Editorial: Some Random Thoughts on the Morning After the Facebook Horizon Announcement

I don’t have a lot of time today, but I wanted to write up a few more thoughts I had about yesterday’s Facebook Horizon announcement.


First: Linden Lab knew something was up. The timing of their splashy revamp of Sansar (the day before the OC6 keynote) was no accident. They wanted to get some media air time before Facebook came in and sucked all the oxygen out of the room! The new promotional video for Sansar is slick, savvy, and obviously designed to entice the curious newcomer:

The big Sansar news on Sept. 24th was the announcement of partnerships with major corporations including Sanrio, Levi’s, and Spinnin’ Records. But there was also a redo of the Sanar logo (switched from red to aqua blue), and some slick new promotional imagery designed to appeal to gamers:

Agent Primus and Agent Forma: Your world is waiting!

Now, many of the features VentureBeat touted about Sansar in their article about the relaunch were not exactly news to long-time Sansarians, or to avid readers of my blog: the new Avatar 2.0 avatars with facial deformation features, the Nexus, etc. But we oldbies are not the target audience here; Linden Lab is now pulling out all the stops to get maximum marketshare and mindshare in a social VR marketplace that suddenly got a lot more competitive. It’s a smart move.

They’ve also got lots of branded events coming up in the next little while to entice people to come visit.

I think it is probably safe to say that many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds were completely caught off guard by yesterday’s detailed announcement of Facebook Horizon, and they will need to take some time to adjust to the new reality, the “new normal”.


Now, back to the main event: Facebook Horizon.

Screen capture from Mark Zuckerberg’s OC6 Keynote Yesterday

You will remember that I left Facebook and Instagram as my New Year’s resolution at the end of 2018, in protest over what I saw as a number of very serious data security and privacy issues with the social network:

I am fed up. I have had enough. And I am fighting back the only way I can: by shutting down my Facebook and Instagram accounts and deleting all of the data that Facebook has gathered on me.

Well, last night I came crawling back to Facebook. But the company did indeed keep its promise: it did not offer to reconnect me with 13 years of data it had on me, which I had asked them to delete. However, Facebook still knows it’s me: many of the initial friend suggestions it made were people who I had been connected to on the previous incarnation of my account. (I politely declined all of them. I am doing things totally differently this time around.)

As it happens, I have used the same email address for both my Oculus hardware account and for my deleted-and-now-reinstated Facebook social network account. I have no idea if Facebook is going to keep those two accounts separate, or try to merge them sometime in the future. In fact, there’s still no concrete evidence to support the thesis that you have to have an account on the Facebook social network in order to use Horizon.

So now I have a shiny new empty Facebook account, but I am approaching this fully forearmed with the knowledge that Facebook will strip mine the hell out of any data I provide, as well as the knowledge that my data can (and in fact, already has been) weaponized by companies such as Cambridge Analytica and used against me.

I am willing to come back, but I am damn wary. And I have essentially locked down everything I can using Facebook’s own security and privacy settings, as well as installing and setting up the excellent F.B. (Fluff Buster) Purity web browser extension. Please note that Facebook does not like F.B. Purity, and will actively block any mention of F.B. Purity on its social network; I only learned about this tool through word of mouth, from other Facebook users. You can read more about it via the link I posted above.

Also, I have registered for the closed beta test of the new Facebook Horizon platform, which starts sometime in early 2020. The application process asked for my Oculus account information I provided when I first purchased and set up my Oculus Rift headset in January 2017, followed by the purchase and set up of my Oculus Quest in May 2019. (I have read on Reddit that Facebook will accept either a Facebook social network account or an Oculus account, but I did not see any option to enter the former, only the latter. Perhaps I missed something.)

All the short registration form asked me for was my gender (male, female, or something custom), what experience I had building content for social VR and virtual worlds (and what tools I used), and whether I lead, moderate, or administer an online community (such as Reddit, Facebook Groups, Discord, Twitch, etc.). I did tell them that I was an influential blogger who writes a blog about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, which gets anywhere between 600 and 6,000 views per day. (I forgot to tell them that I also have a popular Discord discussion forum associated with my blog. Oh well.)

The worst that can happen is that Facebook decides I am not worthy to enter the closed beta test, in which case I will need to examine my options. Also, Facebook may ask beta testers to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), which is fairly common in these sorts of cases. For example, even though I was accepted into the Sansar closed alpha/beta testing back in December of 2016, I was not allowed to blog about anything I saw in-world until the open beta launch on July 31, 2019—and I also had to receive explicit permission from Linden Lab to post pictures taken before that date on my blog, as a sort of history of Sansar’s early development. We may face the same situation with Facebook Horizon. We’ll see. It’s still very early days.


It wasn’t until late last night that I realized several unusual things about the veritable flurry of announcements made at OC6.

First: Facebook still does not have a single social VR platform to bring together Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift users! Facebook Horizon is only intended for the Oculus Rift and the Oculus Quest. What this means for Oculus Go users is unclear.

Second, Facebook has announced that they will be shutting down both Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms on October 25th, 2019, presumably to free up staff who will be deployed to work on Facebook Horizon.

I will not be sorry to see Facebook Spaces go; as I have said before on this blog when making predictions in December 2018:

…we might yet see the launch of a new social VR platform backed by Facebook, after they decide to ditch the lamentable Facebook Spaces once and for all. Maybe it will be based on Oculus Rooms; maybe it will be something completely different. But despite my negative feelings about the social networking side of Facebook, they still have the hardware (Oculus), the money, and the reach to be a game-changer in social VR. (Just not with Facebook Spaces. At this point, they should just kill the project and start over. Any improvements will be like putting lipstick on a pig.)

Yep. Take that mutt out back behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery… I really doubt anybody was using Facebook Spaces anyway, despite courageous efforts by people such as Navah Berg to promote it. And I’m quite sure that the entire episode was instructive to Facebook about what works and doesn’t work in a social VR platform.

And Oculus Rooms was only for Gear VR and the Oculus Go, which means that they will have no Facebook-branded social VR platform at all. This is, of course, an opportunity to other, third-party platforms which support Gear VR and Oculus Go, such as AltspaceVR, Rec Room, Bigscreen, and vTime XR.

Interesting times ahead!

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Does Facebook/Oculus Need to Get Its Act Together On Social VR? A Thread on Reddit

As most of you already know, I quit Facebook as my New Year’s resolution, and I am still quite happy with my decision.

One of the places where I have spent more time since leaving Facebook has been Reddit, which is home to many thriving communities such as the Oculus subReddit, with over 140,000 subscribers who discuss and debate various issues related to Oculus VR hardware and software. (Sometimes I cross-post one of my blogposts there.)

Mark Zuckerberg presents the Oculus lineup (image taken from The Ghost Howls blog)

Yesterday, someone posted a lengthy item titled Opinion: Oculus needs to get its sh*t together in social, which I have only quoted in part (so please go over there and read the whole thing):

First, it’s ridiculous that cross-communication between the Go and Rift communities is so difficult, especially with Quest coming. VR social presence should be an underlying infrastructure that the whole Oculus ecosystem can plug into… Oculus: don’t split the VR community simply because of which of your own platforms they buy. Make communication easy, automatic, and built in.

Second, where the hell is the metaverse/Oasis/shared world? I know, VR Chat, AltspaceVR, Rec Room, High Fidelity, etc. …but why has Oculus–let alone Facebook!–abdicated this whole sector to third parties?

Now, this poster has raised a valid point. Why is social VR across all the Oculus hardware such a disorganized mess? Currently, Facebook offers Oculus Rooms for the Oculus Go users and Facebook Spaces for Oculus Rift users. Is Facebook going to use the release of the Oculus Quest (which I predict will be popular) to try and clean up this situation?

Some of the comments to this poster are worth quoting (again, I am going to take it easy with the quoting, taking into account the feedback I have recently received). I did go in and write a lengthy response, outlining the situation as I see it, and pointing out that there were already many social VR platforms which have been in development for several years (Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, etc.).

When I said that High Fidelity and VRChat were planning to support the upcoming standalone Oculus Quest VR headset, one person responded:

Sadly, I don’t think VRChat’s gonna support Quest. It’s just not compatible with mobile CPUs. Hell, it brings modern up-to-date PC’s to a standstill with too many people. I very much doubt the Snapdragon 835 can handle all the custom shaders, avatars, IK, etc. The team would basically need to do a full rewrite. And that’s unlikely unless the team was way bigger.

Someone else said:

Do you really WANT Facebook also own the social VR “metaverse”? That seems like a really terrible idea in general to have a monopoly control so many things. Especially one that has proven dozens of times that they could care less about our privacy in respect to their profits…

I for one HOPE Oculus fails WILDLY on social VR. The alternative would be the worst-case dystopian future for VR and likely disasterous for humanity as a whole in the long-term.

To which I say, Amen and Hallelujah. However, Facebook has the deep pockets (lots of money) and the hardware (Oculus) to totally up-end the current, nascent social VR market, if they finally get their act together and choose to do so.

And finally, one person said:

To me it comes down to this—people want Second Life in VR format. It’s true. A metaverse where you can build or be anything you want…but in VR. We know that SL’s infrastructure cannot be upgraded to do that. High Fidelity, even with the founder of SL, isn’t cutting it. And neither is Sansar, Linden Lab’s actual VR offering.

I believe there are two main issues impeding them. 1. Instances – every platform nowadays does instance based “world” creation. Worlds are not permanent, player join numbers are limited, and the worlds are not visually connected to each other. People want permanence! To be able to wander from one place to the next aimlessly. This isn’t just an issue limited to VR of course (hello WoW). The reasoning behind this is that it’s much easier on the server hardware. Personally, I’d deal with some lag to be able to participate in a true open world environment. And

2. Adult content – All of the platforms are scared as f*** here. They don’t want their brand to be ‘marked’ by that, they don’t want to have to figure out how to police it, etc etc. That stuff is not going away. Whether they admit it or not, adult content has kept Second Life alive and thriving for 15 years (they still have ~50k concurrent users). Bottom line—deal with it. Embrace it. It’s going to happen with or without you.

This wide-ranging and fascinating discussion is the kind of thing that Reddit has become well-known for, and I would encourage you to go over there and read all or most of it for yourself, and perhaps add your own comments.

Editorial: My Social VR/Virtual World Predictions for 2019

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? Come join 170 avid users of various metaverse platforms, and discuss social VR and virtual world predictions for 2019! More details here


wyron-a-561710-unsplash

Time to peer into that crystal ball and make some predictions!

First: Second Life is going to continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity. It will continue to be a reliable cash cow for Linden Lab as they put a portion of that profit into building Sansar. And I also predict that the ability to change your first and last names in SL will prove very popular—and also very lucrative for Linden Lab! Remember, they’ve got seven years of pent-up demand for this feature. (I have a couple of avatars myself that I’d like to rename.)

Second: An unexpected but potentially ground-breaking development in OpenSim was the announcement of the release of a virtual reality OpenSim viewer to the open source community at the 2018 OpenSim Community Conference. There’s still lots of technical work left to do, but if they can successfully pull this off, it could mean a new era for OpenSim.

Third: I confidently predict that one or more blockchain-based virtual worlds are going to fold. Not Decentraland; there’s too much money tied up in that one to fail. But several cryptocurrency-based virtual worlds are starting to look like trainwrecks of epic proportions (and I’m looking at you, Staramaba Spaces/Materia.One). Somebody still needs to explain to me why people will want to pay to hang out with 3D-scanned replicas of Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan. The business model makes absolutely no sense to me. Another one that I think is going to struggle in 2019 is Mark Space.

Fourth: I also predict that one or more adult/sex-oriented virtual worlds are going to fail (yes, I’m looking at you, Oasis). I’ve already gone into the reasons why even the best of them are going to find it hard to compete against the entrenched front-runner, Second Life.

Fifth: High Fidelity and Sansar will continue their friendly rivalry as both social VR platforms hold splashy events in the new year. (I’m really sorry I missed the recent preview of Queen Nefertari’s tomb in HiFi, but it looks as though there will be many other such opportunities in 2019.) And High Fidelity will continue to boast of new records in avatar capacity at well-attended events (it certainly helps that they’ve got those venture-capital dollars to spend, to offer monetary enticements for users to pile on for stress testing).

Sixth: the Oculus Quest VR headset will ignite the long-awaited boom in virtual reality that the analysts have been predicting for years. There; I’ve said it! And those social VR platforms which support Oculus Quest users will benefit.

Seventh: Linden Lab’s launch of Sansar on Steam will likely have only a modest impact on overall usage of the platform. I’m truly sorry to have to write this prediction, because I love Sansar, but we’ve got statistics we can check, and they are not looking terribly encouraging at the moment. And where is the “significant ad spend” that was promised at one of the in-world product meetups back in November? Now that they’ve pulled the trigger and launched on Steam, it’s time to promote the hell out of Sansar, using every means at Linden Lab’s disposal. Paying bounties to Twitch livestreamers is not enough.

And Facebook? If they thought 2018 was a bad year, I predict that we’re going to see even more scandals uncovered in 2019 by news organizations such as the New York Times. And more people (like me) will decide that they’ve had enough of being sold to other corporations and data-mined to within an inch of their lives, and jump ship. The public relations people at Facebook are going to face a lot of sleepless nights…

And, still on the same topic, we might yet see the launch of a new social VR platform backed by Facebook, after they decide to ditch the lamentable Facebook Spaces once and for all. Maybe it will be based on Oculus Rooms; maybe it will be something completely different. But despite my negative feelings about the social networking side of Facebook, they still have the hardware (Oculus), the money, and the reach to be a game-changer in social VR. (Just not with Facebook Spaces. At this point, they should just kill the project and start over. Any improvements will be like putting lipstick on a pig.)

Finally, I predict that the RyanSchultz.com blog will head off into new and rather unexpected directions (that is, if the past 12 months’ activity is any indication!). I never expected to cover blockchain-based virtual worlds, or Second Life freebies; they just kind of happened.  Expect more of the same in 2019, as various new topics catch my interest.

Why I Am Leaving Facebook and Instagram

Facebook Instagram.png

This evening I finally made a decision. Last summer, I had shared VR pioneer Jaron Lanier’s 10 arguments for deleting your social media accounts on my blog, but I decided at the time that, while Facebook was evil, it was a necessary evil, a way to promote my blog and to stay connected with other people in exchange for being data-mined and sold to advertisers, and therefore I stayed put.

But after reading the latest New York Times report on how Facebook allowed other companies to access its users’ private information without their knowledge or consent, it was the last straw for me:

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

I strongly urge you to go to the New York Times website (using the link above) and read the entire article. This is the latest of several damning exposés by the New York Times and other news media on just how much we have been abused—yes, I said, abused—by a social network where we are the product to be bought and sold.

I am fed up. I have had enough. And I am fighting back the only way I can: by shutting down my Facebook and Instagram accounts and deleting all of the data that Facebook has gathered on me. Here’s a link to another New York Times article that gives step-by-step instructions on how to do this. Here’s another article by Consumer Reports.

When am I doing this? At the end of the year. It will give me a couple of weeks to let everybody know, and for me—and them—to set up alternate arrangements to communicate with me, if they wish to do so outside of Facebook.

How is this going to impact me? Well, the biggest thing that I use Facebook for right now is to promote my blog in various Second Life and virtual reality communities on Facebook. I can find other ways to do that. I have also used Facebook to keep in touch with a wide range of real-life and online friends. I will find other ways to stay in touch with people.

As for Instagram, well, I barely use that anyways, so it won’t be any big loss.

But I have finally decided that enough is enough, that Facebook is no longer a necessary evil, but a true evil. And I will longer support it or participate in it, after the end of this year. I will continue to use and support the Oculus VR hardware. But I will no longer use any social media operated by Facebook (that includes Facebook Spaces, the incredibly lame social VR app they launched over a year ago). Using Facebook Spaces requires you to have a Facebook account, so it gets ditched as well. No great loss there either.

I will also be boycotting any service which requires me to have a Facebook/Instagram account to use it. (Thank God, I didn’t use Facebook to log into other websites whenever they offered that as an option. I always went the personal username/email and password route instead. That means that untangling myself from Facebook should be much easier for me.)

It’s going to be an adjustment. I’m going to miss communicating with many of you on Facebook and via Messenger. You and I are going to have to find other, better ways to communicate. Like email, texting/SMS, Skype, FaceTime and the telephone. Like this blog and its comments section. Like my new Discord server. I have lots of options available for you to get ahold of me.

I will be giving up traffic from Facebook to my blog, which was significant but not irreplaceable. I will find other places to promote my blog, other ways to let people know what I’m doing. You can sign up to get blog updates via email (see the left-hand-side panel, under FOLLOW RYANSCHULTZ.COM VIA EMAIL, right under the eight social media buttons). And I’ll be turning off a couple of those social media buttons, too.

goodbye

Good-bye, Facebook. It’s been a fun 13 years. But I no longer trust you, and I’m leaving, and I’m deleting my account and all my data before I go.