Editorial: Shifting Gears

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Yesterday’s blogpost (and its response) has got me thinking, in the wee hours of this morning, about other people’s expectations, and trying (or failing) to live up to them. Not to mention the expectations which I, knowingly or unknowingly, place upon myself as a blogger. Every blogger has his or her own biases and quirks; God knows I have many. And even a cursory inspection of my output shows how often I have gone off on tangents in my three-and-a-half-year blogging journey.

My writing about social VR, virtual worlds and the metaverse on this blog has been an unusual combination of broad-brush strokes about as many different platforms as possible, combined with a geeky deep-dive into specific worlds (Sansar the first couple of years, and now Second Life). One example of such a deep dive would be my recent month-long coverage of Advent calendar freebies in Second Life, something which my many faithful SL readers no doubt appreciated, but which probably left some of my regular, non-SL audience out in the cold, scratching their heads.

As I have written before, I consider Second Life to be the perfect model of a fully-evolved, mature metaverse platform, where we can see hints of what will happen to newer platforms over time (such as the implementation of an in-world economy where players can buy and sell user-generated content).

But I also expect that 2021 will be the first year where other metaverse platforms (notably VRChat and Rec Room, but also other products) will begin to consistently outpace Second Life, both in terms of monthly active users (MAU) and in terms of user concurrency figures. Over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, VRChat shattered its previous user concurrency figures, reporting over 40,000 users online at the same time. Last weekend, Rec Room hosted 45,000 concurrent players. In other words, depending on the day and time, you can find more people in Rec Room and VRChat than in Second Life.

Both VRChat and Rec Room are now very well positioned to finally snatch the mantle of Second Life for the title of “most popular metaverse platform” (as hard as it is to define what that means). This might not have happened as quickly as some observers had originally predicted, least of all the PR pitch-boys at the corporations building these platforms, but it will happen nonetheless. It’s inevitable. Yesterday’s boasts become tomorrow’s reality, in some cases.

And it is not that Second Life is bleeding users, or that it is in any imminent danger of being shut down; I estimate that SL still attracts anywhere between 600,000 and 900,000 active monthly users (that is, people who sign onto SL at least once a month). It is still a highly profitable platform with a highly committed userbase, and under its new management, the Waterfield investment group, it is likely to remain a profitable cash cow for many years to come. Second Life is not going anywhere.

But, now that Linden Lab has finally shut down its physical server farms and moved Second Life entirely to the cloud, I don’t really foresee a lot of changes or improvements being made to what is already a winning formula—and I don’t see many of SL’s users clamouring for any major changes, either. Over time, competing platforms will no doubt offer advantages which the aging SL codebase cannot be tweaked to provide (the most obvious one being support for users in virtual reality).

And, over time, some of Second Life’s user base will migrate to other platforms, little by little, bit by bit. This SL diaspora will continue to enrich multiple metaverse platforms, much as it already has over the past decade. The seeds first planted by Philip Rosedale and his peers will continue to root and grow in various places, some probably quite unexpected!

All of this preamble is my very roundabout way of saying that I will be significantly reducing my coverage of Second Life in 2021. I will be putting that time and energy into writing about other metaverse products instead. Yes, I know I keep saying that, only to get pulled back by the latest fabulous freebie! Second Life is great fun, and I have enjoyed being your Freebie Queen. But frankly, SL is not where most of the interesting new stuff is happening. It’s happening in places outside of Second Life, and it’s high time I turned my attention to them.

It’s time for me to re-shift my focus to the newer platforms which are seeking to become the next Second Life. It might be an iteration of something that already exists, or it might be something brand new that seems to come out of nowhere and take everybody by storm. Whatever happens, I want to report on it!

I’m sure many of my Second Life readers will be sorry to hear this news. I will still be around, and I will still be visiting various places in-world, but I will largely leave the writing and reporting about SL to the hundreds of bloggers who do a much better job with their focused, deep-dive coverage! And I will continue to take as wide a view as possible—a big-picture perspective—of the constantly-evolving metaverse of which Second Life is a part.

Whichever camp you find yourself in, thank you for sticking along for the ride! No matter what happens, it promises to be an exciting adventure.

2021 promises to be a wild ride!

This change in focus will take effect immediately. Buckle up and keep your arms and hands inside the vehicle at all times! 😉

Herding Cats (Again): Organizing and Categorizing My List of Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

Git along, l’il kitties! Hyah! Hyah!!

I woke up bright and early this morning, showered and shaved, brewed a large pot of black coffee, and immediately set to work on my task for the day: trying to impose some semblance of order on my sprawling list of over 150 different virtual worlds, social VR platforms, and other metaverse products which I have written about on the RyanSchultz.com blog over the past three years. I’ve been putting this task off for too long; it’s time. I mean, I originally said I was going to do this a year ago!

I thought I would start by creating six rough, top-level categories as follows:

  • Virtual Worlds Which Do NOT Support Users in Virtual Reality Headsets (e.g. Active Worlds, Kitely, Second Life)
  • Virtual Worlds/Social VR Which Support Both Virtual Reality Users and Non-VR/Desktop Users (e.g. Sansar, Sinespace, Tivoli Cloud VR)
  • Social Virtual Reality Platforms Which Do NOT Support Desktop/Non-VR Users (e.g. Anyland, Facebook Horizon)
  • Blockchain and Cryptocurrency-Based Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds (e.g. Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Somnium Space)
  • Social Augmented Reality (AR) Platforms Which Support Users in AR Headsets (e.g. Avatar Chat, Spatial, Spatiate). As we are only in the first generation of augmented reality headsets available for purchase by consumers, e.g. the much-hyped but now struggling Magic Leap One and the Microsoft’s HoloLens, there’s obviously not a lot here yet, but give it time (and there are consistent rumours of a future AR headset to be released by Apple, sometime in 2022 or 2023). Please note that I do not consider cellphone-based “AR” (e.g. Pokémon Go) to be true augmented reality.
  • Stuff Which Doesn’t Fit Elsewhere: Miscellaneous Worlds, Platforms, and Products Covered on this Blog (e.g. the new, 2D-with-3D-audio iteration of High Fidelity)

Then, to start, I would simply copy and paste six copies of my original list under each of these six headings, and then go about my work by deleting those items which do not fit under that category, starting with the A’s and working my way through to the end of the list (currently 3DXChat). Speaking of 3DXChat, I have to decide what to do about the very few worlds I have written about that are pretty much exclusively focused on sexual content (although they, too, can sometimes serve a non-sexual, social purpose). I’m not interested in trying to categorize purely adult/sexual worlds, however; I will leave the herding of those particular kitties to others 😉

Some products on my original list, like Avakin Life and IMVU, have literally dozens of similar products, all pitched at the teen/tween market (another category I do not wish to cover on this blog).

I had breezily assumed that this reorganizing task would take me a couple of days at most. After all, I already had the starting list, right? However, it’s been quite some time (in some cases, years) since I last looked at some products and platforms. In quite a few instances, projects have since shut down or have been put on hold (a lot of blockchain/crypto startups fall into this category). So, this probably will take me several weeks of work, instead of several days.

I also have to find some way to integrate my previous attempts at herding cats:

Also, I want to include pointers to other people and organizations on the internet that are trying to do the same sort of work, such as XR Collaboration: A Global Resource Guide (which I first wrote about here), and Niclas Johansson’s report The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Meetings with VR/AR (which I wrote about here and here). Compared to when I started this blog three years ago, there’s now quite a bit of work going on in this area, particularly in corporate applications of social VR! Even YouTube vloggers like Nathie have jumped on board. It’s wonderful to see.

So, I will be beavering away on this, making use of my two-week vacation to get a good head start on the project. I’ll keep you posted!

Quote of the Day: “An Hour in the Metaverse…”

Image created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

Dana Cowley, who is the senior marketing manager at Epic Games (the makers of the phenomenally successful Fortnite), made a great observation about the metaverse that I wanted to share with you:

She said (or perhaps quoted), as part of her notes on the recent SIGGRAPH presentation by Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney:

An hour in the metaverse needs to be better than
– an hour on Facebook
– an hour on Instagram
– an hour on Twitter
– an hour on YouTube
– an hour on Netflix
– an hour in Fortnite
– an hour in anything we have now

In other words, the metaverse has to be so compelling—and offer something so different from what we have now—that people will inevitably flock to use it. It’s something to keep in mind as we look at the current landscape of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

What Drives People to Build an Open Metaverse?

Did you know that you can help support my blog (as well as the Metaverse Newscast show), and get great rewards in return? Here’s how.


One of the many people who participate in the discussions on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server is Jin, who is a passionate proponent of social VR platforms built on open, interoperable standards.

Jin has written up a document where he describes why he is so motivated to build an open metaverse. I strongly urge you to go over and read the entire thing yourself, but I will quote a few parts here:

We’re close to arriving into that universe of a massive, persistent, digital spatial reality adjacent to our own. These books have always inspired us from the beginning, it’s time now.

In these books the characters live a dual life between the physical and the virtual world. Ready Player One in particular has a pretty dystopian take on this potential future where their version of cyberspace is largely built and owned by a single company… We can not allow so much power to be in the hands of one company, especially with a medium like VR/AR which hoovers up more data about our surroundings, actions, and reactions to sensory information than any other technology before it. For this reason, Building the Open Metaverse is a Moral Imperative.

Jin takes a look at the current technology landscape, and there is plenty of gloomy news:

  • Five large companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) are accumulating more and more control over people’s data.
  • Over half of all gaming titles and 60% of VR/AR experiences are made with Unity3D, a non-free gaming engine. 
  • High Fidelity and Decentraland absorbed 99% of venture capital funding for open source social VR. Decentraland has shelved VR support after seeing High Fidelity falter in its rollout.

But there are also some bright spots appearing on the horizon, as people create tools to support the building of an open metaverse:

  • WebXR, a device API specification for accessing VR and AR devices, that will evolve a metaverse from individual creators creating experiences that interoperate with other experiences
  • Exokit, a native 3D XR web engine which runs regular HTML+JS WebXR sites
  • Open source protocols: IPFS and Dat
  • Open source XR frameworks: Aframe / BabylonJS / JanusWeb
  • Open source compositors: Exokit and XRdesktop
  • Open source browsers: Janus / Firefox Reality
  • Filecoin, a decentralized storage network
  • Blockchain initiatives such as BitcoinEthereum, and EOS

As I said, it’s worth going over to Jin’s article to read the whole thing. He raises a lot of different issues relating to the open metaverse and the challenges that the endeavour faces. He concludes by saying:

Keeping the web open and free is the fight of our lifetime. I’ve given the past 6 of my best years to researching and building a decentralized metaverse because freedom f*cking matters. Nobody owns the internet or web, it just exists which is why they serve as an excellent foundation for spatial computing.

My hope is that together we can find a way to sustain development, through patronage or ethical monetization schemes, so that our work can reach and liberate the masses.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Thanks to Jin for writing this article! It is inspiring to see so much work being done in these areas. It will be an uphill battle, but a battle worth fighting, nonetheless.