Google AdSense Follies (Part I): OH MY GOD WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!??

I am, in a word, bemused.

In addition to the WordPress advertising from WordAds that I have been using in my blog since March of 2018, I recently opened a Google AdSense account and began serving ads from AdSense. (If you are connecting to this blog via desktop computer, you can see one such ad under “Advertising” in the left-hand column, underneath the “Follow RyanSchultz.com via email” link.)

Today, I was surprised to discover an email from Google telling me:

Dear Publisher, 

This Google Publisher Policy Report gives you an overview of recent activity related to violations found on specific pages of your websites. As enforcement statuses may change over time, please refer to the “Page-level enforcements” section of the AdSense Policy Center for the current list of active violations. 

Please note this report doesn’t cover violations that may happen on an overall site or account level. You may be notified by a separate email if site or account level violations are found. Ads will continue to serve where no policy violations have been found, either at the page- or site-level. 

In the last 24 hours: 

New violations were detected. As a result, ad serving has been restricted or disabled on pages where these violations of the AdSense Program Policies were found. To resolve the issues, you can either remove the violating content and request a review, or remove the ad code from the violating pages.

Further details on enforcements can be found in the AdSense Help Center. To learn more about our program policies, please view the AdSense Program Policies.

Kind regards,
Google Publisher Policy

Now, I was very surprised to see this, since I have always strived to keep things at a PG13 level at all times on my blog. And, when I click over to see what the “violations” were, I find that four of my blogposts were flagged for “Adult, Sexual Content” violations, which are defined as:

Adult: Sexual Content

As stated in our Program policies, we may not show Google ads on pages or apps with content that is sexually suggestive or intended to sexually arouse. This includes but is not limited to:

– pornographic images, videos, or games
– sexually gratifying text, images, audio, or video
– pages that provide links for or drive traffic to content that is sexually suggestive or intended to sexually arouse

So, which blogposts triggered the violations? Glad you asked. There were four. Here are the first three (all linked, so you can visit and see for yourself how unoffensive and safe-for-work they are):

UPDATED! Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Romeo and Juliet Full-Body Mesh Avatars as Valentine’s Day Gifts at the eBENTO Event!, which contains, AT WORST, a blurred-over image of a female avatar’s breasts in the background of the first photo, and ABSOLUTELY NO SEXUAL OR ADULT CONTENT AT ALL. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT MESH AVATARS.

The Mesh Project Releases New Male and Female Mesh Bodies for Second Life Avatars: Why I Won’t Be Buying One, which, AT WORST, shows a naked male avatar with a COMPLETELY BLURRED OUT penis on the first photo, and two photos of The Mesh Project’s new male mesh avatar which is essentially a FREAKING. KEN. DOLL. WITHOUT. A. PENIS.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Rick Bento Mesh Body by Alantori for Only L$50!, which, AT WORST, shows a naked male avatar rear end. OH MY GOD END OF THE WORLD SPARE THE CHILLUNS!!!

And then, finally, a double strike against this fourth and final blogpost: “Adult: Sexual Content” AND “Adult: Sexual Merchandise”, the latter of which is defined as follows:

Adult: Sexual Merchandise

Google ads may not be placed on adult or mature content. This includes fetish content as well as sites or apps that promote, sell, or discuss sexual aids. Examples include, but are not limited to:

– sexual fixations or practices that may be considered unconventional
– sexual aids or enhancement tools such as vibrators, dildos, lubes, sex games, inflatable toys
– penis and breast enlargement tools

The blogpost Google finds so offensive? Utherverse and the Red Light Center: A Brief Introduction. Now here, I can begin to see why it might have gotten flagged. All the female-presenting nipples and vaginas and such are completely blurred out, but it’s still clear from at least one photo that some (as Google calls it) “sexual fixations or practices that may be considered unconventional” could be taking place. And I do also include a link to the Utherverse/Red Light Center with a VERY CLEAR warning that the link is Not Safe For Work (NSFW). So now I have to think twice before I put in any links like this, even with a warning label? (UPDATE: I have decided to go in and blur out the offending images in this blogpost even more strongly than before, including completely blurring the kinky one.)

I would argue that my blogpost is simply TALKING about an adult virtual world at a PG13 level. I am tempted to remove the link to Utherverse/RLC, but instead, I have called for a review of all four “violations” (which I am told can take up to a week or longer to process).

The first three “violations” are ludicrous. Am I supposed to start blurring out AVATAR REAR ENDS OH MY GOD THE CHILDREN THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!! This is ridiculous. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT AVATARS, PEOPLE. THE DIGITAL VERSION OF BARBIE DOLLS. The fourth one, well, if the review is rejected, then I supposed I am going to have to go in and sanitize it even more. But this is a slippery slope; am I going to have to go back through 1,255 blogposts over two years and check each one for inadvertent tits and ass?

I have subtitled this blogpost “Part I”, because I have a horrible sinking feeling that this issue is not going to go away so easily. If the four blogposts above were flagged (either by machine or human), there a probably dozens more that would also fall afoul of Google’s AdSense rules. I have written about (and linked to) other adult/sexual worlds, always with a very clear NSFW warning. Should I remove the links and tell people to just Google them? (Now THAT would be ironic.)

But to date, I have never seen the need to blur out an avatar rear end (male or female) as I would a penis, a vagina, or a “female-presenting” nipple. And we are talking about AVATARS, which are not to be confused with real people. I’m not serving porn here, I’m talking about mesh avatar bodies! GET A GRIP, GOOGLE ADSENSE.

This is NOT over. Even though I have a feeling I am in a losing battle here. The good news is that it would appear that Google AdSense has blocked advertising only on those four blogposts.

Stay tuned; I will post updates!

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Revisiting My Personal Mission Statement: Why I’m Back

I have had a rough couple of weeks. I’m still feeling cranky, and I have really been struggling with my depression, thinking about my life and my choices, ruminating over my mistakes and missteps over 55 years. I was originally planning to take an extended break from blogging, afraid that I had let my depression colour my work, that I was simply lashing out at people and companies unfairly.

And yes, Linden Lab was well within their rights to ban me from Second Life, for posting a version of that bitchslap picture to their community forums. I just thought I was being funny and sarcastic, but I can now see that some would find it offensive, especially those who have experienced physical abuse. To anyone I offended, please accept my sincere apologies. And Linden Lab did review my 3-day suspension and decided to remove it, for which I am grateful. Thank you, Linden Lab.

Back around the turn of the century, I was really into the Stephen R. Covey book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Now, let me tell you, I am far, far from a highly effective person. I am, in fact, a highly ineffective person. At times, I am the God damn Queen of Highly Ineffective People! In December 2017, I wrote about myself:

In real life, I’m an overweight, divorced, gay librarian with diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and a long history of mental health issues. I’m not particularly close to the rest of my family, and I have few real-life friends. I’ve been on extended sick leaves for the treatment of serious clinical depression. I am getting old (I’m now 53), and I move one hell of a lot slower than I used to when I was young. It bothers me. A lot bothers me.

To be honest, I kinda suck at this whole reality business.

And the only thing that’s changed since I wrote that is that I’m now 55 instead of 53. And I now move even slower than I did two years ago! If anything, I have gained more weight, and it needs to be addressed because it is adversely affecting my health in numerous ways. I need to haul my raggedy ass back to Weight Watchers, pronto.

One of the things I did after reading the Covey book was to write a personal mission statement. I spent a lot of time lovingly crafting it, and I used to display it proudly on my then-blog (yes, I had a personal blog back then). In part, it says:

I take responsibility for myself in any and all circumstances. Every day, I create a balanced and integrated life by taking the time to identify and honour my needs: physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual. I invest in myself by making choices to:

■ Exercise my body, educate my mind, and rekindle my soul;

■ Connect with other people and continue to forge healthy, loving relationships;

■ Steward my career, time, money, and other possessions more effectively;

■ Simplify my baggage, but complicate my perspectives;

■ Continue to cultivate awareness and insight, casting aside my fear and despair.

And I realize with dismay that, despite all my pretty words, I really haven’t taken any of the steps I wrote about. I haven’t moved forward. I have stalled.

However (and you might well disagree with me about this), one of the relative bright spots of my life has been this blog and the Metaverse Newscast show. I discovered talents that I didn’t know I possessed, and I found and connected with an audience. I was able to be creative and social in way I hadn’t even dreamed of before.

So I have decided that, even though I am still going through a rough patch, I need to resume blogging. It makes no sense to give up something that I enjoy doing, that (most of the time, at least) makes me happy. We all need to do things that make us happy; it keeps us sane in a crazy world.

But I also need to pay attention to the words in my mission statement. My life is badly out of balance at the moment, and I need to address that. Social VR and virtual worlds have been my joy, but also my escape from reality, and I can’t keep escaping reality forever. I need to “cast aside my fear and despair” and take come concrete steps to improve my life.

And it’s probably time to completely re-write my mission statement. Parts of it (which I haven’t shared here because it’s several paragraphs long) really need to be updated. For example, I talked a lot about God, and I really now consider myself to be an atheist. And I have to add my blog and show to the mix of things I do, and take out some things I don’t do anymore (like sing in an LGBTQ chorus, which fulfilled a longtime dream of mine, but in the end turned out to be too much for a non-musical person like me to keep up with).

It’s time to take stock, make choices, and take steps. So, in addition to blogging about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, I will also be sharing stories of my progress in real life (losing weight, exercising, finally cleaning up my Red Cross disaster area of an apartment, etc.). Please wish me luck and send me good vibes!

Editorial: Rough Waters

Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

I’ve been up since 5:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve been thinking about the most recent two blogposts I’ve written about High Fidelity (here and here). I have been harsh and direct, and while some readers have congratulated me for my frankness, others have expressed their dislike of what I have written. I feel somehow as if I am contributing to the general sense of malaise in social VR just by writing those two articles.

It brings me zero joy to watch HiFi struggle to reinvent itself, and it brings me zero joy to watch HiFi’s userbase as they feel confused, upset, angry, and betrayed by a platform they have invested so much into over so many years.

But (as the tagline of my blog states) this blog is about “news and views” (viewpoints). What is going on with High Fidelity is newsworthy, and I do want to continue to share what I really think and feel about what I am reporting on. Otherwise, I am just a corporate shill, a PR parrot. I want to have the freedom to report on news and events in the evolving metaverse, to praise and criticize the various companies as I see fit.

A commenter on my last blogpost said:

Second Life must have been a strange anomaly, that neither its founders nor the current Linden Lab appear able to replicate.

And I would agree. Even the visionary Philip Rosedale is having trouble making lightning strike twice.

I predict that the social VR/virtual worlds/metaverse industry overall is going to go through some pretty rough waters. The initial honeymoon period (if there ever was one) is OVER. The idealism of the many metaverse company builders is coming face-to-face with an ugly, stark reality: that it is going to take more persistence, more creativity, and more innovation to build products which more than a handful of early adopters will use on a regular basis.

All I can do is to continue to cover everything that happens, as best I can.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Social VR Sustainability

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

I have been enjoying my self-imposed vacation from the blog. It’s given me an opportunity to step back, enjoy the all-too-brief Canadian summer, and reflect a little bit. I’m going to start easing back into blogging over the next week. There’s certainly no shortage of things to write about!

Yesterday, Gindipple shared his most recent compilation of Sansar user concurrency statistics, and while they do show a slight increase in the average number of users over time, it’s clear that users have not exactly rushed to embrace Sansar in the way that Linden Lab has been hoping:

Inara Pey has done her usual excellent job of summarizing last week’s Sansar Product Meeting, and she shares the following item from the discussion:

It’s now almost two years since Sansar opened its doors to the public, and general user concurrency is still only in or around the mid-20s level. This has raised questions of Sansar’s sustainability, and whether the Lab have set any goals for the platform that need to be achieved in order for it to be continued, etc.

Landon McDowell, the Lab’s Chief Product Officer, and the person most directly in charge of Sansar’s development, responded thus to one of these questions:

I am not going to put any date on the board. I think we’re taking this day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, release-by-release, and we want to see what is happening and what is resonating and what isn’t … I believe steadfastly in the future of virtual worlds, that what we’re doing here is really important … Are we happy with the result? I’m not happy with the result; I would want a million people in here today, and we’re obviously not there.

But in terms of sustainability, I think we know what our limits are, and we are proceeding accordingly. If we have 50 people in here in a year then yeah, I’m going to be really massively disappointed. I think everybody here is working hard to make this an absolutely monumental success … I feel that everyone that’s here is here because they’re digging something about what we’re doing, and I want that to spread like wildfire quite frankly. So we definitely have hopes and ambitions.

But again, I’m not going to put a dot on the board of, “this date and this time, this number of users”. I think we want many more users in, and we want them relatively quickly, and we go from there.

While it is good news that Linden Lab appears to have no internal make-or-break date for Sansar, the fact remains that the company is putting time and money into a platform that, so far, is not attracting a lot of use.

The elephant in the room of social VR, not just for Linden Lab but for all companies in this marketplace, is sustainability. Many companies are pouring resources into various social VR platforms, in hopes that they will be able to relight the same spark that ignited over a decade ago with Second Life. Most projects have not had a great deal of success yet. The few social VR platforms which have attracted some attention to date (VRChat and Rec Room) face a daunting transition to an in-world economy, plus a slew of technical problems trying to shoehorn their experiences into wireless VR headsets like the new Oculus Quest in order to reach the broadest possible potential audience. Add to that rumours that Facebook is reportedly working on a major social VR initiative for all its Oculus VR hardware users, which will likely upend the current marketplace. The road ahead is rocky indeed.

Given the significant compromises that have had to be made to VRChat in order to get it to run at all on the Quest, and the rather disappointing results, it seems Linden Lab’s decision to not support an Oculus Quest version of Sansar is a wise one. Inara reports:

Oculus Quest support:  As has been previously indicated, this is not currently on the cards. The Quest processor and general capabilities are seen as being unable to handle to quality of content LL want to provide without massive amounts of auto-decimation, which can be problematic. However, as the capabilities of emerging VR systems continues to improve and Sansar improves in terms of performance limits, the hope is that the two will converge at some point in the future.

And that convergence may come sooner than you think. It is interesting to note that at least one eager early adopter has reported that he is able to use the PC streaming app ALVR to play Sansar on the Oculus Quest. (“PC streaming” refers to the use of sideloaded Quest apps to enable your desktop computer to stream VR games directly to your Quest. You’ll have to sideload the app onto your Quest, and then install a coordinating PC program before you can start playing. These programs, such as ALVR and VRidge, are new, highly experimental, and currently require a certain level of geek skills to set up and use. But they will no doubt become easier to use over time.)

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

However, as Landon McDowell says, I’m still a fervent believer in the future of virtual worlds. I still believe it’s a question of when and where, not if, social VR takes off and virtual worlds have a renaissance. High Fidelity’s recent pivot towards business users is just one example of a social VR company adjusting its sails to meet evolving conditions. Expect more such shifts as the market grows and changes.

Stay tuned! As I often say, things are getting interesting!