselves!
It doesn’t matter if there are actually working blockchain-based metaverse platforms out there, like Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space (soon to be joined by The Sandbox)…the bad actors are like a pervasive rot that has set in, damaging their credibility merely by association, and potentially negatively impacting their future operations. (And God help those companies who are trying to set up new blockchain-based metaverse platforms during this crypto winter!)
For example, NeosVR is the perfect example of a truly wonderful, cutting-edge metaverse platform that has been effectively hamstrung by what happened to Neos credits (NCR), NeosVR’s associated cryptocurrency.† The resulting deluge of attention of the cryptobros earlier this year completely changed the tenor of the Neos community, causing great divisiveness and conflict, and finally, a cynical pump-and-dump by a cadre of investors (who were impatient for profits) eventually led to NCR becoming near-worthless. I had started what was intended to be a multi-part series of blogposts to cover the entire sad saga at length, but unfortunately I got too busy to complete it in a timely way.
However, the prolific VR YouTuber ThrillSeeker has done an excellent 20-minute overview video, which does a much better job than I could do to explain what befell Neos:
See what I mean? I swear, between what’s been going on in the crypto crash, and companies like Meta stumbling around trying to build the metaverse and getting roundly criticized for not getting it, I’m afraid that the term metaverse is going to get an extremely negative connotation…and then all of us will be the poorer for it.
Think about it—what do you want the average person to think of when you talk to them about the metaverse? Because I can tell you, pieces like this article from Canadian Business are not helping matters out there, in the general public’s minds. More and more people are starting to ridicule the entire concept of the metaverse, either ignorantly equating it with Meta’s soulless Horizon Worlds platform, or else associating it only with the NFT metaverse platforms, many of which are now facing tougher times as greedy speculators (who thought they could make a quick buck) get burned and flee the market, never to come back.
And, ultimately, those people (Joe or Jane Average on the street) are the people we are going to need to the sell the metaverse to in order for it to eventually take root, and take off, in any way beyond existing uptake.
Feh, enough bullshit! Time for some Enya…
† UPDATE Sept. 7th, 2022: I had originally written that Neos credits had not even been implemented yet as an in-world currency in NeosVR, but I have been told that this is not strictly true. Apparently, Neos credits, while underused, had been implemented and usable for user-to-user transactions (e.g. tipping) for years, and a bit more recently Neos had added features like buying and gifting storage space using Neos credits. So I stand corrected! Thank you to the person who reached out to me to correct my mistake.