My Answers to the Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) Questions!

It’s 2:00 a.m. and I have an absolutely wicked case of insomnia, so I decided to write up most of this blopost in the wee small hours of the morning, and answer the questions I received in my Ask Me Anything (AMA) blogpost.

You might find it interesting to see my recent daily blog statistics from WordPress. As you can see, there has been a slow but significant increase in my blog views and visitors within the past two weeks:

In the old days, last year, if I got over 500 views per day, I was quite happy. Now I am regularly getting over 500 views by noon, and well over 1,000 views per day! In the past week, I have even hit 1,200 views per day several times. The overwhelming majority of that traffic is my Second Life content, particularly my coverage of Second Life steals, deals, and freebies.

Despite this level of activity, you are still a rather quiet bunch: I only received three questions!


Andrew Heath asks me:

What features do you think Facebook needs to add to Facebook Horizons, to make it stand out to its rivals?

Well, Facebook has lots of money to throw around at things like advertising and programming talent. Facebook has also been buying up popular VR companies like Beat Saber, and will no doubt find ways to provide exclusive access to Facebook Horizon users, shutting out competing platforms who don’t have such deep pockets.

Facebook will ruthlessly use every tool and tactic at its disposal to ensure that Facebook Horizon stands out and gets attention. Expect massive news media coverage when the social VR platform does open its doors to the general public. Until then, they will be keeping a very tight lid on the alpha testing process, with very little information released.

Another point I want to make is that Facebook is not aiming at the traditional virtual world user community (the classic example being, of course, almost 17-year-old Second Life). Facebook is aiming Horizon at their social media users, the Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp crowd, an estimated audience of over six billion individual accounts, which gives the company massive leverage.

Social Media Statistics as of February 2020 (source)

Whether they succeed at enticing these people to take the plunge into virtual reality remains to be seen, but sales of Oculus Quest in particular have been strong, despite supply chain problems due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic may give an advantage to Facebook, as millions of people around the world self-isolate at home and seek ways to interact and socialize in ways that feel more immersive than Discord, Zoom and Webex. The timing might be perfect.

However, your Facebook Horizon avatar will be clearly associated with your real-life profile, and you can bet that Facebook will advertise to you in a similar targeted fashion to what you now see in your Facebook social network feed. While this link to your real-life profile may well cut down on griefing, trolling, and harassment, it is also likely to be unappealing to many current metaverse platform users for exactly that same reason. I wrote more about it in an editorial here.


Chamberlain asks:

Has anybody had any commercial success with any of these ventures, other than Second Life?

Well, the only company that I know that’s generating a profit (and that’s because because I was extremely nosey, and I asked them) is ENGAGE, which seems to be doing quite well for itself in the educational social VR market. And, of course, Cryptovoxels is making enough money to enable its lead developer, Ben Nolan, to work on it full-time. The rest is a question mark. And that’s perfectly fine with me; metaverse-building companies are certainly under no obligation to tell me/us if they’re making money yet or not.

The key here seems to be: start small, grow organically and incrementally, and let things evolve and customers come to you. I do know that some social VR platforms and virtual worlds have seen an uptick in business because of the wholesale shift of things like conferences from the real world to the virtual world (in fact, one company I know is working lots of overtime dealing with all the extra business!).

From my vantage point, it seems pretty clear that the strategy of throwing years of software development work and millions of dollars of venture capital at platforms has not worked out well so far (e.g. High Fidelity, Sansar), mainly because the consumer market for virtual reality failed to ignite as predicted. However, the coronavirus pandemic is now a potential game-changer for a lot of metaverse-building companies. The longer the public health crisis lasts, and the more quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing are imposed on restless populations, the more people will look at these platforms as a place to work, meet, rest, and play.

On the flip side, the mounting economic crisis will also cause some poorly-thought-out metaverse projects to fold due to lack of investment. I can see this happening for many of the start-ups in the blockchain-based virtual worlds, for example. Not the three front runners (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space), but the also-rans, many blockchain projects which seem to consist of nothing much more than: a white paper full of crypto-bafflegab; a .io website domain spouting senseless use cases; mystifying, vague promotional videos; and a tired Telegram group flogging a struggling ICO. Expect to see a lot of shutdowns in this market segment. Those who were lucky enough to get in at the right time might (might) make a tidy profit; the rest are doomed.

As for Sansar, I honestly fail to see how pursuing the exact same strategy that failed when they were owned by Linden Lab—a focus on live events to the exclusion of just about anything and everything else—will make the slightest bit of difference now that they are owned by Wookey, barring some miracle. I could very well be wrong; perhaps another year or two of runway, and Sansar will indeed take off in flight (my apologies for that rather mangled metaphor). But many of the world designers and builders who helped shape the early days of Sansar, and built many of their most popular worlds, now feel alienated by this pivot and have simply given up, migrating to benefit other platforms such as Sinespace. Many former Sansar users are now kicking the tires on Helios, a brand new social VR platform based on the Unreal game engine. Sansar’s loss is their gain.

Ironically, one or more of the three forks of the open-source High Fidelity code may yet take off in popularity, although there’s obviously still lots of work to do. However, there is an energy and enthusiasm I see taking place in these forks that is encouraging, and frankly infectious. I do wish these projects well, and I will follow them closely.


And finally, John has a longer comment and a question for me:

Not sure I have a question. But would very much like to say that the occasional glimpses into your ‘real self/world’ moments as opposed to the ‘virtual world’ moments/posts, are incredibly powerful and reassuring, reminding me that all of us are human, and these glimpses are what keep me coming back to your blog. They comfort me and reassure me. You are real. You are trying your best. And you help me (us) when you show us what is beyond the successful veneer of the top notch librarian/researcher. Just wanted to say thanks. Your blog is part of my morning ritual, along with the newspapers, and it is even more of a requirement now, in these difficult times. Oh yes, I might have a question. Can you keep this blog of yours going till the ol’ Internet fades?

Thank you for your kind words, John! I’m glad I can be a small part of your day.

I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all my readers. Some of you have chosen to express your appreciation via my Patreon page, and that money now covers my blog hosting costs on WordPress, for which I am extremely grateful. Whether or not you are a Patreon supporter, your support means the world to me.

And yes, I do plan to keep this blog going as long as I can, and I’ve even thought a bit about having it archived in some way after I pass on, to create a sort of time capsule of an interesting era in social VR and virtual worlds. I am currently in the process of creating a will and a healthcare power of attorney, still waiting to hear back from the lawyer that my financial planner recommended. (I also plan on leaving many of my Second Life avatars to other people via my will. My lawyer is going to have a field day drawing up my will!)

In the interim, especially in these precarious days of pandemic, I will be writing up a detailed document to share with my friends and family, with all my accounts and passwords, making my wishes clear in the event of my untimely death. I will not leave you hanging!

But I don’t plan on going anywhere! I am just starting to hit my stride here.

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The Project Athena Fork of High Fidelity Now Has a New Name: Vircadia

The company’s new logo

Project Athena (which I first wrote about here) is one of at least three forks of the open-source High Fidelity software code that have sprung up since Philip Rosedale’s company essentially pulled the plug on January 15th, 2020.* (The other two forks are Tivoli Cloud and an as-yet-unnamed project by Kitely.)

In a blogpost published today to announce the first alpha release of Vircadia, developer Kalila L. wrote:

The team has been hard at work to produce the first release of Vircadia, codename “Project Athena”. It’s a bit rough around the edges but it serves a great many functions effectively to fulfill various needs. We provide both desktop and VR, knowing full well that desktop is the gateway drug to VR.

What is Vircadia?

In short, Vircadia is a social metaverse platform and engine. It is completely open source and decentralized while still maintaining its always connected functionality. Think VRChat or Second Life except with far less restriction on your ownership and control. As a result, your creativity in the worlds have no bounds.

Because of the high efficiency and of the platform servers, the cost to run your own instance is very low. A basic world can run on a $10/mo server from DigitalOcean, which you can scale up as needed for events or to support more of your friends in the virtual world.

Vircadia is the only open source full-featured desktop and VR solution available which enables enterprise customization and security while simultaneously paving a way for every day social use.

What you do with it is up to you.

I spent some time this morning interviewing Kalila L. via text chat in Discord, and here is an edited version of that interview:


Ryan: So, why the rebranding?

Kalila: So, there were concerns about competing against say Intel’s Project Athena, and since Google is tougher on new entries it would take forever to climb past [Intel’s project], we figured it would be:

  1. Easier to pick a name completely unique to us; and
  2. Get one that’s short and sweet, so when you say it… it refers to us, no matter what.

Ryan: How big is your development team? How many people are working on this project and how many are former HiFi staff?

Kalila: The core team is six people, the wider development group is over 20 people. The core team has two former HiFi staff, the wider group has active (still working there!) and former staff. We are all volunteers, as always.

Ryan: How do you plan to differentiate Vircadia from the other two known forks of the open-source HiFi codebase?

Kalila: So the main selling point is: FOSS (Free and Open Source), an Apache 2.0 license means that we’re the only one that businesses can use if they want to protect their investments while keeping the door open for returning contributions, if they desire.

Vircadia scales, so we can support any business, large or small. Even just one or two people who want a co-working space for their little startup, or maybe your IRL work group needs a place to meet and share presentations. We currently have multiple small business/professional people looking into implementing the platform as we speak.

Secondly, we have a huge focus on open-ended ecosystems, so every vital component is open source and deployed, even the in-development launcher. It’s all there, so you have a secured social future.

Thirdly, our focus is UX and working towards making it a usable experience for enterprise and social in these troubling times.

This is alpha! So there will be bugs (and I’m sure you remember that HiFi left us with their own bugs…), but! No one who is FOSS (Apache 2.0) is as feature complete as us. So Vircadia is the best option if you need a deployable social platform.

Ryan: So could you share what you hope your roadmap/timeline will be for the rest of this year for Vircadia? You said it was alpha.

Kalila: I mentioned a lot about the open source and its licensing in the blog post so that can help explain that. So, our timeline is currently where we want to shorten the release cycle, so our next release will have less neat stuff, but we still want to get the same amount of updates/features/fixes out in the same amount of time.

Shortening the release schedule just means we get those interim points of progress out to everyone faster! We want to merge in many new features but I’ll give you more on that later, we’re still ironing out which features we want to add in and which we want to wait on. But I can say it’s pretty awesome what we’ve got in store on a technical level which will result in better, more vibrant worlds for all.

Our plans are to really grow the platform by focusing on groups and people who would like to use it for their various purposes such as holding meetings or get-togethers. But as always, all are welcome and our true goal is fully decentralized, social living metaverse.


If you want more information about Vircadia, you can

I have added the tag “Vircadia” to all my previous blogposts about Project Athena, and moved the link to the project from the P’s to the V’s on my alphabetical, comprehensive listing of social VR platforms and virtual worlds. Thanks for Kalila L. for answering all my pesky interview questions! 😉


Vircadia’s new icon

* I did also ask today in the Vircadia Discord channel if I could still use my original High Fidelity user account to connect to Vircadia, and I was told that existing HiFi accounts can still access the original platform. However, I learned today that this relies heavily on High Fidelity’s infrastructure remaining active, and that it might be shut down at any time without warning (although the company actually did promise to keep it up until the last registered place/domain name expires, which will be closer to the end of this year). Kalila L. tells me that Vircadia has a new user account system under development.

Housekeeping Note: Theanine’s Guest Editorial on High Fidelity

Just tidying things up… (photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash)

Just a quick housekeeping note.

Last December, Theanine wrote a detailed, insightful analysis titled High Fidelity—What Went Wrong? on his Medium account. I liked it so much that I asked permission to repost it as a guest editorial to this blog, and Theanine graciously agreed.

However, it can be difficult to keep two versions of any document properly synchronized, and Theanine has asked me to remove the copy on my blog, and point back to his Medium blogpost instead. So this morning, I have done so.

The stub of the original guest editorial on my blog now redirects readers to Theanine’s original Medium post.

It is an excellent write-up, and if you haven’t read it yet, go over to Medium and do so, thanks!

Dr. Fran’s Weekly Salon Continues in High Fidelity

If you already have an account on High Fidelity, you should know that the weekly discussion groups hosted by the indefatigable Dr. Fran are still being held every Sunday. (Unfortunately, no new user accounts can be created in High Fidelity, which has essentially shut down as of January 15th, 2020. However, if you had set up an account previously, it will still work, even though HiFi has taken down its own servers.)

The conversations are always interesting! This week’s topic of discussion is What does it mean to be objective?

Date: Today, March 1st, 2020
Time: 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Place: hifi://salon.fran.thoys.nl