I Have Joined Clubhouse (Be Afraid…BE. VERY. AFRAID.)

The Clubhouse logo

Well, it finally happened: I caved, and I joined Clubhouse. (God help us all.)

If you know nothing else about me, know this: I have been a lifelong tire-kicker of social networks of all kinds over the years, starting with Friendster and MySpace (I wrote about my many misadventures with Friendster here and here). I was an early adopter of Facebook and countless other social networks (remember Tribe? Hi5? Orkut?!?? Trust, Auntie Ryan was on them all, sweetheart). I was an early adopter of Flickr way, waaay back, when they were still a tiny Vancouver startup. And I was also a part of the whole wild, crazy Google+ rollercoaster saga, from beginning to bitter end.

So this is not my first time at the rodeo! Far from it. If my past experience with Friendster, Flickr, Facebook and its ilk repeats itself, I am in for a head-first, deep dive into Clubhouse! (I may not resurface for weeks, people. Google+ basically took over my life for months in 2011.)

Be afraid…BE. VERY. AFRAID.

I have lived and learned, made many mistakes (which I hope I will not repeat this time around), and basically, I have become rather bitter, cynical and jaded about it all. 😉

What had seemed like such good, clean, harmless fun back in those halcyon MySpace, Friendster, and Orkut days has turned into something more suspect, more sinister, more polarizing and divisive, and more weaponized (and yes, I do think I have some form of Facebook PTSD, which tends to colour my perspective).

Therefore, I am now much more reserved and cautious when it comes to new social networks and social media platforms. In fact, at the very end of January, when there was such a big fuss on Twitter about Elon Musk hosting a room in Clubhouse, I tweeted:

I am following all the chatter on Twitter about Elon Musk and Clubhouse, and half of me is feeling FOMO, and the other half is thinking: do I *really* want to join yet another social network that is going to get worse the more it opens up from its exclusive, invite-only phase?

However, when an acquaintance on Twitter posted about a new virtual worlds discussion group starting up in Clubhouse tomorrow night, I was in like a dirty shirt! (Thanks to Shawn Whiting for creating this new group, and thank you to the kind person who shared one of her precious Clubhouse invites with me. so I could take part!)

The tweet that sealed my fate: Now I *had* to get into Clubhouse!

So, yes, I am excited, but I am also cautious and wary (and no, please do not ask me for an invitation to join; I only have two and I am saving mine for a few, select people whom I already have in mind). Half of me feels like one of the cool kids, and the other half thinks I have drunk the Kool-Aid. So we’ll see how this all turns out. The sentiment I expressed in my tweet above still holds as true as when I wrote it.

What is Clubhouse? If you have been living under a rock, or (like me) in the frozen Canadian prairie hinterlands, Clubhouse is the latest hot social media platform (currently invite-only, and currently only available for the iPhone) which allows users to connect with each other via voice, create rooms where discussions can take place, and host events. (The Elon Musk event I mentioned above was an interview, where over 5.000 users packed into one room to hear him speak.)

C|Net reporter Erin Carson writes:

Clubhouse, which is still in beta and isn’t yet available to the public, was founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. It’s an audio-based social platform. You can enter rooms (or create a room) and hear or participate in discussions on topics: how to pitch your startup idea, the future of marriage, whether Clubhouse is getting boring. Rooms generally have speakers, the way conference panels do, and moderators. The conversation is in real time, meaning you can hear folks throwing in their opinions about the subject at hand, and you can raise your hand to toss in yours as well. 

“Imagine if you were in class with everybody in the world,” said Natasha Scruggs, an attorney from Kansas City, Missouri, who’s been on the app for a couple of weeks. 

Clubhouse is the latest manifestation of our desire to connect to each other at a time when social distancing and remaining isolated at home is the new norm. But while videoconferencing services like Zoom have blown up for everyone, Clubhouse’s largest appeal is its exclusivity and its ability to draw in notable figures including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Officially launched less than a year ago, in April 2020, Clubhouse has racked up some truly impressive user growth statistics (source):

  • May 2020: 1,500 users
  • December 2020: 600,000 users
  • January 2021: 2 million users
  • February 2021: 6 million users

In fact, Clubhouse is currently valued at one billion U.S. dollars  (up from $100 million in May 2020), making it a unicorn along with the likes of Uber and Facebook (yes, Mark Zuckerberg is a user, too, and yes, I’m sure that the breakout success of Clubhouse is giving him some sleepless nights).

So, like I said, we’ll see. I hope that I will be able to use Clubhouse to interact more easily with the many wonderful and talented people who work and play in social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, in much the same way as I do on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server.

2020.exe Has Stopped Working

Ryan pokes his nose outside of the self-imposed news blackout of his pandemic bunker…

Looks at today’s reporting on the Twitter/Facebook/Zuckerberg/Trump dumpster fire:

… and Ryan hurriedly retreats back into “social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse”, slamming the door shut behind him, until at least 2021.

Editorial: Facebook, Free Speech, and Disinformation

Well, as many of you already know, I left Facebook at the end of last year as my New Year’s resolution. But you might not know that I have now resurrected my account on the Facebook social network.

In my first post to my Facebook timeline (and perhaps the only one I am willing to make for quite some time), I write the following:

Yes, after leaving Facebook at the end of last year as my New Year’s resolution, and asking Facebook to delete over 13 years’ worth of data it had collected about me, I have decided to set up an account again.

Why? Well, as a social VR/virtual worlds blogger, I want to be able to cover Facebook’s new social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, and that apparently will require an account on the Facebook social network to use (it launches in closed beta in early 2020).

So, I am back, but don’t expect me to post a lot, or use this account very much. After the Cambridge Analytica/Trump/Brexit scandal (covered so well by the Netflix documentary The Great Hack), I am very, VERY wary to share a lot of data here for Facebook to strip-mine for profit!

Which leads me (in a roundabout way) to the point of this blogpost. There is an exceptionally well-written, well-reasoned article by Siva Vaidhyanathan on The Guardian newspaper website, titled Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t understand free speech in the 21st century. Dr. Vaidhyanathan is a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and the author of the book Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. He addresses a recent speech Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave to students at Georgetown University, which has been criticized by many commentators, including Martin Luther King’s daughter Bernice:

I strongly urge you to read Dr. Vaidhyanathan’s article yourself, but I did want to quote a few sections that I thought made insightful arguments:

Facebook has three defining attributes that make Facebook Facebook. Its scale of 2.4 billion people uploading content in more than 150 languages make it too big to filter. Its algorithmic design that amplifies content judged to attract attention and interaction (clicks, shares, likes, comments) favors extremism and powerful emotions over rational and measured expression. And the cheap and effective advertising system is monumentally profitable and thus starves other sources of good information of needed revenue.

In his speech Thursday Zuckerberg boasted that the Black Lives Matter movement started on Facebook. It did. But it also almost died there. It jumped to Twitter and thrived. As the internet scholar Zeynep Tufekci has explained, Facebook’s algorithmic system squelched #BlackLivesMatter and other activist movements as it was promoting vapid images like the Ice Bucket Challenge. On Twitter, with much lighter algorithmic amplification, #BlackLivesMatter could hold attention.

Zuckerberg also neglected the fact that the largest Black Lives Matter group on Facebook was hosted by a white man from Australia and was otherwise completely fake.

Zuckerberg wants us to believe that one must be for or against free speech with no nuance, complexity or cultural specificity, despite running a company that’s drowning in complexity. He wants our discussions to be as abstract and idealistic as possible. He wants us not to look too closely at Facebook itself.

The problem of the 21st century is cacophony. Too many people are yelling at the same time. Attentions fracture. Passions erupt. Facts crumble. It’s increasingly hard to deliberate deeply about complex crucial issues with an informed public. We have access to more knowledge yet we can’t think and talk like adults about serious things.

By invoking all the progressive social movements that have found Facebook useful, Zuckerberg tries to hitch his company to their results. But ignoring the Nazis and misogynists who also use Facebook to organize and recruit, he hopes we equate motivation with free speech and democracy.

The thing is, a thriving democracy needs more than motivation, the ability to find and organize like-minded people. Democracies also need deliberation. We have let the institutions that foster discussion among well informed, differently-minded people crumble. Soon all we will have left is Facebook. Look at Myanmar to see how well that works.

This is a perfect encapsulation of what I think is wrong with Facebook. Put simply, Facebook has too much power, and it wields that power in a demonstrably inconsistent fashion when it comes to free speech.

So, informed by past experience, I will severely limit how much information I choose to share on Facebook, and who I choose to befriend. I will restrict when and how often I check Facebook (for example, I will not install the app on my iPhone, and I will only access the Facebook website via a Chrome browser with the highly-recommended F.B. Purity extension added).

And I do not want to live in a world where Facebook has the loudest megaphone. I will continue to pursue and peruse my news from authoritative sources outside Facebook, such as The Guardian. And I will actively promote campaigns such as BreakTheFake, which provide helpful tips for consumers to determine fact from fiction on the Internet.

Social media such as Facebook has been weaponized, and is being used against us. The situation demands that we all become smarter consumers of information. The future absolutely depends on it.

OC6 Starts Today: What Will Facebook Announce?

Today is the opening day of Oculus Connect 6 (OC6), a two-day event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in sunny, warm California, and it’s all everybody who is anybody in virtual reality and augmented reality has been talking about for weeks.

Even Facebook’s CEO has been in on the game, teasing users with cryptic announcements such as this one:

(RPG is short for role-playing game, in case you’re not up on the lingo. And Ready Player One, of course, is last year’s hit movie about virtual reality.)

Mark’s Facebook post led UploadVR to speculate:

What exactly could Zuckerberg be teasing here? In Ready Player One, the Oasis is an all-encompassing virtual metaverse that allows anyone to be whoever they want and do whatever they want. It’s so good that humanity basically loses itself inside the new world. We don’t think VR is quite ready for something of that scale, but this tease could be taking the first steps towards something like that.

We’ve written in the past about how confusing Facebook’s scattered social VR policy has been. Facebook Spaces appears to be all but forgotten about, Oculus Rooms never left Gear VR and Go, and Oculus Quest still doesn’t have its own social VR experience powered by Facebook.

Could we perhaps see Facebook announced a definitive social destination across Oculus Rift and Quest? … Maybe we’re just getting carried away, but it’s an exciting thought.

We’ll have to watch along with the keynote to find out.

Unfortunately, I am stuck here in the plunging autumn temperatures of Winnipeg, teaching undergraduate agriculture students how to use the library effectively to complete their assigments. So, alas, I am going to have to rely on second-hand accounts of what’s going on at OC6. If I am lucky, I might be able to catch the livestreams of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address and other events on the OculusConnect.com website, while I am multi-tasking (here are more details on how to watch from CNET). Of course, it’s not the same thing as actually being there.

And I am hoping (much like UploadVR) that there will be some sort of hint of Facebook’s code-named “Metaverse” social VR platform for Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift and Rift S users (which I’m willing to bet will be based on Oculus Home). Facebook has the capacity to steamroller the nascent social VR marketplace, and they’re not above using some dirty tactics to gain market share from competitors, according to a report compiled by SnapChat of their aggressive tactics, which has been submitted to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

So, stay tuned. Some interesting announcements may come out today or tomorrow.